Aug 31, 2007

The Sun Sets On West Palm Beach

Municipal Stadium
West Palm Beach, FL
Ten years ago today, the West Palm Beach Expos played their last game in Municipal Stadium.  In front of over a thousand fans, the Class A affiliate of the Montreal Expos lost 4-1 to the Vero Beach Dodgers.

The team began in the spring of 1969 and won two Florida State League Championships in franchise history.  The second of those championships came in 1991 - the season that Dad brought me to my first WPB Expos game, which was also the first professional baseball game I ever attended.

After the 1997 season, the team moved 15 miles away to become the Jupiter Hammerheads.  They remained affiliated with the Montreal Expos through the end of the 2001 season.  Presently, the Hammerheads are the Class A team of the Miami Marlins.

Aug 27, 2007

Back To School

It took a bit longer that I expected, but after nine years, I'm going back to get my degree.  Here's to hoping that college turns out a little bit better than high school.

Aug 24, 2007

Hazleton's Pro Wrestling Mecca

World Wide Wrestling Alliance
St. Joseph's Gymnasium - Hazleton, PA
St. Joe's Gym had been a professional wrestling landmark in Northeast Pennsylvania since my dad was a kid.  Andre The Giant wrestled here, as did Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka, Paul Orndorff and Bob Backlund.

ECW had a couple of shows here in the 90's.  The first was on May 19th, 1995, which included Eddie Guerrero vs Dean Malenko, Shane Douglas vs Tommy Dreamer, and an ECW Championship match between Cactus Jack and The SandmanECW's next show in Hazleton was the final wrestling show to be held at St. Joe's Gym.  It took place on May 30, 1997 and included The Dudley Boys in singles matches (Bubba Ray vs The Sandman and D-Von vs Tommy Dreamer), as well as Axl Rotten vs New Jack and The Eliminators vs Raven and Stevie Richards.

There hasn't been a professional wrestling show at St. Joe's Gym since that ECW event over ten years ago... until tonight.

I had never heard of the World Wide Wrestling Alliance promotion before this show was advertised, but I'm very familiar with several of the wrestlers that were booked to appear.  Samoa Joe and AJ Styles became two of my favorite wrestlers since I started following Ring Of Honor a few years ago, and although I know Larry Zbyszko mostly from his time as a WCW commentator, his matches against Bruno Sammartino in the 80's and his time as the AWA World Heavyweight Champion is well known to just about every wrestling fan.

In addition to the big names who were brought in, there were a few other familiar faces at tonight's WWWA show, but many of the others were wrestlers who I was seeing for the first time.

The first thing that struck me about this poster was the fact that there were five championship matches despite the fact that small indy promotion.  Does a company who rarely holds shows outside of Pennsylvania really need a United States and Intercontinental Champion?  I know they think that it gives the company a big league feel, but it just comes across as silly.  Sometimes less is more.

The wrestlers had merch tables set up before the show, and that is where I got to meet "The Living Legend" Larry Zbyszko.  I didn't really watch the NWA or AWA too much when I was a kid, so I know him best as the sarcastic good guy commentator alongside Tony Schiavone and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan on WCW Monday Nitro.

Larry Zbyszko came into the show as the reigning WWWA United States Champion.  The only other reference to this title that I was able to find is from a show on April 1st of last year in Wellsboro, PA, and Larry came into that match as the defending US Champion.  That means unless he lost and regained the belt at some point in between, Larry Zbyszko has held the WWWA US Championship for well over a year... not bad for a 54 year old dude!

Unfortunately for Larry, his title reign came to an end at the hands of "The Beast" Glen OsbourneOsbourne has the distinction of being the second ECW Television Champion in that promotion's history after defeating The Sandman for the vacant title in September 1992.  He has also worked as enhancement talent for the World Wrestling Federation in the mid to late 90's, as well as for ECWA, where he held their Heavyweight Championship from November 1996 to March 1997.

