A Bit of Abbey Road Mayhem

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

While the Beatles are widely known as one of the most influential bands of all time, it’s fair to say that their music lacked that extra bit of gritty “umph” found in many harder rock bands.  Enter Beatallica.  Taking the general song structures and lyrics of Beatles songs and seamlessly blending them with demanding Metallica riffs and thrashing guitar solos, Beatallica creates a unique musical experience that will leave you craving for more mayhem.  Supported by opening band Borracho, Beatallica rocked the backstage at The Black Cat this April 19 with the epic power of Lennon, McCartney, Hetfield and Hammett coursing through their veins.

Borracho opened the show on a somewhat lackluster note.  For the most part, the band simply sounds like a generic and unfortunately uninspiring mixture of metal giants Down and Brand New Sin.  The Washington-based band first came together in 2008 when members of local acts Adam West and Assrockers came together to experiment with a harder sound.  The band released their first single, “Rectify,” on a 7” split with Adam West and has since then recorded a number of other songs for a release on the indie label No Balls.

The D.C. metal band opened to a small crowd (if one could even call it that) with two dedicated metalheads headbanging up front for their entire set.  Despite their hard and heavy sound, the band appeared lifeless for the most part.  With the occasional head nod and bounce the members showed little movement as they worked their way through their set.  The lead guitarist, who looked like a retired Viking, showed the most enthusiasm, yet the music itself left much to be desired.  Although the band marched through their set with general applause and approval from the audience, the crowd amounted to no more than 20 or so people who were simply waiting for Beatallica to take the stage.

Once Borracho finished, it was time for the real show.  Donning regalia reminiscent of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album cover, the band took the stage and headed right into the song “The Battery of Jaymz and Yoko,” a clever, hard-hitting mix of Metallica’s “Battery” and Beatles’ “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”  The lead singer Michael Tierney began bouncing up and down, belting out the lyrics in a voice that sounded eerily close to Metallica’s James Hetfield.  As Tierney bounced up and down, lead guitarist Jeff Hamilton stood nonchalantly to his left, effortlessly manipulating the guitar neck to produce intricately ear-splitting solos.

The crowd quickly grew and began rocking out, completely in love with the marriage of the band’s hilarious lyrics and appearance with fast and heavy musical prowess.  The dedication of their fans, affectionately known as Beatallibangers, explains how the band shot from obscurity into an international cult fan following nine years ago.  After getting his hands on a copy of the group’s debut EP “A Garage Dayz Nite,” a Milwaukee fan made a web site for the band in 2001.  The band gave the site its seal of approval the following year after meeting its creator and learning about all of the fan mail that had been sent to him.  The viral internet phenomenon led the band to international tours and the release of their debut full-length album, “Sgt. Hetfield’s Motorbreath Pub Band” in 2007.  They even recorded an album comprised entirely of renditions of the song “All You Need is Blood” in 13 different languages.  In 2009 they released their second album “The Masterful Mystery Tour.”

The band dominated the stage with songs like “Sandman,” “Revol-ooh-tion,” and “Leper Madonna.”  A few songs into the set the band members removed their jackets to reveal 1970s-style hippie dresses, with the bassist’s covered in marijuana leaves and the singer admittedly wearing one of his grandmother’s dresses.

Beatallica had the crowd singing along for such classics as the slow and brooding “Ktulu (He’s So Heavy),” and anthemic “Hey Dude.”  In addition to these songs, the band also played a couple of songs that failed to make the cut for “Masterful Mystery Tour,” such as the eternally metal, yet wholly politically incorrect, “Please Please Me or I’ll Beat You.”  Beatallica straddles the line of impropriety with their metal songs about partying and beer-drinking, but they do it successfully with a comical tongue-in-cheek style that is sure to ensnare and convert any music fan into a metalhead for a night.

Four Year Strong Set for World Domination

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

Over the last decade the genre of emo has blown up on MTV and into the hearts and minds of 14-year-old boys upset about their recent breakups and the ups-and-downs of being overly dramatic and depressed.  Emo has been split up into an over-abundance of subgenres, but bands such as Set Your Goals, A Day to Remember and Four Year Strong are fighting to revitalize the popcore genre, a mix between pop punk and hardcore, and usher it into a new era.  Four Year Strong’s sophomore release “Enemy of the World” is a power-packed album of ear-pounding breakdowns and melodic, harmonized vocals that make the five-piece contenders for kings of the genre.

