Feature: Pinky and Maree Skorich

By Christa Lawler
Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune

Today, like every day, Dan “Pinky” Skorich and his wife, Maree, will exchange the kind of custom-designed affection that longtime couples develop over the years: Maree Skorich will tell him she loves him and Pinky, always the card, will respond that he loves her “more-ther.”

The Marble couple has had more Valentine’s Days together than most. In October they will celebrate 75 years of marriage, one of the longest unions in Minnesota. The secret to their lifelong relationship: “Joy and happiness and lots of laughs and good friends,” Pinky Skorich, 94, said.

There was a light rain on Oct. 23, 1937, when former Greenway football star Pinky Skorich married a quiet girl from Keewatin, the one he had determined was the cutest in her group of friends. There is lore attached to rain on a wedding day and the Skoriches won’t dispute it:

“They say it’s good luck,” Pinky Skorich said.
“We’ve sure had a lot of good luck.”

Pinky Skorich met Maree Vranesh when they were both out on the town in Keewatin with separate groups of friends. His older brother knew her older brother. Pinky Skorich ended up walking all the girls home that night, saving his future wife’s stop for last.

“She hit me with that arrow,” he said.
“He looked like a gentle person,” she said.
“She still loves me after all these years,” he said.

Pinky Skorich said he wanted to kiss her that night, but she wouldn’t let him. They hadn’t even had a proper date, she told him.

He has a tall tale he likes to tell about picking up the marriage license, which cost $2.25 in those days. Pinky Skorich claims to only have had 25 cents on him. Luckily, Maree had him covered.

“She was Quick Draw McGraw,” he said. “She had the two dollars. I still owe her!”

When the two were first married they lived in a small house on Pinky Skorich’s parents’ land in Calumet. He came home from work and found his young wife waiting with dinner.

“She was standing at the door with the most beautiful pan of spaghetti,” he said, then “the handle broke.”

He scooped up the pasta dinner off the floor and ate it anyway, he said.

Pinky and Maree, 95, have three children: Mike Skorich of Grand Rapids and Michele Picchiotti of Las Vegas are twins. Dan Skorich is a Duluth ophthalmologist. There are seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Pinky Skorich worked for the Burlington Northern Railroad and traveled a lot; Maree Skorich went back to school and became an assistant librarian at what was then called Itasca Junior College in Grand Rapids.

Dan Skorich said his parents always stressed the importance of family and sticking together.

“They were just always very loving and there for us,” he said. “The strength of their marriage was an example for all of us.”

The couple lives in the same house they have had for more than 50 years. Pinky Skorich writes poetry, a relatively new hobby. He collects the handwritten rhyming couplets in a notebook. They take about 10 minutes to write, he said. Maree Skorich has her favorites and when he reads one, she mouths the words along with him.

Maree Skorich sings. For many years she was a soprano in the church choir at St. Basil of Ostrog Serbian Orthodox Church in Chisholm, where they were married. When they were first dating, she would sing “Goodnight, My Love” to him. She still does. As she sings he gives her hand a squeeze, closes his eyes and joins in for a few lines.

They work on crossword puzzles together — in ink and without a dictionary. Maree Skorich’s vision has weakened and Pinky Skorich has trouble walking. He’s the talker of the group. She makes meals: spaghetti, pigs in a blanket, eggs and bacon and her signature apple pies.

She tucks him into bed every night.

“He never goes to bed without saying he loves me after all these years,” she said.

This story ran in the February 14, 2012, edition of the Duluth News Tribune.

 

Feature: Bigfoot in Moose Lake, Minn.

By Christa Lawler
Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune

Moose Lake area residents who claim to have seen Sasquatch will share their stories on an episode of “Finding Bigfoot” airing 9 p.m. Sunday on Animal Planet.

The team of researchers and television crew visited northern Minnesota in August to investigate a concentration of claims around the Kettle River. The hour-long TV program, in its second season, shows the four-person team touring the woods on all-terrain vehicles, meeting with residents, re-enacting anecdotal evidence, then doing their own investigation decked out with night- vision gear, jump suits and lures.

