Bourdain Should Not Come To Anchorage

I’m a big fan of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations on the Travel Channel.  The cinematography is incredible, Bourdain’s commentary is consistently good, and I tend to walk away from every episode wanting to go to the places he visits.  From Livingston, Montana to The Azores or even the Maine episode there is a care and intentional quality to every episode.

In a recent episode he sought to visit U.S. cities that aren’t normally thought of for their culture or food.  On the list were Detroit, Milwaukie, Minneapolis, Denver, Austin (which in my opinion doesn’t fit the lack of culture category) and Columbus, OH.  While eating street food in Denver, Anthony is given an Alaskan Reindeer Sausage hot dog and he makes a snide comment, as he’s prone to do, about it being the only good thing to come out of Alaska.  Despite watching it on my DVR on my time, when he said that I could hear the Anchorage and Alaskan travel industry people firing up their campaigns to get Bourdain to visit Anchorage.  Over the past year we’ve had Man vs. Food and whatever the diner show is come to Alaska.

I know I’ve been accused of being an instigator before, and I’m sure this could be considered instigating, but I don’t think Anthony Bourdain should come to Anchorage.  Anchorage has some great restaurants and, in general, it feels like the city values Moose’s Tooth Pizzeria or Snow City Cafe over national chains.  But there is very little that is unique to Anchorage.

And it’s not our fault.  Afterall with a relatively brief history (Anchorage really didn’t exist as a city until the early 1920s) and a population made up largely of people from other parts of the state, the U.S. and the World, Anchorage is still figuring out what Anchorage food is.  While most restaurants have some sort of reindeer sausage omelet or buffalo or fresh salmon or halibut, largely they are inspired by Pacific Northwest restaurants or even places from the South. Perhaps one of the most damning lines of reasoning is how crazy and excited people get whenever someone refreshes the old rumor that Olive Garden will be opening in Anchorage.

The state as a whole is a different story, and I guess if No Reservations decided to visit rural Alaska and taste whale blubber or other scary foods, but I feel like that’s been done and I think that Bourdain’s show is above the “Alaska Week” thing.

To make up for my criticism, I now will highlight just a few Anchorage restaurants I love:

Spenard Roadhouse, Villa Nova, Glacier Brewhouse, Bear Tooth Grill, Humpys, Orso…there, satisfied?

“It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn. Maybe that’s enlightenment enough – to know that there is no final resting place of the mind, no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom, at least for me, means realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”

– Anthony Bourdain

Josh Ritter and Dawn Landes in Anchorage

I spent the week leading up to 1/31 trying to convince everyone I know to show up at UAA’s Wendy Williamson Auditorium on Saturday night for Josh Ritter’s show (mostly through Twitter). This was the third time I’ve seen Josh Ritter live. Once in a solo capacity like Saturday’s show and once with his band; so I knew to expect an intimacy between him and the audience.
I also spent some time leading up to the show getting familiar with Dawn Landes, who was opening the night. Her albums are rather eclectic mixing some blue grass, folk and even some rock. In her performance she immediately won the crowd over with her charm and anecdotes about her Alaska experience. She seemed to thrive in the solo acoustic format, and really seemed to be enjoying herself. Her music is great and I added her catalog to my library via AmazonMP3 and emusic.
Back in October of 2007, I saw Josh Ritter play in Seattle. I’ve blogged this story before, but it’s relevant… ReckenRoll and I were eating across the street from the venue and while I was juggling excitement to see Josh Ritter and excitement that the Red Sox were winning game 7 of the ALCS against the Indians (after trailing 3-1; they went on to win the World Series). I looked up at one point, probably in angst for a server to deliver food, and saw Josh Ritter wandering through the restaurant with a pitcher of beer looking for someone. I flagged him down, mentioned seeing him in San Francisco and being from Alaska. He mentioned that Alaska is on his short list of places he was dying to get back to. I told him, Anchorage supports musicians who are willing to make the trip and it would be a perfect opportunity for a solo show. I’m not saying he followed my advice, but Anchorage did show up and packed the auditorium. He looked happy to have made the trip and led the audience through a trip that only an Idahoan singer songwriter could pull off. There are plenty of Idahoans in Alaska, and they were very excitable at any reference he made to the potato mafia or Miss Junior Idaho. Fittingly he started the show with the song titled “Idaho.” He played a few new songs, one that he said was the first time he played it. The audience was very forgiving of him stopping mid song and starting over, because after all his charm and energy it seemed to work for him. I had a great time, my friends had a great time, people on Twitter had a great time. For all his talent, Josh Ritter is very down to earth and his stage presence (which really seems to just be his presence) gives the audience the idea that he’s a friend of theirs. After an encore that included a duet with Dawn Landes, he closed the show with an accapella version of “The Parting Glass.”
After the show both Josh and Dawn hung around in the lobby of the theater signing autographs and posing for pictures. I walked over to get my picture taken with Josh, and noticed a group of people giving me dirty looks as I sauntered over to him. Turns out there was a line and I was cutting. I walked towards the back of the line, and then decided against standing in line. I regretted it the second I got home (especially since Dawn Landes has quickly become a favorite in iTunes and she didn’t have a line), but not as much regret as those people who didn’t get to experience the show.

