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Things You Never Hear People Say In Harrisburg

You’ve seen all of the regional YouTube videos about what people in virtually every city in America “say” – hipsters and hippies and suits and snobs…here are a handful of things you’ll most likely never, ever, ever hear someone in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania say. Not ever in any of our lifetimes. Ever.

1. “Man, these roads are really smooth!”

Last year, I spent around nine hundred dollars repairing the front axle of my car. And I absolutely blame about eighty percent of those repair-needs on the totally horrific upkeep of the public roads within the city of Harrisburg. There are straight-up sinkholes throughout this place. SINKHOLES.

2. “Ya know what? I do feel really safe walking alone at night in Harrisburg. Especially on the dark streets where the streetlamps have burned out.”

If you choose to walk the streets of Harrisburg alone after dark, especially between the hours of 11PM and 3AM anywhere between Forster and Maclay, Front to Third, you are absolutely taking your personal safety in your own hands.

Oddly, though, you’re generally safe along Front Street in Riverfront Park.

3. “I feel pretty satisfied that my local tax dollars are going to good use and benefiting me directly.”

Have I mentioned the condition of the roads?

4. “I wish we had more bars here”

For a city of forty seven thousand, Harrisburg certainly has an abundance of watering holes. Some are swanky and some are skanky, but there really seems to be a bar or tavern within every three blocks here. You’re never more than a several hundred yard stumble from your next shot in Harrisburg.Which gives plenty of us plenty of options for the self medicating that seems to happen nightly here.

5. “Man, that river is so beautiful and CLEAN”

How many e-coli breakouts were there in this section of the Mighty Susquehanna last year?

6. “Considering how many parking tickets I get here for street cleaning, I feel that the streets are pretty darn clean and I probably deserve to pay a fine for failing to not park on alternating sides of the street, two days per month so the city maintenance guys can clean the streets.”

I wonder where there are more cigarette butts, chip bags, plastic juice bottles and empty beer cans and bottles? New Orleans after Mardi Gras? Or Harrisburg…any day of the week? For a city that spends so much time and effort on “street cleaning”, we sure do have some dirty streets.

7. “This place is so unified! I love the sense of connectedness and community and pride within this whole city!”

You do hear this in other cities. Other cities do have local pride, you know. It’s not like this everywhere. There are plenty of cities in America that have a unified community which spans all races and cultures and barriers and differences and they all share the same traits- pride in their surroundings. Midtowners seem to stay relatively connected…but Harrisburg, believe it or not is much larger than the area bound by Front, Third, Forster and Market streets.

8. “I moved to Harrisburg from [Insert much bigger, much cooler city here] because of the awesome job market.

Who moves to Harrisburg? There’s a major brain-drain problem here and it won’t be corrected until some progressive companies plant their roots here. Either that or when people start to realize that this is a large town and not a small city. We don’t have to feel so fragmented, yet different factions continue to operate as if they’re the only people in town. Why doesn’t HYP, Friends of Midtown, The Harrisburg Art Association and Jump Street all join together for one annual humdinger of an event? Why don’t all of the little different neighborhood associations have a monthly meeting with all neighborhood associations?

Finally…

9. “I completely trust my elected officials to make the decisions and push for what’s right and best for this city. I will vote for this current incarnation again and again.”

This is where it begins and ends. Linda Thompson was president of City Council before she was elected Mayor. And as much as she’d like to pass the blame of everything that’s wrong with this city to former Mayor Reed, she is just as guilty. The blood of the atrocity of the financial state of the city of Harrisburg is on every elected officials hands for the past twenty years.

Every bond deal, every backroom handshake, every stupid artifact, every dollar misappropriated from one fund to another and every brick of that cursed incinerator was a choice that someone you and I elected made.

When local politicians choose to realize that they are charged with fixing or failing this city, that’s when we’ll see true progress. But now? With the exception of a small handful of standouts, all I’ve seen is a bunch of bullshit posturing and career advancing politicking from the elected officials in Harrisburg. Guys – it’s not about you…it’s about the welfare of this city. And it’s pretty grim these days.

