DC at Night

DC at Night

Monday, December 30, 2013

Best of DC 2013: Dining and Entertainment

Favorite New in 2013 Dinner Spot ($$$$) 
  • Judy - Juniper
  • Me - The Bombay Club
Favorite Dinner Spot (for repeat dining)
  • Judy - Ray's the Steaks
  • Me - Georgia Brown's
Favorite Jose Andres Restaurant
  • Judy - Jaleo
  • Me - Zatinya
Favorite Steak
  • Judy - Ray's the Classic
  • Me - Ray's to the Third
Favorite Southern Dining
  • Judy - Eatonville
  • Me - Acadiana
Favorite Soul Food
  • Judy - Oohs and Ahhs
  • Me - The Florida Avenue Grill
Favorite Brunch
  • Judy - Belga Cafe
  • Me - Pearl Dive Oyster Palace
Favorite DC Iconic Eatery (lunch)
  • Judy - Clyde's
  • Me - CF Folks
Favorite Sandwich Shop
  • Judy - Taylor Gourmet
  • Me -New Orleans Po' Boy Shop
Favorite Lunch Spot ($ Asian)
  • Judy - Yo Sushi
  • Me - Teaism
Favorite Chinatown Eatery
  • Judy - New Big Wong
  • Me - Pho DC
Favorite Dining on the National Mall
  • Judy - Mitsitam (in National Museum of the American Indian)
  • Me - Mitsitam
Favorite Hamburger
  • Judy - 5 Guys
  • Me - Ben's Chili Bowl
Favorite Pizza
  • Judy - Comet Pizza
  • Me - We, the Pizza
Favorite Restaurant in Crystal City (Ethnic)
  • Judy -  Neramitra (Thai)
  • Me - The Mexican Cantina
Favorite Restaurant in Olde Towne Alexandria
  • Judy - Restaurant Eve
  • Me - The Majestic

Favorite Concert (Large Venue)
  • Judy - Paul McCartney @Nationals Park
  • Me - Warren Haynes @(Wolf Trap
Favorite Concert (Mid-size Venue)
  • Judy - Hall and Oates @Warner Theater
  • Me - Dwight Yoakam @9:30 Club
Favorite Concert (Small Venue)
  • Judy - Rita Coolidge @Museum of the American Indian
  • Me - Garland Jeffreys @The Hamilton
Favorite Classic Rock Show
  • Judy - The Monkees @Warner Theater
  • Me - Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck @Warner Theater
Favorite Theater Performance
  • Judy - The Tempest @ Synetic
  • Me - The Picture of Dorian Gray @ Synetic
Favorite Kennedy Center Show
  • Judy - NPR Christmas Piano
  • Me - The Legacy of Bob Marley
Favorite Free Kennedy Center Millennium Stage Show
  • Judy - Merry Tuba Christmas
  • Me - School House Rock
Favorite Comedy Performance
  • Judy - Bill Cosby @Dunbar High School
  • Me - John Oliver @Warner Theater
Favorite White House Destruction Movie
  • Judy - White House Down
  • Me - Olympus House Fallen
Favorite TV Show with DC Setting
  • Judy - Scandal
  • Me - House of Cards 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Smithsonian Sunday: World's Largest Stamp Gallery Now Open in DC

DC's Smithsonian museums (there are 17 of them here in the city) are among America's most treasured and visited places. But the Smithsonian also publishes a series of some of the most interesting, fact-filled blogs appearing anywhere on the internet. Each Sunday, The Prices Do DC re-posts an entry that initially appeared in one of those highly-readable Smithsonian blogs. Hope you enjoy and maybe see you soon at the Smithsonian.

The inverted Jenny: America's most famous stamp
Stamp collectors like nothing better than a mistake. Take for example the notorious blunder of 1918 that flipped a Curtiss Jenny aircraft upside-down on a United States 24-cent postage stamp. The so-called “Inverted Jenny” has since become America’s most famous stamp and one of the world’s most famous errors. “This is a stamp that just makes every collector’s heart beat,” says Postal Museum curator Cheryl Ganz.
On Sunday, September 22, the original Inverted Jenny goes on permanent view for the first time in Smithsonian history. Presented in a four-stamp block with three singles, the Jennies are the crown jewels of the new William H. Gross Stamp Gallery, a 12,000-square-foot addition to the Postal Museum. The gallery will feature some 20,000 philatelic objects, a handful of which are reproduced below. Curator Daniel Piazza hopes that the Jennies will become a “stop on the tour of Washington,” canonized with other great artifacts in American history.
To continue reading this article, click here.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saturday Supplement: A Look Back at DC in 2013

Every Saturday we publish an article (or more) that is of interest to both DC residents and visitors which first appeared on a website other than The Prices Do DC.