Four Year Strong first hit the scene in 2001 when Dan O’Connor (vocals/guitar), Alan Day (vocals/guitar) and Jake Massucco (drums) met each other through mutual friends at Doherty Memorial High School in Worcester, Ma.  After cycling through a few different members, typical of your classic high-school startup band, the group released their debut album “It’s Our Time” in 2005.  The group owes their quick rise in pop-punk popularity in 2007 to the release of their second album, “Rise or Die Trying,” and were signed to the Decaydence label the following year.  After touring extensively the band decided to record “Explains It All,” a cover album of 1990s pop hits, including an impressively aggressive hardcore version of Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic.”  The band is currently touring in support of “Enemy of the World” and will be playing all dates of the Vans Warped Tour this summer.

In comparing “Enemy of the World” to “Rise or Die Trying,” the new album contains a level of vocal depth not present in their previous albums.  Upon first hearing of Four Year Strong, the first thought that came to mind was that it sounded like Fall Out Boy’s “Take This to Your Grave” with a lot more double bass, head-banging potential and the occasional guttural scream.  The vocals have definitely matured a bit, moving away from the sing-songy melodies of their clean, high-pitched vocals to a rougher sound that more aptly fits the voluminous beards and sleeve tattoos of its members.

The album is full of anthemic songs of perseverance and survival through trials and tribulations, such as the opening “It Must Really Suck to be Four Year Strong Right Now” and “On a Saturday.”  There are a lot of chants in every song, but this premise has worked to the band’s advantage throughout their career.  One of the most uniting aspects of live performances in the music scene is the sense of community created by the fans and Four Year Strong has found a working formula in mobilizing that community in a way that brings the fan into the process.

“What the Hell is A Gigawatt” is a short fast-paced punk song about finding oneself and learning how to take responsibility for, and be conscientious of, the self-destructive mistakes one can make.  The song is slowed down for a moshpit-inducing breakdown that is sure to have fists flying and feet kicking.  “One Step at a Time” is an emotionally rich song about coping with the death of a loved one and moving on to a brighter future.  The album’s weakest track is “This Body Pays the Bill$,” another song that fits into the overly-clichéd theme of “the girl that breaks your heart.”

The strongest song of the album is “Wasting Time (Eternal Summer),” with a perfect sing-along chorus and an “ooh-ooh-ooooh” whistling harmony that actually works.  The quick up-and-down strokes keep the song moving at a manageable pace, breaking right before the chorus for an effective dramatic pause that slams the chorus right into the listener’s ear.  Overall, it seems that the members of Four Year Strong have found their niche and helped pave a way for sweaty punk fans to make the most out of their concert-going experience.

O’Sullivan captures the Wild West

By Ashley Kemper
ArtsPost staff writer

Traditional tales of outlaw escapades and cowboy adventures are long forgotten in the hauntingly desolate yet picturesque collection of photographs by Timothy O’ Sullivan currently on exhibit in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. While traveling across of the country from 1867 to 1874 with Clarence King and Lt. George M. Wheeler, O’Sullivan honed his photographer’s eye in the midst of the western terrain. Idaho falls, Colorado peaks, Nevada lakes and Utah canyons all provided fodder for the budding documentary biologist.

The exhibit’s more than 100 photographs transport viewers to an era when both photographs and the hopes of pioneering explorers were black and white. Uninhabited landscapes tell a story of the great wilderness just beginning to be explored by pioneers seeking the promise of open skies. A sense of anticipation and promise emanates from the warmly toned images. Though the focus of the exhibit lies heavily on topography and only shows the rare human, the frames encompass a palpable spirit seeping out from the earth. As viewers walk through the exhibit, they feel as if they are joining O’Sullivan and his cohorts on their Great American Adventure. A sense of newness appears even to modern viewers who believe they have seen everything west of the Mississippi.

In an interview with the Washington Post, exhibit curator Toby Jurovics said that O’Sullivan unlocked the camera’s metaphoric powers.He wasn’t daunted by the fact that nothing’s there,” Jurovics said. Instead of creating welcoming travel photos, O’Sullivan documented only that which appeared in front of him, in all its harsh, intimidating, awe-inspiring glory.

O’Sullivan refuses to bend to the magnanimity of America’s greatest natural wonders, but instead frames them with the dreams of a generation set on conquering the West, as in his “Buttes Near Green River City, 1872.”  The landscape’s off-kilter horizon line does not detract from the butte’s splendor, but it does temper the impact, hiding a natural beauty behind a field of brush and tumbleweeds. The dynamic lines of the butte contrast the blemished ground below it and rise elegantly into the heavy sky.

