Thursday, July 30, 2009

RIBCO 30th Anniversary Birthday Bash!

Before there was a District of Rock Island, there was RIBCO. Before there was a Gumbo Ya Ya or a Ya Maka My Weekend, there was RIBCO. Before there was fun at all, there was RIBCO.

OK, OK. Perhaps mankind amused themselves before the arrival of downtown Rock Island's premiere live-music venue, but it probably wasn't as fun, and it certainly wasn't as loud.

The Rock Island Brewing Company turns 30 this summer, and they're celebrating the only way they know how -- music, music and more music.

The RIBCO 30th Anniversary Birthday Bash happens this weekend with an indoor showcase on Friday followed by an all-ages outdoor show Saturday. There will be a lineup of past and present RIBCO favorites, including a few names you never thought you'd see onstage again. Putting together the project has been a labor of love for RIBCO talent buyer Jason Parris.

"We wanted to do something special that wasn't only fun but challenging to put together," Mr. Parris said. "We approached bands that helped shape RIBCO's history, including a few that haven't played together in years. To a lot of them, the idea of a no-pressure get-together sounded exciting."

Chief among the bands reforming for the event is Tripmaster Monkey. In its storied career, the band put out three releases in the mid-1990s on Sire/Warner Bros. Records and toured the U.S., all while getting MTV airplay and critical acclaim here and abroad. This weekend will be their first time onstage as a group in more than a decade.

"We were always looking for a reason to reunite," said Tripmaster Monkey guitarist Jamie Toal. "RIBCO's 30th seemed plenty good. Of course, there was also that dream I had with Abe Lincoln, except it was Spaceman Abe Lincoln from outer space. He said, 'Jamie, check this out! I am totally on Mars right now! Anyways, do me a favor -- reform the Monkey at RIBCO in August. The future of space travel and human awesomeness depends on it.' You don't say no to Honest Abe."

Other bands required considerably less extraterrestial persuasion to hop on board.

"RIBCO is the 'A Room' to play in the Quad-Cities, and has been for 30 years," said Bill Douglas, frontman for the defunct, but temporarily resurrected, Einstein's Sister. "RIBCO has hosted so many great bands and shows, and to be able to play that stage along with so many of them this weekend is an honor."

The power-pop of Einstein's Sister kicks off the weekend on the indoor stage Friday night, alongside local stalwarts John Resch & Detroit Blues. Rounding out the Friday lineup are two other recently revived favorites -- Keep Off the Grass and Jim the Mule.

On Saturday, Tripmaster Monkey is joined on the outdoor stage by Dean Wellman, The Warmth and another group reassembling for the first time in three years -- Parris' own Driver of the Year.

"I wouldn't call it a reunion as much as a return from a much-needed pause," Mr. Parris said. "Driver of the Year will never die in our eyes. I'm just excited to play with such a great variety of artists that I've respected for a long time."

After the outdoor celebration stops on Saturday, the party moves inside RIBCO for the grand finale -- the raunchy glam-rock shenanigans of Cheese Pizza, a crowd favorite.

"RIBCO is where it's at in the Quad-Cities as far as live music goes," said John Nelson, aka Cheese drummer Gil Fishman. "It's my favorite room to play because of the professionalism of the place. Great owner, great PA, an incredible sound engineer in Al Dimeo ... What's not to love? Just being included on this bill is an honor."

You can't interview any of these bands without them taking time to praise RIBCO owner Terry Tilka. Under Tilka's reign, RIBCO has risen from a solid local bar to a national touring destination. Known for his fair-handed, tell-it-like-it-is management approach, Tilka and his venue played a large part in the growth of every band on this weekend's lineup.

"Terry is a really smart guy," said Toal. "He's seen some crazy stuff with the Monkey boys, and we probably ticked him off on many occasions -- but he's really done a remarkable job in the Quad-Cities."

"For Terry to add us to that bill along with these other great acts tells me what he thinks of us as a band, and we appreciate that," Nelson said. "Terry loves us. He once cross-dressed and hopped onstage with us to sing 'I Think I Love You.' OK, that's a complete lie, but print it anyway."

