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Drive Like You’re From Jersey

Last week, I had the unfortunate luck of finding myself driving in Camp Hill on a Friday around lunchtime. People who live in Harrisburg or on the “east shore” generally categorize those who live on the “west shore” or Camp Hill as a bit more affluent, well-to-do and certainly more employed and employable than their Harrisburg counterparts.

Now this, of course, isn’t true for ALL west shore dwellers. There are scores of residents that used to live within the city limits but after their children approach school age, they take that trip across the Harvey Taylor Bridge one last time and settle in with a yard and a driveway; escaping the faltering Harrisburg School District, higher crime and lower quality of life in the Capitol City.

Considering more people are more employed and probably have more urgency of places to go and things to do, I’d think that those on that side of the river would drive a bit more efficiently. But believe me…they don’t.

And Harrisburg drivers – don’t think you’re getting out of this rant either. You can be just as sluggish on the road as the rest of the midstate. I just happen to be hot on the topic of Camp Hill drivers at the moment.

Here are a few tips from a Jersey native on how to get places quicker and navigate more congested roads at 2PM on a Sunday than this area will likely ever see at 4:30 on a Friday.

The gas is on the right!

Step on the gas, grandma! Speed limits are merely guidelines for traveling.

Bob and weave…safely

My bud Jersey Dan and I were driving back to Harrisburg from Hershey the other night and he commended me on my cutting-in-and-out skills. There’s a fine line here, though. Sometimes, you can appear to be a real dick if you too aggressively bob-and-weave. But a steady, gentle cutting in and out of lanes is perfectly fine.

Pass Right, Cruise Middle, Turn Left

Front Street in Harrisburg is incredibly frustrating at times. Mostly, when entering on a busier morning or afternoon. If you’re traveling on Front Street and don’t plan to turn off anytime in the next several blocks, stay in the middle lane! And if you’re in the middle lane, you better be cruising along at least five or seven miles per hour over the posted limit.

Unless You See Otherwise, Turn Right On Red

Just do it, already! If you don’t see a sign advising otherwise, go right on red! It’s totally legal.

Put The Phone Down

No, no. I realize I’m pretty guilty of this one too, but hey…if you’re going to text at a red light, you damn well better have one eye on the light while you’re waiting. You get a three second grace period when the light turns green before I’m laying on the horn.

Finally…

When In Doubt, Be Aggressive

I’m not saying be in a constant state of road rage, but grab your balls and get out there! It’s a competitive world we live in and driving isn’t excluded.

This Is Not A Post About Roller Coasters

Want proof that reforming an Amusement Tax is a great thing?

Look no further than Kennywood Amusement Park in West Millflin, PA.

The 111 year old amusement park had fought local officials for YEARS about the fairness (or lack thereof) of their local Amusement Tax before winning the reform.

Last April, West Mifflin officials and Kennywood brass came to an amicable agreement which made both parties happy…and saved the century-old park nearly two million dollars per year in payouts.

And TODAY- Kennywood announced they’ll be building a brand new roller coaster…to the tune of five million dollars.

Think that the reform of the Amusement Tax had anything to do with that?

You betcha.

Wake up, Harrisburg. It’s 2009. Get with the times or you won’t HAVE any great businesses to tax out of town.

Off The Record- Episode 11

otr-logo1-medHere it is!

Episode Eleven: Battle of The PennLive Bands, Poor State Workers (on the breadline), Trying to explain social networking to the uninitiated elder set, Entourage, The Strip Club Is Coming!, CoTweet, Jersey Bagels, Dave Matthews Telephone Game, We’re Number 1! (In Crime)

Download

Right and Wrong

Seven years.

My grandmother says that things go in seven year cycles.

Seven shit years followed by seven years of triumph.

Seven year chapters of relationships.

You see, my grandmother was married for over fifty years. She’s clearly experienced enough to dispel this wisdom.

Me, however, I’m still in those seven year chapters.

Sold speakers for seven years. Followed by seven years in Harrisburg.

Seven, karmically retributive years.

But in our cycles of life, there are things which we pick up along the way…some from mistakes we’ve made, some from lessons we’ve learned from peers or elders and others yet are life experiences which we take things away from to keep in our moral-pocket the rest of our lives.

