class and principals: harrisonburg education foundation gala.

HEF Gala klines mill2In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, which was last week, we’d like to tell you a little about an event we recently attended that celebrated everyone involved in the educational process and raised funds for educational endeavors in our Harrisonburg schools – the annual Harrisonburg Education Foundation Gala.

While we probably all agree that education in itself is important (i.e., learning is important, curiosity is important, cultural progress is important), our educational system has become highly politicized during my fifteen-year career. Supporters of teachers have for years bemoaned the paltry salaries of teachers, asserting that teachers work far more hours than most full-time employees and receive, hour for hour, far less pay. Others believe we do nothing but “babysit” kids all day and then get a three-month vacation. But I’ve always believed that if you made teaching a high-paying job, it would attract the wrong kind of person to the profession. Because let’s face it: to be a teacher, you can’t really be selfish. Or greedy. Or materialistic. You wouldn’t last a day. You can’t apply a capitalist, profits-driven model to public education. We welcome all students – not one is turned away – regardless of whatever gifts or shortcomings they have, and we take them as far as we can. Period. We get no bonus for exceeding some quota of successful students. That’s proof enough that we don’t do it for the money. We do it because we love young people. I know, because I am a teacher, and so is Brandy. And not to toot our own horns, but teachers are givers, not takers. We’re givers – we give to students, give to our colleagues, and give to the community, maybe more than you know. And we don’t have a ton of resources with which to give, and neither, it seems, do the politicized entities who employ us. So we find a way to provide for each student’s needs, regardless of who’s in office or the political climate or whatever. We find a way because we love the kids.

And because public education is a non-profit enterprise, it needs to raise funds from time to time. That’s where organizations like the Harrisonburg Education Foundation come in. Their sole purpose is to supplement local, state, and federal support by raising funds to “award grants, provide scholarships, and support enrichment opportunities in the Harrisonburg schools” that otherwise might not be possible. And especially when money’s tight and budgets are slashed, Harrisonburg Education Foundation’s work becomes absolutely vital. They keep programs in place that might otherwise fall victim to a crappy economy and apathetic politicians. Harrisonburg students’ education is better because of HEF and the folks—companies and citizens alike—who graciously donate to it. With the help of volunteers and donors, they throw one humdinger of a party, celebrating everyone involved in our schools and collecting some much-needed funds, too.

HEF Gala Klines mill1 HEF Gala people collageSo Brandy and I were honored and excited to be invited to this year’s HEF Gala at the Barn at Kline’s Mill (one of Early Katering’s two venues). This place is lovely. Located in Linville, the Barn sits on ten gorgeous acres with inspiring views. It seats up to 250 people and can be used for all sorts of occasions, from weddings to family reunions. They have another location in town, on Evelyn Byrd Avenue, which seats about 120 and has a more traditional rather than rustic atmosphere. Or, they can cater your event wherever you desire to have it. Their menu is HUGE, and having attended several events catered by Early’s, I can safely say that every item is delicious. Being teachers who are used to wolfing down half a Lean Cuisine in 16.5 minutes each day, Brandy and I were probably more excited about the ample buffet than anything else.

We donned our country and western duds and drove on out to the barn for a fun evening of dancing, eating, drinking, socializing, and money-giving! I listened to Black Sabbath in the car beforehand to prepare for a heavy dose of country music, and on the way, we were greeted by this rainbow:

HEF Gala rainbowThe inside of the Barn is clad in beautiful, light-colored pine walls and lit with large, soft white globe lights. Scores of dining tables filled one side of the barn and a bar, food tables, bandstand, and dancing area comprised the other side. Plenty of room for mingling, glass clinking, face stuffing, and boot stomping.

HEF Gala auctionThe evening went like this: a silent auction, followed by a line-dancing lesson, and then a live auction, delightfully interspersed with meatballs and artichoke dip and fresh fruit and trips outside to gaze at the beautiful landscape and bleat at nearby sheep.

