Thursday, June 22, 2017

Black Hills of South Dakota - A Must See Visit! One of the Best Vacation Destinations in the U.S.A.

Yes, you can do the Black Hills of Dakota and the surrounding attractions in a long weekend out of Chicago. Fly to Rapid City, South Dakota via a short stopover in Minneapolis and you will find yourself in one of the most beautiful and downright of American places. The Black Hills of South Dakota offer a variety of things to do and you can do them all in a long weekend. I left Chicago on a Thursday morning and arrived in Rapid City, South Dakota with a short one hour shuttle trip to Deadwood, South Dakota.

Deadwood became famous in the 19th century for a series of homegrown and recruited gunslingers. It was a down and dirty town in the Old West and it attracted the likes of one-time lawman, Wild Bill Hickock. Hickock was only 39 years old at the time of his death, but he has been immortalized by American western folklore. He was killed at the #10 saloon by Jack McCall and there is a staging of the shooting in the town of Deadwood. (Spoiler and the one bad thing about Deadwood is coming up in the next couple of sentences) The town of Deadwood today encompasses about one mile of shops, hotels, restaurants and just about all of them are in possession of slot machines. This was a major turnoff. It's overkill and that's an understatement. Everywhere (almost everywhere) you go, you are inundated by slot machines. The tourist town you wanted to visit has become a slot machine zone. Once you zone out of that scene you can attempt to enjoy the town. The Springhill Marriott which is about two blocks away form the start of the Deadwood city heart is a lovely property that is quite top of the line. The property is clean and it offers a nicely outfitted workout center and an excellent breakfast. Again, it's clean and I mean clean.

                                                                  Wild Bill Hickock

There is a tour of Deadwood that you can take and it takes you around town and up to Mount Moriah Cemetery. The cemetery has the graves of Wild Bill Hickock and his fellow gunslinger, Calamity Jane. If you know much about old Hollywood movies you will note that Calamity Jane looked nothing like Doris Day who portrayed Calamity in the 1953 version of her life (Hollywoodized 1950's version of her life). Keep in mind, this would be loosely based and I do mean loosely based on the real life details of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock.

                                                                      Calamity Jane

The second day is a full day in the area. Mount Rushmore is a monumental and majestic site and it is easily one of the must see, bucket list items on any travellers list of things to do and places to encounter. If it isn't on your list it should be.  Mount Rushmore is a spectacular location and must be viewed during the daylight and during the darkened part of the day, so plan your day around seeing this mighty site both times during the day. You will find yourself taking photos in various locations around the National Park. Walk the Presidential Trail around the famed mountain and you will even get in a bit of your daily exercise. A short film on the creation is part of the offerings at the National Park, along with a superb gift shop (well, that's a given).  Veterans will appreciate a tribute to their service to the nation. The United States has been and still remains one of the most significant nations in the history of the world. It's history is varied and its charms are plentiful.  

                                             Mount Rushmore During the Daylight Hours

Go to the unfinished monument dedicated to Crazy Horse and you will note this - it will forever remain unfinished. If they haven't found the funds to pay for this yet - clearly, they never will. Crazy Horse was a famed member of the Sioux tribe and he became near immortal during the Little Big Horn battle with the United States Army led by General George Armstrong Custer. Since Crazy Horse would never allow himself to be photographed one could argue this memorial goes against his very core. Having said that, many love this unfinished tribute to the man who hailed from this part of South Dakota.

                                                                Crazy Horse Memorial

Custer State Park is a spectacular opportunity to see the beauty of the topography of this part of South Dakota. A wide variety of wildlife sightings await your journey. You can see Pronghorn, White Tail Deer, Bison, Wild Turkeys, Wild Burros, Elk and a slew of Prairie Dogs. Driving through the Black Hills will prove to be a fruitful decision to visit the area.            

The Badlands are stunning, but this is a full day of scenic driving. You can do everything on a tour or not, so go with what makes you comfortable and safe. It is hard to believe the Badlands sit next to the Black Hills. God is certainly creative!

                                                           Mount Rushmore at Night

Enjoy South Dakota!

