Minnesota music

Seattle = Grunge. Greenwich Village = Folk. Memphis = Blues. Minnesota = music’s best kept secret.

Home to The Trashmen, Judy Garland, Bob Dylan, Prince, The Replacements, Soul Asylum, Semisonic, The Jayhawks, Atmosphere and a host of hip-hop artists on the Rhymesayers label, Minnesota has produced stars from virtually every era of popular music.

Rich in diversity, visitors can typically find a variety of music playing around town any night of the week. With a quick search, I found 118 different bands, trios, solo acts and the like playing on Friday night in the Minneapolis – Saint Paul area. If you are in town and want to experience a booming music scene, consider my personal favorites:

First Avenue – The creme de la creme of all Twin Cities clubs, First Ave. is the CBGB of Minneapolis. With pitch black walls on the inside, the crowd ranges from tattoos and piercings to hoodies and hightops depending on the night. Large bathrooms are upstairs in addition to the First Ave. Twitter stream which runs continuously on large screens by the second level bars. Bonus: First Ave. admission means you can also check out 7th Street Entry.

7th Street Entry – The baby sibling attached to First Ave., 7th Street Entry is the starting place for bands. A few make it, most don’t, but you get to hear a range of incredible music in a space no larger than your living room. If late night clubbing isn’t your style, 7th Street offers many all-ages or 18+ early shows that put you in bed before 10:00 p.m. Tip: pack earplugs. The size of 7th Street means ringing ears the next day if you don’t care for your hearing.

Turf Club – This club is like your favorite pair of worn shoes. You should give them a good shine, but it would take away the character. A shotgun club with a lower level lounge decorated in Minnesota kitsch, The Turf is where the local musicians hang out if they don’t have a gig. Reasonable cover at the door keeps the place usually packed. It’s also the club that local bands use for trying new material out on smaller, more intimate crowds.

The Cabooze – Hosting tribute shows and bands traveling post-outdoor festival season, The Cabooze in Minneapolis is most notable for its interior space. A large dance floor, tables and chairs, plus a comfy sitting lounge overlooking the stage make The Cabooze a great place to see music or mingle with friends.

The Artists’ Quarter – Located in the basement of the Hamm Building in downtown Saint Paul, The Artists’ Quarter feels like a speakeasy. National acts, local legends and B3 Organ Night make this club a place you’ll want to hang out. Downtown professionals, music professors and students from McNally Smith College of Music are standards in the crowd. In town over the holidays? The Artists’ Quarter is one of the best New Years Eve parties in Saint Paul.

Dubliner Pub – Closest thing to a pub in Dingle, Ireland, the Dubliner features foot-stomping Irish music six-nights a week in a no frills bar. And they pull your glass of Guinness correctly. Best part? There’s never a cover.

The Dakota Jazz Club – This club serves dinner with your jazz. It’s polished and perfect if you want to dress-up and do the town to see some of the best jazz musicians on tour today.

Kitty Cat Klub – On the East Bank of the University of Minnesota in Dinkytown, there is a lounge club like no other called The Kitty Cat. Velvet sofas, lampshades and oriental rugs set the scene for solid music that is typically free on the weekdays, or if you go early enough for food on the weekends.

Lee’s Liquor Lounge – This is my favorite spot to see honky-tonk. Johnny Cash just sounds better in Lee’s. And the dance floor is always full of regulars who make-out or square dance-out the evening in front of the band. The old guy behind the bar is Louie, the owner, and he runs a tight ship. Be sure to check out his impressive collection of Elvis memorabilia hanging throughout the place.

Mayslack’s Bar – Nice-sized stage with a small dance floor, Mayslack’s is a great old building with solid music. If you go, try the roast beef sandwich.

Nye’s Polonaise Room – Voted the Best Bar in America by Esquire magazine in 2006, Nye’s is a mix of polish sausage, country blues, a polka band and a piano bar. The vinyl booths and orange/red 1960s decor are the icing on the cake.

For a full listing of music in the Twin Cities, look for the City Pages on free newsstands or visit www.citypages.com.

Read my take on Soundset, one of the largest hip hop festivals in the Midwest, hosted in Minneapolis by Rhymesayers.

Have more than one night to spend in Minneapolis-Saint Paul? Check out The New York Times city recommendations.