First, before the year finally slips away, flip through the 2013 edition of The Washington City Paper Encyclopedia of D.C., and take a few minutes to remember the good stuff and learn from the bad.
To check out the A-to-Z offerings, click here.

Then scope out DC's top food and drink trends for 2013 as published in The Best Thing on the Menu. Just click here.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Friday Flashback: Newtown - What Do You Say?

This post originally appeared in The Prices Do DC on Dec. 11, 2012.

Earlier this week, my wife and I headed to the Smithsonian Museum of American History to see a dedication ceremony where institution officials would be accepting one of the witches' costumes worn in the celebrated Broadway musicalWicked. Given the play's close connection to the classic children's story The Wizard of Oz, it wasn't surprising that we were joined by dozens and dozens of 4 and 5-year-old pre-schoolers, squirming in anticipation of what they were about to see. But despite the wonder and innocence that emanated from their smiling faces, I couldn't help but look at them differently than I would have just a few days ago. For this was post-Newtown, a name sure to join Columbine and Virginia Tech and way too many other American sites as a scene of evil personified - a place where young people were gunned down, victims of our society's growing propensity  for levels of violence that are almost incomprehensible for a rationale mind to comprehend.

As they entered the Smithsonian's huge main hall and approached the stage, the little ones, as little ones have been doing since the beginning of time, were holding hands with their partners. Instead of smiling at the warming sight, I kept flashing back to early news reports from Newtown that described how the surviving elementary students, shocked and shakened, were told to close their eyes and hold each others hands tightly as they slowly left the horror that had unfolded in their hallways.

Like you, I am struggling to come to grips with what happened last week in that Connecticut community. It hits home because I am an American. It hits home because I am a  father. It hits home because I am a grandfather to 2 precious grandchildren, who with their mostly Mom-, but sometimes Dad-packed lunches and young dreams, head off daily to their Atlanta area pre-school. And it hits home because for 34 of my 60 years, I was a teacher of the young, both as a high school English teacher and a journalism teacher at college.

As we waited for the Smithsonian ceremony, I wanted so much to rush to those kids and hug them. Of course, I didn't. As it should, society has strict prohibitions against strangers hugging children. And anyway what could I tell them as I held them tight? Don't worry, you will be OK. Such things will never happen to you. It may not seem that way now, but evil never triumphs over good. With the help of a strong mind, a loving  heart, fearless courage, and maybe even a wise wizard or a good witch, you will always be able to slay the wicked witches and safely find your way home.

Like you, I am struggling with ways to reduce this insane level of violence that is threatening to destroy America. I think we must look at many avenues. But I draw the line at one. This is how I put it on my Facebook page:

I continue to read comments from what I am sure are concerned, well-intentioned people contending that arming teachers and administrators is a way to stop school violence. As an educational professional with 34 years experience in teaching, 27 years of that time in inner city schools, I am no stranger to school violence. Obviously, it is a horrific problem and my thinking has evolved over time. So, today I say yes to any classroom instruction that helps show students violence is not a solution. I say yes to lessons that demonstrate the harm in bullying and promote tolerance and empathy. I say yes to units that require students to explore the negative effects of video games, song lyrics, TV, and movies. I say yes to in-school physical and mental health clinics. I say yes to locked doors and bullet-proof glass. I say yes to metal detectors. I say yes to well-trained, armed police professionals in the building daily. But I say no - in fact I say a thousand times no - to arming teachers and school administrators. That is an answer I must mark as wrong. 

Even though I am a committed opponent to all violence, I will readily admit that if I had a weapon, I would use it to save the lives of any of those little ones sitting before me on the Smithsonian floors. That decision would be even easier if it were my grandchildren. But here's the thing. I don't like living in an America where I have to consider that as an option. And I certainly wouldn't want to teach in an America that made killing one of my duties. I believe that there are other solutions. And those solutions aren't somewhere over some rainbow. They are right here in this American land we call home. We just need to use our heads and hearts to find them, and then have the courage to put them into action.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
I have always had a fascination with words. I loved when my Mother read to me. As soon as I could read, I devoured DC comics and Classics Illustrated. In high school, I wrote for the school newspaper. In college, I was an English major, studying the great words of the world's greatest writers. I spent 10 years as a newspaper writer and editor. For 5 of those years, I taught news reporting at a South Jersey college. After that I spent 20 years as a high school English teacher, 5 years as a language arts/literacy coach, and 2 years in DC as an educational consultant. During those years, I had many responsibilities, but one of the main ones was helping students become better readers and more proficient writers. But even with all that training, words often fail me. I have learned that when that happens, I still can find someone who can express those views I believe need expressing, but am unable to say myself.  Here are 3 recent articles that fit that category. If you have the time, I hope you will read them.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hi-Speed Train Could Make DC to NYC in 1 Hour

The writing staff for The Prices Do DC is on a holiday break. Original posts will return when they get back. Until then, enjoy some posts from other sources about things of interest to both residents and visitors to DC.