Another familiar face at this show was Jak Molsonn.  These days, he seems to be going just by Molsonn, but when I first saw him wrestle in WXW, he both teamed and feuded with his Lumberjaks tag team partner, Jake MolsonnJak and Jake held the WXW Tag Team Championship in 1996 and 1997.  Jak also held the WXW World Heavyweight Championship on three occasions between 1998 - 2000, and he went on to win the WXW Tag Team Championship four more times, three of which were as one half of the Moondogs 2000.

Molsonn was scheduled to wrestle The Wolfman at this show, but he instead wrestled Demetrius Arion while The Wolfman watched on and interfered from ringside.  I couldn't tell you too much about either man, but from what I saw, The Wolfman is definitely a character!

If I'm being completely honest, the main event is the whole reason why I bought tickets to this show.  Samoa Joe and AJ Styles are two of my favorite wrestlers, so the chance to see them wrestle against each other in my hometown for just a few bucks was too good to pass up.  They had a great match that highlighted both of their strengths in the ring.  They didn't turn it up to 11 in the way that I've seen them do at ROH or TNA shows in the past, but I didn't expect them to.  It would be silly to risk an injury on high spots on a non-televised indy show that only a few hundred folks will ever see, but still, they had a match that brought the house down and was totally worth the price of admission for every fan in attendance.

Aug 23, 2007

August 22nd And Everything After

FirstEnergy Park - Lakewood, NJ
This is hands down the best time I have ever had at a concert - three of my favorite bands who I have been listening to since middle school performing in a ballpark where Ryan Howard once played.  It doesn't get much better than that!

Asbury Park Press - Asbury Park, NJ  (August 17, 2007)

The concert was held in the outfield of the ballpark.  All of the area around the stage in the outfield was general admission, so you were able to get as close to the stage as you wanted, as long as you got there and claimed your spot early enough.  We weren't right up against the stage, but we were only about three or four people back on the left hand side of the stage.

There was a very light, but persistent rain that started between Collective Soul and Live, but it didn't in any way detract from the event.  In fact, it made the show even better, and not just because it was cool and refreshing on a hot August night near the Jersey shore.

Collective Soul took the stage first, and they were fantastic!  My only complaint was that the set wasn't longer.  They started off with Listen off of their third album, Disciplined Breakdown.  This was followed by Heavy and Run (both from their fourth album, Dosage) and Better Now, from their most recent album, Youth.

The fifth song of their set was one I hadn't heard before.  It's a track called Hollywood that is a part of their upcoming album which is hitting stores on Tuesday.  If this song is any indication, it's going to be a great record!  This is kind of song you want to blast in your car when you're driving with the windows down on a warm summer day.

The next two songs were two of their biggest hits, The World I Know and December.  Midway through December, singer Ed Roland mixed in the refrain from The Killers 2004 single All These Things That I've Done by singing "I've got soul but I'm not a soldier".  Both The World I Know and December are from Collective Soul's self-titled second album from 1995.  I can't begin to guess how many times I played that CD when I was in high school.  Speaking of CDs, their set ended with first track off of the first album.  It was released in 1993, and it's the first CD that I ever purchased - Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid.  The song was the band's first hit single from 1993 - Shine.

The second band of the night was Live, and this was the first time that the rain became a part of the show.  The steady light drizzle combined with the heat of the stage lights gave the effect of steam rising from the bald head of singer Ed Kowalczyk throughout the entire set.  It wasn't subtle either.  You couldn't have done a better job of making it look like the top of someone's head was emitting smoke if you

I'm less familiar with Live's music than I am with the other two bands.  I only had two of their albums back in high school: Throwing Copper (1994) and Secret Samadhi (1997).  I played Throwing Copper as much as I played any of the records released by Collective Soul or Counting Crows in the 90's, but I didn't listen to Secret Samadhi very often, and with the exception of a few of their singles that have been released in the years that followed, I really haven't followed them too closely, but it was a terrific set and I enjoyed even the songs that I wasn't familiar with.