“I’m excited and a little nervous about what we’ll look like on there,” said Kristy Aho, who is featured on the episode with her husband, Dale, and four young children. They claim to have seen Bigfoot while partridge hunting in the area of Automba about three years ago.

Aho said her husband had gone into the woods to make a loop past some birds. The animal had been squatting, then jumped up, creating a loud crash. She described the being as human-like, upright on two legs with hands swinging down by its knees and about 8 feet tall. Then it took off running.

“The whole ground was shaking,” she said. “The four-wheeler was shaking. We saw it run by about 15 feet away from us. I was really scared. My mind knew it wasn’t my husband, but it resembled a human.”

The fight-or-flight instinct kicked in, Aho said, and they opted for flight. It took a while for Aho to feel comfortable going back into the woods, but she wasn’t uncomfortable sharing her story with the viewers. While the people featured on the show are earnest in their stories, to other people Sasquatch is no more than campfire lore on the level of the Loch Ness Monster and UFOs.

“You feel like people are going to make fun of you or put you down if you say you saw one,” Aho said. “It’s intimidating. But we know what we saw.”

Lorraine Tomczak is in the Aho’s camp.

“That doesn’t bother me,” she said of naysayers. “I was very fascinated that they would want to talk to me. I wasn’t worried about that kind of thing.”

CURIOUS CREATURE
Tomczak saw a creature on Carlton County Road 6, going west toward Automba about a year ago. She describes seeing a big ape with human features. She made sure the doors of her station wagon were locked.

“I was going into town that day and the thing was looking into a vacant trailer house,” she said. “He was, I don’t know, curious, like animals and people are.”

Tomczak and “Finding Bigfoot” researcher Cliff Barackman revisit the trailer during the episode and, using a tape measure, determine that it was about 9 feet tall.

“He was a big thing,” she said. “I didn’t know it was a male, but the lady on the road ahead of me said she had seen the family jewels. I said I didn’t look that close.”

Tomczak wants to see Bigfoot again. She has even had a dream about encountering an entire family of Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) and being allowed to hold a baby Bigfoot.

“I was fascinated by it,” Tomczak said. “It was something you don’t see every day.”

The investigative team includes two men who claim to have had Bigfoot sightings, according to their bios on Animal Planet’s website: Matt Moneymaker had his first encounter while camping in a swampy area in Kent, Ohio; James “Bobo” Fay has had multiple sightings, his first in 2001.

Cliff Barackman has only seen evidence of Bigfoot. Ranae Holland is the crew’s resident skeptic, a biologist charged with identifying the creatures behind recorded growls and broken trees.

She said she thinks the people featured on the program genuinely believe they have seen Bigfoot and would pass a lie detector test if pressed. But she also said she believes a lot of sightings can be explained and that it is likely other animals being misidentified.

“The human mind is a funny thing,” she said in a phone interview. “Shadows and the way a canopy can move and you see something – your mind will start molding things into an object it wasn’t.”

Holland grew up in Sioux Falls, S.D., and said time spent with her late father was time spent either testing stuntman gear or watching movies about UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster and Sasquatch. Part of her reason for being on the show is the connection to him. Part of it is the lure of a Bigfoot story and how it captures the imagination of children and fosters critical thinking. Part of it is pure curiosity.

“What’s out there that is creating this phenomenon?” she said. “That fascinates me. We can’t seem to get tangible evidence for me to say OK, I believe.’ I want to know one way or the other. That’s what keeps me going back out into the woods when it’s cold and I’m hungry. I want to see what these people keep telling me they’re seeing. They’re seeing something. OK, if Bigfoot is real, show your ugly, smelly face.”

This story ran in the Saturday, January 14, 2012 edition of the Duluth News Tribune.

Feature: Richard Rosvall, steampunk artist

By Christa Lawler
Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune

If you ever run into artist Richard Rosvall, there’s a good chance he’ll be wearing a dark bowler hat with handmade goggles of wood, leather and lenses set on the brim.