The Guestlist

Today, I got an email.

I did not know the person who sent it, but he claimed to be a promoter in a tiny little town in NEPA. I searched for the name of his company on Google, and found nothing. Then, I searched it on Facebook. Also, nothing. Finally, I searched his name on the Book of Faces and located him. We have three mutual friends. In his info was a link to his promoter page within Facebook. I clicked. They don’t seem to do any shows and the photo for the page is probably a photo of the stage of a Furthur show, but taken by a professional photographer.

The page had twenty two “likes”.

The reason the dude emailed me?

Asking for a guestlist spot on tonight’s show.

Here’s the transmission:

Hello Mike,
I’m ******** of **************, i am attending Biodiesel tonight and was wondering if there was anyway to get on a guestlist?
Thanks,
********

From: Michael Van Jura <mike@greenbeltevents.com>
To: ******************************
Sent: Thursday, December 8, 2011 10:33 AM
Subject: Re: biodiesel guest list

are you press?

On Dec 8, 2011, at 12:00 PM,************* wrote:

no not press , just the owner of another production company.

From: Michael Van Jura <mike@greenbeltevents.com>
To: *****************************
Sent: Thursday, December 8, 2011 2:08 PM
Subject: Re: biodiesel guest list

I don’t really want to sound like a dick, but it’s only a $7 ticket.

And for what it’s worth, I almost always buy tickets when I go to shows in other venues…

But sure, I’ll put you on the list.

Doors are at 7.

On Dec 8, 2011, at 2:21 PM, *********************> wrote:

wow definately do sound like a dick, the person who invited me out had said they thought it was $20 which is too much for a biodiesel show, that is why i asked about guestlist. $7 ticket not a problem.
and for what its worth i always guestlist any promoters who come out to any show im involved in and usually have same done for me.  like i said its not a problem if we decide to come out i have no problem paying $7.

From: Mike Van Jura <mike.vanjura@gmail.com>
To: ***********************
Sent: Thursday, December 8, 2011 2:25 PM
Subject: Re: biodiesel guest list

So, you’re a promoter but didn’t think to check the website to see how much the tickets actually cost?

Do you see what happened there?

Someone I don’t know emailed out of the blue, asking to be put on the guest list for a show with a seven dollar cover. I did a bit of due diligence just to make sure I wasn’t giving a hard time to someone that didn’t deserve it, explained my reasoning for questioning him in my email, still offered him a spot on the list and I got called a “dick” for doing so.

Here’s my position on the guest list:

  • If you’re someone who goes above and beyond and helps promote shows (or a particular show), I have no problem giving a plus one.
  • If you’re somehow connected to the band via street team, long time fan, sleeping with the bass player…whatever. The band always has a guestlist allotment on a show and you can work your way on that way.
  • If it’s someone that I think that you really want to see, I’ll often say “hey man, you should come check these guys out. You’d probably dig them. I’ll put you on the list. They start around 9.”

And that’s pretty much it. Helping promote the show, a friend of the band or a personal friend of mine because I do have that luxury of giving free tickets to my friends.

Sometimes people don’t realize that a concert ticket is a promoter’s product. Just like Five Guys sells hamburgers and people exchange currency for two buns, beef, lettuce, tomato and ketchup, the hamburger you’re paying for at any concert is the act that’s performing on stage.

Shows ain’t cheap. And oftentimes, most people visit a venue twice or three times per month and see shows that are pretty well attended. And yes, while the well attended shows are profit generators for a promoter, there are plenty of other shows that either break even or lose money for the promoter.

Inherently, to be a concert promoter, one must also be a gambler at heart. When I confirm a show in August that isn’t scheduled until December, I have no idea if there is going to be a foot of snow on the ground the day of or if a better show will be confirmed for a venue within driving distance of mine on the same night. Therefore, for every show that confirms, I make another roll of the dice.