In an image of Idaho’s Shoshone Falls, however, a long exposure captures the urgent rush of a river flowing over jutted rocks, the energy and confidence of an expanding nation floating in tow. Though the cusp of the falls fill most of the image, O’Sullivan allows a rising mist to encompass the otherwise beautifully defined tide. Rather than framing the rushing waters from a head-on position to capture the full width of the cliff, O’Sullivan merely perches on the water’s edge, seemingly inches from being swept up in the current to expose the maximum energy and power of the water. The way the photographer shows a willingness to immerse himself in the subject yet presents a biological and human-less product displays his affinity for the beauty of Earth’s processes.

Employing the latest photographic technique of the time, O’Sullivan produced his sweeping vistas as albumen silver prints. The egg white solution utilized in the process adds a slight but distinct sheen to the images that seems to enhance to their mysterious quality. ­­­­Unlike other photographers of his time, O’Sullivan set out not to make this new territory seem familiar for Colonials, but instead to caution of the untouched hazards that lay ahead. His scientific approach caught a side of the West rarely seen, one that still causes viewers today to pause and admire the shocking nature that lies just within our reach.

The real red, white and blue in Washington

By Jeremy Walsh
ArtsPost staff writer

While walking up to 11th green on the Blue Course at East Potomac Park, it’s hard to imagine any golf course having a more beautiful backdrop.

With the Jefferson Memorial directly ahead, the Washington Monument just past that, and the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building peeking over the tall buildings to your right, and considering you’re on a magnificent, lush golf course in the first place, there is certainly no better view in all of Washington D.C.

Located minutes from the Jefferson Memorial (roughly two minutes by car, 10 minutes by foot), the East Potomac Park golf facility offers memorable experiences to golfers of all skill levels.

There are 36 holes of golf on three differently styled courses, a driving range with 100 stalls, several practice greens, and even a miniature golf course.  That alone is pretty remarkable for a public facility.

But the exceptionality of East Potomac is most noticeable while playing on the full-length, headliner Blue Course

Playing to a par-72, the Blue Course is a flat course that isn’t particularly long but does require accurate shot-making, offering a challenging and enjoyable experience to golfers of most skill levels.

Keeping the tee shot in the fairway is imperative, but not for typical reasons.  While there are only few marked hazards and several holes do run next to out-of-bounds areas, the real danger preventing golfers from finding their balls is the rough.

Many of the par-4 holes have thick rough, in the range of three to five inches, and if your shot drifts into this grass, it can take you the full five minutes allowed by the rules to find the ball.  This can get frustrating golfers who easily lose shots either direction off the tee (which is no doubt most golfers).

The thicker rough provides a unique opportunity compared to other public courses, which tend to have sligh

tly shorter rough.

The course is easily characterized as an open course, considering there aren’t many trees, almost no fairway bunkers and most of the holes run parallel to one or two other holes.  As a result, the ball tends to stay in-play, which frankly makes the experience more fun – nobody likes to go out to a course and lose 15 balls because the each shot requires almost professional precision.

Another reason most golfers should enjoy the Blue Course is the greens, which roll at a fair speed and are in great condition.  In fact, the lush color of the greens does as much for the beauty of the course and setting as do the n

ational monuments.

The two nines are fairly similar to one another, though the back nine does play slightly longer than the front.  The first few holes of each side away from downtown, while the closing holes play directly toward the Washington Monument.

On the front nine, the par-4 holes are all manageable, playing less than 400 yards for the men and around 275 for the women.  But the side makes up for it with two long par-5 holes.  The long third hole comes in at a massive 590 yards for the men, requiring three huge and accurate shots just to get on the green in regulation.

The par-3 eighth hole is the most picturesque spot on the course.  No matter what day you play that hole, the flagstick always seems to be directly in line with the Washington Monument.

The back nine features shorter par-5 and par-3 holes but the par-4 holes are longer, averaging nearly 375 yards, with two over 400 yards long, for the men and around 300 yards long for the women.  Because of the increased length of these holes, the back nine presents more of a challenge, but is still quite manageable.

Overall, the Blue Course is an excellent full-length public course, helping make the whole East Potomac facility be the most popular in Washington.  Though this popularity is a gift for management, it can be a curse for the patrons.  The course gets crowded on nice weekdays and jam-packed on the weekends, so be prepared for a slow-paced, potentially five-hour round.

