Monday, July 19, 2010

31 Days- Summer Edition: Mural District

One of the hats I wear is as the Area Representative for an awesome Student Exchange Organization, and one of my responsibilities is... taa-daa... taking the students out for activities around town. I know, right? For all of those out of town friends who never visit me, don't worry, I can practice my "Where would take an out of towner?" answer on these unsuspecting kids while I wait for you to come see me.

Still waiting...

Anyway, in late may I had a few students who couldn't make it to our Art Hop walk, so I wanted to take them out for something really special and memorable that would be so OMGFRESNO that it would blow their international minds.

So, uh, duh, we went on a Mural Walk through Downtown Fresno's Mural District. Did you even know that we have a mural district? I was vaguely aware that yeah, there were a lot of murals, but I didn't know it was an actual thing until this spring.

We started at Iron Bird Cafe with some cold juice blends and took off, drinks in hand, to enjoy some of Fresno's finest public art, set against the backdrop of the businesses, studios and living spaces. Pioneered by artist and developer Reza Assemi, this part of the city has become a vibrant hub of artistic activity.

There is a map that shows where most of the murals are, so armed with that, a few pages printed about some of the artists that contributed to the pieces and an sense of adventure (hey, it's late May and we're walking in the afternoon, that is brave!) we took off. We didn't have to go too far for our first pieces, The Iron Bird Lofts are already known for their public art.

We headed down Broadway, Checked out the Econo Inn, Headed over to H Street to see the H Street Lofts and The Vagabond Lofts, Checked out the Broadway lofts, and went all the way to Tulare, where we fell completely in love with Broadway Studios (pictured) and KJWL's larger than larger than life Sinatra. (We had one of the host-dads along with us and I think this was his favorite of all!) Against the wall of the Cornerstone Church is a mural of sheet music for Amazing Grace.

We made out way back up Fulton and saw a lot of murals that aren't on this map yet, including some pretty cool alleyways. This isn't a tour you can't really enjoy by car, but would be perfect on bike. If you do decide to go and walk the Mural District allot a good couple of hours to really let yourself enjoy the pieces and have a leisurely stroll around. Probably not a good idea to do in 108° heat, either, so plan accordingly before you get out there and check it out.

(Photo is of exchange students Liza (Palestine) and Ploy (Thailand) with yours truly in front of the mural on Broadway Studios in the alleyway sandwiched between them and KJWL. I'm looking for host families for the 2010-2011 school year, let me know if you're interested!)

July has gotten the best of me...

Clearly the middle of the year is a more difficult time for a blog-a-thon than the fresh new beginning, oh I had such enthusiasm to start July off, and my list was so complete. I'll be working on catching up, but boy-howdy have things been busy around here. I guess the best way to prove my point that there is no excuse for boredom in Fresno is to live the busy Fresno lifestyle, right?

Sorry to disappoint (if you actually were following along) but expect all of those bloggies I had lined up for the whole month (all but the last day were filled in!) to find their way out into the blogosphere eventually! In the meanwhile, enjoy this city!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

31 Days- Summer Edition: Day 8- Old Town Clovis Farmer's Market

I've blogged about produce profusely. I love me some veggies, what can I say? But I do want to take a few moments to point out that Fridays in the Summertime are one of my favorite times because they mix produce and play at the Old Town Clovis Farmer's Market.

While it technically isn't Fresno, its close enough and lets be real- the fruit is coming from Fresno. And Sanger. And all of those little towns I forget exist because I'm a Fresnocentric spaz. So give me this, okay?

I love that you can go and get all of your fruits and veggies for the week and grab dinner in one place. I especially like that I can get Kettle Corn and consider it dinner. Want to shake your butt too? There is live music. Interested in running into an old acquaintance or two? Its bound to happen- I ran into half of the Hanson fan club I was part of in high school last week. (So, it was two people, how many people do you think liked Hanson? We were few but proud.)

Its great because the community really comes together. Everyone mills around, their kids play and dance together, and we get in touch with our local farmers. It was a highlight of the Summer for me growing up and it still is one of those surefire mood brighteners now. Get your produce on!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

31 Days- Summer Edition: Day 7- Meux Home

The Meux Home is a subtle reminder that Downtown is where Fresno really became Fresno.

