DC at Night

DC at Night

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Unease Over Race Still Prompted by Viewing August Wilson's Powerful 10-Play Cycle

Each week in our Saturday Supplement, we re-post an entry of interest to both residents of the Washington area and visitors to DC that first appeared in another publication's website.

A scene from August Wilson's A Piano Lesson

Race relations news from the past few weeks: Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s bigotry eclipses his 15 seconds of folk hero fame as a federal grazing fee resister. The NBA playoffs nearly grind to a halt over plantation-style remarks by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The Supreme Court allows states to ban affirmative action in university admissions.
Meanwhile, Washington theater has stealthily begun reviving nearly half the works in August Wilson’s acclaimed “Decades Cycle” — 10 dramas chronicling black American life across the 20th century. With no planning or prior communication, four theaters just happen to be presenting four Wilson plays over a span of 10 months.
To continue reading this post, which 1st appeared in The Washington Post, click here.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Fab Faux @The Birchmere

Welcome to this week's Friday Flashback. Each Friday in the Flashback will will offer a post about some part of the historic past and its relationship to DC. Sometimes, we will write the entry. Others times, we will showcase articles that 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC or some other online publications. But no matter who does the writing, you can trust that you will learn something important from the Flashback

This weekend The Fab Faux are playing 2 shows of Beatles tunes at The Birchmere. Tonight, they will perform the Beatles' 1st LP Meet the Beatles in its entirety. Tomorrow, they will offer A Hard Day's NIght. Here is an article about the last appearance of the Fab Faux at the popular Virginia club.
The Fab Faux have the hardest job in the history of rock and roll and they pull it off damn well. All rock bands want to be like the Beatles; these guys have the nerve to BE the Beatles. Amazingly, they're so good at it you learn new things about the originals.
                                                                                            --- Dave Marsh
      Legendary rock critic and Sirius XM radio host

Can a copy be as good as (or, in some cases, even better than) an original? That is a question for the ages in the arts and nowhere in the arts is that question bigger than in music, especially in rock with its reworked cover versions and tribute bands.

Which leads us to an examination of the relationship between the Beatles and the Fab Faux(a takeoff on one of the original Beatles nicknames, the Fab Four). Of course, you know who the Beatles are. But who are the Fab Faux? Well, they are 5 of the best New York City-based session musicians in music today. If you watch late-night TV you are probably familiar with at least 2 of them. Bass player Will Lee has spent 2 decades as the nightly bassist on The Late Show with David Letterman. Guitarist Jimmy Vivino is the musical director for The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. They are joined by drummer Rich Pagano, keyboardist Jack Petruzelli, and guitarist Frank Agnello. Individually, the five have performed with a series of stars that reads like a list from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. James Brown. Aretha Franklin. Ray Charles. Diana Ross. The Bee Gees. Carly Simon. Billy Joel. Steely Dan. Ray Davies. Levon Helm. Mick Jagger.

Sixteen years ago, Vivino and Lee kicked around the idea of forming a band to recreate the Beatles sound as they rode up an elevator together in a New York City building. Since that day, The Fab Faux, acknowledged by almost all major rock critics to be the greatest Beatles band ever not named the Beatles, has grown from a quickly tossed-off idea to a sometimes touring band that has headlined the annual International Beatles Festival in Liverpool 4 times.

To continue reading this post, which 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC in May of 2013, click here.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Maya Angelou Honored @National Portrait Gallery

A portrait of the great writer Maya Angelou, who died this week, has been installed in the National Portrait Gallery.

The portrait, painted by Bulgarian-born, Atlanta-based artist Ross Rossin, is an oil-on-canvas painting and was completed in 2013 in honor of Angelou’s 86th birthday.

The painting will be on view until June 12.

In collaboration with Smithsonian colleagues from the National Museum of African Art, the Portrait Gallery hosted an event on April 5, in which both museums paid tribute to Angelou, one of the most revered poets in the United States. 
Angelou, whose eighty-sixth birthday was April 4—the day before—commented on what she considered was one of her great achievements over eight decades—patience. “You can only have patience if you have courage,” she stated, adding that “Reverend [Martin Luther] King had great patience.”
During the event at the McEvoy Auditorium in the Donald W. Reynolds Center, a portrait of Angelou by Atlanta-based artist Ross Rossin was unveiled. Assisting Portrait Gallery director Kim Sajet and NMAfA director Johnnetta Cole in the unveiling was Angelou’s friend and protégé Oprah Winfrey. Guests in attendance included actress Cicely Tyson, activist Julian Bond, and former ambassador Andrew Young.
To continue reading Angelou's thoughts at the time of the ceremony about her life, which 1st appeared in the Face to Face blog of the Portrait Gallery, click here

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Legend of YouTube

John Legend headlined the YouTube free show
There is no question that YouTube has had a tremendous impact on many aspects of our lives. And nowhere is that impact more noticeable than in the music industry. YouTube videos now accompany the release of every major artist on every record label.