Still, the entire facility is great for all golfers.  The Red Course is a nine-hole par-3 course, all of which are around 100 yards and ideal for beginning golfers.  The White Course is also a nine-hole course, with normal length par-3 and par-4 holes and presents a good test for average players.

All three courses at East Potomac Park, like the two other public course in Washington, are owned by the U.S. Park Service and managed by Golf Course Specialists Inc.

The facility has been an important part of the city’s history since the 1920s.  The first nine was built in 1921 and the subsequent three nines were constructed in 1923, 1924, and 1930 respectively, all by different, little-known course architects.

Despite its age, the course managers keep the facility in great shape, with the Blue Course being the best conditioned course in Washington.  With rounds moderately priced, at $27 on weekdays and $31 on the weekend, the Blue Course offers an affordable, enjoyable experience for all amateur golfers.

Scoring Redgate: Is it remarkable?

Redgate's par-5 14th hole

By Jeremy Walsh
ArtsPost staff writer

Redgate Municipal Golf Course is a challenging par-71, public course managed by the City of Rockville, Md., designed by local golf course architect Therman Donovan. Since its opening in 1974, Redgate has become a well-known opportunity for local golfers to test their skills.

But is the course really worth your 4 1/2 hours and $50?

Let’s evaluate the Redgate experience, scoring each hole individually, to see whether each part of the course is truly exceptional.

(The scoring system: decently designed holes, challenging and fair will be given a par.  Poor or below-average holes will get a bogey, and beautiful, exceptional holes will get a birdie. So, a good, worthwhile course would finish with a score right at par.)

1. Par-4, 376 yards

This uphill, dogleg-left hole is a good starting hole and sets the tone for the rest of the course.  There’s change in elevation, fairway bunkers and trees surrounding the green, all of which are constants at Redgate.  The hole requires two good shots to a manageable green, a solid test for a first hole.  Par

2.  Par-3, 168 yards

Players must hit over a small creek on this challenging par-3 that drops downhill significantly to a difficult, sloping green. The green looks beautiful from the tee, though the trees between there and the green are kind of an eyesore.  Par

3.  Par-4, 324 yards

Easily the most beautiful hole on the front nine.  The view from the tee box is simply magnificent, as some 100 yards of lake must be cleared before finding the fairway this short, uphill par-4.  Assuming you avoid the fairway bunkers and the trees, the second shot should settle nicely on an easy green.  Fun hole for golfers to all levels. Birdie

4. Par-5, 560 yards

A long hole featuring a lake between the fairway and a creek just in front of the green.  The approach shot is fun, as the fairway drops some 40 yards to the green.  The green is difficult, so try to stay below the hole to avoid a three-putt.  Par

5.  Par-4, 350 yards

Really nothing special.  The tee shot is blind and severely uphill with trees on either side.  The hole turns slightly to the left for the approach shot to a huge green.  Don’t miss the green to the right because the ground is hard and the grass is poor.   Par

6.  Par-3, 137 yards

Another picturesque hole.  This magnificent, short par-3 requires a simple shot in between three green-side bunkers.  Be careful with a green that slopes pretty significantly toward the front.  Birdie

7.  Par-4, 362 yards

This hole begins a short stretch of holes that straddle the line between average and poor.  The seventh hole squeaks by in the former, barely because it’s challenging and the fairway and green are in good shape.  The one knock is that it runs parallel to the parking lot, and average golfers don’t need the added stress of financial repercussions for their tee shot to the left.  Par

8.  Par-4, 423 yards

Again, here’s another hole that barely makes the grade.  Players can’t see the fairway from the tee on this long par-4 (not being able to see the fairway or green really takes away from a hole’s quality).  Once you reach that fairway though, the view of the green is exceptional, featuring an elevated putting surface surrounded by bunkers on three sides.  Par

9.  Par-4, 456 yards

The most challenging hole for the average golfer is also the least attractive.  The view to the green is what brings it down.  The fairway slopes awkwardly to the side on the left side and has a big, drooping tree blocking the right side.  The green is also needlessly big.  Overall, a poor way to finish a good-looking front nine.  Bogey

After nine holes, Redgate’s course design is pretty exceptional, and is sitting at 1-under-par.  Considering that par is a good score for all courses using this system, being better than that is awesome.  The two beautiful holes are much more memorable than the poor finishing holes.

