STOMP In Modesto: A Preview

STOMP, the “international percussion sensation” that has been taking audiences by storm for years, came to Sacramento earlier this year.

In thinking about how I was going to tell you about the show’s return to northern California, this time to the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto on November 23, I decided to take a look at what I’d written about STOMP last February, first published with the Sac Cultural Hub:

I wish I could tell you that STOMP’s eight member cast used everything but the kitchen sink to drive the “music,” but that would be inaccurate: four of them rocked the house with four kitchen sinks.

During other sets they used buckets. Inner tubes. Match boxes. Trash cans. Plastic tubing. Push brooms. Mops. Oil drums. Their own hands and feet, and even each other’s bodies. It was a raucous symphony derived from the mundane, stunning us alternatively between rapt silence and rousing applause.

“We were stunned from rapt silence to rousing applause.”

That’s not bad! And quite accurate! I need to keep drinking whatever I was drinking on the morning I wrote that!

Here’s more from me, coming out of STOMP last February:

As a handful of cast members marched onstage pushing four run-of-the-mill grocery carts, I figured out the show’s appeal. STOMP has tapped into the kid in all of us, the kid who got yelled at for jumping onto a rolling grocery cart at the corner grocery store, or beating on a wall or the floor or the bed post or his brother’s head (I am revealing too much here?). As children, we were powerless to ignore the available object’s inherent utility for something beyond its original intended purpose.

What’s that? You weren’t that kid? Yes, you were — you just don’t remember. I encourage you to see STOMP — to hear it and feel it — and get reacquainted with that kid. He or she has been waiting for you.

During my soggy stroll back to my car, I heard the rhythm of the rain hitting the pavement, and I paused to — stomp! —into a large puddle just off of the curb. I didn’t think or care about whether I got my jeans or my brand new shoes wet, or even if a few errant drops of water hit another pedestrian. I just stomped. And smiled.

You’ll smile, too coming out of STOMP, playing at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto. I’m told the 7:30pm show is nearly sold out, so move quickly if you want to go to that one. At press time, there are still seats available for the 3pm matinee.

John Legend Is Sexiest Man Alive, Even If He’s Tone Deaf. A Re-write Of “Baby It’s Cold Outside?”

People Magazine has just caught up with the rest of the world and named singer / songwriter John Legend 2019’s Sexiest Man Alive.

Legend’s wife Chrissy Teigen let that ass out of the bag when she posted a bare-butt pic of her hubby on Instagram a few years ago. After I saw that, I’ve been waiting for Legend to give me the green light. But alas, he’s not made that call yet.

Git it, John.

Like People Magazine, I’m late to the Legend party. I fell for the 40-year-old just a few years ago, when he opened for Sade on tour. It was the first time in years I wanted more of a show’s opening act. And that was before I’d seen his ass.

You’re welcome.

I was a huge fan of Legend’s 2018 Christmas album, A Legendary Christmas, and his accompanying throw-back NBC special, going as far as to say that his was a worthy successor to Michael Buble’s televised holiday parties from a few years ago.

But that holiday glow has dimmed with Legend’s recently released, expanded version of that album. It includes a few new “bonus” tracks, including a ridiculous version of the holiday classic “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” He’s rewritten the song, eliminating some of the “controversial” lyrics for the post-#MeToo era.

And in doing so, Legend has shown his ass — in a whole different way.

Now, just to let you know that I’m not just as tone-deaf as Legend appears to be, I get it. “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” written in 1949, is definitely a product of its time. But context is everything. The popular holiday song was originally written and performed by a husband and wife team, cutely depicting the pair’s flirtatious exchange. Even by 2019 standards, it’s far from offensive.

And no honest person would suggest that they’d say — or sing — anything less than “please stay” to a date that you picked up on Tinder.

Or Grindr.

One certainly wouldn’t warble “It’s your body, it’s your choice” and call an Uber for your date, as Legend does in the song, bouncing lyrics off of an equally clueless Kelly Clarkston. If I didn’t know better, I’d think their new version of the song was a parody, or an indictment of the #MeToo movement that I’m sure they both support.