But YouTube also allows artists to bypass the recording industry altogether and deliver their creations directly to viewers. Sometimes, those self produced videos become viral, allowing the artist to achieve almost overnight success.

Last night, the Kennedy Center hosted a YouTube Live OnStage concert to celebrate 9 years of video making.

The free concert was headlined by John Legend, who performed a half-dozen-song mini-set for the wildly appreciative crowd, which filled the concert hall and overflowed into the huge hall where they watched the show on giant screens usually employed during the daily Millennium Stage shows.

Legend, who closed the 2-hour performance was the obvious star, but the crowd demonstrated a lot of enthusiasm for several other artists who came to public view and popularity through YouTube.

Here are some videos of the night's performances:

Post Modern Jukebox "Medley"

"Clouds" by Zach Solech performed by members of the Playing for Change band

"Gimme Shelter" by The Playing for Change Band

"Beyond the Veil" by Lindsey Stirling

"You and I" by John Legend

John Legend w/Lindsey Stirling "All of Me"

A Prices Do DC Extra Track
YouTube sensation Lindsey Stirling

YouTube threw itself a big birthday bash at the Kennedy Center on Wednesday to celebrate nine years of making crazy online videos. The show featured singer John Legend, as well as several successful dance and music artists who got their start on the video-sharing site.
Ahead of the show, violinist Lindsey Stirling chatted with The Switch's Hayley Tsukayama to talk about her career, her fans and how using YouTube gave her a way to break into a tough industry. Stirling, who first came onto the national stage in 2010 by reaching the quarter-finals of "America's Got Talent," now has 4.8 million subscribers on YouTube and just released a new album, "Shatter Me."
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
To read the interview with Stirling, which 1st appeared in The Washington Post, click here.

Monday, May 26, 2014

For Those Who Served and Died or Are Still Missing

On this Memorial Day, The Prices Do DC offers thanks to all the veterans who served and gave their lives for this country. Here we have 2 posts about honoring them. First, a look at the bikers who participate in the annual Rolling Thunder in DC. Then, the story behind trying to secure a lasting memorial for World War I soldiers.

Independence Day has fireworks, Christmas has carolers, but the soundtrack to Memorial Day features the thunder of a half-million roaring motorcycles.

This weekend is the 27th annual Rolling Thunder event, an enormous rally that brings motorcycle riders from across the country to the D.C. area, where they cruise around the Mall to raise awareness for veterans, prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.

“This isn’t a ride. This is a demonstration,” said Rolling Thunder national spokeswoman Nancy Regg. “This is not a biker event. There’s no picnic at the end, It’s to show the government that we’re still here, we want answers, and we want our veterans taken care of.”

To continue reading this post, which 1st appeared in The Washington Times, click here.

Members of Congress are pursuing a plan that at long last would establish a national monument to the veterans of World War I in Washington, D.C.

The proposal would rededicate a federal park near the White House as a national World War I memorial and address complaints that veterans of all the 20th century’s major conflicts have been suitably honored in the nation’s capital except for those who fought in “the Great War.”

Organizers hope to redesignate Pershing Park and dedicate a memorial by Nov. 11, 2018, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which marks the end of hostilities on the Western Front of the war, which began in 1914.

To continue reading this post, which 1st appeared in The Washington Times, click here.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Boeing to Help Air & Space Museum Makeover to Soar

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 blogs. Hope you enjoy and maybe we'll see you soon at the Smithsonian

Since the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum opened in 1976, its entrance, filled with famous aircraft and artifacts, has remained largely unchanged. 

But the “Milestones of Flight” gallery is about to receive a major overhaul thanks to a $30 million donation from Boeing, the largest single corporate gift the Smithsonian has ever received. The renovation is set to begin this month and will take two years to complete, opening in 2016 to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Air and Space Museum and the 100th anniversary of Boeing.

The first extensive renovation of the grand hall will kick off years of change for Washington’s most popular museum in need of an updated design to match a broadening educational mission.

To continue reading this post, which 1st appeared in The Columbian, click here.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

National Harbor Trying to Be a Fun Alternative to Historic DC

Each week in our Saturday Supplement, we re-post an entry of interest to both residents of the Washington area and visitors to DC that first appeared in another publication's website.

While visitors to the nation's capital usually head to the monuments and museums, a new attraction uses the Potomac River to draw visitors downstream to a growing destination in Maryland.
A mini-city called National Harbor has risen over the past eight years on a long-empty site. The village of shops, hotels, restaurants and public art was built between the river and the East Coast artery of Interstate 95. Its features are inspired, in part, by those of great cities, such as Rome's Spanish Steps and Barcelona's pedestrian mall La Rambla.
To continue reading this post, which 1st appeared in 4 NBC Washington, click here.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Never Let Us Forget: Memorial Day at Arlington Cemetery

Welcome to this week's Friday Flashback. Each Friday in the Flashback will will offer a post about some part of the historic past and its relationship to DC. Sometimes, we will write the entry. Others times, we will showcase articles that 1st appeared in other online publications. But no matter who does the writing, you can trust that you will learn something important from the Flashback.