10.  Par-4, 412 yards

This is the last in the aforementioned stretch of mediocre holes and like the others, is another long par-4 that demands two quality shots, though this green is the most challenging on the course so far.  The green is a slick beast, slanting drastically from right to left.  Here’s a case where challenge balances out unremarkable design.  Par

11.  Par-4, 309 yards

Just a remarkable, short par-4.  There are hazards on either side, but the tee box is some 20 yards above the green, tempting everyone to bring out the driver when a lay-up tee shot is the smart play.  For years, this green has had irrigation and disease problems but is finally in good shape.  Play smart and you’ll get the same score:  Birdie

12.  Par-4, 383 yards

Clearly the eyesore of the back nine.  The tee shot must carry up a slope of some 50 or 60 yards just to make to a part of the fairway.  The view to the green, surrounded by trees and out-of-bounds, is unspectacular, like the rest of the hole.  Bogey

13.  Par-4, 415 yards

This features yet another blind tee shot, with the green nowhere in sight.  From the fairway, you face another severe drop to the green.  Though blind tee shots are frustrating, there’s something beautiful about the view from above a well-manicured, bunker-surrounded green.  Par

14. Par-5, 507 yards

The 14th hole is the most spectacular on the course.  It’s a medium-length par-5 that plays downhill from the tee to a challenging green surrounded by long, deep bunkers.  The view from the tee box is simply stunning, with the nuances of the hole clearly visible.  Golfers know exactly the test before them; it’s a matter or being able to conquer.  Birdie

15.  Par-3, 138 yards

Here’s an average-looking, short par-3.  The shadows from the huge trees on either side disguise the green, throwing off one’s depth perception.  It’s tough to judge tee shot distance and the green is huge, making it a fun little hole.  Par

16.  Par-5, 498 yards

The most difficult hole on the course to judge.  On the one hand, it’s a short par-5 that presents the possibility for good scores.  On the other hand, there are awkwardly sloped areas of rough between patches of fairway and hazard that can make the hole unpleasant to play.  Still, everyone enjoys a short par-5; just keep it in play.  Par

17.  Par-3, 200 yards

The 17th is a difficult, uphill par-3 that is anything but scenic.  On the right is an area of ugly, dry trees and shrubs; and on the left is out-of-bounds and netting that guards an office building.  Not pretty, but it’s challenging and the green is in good shape.  Par

18.  Par-4, 437 yards

Probably the flattest hole on the course, tee-to-green.  Two long, precise shots are necessary for this slight dogleg hole.  The view from the tee is good; the view to the green is great.  The green is guarded by a man-made lake on the left and bunkers on the right.  In all respects, it’s a great way to complete the course.  Birdie

For the round, the design of Redgate scores a 3-under-par, which is remarkable.  Though the course hits a slight snag on the quality-meter between holes seven and 10, the course is excellent overall.

Many of the holes have elevation changes and well-kept, lush fairways and greens, which any golfer should love.  If you haven’t been out there, it’s time to grab your sticks and experience Redgate.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is anything but an “Infidel”

By Alexandra Wells
ArtsPost Staff Writer

Fair use image provided by author's website.

Having all your life’s decisions made by the male head of a family is unimaginable to many Western women. However, this is the way that some Muslim women in the Middle East are raised, it is then “normal.” One woman who grew up in this climate is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who tells a unique tale in her memoir, “Infidel.”

Ali explains herself as a woman who went from quietly submitting her will in Saudi Arabia to loudly announcing her thoughts in Dutch politics. She opens with a scene of herself at age 5, sitting on a grass mat in Somalia with her grandmother, and reciting her ancestry, “I am Ayaan, the daughter of Hirsi, the son of Magan.” As she falters for a second, her grandmother quickly speaks up to the nervous Ali, telling her, “If you dishonor him you will be forsaken. You will be nothing…”

The autobiography is extremely touching, a gripping read that is hard to put down. Ali uses descriptive prose to describe dire situations: her escape of an arranged marriage, the numerous death threats she received after her co-production of a controversial film and her atrocious beatings and female mutilation as a child. She manages to step back from the situation at hand and discuss the roots of her problems.

Many times when people are physically and emotionally downtrodden, they choose to curl up and ignore the outside world. In Ali’s case, she did the exact opposite and decided to help bring freedom to other oppressed women around the globe. Her political and religious positions are extremely liberal, especially for a female coming from a Muslim background, and for this she has suffered but not given up.