The songs from their setlist that I knew were All Over You, Selling The Drama, I Alone and Lightning Crashes (off of Throwing Copper), Lakini's Juice (from Secret Samadhi) and The Dolphin's Cry (from their 1999 album The Distance To Here).  They also did an amazing cover of the 1956 Johnny Cash hit, I Walk The Line.  The songs I wasn't as familiar with included Mother Earth Is A Vicious Crowd and Mirror Song (from 1991's Mental Jewelry), They Stood Up For Love (from the same album as The Dolphin's Cry), Heaven (from 2003's Birds of Pray) and three songs off of their latest album, Songs From Black Mountain: The River, Where Do We Go From Here, and Wings.

Counting Crows have been one of my favorite bands since I first saw the music video for Mr. Jones on MTV when I was 13 years old.  It's the third track off of their debut album, August and Everything After.  It was one of the first CDs that I ever bought, and I played that thing from front to back so many times that I know every word to every song on the album.  The first song off of that album is Round Here.  It's one of my favorite songs of all-time, and it was the first song they performed at last night's show.  Adam sang it beautifully as a mashup with the second to last song off of the album, Raining In Baltimore.

I was extremely happy to hear Round Here, but not particularly surprised.  After all, it's one of the band's biggest hits.  However, I was pretty surprised when the next song they played was Omaha.  It's the second song off of August and Everything After, and although it's a wonderful song, it wasn't an especially big hit.  I'm pretty sure that it wasn't even released as a single.

The next song was their biggest hit, Mr. Jones.  The crowd went wild and so did I, but this is when the wheels really started to turn in my head.  Mr. Jones is the third song off of August and Everything After.  So far, every song they played was from their debut album, and they were played in the same order as the record.  I was still thinking it might be a coincidence, but when the next song was Perfect Blue Buildings, I knew that it wasn't.  They were playing one of my favorite albums of all time in its entirety!  It was followed by Anna Begins, Time And Time Again and Rain King.  In my wildest dreams, I never would have expected this.  It was as close to a magical experience as I've ever had at a concert!

Adam Duritz has an incredible stage presence.  It's difficult to describe if you haven't seen a Counting Crows show before, but he throws himself completely into every song as if he was performing it for God instead of for a crowd of fans in South Jersey.  A lot of his songs include lyrics about the rain (including Rain King), and every time one of those lines came up, Adam stretched his hand out to the light drizzle of rain that was falling on the stage.

The next song after Rain King (both on the album and at the concert) was a slow ballad called Sullivan Street, and that's where this concert went from amazing to surreal.  Thankfully, someone in the crowd recorded what happened and shared on YouTube, because it has to be seen to be believed.

Adam seemed a little off at the beginning of the song, and we soon found out why.  Apparently, two people were fighting in the crowd.  Adam took notice of this and stopped the song to break up the fight and to scold them for fighting during the sensitive song.  I wasn't close enough to see where the fight was, but it was pretty damn funny and the crowd roared with laughter and cheers at the whole situation.

After Sullivan Street, the band finished off the album by playing Ghost Train and A Murder Of One.  They skipped over Raining In Baltimore, which makes sense because they played pretty much the entire song in the middle of Round Here at the start of the set.

When the band had finished the August and Everything After album, there was a brief intermission, after which they played some new music from their upcoming album.  A photo of the setlist was floating around online this morning, but I remember them being played in a slightly different order than what is listed on this sheet.  They started off with two harder rock songs called Insignificant and Cowboys.  The next three were slower songs: Washington Square, When I Dream Of Michelangelo, and Come Around.  All five of the new songs were amazing!  The first two reminded me of the music from their second album, Recovering The Satellites, while the last three reminded me of some of the more mellow tracks from August and Everything After.

The new album is called Saturday Nights And Sunday Mornings, and it's coming out on November 6th.  They're also releasing a Deluxe Edition of August and Everything After that's due out in less than a month.  I will definitely be getting both of them, but before I get into that, there was one last song.