Since 1868, Arlington National Cemetery has been the focal point of national Memorial Day commemorations.

As the United States honors its fallen military heroes this weekend, you can here explore 8 surprising facts about one of the most sacred pieces of ground in America.

To continue reading this post, which 1st appeared in History in the Headlines, click here.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Unlucky Strike: The Science and Politics of Smoking

Keith Richard still smoking at 70
Despite almost universal opinion to the contrary, for Duke University professor John Staddon most of the facts provided to wage the war against smokers and smoking amount to nothing but an unsubstantiated smoke screen.

"Smoking is not lethal, it is risky," Staddon contends. "All these points (about smoking) have not been scientifically proven. Smoking is a private health problem, but a public policy disgrace."

The psychology professor believes that instead of universal bans on smoking, individual businesses such as bars and restaurants should be allowed to decide whether they want to be smoke-free or serve people who choose to smoke.

Staddon outlines his case in his most recent book Unlucky Strike: Private Health and the Science, Law, and Politics of Smoking.

When he recently appeared at the Cato Institute, Staddon offered his view. He said that despite claims to the contrary, science doesn't prove the dangers of smoking the way health and government officials maintain it does. "Their arguments are skewered by false information," Staddon charged.

The professor argued that actually:
  • those who die from smoking tend to die close to retirement age.
  • lifetime medical costs for smokers are less than for nonsmokers since "dying is very, very costly and it is (financially) much better to die of a heart attack than 20 years of dementia."
  • and the reported risk to others is impossible to measure accurately.
"So maybe a short pleasurable life is preferable to a long one. The owner of the life should surely decide that," Staddon said. "Do we have the right to abridge the smoking rights of others? If they want to smoke these things and they are not harmful to others, why not let them smoke them?"

So then why does Staddon believe that smokers are over-taxed, dissed, and discriminated against in so many ways?

"It came from the frustration from the health establishment at the failing war on cancer," Stoddard maintains. "People said 'at least we can stop people from smoking".

Staddon said he is concerned about the continuing misinformation being circulated by anti-smoking proponents. "Even as smoking has gone down, the (reported) smoking deaths have gone up. What kind of sense does that make?"

"There is no limit to smoking alarmism," he added. "Now the are talking about (the dangers) of third-hand smoke. How on earth do they know? They don't know. It's just an act of faith, not science. And even e-cigarettes are being vilified as we speak."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Is Supreme Court for Big Business and Against the Worker?

Lee Saunders is convinced that a series of Supreme Court decisions is leading to an America where the wealthy and big business can control the political process, silencing the voices and votes of millions of American workers.

Saunders, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSME) which represents 1.6 million members, spoke recently at the Center for American Progress and delivered a strong attack against recent court decisions such as Citizens United that are concentrating political power in the hands of a wealthy few.

"Most people don't spend a lot of time thinking about the Supreme Court, but the court is making decisions that are leaving more and more families behind. The decisions are pushing the Supreme Court closer to Wall Street and business and further away from Main Street," Saunders said. "More and more billionaires will have the power to turn our democracy into a plutocracy."

The union leader expressed grave concern about the business-friendly court's upcoming decision in Harris v. Quinn, a case where it has been asked to decide if agency shop, which allows unions to take money from workers its bargains for even if those workers decline to join the union, is constitutional. That decision is expected next month.

"Now our right to represent these workers is under question," Saunders said."When the Supreme Court said corporations are people too they can hold more sway than the voices of actual people. The power of big money is trying to buy our democracy. We need an America that works for everyone."

Saunders said you can clearly see the pro-business side of the current John Roberts court even in its decisions of what cases it will hear. On average, the Court agrees to look at about 1 in every 100 cases submitted. However, Saunders said that the court agrees to take on 32% of cases backed by business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce.

The union leader contended that the combined efforts of union workers is vital to combatting the power of the extremely wealthy, a task which is difficult even under the best of conditions. In an America where political power more and more means money, Saunders cited an important statistic in the inherent inequality in the funding field. In the 2012 election cycle, the two Koch brothers, the poster boys for the wealthy who are attempting to control American politics and government, spent $412 million of their own money. Union contributions totaled $153 million.

Unions are vital to continuing American success, Saunders contended. "When union density is bigger, the middle (class) becomes stronger. But now they are coming after us to reduce that density," he said.

But the struggle, while difficult given the court's rulings, is not over, Saunders said. "We have to go back to basics. We've got to organize. We've got to educate. We've got to get the power that comes with building a community."

"We all must be active and engaged in the battle because this truly is about the future of our nation," he added.