Making the decision to reform was easy for some of the weekend's bands, but getting into the swing of things proved a little more challenging.

Toal described his first practice with the reformed Tripmaster Monkey as "the perfect sonic marriage of nails on a chalkboard with a flock of dying geese. These things take a while to get back to where they need to be."

We're promised they'll be in fine form by this weekend. And at the low cover charge of $5, it's a risk well worth taking for one of the best two-day lineups of local music imaginable.

"This is our way of giving back to all that have supported us over the years as a great music venue," Parris said.

RIBCO has been a steady hand in the Quad-Cities music scene for 30 years. Will we one day see a 60th-anniversary bash?

"We're already working on the line-up," Parris said with a grin.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

COLUMN: Shirt Wars, The Sequel

Ahh... there's nothing like waking up after voting day, is there? The birds in the sky chirp with the satisfaction and accomplishment that comes from our free and Democratic society. Yes, a utopian world, really, where every voice has its say, every hope can be realized... and every shirt can be worn.

In case you missed last week's column, let's get you up to speed:

Your humble columnist, otherwise known as The Hero Of Our Story, dry cleaned his collection of super-sexy silk shirts for the purposes of summer wearing. This was much to the chagrin of his loving girlfriend (The Evil Villainess,) who felt that he would be much better suited in a spanky collection of argyle polo shirts. The Villainess, normally a lovely and caring princess whom Our Hero wouldn't trade for all the video games in Japan, was clearly under some kind of evil spell, as these argyle polo shirts hailed from the land of Preppy Golf Course Nightmares.

Thus began the epic battle of Shirt Wars - Episode One: The Argyle Menace. Since the Villainess was immune to all of the reasoning and logic that our couch-dwelling Hero could provide, he instead decided to take the battle to the people, in the form of last week's column. Facts were laid out, opinions stated, and photographic evidence of both the pleasing button-down silk ensemble (yay!) AND the argyle atrocity (boo! hiss!) were presented to you, the general public, for your careful consideration and feedback.

After last week's column was turned in, we both promptly laughed about it and left the Quad Cities for a romantic daytrip to Wisconsin, where my choice of shirts was the last thing on our minds. In other words, it was kind of a joke column, folks. Little did I know that, while we were cruising the waters of Lake Geneva with champagne wishes and caviar dreams, the Shirt War was raging on amongst a goodly percentage of our readership.

What neither of us knew was that the column had made its way to the main page of, drawing many an eye. By the time we got back in town, I had an inbox bulging with e-mails from readers. Online comments were piling up on our website. Even our respective Facebook pages were teeming with mutual friends up in arms... all about my clothing. I will never look a gift shirt in the mouth again.

Through all of the comments, I learned important things. For example, here's what one reader had to say:

"Your silk man-blouse is UGLY! Your girlfriend has the right idea. In the argyle, you look 20 pounds lighter and your hair and eyes look so much cooler."

Here's what another says:

"I hate the argyle polo shirt. It makes you look fat and look like a dork. The silk look is better for you."

So, if there's one thing to be learned from this exercise, it's the satisfying knowledge that I'm clearly a lard-butt no matter WHAT I drape over myself. Personally, I simply suspect that all cameras on Earth hate me with a blinding fury. I'm just big-boned -- especially my stomach bone.

Still, I wanted an answer. I was convinced that the ghost of Chess King wouldn't have led me wrong about silk and rayon shirts all these years. I wanted to dance on the grave of my girlfriend's argyles. I wanted a definitive and exact picture of myself as seen through the eyes of strangers. This is why I just finished sitting here, meticulously counting the votes and opinions that have come in via e-mail, website, and Facebook all weekend.

Ladies and gentlemen -- the winner of Shirt Wars 2009 is...

THE SILKEN SHIRTS OF SHANE BROWN. By a margin of exactly two votes. In yer face, argyle!

I promptly contacted my girlfriend and delivered my victory speech, the text of which I'll gladly reprint here: "Ahem. Nyah Nyah Boo Boo! You suck! I rule! The end."

Needless to say, she demanded a recount.

When the votes were tallied a second time, I'm afraid to say that two entries were called into question. For instance, there was this comment, on my Facebook, from our mutual friend Sarah:

"So much argyle, so little time..."