Dozens of businesses and individuals donated auction items, including
* Movie night for ten with popcorn
* Drum lessons
* Whine-and-Dine with the Superintendent
* a wagon full of gardening tools and supplies
* lift tickets to Massanutten
* several gift baskets (one for dogs, one for cats, one called Family Game Night, one called A Day at the Beach)
* exercise-related packages from RMH, Crossfit, Hot Yoga
* a river trip
* JMU tickets
* tutoring sessions
* tickets to HHS events
* and a whole bunch of other prizes. Like 60.

You could also purchase a bottle of wine for $20 and possibly win a prize that way! The line dancing was a hoot – the instructor yelled, “Grape vine! Kick! Stomp! Shimmy!” but the pupils did more like shuffle-bump into the person next to you-stumble-laugh… at first, anyway. Then they got the hang of it and were really quite good!

HEF Gala line dance1 HEF Gala line dance3Lots of people attended the party, and I couldn’t help but notice that many of them – most of them, probably – were teachers, raising funds for their own profession. And I wondered how many of them would drag themselves out of bed the next morning — Sunday — and go diligently to their classrooms to prepare a few more things for the week… taking time away from their own families to serve the greater good.

Look, there are still like three full weeks of school left, so if you (woopsie) forgot to appreciate a teacher last week, there’s still time. Trust me — we accept thank you’s, tokens of appreciation, and free stuff ANY TIME. If you don’t currently have a teacher, think back over the teachers of your past and surprise one of them. If you are a teacher, pat yourself on the back, pour a glass of wine, thank God the year’s almost over, and know that we love you, very very much!

HEF Gala outsideCopyright © 2012-14 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

major artery: larkin arts.

larkin arts ellaRemember when Studio Art Shop was downtown? This was way back when Dave’s Taverna was on Water Street and Main, and Jokers (now the Blue Nile) was the hot spot for local music. Studio Art Shop was located where Oasis Gallery is now… I remember that art store fondly… the smell of paint and canvas, rows of colorful bottles, rainbows of oil pastels, stacks of naked sketch books, jars of never-used brushes with smooth wooden handles, neat paper bags of rabbit skin glue, Gesso, tubs of Gojo. Simply walking in there would inspire even the least artistic of us (like me) to create.

Needing more space, Studio Art Shop expanded to a larger store on Neff Avenue and became the place for art students to purchase supplies each semester. Lamentably, Studio Art Shop closed its doors for good a few years ago.

No doubt Valerie Smith remembers Studio Art Shop, too, and thanks to her, her hubby Scott, Lynda Bostrom, and many other local art supporters, Harrisonburg once again has a full-service art supply store on the Court Square… an apt location in the heart of a city that loves and values art of all kinds.

larkin arts val and scottBut Larkin Arts is not just a source of supplies; it’s also a gallery, a school, and a studio–a place for learning, creating, and displaying art. The store itself carries thousands of products for the new, developing, or veteran artist, and a cozy lounge area where one can sit and sketch or peruse hundreds of art books from their library, all the while listening to albums on the old-school stereo system, from Loggins and Messina to Talking Heads to Fugazi, the Beatles, or even “Latin for Lovers.” :) And, even if you’re not an “artist,” many of their items make lovely, unique gifts for people of all ages and for any occasion, really.

larkin arts1In the space adjacent to the store is the gallery and reception area. Two large, open, bright spaces regularly feature curated, juried, or group exhibitions.

larkin arts denise larkin arts food larkin arts reception2Down the hall to the right are three (three!) classrooms hosting a variety of classes. Every Monday from 6:30 to 8:30pm the public is welcome to attend live figure drawing. Children ages 4 – 12 can attend classes in drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, weaving, and art history. What a great way to spend dark, chilly afternoons, and when the weather is warm and school’s out, kids can attend week-long art classes — even one taught by our own Brandy Somers! — during the 2013 Youth Summer Art Program.

The left side of the hallway houses local artists’ studios. Large, bright, open rooms with closets and plenty of space to haul out your supplies and make a big ole mess.