 It’s a bit of an “Around the World in 80 Days” look and it attracts attention, but not as much as some of his other creations would if they were trotted out in public: his collection of high-altitude breathing appa­ra­tuses, a hand cannon complete with a copper-coated toilet ball or a rifle that features the belled end of a clarinet.

For the past three years, Rosvall has crafted pieces of steampunk art – a style that takes items from the steam-power era and gives them a science-fiction tilt: items that re-imagine how people in the Victorian era might have envisioned the future. Rosvall’s work incorporates leather, copper, wood and the inner mechanical pieces of old typewriters and adding machines.

“It’s the stuff Jules Verne used to write about, looking at it from the hindsight of the 21st century,” Rosvall said. “People love to dress up. There is an appeal to the Victorian era. People were polite.”

Annie Dugan, curator at the Duluth Art Institute, said she is seeing more work and steampunk-themed events in this area in the last few years, including pub crawls and art shows. Friends of Industry, a collective of artists, hosted a show last summer. Limbo Gallery has also shown steampunk art. There is talk of a steampunk ball in the works by a handful of steampunk aficionados.

“It’s a perfect fit for our region,” Dugan said. “A lot of it is about invention and certainly creativity. I love the idea that northern Minnesota (cultivates) the sense that you’re cut off from the rest of the world. It’s this northern wasteland, and you have these bizarre machines coming out of that.”

ROSVALL’S WORK
Rosvall got into making steampunk art when his son, Erik Rosvall, commissioned a Halloween costume from him.

“Steampunk has been getting pretty big,” Erik Rosvall said. “I like the aesthetic of it, the idea of the clockwork stuff.”

At first it was just a mask and a weapon. It developed into body armor and hats and more masks, an eye patch and more accessories. Vegetable-tanned leather that has been wetted, molded and dried. Copper pounded with an anvil to make patterns.

Right now Rosvall is working on outfitting an entire flight crew for a March fashion show. He has part of a leather corset wrapped around a dress form, and he plans to incorporate a skirt and thigh holster, complete with one of his pistol props with wood pieces he fabricates or takes from wooden chair backs and detail work that includes cranks and levers from old clocks, typewriters and fishing gear.

His crew will sport the high-altitude breathing apparatuses he made, which have copper nose covers, leather straps, trunk-like nose pieces with a dollop from a colored scouring pad sticking out of the end of it. Hoses connect to belts.

OTHER STEAMPUNK ARTISTS
For Rosvall, the appeal is that he can make things inexpensively. He finds materials at thrift stores. Also, there aren’t any rules, just basic guidelines. That’s what other local artists have latched on to as well.

“It’s so nice that you can make it your own. There isn’t a lot of It has to look like this,’ or It has to look like that,'” said Patricia Peterson, who designs whimsical steampunk fashions. She showed pieces during an Occupy the Runway event in the fall. Her work includes dresses and hats.

“The Victorian lace and all the soft things, then you have the industrial, the metals and the really funky punk part of that really hard style, then bringing it together to make fun and interesting looks,” she said.

Eric Horn is working on a steampunk-themed graphic novel called “Chronicle.” He takes photographs of local models, sometimes wearing Rosvall’s creations, then draws over them to give it a comic-book look. Horn was recently part of an art show in which slides of his images were shown on a steampunk-themed TV: A wood-like frame shaped like an old-fashioned television and fitted with a white screen made by Gustave Campanini, whose approach to the art is to make large-scale things in the steampunk aesthetic, but using the decidedly un-steampunk material Styrofoam.

Getting into steampunk has caused a stylistic shift for Campanini, who was working with a lot of color and has challenged himself to give things a 1800s look.

“I try to keep it as simple as I can,” he said, “to work with natural tones. Everything I’ve been doing looks like leather and rusted metal. Usually when I paint, it’s been more like I have to make it look old.’ It’s been quite interesting and challenging.”

Eris Vafias, who operates Limbo Gallery, said she uses steampunk as inspiration.