I had assumed this was a sarcastic comment favoring MY choice of clothing. My girlfriend, however, feels that this is a clear vote for her argyle polo shirts. This was a conundrum. It's times like this when you realize that you can't trust your own predisposed opinion and must look at the situation from a purely non-partisan view. I needed to think like my elders and my civic leaders. We decided to stop, take a deep breath, and ask ourselves, "What would Rock Island Circuit Court Judge Mark VandeWiele do?"

We struggled for three days to ascertain this commenter's intent, knowing that every vote is critical in this fashion war. The length of the struggle in and of itself helped answer the question. By a preponderance of the evidence, this is a vote for ARGYLE. But Shirt War calls for a clearly ascertainable vote and this columnist and his girlfriend cannot in good faith make that finding. Since these commenter's intent is not clearly ascertainable by a totality of the circumstances as required by a good 'n' proper Shirt War, these two comments shall not be counted as a vote for either shirt.

In other words, we've come to a tie. Persuant to the by-laws of my apartment, this means The Great Shirt War of 2009 shall be decided by -- you guessed it -- drawing lots. I'm just not sure what we need to draw lots of. In grade school, I used to draw lots of rocketships, so I'm hoping that's what it'll be.

Until said time that we draw lots of rocketships, I declare myself the winner. I shall continue to wear my ugly silk shirts with pride, and I'll even concede to the occasional public outing of the thoughtfully-purchased argyle polo shirts because I love my girlfriend and maybe one day I'll love her shirts, too. And if the girlfriend has any issues with that, this humble writer reminds her that she's more than welcome to go and get her OWN newspaper column nyah nyah boo boo. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a victory party to attend -- dress code strictly enforced.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

COLUMN: Shirt Wars

The best part about forging a new romantic relationship has to be the communication. When your way of life merges with another's, a bond is formed by sharing and discourse. The relationship begins to flourish as each of you gains new insight and understanding of your lives.

For instance, I have gained the insight and understanding that I am apparantly incapable of dressing myself.

I know fully well that I am no fashionista. As a long-term testosterone-fueled bachelor, I've developed a few simple rules when it comes to fashion:

• Never buy clothes that require ironing. The amount of time that one spends sweating away over an ironing board can then be thusly used on far more relevant and worldly tasks, such as Super Mario Kart.

• Always find shirts with sleeves that can be pushed up, thereby giving the wearer the advantage of owning both winter and summerwear with one purchase. The amount of money that one spends on seasonal wardrobery can then be thusly used purchasing far more relevant and worldly items, such as Super Mario Kart 2.

• Clothing should be carefully selected in two colors only: (1) dark, and (2) slightly off-dark. Time is precious and fleeting, and Super Mario Kart waits for no one -- especially you weirdo girls who waste time sorting your laundry into color-coordinated piles. If one simply buys an entire wardrobe of dark and dreary colors, you can just shove 'em all in the washer en masse and turn the machine to "I-don't-really-care-what-temperature-you-wash-these."

These rules have so far proven to be a triumphant success. That is, until the girlfriend walked in the other day.

"Surprise, honey!" she exclaimed, shopping bag aloft. "I got you presents!"

Presents, it should be noted for those of you wishing to buy them for me, should consist of: food, money, toys, or a Rane Serato Scratch DJ System. Despite her best intentions, they should never be a bag of clothes. Clothes are not presents. Clothes are functional necessities at best.

Still, there I was, facing a bag of thoughtfully-purchased polo shirts. I steadied myself as I examined them with my best "ohhh, wow, you shouldn't have" face. And admittedly, it was a really sweet gesture. Two of them were actually quite nice, and shirts I could easily see myself wearing. One was basic black and another was basic blue, both with your standard polo stripes. I can work with these.

The other two? Hrrm. These shirts made liberal usage out of something I have never owned in all my live-long days. Argyle, explains Wikipedia, is a diamonds-&-diagonal-checkerboard pattern derived from the tartan of Clan Campbell of Argyll in eastern Scotland. It got its name because "argyll" is the retching noise that one makes when forced to wear it.