Here’s a list. Nothing scientific, but just a handful of items I try to remind myself of daily (or as necessary) to get me through the toughest of times. Feel free to add to this little project..as I’m sure we can share a thing or two with one another.

1. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

In business. At a restaurant. With your mother on the phone. To your son or daughter. I’ve found that you can get virtually any message across to a listener if you simply say it kindly.

I’ve seen this rule be ignored by countless people I’ve encountered. Particularly bosses or figures of authority. “Ask nicely” I was always taught. No need to be a dick, right?

2. Attitude is everything.

Great attitude = great results.

Bad attitude = bad results.

I’ve seen this in action and have caught myself when I’ve just generally got a bad attitude about a situation. Life’s short. No need to sweat the small stuff, right?

3. Regardless of what your mother said, a moderate about of sex, drugs and rock and roll are just as essential as your daily multivitamin.

Maybe more “sex” and “rock and roll” than “drugs” (depending on your definition). And perhaps it’s what I do for a living..but I can’t go a week without at least a little of each of those three items.

4. Be nice to girls.

I’m always astounded when I read in the paper about someone physically hurting a woman. Maybe it’s just how I was raised, but it just seems like there are things that one wouldn’t need to be taught. If she’s really that tough to deal with, walk away. But always take the high road.

And on that note..

5. Bros before Hoes.

Women come and go. But a bro is always supposed to be there. So fellas- ya’ll should know that if your best bud breaks up with his girl, she is, forever, off limits. And if you break that rule, you’re a douchebag and a cheat for life. It’s just another one of those things that one would think that dudes would respect and unconditionally know…but unfortunately, that is not the case.

6. Hold the door for the person behind you.

There’s a rule to this though…I generally use the twenty-foot-rule. If I’m entering a building and there’s someone behind me who is walking at a moderate pace, I’ll hold the door for them. It’s just courteous. Then again, if they’re lollygagging along, all bets are off.

7. Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.

If I were to discount everyone in Harrisburg prior to meeting them myself based on the opinions of others, I’d likely not have any friends. People make bad decisions from time to time and leave a bad taste in the mouths of some. Occasionally, it happens. But I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt until they wrong me personally.

That said…

8. Screw me once, shame on you. Screw me twice…shame on me.

Once a thief always a thief? Perhaps. But generally, the ‘one strike’ rule tends to hold up.

That’s it. It’s by no means a complete list. And I’m sure I’ll add to it.

What are some of your rules to live by?

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)

 

 

Off The Record – Version 2.0

Has it really been two years? Two whole years since the last time Sara Bozich and I sat down at our super, top-secret location, drank a bunch of liquor and talked shit into a microphone for about an hour?

To the four of you who have been missing this wonderful part of Harrisburg in your lives, we’re back.

But it’s not gonna be like the first time…. baby, I can change! We’ll occasionally get together, rap about all things Harrisburg and share it here…for all to hear. DOWNLOAD or stream it below -

How Harrisburg’s American Music Fest Failed

This was originally posted July 8, 2010. I would have wrote a new post about the 2011 Harrisburg Jazz And Multi-Cultural Fest, but it would have been redundant. It seems the only thing that changed from last year to this year is there were fewer attendees.

It’s easy to be a “Monday Morning Quarterback” after watching any event fail. But being someone who makes his living booking, promoting and presenting nationally touring bands nearly two hundred nights per year, I feel that my opinion on the abysmal failure of the “Harrisburg Jazz and Multi-Cultural Festival” and how it could have been better is clearly both valid and warranted.

Yesterday, I had lunch with an unnamed source who was close to the inner-workings of this years festival and, combined with the information I was given from my source and the knowledge of the industry I hold, the following are my assertions on how the festival failed and how to ensure that never, ever, EVER happens again.

First and foremost-

1. Changing of The Name
Harrisburg’s American Music Fest – despite it’s lackluster calendar- was an annual event that hundreds of thousands of people from the region attended. What’s in a name? Well, simply put, the American Music Fest was called the American Music Fest because it was a pretty good choice of a pretty broad representation of music. No one can argue that the lineup for the previous years American Music Festivals weren’t varied. World, Blues, Gospel, Rock, Country, Bluegrass, Singer/Songwriters were all represented. And if that isn’t “multi-cultural” in itself, then I don’t know what is.