“I enjoy symbolism and a lot of the symbols – keys, clocks, peacock feathers – associated with the steampunk genre happen to be symbols that I am either fond of or gravitating toward due to some personal association,” she said.

You’re only limited by your imagination, Rosvall says. He works nonstop on projects, and one idea can inspire four more ideas.

“I never expected that three years later I’d still be fooling around with it and having fun,” he said.

This story ran in the January 1, 2012 edition of the Duluth News Tribune.

Travel: Phoenix, Arizona

By Christa Lawler
Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune

The second-biggest mistake travelers to Phoenix make, the cab driver says, is renting a car from the wrong airport.

We’re on our way from Phoenix-Mesa Gateway (where we exit on the tarmac on a warm night, greeted by a cactus and a half-dozen wheelchairs) to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to pick up my mis-reserved wheels.

The cost for this lesson: $60+.

I took Allegiant Air’s inaugural direct flight from Duluth to Phoenix last weekend, an event that included sheet cake at the airport, a complimentary sleeve of golf balls and the words “maiden voyage” repeated so often that I was surprised there wasn’t a marching band. I spent about 65 hours in the Valley of the Sun, mostly downtown. I ate the most intense salsa I’ve ever had and was mistaken for a prostitute. I questioned Phoenix native Alice Cooper’s legacy and watched a car melt. I studied American Indian art and history and was left alone on a bus for 10 minutes while the driver ran in to Walgreens. I was charmed by Tempe’s Mill Avenue District and grossed out by the dirt undertones of the tap water.

And – because of another snafu with my car reservation at the second airport -I did it all by navigating the city’s decade-old Valley Metro light rail system and city buses. This was clean and convenient and gave me the chance to gaze at the surrounding mountains, hills and reddish rock formations, rather than following a GPS or my face pressed to a map. Smart phones, with access to public transportation routes and compasses, have made travel so easy that everything pre-2000 seems like an episode of “Little House on the Prairie” in comparison.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

The light rail system is easy. It’s efficient. It’s bicycle-friendly with hooks to hang them on in specified cars. The windows are tinted to block out the sun. And its passengers are oddly chatty. I hear conversations about the naming conventions of domestic airports and I see a man try to share a can of Tecate beer with a 19-year-old kid he mistakes for his nephew.

The buses, however, are empty. It’s just the driver and me heading into the foothills of the South Mountains. Toward the end of the trip he pulls over at a bus stop, mumbles something and jumps off. He leaves it running, doors open, and walks into Walgreens. This seems different. Dangerous, even.

For about the third time in my life, I wonder: “What would Sandra Bullock do?”

I get off the bus and stand next to it. The driver returns about 10 minutes later and we proceed without incident – though he doesn’t find jokes about bus theft very amusing.

BEST BRUNCH IN TOWN

The first meal of the weekend for both tourists and Phoenicians -and even Food Network star Guy Fieri, who has left his graffiti-style stamp on an inside wall -is at Matt’s Big Breakfast, a square brick diner where all morning long the sidewalk is crammed with rumbling tummies.

“There are 19 names ahead of ours,” a woman groans to her group. They don’t leave.

Most clusters gather on the somewhat shaded side of the building. It is already 85 degrees at 10 a.m. and the sun is pan-searing my blue Minnesota skin. It goes quickly, though. Will gladly trade a 45-minute wait in the slim shade of a street light in exchange for this day’s special: Three-egg scramble with chicken artichoke sausage and baby organic spinach bound with Fontina cheese. The wheat toast is cut as thick as a slab of beef loin and served with blueberry jam, a concentration of flavor that rivals chutney.

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

Aside from the crowd outside this small diner, there is little movement in downtown Phoenix on a weekend afternoon. It has the apocalyptic feel of downtown St. Paul, so many suits evacuating on Friday at 5 p.m. The voice of a busker, stationed on North Central Avenue and East Adams Street, bounces off the buildings and is heard blocks away.

Alternately, the Mill Avenue District – located a 30-minute train ride away in the adjacent city of Tempe -has brick sidewalks, is inordinately clean and is full of activity.

