2019: A Personal Year In Review
Here we are again at the end of another calendar year. Do you have your flapper dresses ready? Because the 20s are about to roar back in, ladies and gents.
At the end of the year, I like to take a look back and share some of the great things I enjoyed. Maybe you were there, too? Or if not, maybe this list will inspire you to check out some similar music, movies, and events in the year ahead.
StoryCorps: One Small Step: Late in 2018, TPR was chosen to be one of six stations piloting a new program for StoryCorps called “One Small Step.” The idea is to bring people – generally strangers – together into a room to record a conversation about politics and their personal lives. I and another colleague at TPR, Dallas Williams, attended a training session in Brooklyn with other staff members from stations in Alabama, Florida, Utah, Missouri, and Arizona. Then, last summer, we recorded 25 conversations, none of which were the same. I felt privileged and honored to be a witness to each one of the conversations I facilitated. The goal of “One Small Step,” to increase understanding and lessen fear, is noble. I am thankful to everyone who participated. You can listen to some of the produced conversations on our website, and there are more to come in 2020.
Metropolitan Opera / "Waitress" on Broadway: While in New York for the aforementioned StoryCorps training, I was determined to cross off an item on my bucket list—take in a performance at the famed Metropolitan Opera House. I chose to see soprano Anna Netrebko in the title role of Francesco Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur,” a work I wasn’t familiar with. The train from Brooklyn to Manhattan was on time, and I hoofed it from Columbus Circle to Lincoln Center, wolfing down a hot dog on the way. Then, I made a rookie mistake. I mistakenly went into the wrong building and bought a ticket for the New York Philharmonic’s evening performance. In a daze, with only ten minutes to showtime, I hastily obtained a refund and rushed into the opera house, purchased a ticket, and ran up the stairs… to the first bathroom I could find! They were dinging the bells. The doors were closing. With seconds to spare, I made it inside and found my seat, in the next to last row of the balcony. The beautiful sound of the orchestra and voices blended together as if mixed by an exquisitely in-tune sound engineer, and somewhere near the beginning of Act III, I actually cried. It was a transformative experience.
The following night, three of us went to Broadway and chose to see “Waitress,” featuring its songwriter, Sara Bareilles, in the lead role. Walking into the theater, the smell of baking pie filled the air. The show was a blast, and Bareilles gave it her all. We laughed uproariously at Ogie singing “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me,” and melted as Bareilles, as Jenna, sang the signature song from the show, “She Used to Be Mine.” I liked Adrienne Shelley’s 2007 film, but this musical actually surpassed its source material in my opinion. It’s a charmer.
Viva Vegeria: This year, we discovered another tasty vegan restaurant, and it may be my favorite so far. Viva Vegeria, at 1422 Nogalitos, specializes in 100% vegan and gluten-free Tex-Mex, and it is absolutely delicious! My favorite dishes are the “al pastor” tacos, and my daughter enjoys the “chicken” enchiladas verdes. I always get a bowl of the tortilla soup, too, and I never, ever miss the meat or cheese.
Lou Diamond Philips at the Tobin Center: In March, the Tobin Center invited me to facilitate another Q&A following one of their successful movie screenings. Lou Diamond Phillips, who grew up in Corpus Christi, returned to Texas for a screening of the classic biopic, “La Bamba.” We talked about the groundbreaking nature of the film, one of the first mega-successful pictures to feature a Latino hero on screen, and he told some great stories about the making of the film, and his amazing costar, Esai Morales.
Kevin Eubanks at Jazz, TX: Say the name Kevin Eubanks, and most people immediately think of the good-natured bandleader from Jay Leno’s long run as host of “The Tonight Show.” Jazz fans know him to be a skilled improviser, equally capable of delicate melodies and blistering, face-melting music. Eubanks burned down the house for two nights at Jazz, TX back in April, and I was blown away. We shared some of the music on our summertime broadcast series, “Live at Jazz, TX.” You can hear it in the audio player below. Incidentally, the program will become a full-time addition to TPR’s broadcast schedule in 2020.