Additionally, I heard from several vendors, attendees and even performers that “Jazz and Multi Cultural Festival” …how do I say this…sounds pretty, um…urban? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but when factoring in the demographics of the greater 200,000 people living in a 30 mile radius, I’d want a festival to have a welcoming name. And really, what was wrong with “American Music Festival”?

What it boils down to – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

2. Mayor Thompson either fired or lost her top fundraisers for Parks and Rec

Gloria Giambalvo and Tina King were a dynamic duo of fundraising awesomeness for the many programs held throughout the year in the city. I don’t have the exact figures, but Gloria and Tina certainly raised considerable amounts of dough for festivals like Kipona and the American Music Fest. And without them on her payroll, who was going to raise the money? Festivals like this are great exposure for corporate contributors and, while there were the usual, low-hanging-fruit like Comcast and Blue Cross, the festival lacked the long-tail funding that it has had in years past.

So, in a nutshell, you get what you pay for. $160,000 isn’t nearly enough to stage a three day, outdoor, riverfront festival designed to bring in a couple hundred thousand attendees.

3. Chuck Schulz- acting director of Parks and Rec- resigned two weeks before the festival.

Word on the street is that the Parks and Rec department whittled down from five or six people in the office to only one – Chuck – and one man simply cannot keep all the plates necessary spinning.

4. There weren’t any local bands on the bill
If you book twenty local acts on a festival like this, they’ll create buzz strong enough to garner the attention of the community. That’s how the Stage on Herr stage at Artsfest succeeded. Regardless of budget or how much (or how little) the acts were getting paid, having a couple dozen local acts playing throughout the weekend equals a couple dozen acts (of four or five people each) telling their entire mailing lists, Facebook friends, Twitter followers and word-of-mouth benefactors where they are going to be.

5. Save the preachers for the churches
I got a text message from a friend at 3:40PM on Saturday the 3rd which said “Main stage had some guy talking about God and the savior. No band. Just prerecorded backing country music. He was inviting members of the 20 people there on stage to share their love of Jesus”.

[facepalm]

Nobody wants to see that at a city-sponsored event. Period.

6. There’s nothing wrong with admitting defeat. In fact, it’s more respectable.
My sources tell me that Linda was urged on multiple occasions to just cancel the event. Save the money and the embarrassment and simply call it off. That would have been the prudent thing to do. But based on the recent departure of the final of her top-level cabinet staff, all signs point to “Linda don’t listen to nobody but Linda…and God” and that’s no way to run a city.

None of these six points contained anything other than realistic, honest-to-goodness analysis. Sure, it’s her first term in office and she’s going to make a few mistakes…but this is getting out of control. It’s time to batten down the hatches and start to admit that she has faults…or the same body who elected her will remove her from office sooner than she can yell “Praise Jesus!”

Addendum one – Read this story about the state-funded Philly Jazz festival and it’s failures.

Down The Shore Everything’s Alright

Some of my first memories are from Ortley Beach, New Jersey.

My Grandfather – retired from the US Navy and then the US Post Office and my Grandmother, retired from decades in retail with Sears and Roebuck, would get a house from Memorial Day to Labor Day. And it wasn’t fancy. There wasn’t even a phone or a TV. But it had that smooth, white stone driveway that made all that noise when my parents car would pull in late on a Friday night after my Dad finished work,  packed the car carrier and loaded us up for a week “down the shore”.

There was an arcade – Barnacle Bill’s – that was across Route 35. And a block past that was the beach. We’d go and play Skee Ball and arcade games until our quarters ran out and then we’d run across the busy highway and beg Mom and Dad for more.

And when we went to the beach for the day, it wasn’t just for a couple of hours…it was the entire day. Summer vacation at The Jersey Shore was the only time we could eat Cocoa Puffs and Pops and Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops. They sold those little single serve boxes that came eight to a pack and my parents would get those for a special treat on vacation. And we’d sugar up in the morning, my Grandparents and Parents would load up a cooler with peaches and plums and bologna sandwiches and Capri Suns and “Tab” for my Grandma and Dad and Gramps would lug the beach chairs and towels and toys and buckets and stupid little games and we’d spend at least six hours a day on the beach.