Look, I’m not a dick. But think of it like this – if we both owned a Turkey Sandwich shop and I went to your turkey sandwich shop and said “hey! I have a turkey sandwich shop a few hours from here. May I have a free turkey sandwich?, would you give me one?

See what I mean?

But, if I’m out in front of that Turkey Sandwich shop wearing a sandwich sign and parading up and down the block enticing people to come  in and buy a turkey sandwich, then I pretty much deserve that turkey fucking sandwich.

No, this isn’t the gospel. And every promoter is different. But I just had to vent this pet peeve of mine.

Ten Great Breakfast Spots In (And Around) Harrisburg

To say “I love breakfast” is an understatement.

I really, really love breakfast.

If I could take a tomato, avocado and cheese omelet out to dinner, feed it some wine and take it home with me and watch a movie, I would.

If there weren’t a law prohibiting the fornication of a man and his English muffin, I’d probably have a litter of little baby English muffins running around my house today.

I love breakfast so much, that there have been days that I’ve had eggs in the morning, pancakes in the afternoon and waffles for dinner.

So any time someone new comes to Harrisburg, be it a band or a friend, I’m often quick to recommend a handful of great breakfast options. Because for as underwhelming a town that Harrisburg can be, we are fortunate to have a good smattering of breakfast choices.

Here, in no particular order, are ten great places to get a good breakfast in the Harrisburg area. (I’m not talking about brunch, which could be a post of it’s own. These are ten, solid, dependable diners, greasy spoons and corner shops to get a good cup of coffee, a couple eggs, toast and bacon)

1. Yankee Doodle Diner
902 North Front Street, Lemoyne, PA
(717) 731-9100

The first thing you need to know about this place is that it is NOT the Riverview Diner anymore. When this structure was known as the Riverview Diner, I swore it off for years due to terrible service, cold food and hair in my eggs. But under new ownership for about two years now, the Yankee Doodle Diner is one of my favorite breakfast spots. A creative menu featuring specials daily, burritos, omelets, waffles, pancakes, eggs, oatmeal and cereals served by a super friendly and always entertaining staff, this place keeps impressing me.

2. American Dream Diner
1933 Herr Street, Harrisburg, PA
(717) 234-5840

There’s nothing classy about The American Dream, both literally and figuratively, and this diner embodies all of it. It’s a classic train car diner perched at the intersections of Route 22 and Herr Street just north of Cameron in Harrisburg. Basic menu items like ham and cheese omelets, two-over with bacon and home fries and occasional baked oatmeal, but The American Dream is known for two locally-famous menu items – The Rope and The Annie’s Dream Omelet. The Rope is an emasculating piece of sausage served with two eggs and home fries. And Annie’s Dream is your cardiologists nighmare: a three egg omelet stuffed to the max with ham, peppers, onions, potatoes and topped with a few slices of American cheese. And the servers? Think the old Bounty commercials in the diner and you’re just about there. Get in early, though. They close at 2 daily.

3. Camp Hill Cafe
40 Erford Road, Camp Hill, PA
(717) 730-9887

My favorite part of this place is the Eggs Benedict options, specifically, the Crab Benedict. I’m not the kind of guy to judge, but it just irks me to hear someone say “Crab Bennie”. I know, I know. Stupid, right? Just a pet peeve. ANYWAY, this is another sort of off-the-beaten-path breakfast option that’s just up the road from the must-avoid Perkins at The Radisson just off of the Camp Hill Bypass and barely two minutes from the intersection of Front and Forster streets at the Harvey Taylor Bridge. Small and cozy, this is a nice alternative to some of the greasy spoons in the city. And the coffee is pretty great.

4. Flapjacks (Formerly known as Paul’s Pancake House)
9 N Us Route 15, Dillsburg, PA

(717) 432-8995

I wish this place was closer. It’s about fifteen miles south of Harrisburg on 15, but this list wouldn’t be complete without including this place. As the name would suggest, it’s known for pancakes. But what makes this little diner special is the beer selection. Tons and tons of microbrews lined up neatly in a few coolers just as you walk in the door, a full bar (for those Sunday morning Bloody Mary’s) and dozens of pancake options. It’s certainly not a quick stop on your Tuesday morning commute to work (unless you commute to Dillsburg…but who does that?), but for a weekend morning drive, it’s worth the trip.