Sharon Osbourne and Teigen got into a tiff about all of this, after Osbourne denounced the song on her daytime talk show, The Talk. Dean Martin’s daughter has even chimed in. I’m with them:

If you don’t like the song, Mr. Legend, don’t record or sing it. But don’t take a work of art and change it to try to accommodate modern day sensibilities.

And if Legend has a hankering to remake pop hits for the #MeToo crowd, he should start with his own catalog. He could start with his 2008, afore referenced “Green Light.” If he’s not on the chase on that one…

Legend should stick to what he does best: write and record fantastic originals and faithful cover songs, in a world where people won’t be rewriting his songs 70 years from now.

And prance around the house naked.

Maybe Teigen will snap and post an updated shot of Legend’s 2019 bare ass, to justify her husband’s new Sexiest Man Alive title.

That would ensure the merriest of Christmases.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really must go…

Legend deserved an encore. You’re welcome.

Bobby Brown On Robyn Crawford, and the New Memoir On Crawford’s Life With Whitney Houston

I watched Robyn Crawford’s NBC special a couple of nights ago, as she promoted her new book A Song For You: My Life With Whitney Houston. If you have not heard about the book, Crawford addresses the longtime rumors of her physical, intimate relationship with the late superstar.

SPOILER ALERT: in the book, Crawford allegedly asserts that the relationship was much more than rumored.

Crawford, for the most part, convinced me she was telling the truth during the broadcast. I only doubted her once: when she said she wasn’t hurt by Houston’s marriage to Bobby Brown. Crawford said she was “happy” for Houston, “if that’s what she wanted.”

It was a very diplomatic, seemingly rehearsed, answer to a direct question. I believe Crawford was happy for Houston. If you love someone, you want them to be happy.

But I also believe Crawford’s heart had been broken. You could see it in her eyes as she recalled Houston’s wedding to Brown.

In hindsight, Crawford’s relationship with Houston was probably one of the worst-kept secrets in the entertainment industry. Brown wrote of it in his 2016 memoir, Every Little Step. On page 154 of that book, Brown wrote of the pair “I think their relationship had become sexual at some point but once I arrived on the scene, changes had to be made.”

A few pages later, Brown wrote “I think if Robyn could have been accepted in Whitney’s life and remained close to her, Whitney would still be alive today.”

Who would have been resistant to Crawford being a part of Houston’s life? Maybe Houston’s mom, gospel and background singer Cissy Houston. During an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2013, Cissy told O that she would have never condoned her daughter being gay, and spoke openly of disliking Crawford.

Crawford also claims that Houston had started using cocaine at the age of 14. That shocker left me with a question for Cissy:

Where were you when your 14 year old was using cocaine?

Maybe I’ll get to ask Cissy Houston that question one day. In the meantime, I’m going to dive into Crawford’s new book.

Stay tuned.

Forever Motown In Modesto: A Review

Interstate 99 wasn’t quite the “Freeway Of Love” last weekend, as I anxiously drove to Modesto to catch Forever Motown, a tribute to Detroit’s greatest musical exports.

Photo courtesy of Coleman Communications.

I love the music, just like the rest of the world. But I was born and raised in Detroit. So when I learned that GC Cameron, one of the original lead singers of The Spinners, was the sole Motown originator who would be on stage, I almost opted for a beer while perched on my couch in lieu of a short Sunday sojourn to the Gallo Center for the Arts.

Just a few hours later, I found myself not just up and off of the couch. I was “Dancing In The Street.”

That Martha & The Vandellas chart-topper kicked off a fabulous night of music and memories, with sets devoted to Motown legends like The Four Tops, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, The Spinners, and The Marvelettes…and that was just the show’s first half. “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch,” “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” “Ooh Baby Baby,” “Please Mr Postman.” “What’s Going On”…the show started off with a bang.

That first half also included Cameron’s sole solo hit, “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday,” during which the 74 year old gave everything he had. The singer who used to be known as “The Man With Six Voices” may have lost track and / or control of one or two of them over the decades, but his remaining voices were more than adequate to drive many Modesto fans to their feet.