Could this type of hi-speed train link DC and New York City?

Many Americans have long nursed a pipe dream of one day riding a super-high-speed train just like the engineering marvels that have cropped up in Japan, China, and Europe. With a newly publicized offer from Japan, that dream is inching closer to reality — but only for a privileged few.
The New York Times reported Monday that Japan, desperate to export its magnetic-levitation (maglev) technology, has offered to pay for 40 miles of a 300-mile per hour maglev train from Washington, DC to Baltimore, a route that would conveniently give lawmakers an eight-minute trip to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. A mix of public and private funds raised by The Northeast Maglev company (TNEM) would be used to build the rest of the route to New York. If lawmakers bite, residents of the Northeast Corridor could someday zip between Washington and New York in an hour flat.
To continue reading this article from Think Progress, click here.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Wal-Mart: Is It Santa or Satan?

The writing staff for The Prices Do DC is on a holiday break. Original posts will return when they get back. Until then, enjoy some posts from other sources about things of interest to both residents and visitors to DC.

Christina Ford’s best Christmas gift arrived early this year: a job.
Three months ago, Ford, a former group home worker who had been out of work for a year and a half, landed a position as a cashier at the new Wal-Mart on H Street NW. This was no small thing for Ford, 24, given what Christmas was like for her last year. A pregnant Ford and her two preschool-aged sons spent the holidays in a New York Avenue hotel because there was no space at the city’s family shelter. The only gifts she could offer were donations from Toys for Tots.
Ford is one of more than 600 people hired by Wal-Mart for its first two D.C. stores after a bruising political battle over the wages it pays its workers. Her situation illustrates the opportunities — and potential pitfalls — that the giant retailer has brought to the District. In an increasingly costly city filled with unskilled people desperate for work, Wal-Mart offers the possibility of a regular paycheck. But it’s not necessarily one large enough to ensure self-sufficiency.
To continue reading this article which originally appeared in The Washington Post, click here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Santa Bringing New Metro Cars to DC

The writing staff for The Prices Do DC is on a holiday break. Original posts will return when they get back. Until then, enjoy some posts from other sources about things of interest to both residents and visitors to DC.

Late in December, if all goes as planned, a convoy of flatbed trucks will arrive in the District from Nebraska carrying four subway cars — four gleaming, stainless-steel conveyances unlike any seen before in a Metro station.
And for a middle-aged, earth-toned transit system anchored to the past in technology and aesthetics, it will be a watershed moment, signaling the beginning of the most significant changes in engineering and industrial design in the subway’s 37-year history.
Attention, passengers: The ’70s are finally dead. Or at least they’re slowly dying.

To continue reading this article from The Washington Post, click here.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Take a Trip with DC Cab

The writing staff for The Prices Do DC is on a holiday break. Original posts will return when they get back from break. Until then, enjoy some posts from other sources about things of interest to both residents and visitors to DC.

Thirty years ago, today, a great film was released in movie theaters: D.C. Cab, an irreverent look at the life of a group of cab drivers in the District in the 80s. Starring Mr. T, it goes exactly how any movie from that time period does, for the most part. Lots of hijinxs, random nudity, cursing and casual racism that you might not see so overtly in theaters these days. But for all that, it’s an incredible film.
I saw it for the first time two summers ago, at an outdoor showing near 14th and U Streets NW. I thought it would be a good venue for my maiden voyage. I was wrong.  It was perfect.
The screen was parked against the left field wall of the Little League field that was our theater that night. And in short centerfield, I sat next to a group that was clearly somewhat new to the city. They provided a heck of take on the surroundings.
One declared that she was ‘over’ NoMa, which is why she was there that night. Another made it clear that Crystal City was her favorite outdoor film venue, but this was so much closer to her house. One guy showed up after claiming he had no idea where 13th and V Streets were.
Stereotypically, the crowd was filled with what many would call gentrifiers. Here we were, in 2012, watching a movie about D.C. released in 1983 at a rec center that likely more than half the people present hadn’t heard of before that day. They played something I like to call the ‘D.C. movie tourism’ game. I’m fairly certain you’ve played it before, too. It’s the one where you scream out random locations you can identify while watching a film shot in the region.
To continue reading this article which first appeared in The Washington Post, click here.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Smithsonian Sunday: Holiday Folk Songs

Beginning today, each Sunday The Prices Do DC will feature a post from the collection of Smithsonian blogs.

Elizabeth Mitchell’s The Sounding Joy, released by Smithsonian Folkways for this holiday season, features new recordings of traditional American carols rescued from obscurity by the late Ruth Crawford Seeger (Pete Seeger’s stepmother) in her 1953 songbook, American Folk Songs for Christmas. These simple devotionals evoke, as Ruth Seeger put it, the “old-time American Christmas. . .not of Santa Claus and tinseled trees but of homespun worship and festivities. 