I kid. Kinda. I suppose they don't look bad. And to hear my girlfriend go, "Awwwwwww, you look SO CUTE" is never a bad thing. But to look at myself in the mirror was another story. They're not just argyle, they're bright and happy. One's white and the other has a big ol' yellow argo-diamond smack across the midsection.

I know in reality that I'm little more than a huge nerd, but in the Me that I like to fancy myself, I live above and beyond the constraints of society. I'm dark and mysterious and esoteric and ironic and funny and, quite possibly, the coolest person that's ever lived. In my new argyle polo shirts, I'm not dark or mysterious. I'm merely late for my squash match with Mitzi and Roland Buffington III. They are, without a doubt, the most anti-me shirts to see the inside of my closet since my much-maligned "ponchos-are-kinda-cool,-right?" phase.

Yet, for the sake of my cooing girlfriend who assures of my argyle-clad attractiveness, I'm giving them a shot and simply feeling uber-weird wherever I go. But it gets worse.

"I got them because you don't seem to have many summer-y shirts," she said with glee.

A-HA! How wrong she was. I explained to her that I simply hadn't taken my summer stash to the dry cleaners. Tucked away in a laundry basket in the far end of my closet lies a pile of shirts that only see the light of day from June through September. Shirts whose greatness breaks all rules. Shirts I adore.

Ever since the glory days of Chess King circa 1987, I have been an ardent fan of button-down silk and/or rayon shirts of the psychedelic and awesome persuasion. If it's in any way silky and looks like Pink Floyd threw up on it, I probably own it. And now they're back in style -- and with the help of a certain Mr. Tommy Bahama, the collection has been growing exponentially.

I took the stash out to proudly show off. To my surprise, it was met with a look of horror. With each shirt I'd pull out, the look intensified, until she finally blurted it out:

"They're old man shirts. Oh, honey, no. You own old man shirts. Omigod, I'm dating an old man."

I figured all it would take is a quick fashion show to prove her wrong.

Now, girls have a certain fashion wisdom that boys will never understand. Girls say things like, "Everyone knows you shouldn't wear white socks with a black watch after Arbor Day." Us guys, meanwhile, merely find like-colored objects that don't induce migraines and piecemeal an outfit together. So I put on some olive cargo pants, a sort-of off-olive undershirt, and an unbuttoned light olive silk shirt to complete the ensemble. I looked like Joe Cool -- or so I thought.

"No, honey," came the reply. "You look like a dingy carpet sample."

So that's where I'm stuck. I have a closet full of silk shirts that I love, and a girlfriend who's silently plotting how to destroy them all in an industrial accident. I think they look great -- she thinks I look like Grandpa Brown. So I'm calling on YOU, my diligent readers, to be the jury. Silk shirts of awesomeness or polo shirts that make me argyle up my lunch? The decision is yours. E-mail your thoughts to and I'll share them with the missus. A grateful closet awaits your reaction.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


I've received six e-mails and eight Facebook messages this week from readers of this column, all with the same question:

"When are you going to write something about Michael Jackson?"

Well, my initial instinct was to say the Fifth of Never. After all, what can I say that hasn't already been said at this point by, oh I dunno, EVERY JOURNALIST IN THE FREE WORLD?

I'm a pop culture junkie. It's really the only hobby I have. And, just like you, I was stunned by the events of Thursday the 25th. First, Farrah died. And that was sad, even though I was a little too young to appreciate the red swimsuit poster in its heydey. Then around 4 p.m., I received an e-mail from a friend that said, "Are you aware Michael Jackson's likely dead?"

Now there's a surefire way to wake me up from a hazy Thursday. I immediately felt bad for my friend who sent that e-mail, as she's one of the few people whose work day is directly impacted by the deaths of celebrities. She works for a company that manages the obituary sections for a number of newspapers across the country.

Among her job duties is the review and approval of public condolences on their celebrity obituaries. There's always gonna be a handful of internet troublemakers who like to wreak as much havoc as possible in any public forum, and her job is to go through and weed out any tasteless or obscene comments before they're presented to the public.

She'd already had a long day approving Farrah's entries when the word came that Michael was in trouble. You couldn't pay me enough to do her job.

