Friday, July 27, 2018

Handlery Hotel: Fabulous, free Friday night jazz and much more

There are two family-run Handlery Hotels in California.  This one, in sunny San Diego, and one on Union Square
in San Francisco.  The southern California property is famous for its spectacular Friday night jazz shows.


The Handlery Hotel in San Diego features a no-cover-charge
Friday jazz happy hour.  The house is also packed and the music is tops.

EACH FRIDAY afternoon in San Diego, just off Interstate 8, a line begins for happy hour begins forming outside the  Handlery Hotel. It's an hour or more before the 5:30 curtain but inside the Mission Valley property, musicians are tuning up, rehearsing for a full house which will soon crowd in to secure seats for the traditional free Friday night jazz concerts.
The Handlery Hotel in San Diego
offers R&R, Friday jazz, location
and a pretty wedding venue. 

San Diego's Handlery Hotel is one of two handsome California Handlery properties.  The family-owned pair of friendly, personalized-service hotels also includes an attractive San Francisco property on Union Square.

San Francisco's Handlery Hotel on Geary Street is ideally located for
a work or play get-away. The property is family run, one of two in California.

BESIDES ITS famous two-hour Friday jazz concerts, the San Diego Handlery property is  known for its lovely weddings.
Stand-up bass players -- the best in southern California --
are a treat to hear, often in jazz trios at the Friday concerts.
The always temperate weather gives San Diegans a leg up for wedding plans and the hotel is justifiably proud of its outdoor garden ceremony settings, with pretty ballrooms, al fresco patios, and highly rated cuisine. Our experience at the Handlery is that the staff is gracious, accommodating and goes out of its way to make a visit pleasant.
Our favorite waiter and drink server, Lupe, has been with the property for years. He has our beverages waiting when he sees us enter. This kind of welcome is vanishing in our high-tech, less-talk world, so we look forward to  the weekly greeting and Lupe's cordial welcome. The no-cover-charge feature is rare, too.
Jazz flutist Holly Hofmann schedules southern California's
top jazz performers each Friday night at the Handlery.
IN SAN FRANCISCO, the Handlery is known for its lovely conference facilities and its inviting "drop off the grid" weekend specials. The property is beautifully situated in the heart of one of America's most beloved cities. Bed and breakfast specials look enticing and the property is dog-friendly -- good news for us Yorkie lovers.
The San Francisco location, 351 Geary, can't be beat, either. Fabulous dining awaits in any direction, with top theater and shopping, cable car service and other public transportation all within quick walking distance.
The musicians are always top-drawer at the free Friday jazz concerts
at the San Diego Handlery Hotel's popular 950 Lounge.
IN SAN DIEGO, thank the collaboration between public radio Jazz 88.3 and the hotel.   Jazz flutist Holly Hofman schedules world class musicians every Friday from 5:30-7:30PM.  We enjoy the sample platter with a tasty mix of shrimp, quesadillas and chicken, and the hamburger is one of the best around.
Recent headliners included Vocalist Sacha Boutros Trio with Mikan Zlatkovich and Evona Wascinski and pianist Richard Thompson with Mackenzie Leighton and Charles Weller. Vocalist Allison Adams Tucker is up this Friday, July 27, headlining with her trio including Peter Sprague and Rob Thorsen.
"California's finest" is how Holly Hofmann bills her guest jazz players.
On Aug. 3, enjoy pianist Chase Morrin Trio with Max Kraus and Fernando Gomez; Aug. 10, guitarist Frank Potenza with Rob Thorsen and Jim Plank, Aug. 17,  the Echos Quartet with Matt DiBiase, Max Bessesen, Evan Levine and Chase Kuesel; Aug. 24, bassist Rob Thorsen with Hugo Suarez and Richard Sellers; Aug. 31, alto saxophonist Paul Combs Trio. San Diego's public radio jazz program, Jazz 88.3, sponsors the 5:30-7:30 p.m. jazz happy hours.
The hotel also offers reasonable rates, a fun, full menu in the restaurant and the unusual perk of complimentary shuttle service to the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, SeaWorld, Fashion Valley Mall and Old Town. For more:;; for more on either hotel and the Friday jazz treats.