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2017

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Strung Out in Chicago Takes On a Whole New Meaning with Chicago's Best Cover Band - Interview with Jeff Sismelich of Strung Out

Strung Out Members (l to r) Tom Culver, Ted Spaniak, Jeff Sismelich, Jeff James, John Chisari

For me, music is the most satisfying, sentimental, heart-tugging, time reversing, pleasurable (and I could keep going) of all of the arts. There are deep emotional attachments with music, particularly music one came of age to. Music isn't like a film or a television series. As much as I love filmed entertainment there is rarely a time I go back again and again, but can anyone actually know the number of times you have listened to a song that was released when you were ten years old, fifteen years old, twenty years old? Yet, we still listen and enjoy over and over and over again. I read recently the music that embeds itself into your life the most are the songs that were released between the ages of ten through 22. I would agree with that assessment. As I look back on my life, which I do with some regularity, that is the 12 year period of music that resonates most with my heart and soul. With that, I was thrilled to encounter a Chicago based cover band that produces heartfelt and passionate interpretations of music from the 1970's. Thanks to guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist, Jeff Sismelich for taking the time to answer a few questions about the music. 

Before I get to the interview I wanted to note a recent encounter with a young guy who couldn't have been more than 18 years old. We were both waiting to give a song request at an event. He was thoughtful and offered me the first go, but I said "no, you go first." He then looked at the keeper of the music for the night and stated "anything by Journey." I wasn't going to request Journey at that moment, but my heart was so settled by the young guy loving Journey I just looked at them both and said "ditto." I walked away knowing the world is not what it once was, but for this one brief moment in time, it felt just right. Don't Stop Believing.  

You can check out the performing schedule for Strung Out at their site:   

Judith: Jeff, I've seen Strung Out a couple of times and you guys are good! I love the sound and the respect you pay to the original arrangements and yet you make a few creative tweaks along the way. You are all impressive musicians. How did the band get its start? 

Jeff: We formed Strung Out in January, 2012. I was playing in The Blooze Brothers (Chicago’s premiere Blues Bros Tribute) as the Jake character with our cello player, Tom Culver, who founded the band in the 1990's. Jeff James our drummer was also in that band. Tom was interested in putting something together so that he could play more cello.  He’s been classically trained since he was a child, and teaches junior high orchestra. We are in large part unique in that we have an electric cello as part of the band.  So after trying different iterations (acoustic, trio, quartet, etc.), our drummer Jeff introduced us to Ted Spaniak, who he had played with in a couple of different bands.  Ted is a really talented guitarist and piano player. Once he was on board, we decided an electric classic rock band seemed to make sense, so I contacted John Chisari, a bass player I knew. John was last the piece we needed, and Strung Out was born.  We booked a few shows really quickly and were off and running.  Now I book most of our shows, but we all pitch in with our various contacts and opportunities. We've been fortunate. We plays clubs, festivals and corporate events. 

Judith: Are you all still working beyond the band? If so, how does this alter and affect your schedule? 

Jeff: We all have real jobs. This group is really great about making and keeping commitments to the band. We rehearse fairly regularly to add new material, and play primarily on Friday and Saturday nights as often as we can.  During the summer, we play more weeknight shows, like fests and concerts in the park.  Tom is Director of Orchestras at School District 102 in LaGrange Park. Ted teaches English at Rich East High School in Park Forest.  Jeff is a Lab Manager for TestAmerica Labs in University Park. John is a salesman for RiteRug Flooring in the Chicagoland Area. After over 20 years in the television editing business, I now own and manage my family business, Papoose Children’s Center in Oak Lawn. The Center has been around for 55 years.

Judith: Strung Out plays a variety of different music styles from the 1970's and a little bit of the 1960's. Was this just love of the music from your generation or was there more behind the decision of what to cover?

Jeff: It was mostly our love of that era.  It’s the music we all “grew up” on. We all appreciated the diversity you’d hear on the AM radio when we were young, but we also recognized that there was a musical void out there among working cover bands.  There are a ton of 80’s/90’s bands who are great. There are several great 50’s/60’s acts, too, but we never heard bands covering the 70’s with the diversity that we wanted to present.  It’s the memories that are attached to the songs that people really relate to.
Judith: You can repeat that. Yes, the memories are deeply held emotional attachments. You play everything from iconic One Hit Wonder songs (Dancing in the Moonlight, Magic, Brandy -You're A Fine Girl) to songs by some of the definitive acts of the era. How do you come up with your playlist?

Jeff: We argue a lot. LOL. It’s really difficult sometimes to come to a consensus. There is so much material in the decade we all love. That’s why we come up with the medleys we play.  How do you pick only one Three Dog Night song? We couldn’t, so we put five of them together. I’m a big fan of the one hit, kinda cheesy stuff.  Other guys like the more epic rockers like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, & The Who.  We get it all in our sets and we strive to add the most fun and interesting material we can. 