To continue reading, click here

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Saturday Supplement: Spirit of Christmas Week in DC

For those looking for seasonal religious activities in the DC area, there is much to see and do. Here is a list of some such activities between now and Christmas Eve.

Cathedral Creche Exhibition: What Child is This?,” an annual display of Nativity scenes from around the world. Washington National Cathedral, lower-level crypt outside Bethlehem Chapel, Wisconsin and Massachusetts avenues NW. Free. 202-537-6200 or nationalcathedral.org.

Click here to see the rest of the list.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday Flashback: Zoolights Make for Bright Yule Nights

This article 1st appeared last December 30th in The Prices Do DC.

Light monkey welcomes zoo visitors
If you want to extend the Christmas season and you don't mind bundling up against the cold, a visit to Zoolights at the National Zoois a great choice.

We headed there tonight to take in the light displays, many of them shaped like animals, as well as watch beaming youngsters participate in activities like viewing Panda Claws dance inside a giant snow globe or zoo tubing down Lion/Tiger Hill...

Most of the visitors first headed to the zoo's train station to check out the special model train exhibit featuring a replica scale model of the Smithsonian castle made out of  Legos. Also on display there were all the entries in the Gin-Grr Bread Contest, where participants designed animal habitats out of gingerbread.

In the Lemur Island area, youngsters could take a ride on the newly installed Conservation Carousel, where all the animals appear on the endangered species list.

Smithsonian Castle made from Legos
But the big highlight was the lighted displays made up of 500,000 LED lights.. The zoo lanes were lined with Christmas trees made out lights. Icy dripping lights cascaded down real trees. Some of the displays featured changing lights to seasonal music. And, in some cases, the light displays made it seem as if the snakes, frogs, and lizards were moving.

If you haven't seen Zoolights yet, you will have only one more chance. The lights will be off on New Year's Eve, but will shine one more time on New Year's night. But, since the event is annual, you will always be able to view it once again beginning late next November.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Several of the zoo's animal exhibits were open and none was more crowded than the Great Apes habitat. And the star of that exhibit was Lucy, who decided to show how gorillas fake sleep by curling up in a blanket. Zoo worker Chris said Lucy's antics were simply designed to make sure visitors paid attention to her. "Gorillas do sleep that way in the wild," Chris said. "But the don't use blankets, they use leaves. Watch. Lucy's not sleeping. She'll look up periodically to make sure people are still  watching her and going 'ah, how cute.'" Chris said Lucy will turn 40 next year, but no one is reminding her of her age. "We just tell her she looks fabulous. That's what she wants to hear," Chris said.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Art Provocateur Jake Chapman @The Hirshhorn

They've been called the enfants terribles of Britart. They have been accused of making provocative art that is nasty, horrific, and psychotic. When they burst onto the art scene in 1992, they described themselves as "sore-eyed scopophiliac oxymorons ... disenfranchised aristocrats, under siege from our feudal heritage ... our bread is buttered on both sides ..."  It has been said that their art strikes at "the fears that lie at the heart of the Western psyche". They have given their intricate, involved works name likes "Fucking Hell" and "If Hitler Had Been a Hippy How Happy We Would Be."

But to Jake Chapman, the younger of the two Chapman Brothers, the appropriate response to his and Dinos' work is not shock, but laughter. "We're very serious about humor," says Jake. "Humor is the most destabilizing appropriate response to death. I think (our work) is  truly funny".

Recently, the younger Chapman appeared at the Hirshhorn to discuss the Chapman Brothers art as part of that institution's current major exhibition Damage Control. The brothers have a piece "Insult to Injury to Injury" in that exhibition.

In that piece, the Chapman have taken a portfolio of 80 etchings from Spanish master Francisco de Goya titled "Disasters of War" and "reworked and improved" them by placing puppy and insect heads on the figures.

As part of his presentation, Chapman read a grotesque original story involving an inventor, an apparatus, a woman named Chlamydia, hot sex, and monkeys both in and out of cages, while a film about the Brothers' latest exhibition in London's Serpentine Sackler Gallery "Come and See" played in the background. That film featured several shots of one of the Chapmans' recurring figures, models of Ronald McDonald, one of the symbols of the ubiquitous fast-food chain. Chapman explained that they like to use McDonald's in their art because "it went from a Utopian idea of cheap food for everyone to a capitalistic motif that plots the downfall of the West. There was this strange trajectory where the clown loses his humor."

Chapman admits that he and his brother like to create art that overwhelms and assaults. "We want to kill the eyes with art," he said. But the artist says its harder to now create surprising works. "Our art doesn't settle for stability. It seeks out instability. But art is always being appropriated into the critical culture," he said.