After a brief intermission, Motown’s biggest stars, Diana Ross & The Supremes, were honored by a set of singers and musicians who more than did their catalog justice. The following Stevie Wonder segment was vocally and musically brilliant, but the performer skirted with parody with his colorful dashiki, sunglasses, and trademark horizontal sway while performing. The show got back on track quickly though, with a reverential Commodores set and a masterful Temptations medley.

And Forever Motown wrapped up in the only way that it possibly could, with “Ain’t No Motown High Enough,” brilliantly performed by a dynamic soloist named Champaign. Miss Ross would have been proud.

Photo courtesy of Coleman Communications.

The concert’s setlist left me scratching my head a couple of times. The Jackson 5 were noticeably absent, while The Commodores, who entered the scene a decade after Motown’s heyday, were honored while other 70s Motown sensations, like Rick James and Teena Marie, were not.

Ike & Tina Turner were covered, although they never recorded for Motown. And Cameron mysteriously sang Spinners hits that were released by another label, after he left the group to pursue his solo career.

Over two hours after the show began, I walked out of the Gallo Center knowing that we will never see the likes of Motown again. But it was great to see performers who are young enough to be Motown founder Berry Gordy’s great grandchildren performing the music that his label introduced to the world sixty years ago.

That music does and will live on. Motown IS forever!

A Christmas Story Musical Prompts Laughs, Tears: A Review

Do you remember when you wondered whether Santa Claus was gonna come, and bring you what you wanted on Christmas Eve?

Not like today, when you know the big guy will stop by. Back when you wondered. Hoped. Dreamed.

If you need a nudge to dredge up that memory, A Christmas Story, The Musical is playing in the newly-renovated Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento. The charming show opened last night and will run through November 17.

History was made at last night’s opener, as A Christmas Story, The Musical is the first Broadway production to play at the historic Memorial Auditorium. As Sacramento is enjoying higher than average temperatures this November, you might be reluctant to attend a nostalgic, unapologetically yuletide show.

But I’d encourage you to get over that and treat yourself to this wonderful production. After all…

Christmas is only 46 days away.

The Tony-nominated Broadway musical adapts the 1983 classic holiday film to the stage, bringing all of your favorite set pieces and phrases (the flag pole, the bunny PJs, the leg lamp, “fragile,” “You’ll shoot your eye out!”) to life with a set of catchy tunes by the songwriting team behind Dear Evan Hanson, La La Land, and The Greatest Showman. The show’s choreography is equally engaging, but none of that would have worked if not for a brilliant ensemble that made it hard for me to single out standouts.

But I will.

Briana Gantsweg’s sweet portrayal of Ralphie’s mother made me recall my own, holding a chaotic home together with heart and hugs. Her “Just Like That” needs to be on every holiday playlist. The song’s now on mine.

Lauren Kent amazed me as Miss Shields, swapping out a stern classroom teacher with a vampy chanteuse in a comical dream sequence. All of the kids in the production were brilliant, singing and dancing their hearts out, with one of them almost out-hoofing Kent.

But the show’s Ralphie, Ian Shaw for opening night, was amazing. He has a voice that filled the Memorial Auditorium and stage presence to match. I overheard several conversations about Shaw in the lobby during the show’s brief intermission. If the Bloomington, Indiana native weren’t a stage veteran already, I’d tell you a star was born. The other kid playing Ralphie during the Sacramento run, Tommy Druhan, has his work cut out for him.

And there’s a standout line in this production, spoken near the end of the show. After Ralphie recalls why a certain Christmas gift will always be his all-time favorite, I wiped away a tear for my dad, one of the best helpers Santa Claus ever had.

See A Christmas Story, The Musical. As Ralphie has reminded me…

“It All Comes Down To Christmas!”

Tickets for A Christmas Story, The Musical start at $26 and are available now at the box office, 1419 H Street, Sacramento, or by calling (916) 557-1999; at the Memorial Auditorium Box Office, 1515 J Street, Sacramento, or by calling (916) 808-5181; or online at BroadwaySacramento.com.

Popeyes Sandwich Is BACK! But Is It Worth Getting Stabbed Over?: The Chicken Chronicles Vol 3

Popeyes triumphantly brought back their heralded chicken sandwich on November 3, on National Sandwich Day and a Sunday no less (a day when their homophobic poultry rival — whatever their name is — is closed).