It’s a mix of chain and charm: Hooters and Five Guys Burgers, but also retro-style clothing store Hippie Gypsy and Old World Books, a used bookstore where a wizardly-looking man with a cane asks if he can help finding anything. I smile, say no and almost trip over a long-haired cat lounging in the stacks. Some of the restaurants with outdoor seating provide mists of water over the patio, so fine it feels like being sprinkled with cool powdered sugar.

I’m third on the scene of a car fire on Saturday afternoon, so close that at least three people ask if it’s my ride. The blue Nissan Versa has flames creeping from the hood to the windshield and the car seems to melt as the fire grows. The driver and a passenger escape with their things before firefighters snuff it using hoses and an axe.

There is an intriguing butte at the foot of the Mill Avenue train stop. The hill has a massive A on the side, visible from Sun Devil Stadium, home of Arizona State football. Dot-sized hikers can be seen walking, some running, up the winding path. I find a father taking his kids through a round of calisthenics and explaining the income levels of professional athletes. It doesn’t take long to get to the top, an elevation of 1,500 feet, with a view into the bowl of the Sun Devils’ stadium -though not quite the field. This is fine, as the Sun Devils are on the road this weekend. When airplanes from Sky Harbor fly over this butte, it seems like I should be able to read the pilot’s nametag.

FROM SHOCK ROCK TO T-SHIRT SHOP

Game nights must be wicked in downtown Phoenix, where the Arizona Diamondbacks play Major League Baseball at Chase Field and, when there isn’t a lockout, the Phoenix Suns host NBA games at US Airways Center. But this Saturday is quiet -except for a pub crawl of twenty-somethings prowling the city in Mardi Gras beads and fishnet costumes or oversized mascot heads.

A purely scientific question has been eating at me for days. Q: What would a restaurant and bar owned by metal shock rocker Alice Cooper look like? Word on the street is that servers have smears of black makeup under their eyes. A: Alice Cooperstown is a barbecue-themed sports bar and restaurant with an attached souvenir shop. It has T-shirt racks. And its owner, known for maybe or maybe not ripping the head off a live chicken then drinking its blood, closes up shop by 10 p.m. on a Saturday night.

Oh, Alice Cooper. How perfectly Coldplay of you.

MYSTERY CASTLE

The bus takes me a little less than a mile from Mystery Castle, which has a back story as interesting as its actual architecture. Boyce Gulley left his wife and daughter in Seattle in the 1930s when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He moved to the outskirts of Phoenix and began building a dream castle for his daughter, Mary Lou, using dirt, stone and the kind of stuff one would find cluttering a hoarder’s lawn.

The result was an 18-room, 13-fireplace home complete with secret coves and cubbies, built-in beds and tables, balconies and patios. It took about 15 years to build, and his estranged wife and daughter didn’t find out about it until after his death. They then spent the rest of their lives at the castle. Mary Lou died a year ago.

The castle sits in the foothills of South Mountain, a rocky formation with a view of a golf course and downtown Phoenix, but a half-mile from any sort of main road with nothing else around. The lawn is filled with bird baths, ceramic dogs, cactus plants and wagon wheels. Much of it is without electricity, the sun through recycled windows as its main light source.

HEARD MUSEUM

It’s a challenge to resign yourself to an indoor educational activity when it is 95 degrees out and sunny. In a mental tournament between the Phoenix Art Museum, Desert Botanical Gardens and Heard Museum. The latter, specializing in American Indian art and culture, wins. A temporary exhibition of Retha Walden Gambaro’s “Attitudes of Prayer” is a collection of smooth sculptures caught in contemplative and freeing moments. Also stunning is Steven Yazzie’s “Fear of a Red Planet: Relocation and Removal 2000.” It is a bit like an extra-large graphic novel-style mural, the story of the forced removal of Arizona’s native population told in panels on the wall in the Ullman Learning Center.

