Friday, June 10, 2016

La Crosse, WI Day 2: A Pretty Garden and a Trip up the Old Man

Today, my 2nd day on vacation in La Crosse, Wisconsin, was both magical and profound.  I woke to the news that Muhammad Ali, a proponent of peace, was laid to rest in Louisville, Kentucky.  But the best part of the day was spent on the La Crosse Queen, a riverboat tour of the Mississippi River.  Before I boarded this incredible riverboat, I explore La Crosse's International Garden which was one of the most magnificent gardens I've ever seen.

The most incredible part of the day was when I took the La Crosse Queen riverboat tour up the Mississippi river to Winona, Minnesota.  The lakefront houses, the bluffs, and the Amtrack bridge were quite a sight to see.

I have to say that today was the greatest day I could have spent in La Crosse.  Although it was hot, it was gorgeous.  The weather was good, the scenery magnificent, and the hospitality amazing!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

La Crosse, WI Day 1: In the Air and Down By the River

I'm on vacation!!!  For the first time in 3 years I have a job that lets me have paid vacation time.  And the first place I wanted to visit after obtaining my new job was La Crosse, Wisconsin in the western edge of the state.  I've wanted to visit this city along the Mississippi River for years, just to see the city's famous bluffs.  La Crosse was named after the Native American sport that combines hockey, baseball, football and basketball but was created long before any of those sports gained prominence in the United States. 

After a 3 1/2 hour drive from Milwaukee, I arrived in La Crosse and headed straight for Grandfather's Bluff, the premier place to see the entire city along with the river.  They have a wonderful observation deck at the top of the bluffs where I was able to take many great photos of the city.  It was also incredibly relaxing.

After my visit to the Bluffs, it was time to check out the water.  I grabbed some lunch at a famous sub sandwich shop (not naming names) before heading over to the Black River where I saw some amazing houseboats making me very jealous that I don't own one. 

I then made my way down to Riverside Park, which is located off of  2nd Street and has an incredible riverwalk.  This is where the Black, La Crosse and Mississippi Rivers merge.

Along the riverwalk, there are many interesting statues which reminded me of when I visited Savannah, Georgia 3 years ago including an eagle and Hiawatha, the famous Iriquois leader.

I don't know the significance of the 3rd sculpture along the river of 2 children and their dog, but I might learn about them tomorrow when I go on the River Queen boat tour.

The most surprising thing I saw on the river today was a huge barge helmed by Marquette Transportation.

This is what they were transporting:

I'm in La Crosse for the next couple of days before exploring another southern Wisconsin attraction on my way back east.  More fun to follow!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Garden Art: Mitchell Park Domes' Art in the Green

Unfortunately, one of Milwaukee's greatest treasures, the Mitchell Park Domes, has been closed since earlier this year due to structural concerns that need to be addressed - to the tune of thousands of dollars.  The good news is, the "Show Dome" where the revolving displays occur throughout the year, re-opened earlier this month.  This weekend, to celebrate, the Domes had a free art show in the Show Dome as well as the atrium and the main greenhouse, where artists sold paintings, photographs, drawings and jewelry to the public.

Many of the paintings for sale coincided with the flowers and plants featured in the Show Dome.

In addition to the art work for sale, I got to see a lot of the region's natural flowers including beautiful Easter lilies.

And hydrangeas.

The coolest part of the art show was the outdoor art installation where 50 artists painted posies throughout our four seasons on 50 different canvases.

I'm so glad that the Mitchell Park Domes is, once again, open for business, even in its limited capacity.  It is a treasure for Milwaukee and often voted as one of its best tourist attractions.  We're so lucky to have such an amazing indoor garden right outside our doorsteps!

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Great and Tragic History of Rock Music in Wisconsin

Above all, even more than photography, my true passion is rock music.  I was raised on it.  I could name all 5 members of Fleetwood Mac and all 4 members of Led Zeppelin at age 10.  And the roots of rock music run deep in Wisconsin. 

The inventor of the electric guitar, Les Paul, was born in my hometown of Waukesha, and Prairie Home Cemetery has a wonderful grave marker for the innovator.  But that's not all that Wisconsin has added to the history of rock music.  Some of it is fantastic and some of it is truly tragic.
There are many bands that were founded in Wisconsin, including The Violent Femmes, The BoDeans (from Waukesha), Garbage (from Madison), Citizen King, and Bon Iver as well as Justin Vernon (from Eau Claire).  One of the most famous albums of the 90's was partly recorded in Madison, at Smart Records: Nirvana's Nevermind.  That's because the band's producer, Butch Vig, was born and lived in Madison.  A few years ago, the Wisconsin Historical Museum had an exhibition on Smart studio which featured a poster from that recording.