Again, it was genius. But since then, reports indicate that it’s still hard out there for a pimp who wants a chicken sandwich.

Twenty four hours after the relaunch, I drove past a location in Sacramento (the corner of Watt and El Camino Avenues) at 9:38am, 22 minutes before the store opened. Six people stood in line outside, in the chilly fall morning air…to buy a chicken sandwich.

Two of those people wore doo rags on their heads. Hand to God. I’d bet you a half-case of the chain’s spicy sandwiches that at least one of them had an expired drivers license, and that none of them were registered to vote.

Why a half-case, you ask? This writer will be selling the rest of those sandwiches on eBay.

When I drove back past the same location less than an hour later, at 10:29am, the place sported a drive-thru line that wrapped around the restaurant and into the busy street. Inside, the place was packed. I wished the best of luck to anyone who planned to stop in during their lunch hour.

Nationwide, the roll-out has been spotty, at best. Some locations have already reported selling out of the sandwich. And there’s been at least one fatal stabbing.

Over. A. Sandwich.

I’m all for some good bird. My mouth is watering as I’m typing this in fact, realizing that I’ve inadvertently worked through my lunch hour. But the hype around this one is unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time.

And I feel like cutting a switch for the person who stabbed another person to death.

Over. A. Sandwich.

Email me with details of your own Popeyes chicken sandwich journey! I may include your story in a future post.

EXCLUSIVE: Sacramento-Area Planet Fitness Location Closing For Upgrades

It’s hard to believe that Planet Fitness moved into the Sacramento market five years ago. With that anniversary, one of Sac’s first PF location is closing briefly for a few upgrades.

The Rancho Cordova facility, at 10373 Folsom Boulevard, will close today (November 5) at 8pm and will remain closed until mid-afternoon on the 6th, with a 3pm target time. When they reopen, the location will feature all-new cardio equipment. The chain replaces elliptical machines, treadmills and the like every five years.

And if that’s not enough to get you (back) in the door, PF is only charging 25 cents to join the gym. That’s right: a quarter.

Planet Fitness has made it next to impossible to ignore those fitness goals, and they’re giving us the perfect opportunity to take a preemptive strike at that Thanksgiving dinner that’s barely three weeks away.

Let’s take five pounds off before Turkey Day! Are you up for it? See you at Planet Fitness!

Click here for information on Planet Fitness. If you’re heading to that Rancho Cordova location today or tomorrow, you may want to call and make sure they’re open: 916-368-5000

Sears Christmas Wish Book — We Remember

With Halloween behind us, my mind wafts to an annual, magical day in the home in which I grew up. It always came weeks before Santa Claus miraculously came down the chimney that our family’s ranch house didn’t have.

On that day’s dawn, my mother headed out for her weekly shopping trip — usually at metro Detroit’s sparkly new Fairlane Town Center. Sometimes she went alone, other times with my grandmother, “Ma,” and on some days, a subset of her children accompanied her.

But independent of how that Saturday started each year, it ended the same way: with the delivery of the Sears Holiday Wish Book into my and my brother and sisters’ hot little hands.

Today, in a world replete with iPad-clutching toddlers, it’s hard to convey the impact of that inches-thick catalog’s arrival in our home. Today, kids of all ages can and do shop online. With a few quick clicks and an active Amazon Prime account, today’s kids can have many of their hearts’ desires delivered in a nondescript cardboard carton within hours.

But back in the day, when the colorful Sears Holiday Wish Book was tossed on the kitchen table, and the manifestation of our Christmas dreams was weeks away (if you were lucky), it was a whole different thing.

My sisters and I sprawled out on our family room’s shag-carpeted floor. Spiral notebooks and sharpened pencils where brandished. We needed pencils — never markers or pens — as there was certain to be LOTS of revisions before we settled upon final drafts.

Deadlines for Christmas lists were communicated. Time limits for each child were set, in the event that efforts to share a single Wish Book among the three of us went south.

Mercifully, my older brother had aged out of the majority of Santa Claus preparatory activities. I’d brilliantly surmised that by the time you got older, Santa knew you well enough to know what toys to leave behind without needing a list.