Judith: The musicianship shows and you have superb material to choose from. Where were you all trained?  

Jeff: Tom studied cello since he was really young and then majored in music in college. I believe our drummer, Jeff James, also studied percussion in college.  Ted took guitar and piano lessons in his youth, then went out on the road. I think John took some guitar lessons as a kid, then switched to bass and started learning on his own. I played the trombone in high school, but switched to singing after I graduated.  I’ve never had lessons in voice, or guitar or keyboards. I’ve been fortunate to play with some really patient and helpful musicians who helped me progress to where I’m at.  Which compared to the guys in this band, ain’t far!  I think we’d all agree that any proficiency we each have has come from playing a lot over several decades.  Nothing beats experience!

Judith: I got all excited when you played Todd Rundgren. He was certainly one of the most talented people of the era. I have loved Todd since junior high. He was/is an incredibly gifted songwriter, singer and producer. Were you a big Todd fan?

Jeff: Absolutely!  I came to Todd in a round about way. Of course, I remember his radio hits in the 1970’s, but I was a huge Utopia fan in the 1980’s. I worked my way backward from Utopia to his early solo material.  Then, after Utopia, I loved the stuff he put out in the late 80’s up to now.  Truly a brilliant musician. 

Judith: Jeff, Just going with your opinion, who were the best bands of both the 1960's and the 1970's?

Jeff: Best is hard to define. Simply due to the diversity and experimentation that came out of those decades.  Since I was a trombone player, I was always mesmerized by Chicago. I also loved Blood, Sweat & Tears, but bands like Yes, Kansas and Genesis all helped create a new progressive music genre. Then Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and The Who rocked out harder than most. I also loved James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, Al Green and all the great 1970’s soul music; and how do you not put the Beatles and the Rolling Stones on the list?  Clearly, I’m overwhelmed! 

Judith: Who was/is your go-to female singer?

Jeff: There were so many great artists. Ann Wilson of Heart. Susan Tedeschi.  A Canadian singer who had a short lived career named Amanda Marshall is incredible. Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt, and Linda Ronstadt are played pretty regularly at my house, too. 

Judith: Well, the obvious next question is who is your favorite male singer?

Jeff: When I was seriously starting to sing, I was a huge fan of Steve Walsh of Kansas and Lou Gramm of Foreigner.  Those guys had incredible power, range and emotion. My voice is nothing like theirs, but I was inspired. When I started singing in horn bands in the 80’s, I really came to appreciate blues and R&B guys like Freddie King, Wilson Pickett, and James Brown. To me, the great singers, whether they are male or female sing with soul. It doesn’t matter how many high notes you can hit, you’ve gotta make the audience feel something. It’s not easy, and that’s why the greats are great.

Judith: Stung Out plays throughout the Chicago metro area. Does the band have plans for going beyond the market?

Jeff: We’ll play just about anywhere!  We’d love to expand our reach as much as possible, but we really aren’t planning to take over the world any time soon.  We’re incredibly thankful for the loyalty of our audiences.  We recently celebrated five years together and over 200 shows, so it is kind of hard to plan on much more, but maybe next year.

Judith: Dream venue! If you could play any one venue in the country, which one would you choose?

Jeff: Red Rocks Amphitheatre which is outside of Denver.  It looks like an awesome venue!

Judith: If you could have dinner with just one musician/songwriter/singer from the era who would it be?

Jeff: Wow! You’re making me think! I think it would be Warren Zevon. He wrote songs with great heart, sadness, and humor and some were also pretty weird. I read his biography and it really made an impression on me.  Not sure I could have kept up with him, but dinner followed by cocktails would be most intriguing. It’s sad he’s gone.

Judith: The proverbial stuck on the desert island question: You are stuck on that island and you can only take five albums with you. What would you be taking?

Jeff: These are off the top of my head, and I’ll probably want to change the list tomorrow, but here goes. I'll give you six instead of five!

Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
The Beatles - Revolver
Jeff Beck - Wired
Steely Dan - Can't Buy a Thrill
Deep Purple - Machine Head
Crowded House - Woodface
Chicago Transit Authority - Chicago Transit Authority (Chicago's first album)

Judith: Did any one musician influence your work more than any other? 