It was an amazing moment when I got home that night and logged onto Facebook. As someone obsessed by pop culture, I'm friends with a LOT of egocentric artsy-fartsy types. Folks who discuss artistic integrity at great length and automatically shun any music played on the radio as commercial drivel -- geeks, goths, snobs and nerds aplenty.

And not ONE of them had a bad thing to say about Michael Jackson that night. He was one guy with the power to cross social, racial, and global barriers with little more than a song and dance. Love him or hate him, you've got to at least respect his power.

When wee Shane first reached the age of allowance earning, one of the first things I did was rush out to Musicland and come home with Michael's "Off the Wall." It was the sound of an artist coming in to his own, and I still argue that it's the musical apex of his career.

The cultural apex, though, had only just begun. With "Thriller," Michael Jackson conquered the globe in a way that I guarantee we'll never see again in our lifetime. I didn't even really dig the music too much, but you still had to give it up for the videos and the moonwalk and the ease by which he charmed the world. I remember timing a slumber party at a friend's house for the sole purpose of being able to watch the world premiere of the "Thriller" video -- and being scared out of my socks by it.

After "Thriller" and "Bad," Michael Jackson the Artist took a slow back seat to Michael Jackson the Circus, but it was just as captivating to watch. For the most part, I forgave him for his eccentricities. I mean, the guy was a kajillionaire. If he wanted to build an amusement park in his front lawn, why not? If I was the biggest artist from here to Zxcvbnmistan, I'd probably want my own chimpanzee, too.

When you live in a celebrity bubble like that, it's probably not as crazy as it seems. The movie director Kevin Smith once told a great story about meeting The Artist Who I Think Is Now Once Again Called Prince and talking privately to one of Prince's assistants. As Smith tells it, the assistant explained that Prince, for the most part, lives in Prince-land, and sometimes can't understand why it's a problem when he wakes up at 3 a.m. with the simple request of having a camel delivered to his house.

To us, it's crazy. But when your entire life is crazy, fancying a camel ride at 3 a.m. might just be a normal Tuesday. Of course, Michael took things to the extreme. When your life becomes a non-stop Fantasyland AND you've got a serious fixation on your lost childhood, it's going to cause problems. But instead of trying to give the guy a break -- and I'm just as guilty of reading the tabloid fodder as everybody else -- we exascerbated the problem until Michael became little more than a pop culture sideshow attraction who probably needed professional help.

The court case pretty much sealed the deal. Do I think Michael Jackson was a pedophile who preyed on innocent boys? I can't say for certain, but I'd certainly be surprised if he was. I think he was an immature soul who wanted to stay young forever and didn't understand the problem with befriending little kids just like Prince didn't understand the problem with procuring a camel.

And now that Michael's gone, we're about to reap the reward for treating the guy like a circus freak all these years. His name will be center stage in tabloids for years to come, as every human being who ever managed to weasel their way into his life will be vying for their fifteen minutes of fame with tell-alls and book deals full of half-truths and speculation.

I wasn't a huge fan of Michael Jackson. But will we ever see an artist make his kind of impact ever again? Probably not, and that makes me sad. I feel bad for the guy, and I mourn his loss with the rest of the world, if for no other reason than we'll never hear the exclamation "SHA'MON!" in contemporary music ever again.

Here's hoping that the next time we're blessed with an artist of his magnitude, we don't force them down the same path.

COLUMN: Date Night

Totally leeched off someone named Illflux's Flickr.
He's got lotsa cool pics - go check it out.

I feel like my columns of late are occasionally descending into stereotype: Hapless bachelor writes for years about meeting nice girl. Hapless bachelor meets nice girl. Hapless bachelor can't shut up about nice girl.

I don't wanna be that guy. And I'm certain that you kind folk don't want to waste your Sundays reading the play-by-plays of our boring dates. Good thing, then, that our dates aren't boring.

The other night we had plans for a no-holds-barred evening o' romance and chivalry. This is not my strong suit, as my usual idea of romance is letting her hold the remote control for an hour or two. But I had a plan.