Remember To Remember Me: Wilco Plays Anchorage’s Moose’s Tooth

There’s something to be said for a band that can make the opening line of a concert “I dreamed of killing you again last night, and it felt alright to me” sound beautiful. That’s the opening line of “Via Chicago”, which Wilco used to open their Anchorage show Saturday night. Anchorage did well filling the parking lot of Moose’s Tooth despite the rain. It rained all day and all night Saturday, but it didn’t stop people from showing up and showing Wilco much deserved love. Jeff Tweedy made several references to the weather and the hardcore Alaskans who refused to let it affect us. The set was flush with popular tunes with a few new songs mixed in. One of the new songs was ironically “Sunny Feeling.” The crowd was into it and stuck it out despite the weather. The mix of beautiful folk based songs overlayed by loud and rowdy bursts from Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche were perfectly executed. Overall, it was pretty surreal to see Wilco playing Anchorage. Local guys The Whipsaws (who’ve gotten plenty of pub on this blog) opened the show with a high quality set any band in the states would be proud of.

Anchorage Daily News Review (set list is in the comments of the ADN article)

Paste Magazine Mentions Anchorage Pizza

There’s a little Anchorage love in the newest issue of Paste Magazine. In the section titled “The Informer” July 26 is owned by a picture of Jeff Tweedy with the copy if you can’t read it “7/26 Wilco plays the 12th-anniversary party of some place called The Moose’s Tooth in Anchorage, Alaska.” I know a handful of people who were hanging around the Moose’s Tooth 12 years ago…probably sitting around talking about Wilco’s Being There enjoying Pipeline Stout or a Fairweather I.P.A. with Alaska’s best pizza. Judging by the response to Son Volt, Third Eye Blind, and even Elton John at least Wilco will walk away from their July 26 show knowing what Anchorage and the Moose’s Tooth are all about.

Son Volt at First Tap

Every month the folks at Moose’s Tooth celebrate the first tap of the month. Thursday night they did so with the help of Alt.Country/Americana royalty. I’ve mentioned Son Volt before as royalty when I saw them at the Fillmore in San Francisco just before jumping on a plane and returning to Alaska. So it wasn’t my first time seeing them, but believe it or not in my nearly 5 years of living in Anchorage, this was my first time attending a first tap event. Local singer/songwriter Jared Woods opened the night with some sensitive songwriter songs…to which a friend who hadn’t heard Son Volt before leaned over and asked if this is what Son Volt sounded like. I’ve seen Jared Woods several times in several different venues and combinations, but Thursday was the first time I didn’t enjoy his schtick. It’s common practice for bands that come to Alaska to book local talent to open for them. And I’m happy to see when Wilco (featured on the front page of Wikipedia today) plays in Anchorage in July, The Whipsaws are the opening act.
Once Son Volt took the stage, they hit hard and kept punching. Several classic Son Volt songs as well as a good mix of songs from The Search. It didn’t seem like there was the same level of energy on stage in the Beartooth as there was at the Fillmore last year, but it may have been the difference between leaning against the legendary stage and being seated in a booth at the back of the theater pub. All in all, it was a great show and showed again that if musicians however big show up in Anchorage, the crowds will follow.