In the last couple of months, Brandy and I have visited Larkin Arts a number of times. Back in December, we did some Christmas shopping there. More recently, we’ve gone to visit the gallery. Nathan Shearer’s simply framed photographs of LEGOs blew me away. One, I love LEGOs — I even have a LEGO room in my house. Two, the scenes he depicts in the photos are both realistic and imaginative. Three, his attention to detail, posing little LEGO figures in front of less playful backgrounds, getting the scale just right so that the photo is as believable as a portrait. And four, the colors! I wish I could have bought every one of them and hung them all together on a single wall in my house. You couldn’t be unhappy in that space. To see more of Nathan’s photos, please check out Katie Schmidt’s photos, here.

larkin arts nathan s nathan shearer bwThe other exhibit we attended was that of Jade Webber, an artist currently studying at JMU after completing a degree in Fine Art at New Mexico State University. Her large, heavily textured paintings depict the natural world, which is, as she describes it, a blend of “the metaphysical, the supernatural, and the ineffable.” Her work particularly reflects a love of animals, who “remind us that we, too, are animals. We are subject to forces beyond our control.” In this way she underscores how natural art is to the human experience: it springs organically from the artist herself; tools of wood and hair and metal push around hues of the outside world we see every day, resulting in a connection between artist and viewer that is not forced, but… ineffably genuine. You can see Jade’s work at Larkin Arts through the end of February.

jade webber notes jade webber 7 jade webber 5 jade webber 1The kids were with us, of course, and what would an ilovemyburg post be without the antics of children? Let’s see. Bree dropped her cupcake on the floor, icing side down (major tragedy). A couple of the Judy Chops were there to perform (because, let’s face it — all of ’em would have caused a sonic boom-ish catastrophe knocking the artwork right off the walls), and so lots of giggly, dizzying dancing ensued. Scott whipped out some brown Model Magic for the kids to “play with.”

larkin arts cupcake larkin arts blake ella judy chops 3 larkin arts brownAnd Cal left a note on Brandy’s car that said, “Your butt looks really good.” She laughed and acted like it was silly, but I bet she taped that thing to her bathroom mirror. Ha ha!! After she previewed this post, she clarified that it is NOT on her bathroom mirror. It’s on her fridge. :)

Congratulations to Valerie and Scott for opening this Harrisonburg gem. We hope you will visit soon and see why it’s so, so special. It’s yet another reason we love our burg.

Copyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

free spirits: rocktown wine and dine festival.

It was a weeee bit rainy. A tad splashy. A tish bit damp, if you will. And as my hair erupted into its requisite rainy day Ronald McDonald wig of frizz, Brandy arrived with a floaty strapped to her back pack.

“What’s that for?” I asked.

“Duh, for FLOATING. Because it’s raining. A LOT.” <eye roll>

I guess I’m so accustomed to it raining at ALL our events that I don’t even think to prepare for it. But others did, too. Like these gals:

And this lady… sort of.

Umbrella casualty.

We might have actually needed that floaty. Not that the three of us could ride on it… but Brandy informed Michael and me that there was even a chance of tornadic activity. Good grief, Auntie Em. “Do you get some kind of alert for every weather situation?” I asked her. She answered, “I get that from my Nanny, okay? I used to call her for the weather.” Awwww… Nanny :)

Anyhoo, at three o’clock on the dot, one could hear a chorus of corks popping against the harmonious backdrop of rain and The Woodshedders, this old-time, bluegrass, jazz-country quintet who warmed things up for us quite cozily. The first Rocktown Wine and Dine Festival had commenced! And with neat-o wine sampling glasses in hand, we were off!

A note of clarification before I delve into all the deliciousness of that afternoon. The Wine and Dine Festival was different from the Beer and Music Festival of last April (and coming again April 20, 2013!!) in that the wine vendors served pairings–samples of a particular wine accompanied by a complementary dish. (Local chefs Alex Fitzgerald and Jon Alley created the appetizers and Brock Cappers from Robins Cellars picked perfect wines for each.) It wasn’t like the Beer and Music Festival where you filled up your mug and wandered around for a bit. It was more like an art exhibit, where you move through the gallery, stopping at each piece and eating/drinking the display. So the three of us, along with everyone else, were under the pavilion for quite some time, sampling the goods at all ELEVEN tables.

