Saturday, October 25, 2008

The African Spirit

Better brush up on your Zulu and Sotho languages.

And then when the Soweto Gospel Choir comes to a city near you...go.

Trust me. Go.

I went to see them at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton on Thursday, not fully knowing what to expect. All I knew is they were kinda famous, had won a couple Grammys, and were from South Africa. And when I saw the the list of upcoming events a couple months ago, I knew it was time for another gospel fix.

(unsolicited plug: if you haven't seen a show at the PAC yet, you really should. if you're not from Wisconsin, you should fly in. what a fantastic, intimate way for a couple thousand people to see a performance. been there twice, and can't wait for another reason to go back.)

This night of gospel was a bit different from what I've seen in the past. All of the 26 performers on stage were dressed in bright, colorful costumes, the African rhythms and beats were unmistakable, and the voices...ohhh, the voices! One of the most energetic shows I've seen. Period. They deserve high praise for putting forth an effort like that night after night.

The choir has only been in existence for six years, coming out of the South Western Townships (hence, the acronym) near Johannesburg. They've won Grammys the past two years for Best Traditional World Music.

The list of musical artists with whom they've performed includes Diana Ross, Celine Dion, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bono, Peter Gabriel, Annie Lennox and Queen. They've sung for Oprah, Bill Clinton, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former South African President Nelson Mandela. And they've also recorded with Robert Plant and Peter Gabriel.

The two-hour concert included about 25 songs, many sung in the native Zulu and Sotho languages, accompanied by drums and dancing. Several traditional American songs were mixed in, like "This Little Light of Mine," "Swing Down," and a rendition of "Amazing Grace" that got a standing ovation. One of the highlights for me was a version of Bob Dylan's "I'll Remember You," that was so powerful.

One of the members introduced the choir's unique African spirit and the evening's spiritual journey of songs, "whether expressed through the love of God, the love of our fellow man, the love of coming together as a people, or simply the love of life, and all the beauty it has to offer us."

The group entered the theater from the back, filling the room with their voices as they walked down the two aisles to the stage. And as the night went on, the applause grew louder, some people not content with polite clapping close to their chests, but instead reaching up over their heads to express their appreciation.

About halfway into the show, one lady stood up in her seat and started moving to the beats, and I half expected that after intermission, there might be people getting up and dancing in the aisles. Didn't happen, though. (perhaps if I would have been the instigator, hmm?)

The group's second of two encores was "Oh Happy Day," which brought the crowd back to its feet, and had many audience members waving to the performers as they left the stage.

One reviewer on the PAC's website said it better than I can, so I'm going to borrow from him and hope he doesn't mind. He said, "One doesn't have to be particularly religious or musical to appreciate this wonderful example of gospel. One simply has to have a soul. And frankly, if you hear Soweto Gospel Choir and are not moved, you very possibly have no soul."


"I'm associated with gospel music
in the minds of millions of people."
—Pat Boone

Friday, October 24, 2008

Freeeeze, Gopher!!

I'm currently involved in a bit of a project for the Ice Age Park & Trail Foundation, having volunteered to hike a segment of the trail and then write a feature article about the segment for an upcoming issue of the organization's newsletter.

The segment I was assigned to hike was right in my back yard, basically, in the city where I grew up, and I spent some time two weekends ago hiking the nine-plus-mile stretch in a couple sections, with family members.

I decided to hike it again last weekend, this time all at once, to take a few more notes and get some more accurate readings on distances and landmarks and checkpoints along the way. I'd start at the north end, and nine or ten miles later, hopefully, find my car waiting for me.

I'm kinda getting into this assignment. Had my boots laced, backpack flung upon my back, camera at the ready. Communing. I was good to go.

As I entered the woods, I found a bit of a rhythm in my step and had the right mindset to complete my journey. The day was maybe 20 degrees cooler than the weekend before, but it was a gorgeous, partly sunny day for another hike.

A little more than a mile in, I spotted some fellow hikers ahead of me on the trail. But these hikers were a bit different than me. They were wearing blaze orange jackets, blaze orange knit caps, and had doe tags pinned to their backs.

And while I was carrying a camera...they were carrying shotguns.

I thought about shooting them as I approached from behind, but I figured my memory card and megapixels were no match for their slugs, so I kept my Nikon in its holster.

It was at this time I began to realize that I was in a place I might not want to be. I was, after all, wearing a forest green sweatshirt, ironically enough. And I may not have a big white tail, but even if I do, I'm pretty sure it was adequately covered.

As I walked past the hunters on the trail, I said a quick and quiet, "Hello," and the guy in back responded, but the guy in front stared me down as if I was committing a crime. (and not wearing any blaze orange, I just may have been!)

It's not as if I approached them and shouted, "HEY!! ARE YOU GUYS HUNTING DEER??" (think Flounder in "Animal House.") I don't think I rattled the entire woods and ruined their afternoon.

But as I reached my first checkpoint on the trail...a parking lot connected to Point Beach State Forest...I saw this red metal sign screwed to a post, that wasn't there the weekend before.

I was walking through an early hunting weekend, and wasn't aware of it.

I'm not a hunter, so I don't keep up on the various hunting seasons across the state, but I have respect for hunters and don't want to get in their way. Especially, you know, because they have guns and stuff.

So less than two miles into my hike, it was over for the weekend, and I'll have to give it another try when my life isn't in danger for being mistaken for a big ol' antlerless deer. (I don't have antlers, either.)

After being dropped off at my car, I drove around the trail route, and found those same red signs at nearly every entrance to the trail...except, of course, the entrance on the north end, where I chose to begin my day. Unfortunate.

I may go again this weekend, even if I learn that it's squirrel season, or something.

Because I know I'm bigger than a squirrel.

(Maybe I'll buy a blaze orange zoom lens to attach to my camera to fit in.)

"I'm a deer hunter. I go all the time
with my dad. One thing about deer,
they have very good vision. One thing
about me, I am better at hiding than
they vision."
—Rainn Wilson

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Name...(And The Game)...Remains The Same

[Warning: I am ridiculously full of myself right now, and have been for the past couple days. I've performed at an unbelievably high level, and I've rubbed elbows with a celebrity...all in the same night. (Granted, it was a D- or E- or F-List celebrity, but a celebrity nonetheless.) So if you don't think I'm totally swell, or don't care to read about me telling you how totally swell I think I am, I suggest you skip this blog post and come back when I've got something more self-deprecating with which to distract you from your day.]

You've heard me lament in previous posts that if I didn't get my dart act together soon, I might have to consider changing the title of my blog from the very Zen, "Ton-Fifty-ONE," to something which more accurately describes my recent performances, such as: "Gregg Sucks Eggs At Darts" (doesn't have the same ring. and I really don't want to be responsible for coming up with a graphic for that title.)

We started dart league on Tuesday night, and after having taken first place in our league for each of the past, oh, ten years or so (that's not an exaggeration), a new team showed up last year and knocked us down a peg. (ouch!) So some of us on my team were eager to get this season rolling and remedy that situation. During our organizational meeting a couple weeks ago, we found that one other team has defected from a competitor's league, and will be shooting against us as well. And they're a good team. So I have no illusions that we're going to coast back into our first-place spot this season, but it's going to be a helluva lot of fun working in that direction.

We've also moved to a new home bar this year, as my buddy's brother and brother-in-law opened a new place. season, new digs. Time to get down to it, right?

You all know where this is going. I saved my blog on Tuesday night!! In the second game of the first night of dart league, I shot my first perfect game of 301 in about three years. And it was a sweeeet sweet feeling watching that last dart fly straight and hard into the triple-17.