Monday, May 19, 2014

American Cool @National Portrait Gallery

Welcome to our 1st Monday Must-See post. On Mondays, we will offer an entry about some current exhibit in DC you should see. Sometimes, we will write the post. Sometimes, it will be taken from another publication. But no matter who is the writer, we believe it will showcase an exhibit you shouldn't miss. 

Cultural concepts are always fuzzy, but that doesn’t make them useless. We may never know the exact beginning or end of Romanticism or the Gilded Age, or where lies the line between art and entertainment, or what distinguishes great talent from genius. But that doesn’t make those concepts hollow, just fluid and approximate.
A new entertaining and insightful exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery confronts one of the most dynamic and hard to define concepts in American cultural life — the cool. “American Cool” broaches its subject through photographs of people who helped define and embody the cool since before the idea had even taken definite form, to the current day when it is highly questionable if the “cool” is still meaningful. 
If you want to continue reading this article by Philip Kenicott which 1st appeared in The Washington Post, click here.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Smithsonian Picks The Best in Pictures

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 blogs. Hope you enjoy and maybe we'll see you soon at the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian has announced the winners of our 11th Annual Photo Contest! 

These beautiful images were selected from over 50,000 entries submitted by photographers in 132 different countries.

Our photo editors selected seven winners -- a Grand Prize winner and a winner in each of the six categories: Natural World, Travel, People, Americana, Altered Images and Mobile. An eighth winner, the Readers' Choice winner, was selected by our readers in a month long vote here on this page. 

To view the winners which 1st appeared in Smithsonian.com, click here.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Next Battle in DC Renaming: Harry Truman Union Station?

Each week in our Saturday Supplement, The Prices Do DC re-posts an entry of interest to both residents of the Washington area and visitors to DC that first appeared in another publication's website.

Two stipulations, right at the start: Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, is far from being among the most objectionable members of the world’s greatest (way too) deliberative body. And bipartisanship, though overrated, should not be automatically regarded as a bad thing.
That said, McCaskill, with the support and co-sponsorship of the Republican Roy Blunt, her fellow Missouri senator, has come up with a regrettable idea. They have introduced a bill to saddle Union Station, Washington’s magnificent temple to the greatness of rail travel and food-court cuisine, with a new name. They want to call it the Harry S. Truman Union Station.
Their reasoning—McCaskill’s, anyway—is that there isn’t anything else labelled “Harry S. Truman” in Washington. (And please: no pedantic quibbling over whether it should be “Harry S Truman.”) That’s not strictly true. There’s the Truman balcony, which overlooks the South Lawn from the White House. But McCaskill and Blunt have a point. Surely President Truman, that great Missourian, deserves to have his name on something other than a home-improvement project.
To continue reading this post which 1st appeared in The New Yorker, click here.

Friday, May 16, 2014

DC Filled with Tourists, Tall Tales

Welcome to today's Flashback Friday. In Flashback Friday, we showcase a post that deals with days gone by or has appeared previously in The Prices Do DC. Here in DC, we are in the midst of a vistors' season that will last through the summer. But DC guide and author Robert Pohl has a word of caution for anyone who takes a DC tour - all of what you hear may not be exactly true.

Some DC tourists walk, some bus, some Segway.
For Robert Pohl, his latest book came from his job as a licensed DC tour guide who spends a lot of his time "chasing 8th graders around DC."

"I knew exactly how 8th graders operate - I was one of them once," Pohl says with a chuckle. "I had some great facts, but I needed something to make them more palatable."

So Pohl began mixing in stories about some of the capitol's most famous sites. For example, there was one he would tell about the Washington Monument. When it was first opened, elevators were new and considered dangerous. Only men were allowed to ride up to the top of the monument. The members of the fairer sex and their children had to struggle up the steps to get a view from the top.

"This was a perfect story. It brought the Washington Monument alive to the people," Pohl explained.

However there was a big problem - the story wasn't true, even though it had been told and repeated for decades. It was the DC version of an urban legend - a story that "exists somewhere in between horror stories, jokes, and morality tales," said Pohl, who appeared recently at Politics and Prose to discuss his new book Urban Legends & Historic Lore of Washington, DC.

In the book, Pohl used meticulous research to find the truth (and the falsehoods) behind more than 30 of the most-often repeated stories about historic DC. Take the idea that the word lobbyist was created in this city. The version of that tale goes like this: When he was president, Ulysses S. Grant would walk over to the Willard Hotel and sit in the lobby. There, people who wanted a favor from the president would present their case as he sat.  However, both parts of that tale appear untrue. First, in the 25 books of his memoir, Grant only mentioned the Willard 4 times, even though it is only down the street from the White House. In fact,  there is no proof that he spent evenings there. And there are mentions of the word lobbyist in 17th Century England, long before Grant took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Then there is the case of another great story involving a President, this time the massive chief executive William Howard Taft. In the various versions of this story, Taft got stuck in the White House bathtub prior to his inauguration and was only able to be freed with a pound of butter and the strength of 4 or more strong men. Good story, but again not true. First of all, Taft couldn't have been bathing in the White House prior to his swearing in. However, as there often is in such tales, there was a kernel of truth mixed in with fanciful elements. Taft, at more than 300 pounds, did have a special bathtub installed in the White House that was large enough to accommodate 4 normal-sized men.