Also, as you perused the goods, if there were any (and believe me, there were) wines that you wanted to buy, you could go to the Downtown Wine and Gourmet table, place an order, and then pick up your wine the following Saturday at the shop. And Jay and Amanda offered substantial discounts if you ordered one, three, or five mix & match cases. A lot of people in my life are getting wine for Christmas this year.

Okay, Table One: World Premier Wines. Here we sampled the Paul Cluver Close Encounters Riesling from South Africa… and the Paul Cluver Gewurtztraminer paired with a southwestern chicken egg roll. The spicy egg roll with the crisp, apple-y sweet wine was a lovely start to the afternoon. Thumbs up.

Next was the Robert Kacher table, where we tried the Tariquet Classic–dry and fruity from France–paired with a traditional gazpacho. We also tried their Andre Brunel VDP Grenache, which was refreshing and really reasonably priced.

Frontier Wine Imports offered a grilled chorizo (sausage) with their Senda 66 Tempranillo 2008 from Spain–man was that a good combination. I ate a few of those little spicy things. And might I add, it was at this table that WE FOUND PORT. Aaaaggggghhhhhh <drool>. The Feist Madeira Full Rich Port AND the Feist Tawny Port. From PORTugal. Ha. I think I left that table about ten degrees warmer.

Danielle, servin’ it up.

The fourth table was also a favorite in our little group–Small Vineyards served their Palama Negroamaro with these yummy little shredded pork barbeque sliders. Yowee. It was one of those slow-motion moments: We saw the wine. We saw the sliders. We started over there. People would not get out of the way. And when at last we skidded to the table, the sliders were gone! No worries–we just stood there and waited, and soon another batch arrived, all warm and fresh. We also tried their Tre Donne La Perlina Moscato and their Bibbiani Chianti. At this point we were really digging the festival.

The Avery Quinn table had these shrimp things–money bags, spring rolls, and wontons, along with a very nice California chardonnay. That combo was so good I burned my mouth–twice. We liked that table.

Bluestone Vineyard, one of the hosts of the festival, along with Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and Downtown Wine and Gourmet, presented a reeeeallly good cabernet franc ($25-a-bottle good) and one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten in my life: bacon-wrapped sausage bites, rolled in aged chili peppers and sweet brown sugar. I admit that for the rest of the evening, I stalked that table for meat like Hannibal Lecter. I apologize for the creepiness of it. Anyway, Bluestone also debuted their new Moscato at the festival–a sweet, kinda fizzy fruity number. It’s a good thing there were no chairs under the pavilion or we may not have moved for days.

Around this time, the Woodshedders finished up and Chatham County Line took the stage. These guys have been around for thirteen-ish years, from Raleigh, and recently finished up a tour in Europe. Here they were in little old Harrisonburg, providing a warm and lively soundtrack to a now sunny evening.

B&L Brands was a fun table, not only because all their wines were great (and among the three of us, I think we tried them all), but because many of their wines have literary names–like “Foreshadow” and “Bookmark.” The nerd in me appreciates that. They offered Rooiberg Chenin Blanc (South Africa) with assorted cheese.

Vici Wine, our eighth stop, offered several South American wines (Chile and Argentina) including the Oveja Negra Chardonnay/Viognier and the Chilensis Chardonnay, and one from South Africa–the Obwika Moscato–paired with Bananas Foster Bites served with warm caramel sauce. Apparently I wasn’t the only food stalker there because we never did get a bite, and after all that meat I really needed some dessert :) Our friend Seth was working that table:

Cave Ridge and Cross Keys shared a table, which suited us just fine because we love those vineyards. Cave Ridge is the vineyard that runs Wine on Water, which offers tastings daily at its downtown location and houses Cuban Burger; Cross Keys Vineyard is a really great place to visit for a first date or an anniversary or a ladies’ nite out or an after-golf outing. The terrace is beautiful and the view is breathtaking, and if you get a chance to take the tour, you should. We sampled pretty much everything at that table and chatted it up with Katrina and Debbie. The pairing was the Cave Ridge Viognier with assorted fruit, but we also had their Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc. Cross Keys served their Joy White–one of my favorites of all time– and Joy Red, and the luxurious Meritage.