Jeff: In 1980, I started as a lead singer with a bunch of local guys who are still some of my best friends. We had a trumpet, trombone and sax player in that band and one of the guys gave me a cassette of an album called Hearts Of Stone by Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes. A fun horn band out of New Jersey.  I had no idea who they were, but I related instantly.  Johnny is a gravelly voiced blues guy who sounds like he is having a party on every cut. So, I’d say Southside Johnny was really the guy who made me think I could pull off being a singer and have a great time while doing it.  Thankfully, so far, so good!

Judith: The rock and roll hall of fame has been notorious for making certain artists wait a long time for their induction. Is there an act that hasn't been inducted that you would like to see finally get their due?

Jeff: There are several! Jethro Tull, Todd Rundgren, Warren Zevon, Bad Company, War, Harry Nilsson, The Guess Who.  I don’t envy or blame the Hall Of Fame.  Picking favorites is not easy, or fair.  I’m sure they’ll get it right eventually!

Judith: Music is such an essential element of film. Imagine films like Rocky, The Magnificent Seven, The Mission, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid without their scores. The joy of watching A Hard Day's Night! In your opinion, what is the best music film of all-time?

Jeff: It's still hard to top Woodstock, even after all these years. It's so iconic with incredible performances. Same with The Song Remains the Same. Great bands captured at their peak. I gotta mention The Blues Brothers. It was pretty inspirational. I also liked a documentary called Muscle Shoals about the music and musicians who worked in that historic studio and another about a legendary producer called Tom Dowd and the Language of Music. I'm a classics kinda guy!    

Judith: Since you spent much of your career in media, television and editing, what do you feel is the best use of music in a current television series?

Jeff: I loved the music in Breaking Bad. In that same vein, music is great in Better Call Saul. My other favorite would probably be Fargo. It's an odd and quirky show and the music they use is great. Eclectic and mood making. I'd love to have a job picking music for television. 

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2017

Monday, May 2, 2016

Delightfully Hip Beatrix is a Must Do on your Restaurants to Visit List: Restaurant Review: Beatrix

Beatrix is one of the most delightfully hip, energetic and downright happy-go-lucky eateries in the entire Chicago metro area. This is one of the key locations you run to for absolutely creative and delicious food. Dare one say it, but why not say it, we love Beatrix.

Whether you are ordering appetizers (don't miss the wildly fabulous potato salad deviled eggs), breakfast (egg sandwiches rarely come better), brunch, lunch, dinner or dessert (blueberry pie slab!) you will not be disappointed.

Mushroom and quinoa burgers match the taste of the superb beef burgers. The salads are inventive and daringly good. Go with the Straight A salad (it is a straight A) and one of the finest kale salads being assembled in the city's center. You can't miss out on the Kennebec fries. They are salty, but ever so good.

Beatrix is consistently beyond excellent. The service is attentive, helpful and the servers are highly knowledgeable. This is a great place for a group outing or a one-on-one conversation. The acoustics are loud, but you can hear your seating mates. Excellent options for the vegetarian, although not quite as vegan friendly, but they will make to order items based on your dietary needs.

Beatrix is a Lettuce Entertain You owned location, so pull out those gift cards you undoubtedly must have received for some life event and make sure you make reservations at the lively, dependable and outstanding restaurant.

519 N. Clark Street
312 284 1377

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2016  

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Restaurant Review: Macello Ristorante - Authentic Italian Food in the West Loop

Macello Ristorante offers one of the most satisfying dining experiences you will encounter over the course of any given year in any major city. It is housed in a relatively nondescript building not far from the United Center. It has everything from the meticulously significant menu to the outstanding food to the absolutely glorious service. Macello's will thrill any diner or foodie looking for an outstanding lunch or dinner.

The overall ambiance is lively, colorful and feel-good and the aroma of those wood-burning ovens will keep you heavily engulfed in the anticipation of good and robust food. The menu is reasonably priced by any one's standards, let alone in the heart of the city.

The salads are artistically designed and the highlight here is the Asparagi salad. This salad is so beautiful you may be tempted to take one of those silly food posts for your social media accounts. Your brain working well will tell you not to do this, but the temptation hit us for a second.

Macello's is known for its pizza. The white and red versions are both solid. Go for the Margherita. It's a classic. Whether or not this is one of the best pizzas in the Chicago metro area is arguable. Our opinion is - it's a very good pizza. Is it one of the top five? In our opinion, not really, but again it is a very good pizza.