It stands out on the corner of Tulare and R, a Victorian home that just oozes class and elegance.

And it's a museum.

And a wedding venue.

And a part of our story as Fresnans.

The house was built in 1888, the Meux family moving into it in January 1889, and it was occupied by a Meux family member until the 1970's. These days it is in the hands of the City of Fresno, and you can take a tour of it and get an idea of how people lived here over a hundred years ago. (Without AC!)

I love it because I like anything that requires passion to keep it around. This is a place that requires upkeep not only of the grounds but also of the memories and history around it. When I went for the first time as a kid I was amazed by the concept that Fresno hasn't always been the Fresno we live in today. A Lady's Chair? It filled my mind with the big ole dresses and corsets and awesome hair and hats and gloves and covered ankles. I had never thought about our community as being one of those kinds of places that had, you know... ladies. It helped me to appreciate where I lived at a young age.

Take a tour, see for yourself why this is one of Fresno's beautiful gems.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

31 Days- Summer Edition: Day 6- KJWL

Okay, so it may not be as cool with my generation as the time I posted about The Evening Eclectic on KFSR, but I can't fight this feeling anymore...

KJWL 99.3 is freakin' awesome.

Sure sometimes you get stuck in a Celine Dion back to back with Barbara Streisand back to back with Linda Ronstadt rut, but holy cow, despite the divas KJWL always delivers a completely Fresno-centric radio experience. Everything about this station is community oriented- one of the perks of being locally owned, no doubt. They host an Art Hop stop every month and give the featured artists and musicians air time, which I think is pretty awesome. (Also awesome is the GIGANTIC mural of Frank Sinatra by their back entrance.)

They have community oriented segments throughout the day like Eye on Education and Valley Jewels to remind us that whether or not we like Michael Bublé, we're all still part of this city together. And don't even get me started on how stinkin' rad Feleena Sutton is. I've had the chance to meet her and she is just so positive and amazing. (And that Bruce guy is pretty cool too...)

KJWL Shares space with KYNO in the middle of Downtown just steps away from the Fulton Mall, and I love them for keeping it Fresno and really making the space they're in a jewel. (Get it? I'm so punny.) Honestly though, I love them for a lot of things.

I'm sure I could say more, but I'm too busy rocking out to Baby by Bobby McFerrin right now. Who else plays that? NO ONE. Case closed.

Monday, July 5, 2010

31 Days- Summer Edition: Day 5- Sprinkler Playtime!

We like to moan about the heat in the Summer here, "Oh wah, its 184° in the shade." But really, all that a nice upper 90°s- 100° day is, is a chance to get your crazies out in the sprinklers. I was talking to a friend in Washington the other day about swimming and sprinkler time and she was jealous.

That's right.

Jealous of all of this heat.

So next time you wanna complain about the summer heat, just bear a few things in mind-

  • It isn't Florida-style, we have a mostly dry heat. So you don't need to grow gills to breathe.
  • You don't have soggy socks from all of the rainfall.
  • Short shorts? Yes PLZ!
  • It is the tradeoff for not having to deal with a super cold winter. I'll take heat ANY DAY over a freakin' snow storm. PUH-lease. This is a flip flops all year kind of town.
  • AND WE CAN PLAY IN THE SPRINKLERS! We're California's year round playground, so let's play it up!
I can't say it enough! Let your inner 4 year old wild! Get a slip n slide! You can't do this crap in Anchorage! And if it is too hot and your swamp cooler just isn't cutting it and you've got scabby knees and grass stains from all of the slip n sliding, we have cooling centers. Because heat, though fun for playtime, is still heat, and you can't let it think it has won.

Okay, I'm gonna give up on writing anything that makes any sense (probably, ironically, due to heatstroke...) and have one more romp through the sprinklers before bed.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

31 Days- Summer Edition: Day 4- Legion of Valor Museum

It is Independence Day, so this is gonna be short and sweet:

Legion of Valor Museum. Go there.

Snuggled inside the Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium, the museum is run by volunteers who are passionate about keeping the history of our country's armed forces alive and tangible. It tells a story that is universal, but is also deeply Fresno. I haven't been in for a few years, but it seems like every time I'd drop by there were always a handful of veterans hanging out, just ready to share their stories with anyone who would listen- one of the most valuable things about the museum. Waaaaay better than a History Channel marathon.

