Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Beach Boys Still California Dreamin’ Decades Later

My first career in journalism began as a teenage entertainment reporter. I probably appreciate more now the things I got to do and see than I did as a kid at the time. 

Even though I was young, I was enthusiastic and not only worked as an editor of the Post Pioneer, but I managed to get myself a gig as an editor for the short-lived New York’s Nightlife Magazine.

One of my assignments was to cover a Beach Boys concert at the Nassau Coliseum (for those not familiar with Long Island, you probably know it as where the Islanders play hockey).

My photographer, Joe, and I had front row seats and press passes. While we were getting set up, a gentleman came over to me and said, “I’ve got a great story for you. Come with me backstage.”

That man was Bruce Johnston. He had recently started playing with the Beach Boys and was interested in getting me to write about his joining the group. Along with Bruce, I met Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine. They were about to go on stage and asked me to come to their after party.

I did go, with Joe, for a while, but it was easy to see they were more interested in partying than interviewing. I arranged the interview for another time and we ran it as a cover story in the magazine.

Recently I happened to hear that the Beach Boys were playing right near my new home in the newly renovated Virginia Theater. I thought it would be neat to see them again. I was not able to arrange another interview as they had to leave right after the show to travel to their next gig, but it was still a great experience to return to my youth – and theirs.

Obviously, Mike Love is 74 years old and not quite running around the stage the way he used to. I’m happy to say that his voice is still 100% there, as is Bruce Johnston’s.

They managed to include nearly every song they wrote in the two hours (there was a 20 minute break after the first hour). Many of those songs, like “Sloop John B,” “Wouldn’t it be Nice,” Good Vibrations,” ‘Help Me, Rhonda,” and “Surfin' USA” had the audience on their feet singing along.

Throughout the concert the audience was shown video clips of them through the years, as well as given tidbits about the band and history in general. I didn’t realize before that Bruce Johnston had won a Grammy for writing Barry Manilow’s “I Write the Songs,” or Mike Love spent time in India with George Harrison, who passed away from lung cancer two years after Carl Wilson died of the same disease.

It was also an interesting note that the first time The Beach Boys played in Champaign was at the original Farm Aid concert in 1985.

The show ended with the entire audience swaying, clapping and singing to two of the Beach Boys most popular songs, “Kokomo” and “Fun, Fun, Fun.” And, yes, I was one of those. Sitting up in the balcony rather than in the front seat allowed me to act like a fan rather than a journalist.

I hope I do get to re-interview the Beach Boys someday, but for now, I’m just glad that their still out there.

I also have to say that the Virginia Theater’s renovation is incredible. It’s kept the old charm of a Broadway style theater, with necessary updates. I’m looking forward to going back for a full tour of the venue -- and another great show.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Enjoying Big Cedar Lodge

It was the last day of the Missouri road trip for my friend Jaimee and me. We were determined to make the most of it and Big Cedar Lodge provided us with plenty of opportunities.

I woke up to sunshine and started my day with a bit of yoga as I enjoyed the scenery. The first order of the day was breakfast at Truman Coffee and Café near the main lodge.

The café was filled with people trying to decide what to get among the scrumptious offerings. I made the right choice in the Cinnamon Muffin with scrambled eggs on the side for some protein.

Jaimee went for the breakfast bagel with egg, ham, and cheese, and we both got our caffeine jolts with lattes.We ate out on the deck while we admired the views. 

After breakfast we headed up to the Top of the Rock Welcome Center. We were both excited to pick up our golf carts there to take the Lost Canyon Cave Nature Trail.

I have to say, I had no idea what to expect. It turned out to be an incredible journey that I’ll definitely repeat the next time I’m at Big Cedar.

We began with a ride through the tall trees and along the lake as we climbed the hills. We saw babbling brooks and a gentle waterfall on the way.

We drove into the entry of the cave and our first encounter was certainly an unexpected surprise. There’s a bar in the cave! Some of the people in front of us did stop to imbibe, but we decided to keep going.

I am a bit claustrophobic, but I didn’t feel that way at all in the cave. The air circulation was excellent and the scene beautiful.

We came out of the cave to even better scenery as we headed under a covered bridge and saw another waterfall.  It was an amazing trip.

After we drove the cart back to the Top of the Rock Welcome Center we headed down the road to Arnie’s Barn for lunch. The restaurant is named for golf great Arnold Palmer.

This restaurant offered the same great views Osage had thenight before, but with a more casual atmosphere.

The menu is TexMex, a favorite of both of us. We started with tortilla chips and a bowl of Arnie’s Guacamole, freshly made and delicious.

For our main courses, I had the chicken enchiladas while Jamie went for the Carnitas Tacos. Both came with something I had never had before – Mexico City Street Corn.  It was covered in a mixture of cheese, butter, and mayonnaise and was quite good.

After lunch we headed back down to lake at Big Cedar Lodge to go kayaking. It’s one of the complimentary activities at this resort and it was fun and restful on the calm lake.