Her father disowned her when she chose to stay in the Netherlands and earn her degree in political science. Fundamental Islamists sent her death threats and tried to tarnish her public image. Ali however, has remained stalwartly committed to her cause of women’s rights, her voice bold. Her current method of reforming free speech for women in Muslim countries is through her election to the Netherlands’ House of Parliament, where she serves as a Representative.

She does not try to make herself out to be innocent or angelic and she recognizes that she had to be selfish in order to make it to where she is today. A sense of regret in hurting her strict Muslim family comes through during her recollection of childhood, but she does not waiver in her decision to fight religious injustice, which directed primarily towards women. She is truly resilient, springing back into action when it looks as if all the doors in her life are closed to her.

Seeing Ali’s thoughts turn from basic religious submission to questioning the dogma is an out of the ordinary change, but the true transformation in her life comes about when she begins to turn her thoughts into actions. Her deep sense of right and wrong, coupled with a curiosity and intelligence, allow Ali to learn from her life lessons rather becoming bitter and resentful. Sheer courage emanates from her pages, as she concludes her book saying, “Even with bodyguards and death threats I feel privileged to be alive and free.”

Even a Princess can kick ass

By Lauren Linhard
ArtsPost Staff Writer

Once upon a time there was a beautiful Princess and she met a handsome Prince. When danger came to the kingdom, the daring Prince saved the fair Princess. They fell deeply in love and got married. And they all lived happily ever after…or not.

Ever wonder what really happened after the happy couple rode into the sunset? Or better yet, what dirty secrets did the Disney Princess stories leave out? Maybe The Little Mermaid lost more than her voice. Maybe her beloved prince wasn’t such a nice guy. And maybe Princesses were meant to kick ass.

In the spirit of adventure, friendship and (of course) girl power, Jim C. Hines has written “The Mermaid’s Madness,” a twist on the old Disney classic. The true story of “The Little Mermaid” is told through the eyes of fellow princesses Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. The tale begins after the movie has ended, but instead of a marriage, Ariel, referred to in the book as Lirea, has killed her Prince. Angry and confused, she begins to hear voices. Returning to the sea, she gathers the tribes of Merfolk and declares war on the humans.

Hines certainly gets points for his alternative depiction of the Princesses. Magical powers like singing or talking to animals, which were originally considered feminine, save the day. The gifts that the fairies bestowed on Sleeping Beauty make her undefeatable (not to mention that she is a martial arts expert). Snow White is a powerful sorceress, drawing strength from the magic mirror. And Cinderella, now married to the Prince of Lorindar, controls the sharks and sea-creatures for protection. Basically they are the Charlie’s Angels of fairytales. Rather than the type of Princess every little girl wants to grow-up to be, we have the strong Queens that women want to be.

While “The Mermaid’s Madness” is fun to read, it’s not exceptionally well written. The themes of the book are adult oriented, but the writing style seems geared toward teenagers. The sentences stay relatively simple throughout, as does the dialogue. Though a lot of the conversation is witty and amusing, it can also become repetitive. Each character has a main motivation, which they constantly talk about. You could play a drinking game with the number of times Morveren (Ursella in the movie) mentions saving her granddaughter.

However, what Hines lacks in writing skill he makes up for in creativity. Developing an entire culture for the Merfolk, he describes the royal hierarchy, mating habits, migration seasons and sea magic. Expanding into the fairy world, he adds Captain Hephyra to the mix. The fairy’s tree was cut down to make the Queen’s vessel, forever bonding Hephyra to the ship.  Strong and sultry, she can sense the passionate desires of others, which causes a bit of a stir. The ship is truly fascinating because it is created of a still-living tree. To keep it thriving, the crew stores fertilizer in the lower decks. All these little magical details create an intriguing fantasy world.

LTH: Storytelling and harmonies rock the night

By Ashley Kemper
ArtsPost staff writer

While most musicians get a start by writing their own material, few have the experience of roots-rocker Eric Brace. After spending the first decade of his career as a music critic for The Washington Post, Brace decided to trade his pen and paper for a guitar. Fifteen years later, the blues, pop and country blend of Last Train Home has established a widespread following, thanks mostly to Brace’s smooth-as-silk tenor and unassuming presence.

In their recent performance at Virginia’s Barns at Wolf Trap, a sold-out crowd of mostly middle-aged Americana enthusiasts cheered on the seven-member band, joined for the night by guitarist, vocalist and current fellow music critic Peter Cooper. After writing a favorable review of Last Train Home’s first album for Nashville’s Tennessean, Cooper met Brace in person at a concert, and their collaboration began.