But for those of us who were younger, we had work to do. We only had a few short weeks to assemble a road map for Santa Claus.

My parents insisted upon a prioritized, limited list — no more than 10 items per child, as I recall — but how in the name of Black Jesus was I to limit my yuletide imagination to just 10? That Sears Wish Book contained, literally, hundreds of glorious, vibrant pages of toys.

How was I to decide between Mr. Potato Head, the Six Million Dollar Man action figure (let alone Oscar Goldman, The Bionic Woman, or Bigfoot), or GI Joe with the Kung Fu Grip?

How about the iPad’s precursor, the 2-XL? Yes, it was a glorified 8-track player but I needed it! Let alone the bikes, the basketballs, the board games, the ice skates…all to be wrapped up in festive packages, boxes, and bags.

The Burgermeister Meisterburger from the 1970 Rankin / Bass classic Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town would have been screwed, I posited, if he’d tried to ban toys in Inkster, Michigan. He’d best keep his Grinchy ass in SomberTown, I thought. In Inkster, we had that Sears Holiday Wish Book, and it promised the world. At least on Christmas morning.

Photo courtesy of Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, which I own on VHS, DVD, Blu Ray, and digital…and sometimes watch in July. Don’t judge me!
I didn’t just want that Six Million Dollar Man action figure: I needed him.

As Sears declined, so did the Wish Book. Today, that wonderful holiday treasure of my childhood is a shadow of what it was in its glory days. A decade or so ago, the chain tried to resurrect it as an online resource, accessible to those aforementioned, iPad-wielding children.

But it wasn’t to be — it couldn’t have worked. The Wish Book was born and flourished in a time that had passed.

In reviewing past Wish Books, after several decades away from them, the lack of melanin among their cover models was rather glaring. It was the early 90s, it appears, before Sears realized that kids of color were dreaming of a white Christmas, too.

If the retailer had picked up on that reality a little earlier, maybe they wouldn’t be on the verge of bankruptcy. The Sears at Fairlane Town Center closed last year, along with hundreds of other locations across the country.

In the early 90s, Sears finally figured out that black and brown kids dreamed of a White Christmas, too.

Today, the closest I’ve found to the wonder of the Sears Wish Book is Hallmark’s annual Dream Book, which features their charming ornaments and holiday home fixtures. I love getting the Dream Book in the mail, and each year, I spend way more money than I should on miniature, Christmas tree ornament-versions of Mr Potato Head, The Six Million Dollar Man, 2-XL, and GI Joe with the KUNG FU GRIP! (Actually, I’m still waiting for the latter one!).

It’s sitting on my kitchen table now.

Each year, I start growing a beard on the day after Halloween, and I back off of the fitness regimen just a little, to ensure my belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly by Christmas Eve. (It makes for a good excuse to have a Cranberry Bliss Bar at Starbucks, anyway.)

It’s all in an effort to retain just a little bit of the kid that clutched that Sears Wish Book as if his life depended on it. Maybe it did.

And maybe it still does.

Here’s to a great holiday season. Oh, to hell with political correctness! I know it’s early, but…

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

No Red Meat October Was A Success! Now, Nothing Deep Fried November?

In September, I traveled back to the midwest to visit with family and friends, and while I was in Detroit I couldn’t resist having a few Coney Islands. If you’ve never been to the Motor City, Coney Islands, or “Coneys,” are the best hot dogs on the planet. You can find them on almost every block of metropolitan Detroit. (That’s only a slight overstatement.)

While two Detroit Coney establishments get all of the press, you can find the best one at Woodward Coney Island, right in the heart of downtown Detroit. The entire area is in the middle of a fantastic resurgence, but Woodward Coney Island — and that succulent, slap-your-mamma Coney, drenched in chili, heavily sprinkled with onion, and drizzled with yellow mustard — has remained blissfully unchanged.

Yes, Jesus.

Just to make sure of that fact, I had a few dogs at Woodward Coney Island during the week I was in the D. My first visit there last month marked only the first time I have ever purchased a t-shirt from a restaurant. The first time, I’d eaten rattlesnake at a restaurant in Phoenix. That Coney was that memorable!

Yes, Black Jesus!