First a nice dinner and a stop for ice cream. Afterwards, I'd take her to one of my favorite locales: Lock & Dam 14 at Fisherman's Corner out by Hampton. You can stroll right out on the Illinois side until you're pretty much in the smack dab middle of the Mississippi -- just you, your special someone, a few quaint fishing folk, the setting sun, and the gentle call of nesting pelicans. It would be my shining romantic moment.

So after dinner and ice cream in Davenport, I slyly headed north along the river giving myself mental high-fives. Goin' to the dam, gonna be all romantical and supa suave studly maaaaaan.

That was about the time we reached Leclaire and I remembered that the I-80 bridge to Illinois was closed. Not good. I was trying my best to play it off like our night was super spontaneous and magical, and I feared a sudden U-turn would blow it.

I had to find a way to play it cool, so I just kept driving along the river with the hopes of finding an appropriate turn-off to nonchalantly get us home. A few miles later, I realized I didn't know where the heck I was, other than way far north. At this point, if I turned off, I'd have no clue how to get us home. That was when I decided my best option was to keep right on truckin' up to Clinton and just take the bridge there and come back to the dam.

Sure, my night was starting to go badly, but unbeknownst to me at the time, someone was having an even worse night. Someone so distraught over the state of their life that they had chosen that night to end it all.

That someone was a suicidal deer -- and just as I reached a bend in the road at 55 mph, it trotted out in a kamikaze head-on dash for my grill. I didn't even have time for one of my customary expletives. I slammed on the brakes. Bambi of the Damned just galloped straight at me. I swerved to the side. It swerved to the side. I swerved back. It swerved back. This deer clearly wanted to die. I braced for impact, grabbed my girlfriend's hand... and missed the sucker by THAT much.

I could have reached out and pet it as we went by. Well, I could have, were I in control of my extremities. As my girlfriend tells it, I reacted to the close call by throwing my fists in the air and screaming "YES!" as though I'd just scored the winning touchdown. Truth is, I was simply happy that I hadn't wet myself.

Ever been SO pumped by adrenalin and a racing heart that you can't sit still? That was MY state of mind when we reached Clinton. I needed a breather after Venison: The Home Game, so I rolled down my window to get some fresh air.

Ladies and gentlemen, NEVER DO THIS IN CLINTON, IOWA. Dear, sweet Clintonians: I love you all. I really do. And I know it's not your fault. But your town STINKS. Yes, I know, it's a horribly rude thing to say. After all, I'm sure there are occasionally times in life when yours truly smells a little ripe. But even at my funkiest of funks, I can rest safe in the knowledge that I will never be as reeky as Clinton, Iowa. It's a delightful mix of yeast, molasses, rotting entrails, and creepy Jimmy Spencer, the kid from my 5th grade class who never showered. I've now learned that one of the key elements to a romantic night is to plot a route that DOESN'T make your girlfriend retch and dry heave in your car.

But I'm stubborn and I'm not a quitter, so we charged over that bridge and headed back on the Illinois side -- and when I finally saw the turn-off for Lock & Dam 14, I took it with gusto. I wanted my romantic stroll to the middle of the river. I wanted my picturesque fishermen. I wanted the gentle lull of the pelican's call.

None of things, I've come to learn, happen at midnight. In fact, I'm not even sure the dam's open at midnight and perhaps I'm confessing a felony trespass in this column. Either way, lesson learned. There were no quaint fishermen at midnight. There was NO ONE at midnight. Just the two of us, a damp river fog, the darkest walkway ever, and probably a 20-30% chance of being dismembered by an axe-wielding homicidal rapist ghost vampire werewolf.

The gentle Mississippi looked more like the River Styx. Oh, and as for the gentle lull of the pelicans? When you wake them up in the middle of the night, they just start going "HOOOOOOOOONK!" and flapping their wings spastically in alarm. I was hoping to salvage at least one or two sweet nothings in my ear. Instead, what I got was, "OMIGOD SOMETHING'S ON MY SHOE EW EW GET IT OFF GET IT OFF!" It was at that point we made a break for the car and never looked back.

So my grand idea of a romantic evening ended on the couch with a rerun of the Colbert Report. Still, I'm not entirely without chivalry -- once I fell safely asleep, I let her have the remote control.