NOT FOR SALE

It would be a gross oversight to not eat Mexican food on this trip. I use a combination of proximity, Phoenix’s alternative weekly newspaper and the Yelp app to land at Comedor Guadalajara, located just off of downtown and next to nothing but a freeway exit.

The restaurant is a big room with a barn-style roof and the music system is piping pop music with Spanish lyrics about dancing and nighttime.

The pre-meal salsa is unreal. It’s so spicy it pinches parts of my tongue I didn’t even know existed and tickles my sinuses. The server keeps it coming. I have a combination platter that includes a cheese enchilada and dessert.

On my way back to the bus stop a truck honks at me twice, performs a U-turn, then pulls on to a nearby side street. The driver honks again, two short beeps. Then he drives past the stop, honks, pulls on to another side street, honks.

This is when I realize he thinks I’m a prostitute and I set a personal record in the 50-yard dash back to the restaurant’s parking lot.

LEAVING PHOENIX
Getting from downtown Phoenix to the airport in Mesa on public transportation would require an Olympic level of juggling luggage, trains and buses, so you really need a car. Since I don’t have one, my cab fare exceeds the amount the driver can accept using his archaic credit card system. This ends in a bargain: Buy a 45-mile trip, get 12 of those miles for free.

Phoenix has long been a hot spot for golfers and retirees, but I’d recommend it as a winter destination for anyone looking for a quick, inexpensive weekend getaway to melt off the layer of freezer burn that sets in about mid-February. I’d have liked to hike more, drive in the mountains and visit the kind of place where drinkers hitch horses to posts before bellying up to the bar.

The local NBA team’s moniker is no joke: The best thing about Phoenix is the sun. It gets an early start and stays up late and it feels great when it bores into your back. In Phoenix you are guaranteed bright days and temps considerably higher than in the Northland -though it is relative. On an 88-degree evening, a cab driver apologized to me for the cool weather.

“Buddy, you don’t even know,” I thought.

This story originally ran Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011, in the Duluth News Tribune.

Bayfront Blues Festival

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune
The second to last thing anyone would expect to see at a blues festival: A cover of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” The absolute last thing: The classic tune performed by a dream team of three nuevo-blues musicians who are easy on the eyes, hard on guitars.
Blues Caravan 2011 – Girls with Guitars featuring Cassie Taylor, Samantha Fish and Dani Wilde shook things up midafternoon Saturday during Bayfront Blues Festival. The ladies, who each have thriving solo careers, joined forces for a set that caused a ruckus among the thousands of fans who turned out for the second day of the event at Bayfront Festival Park.
They’re young. They have full voices. They have songs that run from girl power to social justice. They’re intense and rip up the stage. Taylor, the band’s bass and keyboard player, has bluesfest in her genes. She joined her father, Otis Taylor, on the stage a few years ago. Wilde, a guitar player and vocalist, is from England. Fish is a Kansas City girl who came into the limelight while playing the Chicago Blues Festival last year. 
Perhaps young Nick Roloff of Coon Rapids, Minn., summed up the spectacle best:
“They play better than the guys – and they’re hot,” he said.
The Roloff family ditched out of the show early for the meet-and-greet area and landed at the front of what would become a very long line. The Trooper Award goes to Nick’s mother, Colleen Roloff:
“I have to take a picture of my husband and two boys with the girls,” she said.
Here are other scenes from the 23rd annual bluesfest, which finishes with headliners Vicci Martinez and Beverly McClellan, who play at 5:45 p.m. today on the main stage.
BIG WALTER SMITH & THE GROOVE MERCHANTS
As long as there has been a Bayfront Blues Fest, there has been Big Walter Smith on the bill. The old man was dressed in all white and propped on a stool for a set that included songs like “Stand by Me” and “I Ain’t Drunk (I’m Just Drinkin’ “).
“Twenty-three years,” Smith said, counting his performances at the park. “Twenty-three years.”
The 81-year-old was the day’s first performer on the main stage and had a full lineup of musicians all dressed in white – a guitar player, a keyboardist, drummer, bassist, trumpet player, sax player and trombone player.
He had fans singing along to “Hey Hey The Blues is Alright.”
“He’s so warm and loving,” said Mary Anne Burns of Maple Grove, Minn. “He’s like our grandpa.”
SHE & HIM
Donna Herula tells breathless stories with the touch of a Midwest accent. But her music has a Southern style. Herula returned – this time with her husband, Tony Nardiello – for a show in the acoustic tent.
They teamed up for Lucinda Williams’ song “Jackson” and Herula showed off some of the Robert Nighthawk songs she covers on her second album “the Moon is Rising: Songs of Robert Nighthawk.”
Following that, Peter Karp & Sue Foley performed songs from their album “He Said/She Said,” which is taken from letters they wrote back and forth while on the road, after meeting years ago at a blues festival.
Karp is a writers’ songwriter, with interesting lyrics that sometimes lean a little sexy. Foley has a deceptively pretty voice. Together they have a twee sensibility, like a bluesy She & Him.
CHASTITY BROWN
Chastity Brown, a Memphis girl-turned-Minnesotan, couldn’t sign on to the “sit down and play nice” style of the acoustic tent. She finally had to kick her chair aside and stand up and dance, her cowboy boots moving and tapping. Brown has a big soulful voice that sounds like her guts are being squeezed.
Andi Spike, a blogger from St. Paul, is a blues fan who was covering the event for her fashion-music-vegan living website Bunny Warrior. She favors young blues musicians, she admitted, and said she likes the way they incorporate modern influences.
Spike said Brown was her early pick for a favorite of the day.
“I think she was the best I’ve seen,” Spike said. “She has surprised me the most.”
This story originally ran in the Duluth (Minnesota) News Tribune on August 14, 2011