But Pohl's research did not lead him to debunk all the questionable stories. For example, the Lincoln Memorial really is the only building struck by gunfire during World War II. However, it was shots from an errant machine gun, not anti-aircraft fire that damaged the building. Pohl found confirmation in several newspaper accounts from the time.

"This story stuck in people minds as if it were an urban legend," he noted.

Pohl said the urban legends he investigated shared many of the components from similar stories spread in other parts of America. "They tend to erupt, be localized, change over time, and have a moral" he said. "They are all good stories and we all like good stories. As human beings, we love patterns and we want to see patterns even when they may not exist."

Pohl did acknowledge there is one story that he loves so much that he refuses to look into it. That tale involves the Jefferson Memorial. At some point, officials were going to remove some of the famed Cherry Blossom trees that surround that memorial. A group of elderly civic-minded ladies, irate at that plan, decided to cling to the trees to save them. The local police chief was summoned. Realizing that "knocking old ladies on the noggin would't be good for anyone," the chief came up with a more subtle plan. He began plying the ladies with free coffee. Within half an hour, nature was calling and the protesters had to abandon their position for the nearest restrooms.

"At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it," Pohl said with a laugh.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Introducing Counter Culture in the Capital

President Obama at Ben's Chili Bowl.
It doesn't seem possible, but it has been almost 3 years since we left South Jersey and moved to Crystal City, just 3 Metro stops from Washington, DC.  Almost as soon as we arrived, I began writing The Prices Do DC blog.

The blog is designed to appeal to 4 groups of people:
  • residents of the DC area
  • people who are planning to visit DC
  • people who had visited DC and really liked what they had found and/or
  • readers who are interested in politics, history, and culture based in DC that had an impact in all of the country.
Over the intervening months, I continued to make content and design changes. Now, it is time for the most major change of all.

During upcoming weeks, I will be splitting The Prices Do DC into 4 blogs, all dealing with specific topics.

The 1st - Counter Culture in the Capital - is being introduced today.

The blog will provide a look at food and great dining spots in DC, with an emphasis on eateries that won't break your budget.

There will be all kinds of articles. For example, some posts will offer personal stories (Mother's Day and soft-shell crabs). Others will be openings of new eateries or eateries in new locations such as Shophouse Asian Kitchen (Chinatown) or Ben's Chili Bowl (Rosslyn). Still others will explore new kinds of food (montaditos) or news about food (Was pad thai actually stolen from the Chinese?).

But our food posts are only part of the story. There are also lists to help you narrow the bounty of DC food choices. These include:
  • restaurants by Metro stop
  • the 100 best restaurants in DC
  • 40 dishes everyone in Washington should try and
  • the Counter Culture best DC dining by specific food category or type
In addition, the blog will include stories from other sources on such topics as area chefs, area restaurants, and area food trends.

You can find sites that will discover and rate restaurants. You can even find sites that will tell you how and where to dine like Barack and Michelle Obama.

There are 3 basic ways to access Counter Culture in the Capital:
  1. You can bookmark or favorite the site and check it periodically - Counter Culture in the Capital.
  2. You can like the blog's Facebook page - Counter Culture on Facebook.
  3. You can follow the blog on Pinterest - The Counter Culture Pinterest page.
Oh course, the best and most complete method for enjoying all that Counter Culture in the Capital has to offer is to follow it all 3 ways since each site offers features exclusive to that page. However, all posts will be available on all 3 sites.

We love DC. We like food. We like to dine out. This blog is our attempt to fuse all 3 of those interests. We hope you'll take a look and, if you like what you see, follow Counter Culture on a regular basis. But no matter what, we wish you good eating and happy dining. Ciao for now.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Cool Jazz as Cold War Diplomacy

American jazz ambassador Duke Ellington checks out Southeast Asian musicians.
When he was asked to describe the music he and his contemporaries were playing, famed pianist Thelonious Monk responded, "jazz is freedom. Think about that."

So with that definition in mind, it really isn't surprising that America decided to use jazz and its performers as cultural weapons in its idealogical Cold War against the former Soviet Union.

Recently, a panel was held at the National Archives to discuss the topic Jazz Diplomacy: Sending America's Music to the World. It was part of an ongoing series of programs to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival.

"Since the beginning of jazz, music has been a prevalent symbol of freedom," said John Hasse, curator of American Music at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Louis Armstrong helped bring jazz (and democracy) to the world
According to Dr. Penny Von Eschen, professor of history and American culture at the University of Michigan, the use of jazz as a diplomatic tool was "accidental and improvised," much like jazz itself.

From the beginning of the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union, Russia pushed its artistic preeminence to demonstrate it offered the better way of life to the existing and emerging nations of the world.

