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It’s tough when you peak at 19. Five years ago I spent the summer living in Ireland and I have yet to experience anything quite like it since. From tall pints of Guinness in cozy, dimly lit bars to hiking in a downpour on sheep sh*t-soaked hillsides, I really can’t pick my favorite moment (and yes, the latter is absolutely in the running).

I knew little about Ireland at the time, but I was so greatly captivated by the town of Dingle in the southwestern county of Kerry. It was a quiet seaside community and the spot on which I witnessed the final game of the 2006 World Cup. That night was epic (picture verbal sparring matches with 12-year-old France fans, taking my victory lap around the town square, and an all-night saga of debauchery, drinking and merriment).

Little did I know that Dingle has also captured the hearts of some of the world’s most renowned musicians, and every year the town hosts the “Other Voices” music series, filmed each winter at the 200-year-old St. James’ Church. Some of the top names have included James Blount, Amy Winehouse, Florence and the Machines, Glen Hansard, Coldplay and more. In fact, many of these great artists take time to remain in Dingle to write and compose because the city fills them with such powerful inspiration.

Last week ‘Other Voices’ brought a blend of culture and soul to NYC and we celebrated at a private luncheon at New York’s 3 West Club. Take a look at The Lost Brothers, who gave us a very exclusive performance and be sure to make a trip to Dingle, where you can hear live Irish music 365 days a year. To me, nothing sounds more like heaven.

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Ahh just another night in Vegas. One minute you’re at a formal awards gala eating beef short rib and lobster tail (all part of the job) and the next you are in the front row for a Foster the People concert. It’s good to be with the media. It’s good to be in Vegas.

I’m staying at The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, the newest hotel to open on The Strip. After three visits to Vegas this year I can begin to consider myself a bit of a connoisseur and I can say with certainty that this is my favorite hotel. It’s different for Vegas. Sure, it has your all-you-can-eat buffet, and outposts of some of the world’s best restaurants, and a nightclub but….where is the casino? Normally in Vegas hotels the casino is shoved right up your….something…that makes it impossible to avoid. Not at The Cosmopolitan. Yes, of course one exists. This is Vegas, after all, but it is located on the ground floor, away from the majority of the specialty restaurants, pools and conference facilities. You can only get there if you really want to find it.

The hotel’s focus is music, which I can totally get on board with. Several of the bars have DJs spinning every night, the Book & Stage bar/restaurant has a live band, the Chelsea Ballroom can accommodate up to 4,000 people for concerts, and The Boulevard Pool can hold up to 3,000. Music is always thumping from the exclusive Marquee Dayclub/Nightclub, but you best be dressed as naked as possible if you have even a shot of getting in.

My idea of a perfect Cosmopolitan night? Start with cocktails at The Chandelier, a three-floor bar dripping with crystals. After a sexy cocktail grab dinner at Blue Ribbon Sushi. Tip: Sit at the sushi bar and watch the masters at work. My dinner companion was a lobster chilling on ice, still alive. He wasn’t much of a conversationalist, but if he could speak he would tell you book your stay around one of the many fantastic concerts that the hotel hosts (like Mumford and Sons and Foster the People).

Check out my live video of the Foster the People concert at The Boulevard Pool. Flashed my press pass and got to the front row. (Note: You will see in the video a giant speaker blocking the lead singer. I write for a travel trade magazine, not the New York Times).

I made the observation a year ago that Memphis looks slightly different in the daylight. Nights are blurred and swirled with beads of sweat, booze and music that reminds you of black magic. After dark in Memphis is when you let that seedy part of your soul out.

But the day time is much different. It’s far less sultry. Unless, of course, you are Ms. Zeno. I stumbled upon this buxom diva in a small courtyard off of Beale Street. She caught my eye as she belted out the blues holding the microphone between her enormous breasts. Despite the hilarity, this woman’s got pipes. Check her out!

I’m a Yankee. Born and bred. I love sushi, New York City, and about a hundred other things Northeastern and bourgeois. But, like most great country love songs go, the South has a very real piece of my heart.

I fell in love with what is often said will “rise again” a year ago in Memphis. Since then I made a trip down to Birmingham, and most recently I drove from my beloved Memphis to New Orleans, which only solidified the obsession. Personally, I don’t see what about the South has fallen. For those of you who are not yet Southern converts, I must ask you: why the f**k not? What do you have against the Blues? Or Jazz? Or a pulled pork sandwich oozing with spicy barbecue sauce and mounted, almost pornographically, by a dripping, cold heap of fresh cole slaw? God…take me back where I belong!!

But I digress.

If you should find yourself on a similar soul searching journey to parts of our country below the Mason Dixon, I am a firm believer that you must do so in August. August, she says?! In the South? Madness. And yes, my friends, yes it was hot. But also…cheap. And when you are a writer on a road trip, cheap is always ideal. But August just happens to be the time of the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Clarkswhat? If you haven’t heard of Clarksdale, it’s that spot right at the crossroads of Highway 61 and 49, where famed Blues virtuoso Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his panty-dropping musical ability. Clarksdale is also the hometown of Sam Cooke (of Chain Gang fame). What better spot to enjoy some out-of-this-world Blues and Gospel music from a bill of no-names who sing better than anyone I have heard on the radio.