Both the pomodoro and the marinara sauces are excellent and the panini's are wonderful. Try the gigantic baked Calzone. You won't eat again for hours!

This is a superb location for a get together with friends, birthday celebrations or just going out for a good meal. The staff is amazingly friendly and the service is outstanding. We left a 30 percent tip for
our downright perfect server.

The desserts are out of this world. You will literally taste the single best cannoli in the entire city and the Tiramisu is fabulous.

If you are gluten-free you will find plenty of options on the menu for your diet.

Macello Ristorante is a highlight on the Chicago food scene.

Macello Ristorante
1235 West Lake Street
312 850 9870

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2016              

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Chicago Flower and Garden Show 2016

The Chicago Flower and Garden Show holds forth a long tradition in the history of Chicago as it dates back to 1847. The 2016 show is a joyous and bountiful sight for the eyes. Navy Pier hosts this greenest of events with a tremendous amount of loveliness, class, creativity and wit. As you enter, you are surrounded by a light and sight show that shouts out PHOTO OP! From there on in you will encounter gorgeous displays and lush plants that can't be seen in our backyards at this time of year.

The two major highlights of this year's dramatic show are the tulip gardens and the Zooblooms. The tulip venue is filled with over thirty different varieties of tulips. The colors are a feast for the eyes and you will be scouting around as to where you look next. Purples, reds, yellows, oranges, whites, combination patterns... Could any flower be more glorious than the open ended tulip? Well, if you think roses are even more stunning, you will witness some twenty different tea rose varieties full of spectacular colors.

The second must see is one of the first exhibits you see upon entry. Brookfield Zoo's Zooblooms are a lush garden display featuring snakes and peacocks made of flowers and the Zoobloom area features some learning tools on insects.

The unique umbrellas on display are a treat to view even though none of them could actually be used in the pouring rain, but the designs are a charming backdrop to the opening walk of the show.

The Hyacinth lounge offers the relaxing and sweet smelling display of one of the premiere flowers of the Chicago Metro area. Twenty varieties are on display in the 2016 show, so take your time, linger and take in the fragrances.

Seminars, food, tables full of goodies and a wide assortment of bulbed plants are for sale.

Visit the 2016 Chicago Flower and Garden Show at Navy Pier.

The show runs between Saturday, March 12 through Sunday, March 20.

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2016    


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Restaurant Review: La Buona Vita

The Chicago suburban experience offers up some fine downtown areas and one would be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable and social atmosphere than downtown LaGrange. It's impossible not to find some good, modest, neighborhood, casual dining offerings.

La Buona Vita certainly fulfills the goal of a good, modest neighborhood dining experience. It's a relatively small establishment with a nice bar and some good food. They offer cozy and romantic tables for couples enjoying a night on the town, but you are made comfortable if you are in a larger party (the table next to ours served a party of ten and they all seemed to be enjoying their night on the town). I chose to try La Buona Vita with a friend. Our meal was excellent starting with crusty, right out of the oven bread. The extra virgin olive oil and cheese gave us a wonderful start to our meal. Get it piping hot and make sure you worked out earlier in the day, since you will want to indulge in several slices of that piping hot bread!

My choice for the evening was cheese ravioli. I went in this direction even though the pull to angel hair with marinara battled for my attention. I'm glad I sided with the ravioli. The marinara sauce was good and a bit sweet (loved the small tomato chunks, as well). They serve up a nice supply of the ravioli and they were delicious. Ricotta was high end.

The salad with salmon was notably quite worthwhile. They cooked the salmon without anyone asking for a non-raw middle. Soups are good as well.

The highlight beyond the food was the music provided (Friday and Saturday nights). The young woman on her guitar was talented and versatile with a superb mix in the music catalog. When she pulled out It Won't Be Long from a 1964 Beatles collection she endeared herself to much of the room. She is worthy of a visit and don't forget the tip.

I will say, if you go on a cold night, you may need to wear a turtleneck, since the venue is small and the restaurant was a bit chilly. Just a warning and that is my opinion.  I often feel a bit cold.

La Buona Vita is a solid find in a lovely neighborhood. Good casual dining!

They take reservations and provide free valet parking on Friday and Saturday evenings, even though La Grange provides lots of parking opportunities and they are close to the restaurant.