“Playing with Peter brings out the folk singer in me a little more, where we really focus on harmonies and acoustic guitar arrangements,” Brace said in an interview with The News Leader. “The material rocks a little more in [Last Train Home], and the songs can be a little more abstract, whereas the songs I play and record with Peter all have a little bit more of a story to them.”

The duo’s story came across loud and clear on the Barns’ stage as Cooper played an opening set featuring songs that told stories of his early years growing up in the South. As Cooper strummed away on the lonely stage, it was easy to imagine the singer sitting around a campfire playing for friends rather than entertaining a crowd of hundreds. While songs entitled “Dumb Luck” and “Last Laugh” were chock full of  jokes and tongue-in-cheek lyrics, Cooper’s thoughtful chords and tender voice transformed the performance into something much more revealing.

Brace, on the other hand, employed no tricks or gimmicks in his stage show, relying only on earnest songs and a good voice to achieve his band’s richly-layered sound. Cooper returned to the stage with Brace and lent a gentle harmonizing quality to the songs, which, while not particularly necessary, seemed to put Brace at ease.

Over the past years the band has been together, they have done a significant amount of traveling, both domestic and international. As Brace pointed out, their touring van now has more miles on it than the distance to the moon. During their national tours, Last Train Home frequently picks up and swaps out musicians as they go along, resulting in a unique experience at each live show.

“There’s definitely an element of ‘we’re not quite sure how this is going to go off,’ ” Brace said in an interview before the show. “There’s a lot of communicating. It’s hard, but you try to find the right people.”

And communicate they did, as Brace frequently left his position in center stage and walked among his bandmates, giving direction or signaling an impromptu solo. While Brace clearly commanded the group’s dynamic, he was also not afraid to step back and let his band shine on their own. Electric guitarist Scott McKnight stepped out halfway through the ballad “Quarter to Three” and showed off with a solo riff that left even Brace and Cooper smiling.

Though he had played off and on with bands since college, 1996 marked the first time that Brace decided to focus solely on a music career and recruited band members of his own to record a debut album. Nearly overnight, Last Train Home was born. Throughout the next few years, Last Train Home grew in prominence, earning the “Artist of the Year” award from the Washington Area Music Association in 2003. Since that time, Last Train Home has performed more than a thousand shows and has opened for the likes of Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton.

Last Train Home will be making its next stop in Winston Salem, N.C., before returning to Virginia at the end of March.

Where’s the windmill? Not even a clown’s mouth?

By Jeremy Walsh
ArtsPost staff writer

Miniature Golf at East Potomac Park:  fun for the whole family?  Not quite.

Simply put, the course isn’t fun.  It lacks a colorful and entertaining design and the holes are incredibly challenging for most adult players, let alone for children.

Built in 1930 and billed as the oldest running miniature golf course in the United States, the East Potomac course is not your typical amusement facility.  When most people think of miniature golf, they no doubt imagine colored carpeting, funny designs and fun playing conditions.  This course features none of those typical attributes.

The holes are all lined with bland, poorly conditioned green carpeting, giving the course a dreary feel.  The carpets have obviously not been replaced in a long time, considering the many little nicks and faded appearance.

As a result of the years of wear, every hole is extremely challenging.  Many of the holes seem to roll faster than the greens at Augusta National.  And most of the cups are placed just in front of little hills or slopes, so when if your ball barely trickles past the hole, it usually rolls five or more feet past the cup.

If the conditions are tough and irritating to an adult, it’s difficult to imagine little kids enjoying themselves (unless you’re raising a golf prodigy, in which case your kid will have better touch on the greens than Tiger Woods).

Even worse is the course design.  On the one hand, it probably closely resembles the original design, which adds to its historical value.

But parents and kids today rightfully expect a clown’s mouth, a windmill, or at the very least, a volcano hole.  Instead, many of the holes are bland, straight-ahead or winding shots that require players to guide the ball toward or away from curbs.                                The rest of the holes do have some elevation changes, where players hit toward a hole with a pipe, leading to other greens.  Holes like these are typical of any miniature golf course, but usually these holes with pipes are covered by a house or windmill.  At the East Potomac course, the holes are visible, without any sort of covering or decoration.

The front nine of the course is much more challenging than the back nine, mostly because the holes on the front tend to have shorter pars.  Also, the carpeting on the first nine holes is horrible, so the ball will roll about every direction except into the cup.  The unfair conditions are not as pronounced on the back nine – plus the bigger pars allow you more shots to get that little colored ball into the cup.