"They (the Russians) said we were a nation of gadgets and automobiles and a people of no culture," Von Eschen said. "In essence, the US was reacting to this cultural warfare. But did the state department think of this?  No. This came out of the jazz world. Musicians said the Russians can't claim jazz."

However, the fact that many jazz musicians were African-American and blacks in the late 1940s and 1950s were treated as inferiors in the South and other parts of the country initially threatened any musical diplomacy plans. The tours began laced with contradictions, but eventually the music won out. Black jazz musicians gained popularity for their American music. Trumpeter Louis Armstrong  came to be known around the world as "The Ambassador of Democracy." Duke Ellington and his band performed in more than 65 countries.

"The musicians were bringing a very different message of democracy, of who counts, and what is democracy, and what is egalitarianism," Von Eschen noted.

Perhaps the biggest victory for jazz was delivered through The Voice of America shows aired by Willis Conover. Conover presented jazz programs for foreign listeners for more than 4 decades. In fact, while Voice of American language program transmissions were jammed in the Soviet Union, officials there allowed the music to play.

"It was a musical expression of the things happening in America," said current director of Voice of America David Ensor. "The Soviet Union had a hierarchal structure of music and jazz really upended that."

When questioned about playing American music produced by blacks, Conover had a quick reply. "Listening to skin instead of listening to music is irrational," he was reported as saying.

Ironically, the Voice from America propelled both Conover and jazz to new heights overseas, but not at home. "He was well-known the world over, but he wasn't known in the United States. In fact,  jazz is more popular today in many countries than it is here," Ensor explained.

David Killion, a former U.S. representative to UNESCO, said that although the Cold War is over, jazz is still serving a purpose around the world. "My message is that jazz diplomacy isn't history, it's contemporary," Killion said.

"Jazz diplomacy may have started in the United States, but it has been embraced by the world," he added. "In jazz, (as a player) you have to listen to what everyone else is playing, even if you don't agree with it. Jazz teaches us that this world is big enough to accommodate all of us."

Monday, May 12, 2014

Training an Eye on Union Station's Past, Present, and Future

Fascination withTrains span generations
What better way to take advantage of National Train Day than to take a special tour of historic Union Station here in DC.

Our tour would be conducted by 3 guides, all of whom are involved in both restoring the station and making it a practical transportation showplace for the 21st Century. Our guides were Rob Nieweg, a field director and attorney for the National Trust for Historic Preservation; David Tuchmann, vice president of Akridge development; and Thomas Taylor of the NOMA (North of Massachusetts) BID business group.

Here is what we learned about Union Station:

from Rob Niewig's perspective
Union Station interior
The station, which opened in 1907, was designed by early urban planner Daniel Burnham, who talked of "the city beautiful" and rose to prominence with his work on the 1893 Columbia Exposition in Chicago.

The name Union station comes from the fact that the then-new facility served both of DC's major railroads, the Pennsylvania Railroad and the B & O.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the station provided the main gateway to the nation's capital. In the 96-foot tall, 200-feet long waiting room you could watch trains pull up into the station.

One of the most famous incidents at the train station occurred in 1953 when the brakes on a Pennsylvania Railroad train malfunctioned and it crashed into the station, jumped the passenger platform, and plunged through the floor of the passenger terminal into the basement of the station. Miraculously, no one was killed and only 43 people were injured.

Neiwig says many people have the wrong idea of preservation.

"It's about managing change, it's not about stopping change," he said.

The earthquake that struck the DC area in August, 2011 damaged much of the ceiling, and it is now being restored and strengthened.

Ornate statues based on Greek and Roman lore decorate both the inside and outside of the massive station. "Today, on one of the tours, I asked a young boy how old he thought the station was. He looked at some of those statues and said - a thousand years. And in a way, the little guy is right. The designers were trying to be symbolic with their idea of progress in railroading. This was the thing that the creators of the 1st Century were projecting. We want to keep some of that, but we want to make this a public place for its 2nd Century, too."

Learning on Train Day
from David Tuchmann's perspective
At its height of use during World War II, 200,000 people poured through Union Station every day. While the daily numbers aren't quite that great these days, an estimated 32 million people pass through the station annually. Almost 20 different types of transportation deposit and pick up people at the site.

"Really, this is kind of Washington's 4th airport," Tuchman says, citing the fact that Union Station is only behind Amtrak's New York station in number of passengers. It is also the most-used Metro stop in DC. More than 4,000 riders arrive and depart here from buses daily. "It all makes for an incredible transition for passengers," he said. "There's not enough space to move people on and off the trains comfortably."

Tuchmann has an image he likes to convey to point out the desperate need for modernization and expansion. He said that when 1 train arrives at the platform, it contains as many passengers as three 747 jet planes. "We're definitely overwhelmed at peak riding periods," he noted.