In an earlier interview printed in The Guardian, Chapman put it this way: "The idea of making 5,000 little toy soldiers all running around mutilating each other, and then find pathos in that - it's alarming that people are prepared to cathartically reappropriate these things which are so redundant and void. It took us three years to make 5,000 people. It took the Germans three hours to kill 15,000 Russian prisoners of war".

A scene from "Fucking Hell".
Chapman says he and his brother are trying to make "a schizophrenic body of work. We want a frenzied, berserk attack. We're trying to attack the idea with as many perspectives as possible. We want to make it impossible to reduce the work to one particular thing."

He believes he has reached an understanding of why so many people fail to grasp the work. "They make the mistake of thinking that the work is about them. But it is about political discourse," Chapman said.

Jake (on left) and Dinos
He adds that while he does believe Hell to be more interesting than Paradise, he is not as disturbed as some people believe when they encounter his art. "I really lead a boring life. But I do believe that art should have something to do with pleasure. Art lets me expedite the fantasy of my life as being more interesting than it is."

Chapman's art has attracted some, to put it mildly, strange fans. "I remember this one girl. She used to bring me sweets and bundles of notes. Then she said, "don't call the police; I am not dangerous. Which immediately made me want to call the police because I was now convinced she was dangerous."

Monday, December 16, 2013

Papering the World @The National Archives

After writing six books about books and books culture, Nicholas Basbanes isn't surprised that he chose the history of paper as the subject for his latest offering. "I'm concerned about books and it just seemed eventually I would get concerned about the method of transmission," said Basbanes.

The author appeared recently at the National Archives to discuss On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History. The Archives was extremely apt for his talk since it serves as a repository for more than 80 billion pieces of paper.

The history of paper begins in ancient China. In fact, the Chinese claim that paper is one of the country's four greatest inventions, the others being printing, gunpowder, and the magnetic compass.

"Paper began as an idea, There was nothing inevitable about it. But today, there more than 20,000 uses for paper," Basbanes said.

The book traces those uses from China to Japan to the Arab world to Europe and America. "It follows a domino effect. We can see it traveling from one country to another," Brisbanes said.

Paper, coupled with Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1450, created an information explosion that continues to this day. "It was affordable and it was available," Basbanes said, noting that parchment from animal skin was used for a writing surface prior to the introduction of paper. "It took 260 sheep to make 1 Gutenberg Bible," he noted.

In the early 19th Century rags were essential to papermaking. "I say it is the first industrial material that required recycled material," Basbanes explained.

As part of his research for his book, Basbanes traveled to China and Japan, where "many of the old ways predominate".  But he also visited modern plants that take in $1.6 billion annually making more than 1,000 different paper products ranging from toilet paper to tea bags to postal stamps. "You can see trees come in one end and paper come out the other," he said.

In some ways, paper produced the American Revolution, Brisbanes contends. First, there was the colonists resistance to the Stamp Act of 1765, where Britain placed a tax on every piece of paper used in their American colonies. "And people had come to rely on paper in their daily lives," he said. In addition, of course, there is no America without its Declaration of Independence. "Our country started with a piece of paper," Brisabnes said.

Although the printed word and art most often come to mind when people consider paper, there are other essential uses such as currency. Brisbanes showed a picture of a one hundred thousand trillion dollar bill from Zimbabwe he had purchased for 50 cents. "Somethings truly aren't worth the paper they are printed on," he joked. "It's really the printed material that makes paper valuable. And that gets to the power of a piece of paper to move you." For example, the first 10-cent Action Comic introducing Superman was sold for $2.1 million, while a copy of the Bay Psalm Book (only an estimated 14 still in existence) brought in $14 million. "So the question is what is a piece of paper worth?," Brisbanes noted. "Could the real talent of Leonardo da Vinci or Beethoven have been fully realized without paper?"

Brisbanes ended his talk by discussing a graphic picture of a lone, dust-and -debris-covered man sitting after the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11 surrounded by a geyser of paper. "Really, paper was one of the few things to survive. They talk about a paperless society, but I think paper is going to be around for a long time. Paper means memory and it means who we are. We are what our papers say we are," Brisbanes said.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Holiday World's Fair 2013 @National Botanic Gardens

If you would like to transport yourself to a magical world where a fictional DC World's Fair joins with a tiny train transportation system, then you need to visit the U.S. Botanic Garden before Jan.5.

Each holiday season, the institution adorns its Garden Court with remarkable representations of National Mall monuments and famous Washington buildings, all crafted from more than 70 different plant materials.

But even more eye-widening sites can be found in the East Garden, where each year model trains chug along more than 800 feet of track past structures that change annually. This year's theme is iconic structures from historic World's Fairs held in American cities like New York and foreign locations like Paris.

As it has since 2004, Garden designers collaborated with Paul Busse and his firm Applied Imagination of Alexandria, Kentucky on the fantasy landscapes.