5. Keystone Restaurant
1000 North 3rd Street, Harrisburg, PA

(717) 236-3273

I’m including the Keystone in this list because if I didn’t, my buddy Devin wouldn’t let me live it down. The Keystone is, at it’s heart, a greasy spoon with all of the glorious prestige that comes along with that designation. No frills, nothing fancy about the menu but it’s consistent, it’s quick and it’s filling. And the coffee is also decent. If you want quick, cheap and charismatic wait staff, pay the Keystone a visit.

6. Roxy’s Cafe
274 North Street, Harrisburg, PA

(717) 232-9232

I’m not going to dog on Roxy’s, because, in my heart, I love Roxy’s. I do. My buddies Chris Hoke, Adam Kline and myself used to duke it out over the Foursquare Mayorship of Roxy’s. But since I’ve fallen in love with the Yankee Doodle, I haven’t been in Roxy’s as often lately. But that shouldn’t stop you from going. Weekends can be sort of slow, depending on how many servers are on and who’s cooking on the line, but for great coffee, a good Lyonnaise (mushroom and cheese) omelet and Midtown Harrisburg resident people watching, Roxy’s is a staple. The sourdough toast is a nice option too.

7. Capitol Diner
800 Eisenhower Boulevard, Harrisburg, PA

(717) 939-2279

There’s a reason the Summerdale Diner in Enola didn’t make this list. And that reason is – The Capitol Diner. Conveniently located just off of I-283 heading to the airport (or Target), this is another example of how a once sub par diner went under new ownership and became something pretty darn good. So good, in fact, that I’d think it could stand up next to any of the newer remodeled diners in the Motherland – New Jersey. The decor isn’t gaudy, per se, but it’s got lots of multi colored shiny tiles, a sort of grand entrance way and the standard dessert display case that’s chock full of desserts that look much better than they actually are. (That’s not a knock at the Capitol diner, it’s true of ALL diners…seriously).

8. Skyline Family Restaurant
7510 Allentown Boulevard, Harrisburg, PA

(717) 652-1780

Again, another place which I wish were closer to downtown Harrisburg, The Skyline Family Restaurant has it all. Dynamite soups, sandwiches and daily specials, but the breakfast is killer. I often judge a breakfast spot by their home fries. And where the Keystone and American Dream simply slice em up and throw em in a frying pan, the Skyline seasons their home fries. Great service and a somewhat creative offering of the standard breakfast faire.

9. Dodge City
1037 Paxton Street, Harrisburg, PA

(717) 236-2719

I’m gonna keep this simple, because that’s what you get at Dodge City: a surprisingly good and simple breakfast with the option of a hair-of-the-dog drink for your Monday Morning Hangover. Dodge City was recently featured on Restaurant Impossible and went through a menu and aesthetic overhaul, but fortunately, the breakfast went mostly unchanged. It’s another spot with great home fries that only need a dollop of ketchup.

10. Hi Life Diner
4890 Carlisle Pike, Mechanicsburg, PA

(717) 737-7700

While this breakfast guy often longs for the more unique and creative breakfast offerings of some of the bigger city haunts like Pamela’s in Pittsburgh, The Blue Moon Diner in Char0lottesville or Honey’s in Philly, the sad reality of breakfast in Harrisburg is that we simply don’t have many of those options. Sure, there are a few pretty awesome brunch spots, but those are resigned to weekends. But for 7 day a week breakfast, The Hi Life Diner rounds out this list. It’s good, they’ve got a fishtank in the foyer and the service is consistent.

5 Ways To Hear About Great Shows Coming To Your Town

I can’t count how many times I hear “oh man…THEY were playing? I wish I knew it! I woulda been there with, like, twenty of my friends!”.

Which, oftentimes, is the most annoying thing a concert promoter can hear.