Elton John in the 49th State

Elton John stepped onto the Sullivan Arena stage on Wednesday night like he owned the place. While I have no doubt that with nearly 50 years of albums and tours, he can afford the place; it took a unique interaction with an Alaskan crowd to win the favor of the whole town. To recap the degree of buzz surrounding Sir Elton’s Alaskan journey, you must know that big name artists don’t come to Anchorage. And sometimes if they do book a show in Anchorage, there’s a long history of artists canceling their shows. As I mentioned in a previous post, Elton John originally booked 2 Alaska shows as part of a complete the USA effort to play all 50 states. The Anchorage show sold out in 58 minutes, which led to concert promoters scheduling a second Anchorage show for Friday night, which apparently sold out in 55 minutes.

With a little back story it should come as no surprise to you that there was a lot of energy in the air Wednesday night. Fairly promptly after 8pm, Elton John took the stage to thunderous applause. He made a point to wave and salute each section of the arena. Throughout his performance he consistently smiled and waved, and acknowledged the entire crowd. Speaking of the performance…it couldn’t have been better! He kicked off the two and a half hour set with “Your Song” and mixed in with several lesser known songs from older albums, he thrilled the crowd with classics like “Tiny Dancer”, “Daniel”, and “Levon.”

Above all it was a great reminder of how much Elton John has contributed to the musical landscape over the past 40 years. Everyone has their “Tiny Dancer” moment like one of my favorite Almost Famous scenes. Everyone has a “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” moment or “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” moment. And whether images of Marilyn Monroe or Diana, Princess of Wales come to mind during “Candle in the Wind” the point is that Elton John’s music has done one of those amazing things by moving you, sticking in your mind or just bringing a pleasant memory back to you.

(Anchorage Daily News review)

There’s A Lesson To Be Learned From Elton John

When Elton John announced he was coming to Anchorage, there was a buzz in the city. I can’t tell you how many friends and co-workers asked “Are you going to Elton John?” There was an excitement with people young and old.
Let’s back up a bit. My understanding of what is bringing Sir Elton to Anchorage is there are a handful of states he’s never played in the US, so with his greatest hits tour, he scheduled himself in places like Vermont and Alaska. He scheduled one show in Anchorage and one in Fairbanks.
So, back to Elton.
The tickets went on sale Monday morning at 10am local time. I’m a big fan of old Elton, and can occasionally tolerate new stuff when I don’t have control of the music. I find myself singing along with his songs…even occasionally a Lion King era song. So in light of it being a greatest hits tour and the novelty of him coming to Anchorage, I logged into my lucky Ticketmaster.com account at 9:50am and rested my browser on the Elton John/Sullivan Arena page. At 9:58, I hit refresh and where it previously said “Not Available Until May 5 at 10am” now said select your tickets. Grabbed best available and had the confirmation email by 10:02. I watched Anchorage Twitterers chattering about trying to get tickets and soon after received a breaking news email from ADN.com that the Elton John show sold out in 58 minutes. He has since added a second night after the Fairbanks show that goes on sale Monday (5/12), but this is where the lesson can be learned.
No it’s not a lesson of how a lucky Ticketmaster.com account can beat people who camp out all night at the brick and mortar box office, no it’s not a lesson in how Twitter can guide you to the least busy Fred Meyer (though, it could’ve), it’s a lesson for musicians and bands that ignore the Anchorage market. Sure there isn’t a great venue, sure it costs a lot of money to bring extravagant sets and 100 piece bands, but what Elton John can teach you is that if you make the effort, Anchorage will show up. I haven’t seen any stats on how fast Wilco, Third Eye Blind or Son Volt tickets are selling for their summer dates, but many more people have heard of Elton John than any of them.
So let this be the summer that re-defines Anchorage as a must stop on any North American tour. We’re hostages of ClearChannel up here so the discovery of new music is a challenge for the average Alaskan, but even when Colin Hay came up last summer the Discovery Theater was packed, not to mention plenty of local talent that would love to say they opened for a big nationally recognized band. So, for the record, when Elton plays Sullivan Arena on May 28th, I’ll be singing along from row 15.