Daily: Joe Mauer sighting

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

 Joe Mauer’s putt stopped inches from the hole on No. 18 at Northland Country Club. The Minnesota Twins star took a gimme.
“Someone should tend the flag for him,” a woman remarked from the veranda.
Mauer, a four-time American League all-star and 2009 AL
Most Valuable Player, has spent part of Major League Baseball’s All-Star break in Duluth. The Minnesota native, who grew up in St. Paul, said Tuesday it’s his first trip to the area.
Mauer made his comments Tuesday evening in an impromptu media moment as he finished a round with a woman he would identify only as his girlfriend. Buzz around town suggested the woman was a schoolmate of Mauer’s at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul and also had attended the University of Minnesota Duluth, but Mauer would not confirm that.
He also did not discuss his performance on the greens.
“I didn’t try to keep score,” Mauer said. “I’m just trying to relax. Trying to lay low. I guess that didn’t work out too well.”
The local Twitter contingent posted Mauer sightings starting with Burrito Union, where he had stopped for lunch (he had two chicken tacos, according to the staff). He was allegedly spotted at a handful of locations: Portland Malt Shoppe, Sir Benedict’s, Hawk’s Ridge.
Word spread quickly that Mauer was at Northland Country Club. About a dozen teenage boys, the course’s staff members, ejected trespassers from the parking lot and along the course. They had kicked out about 20 people, mostly boys and a few girls, they said. But that didn’t mean they weren’t a little giddy about catching a glimpse of the athlete.
Bag boy Zach McKinnon worked up a little ditty about it, which got equal parts laughs and groans from his friends:
“Here at Northland, it’s not amateur hour, it’s Mauer hour.”
“We’re just going to act a little normal and get some autographs hopefully,” McKinnon added.
Michael O’Connor, whose father Joe O’Connor is the pro at the private course, admitted it probably isn’t the most fair thing in the world, but he got to shake Mauer’s hand.
“He’s a Minnesota boy,” Michael O’Connor said. “Humble, great guy. He was wearing his golf glove when we shook hands.”
By the time Mauer got to No. 17, pockets of gawkers had gathered. Women from around the state playing in the Northland Women’s Invitational hung out on the veranda with cameras aimed in Mauer’s direction.
“We came off on the 18th hole and he was teeing off,” said Robin Stewart, a golfer from the Twin Cities area. “It was good. I heard some guys from the pro shop saying Oh, that was a beautiful fade.'”
Paige Bromen was on the driving range with Mauer, who was getting a lot of attention.
“I just let him do his thing,” she said. “I was working out my own kinks.”
After No. 18, Mauer’s girlfriend drove off with the cart. He walked up the grass toward media and fans wearing a light blue and white mesh baseball cap, sunglasses, a white collared shirt, khaki shorts and Nike shoes.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” he said of the crowd and cameras.
Mauer said he doesn’t golf much and when he does it’s in Florida. He said he liked the different elevations of Northland Country Club. He took some photographs on the course with his Nikon.
He greeted fans, signed autographs and posed for photographs.
“I’m shaking,” said Amy Loftsuen.
“We were just eating dinner,” she said making air quotes around the words “eating dinner.” This was no coincidence: She and her friend Alix Hyduke had heard Mauer was at the club.
Kyle Chmielecki, a caddy, just happened to be wearing his Twins cap and got it signed.
“I’m never washing my hand again because Joe Mauer shook it,” he said.