William Harrison Imports had several Argentinian selections and a few from France. And just before my sausage high wore off, they rescued me with a grilled kielbasa with mustard paired with the Don Manuel Malbec, a really hearty, spicy number that was a good end-of-festival selection.

And although we were “stuffed to the collarbone,” we couldn’t say no to the final table of the evening, Castle Rock Winery. Brandy and I sipped on the Mendocino Zinfandel and had gotten really mingle-y, wandering around, chatty and sorta unfocused. But they had a really good appetizer, too–chicken skewers with a tangy molasses barbeque sauce–and after an amount of time I’m just not sure of, Michael emerged from the crowd, marching toward us triumphantly, holding three chicken skewers high over head. We thanked him excitedly and then I, in my haste, stabbed my throat with the skewer.

Time for a break.

Having sampled all the pairings, and feeling quite satisfied, we moseyed to the lawn with our chairs to listen to the band play. We noticed the patch of earth that was torn apart by revelers at the Beer and Music Festival last spring–it was covered with hay to protect the tiny grasslings growing beneath. But it didn’t stay covered long, as an army of small human plows arrived and started making a hay pile. I mean, that’s what you do with hay–you gather it up into a pile. As the kids jumped on the hay pile and shouted and squished their feet in the mucky lawn, one of the band members asked them, “Which one of you is the Lord of the Flies?”

And so we watched the kids. And we listened to Chatham County Line. And Michael decided they needed a sample, too, so he commandeered four glasses and brought them a round. As the singer graciously accepted his wine, he said, “You know, I see a lot of signs that say ‘No bracelet, no wine,’ but… (brandishing his bare wrists)… come get me!” And they played on. Later he said, “Don’t discriminate, my brother. Integrate. That’s why God invented rosé.”

Amen. Let it all mingle–bacon and sausage and shrimp and bananas and cheese and cabernets and merlots and rieslings and zinfandels and mud and skin and hair and clothing and rain. Let it all mingle!

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Photos by Brandy Somers. Written content by Katie Mitchell. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

music lessons: chris howdyshell and superfriends and their ground-breaking rock-n-rollishness at clementine cafe.

It was an educational evening, indeed.

Of course, it started stupid enough–the two of us yakking it up at the bar, gossiping and such about things I can’t memorialize on the Interwebs–sorry. I can say that at one point the chatter veered back to our visit to Wine on Water and how we look forward to cooler weather and going back there for some PORT. In fact, Brandy declared, “I want to drink port in a scarf,” and I (here comes a stupid part) imagined her fashioning some kind of fabric drinking vessel. How cultural, I mused, wondering if perhaps in some exotic country, people drink wine this way.

Then I got it.

We were soon rescued from our idiocy. That night Clementine served up something mind expanding for sure, something called Chris Howdyshell and SuperFriends and Their Ground-Breaking Rock-N-Rollishness.

The first of the SuperFriends was Ellen Atwood. And even though she’s young–just a junior in high school–I think I will dub her Queen of the SuperFriends. One, it was her first public solo gig, ever. Two, she’s a one-woman show, just her keyboard and her voice. Three, her voice is… angelic. She was goosebumps-on-your-face good. She played and sang “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart” (Coldplay), and one of her originals. And four, she’s just a kid yet. And being a teacher and a general fan of teenagers, I love to see a kid who’s been able to cultivate her passion and talent in spite of all her school responsibilities and pressures and just the agony and emotional clumsiness that pervades adolescence, and still have the guts to share it with a room of (mostly) strangers. Yet there she was, shining in the hot white light. And after three short songs, I was quite moved. So thank you for that, Ellen.