8MM films exist of my brothers and me doing somersaults on the beach. There’s even one when my brother Billy got angry because he couldn’t complete a somersault and I could…that was one of the few times in my entire life that I excelled at anything remotely athletic in comparison to brother Billy.

And Gramps would take us crabbing in the afternoons. The changing of the tide was always best. High to low or low to high. I remember getting BUSHELS of crabs with Gramps. And there was an A&P not far from our bungalow that we’d stop at to get a gallon of milk and some lemons and a loaf of Italian bread and some steaks on sale and we’d go back to the bungalow and they’d cook up the crabs in a big pot on the stove and Dad would cook the steaks on the charcoal grill outside. And there was a hammock.

We’d kick and scream when Mom and Dad said it was time to leave the boardwalk. Partly because it was such a long walk back to Ortley Beach from Seaside (it was actually only seven or eight blocks…but at seven or eight years old…that was pretty far) and we could never get enough of skee ball and the spinning wheel games where you put a quarter down and won a box of candy bars and the dart/balloon games and cotton candy and the motorcycle rides with the “eerrt eeert eert” horns and the burlap sack slide…

So here I am, thirty five years old and wrapping up a week at The Jersey Shore…Wildwood, to be exact. You see, Seaside’s gotten too sleazy. The kids, they call it “sleazeside” now. And it can’t all be blamed on the MTV show. Seaside was sleazy when I was a teenager. Probably even when I was eight years old with all of these fond memories.

Something I learned this week is that the memories we have, they seem to be fonder when we were younger…the colors were brighter…the water was warmer…the games were cheaper…the fish were bigger…the boardwalk smelled sweeter…although not much has really changed.

I’m sure that when my Dad was running us up and down The Boardwalk in Seaside Heights, he’d lament to my Mom about how when HE was a kid in Keansburg, the shoot-the-water-gun-at-the-clowns-mouth game was only a quarter, and now it costs a buck. Not unlike I lamented to Rachel that now it costs three.

And when I went deep sea fishing on Wednesday and Friday this week, I texted my Dad that, when I was a kid and we’d go out with Grandpa and Uncle Buddy and Uncle Mike, it seemed like we ALWAYS went home with keepers. But he texted back that “you were smaller…that made the fish BIGGER”.

You were smaller. That made the fish BIGGER.

And he’s right. Because three bucks for a shoot-the-water-gun-at-the-clowns-mouth game in 2011 is the same as fifty cents or a dollar in nineteen eighty four. And seventy bucks for a family of three at the Ravioli House in Wildwood is the same as twenty five at the Italian place in Ortley that we’d go to.

But winning a Webkinz from the crane machine for Kaiya today is the same as my Dad winning a Snoopy doll for me when I was eight. And jumping through the waves at low tide is the same. And eating tons of junk food and pizza and playing skee ball and gorging on ice cream…and never wanting to leave the boardwalk…and counting up our tickets from Skee Ball and collecting the Chinese Fingercuffs and Spider Rings and combs…that doesn’t change.

And that’s The Jersey Shore at it’s best.

It’s Skee Ball and Springsteen. And funnel cake and ice cream. And sunburn and sunsets. And deep sea fishing and “watch the tram car please”. And crane games and canned beer. And crabbing and bargain shopping at the A&P. And spider rings and Chinese handcuffs. And paying too much for the shoot-the-water-gun-at-the-clowns-mouth game and riding the “eerrt eeert eert” motorcycles. And boxes of sugary cereal in the morning and plums and peaches at the beach.

And it’s Springsteen.

And  it’s The Parkway.

And it’s traffic.

And it’s sleazy carnival barkers hustling for your change.

And it’s slow mornings and late nights.

And fishing and crabbing.

And that sad feeling you get in the last couple days. Longing for one more crane-game and one more funnel cake and one more sunset and one more sugary bowl of cereal…just that one…more….day…of…summer.