Adam talked to the audience about the new album during the second half of the show.  He mentioned that half of the album will be harder rock songs (Saturday Night) and the other half would be mellow and relaxing (Sunday Mornings).  After they played the five songs off of the new album, Adam said that they were going to send us all home with a lullaby, and they then closed the show with one of my favorite songs ever recorded by any band.  It's the last song from their 2002 album, Hard Candy, and it's called Holiday In Spain.  If you've never heard it, seek it out, because it's an absolutely beautiful song and the perfect way to end a perfect show.

Aug 19, 2007

A Curious Place To Visit

Emporium Of Curious Goods
Jim Thorpe, PA
This is a store that I make it a point to visit every time I'm in Jim Thorpe.   It's a new age shop that skews heavily towards wiccan goods, but they have all kinds of very cool and unusual things that are sure to fascinate anyone who walks through their doors.  I wouldn't call myself a follower of any religion, but there are teachings of various faiths that I respect, and quite a few of the things that I've learned about them have come from books on Paganism, Buddhism, and other beliefs that I found at this shop.

The place is owned and operated by a very cool gentleman named Barrett Ravenhurst who you'll often find in the store behind the counter.  He's a very old school dude... if you are respectful to him and to his business, he's an extremely interesting man to talk with, however if you come in acting like a jackass, there's a good chance that you're going to see his less-friendly side.

The last photo is one that I really get a kick out of.  The woman in the light blue shirt is my grandmother.  She is extremely Catholic and of the opinion that anyone who doesn't share her understanding of her religion is going to hell.  On several occasions, she has ranted and raved and outright screamed at me for something as simple as reading a book about witchcraft, and yet here she is, blissfully unaware that she is having a good time browsing through the most well-known witchy shop in Northeast Pennsylvania.  Go figure!

Aug 18, 2007

The Triple Play Ballpark Tour

Counting Crows: Rock N' Roll Triple Play Ballpark Tour
The Record - North Jersey (August 17, 2007)
Mike Kerwick of The Record (a newspaper from northern New Jersey) recently conducted a phone interview with Counting Crows guitarist David Immergl├╝ck about their current tour of minor league ballparks.

We have tickets to the show coming up on Wednesday at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, New Jersey - home of the Lakewood Blue Claws.  This is the Phillies Single A affiliate, and was one of the first teams in the organization that Ryan Howard played for in his path to the big leagues.  Counting Crows are touring with Live and Collective Soul.  It's going to be pretty awesome to see three of my favorite bands perform at the ballpark where one of my favorite players got his start in professional baseball.

Aug 17, 2007

I See A Red Door And I Want It Painted Black

St. Mark's Episcopal Church
Jim Thorpe, PA
This church opened in 1869 and is an example of Gothic Revival architecture in the United States.  It's an absolutely beautiful building.  It was declared to be a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

Aug 16, 2007

The White Swan

The Inn At Jim Thorpe
Jim Thorpe, PA
This beautiful hotel originally opened in 1833 as the White Swan Hotel.  It burned down and was rebuilt in 1849, and was purchased and renovated in 1988 to preserve the history of the property.  Over the years, General Ulysses S. Grant, President William Howard Taft, Buffalo Bill Cody, Thomas Edison, and John D. Rockefeller have each stayed here.  It remains open to this day as The Inn At Jim Thorpe.

Aug 15, 2007

A Reuben At The Steak & Ale House

JT's Steak & Ale House
Jim Thorpe, PA
This is where Dad, Grandma and I had lunch yesterday.  According to the top review on Yelp, the dining room and hand-carved bar with marble rails are original from the 1830's when the town was first founded.  It wouldn't surprise me if it were true.  Many of the buildings in Jim Thorpe have been here since the Victorian era.

The restaurant is on the first floor of the Hotel Switzerland on Hazard Square.  Dad and I both had the reuben and it was delicious.  The prices here are very reasonable too.

Aug 14, 2007

An Afternoon In Jim Thorpe

Dad, Grandma and I took a ride to Jim Thorpe today do have lunch and do some shopping.  It's a beautiful town that reminds me of Stars Hollow from The Gilmore Girls.  I would love to be able to live here.