Then the rest of the SuperFriends took the stage. It wasn’t quite the Dish Dogs because Michael Bowman and Lara Mack weren’t there… but it also wasn’t the new band, Dr. How (whom you can see here at Clementine on September 22)–it was… just… the SuperFriends. Namely, Chris Howdyshell, Mike Howdyshell, Ashley Hunter, Josh Vana, Doug Pitts, and Kyle Oehmke once his shift in the kitchen ended and he could join them. Untie the apron, strap on the bass. Chris had on his bedazzled hat and every person in the band wore glasses. Not, like, sunglasses, but actual “I need these to see” glasses. I could make some kind of “gettin’ old” joke, but really it was endearing because we’re all just humans with flaws doing the best we can. As Ram Dass said, “We’re all just walking each other home,” even if we can’t see where the hell we’re going.

They played a couple of old Dish Dog favorites, and things really picked up after “Tom Weights.” It seems like a hundred more people came in during “It’s Not Your Fault.” Drew, Harrisonburg’s resident hugger, danced in front of the stage (we love Drew!); more people joined the dancing during “Bird” and “She’s An Artist” and “The Tuning Song”–ha ha. And Chris took a moment to say he had two things to ask of us:
1) “You’re here.” (check!) and
2) “Don’t be afraid to dance. Ladies and gentlemen, please put your feet on the floor!”

In walked several  young men in suits, to whom he commanded, “Men In Suits–DANCE!” Which they did. Then he came down and danced with Alice, and Ashley came down and danced, and Grayson and Annie danced, and other folks I don’t know… and I remembered a New Year’s Eve Dish Dogs performance… there was this couple dancing. They’d obviously been together a long time. She danced with her eyes closed, and I thought that was the most romantic thing I’d ever seen–how they knew each other so well…

Nothing like that happened at this show, but it sure was fun!!

And educational. Remember when I said that earlier? Because between numbers, Chris would tell us interesting facts and use impressive vocabulary. Like “evolutionarily.” EV-UH-LOO-SHUN-AIR-UH-LEE. Something about woodpeckers and black flies and how, evolutionarily, they strayed from the norm and neither fared well. His lesson: “Do what you always do or you’ll die, at least in woodpecker world.” I also learned that Lance Armstrong ate oatmeal “filled with oxygen.” And most importantly, “Every time you eat bacon, you’re only losing a year of your life you didn’t care about in the first place.” Plus you get to eat bacon.

And he closed with this thought: “I really want a dog, but I don’t want to clean up the poop.” Amen to that.

The evening wound down with a smattering of other songs, including “Whiskey’s More Warm Than A Girl” and one about forgetting things (I don’t remember the title–seriously) during which Josh Vana played slide with a piece of broken glass. You gotta do what you gotta do, MacGyver.

So Dr. How debuts at Clementine on September 22 and will feature at least some of the SuperFriends. And I hope you’ll all attend.
Because you will learn stuff.
And you will dance.

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Photos by Brandy Somers. Written content by Katie Mitchell. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

a rollicking good time: fridays on the square.

I love a stand-up bass and a drummer decked out in a mini-skirt and cowgirl boots.

It was Friday on the Square in Harrisonburg–a downtown outdoor film and music event presented by Citizens for Downtown and Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and (this particular week) sponsored by Alexiou Hearing and Sinus Center and Davenport Windows and Doors. We were stoked to get outside and see the Judy Chops perform: the week had been nauseatingly hot. On this breezy, beautiful evening, the heat finally broke and the city itself exhaled in relief.
We’d gotten to the courthouse early and set up our chairs and blankets so we wouldn’t have to carry them as we walked to Cat’s Cradle–which we featured on the blog a couple weeks ago (you can find that post here). Ducking into The Corner for a quick snack and drink, we noticed some portentous clouds rolling in and remembered all our stuff sitting on the square. Then some chugging and gobbling occurred, and six sets of feet scurried up the sidewalk to the barren courthouse lawn. Everyone else, including the band, had moved to Turner Pavilion (home of the Harrisonburg Farmers Market) and made themselves at home. As the band warmed up, we set up camp: chairs, blankets, lunchbox dinners, crayons, markers, and the like.

Brandy got into her human tripod position and I settled into my chair with my notebook. Among the couple hundred folks in attendance, I saw familiar downtown faces, like Anne Juarez, Mariana Bowling and Chris Howdyshell with their two cuties, Steve McClay from No Strings Attached with his family, the always-fun Sarah Murphy and legendary sound guru, Dave Beaver.