Here is a small sample of the sights you can see:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Saturday Supplement: Anchorman @The Newseum

Some of the items on display in the Anchorman exhibit at the Newseum. 
Anchorman, a movie spoof of 1970s TV journalism, is the subject for the latest exhibit at the Newseum (from The New York Times) and while the museum looks to the display to help shore up its finances (from Trove), both the institution and lead actor Will Ferrell see it as a teaching tool. (from Variety)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Flashback: Merry Tuba Christmas

This article 1st appeared last December.  This year's annual Kennedy Christmas Tuba fest will take place this Wednesday, Dec. 18.

If you were asked to choose the perfect Christmas instrument, there's a strong possibility you might name bells. The seasonal hints are everywhere. Carol of the Bells. Silver Bells. Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Chances are few people would choose a tuba. But, based on an annual concert at the Kennedy Center last week, that oversight might be a mistake.

More than 200 tuba, sousaphone, and euphonium players from all over the Washington, D.C. area packed (and indeed overflowed onto the floor) of the Millennium Stage to perform the Merry Tuba Christmas 2012 concert.

The idea for the unique, mellow brass-instrument-only holiday concert was conceived 30 years ago by tubist Harvey Phillips as a way to honor his tuba teacher William Bell, who was born on Christmas day in 1902. The 1st concert was held in 1974 at the ice rink at New York City's Rockefeller Plaza. Since then, it has spread to more than 250 cities and communities all over the United States. The 2012 concert here marked the 22nd time the Kennedy Center had hosted the event.

The concert setlist included renditions of almost all the best-known Christmas carols. According to format, the  horns would play the 1st verse and chorus of seasonal favorites from "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful" to "Joy to the World" and then repeat as the huge (it ran the entire length of the great hallway) audience sang on the second go-round.

The musicians, who had only rehearsed for an hour in the afternoon, included both amateurs and professionals. There were members of elementary, middle-school, and high school bands, military ensembles, and Kennedy Center performers. The youngest tubist was 8; the oldest, 76. Many performers decorated their tubas with wreaths, lights, and other symbols of the season. Most wore red and green Christmas colors and several sported Santa hats. The audience even learned how tuba players acknowledge applause. Instead of standing and bowing, they remain seated and hold their instruments high in the air.

Oh, and one final thing about that Christmas bell thing. With the sounds emanating from the bell of their instruments, the one-day only tuba, sousaphone and euphonium orchestra performed a unique, low-note- loaded version of "The Carol of the Bells."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
I imagine most of you (if not) all of your reading this post didn't have an opportunity to see this unusual performance live. But, as they do with all their free 6 p.m. Millennium Stage shows, the Kennedy Center placed it online. You can view it by clicking here. And, as an added bonus, there are links to Tuba Christmas concerts all the way back to 1999 if one performance isn't enough for you

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Prodigal Press @The Heritage Foundation

Warren Cole Smith, the vice president of the World News Group, is convinced of two things - taken as a collective entity, the media is playing an increasingly dominant role in our society today and there is a distinct anti-Christian bias in the American news media, a bias which is reflected both in the way it reports and the way it fails to report certain stories

"I say that not to bash the mainstream media. But we are in the midst of a sort of pathological media culture. Mass media is dominant in our culture today and has a profound impact on the way we think. The media has the power to manipulate and confuse us," says Smith, whose organization's mission is to present uniquely Christian worldview reporting.

Smith appeared at the Heritage Foundation yesterday to discuss the new edition of Prodigal Press: Confronting the Anti-Christian Bias of the American News Media, a book he co-authored with original writer Marvin Olasky.

Initially, many American newspapers were founded under a Christian mission, Smith notes. Ironically, one of those papers was the New York Times. In the 1870's, the paper vigorously crusaded against abortion. However, today it is widely claimed by conservatives and evangelicals to be the epitome of secular, liberal reporting. But in the 19th Century, the Times was not alone. More than 100 cities had Christian-centered newspapers. In New York City, there were 50 magazines and newspapers heralding their Christian leanings.

So what changed?

"It wasn't a switch that went on and off," Smith said. "But there were changes to our culture." He cited four in particular: They were:

  • the increased influence of Transcendental thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau
  • The journalism produced during the Progressive Era of President Teddy Roosevelt
  • The reporting of the Scopes Monkey Trial, where famed journalist H.L. Menken made it clear that a world-view of backward creationism vs. forward-thinking evolution was what really was on trial and
  • the trial of Whitaker Chambers and Alger Hiss, with Communism and its worldly view placed under scrutiny
Those major events, coupled with other cultural changes, lead to today's modern media which is "creating a metavision that is biased against Christian ideas," Smith contended.

Part of the problem results from over-reporting activities by fringe Christian groups like the Florida minister who burned the Koran or the antics of the reviled Westboro Baptist Church, Smith says. "They get picked up because they are loud and they are shrill, but they are not representative of Christian thought. [Such stories] create a flawed and skewered vision," he explained. "Some groups make it easy to cover them. Signs like God Hates Fags becomes a compelling visual that they (the media) can't resist."