La Buona Vita
15 W. Calendar
LaGrange, IL
708 352 1621

11am-10pm - Mondays - Sundays

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2016

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Pizza Barra - One of the Best Pizza Locations in All of Chicagoland

Chicago. Chicago is known for many things. Music.You can place the emphasis on some home-grown blues music. Sports. This is a sports loving town. White Sox, Blackhawks, Bears, Bulls and Cubs. We are a dedicated group of people supporting the home teams. Politics. This is a politically minded part of the country. Pizza. Yes. Pizza. The best pizza in the world and I do indeed mean the best pizza in the world can be found right here in the third largest market in the United States. No one provides better pizza than the wide variety of pizzerias in Chicago and the surrounding suburban areas. Thin crust. Thick crust. Deep dish. Stuffed. Artisan. We have it all and it's all magnificent.

One of the newest entries in the pizza world is Pizza Barra in Oak Brook. Pizza Barra is the creative masterpiece of Rich Labriola (he owns Labriola's, which is one of my favorite places to grab everything from a salad to a baked goodie) and chef Chris Macchia. These men know how to cook and devise a wonderfully appealing physical property where one can be entertained by the lovely ambiance, the absolutely outstanding service and the food. The salads were excellent, but we didn't find ourselves plopping ourselves down, because of the salads.

The highlights on this menu were the Pizza Barra Supreme (to be honest, we asked for the pepperoni to not be placed, but the wide assortment of vegetables made for an astonishing pizza masterpiece and dare we say, even better as a day after leftover) and the Pomodorini Artisan Pizza. This is the hands down winner for the best artisan pizza in a fifty mile radius. Superbly crafted coal fired oven pizza made fresh and the dough is a days in the making gift.

The server we had was knowledgeable and professional. The location is welcoming and downright comforting.

Whatever you have going over the next few months make sure you get a chance to drive to Oak Brook and engage yourself in the delightful and delicious pizzas at Pizza Barra.

Pizza Barra
3011 Butterfield
Oak Brook, IL
630 861 6177

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2016

Monday, November 9, 2015

Concert Review: Don Henley at the Chicago Theatre - 2015

Don Henley is not only one of the most gifted songwriters and singers of the rock era, but he is also one of the most underrated members of that same era. He is a lyrical poet who writes about life, as it is. His current album, Cass County is packed with one magnificent song after another, which is a rare feat for any artist, but certainly an oddity for a 68 year old.

Cass County is the first album in Henley’s career recorded under the Capitol Records label. It is a success story for an industry that has a difficult time launching anything outside of certain contemporary artists. Henley paid tribute to Capitol Records by acknowledging that this was the label that gave us Frank Sinatra (a third of his career), the Beatles, Nat King Cole and the Beach Boys.   

The tour opened a couple of weeks ago and it is a short one, so unlike the iconic band he is a founding member of he will not be on the road for years or even months in support of Cass County. The show last night opened with Seven Bridges Road, the only piece of music ever performed by the Eagles that Henley brings forth during this show. The tremendous vocal group assembled of his current touring band were outstanding as they brought forth delicious harmonies at the Chicago Theater.

Henley has enough material to do a full-course show without reverting to the giant hits of the band. Henley supplied nearly the entire Cass County album and each song worked. It was like listening to songs you already knew, but that is in large part due to Henley’s still vibrant and silky voice; and his innate talent for bringing to life images and moments from life. Clearly, the aged Henley doesn’t match his once perfect vocal style and skill, but there is still a mighty giant lying in those vocal chords. He waxed poetically in a raspy voice a couple of times, but the raspy worked. That raspy voice sounded lived in and it was at times heartbreaking and haunting.

He pulled a variety of songs from his illustrious solo career, including one of the finest songs ever recorded by anyone, Dirty Laundry. As Henley put it “it is still relevant” and “now it’s even worse.” Yep, the bubble-headed bleach blond comes on at five. The opening strands of Boys of Summer still excites to the core and there couldn’t be a more beautifully written ode to love and lost love than The Heart of the Matter. This stunner appears on his album, The End of the Innocence and from my perspective it is the best song of his lengthy songwriting career and yes, that is saying something.

The show was a shocking two hours and forty minutes, which was an unbelievable tribute to fans, particularly since he didn’t have to do it. Fans would have been thrilled with two hours, but Don gave us what we wanted and we didn’t even know we wanted all of it. He pulled out a cover of Everybody Wants to Rule the World from I don’t know where, but wow, it was a highlight of the show. All She Wants To Do Is Dance literally had everyone on their feet.