The collection of items ranges from uniforms and firearms to newpaper clippings and walls lined with photographs (my favorite part).

If you find yourself downtown with some time to spare, pop in. Admission is free, and it is open from 10:00- 3:00 Monday through Saturday.

Have a safe and happy 4th, everybody!

Image swiped from the Legion of Valor website. Check it out. Then go.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

31 Days- Summer Edition: Day 3- The 168

Okay, so this is something I haven't done much of- you know the whole argument that Fresno is a great place to be because of it's proximity to other places...

But really...

I'm just putting it out there, I LOVE the 168.

I love that it just skims the edge of town and then poof, you're headed off into happy camping/hiking/fishing/skiing land. I love that on a clear day you can see the mountains it leads you to so clearly and enticingly. Every time I drive across town on it I think to myself "Who would miss me if I just stayed on this freeway and went and made some s'mores and rocked out with the granite up near Huntington for the night."

My favorite part about the 168 is that it leads to my favorite place worth packing a bag for- Camp Tamarack. It's just below Huntington Lake and it is the place I spent all of my summers as a kid, and I've spent all of my summers directing camps as an adult. I can't look at the 168 without nostalgia washing over me and making me want a crisp Sierra meadow filled with lupine and evergreen and self discovery.

I can point out all of the places my old Accord broke down on that road while trying to get up there- and all of the places the Sheriff stopped to make sure everything was okay. I can show you the turns we always had to take SO SLOW because my sister would get motion sickness. I love this one particular flat slab of rock along the road on the mountainside and I smile whenever I pass it.

And I love the quirky places along the way like that one place with the chainsaw carved wooden bear.

I know it isn't technically IN Fresno, but the 168 is definitely a huge part of my Fresno experience, and I wouldn't let someone visit our part of the state without a drive or two up that highway to see some of the unbelievable beauty our region has to offer.

Where is your favorite place to camp/fish/ski/veg the heck out with a mug of hot cocoa along the 168?

Friday, July 2, 2010

31 Days- Summer Edition: Day 2- Dalton Mountain Gang

For some of the finest foot-stampingest, dance around and clap your hands bluegrass you don't need to travel far. The Dalton Mountain Gang's Fresno roots are apparent with every single note they play. I'm not a bluegrass expert (my knowledge begins and ends with Old Crow Medicine Show and Nickel Creek) but I can tell you this- bluegrass fan or not, you absolutely will love the Dalton Mountain Gang. And lucky you- they're playing a free show tonight at the Clovis Veteran's Memorial Square.

I caught up with bass player Paul Chesterton- my motto is always trust a man with a beard- and asked a few questions about the band.

How long has the band been together?
The band has been been around for about 4 years now, but we've been playing with the current lineup now for about 2 years and that's really when things took off for us. The chemistry and friendship of the people in the band really comes across on stage and we all just genuinely enjoy playing music with each other! We're also pretty new bluegrass players, in the scheme of things. I believe that this was the first actual bluegrass band that any of us had ever been in.

Where did you come up with the name Dalton Mountain Gang?
Well, the name isn't just some arbitrary "bluegrassy" sounding name. There actually is a Dalton Mountain and it's up in the foothills around Squaw Valley, East of Fresno on the way up to Sequoia National Park. Two of the founding members of the band lived on opposite sides of that mountain, so it just fit. Now the "gang" part comes from the reason the mountain got its name. Over 100 years ago, a group of brothers who robbed trains and banks, hid up there and had a shoot out with the authorities. They were called the "Dalton Gang" and some of their ancestors still live up in that area! So we added that little bit of local history into the name.*

How does living in the valley influence your music?
Well, traditionally, the Fresno area, much like Bakersfield, has been a hotbed for country and western swing music. Many of the older fiddlers and guitarists around here played in those kinds of bands over the years. We all learned to play bluegrass music from the local people here in jam sessions, bluegrass music festivals, and the like, so I think we got some of that old country and western swing flavor from those folks. Often, we'll mix in a little bit of country and western swing into our sets as well. Local folk/bluegrass/old-time music legend, Kenny Hall, has left a big impression on us as well! That man is known all around the world and plays here every week in Fresno!