A documentary on Smart Studios was recently released, produced by Vig entitled "The Smart Studio Story" and features music by, not only Garbage and Nirvana, but Smashing Pumpkins, Death Cab For Cutie, and Killdozer.  The film has been showing around Wisconsin since April and will show at the Mile of Music Festival in Appleton in August.

But, along with the successes, Wisconsin has seen many rock n' roll losses.  In 1967, Otis Redding died in a plane crash in Madison's Lake Monona.  Monona Terrace has a plaque dedicated to the soul legend.


And, in August 1990, guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughan, along with many of Eric Clapton's band members, died in a helicopter crash after leaving the East Troy arena Alpine Valley due to excessive fog. I'll never forget where I was when I heard the news, on the way to summer marching band practice. On a lighter note, I had the great privilege to see Pearl Jam at the same venue in 2011 for their only U.S. concert to celebrate their 20th anniversary.

But prior to that tragic event and years afterward, Wisconsin has been home to the largest music festival in the world.  Milwaukee's Summerfest is 11 days of nothing but incredible music acts descending on our state, often before they become major stars.  And every year it gets better.  This year's performers include legends Willie Nelson, Billy Idol, Cheap Trick, Blue Oyster Cult, Sting & Peter Gabriel and Def Leppard as well as Fitz & The Trantrums, Ray Lamontagne, Barenaked Ladies, Elle King, Milky Chance and Luke Bryan.

The Marcus Amphitheatre is the main venue on the Summerfest grounds.  Recently, many stories have come out about Prince since his passing last week.  One of the nicest stories was when he played the Marcus Amphitheatre, and how he was so impressed with the venue, he made a public statement about it.  Thanks to his kind words, the Rolling Stones opened the festival last summer and Sir Paul McCartney will play there this year.

I know Wisconsin may not be as cool as California, New York or even Chicago, but I think the fact that we're smaller lends itself to a more close-knit music community.  Whether you're into rock, country, pop, folk or jazz, there is a festival for you, especially as we near the summer months.  For more Wisconsin music festivals, click here.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Theatre Royalty in Wisconsin: Lunt & Fontanne's Ten Chimneys

Tomorrow is May 1st.  And May 3rd marks the beginning of the tourist season at Ten Chimneys in Genesee Depot, WI.  If you are unfamiliar with Ten Chimneys, it was the summer home of acting legendary couple Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, both of whom are buried at Forest Home Cemetery.  I had the incredible opportunity to tour Ten Chimneys last summer, and it is the Wisconsin equivalent to Memphis's Graceland, which I don't use that term loosely.

For as little as $35.00 you can see where Lunt and Fontanne spent not only their summers while they worked on Broadway, but also became their retirement home which includes the main house, rehearsal space, pool and country cottage in the Scandinavian style.

By the 1920's, Lunt and Fontanne were the most respected theatre couples of their era, even earning the respect of fellow actors Lawrence Olivier and Helen Hayes.  They insisted on appearing onstage only together, and they created the most realistic onstage love scenes of any theatrical costars in history.

Genesee Depot was where Lunt grew up, and he had such a love for the area that he insisted his mother as well as his son & daughter-in-law inhabit the guest house, pictured above, especially when he and Lynn were working back east.

One of the most important gifts to the Broadway community has been the foundation of the Lunt-Fontanne theatre on Broadway, home to many critical and box office theatrical successes, in New York. 

Although you cannot take photos of the interiors of the buildings, the tour itself was extremely fascinating.  The most interesting fact I learned (and saw) was that, despite the fact that Lynn Fontanne was British, she loved Alfred and America so much, she decided to become a full American citizen and displayed the British and American flags together in their study.

In addition to the summer tours, there are yearly artist-in-residence programs led by some of Hollywood and Broadway's most prolific stars.  This year, it's time for "Seinfeld" star Jason Alexander to grace Ten Chimneys with his acting skills and knowledge.  Past residents have included Olympia Dukakis, David Hyde Pierce and Alan Alda.
For more information on Ten Chimneys, go to