Paris six feet under

The majority of people who look at my pictures from the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris say the images remind them of the Saint Louis Cemetery in New Orleans. The Big Easy is definitely on my travel list, but until I get there, Pere Lachaise is still the mecca of cemeteries that I’ve seen in my lifetime.

You might think that touring a cemetery is morbid, but I visit cemeteries with the same attitude I would at any memorial. It is a place to honor the lives of those who have passed, learn some history about the era in which they lived and admire the architecture before you.

Pere Lachaise is steeped in history.  The brainchild of Napoleon, the cemetery opened in 1804, and there are over 300,000 people buried there today. The cemetery was considered too far from the center of Paris when it first opened, so a campaign emerged to get more funerals on the property. The strategy was to move the bodies of famous Parisians to the cemetery, beginning with Jean de La Fontaine, a French writer and poet, and Moliere, a popular French playwright and actor. The marketing worked, and common Parisians clamored to be buried near the rich and famous.

Oscar Wilde’s grave was a favorite, with lipstick kisses firmly planted on every inch of his memorial. Edith Piaf’s grave was laced in flowers and photographs the day I was there, which put “La Vie en Rose” in my head for the rest of my walk. Max Ernst, Gertrude Stein, Frederic Chopin – many of the greats are laid to rest in this picturesque place, making it a definite stop on your Paris tour.

I’m probably the only person who has been to this cemetery and not visited Jim Morrison’s grave. It wasn’t because of my disinterest in paying homage to The Doors lead singer. I just got lost trying to find it. Pere Lachaise is over 118 acres and easy to get turned around in. If you decide to visit the cemetery, I highly recommend checking out the online virtual tour at the cemetery’s website and buying a map from one of the shops across the street from the cemetery before entering. You can also preview Rick Steves’ walking tour of the cemetery in addition to his Paris iPhone and iPad apps.

Note: Another great resource of traveler’s comments can be found The New York Times Paris Travel board.

Canadian wine country

When I read the Sunday paper, I typically look at the travel section first. Yesterday was no exception. I curled up with my iced coffee and The New York Times. As I pulled open the travel pages, I saw the picture of a rolling valley first, and the headline second. The New York Times had found Canadian wine country.

That’s not a typo. Canada has wine country, and this little known secret rivals the French, Italian or Australian bottles we buy here in the States.

My husband and I based in Oliver, British Columbia and traveled the Okanagan Valley in 2008. The area starts just a few miles over the border above Washington State, and spans 155 miles around the 84-mile Okanagan Lake. Contrary to popular belief that Canada is a frozen tundra 12-months a year, the Okanagan Valley is actually mild, with January temperatures averaging 60 degrees, and summer temperatures creeping into the 90s.

Oliver is named after Premier John Oliver, the premier who lead his administration in developing the Okanagan Valley for produce production in the 1920s. The idea was to irrigate the area to increase agriculture and decrease rail freight transport costs of produce products. I grew up hearing story after story about John Oliver because he was my great-great-great uncle, and the most notable person that came from the Oliver side. I’ve also been told that the conservative, God-fearing premier is rolling over in his grave right now knowing that the land he created for farmers evolved into a valley flowing with wine grapes in the late 1960s/early 1970s.

There are the kitchy and marketing savvy estate vineyards like Blasted Church and then the subtle vineyards that sell on reputation. My favorite in the later category was Marichel Vineyard that we happened upon by accident. The view of the valley below looked lovely from the road, and even though the vineyard looked closed, we drove up the driveway to see if we could peak over the fence to see the Okanagan Lake below. Before we were even out of our car a man in his 50s came out of the gate smiling, and asked if we wanted to look around. An entire vineyard to ourselves? I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

The scenery below overlooking the river valley was stunning and I was able to talk with the owner about his wine production. He was also gracious with samplings and I walked away with a few bottles of the best Viognier I tasted on my trip.

The wine that was the nicest surprise was the icewine from the region. Known for being picked in the cold winter months, the wine is thick with a medium sweetness. It quickly became a daily aperitif to open the palette.

If you head to our northern neighbors, stay in Oliver. It’s smaller than the larger neighbor, Kelowna, and has many wineries within easy driving distance. There are 30 wineries within 15 minutes of Oliver and over 100 to see in the Valley. It makes for a full two days, depending how many times you stop and what your wine sampling and driving limit is. We rented a cheap motel on the main drag across from a grocery store and grilled out every night on the motel’s patio. It was simple food with a fantastic wine selection from our day of winery visits.