Where is your favorite local venue to play?
You know, lining up our schedules has been pretty difficult, so we don't get to play many local gigs, but this will be our 3rd year playing the Bluegrass in the Park events that they hold in Clovis during the Spring/Summer on Friday evenings and we've thoroughly enjoyed it! Playing outside, on the grass, under the trees is just such a fitting place for this kind of natural, organic music! For the past 3 years, we've been a mainstay at the annual Hobb's Grove bluegrass festival, the last weekend of every September, and that's just a great event that we love every year!

And a fun one- It's your last meal ever- What Fresno restaurant would you have make it for you and what would it be?
Well, I can't speak for the rest of the band, but for me, I'd want Steak and Seafood Teppan-Yaki and some great sushi from the Japanese Kitchen on Shaw! But that's a tough one, because the Luby Chinese restaurant on Willow and Nees has amaaaazing Kung Pao! Maybe I could get them both to work together for a last meal! I'd die a happy feller!

Be sure to get your sweet selves out there tonight and come dance it out bluegrass style with me as we enjoy some incredible valley talent.

Friday, July 2, 2010
6:30pm - 8:30pm
Clovis Veteran's Memorial Square
901 Fifth Street
Clovis, CA

You can buy their brand spankin' new album here!

*I LOVE this about them!

Mike Osegueda got to them before I did, be sure to check out his piece, too!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

31 Days- Summer Edition: Day 1- Dick Contino

While in LA this last weekend for a Fresno Import turned Fresno Export's* wedding I found all kinds of reasons to love Fresno and reinforced a lot of my long-standing loves for Fresno. Of course, I could anticipate the hours of traffic and crazy drivers. I hadn't anticipated the Goodwill find that would send me careening into Fresno-based accordion lust.

We had time to kill, and there was a thrift store across the street, so I went with my ladies of the night, Cho and Elisa, to see what kind of haul we might be able to dig up and drag home. While sifting through the records, I immediately was drawn to one with serious crush potential. A hottie with an accordion surrounded by swooning girls, it's everything I look for in a record. It was to our utter pleasure to read on the back cover that Mr. Dick Contino is straight outta Fresno. The hottest guy to ever play that good old squeezebox, and he's one of

This has spurred a whole bunch of internet stalking and chatting my grandmother up, and the consensus is that Dick Contino was hot. And it wasn't just his own hometown supporting him either. In 1947, when Contino was 17 years old, Horace Heidt came to town with a nationally broadcast talent competition, and according to Contino's bio, "
Dick gave his rendition of "Lady of Spain" and the bobby-sox audience stomped, clapped, and yelled with frenzy, declaring him the winner by a margin of a full 30 points on the electric applause meter" Contino went on to have a hit single with "Lady of Spain" that made it to #47 on the charts, be a guest on numerous shows including the Ed Sullivan Show and even was in a few movies in the 50's and 60's, including Daddy-O. I especially like this video clip:

OMG, what a stud right?
Daddy-O was even resurrected from the vaults and made into a MST3K episode. And to think, he was a student at Fresno High, one of our own- MST3K'd.

Mr. Contino lives in Las Vegas nowadays, and it doesn't look like he makes it home much to play**, but he does still tour and make the music festival rounds. If you're reading this, Dick, I promise I will learn to polka if you make your way through Fresno and I'll be there front row!

If you have any stories about Dick Contino, I'd love to hear them. My parents and grandma got so animated when I asked them about him that I knew that my generation was definitely missing out on a major gem of Fresno's history.
I am so excited to have found something else to love about living in Fresno- hometown of the Accordion Virtuoso Dick Contino!

*Congrats, Ben and Aurora Pringle! I'd deal with LA traffic any day for you guys. Especially on the same weekend as the Electric Daisy Carnival. OMG some folks were TUH-rippin on the freeway! The wait isn't so long when the guy in the car next to you is freaking out about his hand's reflection in the rearview mirror.
**...but he does have a smokin' hot wife who can help your back itch with a salve.

All of my information came from the liner notes on the back on the album, Contino's website and the Wikipedia article.