Olmos Ensemble, live on KPAC: Last summer, Renia Shterenberg, Executive Director of the San Antonio chamber group Olmos Ensemble, approached TPR with the idea to broadcast three Sunday afternoon concerts live, on location. How could I say no? With technical help from John Cone and Stephen Krause, as well as co-hosts James Baker and Kathy Couser in the studio, we pulled it off, broadcasting live on KPAC 88.3 FM from Laurel Heights United Methodist Church. It was thrilling to work without a net, so to speak. Special events like this on KPAC are only possible because listeners support the station, and so thank you!
Iron Maiden at AT&T Center: It may surprise some to know that since my high school days, I’ve been a fan of the British metal group Iron Maiden. (There’s actually a strong corollary between metal and classical fans.) However, I had never gotten around to seeing the band live, despite knowing their mega theatrical shows are a feast for the senses. In September, I finally caught up with them at the AT&T Center for the last date of their “Legacy of the Beast” tour, and even sitting in the upper deck, I was not disappointed. Singer Bruce Dickinson’s pipes are still holding up! He leaped about the stage, blowing fire from a flamethrower during “Flight of Icarus.” A spitfire plane hovered over the crowd during the opening number, “Aces High.” And of course the band’s mascot, Eddie, made an appearance. These guys are top-caliber musicians, and they put on a terrific show. The next time they’re in town, I will not miss it!
"The Farewell": This gentle family tale is based in part on director Lulu Wang’s own life, and it follows the story of a Chinese family who decides to hide their matriarch’s terminal diagnosis from her. Awkwafina delivers a layered performance as one of the younger members of the family. Having lived in America for years, she struggles with the concept of simply not telling her grandmother she’s about to die. There’s comedy to be mined from this, for sure, but “The Farewell” also gave me pause to consider my own feelings on its subject, which is more than many films do.
"Country Music": Ken Burns’ documentary on country music is a great achievement, using the musicians themselves to tell the story of the music. From the very first episode, it’s clear that country music’s roots dig deeper than most know, and it’s a shame that we’ve mostly forgotten the diverse cultures that made the music what it is today. I was so in love with the music, I bought the five-disc sountrack, and made a personal discovery watching the series: I had known Kris Kristofferson through his reputation, but not through his music. I was inspired to buy his debut record and listen to more of his music.
Robert Ellis: My favorite musical discovery happened early last year when I stumbled upon the video for what I consider to be THE love song of our time. I probably shouldn’t write the title of it in this post, but I’ll post the video at the bottom of this page. Ellis has been on the scene for several years now, and his last few albums—while really very, very good—have also been kind of downers (by his own admission). But “Texas Piano Man,” released in 2019, is different. For starters, Ellis changed his main axe, writing at the piano instead of with a guitar. Second, many of the songs are gently satirical and occasionally laugh out loud funny. Ellis sounds like he’s having a ball, a sentiment he made good on in November when he performed at the Lonesome Rose in San Antonio. It was a freezing cold night, the threat of icing on the roads hung in the air, and Ellis was getting over a cold, but he still managed to pull off a blistering 90-minute set, switching easily between Rhodes electric piano and guitar. The musicianship was top notch, and he was breezy and jocular in conversation with me onstage after the show. If the “Texas Piano Man” is in your neck of the woods, don’t miss him, you hear?
Running a 10K: Last year, we ran several 5K races as a family. I don’t consider myself a runner, as I don’t actually like to run in my spare time, preferring to walk long distances instead. But I do like the crowds that come with events like this, and with the encouragement of my wife, I decided to close out the year by doubling my distance, running the 10K race during the Rock ‘N Roll Marathon weekend. My time was 1:03:13, which I guess is fairly respectable? I don't know, but I’m signed up again already for the 2020 event, so I’ll try and get it under an hour.
Other movies I really enjoyed in 2019: "Toy Story 4," "A Hidden Life," "Us," "Free Solo."