The 20-year expansion project envisioned will move out, over, and under the existing facility and its tracks.  "We need efficient systems to move people in and out," Tuchmann said.

from Thomas Taylor's perspective
View of NOMA today from the top of the station
Taylor, whose BID group is responsible for the growing development around the station,  said that many people believe that the Union Station area was never residential. They recall all the warehouses in the area, which became abandoned after trucks, not trains, became the preferred method of goods transportation.

"This area was once called Swampoodle. It was home to Irish immigrants, who as Catholics, weren't welcome in DC. They were displaced for the warehouses and now the warehouses are being displaced by new businesses and apartments," Taylor said.

Several businesses and government offices now call NOMA home, including Sirius XM, whose huge satellite dishes can be seen from the roof of the Unions Station parking garage. More than 4,000 residents now live in new construction near the station.

All three said the multi-year project is an attempt to bring together the past, the present, and the future.

But most of all a revamped, renovated Union Station has to work for the people who will be using the station and the surrounding sites. "75 years from now, if you are a Congressman, or a commuter, or a visitor, Union Station has to work for you. That's the standard we will be judged by," Tuchmann said.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

It's Back to the 60s

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 blogs. Hope you enjoy and maybe we'll see you soon at the Smithsonian

The Acid Test

Pop goes the 60s
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its opening to the public by showcasing a Ford Mustang made in 1964 and taking a look at the early 1960s from the aspects of culture, technology and science in two exhibition cases. 

The displays will be surrounded by newspaper headlines that will appear as floor graphics and set the stage for transporting visitors back to the year in which civil rights legislation passed, American casualties in Vietnam rose, the Beatles arrived and IBM announced its System 360, a mainframe computer-system family.

“The early 1960s found Americans caught between the optimism of a future where humankind could reach the moon and the pessimism brought about by President Kennedy’s assassination,” said John Gray, director of the museum. “Much like today, technological advances were changing American culture and life in complex ways. We help our visitors understand the complexities of the past; by learning about our rich history, we can be better prepared to move forward despite the difficulties or uncertainties the future may bring.”

To continue reading this post, which 1st appeared in Smithsonian Newsdesk, click here.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

This Definitely Isn't Your Dad's Wood Shop

Each week in our Saturday Supplement, The Prices Do DC re-posts an entry of interest to both residents of the Washington area and visitors to DC that first appeared in another publication's website.

Economists and policy wonks are increasingly predicting that manufacturing, from start-ups and creative entrepreneurs, will become an important part of urban economies.
If making things is going to become big business again in Washington, ground zero may be a shop class playground for adults that has just opened in Crystal City.  
To read more of this post which 1st appeared in The Washington Post, click here.

Friday, May 9, 2014

My Dad, a War, a Memorial, and Me

My Dad Alvin Owen Price
Yesterday was the 69th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. I wasn't alive for the original VE Day, but my Father, Alvin Owen Price, was.

My dad, like millions of men of his generation, was a soldier in World War II. He served in the European theater.

And, like most of his contemporaries, he didn't talk much about his war experiences. Over the years, I did learn some things. Never a fan of imposed authority, my dad spent much of his time rising in the Army ranks, only to be busted back down. He joked that he knew more about peeling potatoes on KP than firing his weapon on a battlefield. He was also convinced that the helmet the Army required him to wear made him go bald.

Actually, my dad didn't need to use his weapon much. He was assigned to guard German prisoners-of-war. Every so often, some of the prisoners were flown back to the United States for further questioning. My dad would accompany them. They would fly into an airport near Fort Dix, New Jersey. It was on one of these trips to New Jersey that my story sort of begins.

One of the soldiers in his unit, Joe Falls, was a native of South Jersey. He told my dad that there was a city named Bridgeton about an hour away from Fort Dix that was known for its parties. My dad, never one to miss a chance to party, said that sounded good. So he and Falls obtained a weekend pass and traveled to Bridgeton.

Arriving in town, my dad and his friend headed to the dance hall. This is how my dad described what happened next. They walked in. My dad saw a woman pouring punch. He turned to Joe Falls and said, "See that woman. That is the woman I am going to marry."

That woman was Mary Louise Ivins. She taught school and lived with her parents on a farm about 3 miles from Bridgeton.

Over the next couple of years, Alvin courted Louise. On May 9, 1945, the war in Europe ended. In 1946, my father was discharged from Fort Dix. Shortly thereafter, he married Mary Louise Ivins. In 1952, I was born. In 1972, my father died. Three years ago, after retiring, my wife and I left South Jersey and moved to Crystal City, just 3 Metro stops from DC.

And all of that brings us to yesterday, the 69th anniversary of the day the war my dad fought in ended.

One of the great things about living in the DC area is there is so much history here. So I decided to go to the World War II Memorial to pay tribute to all the men and women, but especially my father, who had fought for freedom.

The World War II Memorial
It wasn't my first visit. I'm sure it won't be my last. But it was my first visit on VE Day. I could have gone in the morning when there was a special ceremony honoring World War II veterans. But I wanted a more private, personal experience.

