Tonight's cultural walk took me across the railroad tracks to Hardywood.
That's right, I walked 1.7 miles in the dark and cold to a brewery despite the fact that I don't drink beer. The reason? I did not want to miss Samson Trinh and the Upper East Side Big Band performing music from their Christmas project.
Arriving at the brewery, the door was magically opened for me by a friend who greeted me with, "Good evening, young lady." I rewarded him with a hug from my cold hands. All I could smell was the overwhelming scent of hops, not a favorite of mine.
He'd just arrived, too, so we both caught the end of the big band's first set, namely the Beatles' "Oh Darling" followed by Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child," both sung by Laura Ann Singh (looking wonderful in a black dress with a red and green scarf) of Miramar, with backing vocals by Adrian Duke on keyboard.
During the break I chatted with a former neighbor who introduced me to the big band's sax player, saw a favorite actor kissing air and ran into yesterday's birthday boy, whom I immediately asked for a ride home. All around me, people clutched cups of gingerbread stout as if it were their lifeblood.
After repeated entreaties from the stage for the sax player to join them, the big band began a sultry take on Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" which soon morphed into a swingin' rendition.
Who wouldn't feel in the spirit listening to this?
The next song was penned by bandleader Samson and according to singer Laura Ann, was so catchy, "You might try to go to sleep and won't be able to after you hear it" After teaching the crowd the chorus so we could sing along, she instructed, "Don't be a turd! Sing it" and the crowd obeyed.
Except for the turd part, she'd been spot on; the song was poppy and infectiously catchy. An ear worm even.
Introducing "Christmas, Don't Be Late," a song I know because of the Chipmunks' version, Samson shared that they'd played it this morning on the radio with DJ Bill Bevins who'd called the song by the wrong name. Still, their version beat the Chipmunks' by a mile.
Asking, "Who's never heard of the Upper East Side Big Band?" a few people raised their hands, including the trumpet player, unbeknownst to Samson. I'd seen them before, so my hand stayed down.
He said that their Christmas project album had been eight years in the making and that they hadn't played the next song in eight years. It was irrelevant because the classic Charlie Brown tune "Christmas Time is Here" sounded fabulous live.
Their version of "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays" was swinging in a way that the Carpenters' cover never did. I don't think Karen carpenter was the swingin' type. Well done, guys.
"When I brought in the charts for "Merry Christmas, Baby," our next song, everyone was scared of playing it," Samson said by way of introduction. Looking back at his band, he amended that. "Never mind, we're going to go on. I didn't put the music in their binders."
Instead, they played a Beatles medley from Abbey Road, including "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," closing out the night with the band whose altar Samson worships at. It was a fitting close to a terrific set of music.
Smelly hops aside, what could be a better way to get into the holiday spirit than listening to local musicians play songs from their brand-new Christmas album? I'd even say that the music was well worth the walk.
Walking out, I spotted Jackson Ward neighbors, gingerbread stout in hand, and paused to wish them happy holidays before catching my ride home. 1.7 feels a lot longer and colder after the show.
Then it was on to the Blue Goat, a place I hadn't been since they abandoned nose to tail for a mainstream West end menu. The preppy crowd looked right at home while overhead, the sound system blasted the Galactica Pandora station, meaning plenty of funky soul, including forays into Edgar Winter. And, you know, it worked.
A suggestion from the staff led us to something different, namely Biggio Hamina Cellars Cougar's Mark Pinot Grigio, a substantial orange wine. Since Blue Goat has more than its share of cougars, someone mentioned the frequency of leopard print garments on any given weekend night. Easy to imagine, but not something I need to witness.
For dinner, I chose shrimp panzanella, a salad of bibb lettuce, bacon, shrimp, grape tomatoes, cornbread croutons and bacon vinaigrette, a satisfying melange of flavors but with an insufficient amount of lettuce. Come on, give me a full serving of greens if you're going to call it a salad.
The place was bustling - a group of suits at the chef's table, the bar almost entirely full, a couple sharing their bottle of wine with the manager - but the well-placed sound system ensured that the music was always front and center. For that, they get points. For the bland crowd, not so much.
We lingered so long blathering - what happened to journalistic integrity, should you confit or smoke chicken before frying, what happens to old bathing suits - that some last minute stragglers saw us and came in. Without telling them not to be a turd, the bartender warned them that they could have one round only. The guy in the white pants didn't look happy about that.
From where I sat, they looked like the types who had never heard of the Upper East Side Big Band. No surprise there.
They did look like they'd appreciate a good cougar, though.