The Festival is free and runs for three days on a grassy field right next to the Delta Blues Museum (admission is $7 and completely worth it). Food stalls line the field selling everything from rib tips to chili cheese fries. And the beer is flowing. And the music will haunt you in the best way possible as local librarians or waitresses get up on stage and belt with all of their might the songs that they have heard for generations and generations, and no one will ever know their names. But their fans are local, and that’s all that seems to matter.

Barbecue, Blues and Beer. The South holds its head high still.

There has been a lot to fret over lately. The headline in today’s Daily News mentioned something about 401(k)s taking a hit after the Dow plunged 512 points. What’s happening with the debt crisis? What the hell is going on in Syria? But most importantly….what happened to Meg D?

Rest assured, friends. It has been a long (…okay VERY long…) hiatus, but I can say with confidence that I am back baby. Inspired by my good friend Lauren E., who has her own successful food blog (seriously, check it out www.laurenfoode.com, it’s pretty great), I thought I’d take some time to revisit with you fine people.

Next week I embark on a clash-of-cultures, all-you-can-eat-and-drink, groove-to-the-music road trip from Memphis through Delta Blues country and down into New Orleans. Can you smell the BBQ sauce and beer oozing out of my pores, yet? I sure as hell can. Anyway you may be interested to know that both the party-heavy Beale Street in Memphis and the streets of New Orleans are pretty lax on their open container laws. For the rest of you lushes out there, I’ve rounded up some other places in our great nation where you can do what our fore fathers set out to establish: drink freely, which, in effect lends itself to a good life and the pursuit of happiness. Forget the New York Stock Exchange and Representative John Boehner. America must be doing something right.

Where to Drink Freely

Butte, Montana
Power & Light District of Kansas City, Missouri
The Las Vegas Strip
Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee
New Orleans, Louisiana
Savannah Historic District, Savannah, Georgia
Fredericksburg, Texas

Where to Drink Less Freely That Other Places, but More Freely Than Most Places (aka, where open container laws are tolerated)

Duval Street, Key West, Florida
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

The whole drive here whenever we mentioned we were going to Memphis we got one of two responses: skeptical looks (which, after last night’s insanity we are still confused about) and “You into Elvis, or something?”

Ok…yes, we went to Graceland. I know I like to pride myself on not being a tourist but, come on. I think if an entire Paul Simon album bears its name it really is worth a visit. And also…it’s Elvis.

I’ll admit I didn’t know much about the King or his palace before my visit, but I was told by my friend Becca (an avid Graceland visitor) to opt for the Platinum Tour Tickets, which cost $34 and include an audio-guided tour of the Mansion; access to his airplanes; access to the Automobile Museum; his Hollywood Exhibit; a pop culture exhibit; access to a wardrobe exhibit; and a self-guided tour of the ’68 Special exhibit.

Elvis bought Graceland in 1957 for around 100 grand. He was 22. I’m 22 and I think I’m making it through the rest of this weekend on $61. It’s good to be the King.

“There’s a pretty little thing waiting for the King…down in the Jungle Room.” – ‘Walking in Memphis’ by Marc Cohen.

The tour of the mansion takes you through the lower floors. The upstairs, Elvis’ private quarters, remain off limits out of respect. You get to see the living room, dining room, kitchen, basement and of course, the Jungle Room. Holy 1970s decor. Shag carpet on the ceiling? What were people thinking? The tour also includes the grounds of Graceland, including displays on his movie career and his many, many awards.

Getting there: If you don’t have a car there is a free shuttle service that leaves from the Memphis Rock’n’Soul Museum every hour on the half hour. I’d carve out a good three hours to do Graceland right.

Not into Elvis? There is still plenty to do. We also checked out the Beltz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art and tomorrow we plan on hitting the Civil Rights Museum. Memphis is also a prime location for people watching. Grab a stool at one of the many bars with front windows and watch the local color pass by. Check out the giant decked out carriages that leave from The Peabody Hotel. While you’re there, see the March of the Ducks, which happens at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Get there an hour early to get a good seat. It’s a little kitschy but the ducks are so damn cute.

Smoky barbecue goodness wafting out of a small alley off Union Ave. between Second and Third streets can only mean one thing. It’s time for a Rendezvous, arguably the most famous (and best) barbecue joint in Memphis. Our night started with a full order of pork ribs, cole slaw, chicken nachos and Heinekens and it only got better from there. By the way, the wait at Rendezvous is very, very long. We waited about an hour, but it was very much worth it.

Feeling sleepy from full bellies we were about to call it a night. Yes, we were sleepy and were considering passing out in our very comfortable beds at The Westin Memphis Beale Street. (Guests should ask for Joan, the concierge, who is a fountain of Memphis knowledge.) But first we wanted to see what all the fuss was on Beale Street. Oh my. The cop-guarded street is closed to cars and revelers are stopped on their way in for a quick ID check. That’s right. We got carded to walk on a street. Why? No open container laws on Beale Street. I knew we were in for an adventure.