Unfortunately, this course is really the only family miniature golf course in Washington, and the only one in the surrounding areas that is Metrorail accessible, though you will need to take a long, but scenic 20 minute trek from the Smithsonian stop.

If you’re looking for a birthday venue for your youngster, you’ll be better off skipping the Miniature Golf at East Potomac Park experience.  The course is insanely difficult without offering any of the appealing visual elements of normal miniature golf facilities (there isn’t even an arcade, decent food shack or indoor seating).

If you happen to be a teenager or adult trying to hone your putt-putt skills to make it as a professional miniature golfer, then this might just be the perfect place for you.  Since you probably aren’t in that miniscule minority, you’re better off skipping this place.  Find a mini-putt game online instead.

Bourdain: amusing or insulting?

By Emma Wojtowicz
ArtsPost Staff Writer

Whether you are a culinary enthusiast who can prepare a six-course French meal or a cooking neophyte who does not know how to boil water you have the ability to read, appreciate and enjoy “Kitchen Confidential: Adventure in the Culinary Underberlly” by Anthony Bourdain.

Dressed in white, Bourdain stands confidently and somewhat smugly clutching a sword on the cover of his book. He looks formidable; the book reveals that his cover appearance is justifiable. Bourdain’s narrative divulges his experiences and knowledge gained from working in the restaurant business in Manhattan.

Prior to traveling and eating his way around the world for his cultural culinary show “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel, Bourdain worked his way through restaurants and kitchens in New York City. Bourdain shares anecdotes about his different jobs and colleagues; he gives cooking and dining advice based on his experiences behind-the-scenes; and he makes your jaw drop from his outlandish tales, secrets and opinions. His witty, honest, in-your-face writing style makes you feel like an insider to the culinary world. Bourdain does not hold back embarrassing stories or gloat about his accomplishments, but he shares his career’s highs and lows with a “this is how it is” kind of attitude.

Bourdain organizes his book like a meal: appetizer, first course, second course, third course, dessert and coffee and cigarette. The book is a hodge-podge of stories, observations, lessons, advice, cooking tips and insight into the business of food.

Bourdain tells stories about specific people and restaurants that impacted his life and shaped his career. His mentor, nick-named Bigfoot, gave Bourdain a job and showed him the way to run a business. “Bigfoot inspires a strange and consuming loyalty. I try, in my kitchen, to be just like him,” Bourdain says about his mentor. “I want my cooks to think that, like Bigfoot, when I look into their eyes, I see right into their very souls.” Bourdain explains how the restaurant world works and who the people are that run it – thoroughly.

Cooking advice intertwines with details of Bourdain’s experiences. He explains what the essential items and ingredients are for the average, professional chef, some of which include: a chef’s knife, non-stick sauté pan, heavy-weight pots and pans, butter, shallots, roasted garlic. He gives advice on how to obtain some items. “If you have a few extra bucks, read the back of the paper for notices of restaurants auctions,” Bourdain recommends. “Restaurants go out of business all the time and have to sell off their equipment quickly and cheaply…” Bourdain is not condescending, nor does he have an all-knowing attitude; he is practical and honestly shares his advice, including his do’s and don’ts for eating in restaurants—don’t eat fish on Mondays, don’t order hollandaise sauce and do eat the bread, but understand it has been recycled from someone else’s table. Bourdain justifies his advice and includes more things to watch out for, but you will need to read the book to learn how to dine like an expert.

Bourdain is not shy, and he does not care if his opinions, language or stories offend anyone. “Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food,” Bourdain says, clearly not caring if he offends those who fall into the vegetarian or more stringent categories. He goes on to say, “Amoebas are transferred most easily through the handling of raw, uncooked vegetables, particularly during the washing of salad greens and leafy produce. So think about that the next time you want to exchange deep tongue kisses with a vegetarian.” You either laughed out loud or closed the book in disgust, but that is Bourdain and his writing style/sense of humor.

Bourdain wrote this book before he joined what he calls “the celebrity chef culture.” He admits that the culinary world is different now because chefs have the potential to make money and achieve stardom. Instead, his book tells how it was in the ’80s and ’90s when chefs went from job to job working 14-plus hour days hoping and waiting for the opportunity to run their own kitchen. Bourdain’s narrative appeals to people who know what its like to work hard for love and survival.