Another reporting issue is the fact that when it comes to Christian leanings, journalists do not reflect the worship practices of American society. Studies show that while about 40 percent of the American public say they attend church regularly, that number drops to under 10 percent when reporters are asked the same question. "I'm not saying that is good or that is bad," Smith said. "I would simply argue that it is way different."

"Journalists cover issues everyday that have moral or ethical or religious implications. But many reporters lack the theological training and tools to get to the differences. It's not always animosity, although there is animosity; it's what they want to believe and they tend to ignore reasonable evangelical voices," Smith noted.

Finally, there are the demands of the 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week current news cycle. "It becomes a real tyrant," Smith said. "It's not there is not enough news, but there is not enough reporting capability so they (the media) fill it with punditry. We can't go back to a pre-24/7 news cycle, but as consumers we don't have to reward punditry (with our viewing and reading)."

Many have blamed technology for their increased dislike for the way the media portrays what it reports. But Smith is not in that group. "We (at World Group) embrace new technologies because they present real benefits, but there are costs. We use all the technologies that God, in his good providence, makes available to us, but we must be aware of the costs.". 

If you would like to view Smith's complete talk, click here. Even if you disagree with his view, you will find the program engaging and thought-provoking.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Yes, No, Maybe @The National Gallery

Keith by Chuck Close
When we view a piece of art, we usually see a completed work. But that isn't the case with the exhibition Yes, No, Maybe: Artists Working with Crown Point Press now on display at the National Gallery of Art.  There you can examine the artistic process as a sequence of decisions rather than a single inspired vision.

"This gets to the issue of hard work ... of revising, and adding, and subtracting," says gallery lecturer Diane Arkin. "It's a rethinking of inspiration as the only way an artist works."

While the works of more than 25 print creators are on display, the focus is on three of the most significant 20th Century artists to work at Crown Point - Chuck Close, Richard Diekenkorn, and John Cage. Each of those artists approached their work with a much differing style. For Close, it was all about solving self-imposed challenges. Diekenkorn wanted to test possibilities, while Cage, who primarily considered himself as a composer not a visual artist, relied on randomness and chance.

Close, who used friends and himself as subjects for his works, "regarded the face as a landscape or topography," Arkin said. "He would create problems and try to solve them."

Diekenkorn used "his creative eye to figure out when something was done," Arkin said. "Sometimes, he was making and unmaking at the same time. I think the beauty of this exhibit is that you get to see the process the artist goes through. With Diekenkorn, by moving something up or down just half an inch he gets visually satisfied."

Arkin called Cage"an accidental artist" who relied on chance and the Zen idea of the I Ching for his art decisions. "Basically you're shifting the responsibility to choose to the responsibility to ask. He felt that mirrored the way nature works. He would sometimes draw with his eyes closed and consult the I Ching about how long he should draw."

Kiki Smith's print "Home"
Close, Diekenkorn, and Cage each have their own rooms in the exhibition, which is scheduled to close on Jan. 5. Two other rooms are devoted to the other 22 artists and part of the challenge of the show is trying to figure out which of the three processes for creation those artists followed. One of the most intriguing works displayed is "Home" by Kiki Smith. Can you determine what the home is by looking at the picture?

Monday, December 9, 2013

NPR Jazz Piano Christmas @The Kennedy Center

For the 24th year in a row, National Public Radio hosted its annual A Jazz Piano Christmas at the Kennedy Center this past weekend.

The program, hosted by NPR Latin jazz host Felix Contreas, featured performances by Stanley Cowell, Sullivan Fortner, Michelle Rosewoman, and Andy Bey.

Stanley Cowell
Cowell, whom Contreas described as a living bridge between bebop and modern free-form jazz, has played with many jazz legends including Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Max Roach. Currently, he serves as professor emeritus of jazz piano at Rutgers-Mason Gross School of the Arts. A high point of his performance was his rendition of "Our Little Town," a bebop-influenced take on the holiday classic "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem."

At 26, Fortner, a native of New Orleans, was making his solo Kennedy Center debut. Fortner has already toured with Stefon Harris and Blackout, the Christian Scott Quintet, and the Roy Hargrove Quintet. He has also played with New Orleans greats such as The Marsalis Family, Donald Harrison, and Irvin Mayfield. One of his more intriging pieces was a jazzy take on "Winter Wonderland."

Rosewoman, originally from Oakland, mixes accoustic modern jazz and elements of Cuban folkloric music in her playing. The Blue Note Records artist serves on the faculty of The Jazz House Kids in Montclair, New Jersey. In addition to 2 Cuban-tinged original holiday compositions, she played an intriguing version of Stevie Wonder's "Someday at Christmas."