Then, there were the White Castles. Yes, I tried their new plant-based, Impossible Slider, and it’s VERY good…but it’s not the original, soggy-bunned White Castle with “everything” (mustard, ketchup, pickle, and onion) that will bring you back time and time again, and you can eat whether or not you decide to chase it down with their signature Onion Chips. If you’ve not traveled east of the Mississippi, White Castle is more than worth the trip (although you can now grab a Crave Case of those sliders in Las Vegas).

My heart and cardiovascular system was screaming bloody murder by the end of my week-long trip, so on the flight back to California I decided to back off of the red meat for a day or two, to give my ticker time to recover and get that bovine-based cholesterol out of my system. Before I knew it, it had been a week, I’d had no beef or pork at all, and I was staring October 1st in the face. I decided to dub that looming month No Red Meat October, and try to get through the month with no beef or pork.

Now, in the spirit of full and total disclosure, the challenge wasn’t as daunting for me as it would be for some. I was a vegetarian for three years before moving to California, but that had been almost 10 years before my White Castle & Coney-induced almost-coma last September. I can’t say it was always easy — I found myself craving Starbucks’ new grilled ham and cheese sandwich one day, and I almost fell off of the wagon and into a McDonalds drive-thru line to get a McDouble another day.

But I made it. As of this writing, I’ve had no beef or pork for 37 days!

I knew I’d conquered my cravings when I found myself in Los Angeles on business last week (more on that trip later!), and I found myself craving cajun shrimp & grits instead of a hot dog from Pink’s. And honestly, as I type this, I feel a lot better, I’ve experienced more energy during the day, and I have slept much better at night.

And I’m already thinking about a new challenge for November. I’d thought about No Deep Fried Food November…but Popeyes is promising the return of their sandwich soon, so let’s not be stupid

PREVIEW — Forever Motown in Modesto

There was a time, not all that long ago, when I wouldn’t have come within miles of Forever Motown, a critically-acclaimed tribute show that’s coming to the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto this Sunday, November 3. Its been selling out venues nationwide.

But I’m from Detroit, you see. The Motor City. Born and raised. And there was a time that I only wanted to see the real deal if I was going to a Motown show. I had no time or patience for what I then thought of as a faux Four Top or a pseudo Supreme. Give me Diana Ross or give me death, I’d have told you.

Then, just a handful of years ago, Motown: The Musical changed my mind and my heart, and left me dancing in the aisles — and the streets! — in San Francisco. That show was a rollicking production that wow’d Broadway before embarking on a multi-year, cross-country tour. With not a single original Motown artist, Motown: The Musical’s brilliant cast captured all of the verve of the legendary Motowntown Revues from the 1960s.

And just like The Temptations, I wasn’t too proud to beg..for more. I went on to see that show three times. It was incredible!

With Motown: The Musical’s “Berry Gordy” and “Diana Ross.” Clifton Oliver and Allison Semmes, San Francisco, 2014. Photo courtesy of Coleman Communications.

This weekend’s Forever Motown show in Modesto appears to be a hybrid of sorts. While the concert will feature the legendary G.C.Cameron, one of the original lead singers of The Spinners, most of its artists aren’t the headliners that the world came to love during the legendary record label’s heyday.

The show’s press materials mention that “an original lead singer of The Temptations” will take the stage. As Tempts fans can be reasonably sure it won’t be David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, or Dennis Edwards, we therefore know that he’ll have his work cut out for him Sunday afternoon.

I’m told that former members of The Marvelettes will share the stage with him. Let’s hope they’re able to carry the torch for the ladies from the hamlet of Inkster, Michigan who went on to put Motown on the map with the label’s first #1 single, “Please Mr. Postman.”

It’s probably too much to ask for a Motown show with headliners from the good ol’ days. Of them, only Ross, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder are still with us and performing.

But as Motown: The Musical taught me, Motown is more than just the architects of that glorious sound: it’s a feeling, a pulse, a movement, “The Sound of Young America.”

And with Forever Motown, that unmistakable, eternal sound is coming to Modesto this weekend.

You couldn’t keep me from the Gallo Center if you tried.

Click here for tickets to this weekend’s Forever Motown show at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto.