Dueling Pianos

Last night we had a mid-winter, get out of the house night on the town with family members. After dinner at the Tip Top, we Ubered down to the Big Bang Bar in the Arena District for a Dueling Pianos performance arranged by Sister Rocker. I wasn’t even aware of the place, but then the Arena District is full of surprises.

When Sister Rocker first suggested a trip to see Dueling Pianos, I initially thought it would be like Ferrante and Teicher, or perhaps cocktail lounge piano music. I could not have been more wrong! This was about as raucous as piano music (and a drum set) can get, with three guys rotating on stage in staggered one-hour shifts and pounding away at the keyboards of two grand pianos. They took “suggestions” (song requests unaccompanied by money) and “requests” (song requests submitted with moolah) — guess which ones were going to get played, and which would get crumpled up and tossed? — and they played everything from vintage Jerry Lee Lewis to country to ’80s MTV staples to last year’s hip hop hits. And there’s a lot of audience participation, both through singing along and through birthday and anniversary celebrants and bachelorette parties going up on stage to dance and perform.

It makes for a rollicking time and it’s obviously popular, because the place was packed — as crowded a venue as I’ve seen in years, in fact. If you reserve a table, as we did, expect to feel a bit like a sardine, because they really pack people in. It’s a young crowd, too; we were the oldest attendees by far. And the amount of alcohol consumed by the patrons — the better to lubricate the vocal cords and loosen up lascivious onstage dance moves, I guess — was colossal. This was a crowd that was ready to rock out and fight the mid-winter blahs with some liquid-fueled entertainment.

Dueling Pianos isn’t something I’d do every weekend, but it’s a nice entertainment option to have on a cold winter night.

Hello Emerson

IMG_7197If you’re in Columbus and you’re looking for some good live music, take a gander at the music venue sites and see whether Hello Emerson is playing somewhere.  Kish and I caught the trio last night with Dr. Science and the Bionic Half-Marathoner at The Basement in the Arena District, and they’re definitely worth a good listen.

In the interests of full and fair disclosure, I should add that Jack Doran, the keyboard player and percussionist for Hello Emerson, is the oldest son of Dr. Science and the BH-M.  I don’t think I’m influenced by bias, however, in saying that Hello Emerson plays some interesting and tuneful music that just might get you to thinking about life.  There was a pretty good crowd at The Basement to listen to them last night as the first band in a three-band show, and the group got a rousing ovation at the end of their set.

According to Sam, the guitar player and lead singer, Hello Emerson plays regularly at the brilliantly named Kerouac Kafe in Columbus.  Catch them if you can!

Aboard The CBUS

Yesterday was one of those hot, muggy days that seem to immediately drain you of energy and leave you coated in sweat at the same time.  We were interested in heading down to the Short North, but walking there would have caused us to melt into the sidewalk.  And driving to the Short North on a Gallery Hop day is a colossal pain.  So, what to do?

Enter the CBUS.

IMG_6855The CBUS is a “circulator” that runs on a continuous loop on High Street and Front Street between German Village and the Brewery District, on one end, and Victorian Village and Italian Village on the other.  Along the way, it has stops at Columbus Commons, the Ohio Statehouse, the Arena District, and the Short North.  And there are no worries about reading a confusing bus schedule, or getting on the number 4 bus when you should be getting on the number 23 bus — the CBUS has different, readily identifiable markings, the CBUS stops are marked with a special circular sign, and the CBUS just goes on the same route all day long.

The CBUS was the perfect option for us — but the only real issue was whether we could overcome our anti-bus mindset.  This sounds like a minor thing, but it really isn’t.  If your vision of a bus is a dirty, beat-up contraption filled with smelly, misbehaving passengers, it’s not going to be your first transportation choice.  But we decided to give the CBUS a chance — and it turned out that our preconceptions about bus travel were all wrong.  (I recognize that the Bus-Riding Conservative will be insufferable after that admission.)

The CBUS is clean, bright, and blissfully air-conditioned.  The upcoming stops were announced verbally and shown on an electronic crawl screen at the front of the bus, so you always knew which stop was upcoming.  Our fellow passengers included couples, families with small kids, and Columbus visitors heading to an event at the Convention Center, which also is along the route.  There are multiple stops along the way, and you can signal the driver when you want to stop by pulling a little cord that runs behind every seat.  And the CBUS is free.  Free!  What could be better than that?

One other thing about the CBUS that the BRC has emphasized:  it runs almost exactly the route that some people have proposed as the route of a street car/light rail system, and it does so at a tiny fraction of the cost — and without ripping up the streets and installing rail lines and paying for the construction and the train cars.

We liked the CBUS so much that, on our ride back home, we talked about how we can use it even more.  I’m guessing that most users of the CBUS have that same reaction.  It  promotes the interaction and flow between core downtown neighborhoods, and it also makes non-bus-riders like us a bit more amenable to potentially using the Central Ohio Transit Authority options to meet our other transportation needs.  That’s the whole idea, I think.  I’m not sure how long the CBUS will be free, but I hope it continues — it’s a great idea and way to introduce the non-BRCs of the world like us to the possibilities and advantages of mass transit.

Connecting City And Campus

The Ohio State University has long been a huge part of what life in Columbus is all about. Residents of our fair city know that the college is a key driver of its economy and social and cultural activities.  Now the University wants prospective and current students to understand that Columbus can and should be a big part of their college experience, too.

This wasn’t always the case.  When I was at OSU in the ’70s, campus was the exclusive focal point of student life.  Living “off-campus” simply meant one of the at-that-time run-down areas right next to campus.  I covered the Statehouse for the Lantern so I drove downtown regularly, but that was just because it was part of my beat.  The city really didn’t seem to offer much of interest to my campus-oriented world — but many of us ended up staying in Columbus after graduation, anyway, because there were jobs here.

Columbus has gotten a lot more interesting since those days.  Back then, the Short North was a scary place of vacant storefronts and XXX theaters; now it is a thriving, uber-cool neighborhood of shops, restaurants, and art galleries.  The Arena District, another focal point of the Columbus social/cultural scene, didn’t exist.  Downtown was a sea of surface parking lots that closed down about 6 p.m.  And German Village — where the initial wave of rehabbing was still underway — seemed incredibly far away.  Now all of those areas not only are much more interesting, they also are easy (and cheap) to reach via COTA’s free CBUS circulator, which runs on a continuous loop from Victorian Village right next to campus down High Street to German Village and back again.

Colleges are competing fiercely for students, to the point of building lavish dorms and state-of-the-art workout facilities and other amenities.  If the school happens to be located in a city that features lots of great social and cultural activities and economic opportunities, why not feature that in its marketing effort as a point of distinction with schools located in small-town America?  Ohio State’s decision to tout Columbus to its current and future students is not only good for the city, it’s probably good for the University, too.

When The All-Stars Come To Town

This weekend Columbus will host the NHL All-Star Game.  Already you see signs around town welcoming the players, coaches, fans, and other folks who are coming to town for the Game and the festivities — like these signs found at one of the hotels on Capitol Square in downtown Columbus.

IMG_4682Unfortunately, Columbus’s home team, the Blue Jackets, have been struggling this year.  Their fans will tell you it’s because they’ve been wracked with injuries.  After the CBJ closed with a rush last year, made the playoffs, and won a few games before falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the hockey diehards hoped that the Jackets would get off to a fast start and the All-Star Game then would help to cement enthusiasm for the Winter Game in Ohio’s capital city.  Things haven’t quite worked out that way.

Still, it’s a great thing to have people from all over gather in Columbus for a weekend, and the Arena District, where the All-Star Game will be played, is an area that shows off Columbus very well.  I would say that I hope that the weather cooperates — but I’m not sure what kind of weather hockey aficionados want, anyway.  Maybe a winter snowstorm and frigid temperatures that would be unwelcome to most of us would just make the rinksters feel like dropping the puck and crashing the boards.

One other thing about hockey players:  unlike NFL stars, basketball players, and for that matter participants in the annual Arnold Sports Classic, hockey players are normal-sized.  When you run into them around town they also seem to be friendly, polite, hard-working guys.  They’ll fit right in in Columbus, a generally friendly, polite, hard-working town.