Most times, I try to take sort-of a “soft sell” approach to marketing my shows. I’d rather be polite and gentle about it than annoying and over zealous. Facebook posts usually go up when a bigger show is announced, about once a week for calendar updates and then again the day-of the show to give a last minute reminder. Obviously, every show is different and, depending on how big the show is or how well (or not well) the show is selling, I’ll push it a little bit harder. But more often than not, I’m somewhat conservative with the marketing of Greenbelt Events shows.

Even with the email list, we’ll only put out two or three emails per month. I don’t know if that’s helped or hurt our unsubscribe rate, but we maintain a pretty decent open and clicks percentage.

But we’re thorough. The website is updated daily. Our email list has a solid number of subscribers and a respectable open rate. Our street team hits a 30 mile radius with plenty of posters and handbills. And we do our fair share of print and radio advertising.

So when someone tells me that they didn’t hear about Band X playing somewhere until after the fact, I scratch my head. The public is bludgeoned with information about things to do and places to go almost every minute of every day. Nearly every single THING that happens has an event invite somewhere on Facebook. Be it baby shower, rock show or community art day, each one of my friends probably gets as many event invites as I do…which is a lot.

So how does one sift through the clutter and hear about great live music events coming to their city? Here are a few of my personal favorite tools that allow me to never miss a great show when it comes to town…

1. Songkick – I LOVE Songkick. It works like this – install a weightless little app on your computer, it syncs to your iTunes (or whatever media player you use) and sends you automatic email updates whenever an artist in your iTunes library announces a show coming to an area near you (you specify where you live and what radius you want to hear about shows in). It’s free and simple and pretty accurate. And with most people having dozens of gigs worth of music (har, har), you can specify how often you want to be notified of new events. (I have mine set to weekly).

2. Jambase- It’s been around for years. And oftentimes, I’ll forget just how great Jambase is for finding shows in virtually any city I visit. But the neat thing about Jambase these days is the location detection on the main page that displays concerts coming up in my immediate region. I don’t need to enter my zip code or subscribe to anything (but I still can, if I choose to) and dozens of shows in an area about sixty miles around is displayed right on the main page. Combine that with some live show reviews, giveaways and ticketing services, it’s a nice, robust place to find out what shows are coming to town.

3. Pollstar – It’s bland. And more of an industry go-to site. And considering how much money Pollstar charges for a subscription to it’s print or web publications, one would think the site would be much more slick than it is, but Pollstar is an industry standard for not-quite-mainstream live and touring music news, industry trends and tour announcements. Again, a search by city option makes this site quite useful for even a moderate live-music fan. And despite it’s bland appearance, Pollstar often has more of the commercial and bigger-name acts listed, often many months in advance of the date and sometimes even before a tour is officially announced.

4. Venue Websites, Stupid – There’s always the obvious way to find out what music is coming to your town or city: look at the venue’s website! In this region, Chameleon Club, The Brass Lantern, Reverb, Crocodile Rock, Spy Club, Championship, The Strand Capitol, Whitaker Center, State Theater, Gullifty’s, The Abbey Bar, Midtown Scholar Bookstore, Cornerstone Coffeehouse and dozens more list their events daily.

Obviously, visiting venue websites one-by-one on a daily or weekly basis could become time consuming. So, the final suggestion on this list (and my personal favorite way) of ways to hear about live music events near you is…

5. The good, old fashioned email list subscription – Any venue worth visiting has one. And any band worth seeing is either playing those venues or probably maintains its own mailing lists. Sure, sure…everyone gets tons of email, but with folders now built into Gmail and Yahoo and Hotmail, it’s simple to just add those email addresses to a specific folder in your inbox labeled something creative like “live music email” or “venue emails” and they’re sitting there…ready to be digested by you at your leisure.

Seeing live music is fun and easy and, in most locales, in no short supply. You just need to know where to find it. What are some of your favorite ways of hearing about live music?

My New Girlfriend, Roku

I’m in love.

My relationship with Cable has been volatile for years. Back in the early turn-of-the-century, things were mostly fine. There were sixty or seventy channels, predictable programming, moderately affordable rates and I was still able to steal cable relatively easily.