The band started playing. The Judy Chops are a six-piece band out of Staunton who perform in the Burg pretty regularly. They feature a drummer, an upright-bass player, and several guitar strummers/banjo pickers/fiddle pluckers and what have you, and they encourage (literally–by suggesting so, and figuratively through their mirthful demeanor) foot-stompin’ and dancin’ and sangin’ and howlin’ and whistlin’ and clappin’ and cluckin’ and hootin’. Yes, everyone was sitting in chairs at the start of the show, but it didn’t take the Judy Chops long to inspire some movement in the crowd. And you know? It’s always the older generation that starts the dancing. They’ve finally reached the nirvana of “oh, what the hell!” And so a couple of folks started to dance, and a few more joined in, and Sarah Murphy roped three of our kids into dancing with her (God bless that woman!)… they were linking arms and kicking up their feet, smiling and laughing, spinning in a large circle. It must be the Harrisonburg dance because I got swept up in it at The Little Grill Open Mic Night back in September. Wheeee! Needless to say, everyone was completely entertained by the band.
Meanwhile, in the grassy lot, kids were running wild. This is another reason I love my Burg: kids are so comfy hanging out here. They were playing tag and frisbee and throwing baseballs, they were climbing trees and dancing and spinning… there was giggling and (mild) taunting and hugging and stick swords… In fact, Ella got a little miffed at my son, and when Brandy asked her about it, she said “Cal thinks tagging people is stabbing them in the stomach with a stick.” :( Ooooch. Sorry! <cringe>

Parents rotated in and out of the grassy lot, taking turns supervising the youngsters. We all felt a collective responsibility for the kids, no matter whom they belonged to, and I really love that about this town. Not that I would ever let my kids get too far away from me, but I appreciate being able to take the kids places and not worry about their safety the whole time. We look out for each other here. It’s what we do.
This coming Friday on the Square, you can catch films from the 2011 SuperGr8 Film Festival. These three-and-a-half minute films made by local residents might just inspire you to pick up a super 8 camera and start rolling for this year’s festival, which will take place in November. There were more than 40 films last fall, and because Friday’s viewing is only one night, there’s not time for them all. The folks at SuperGr8 carefully selected a balance of color and black and white films for your enjoyment. They are as follows:

Black and White
1. Overcome by Ernie Didot (Winner of best Black and White Film)
2. The Park Bench by Elwood S. Madison III
3. Raveler by Brandy Somers (Winner of best B/W Actress)
4. A Year of Dying by Jeremiah Knupp & Holly Marcus (Winner of Best B/W Cinematography)
5. The Wrestler of Casus by Michael Trocchia
6. Noir Justice by The Brothers Sedeen
7. Drew by Brent Finnegan (Winner of Audience Choice for Best B/W Film)
Color
8. Chasing Shadows by Nicole Martorana
9. Myddfai by Martin Rees
10. My Love is Blind by Tim Estep & April Sedeen Estep (Winner of Best Color Film)
11. You Go To My Head by Lynda Bostrom
12. How To Reinvent Yourself by Jay Zehr (Winner of Best Color Cinematography)
13. Something Else by Chris Whitmore (Winner of Best of the Festival)
14. The Ride by Elliott Downs

The show starts at sundown on the courthouse lawn. See you there!

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Photos by Brandy Somers. Written content by Katie Mitchell. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

city legend gets a different drummer no. 20: bongo restaurant and lounge.

Something strange always happens.

Brandy and I were excited to attend the invitation-only pre-grand opening on April 18 of Bongo Restaurant and Lounge on South Main Street in Harrisonburg. We were greeted at the door by a friendly hostess who pointed us in the direction of the bar. Once settled on our stools, we ordered a couple of drinks and started chatting it up. Servers carried trays of appetizers around the busy restaurant while people mingled, laughed, and enjoyed themselves. It was a very comfortable atmosphere.