We donned the Beale Street badge – a giant cup of Bud Lite (there are beer carts all along the street and most giant beers cost $5). From there we walked up the block as the soulful sound of Blues poured out from every venue. If you’re thinking Beale Street is just for tourists, think again. Packed with locals. And everyone wants to hear who is performing. To play on Beale Street is really to have made it.

We were lured to a small stage in a small pavilion. After watching the guitarists and sax player jam for a while one of the two guitarists motioned to me…to come up on stage. Now, I am not into being in front of people, but I thought ‘what the hell’ and headed up the steps. The guitarist handed me his instrument and I held it flat out in front me as he proceeded to pick and play it while it was in my hands. Probably one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Saskia and I waited around after the show to say hello to him. Turns out his name is Johnny Holiday (not his real name, but I promised I would keep his real identity a secret). Why Holiday? “Because I’m always on vacation,” he told us. He is the unofficial mayor of Beale Street. Everywhere we went with him folks were calling out ‘Hey Johnny! How you doing?’ We felt like Memphis royalty to be in his company.

Slipping past cover charges (I was introduced as his wife) we made our way into Ground Zero, a club on Beale Street owned by Morgan Freeman. This was to be our hangout for most of the night, as Johnny was to play there at midnight. A voluptuous woman belted out the Blues on stage as we knocked back beer after beer (and maybe a shot or two of Jim Beam, after Saskia opted for that over tequila).

As the night got fuzzier and we all got friendlier it was revealed that Johnny actually held a role in the 2005 movie, Walk the Line. He plays Carl Perkins, if anyone is interested.

The night ended in haze of dancing, singing and some killer solos by Johnny. Memphis, you may have climbed your way into my Top 5 Places in the U.S.

 

 

Check out the videos of Johnny at Ground Zero

There comes a time in every tristate area-er’s life when a certain rite of passage ought to be made – the journey to Atlantic City. I had such an opportunity this weekend.

A couple of months ago my good friend, Michelle, suggested we take the trip to Atlantic City (or “AC” as the pros call it) to see Third Eye Blind for her 23rd birthday. Having never been to AC and loving Third Eye Blind from the days of listening to z100 on my way to middle school, immediately my answer was ‘yes’. So we boarded the Atlantic City Express Service train at Penn Station, popped some champagne and waited.

Before I go any further let me just make it clear that I am the most unlikely candidate to travel to Atlantic City. Sure, I like my bars – but I can fit in at a bar anywhere. But I don’t gamble, clubbing isn’t my first or second choice for a fun night, my feet hurt when I wear heels for too long and I’ve never been to a strip club. (I’ll admit I’ve been curious about that last part and almost went into one a couple years ago, but that was mostly to try and impress a guy I was with.) I was in good company though. Michelle and our other companion, Stephanie, are of a similar nature.

Okay, so let’s go down the AC checklist, shall we? Did us three AC virgins manage to do it right?

1. Drink – yes. We most certainly got that part right. Cut to the next morning when an empty pizza box, mascara-caked eyes and a string of missed phone calls helped us piece together the end of the night.

2. Live large – sure. We spent more money than we had, ate a very fancy meal at the Taj Mahal (I wanted to live like a Don. I was getting steak and that was that.) and I’m pretty sure I’ll be eating cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner until payday.

3. Gamble – not really. But in our defense we definitely tried. In a drunken stupor we wandered into a casino (the name escapes me) and tried our luck at the safest form of gambling for newbies – the penny slots. But the machines kept spitting back our dollars. Each one we tried was not having it. It wasn’t until our second attempt in the clarity of day that we realized that the machines won’t accept bills lower than $5. Sneaky, sneaky Atlantic City.

So would I go back? Maybe. I won’t rule it out. But I think I’ve had my fill. One too many mammoth-sized ladies on motor-scooters shoveling funnel cake into their already full mouths, and four-out-of-10 women with their ass cheeks hanging out of their shorts will kill that glitz-and-glam dream of Atlantic City.

Oh and in case you were curious about Third Eye Blind, the show was phenomenal. The middle school girl inside of me who didn’t understand the meaning of the lyrics to Semi-Charmed Life was happy. Check out the videos below!

So we’re coming up on St. Patrick’s Day in a few days and in the spirit I thought I’d share some videos my good friend Becca recorded when we were in Ireland in 2006. Enjoy the craic! (That’s Irish for “fun”.)

This video was taken at the Pikeman Bar at the Grand Hotel Tralee in Tralee, County Kerry. Traditional music is very important to the Irish culture. Common instruments include fiddles, accordions, guitars and flutes (and/or tin whistles).

Now, I can’t stand group tours, but the Musical Pub Crawl in Dublin is surprisingly fun and not cheesy. Professional musicians guide you to several of Dublin’s bars and entertain you with popular Irish tunes. Here we have our musicians playing “A Pair of Brown Eyes” by The Pogues. It’s suggested that you have a drink at every bar, and this was our last stop. Thank goodness I have this video otherwise I’m not sure how much of this great performance I would remember.