We finished our day with a dip in the pool and Devil’s Pool before heading back to our private cabin at Big Cedar Lodge. It was the perfect relaxation to finish up an amazing road trip to Missouri.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Arriving at the Top of the Rock

My friend Jaimee and I were back in the car to continue our Missouri road trip. Our next stop was at Big Cedar Lodge, just past Branson in Ridgedale.

The drive was just over two hours and quite scenic, but not quite as amazing as the property Big Cedar Lodge was on. 

We were amazed by the scenes of hills and lakes, wildlife and forestry.

Our cabin wasn’t ready yet so we first went to the Devil’s Pool Restaurant for lunch. It too had a view to remember.

The meal was also memorable as I had soup and a pizza with Italian sausage and roasted grape tomatoes and Jamie head a turkey club sandwich.

We had our leftovers with us as we crossed the covered bridge and headed to our cabin.

We were put up in the Tony Stewart log cabin at Big Cedar Lodge. It was quite spacious, with two bedrooms, a large living room with a big stone fireplace, and a fully stocked kitchen.

The lodge provided us with a nice basket of snacks and some wine.

The only thing about the cabin that took me by surprise were the stuffed animals on the wall, but Jaimee reminded me that we were at a lodge after all.

My bedroom was quite comfortable with a king size bed and a full bathroom. We also had a deck with a view of the lake.

After we were settled in, Public Relations Manager Michelle Wait met with us to give us a tour of the property.  She took us up to Top of the Rock, where one of the attractions is an Ozarks Heritage Preserve.

The preserve explains previous inhabitants to this area, including the woolly mammoth and the saber tooth cat. We toured the restaurants up there. All had spectacular views of the Table Rock Lake, the golf course, and the chapel below.

We were also able to see the Wine Cellar bar and some of the private dining rooms.

Before we headed back down to the lodge we also stopped in the store to check out some local and natural food and cosmetic products.

After the tour, Jaimee stayed back at the room while I went down to the Swimmin’ Hole pool and hot tubs to relax for a bit before dressing for dinner.

We drove back up to the Top of the Rock for our dinner at Osage. We were lucky enough to get a table with an amazing view of the sunset and the bagpipe ceremony. It was all breathtaking to watch.

As for the meal, it was also fantastic. We started with cocktails (I loved the Poison Arrow with Southern Comfort, Amaretto, and pineapple juice) and a fresh and tasty Burrata tomato salad.

For a main course, I thoroughly enjoyed the Braised Short Ribs while Jaimee raved over the locally caught trout, served amandine with spinach and basmati rice.

We finished with two luscious desserts: a Hazelnut German Chocolate Bomb with coconut ice cream; and a Chocolate Mint Ice Cream Sandwich served with chocolate sauce.

Before we left the Top of the Rock we marveled at the sight of the golf course at night.  We then went back to our cabin for a glass of wine on our deck to talk about the things we wanted to do the next day at Big Cedar Lodge.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Exploring Lake of the Ozarks

I started the day at Country Club Hotel and Spa in Lake of the Ozarks the best way possible, with a morning massage.

My friend Jaimee and I had plenty of time to relax in our spacious junior suites before heading out for our first appointment.

We had lunch and cocktails on the water at Dog Days (look for my story in the spring issue of Midwest Living ).

We had a free afternoon for exploring the Lake of the Ozarks area and we took advantage of the time.

We drove down to the Bagnell Dam Strip. Along with the typical souvenir shops and tourist restaurants, from here you can also take cruises out to view the dam and the Ozarks by water.

We made a brief stop at the Osage beach Premium Outlets, the largest center of its kind in Missouri. We picked up a few bargains and then stopped at Randy’s Frozen Custard across the road.

Frozen custard is one of my biggest weaknesses and this place did not disappoint. Their famous Turtle Concrete was amazing!

We went back to the Country Club Hotel & Spa for a while to catch up on some rest and to digest before our big dinner.  I had heard great things about both the chef and the restaurant.

It was only a short drive to dinner at Savannah Grille, where Chef Robert Sills is known for his use of fresh and local ingredients. He came out to greet us as soon as we arrived and helped us make some menu choices, though it looked like we wouldn’t go wrong with any of the choices.

We started with a tomato salad which was fresh from the garden and garnished with goat cheese. Then, Jaimee had a lobster bisque while I picked the onion soup.

Jaimee had the Savannah’s Southern Fried Chicken and Macaroni & Cheese and we both agreed (I couldn’t help but to sample) that it was delicious. I really enjoyed the Wild Mushroom Risotto, with black truffles and parmesan crisps.

Dessert was a scrumptious selection called “Candy & Cake.” It included a gooey chocolate cake, a cocoa and coffee mousse, strawberry coulis, honey comb, lemon curd, and a dark chocolate filled with peanut butter.

We headed back to the hotel fully stuffed from a day of eating. It was time to get a good night’s sleep before the Missouri road trip would continue up to Big Cedar Lodge in Table Rock.