Grammy-nominated Andy Bey
Closing the show, which will be broadcast in its entirety on NPR stations later this month, was Bey, with his deft keyboard work and silky baritone. His performance came just days after he was nominated for a 2014 Grammy for his CD The World According to Andy Bey. Bey mesmerized the sold-out crowd with his interpretations of such holiday standards as "Let It Snow" and "A Few of My Favorite Things."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Roseanne Cash @The Library of Congress

With her current husband and guitarist extraordinaire John Leventhal, her former husband award-winning country singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, Amy Helm, the daughter of The Band's drummer Levon Helm, and once-Wisconsin, now-Nashville-based performer Cory Chisel, Roseanne Cash led a musical round-robin this weekend as part of her 3-day residency at the Library of Congress.

While the songs the artists performed at the round-robin (titled The Long Way Home) were diverse in tempo and style, they all dealt with some aspect of the south and travel.

Cash contributed 3 songs off of her forthcoming CD The River and the Thread, which will be released next month. Critics have described the new effort as a kaleidoscopic examination of the geographic, emotional, and historic landscape of the American South.

"Sunken Lands" is named for the remote Arkansas area where Rosanne's country music giant father Johnny Cash grew up. Her second number "The Long Way Home" draws on the details of Rosanne's life growing up with Cash and her family.

Her final solo number "When the Master Calls the Role" was initially a song Levanthal and Crowell were writing for Emmylou Harris. Cash requested the song after her son Jake researched the Civil War and she reminded him that members of his family had fought on both the Union and Confederate sides. As part of that research, Cash discovered a photo of her ancestor William Cash from Massachusetts.

She asked Crowell to help rewrite the lyrics to make it more like an Appalachian Civil War ballad. "As we worked on it, the character started to obsess me," Cash said. "I'd think about him night and day. I couldn't sleep, and I didn't know how the story would turn out. One morning, the last verse came to me in a flood, and I began to cry - I didn't realize he was going to die until that moment."

Gradually, as she worked on the individual songs, Cash envisioned how she wanted to connect the tunes into a cohesive work which would connect her own story to the rich history of the region. "I guess I weave in and out of these songs in a way," she said. "I don't think I had a complete map of it, but John really became a guide. We would write something and say 'This is part of the geography, both emotional and physical'".

After Cash, Crowell, Helm, and Chsiel each performed 3 solo tunes, all of which were supported by masterful guitar work from Levanthal, the quintet joined to offer 5 of the greatest songs ever written in American roots music. They were:
  • "The Long Black Veil" (recorded by Cash and Helms' fathers)
  • "500 Miles" (one of the songs that Cash included on her CD of covers The List, all of which her father had told her were country greats).
  • "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (one of the signature songs of Helm's father)
  • "Big River" (a huge hit for Cash's father)
  • "I'll Fly Away" (a Southern gospel classic)
Here is a video of Rosanne Cash performing "500 Miles" in 2009.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Saturday Supplement: 15 Things About 5 Guys

At the end of each week, we post our Saturday Supplement, an entry from a web site detailing a subject that is of interest to both residents and visitors to DC. 

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, many of us will be grabbing more meals out in between spending sprees. And one of those places we might be going for a quick lunch or dinner is 5 Guys, the noted national hamburger chain which actually got its start in the DC area.

Here is a post, originally appearing in Thrillist, explaining 15 things about the award-winning hamburger chain you might not know.

To begin reading, click here.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday Flashback: Doing Christmas Naturally

Every Friday we feature a post that previously appeared in The Price Do DC. In keeping with the season, each of our December posts will be about Christmas time. This post 1st appeared on Dec. 11, 2011.

A patriotic all-natural Capitol for Christmas
Evergreens, toy trains, poinsettias, and frankincense are long-time symbols of Christmas time. Now all of them are brought together in this year's Christmas display at U.S Botanic Gardens near the U.S. Capitol.

Also featured are creative animal houses made out of plants and other natural materials with clever names such Monkey Mansion and Bookworm Borough.

Trains and trees
In keeping with the fact that the display is in the nation's capital, there are also natural replicas of historic DC buildings and monuments, as well as miniture natural versions of several presidents homes, including those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Bill Clinton.
As you tour the special holiday part of the indoor gardens, the trains travel both above and below you, surrounded by a wild natural environment complete with mountains, waterfalls, trestles, and tunnels.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips

More trains running
While the national Botanic Gardens are especially beautiful at Christmas time, it is a special place for plant lovers year round. The gardens are arranged according to environmental themes. You can stroll through a Hawaiian island display. You can witness the dramatic changes between a desert and a jungle.You can pause to take in the sweet smells or capture a photo of vibrant plant colors. There is also much to learn. You can peruse a medicinal section showing plants that are used around the world for health. Or you can take in a reflecting circle where you can read famous sayings about plants while quotes such as "the grass is always greener" or "it's not my cup of tea" play in the background.

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