I turned to grab a quesadilla from one server’s tray when I heard her say, “Ms. Mitchell! I haven’t seen you in years!” It was Jordan, a former student of mine from way back when. I was instantly reminded of the time she helped me break up a fight between two kids at my school years ago…. Scratch that, she didn’t help me—she did it single-handedly while I stood there helplessly screaming, “Ladies!” at the two girls rolling around on the floor outside my classroom. It was a strange scene—the two girls were engaged in an all-out brawl complete with eye gouging and hair pulling… in total silence. It was like two mimes fighting. I asked a male student nearby to help me break it up and he just smiled and said, “No way.” Heh heh. And just when I was going to push the red oh-dear-Lord-someone-get-down-here-and-help-me button on the wall, Jordan sailed in (in my memory, she’s glowing and moving in slow motion) and ripped them off of each other. When I got back from walking the two girls up to the office, I noticed clumps of hair all over the floor. Ick. After that school year, I didn’t see Jordan again until this night. Small world.

Originally Lloyd’s Steakhouse (and same owners), Bongo serves traditional American classics and Latin American food. To guarantee a successful reinvention of the establishment, they hired celebrity chef Ricardo Cardona  to shape the menu and train the staff. Hailing from New York City where he serves as head chef to the New York Yankees and owns four Manhattan restaurants, Cardona brings twenty-five years of experience and skill to our friendly city. He even stars in the TV show Mission Menu, and Brandy and I got to interview him!!

But first we settled in at the bar to sample the goods. The all-girl bar staff offered three specialty drinks—a margarita, Bongo Punch, and sangria—as well as a few varieties of beer and wine. As this was their preliminary opening, they had a limited menu, but now their menu (they serve lunch and dinner) is extensive and they have a full bar. For their complete menu, visit the Bongo web site. We nibbled on all sorts of lovelies prepared by Chef Cardona, including chicken quesadillas with guacamole and sour cream; chicken and beef empanadas (what happy, puffy triangles!); the Bongo burger; meat on a stick with barbeque sauce; and chicken skewers, with which I managed to stab my tonsil. By the end of our binge we had quite a collection of sharp, pointy sticks, but before Brandy could get a photo, our conscientious bartender scooped ‘em all up.

Before long we were invited into the kitchen to meet Chef Cardona. We didn’t want to bring all our purses and raincoats and such into the kitchen, so we left our seats at the bar and asked a group of strangers to watch our stuff. Eh. It is the Friendly City, after all.

We introduced ourselves. “I do the photos!” Brandy announced. “I do the writing!” I added. And Chef Cardona replied, “I do the cooking… and the yelling!” He was a bit busy, so Brandy took a few photos and we got out of his hair.
A bit later he was able to sit down with us in a separate room, the lounge. The lounge is a really large room with an urban, swanky feel. A long
bar runs along the front half of the room with tons of seating in an adjacent dining area; the back half of the room is a spacious dance floor and a DJ booth. They host dance parties on Thursday and Friday nights—Thursday nights are for college students only—and Latin dancing on Saturday nights.

We were so excited to sit down with Chef Cardona, although he had just a few minutes before he had to get back to the kitchen. He explained to us that his role at Bongo is that of consultant. He lives in New York, where, as mentioned earlier, he owns several restaurants but also consults with other restaurants in hopes of improving them, which is the premise for his upcoming show, Mission Menu. The show’s five cast members, including Cardona, find restaurants in need of help and overhaul their menus to bring in new life and flavor. Cardona has done this for Bongo, too. He consults with the Bongo staff on a bi-weekly basis to help them consistently provide delicious and interesting food and build a strong customer base.
Since he’s spent so much time in the Burg, we had to ask him… “What’s your favorite restaurant here?” (Other than Bongo, of course.) He hedged a bit, stating that we have many, many wonderful restaurants (yay, Burg!!!), but his favorite is Clementine, with Beyond getting “high marks,” too. Ya can’t argue with that, can ya, Praserth?
So after lots of delicious food and a fun chat with the chef, it was time for us to call it a night. Thanks, Bongo, for the lovely evening. Visit them soon at 2455 South Main next to Kline’s Dairy Bar, open Tuesday through Thursday til 9pm, and Friday through Sunday til 2am.

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Photos by Brandy Somers. Written content by Katie Mitchell. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.