We were comfortable.

I guess it was when things started getting digital when Cable became more high maintenance and needy. There was more offered, sure, but she got more expensive. Suddenly, our cute one bedroom with a twenty seven inch Magnavox just wasn’t good enough. The neighbors all got flat screens and some fancy new thing called “on demand”.

And demanding she got.

Needless to say, the past few years with Cable haven’t been the most enjoyable. Yes, there are literally thousands of television shows, movies, classic films and documentaries available “on demand”, but for some reason, I feel like I rarely get the true value of the nearly two hundred dollars per month I spend on my package.

Increasingly frustrated, I tried to give her more. HBO? Sure! I’ll watch Boardwalk Empire and Sopranos reruns. You want me to have a landline phone again also? Well, let’s do the “Triple Play” and fold high speed internet into it too. What’s that, baby? It’s gonna be almost two hundred a month with taxes and fees? Anything for you, baby.

The more Cable wanted, the less I seemed to get. My channel surfing had dwindled to Seinfeld on basic cable, Boardwalk Empire on HBO and marathons of Man Vs Food and No Reservations.

The land line phone? I get more wrong number calls looking for a woman named Esmerelda than I’d like to admit answering.

And the internet? Well, the way out of this dead-on-the-vine relationship seems to lie right within it.

I don’t remember exactly when or where I first heard of Roku, but it couldn’t have been more than five or six months ago. The best way I can describe Roku is “a way out”.

At the core of it, Roku is a tiny little box that hooks up to your TV and finds your wireless network and streams video content from The Internet. Much of it is free, but the good stuff, obviously, costs money. But not much. And certainly not nearly as much as my monthly Cable bill.

The box itself (I got the Roku 2 XD) is tiny and weighs practically nothing. It’s currently snuggled up next to my big, clunky cable box on the shelf beneath my TV. The user manual (which is entertaining in and of itself with it’s clever writing) says that, even with the box perpetually powered on (there’s no “on/off” button), it still uses LESS energy than a nightlight. Setup is as easy as plugging my iPod into my laptop and the actual activation practically handles itself.

And then the fun begins. Right now, I’m watching an episode of Family Guy. (Sure, I know, I can do that on Fox). But right before this, I surfed to a film produced by CBS showing Jackie Kennedy giving a tour of the White House on the Archive.org channel. Before that, I watched an episode of the J Report on the Jewish Channel (yup. they have one of those). And earlier tonight, I watched only the good clips from this weekend’s Saturday Night Live (The Devil talking about Penn State? Hysterical.)

The interface of this thing might not be as slick as your standard on-demand menu. In fact, it sort of makes me think of a hotel room on demand system. There’s a channel store where you pick out the content you want at your fingertips and it displays sort of like the album cover scroll view in iTunes.

But the magic is in the savings. Once you get used to the change (it doesn’t take long to get used to watching exactly what you want to, exactly when you want to), it becomes pretty apparent that the days of traditional Cable television may be numbered. As I mentioned earlier, I’m paying almost two hundred bucks a month for what’s really a sub par service. And with Roku, I get what I want, when I want it and for almost nothing at all.

The box itself costs eighty bucks. (There’s a cheaper model, but I went for the middle option). And beyond that, the only costs are the subscriptions. With both Hulu Plus and Netflix at $7.99 a month, I’ve got probably just as many options as I have on my Cable plan…but without all of the extra bullshit. (Actually ,the bullshit is there too, but I don’t feel as bad about it because I’m not PAYING for it)

Now yes, I do still need internet. And that’s going to run about sixty bucks a month. For local programming, the Over The Air converters are free and I hear the quality of the signal for the local affiliate channels is more than sufficient. But to break these chains of love with Comcast, there’s only one way out.

It’s Roku.

(PS – I just changed the channel…with the $0.99 app I installed on my iPhone.)

(PPS- I just found that the “channel store” is only the beginning…there are also thousands of user-created “private” channels out there as well)