The chairs were still set up from the morning's ceremony, but they were empty now. Those vacant chairs served as a stark reminder that some day in the not-too-distant future there won't be any World War II veterans to fill them. When I was growing up, it seemed that every man I met had fought in that war. They had escaped death on the battlefield, but no amount of courage can keep you from death forever. Today, about 555 World War II veterans die every day. At that rate, you can see that it won't be long until they will all be gone.

For those of you who have never visited the World War II Memorial, if you put yourself in the right frame of mind, it can become hallowed ground.

The monument contains vertical markers of all the states and US territories that sent men and women to serve. I went first to the Texas marker. That was where my father was born, the son of Walter Lee and Zonie Mae Price. My dad's parents were farmers, but the driving winds of the 1930s blew their small farm and their Texas dreams away. So, like the Joad family in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, they loaded up their truck and headed west, eventually settling in Shelton, Washington. It was there that my dad enlisted.

I walked to the other side of the memorial to the Jersey marker. As I walked, I thought about the travels my dad made. From Texas to Washington state to Europe to New Jersey. I also thought about war - the cause for much of that movement. I never fought in a war. My son Michael never fought in a war. We both hope that neither of his children, Audrey or Owen, have to fight in a war. But my dad wasn't that fortunate. He did fight in a war. Unlike so many others, he survived. Surrounded by reminders of death, I thought about life. To be more specific, I thought about the what ifs that come with life. What if my dad hadn't survived the war? What if he hadn't been assigned to guard German prisoners and come to New Jersey? What if Joe Falls hadn't brought him to Bridgeton that night? What if Mary Louise Ivins had decided not to attend that dance?

But, of course, none of that mattered.  For all those things did happen. Lost in reverie, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Turning, I saw an older man in a veterans' cap. "Could you give something to help homeless veterans?" he asked. I looked in a my wallet. I had $9. I handed him a $5 bill. As sacrifices go, it wasn't much, certainly nothing compared to all of those made from 1941 to 1945. My dad would have given all $9. He was that way. His generation was that way. That is why they deserve the label the Greatest Generation.  Somehow, I believe they were made of sterner stuff.

It's hard to follow heroes. But heroes show us how to live in tough times. Eventually they die, but their deeds live on. When he was little, I told Michael about the grandfather he never met.  Both he and I will tell Audrey and Owen about their great-grandfather. I know they will both be interested, but Owen's interest might be a little stronger since this is where he gets his first name.

And since they are now 6-and-a-half and 5, the next time they come to DC, I will take them to the World War II Memorial and tell them about all the heroes of that time. For, no matter what your age, you can never have too many heroes. And it's the least I can do for a generation that gave so much.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

O-My-God-Zilla: A Famed Monster Makes a Comeback

The original Godzilla (or Gojira)
Get prepared DC and the rest of America - Godzilla, that Japanese king of all monsters, is back. And this month, it will be a double attack.

First up was the return of the original monster over the past 4 days. To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the movie's release, Rialto Pictures showed its new restoration of Honda Ishiro's uncut landmark 1954 film at the AFI Silver Theater and Cultural Center in Silver Springs.

The original film was chopped and butchered before it screened in America under the title Godzilla: King of Monsters in 1956. Actor Raymond Burr was inserted in the American version as the protagonist and only one hour of the original 98-minute running time was used. All the Japanese speaking roles were dubbed over. The restored version, named Godzilla: The Japanese Original, delivers the complete version with no dubbing.

For those few who might not be familiar with the Godzilla tale, it is the story of a radiation-breathing prehistoric monster, awakened after millenia by hydrogen bomb testing. Impervious to repeated shelling by the Japanese army, Godzilla wreaks havoc on a helpless Tokyo.

At the time, the monster - actually named Gojira in Japanese - was a visual metaphor for the feared effects of a nuclear attack and the aftereffects of radiation. It had specific resonance with Japan since they had been the scene of 2 nuclear attacks just 9 years before the movie's release.

But the short run of the restored film just served as a prelude to the expected huge release of the remake of the original on May 16.  In that film, simply titled Godzilla, the famed monster is pitted against malevolent creatures, who bolstered by humanity's scientific arrogance, threaten the existence of all humankind.

To celebrate the release of the new Godzilla (one of our favorite monsters of all-time and the only monster to be the central figure in a song by Blue Oyster Cult), here are a series of fun articles featuring the central figure of so many 50s and 60s nightmares.

Japanese are upset with supersized, fat American Godzilla. (from Science Fiction.Com)

In crossover ad, Godzilla chows down on a Fiat (from The New York Daily News)

Here's what you all have been waiting for - Jawzilla: A Godzilla and Jaws trailer mashup. (from Indiewire)

Godzilla versus Smaug from The Hobbit: Who would win that dragon duel? (from The Wall Street Journal)

The ever increasing size of Godzilla and its implications for sexual selection and urine production. (from Deep Sea News)

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