The musicians assembled are some of the nation’s finest and it was a tight fit all night long. Unlike some other artists, Don Henley played it straight and delivered the tracks as we know and love them. The three female backing singers (at times, they sang duets with Don) were all terrific and easily could have been headlining their own shows in another era where talent once won out.

Henley did more speaking on stage than he has done in his entire career. He spins and weaves stories for almost every song. Some are longer than others, but you didn’t want him to stop. The story he delivers regarding Train in the Distance was touching, heartfelt and sentimental.

He may be the most down-to-earth and steeped in reality famous person in the world. You literally want to have lunch with the guy. He’s smart, well-read, insightful, a gifted storyteller and downright funny. I laughed out loud several times as he managed to be funnier than most comics on late-night programs.

He delivered stories about rain in the southwest, making plenty of mistakes and he delved into a revealing situation when an old flame wants to reconnect. Not for the romance, but just to stay in touch.  

The show opens with a lovely montage of audio bites filled with famous speeches (think Franklin Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor and John F. Kennedy asking what can we do for our country). The audio clearly showcases some of Henley’s favorite music and we hear everything from the Glenn Miller Orchestra to Elvis Presley to Patsy Cline to the Beatles. Above the stage are a collection of vintage radios that embody Henley’s life in music. It's a simple tool, but a creative one.       

I will look forward to his next go-round. One of my deep emotional attachments from a musical perspective is the music of the Eagles; and Henley was clearly one of the main reasons why their music and his music still resonate so powerfully in my own personal life.

Thank you Mr. Henley.         

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2015

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Restaurant Review: Formento's - In the Heart of the Market District

We don't write reviews for lousy or even mediocre dining locations. It's not worth it on any level. I only spend time and effort on rewarding excellent eateries with a review. Chicago and Then Some made a commitment to engage in shining a light on the city's finest fooderies.

So to my fellow gastronomical gurus (or wannabe gurus) I found a superb entry into the stakes of fine Italian restaurants. Cooking Italian food is not easy. On the surface, it may seem easy, but it isn't. A great sauce is something to treasure and unfortunately, you rarely come by a great sauce or a great dining location, for that matter. Formento's on West Randolph Street is seriously worthy of your time.

The restaurant is a gorgeous display of understated elegance from the antique armoires to the distinctly eye-catching light fixtures to the magnificent presentation of the bar area. Formento's wields a big stick in the more than appropriate location for dining out for special occasions and for not so special ones as well. The service is excellent.

Chef and Partner, Tony Quartaro has provided fantastic food with superb presentations on everything from the exquisite marinara sauce to the desserts. Formento's hits all the objectives in the search for fine food, beautiful atmosphere and worthwhile service.

Appetizers are as wonderful as the entrees, but the jardinera sauce with bread which opens your experience is one of the highlights at Formento's. They can literally boast of having one of the best jardinera sauces in the city. Outstanding. Keep going for the bread!

Gluten free and dairy free options are available, but for those who need neither of those distinctions then go wild with this dining delight. Formento's is a must go to dining experience.

925 West Randolph Street
312 690 7295

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2015

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Restaurant Review: Roberto's Ristorante & Pizzeria - Elmhurst

The town of Elmhurst is among the top suburban downtown areas in Chicagoland. It's a delightful town center with worthwhile walking sidewalks. Roberto's Ristorante & Pizzeria is an authentic and homey Italian center of edible treats. The menu offers up a wide assortment of intensely Italian specialties; and one can also indulge in excellent meat and seafood offerings that aren't necessarily in the Italian vernacular.

We were all fully engaged in the superb dinner menu that also included near perfect bread options and excellent appetizers. Roberto's provides a downright suave menu punctuated with elegance and yet still streetside. Risotto specials are flavorful and undeniably first-rate. Pastas are tender and the capellini was spot-on in cooked perfection. Lasagna is wide, long and top flight. Italian food is inevitably about the sauces and the sauces here are superb. Top ranking goes to the marinara. A tasty pesto was quite good as well.

The highlight appetizer was the Fiore Di Latte featuring a hardy Mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, olive oil, fresh basil and some roasted red peppers. The peppers were unexpected and now I don't know if I would want it any other way.

The service is impeccable and we even had an Italian (yes, a server born and raised in Italy) server which managed to extend the concept of Italian dining to a level rarely achieved.

Roberto's Ristorante & Pizzeria
483 Spring Road
Elmhurst, Illinois

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2015