My buddy and I have had a 10-dollar bet for the first person to shoot a six-dart out, and unfortunately it's gone way too long without being paid. I had three chances last year, but couldn't convert on the last dart of any of them. Once...I was distracted by a cute bartender. The second...I was tired, I think. And the dunno, there was an earthquake. Or something. Needless to say, I didn't convert.

So when I hit it on Tuesday night and went to collect my long-awaited prize, he immediately changed the rule as he paid me, saying, "Let's play 10 bucks for every sixer all season long." (he wants his 10 bucks back. and I...want to take more.)

There's something quite satisfying about watching that sixth dart puncture the smallish triple segment, and the screen flash zero. The couple-minute wait between your first round and your second round can be a bit nerve-wracking, and when you get back up to the line and punch the first two darts into the bullseye, you realize that opportunities like this don't come along as often as they used to, and you better concentrate and try to make it count.

I wish I was totally lying when I tell you that as I held the sixth dart in my hand and aimed it at the trip-17, I wasn't thinking one bit about the title of this blog, because it makes me sound like a bigger dork than I already am. But I was. I was thinking about 10 bucks from my buddy...and I was thinking about coming home and telling this great story about how I've validated my blog title for at least the next little while...until I once again begin to suck eggs.

I know the way you're supposed to handle an A-plus performance like that is to act like you've been there before. Like Barry Sanders who used to just flip the ball to the ref after leaving defenders in his wake and scampering to the end zone.

And, well...I've been there before.

But I couldn't help but give a little fist pump and an overzealous, "YESSS!" as I walked to the board to pull out my darts. Not a Tiger-at-the-U.S.-Open fist pump. That would be over the top. More of a Phil Mickelson OK-so-I'm-not-the-greatest-but-I'm-pretty-damn-good fist pump.

I finished the night with four hat tricks in 301, and another one for good measure in cricket. So it didn't take me too long to get warmed up and adjust to my new surroundings. But I've been through this before. Next week week. I could very well come home lamenting again.

Look...I know this isn't life-changing stuff. It's plastic-tipped darts thrown in the right holes on a red and yellow circular board. Big deal, right? It won't cure world hunger, it won't stop the polar ice cap from melting, and it won't make Sarah Palin a viable candidate for national public office.

But it sure did feel good. So good that I bought my buddies a round of drinks with my 10 bucks. (Don't worry...I'll make more.)

— • — • —

Not long after our league games were finished, a couple guys walked into the bar, and one of them went to the bar while the other walked past me, headed toward the bathrooms. I'm about 6'4", and this guy was a good two inches taller than me. Not that I often feel like Gulliver in the land of Lilliput or anything, but...this guy was big enough to get noticed, is what I'm saying. And one of the guys at the end of the bar who'd had enough to drink, asked, "Is that Tim Harris? I think that's Tim Harris. That's Tim Harris!"

So the guy comes out of the bathroom, and the happy drunk goes up to him and talks for a few seconds, and then turns and says, "See, I told you it was Tim Harris!"

Guess what? It was Tim Harris. (linebacker/defensive end for the Green Bay Packers from 1986-90.) And he hung out and chatted with everyone in the bar for the next couple hours, drinking free shots and shooting pool and accepting the advances of a girl who was...(how shall I put this)...unwaveringly and unashamedly vying for his attention. *ahem* (I think that passes the censors.)

The guy with Harris was a Vikings fan (even had a Viking tattoed on his calf) and my buddy is also a Vikings fan. I, of course, am a (shh!) Lions fan. So Harris had a field day ripping on other members of the NFC North.

Not exactly on my list of Top 10 Celebs I'd Like To Party With, but was the second most exciting thing that happened on Tuesday night.

(how lame is it that I can't find a good Google Image pic of a former Pro-Bowler to add to this post?)

"It took me about 10 years to get rid of.
I'm all right now, though, lovely, I'm throwing
some nice darts at the moment, but every
now and then I get a bit of a jump. I wish
I could find a cure, I'd make a bloody fortune."
—Eric Bristow