This story ran in the July 13, 2011 edition of the Duluth News Tribune.

Music review: Trace Adkins concert

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

Trace Adkins doesn’t write his own songs. He doesn’t move much on stage. He had a guitar that he didn’t hold much, and when he did he just fiddled.
But the country singer has a amassed a collection of hit songs – keg-glass and heck-raising tunes and nostalgia soundtracks – that fans in sleeveless shirts, cowboy hats and calf-high boots want to whoop to. He also has a body like a roadhouse bouncer and a voice so deep it sounds like a record being played a setting too slow.
The star who busted into the scene in the mid-1990s played a
90-minute show for about 3,200 fans on about the best summer night one could ask for at Bayfront Festival Park.
Adkins opened the show with “Whoop a Man’s Ass,” standing center stage in tight black jeans, a tight blue shirt and a black cowboy hat with a long ponytail hanging down his back. While he sang, videos for his songs – some that
appeared on the likes of CMT, some that seemed special to the tour – played on a screen behind him. His band was pushed to the back and sides of the stage.
On “Marry for Money” and “Chrome,” he showed off his growl, hitting bassoon-level depths.
“You’re Gonna Miss This” drew the most amateur video, with tons of cell phones trained on the singer as he sang the slow carpe diem ballad.
He sang “Just Fishin’,” the first single from the album “Proud to be Here,” which comes out on Tuesday. He pointed at the screen and told the audience that his young daughter stars in the heart-tugger about a daddy and his little girl.
Adkins hit his peak toward the end of the show with a cover from the song “How Long,” a hit from the 1970s by Ace. He took his hat off, let his hair down, and rather than stoic guy manning the door seemed taken with the lyrics, his arms raised, pitching forward and back.
. He stayed in that mood for “One in a Million,” a song made popular by Lou Rawls.
In an interview last week, Adkins attributed the longevity of his career to surrounding himself by people who really know what they are doing.
He’s also got good instincts. Adkins closed the show with the C&W response to “Baby Got Back.”
“Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” was introduced as a love song, included strobe lights and had the audience on their feet and singing the chorus.
He sang “Dirty White Boy” for his encore, which didn’t quite match the fervor of “Badonkadonk.”
Relative newbie Glen Templeton opened, a Nashville singer who has made inroads with his ability to channel Conway Twitty. Twitty’s relatives approached Templeton about playing the country legend in a traveling musical a few years ago. Templeton included a mini montage in his hourlong set, taking his vocals a little lower and ramping up his growl for bits of “Slow Hand” and “Don’t Take it Away.”
Templeton, a Cobain-blond in mirrored sunglasses, played Southern rock songs from his debut studio album “GT.” He mixed in an eclectic handful of covers, including “Interstate Love Song,” which worked, “Every Rose Has its Thorn,” which worked better, and Sublime’s “Santaria,” which was clunky and sounded more like a favored song for shower karaoke.

This review ran in the July 30, 2011 edition of the Duluth News Tribune.