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers on a recent tour of Vietnam.
Next week's column gives pointers on making the most of any vacation.

  UP NEXT: A few tips in planning your summer vacation will make the journey run smoothly and give you the most bang for your buck.  Whether you're planning three weeks in Europe or Southeast Asia, or a long weekend of camping near home, it's important to have your ducks in a row before you leave home. Book tours, hotels and even some meals before and get all your paperwork in order and you'll come out on top. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays when we post each week, a fresh twist on the arts, travel, nature, family and more.  

Friday, July 20, 2018

World class musicians open doors for young players at Tippet Rise

Elliana Broscious, eight, had never touched a cello, but was making a pleasant sound by the end of an impromptu lesson. 


Violinist Krista Bennion Feeney played "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"
after showing aspiring violinists a few points at Tippet Rise this week.

TIME SPENT with a brilliant musician can be life-altering for a child with a song in her heart.
Such is the case at the Tippet Rise Art Center family concerts, when world class musicians take children under wing to teach instrument basics and encourage curious kids to study music.
New York cellist Myron Lutzke, shows young students how
to properly hold the bow at an "Instrument Petting Zoo." 
We took my great-niece, Elliana Broscious, and her brother Connor to a recent concert at this inspiring multi-million-dollar venue near Fishtail, Montana. In blending art and music with nature, Tippet Rise is gaining an international reputation for originality, excellence, beauty and daring.
Elliana, 8, hadn't decided on her instrument of choice yet.  Her older brother, Connor, 13, is studying both piano and trumpet.
So on a lovely sunlit Sunday, we strolled from the Center's cafe to the Tiara acoustic shell to see if Elliana might choose her instrument at the "instrument petting zoo." Enter, the cello!
Add caption Stewart Rose of New York City Opera Orchestra and St. Luke's
Chamber Ensemble, both in New York, took time to encourage youngsters.
THE FREE FAMILY concerts are designed to showcase Tippet Rise guest artists in an informal venue. Musicians work with children,  sharing their love of their instruments, telling anecdotes, performing short pieces to hold the attention of young, fertile, fast-moving minds.
ELLIANA FIRST spent a half hour with amiable cellist Myron Lutzke, who joined other players from New York's renowned St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble.
  Pianist Pedja Muzijevic, violinist Krista Bennion Feeny, French hornist
Stewart Rose and cellist Myron Lutzke share stories and music tips for families
Lutzke, a soft-spoken middle-aged man who adores his 18th Century instrument, showed Elli and other aspiring musicians how to hold their pint-size cellos.  Gently, he  instructed them on positioning their hands on bow and strings. "Not too far up," he urged.  "Keep the bow near the bridge for the best sound -- to avoid a scratchy tone."  As he worked with the children, they listened and improved, learning how to make sounds more vibrant, stationing the bow near the bridge, moving the bow "down" and "up."
"Look how quickly Elliana is picking it up," beamed Lutzke. "She has potential." When told the day could be life-altering for her, he smiled, "That's the goal."
Elliana's mother, Aurora Pierson-Cosgriffe, said the experience "ignited a joy in Elliana for the cello. I see an eagerness to learn. It fueled her passion for music."
Professional players instructed youngsters on proper
positioning of hands, and how to hold the bow.
MEANWHILE, Pedja Muzijevic, pianist with St. Luke's, encouraged children to try their luck on the keyboard, while violinist Krista Bennion Feeney played a playful "Twinkle
Twinkle Little Star" to enraptured ears, and Stewart Rose instructed youngsters on holding the French horn in place, pursing the lips and making a sound. He later played cuttings from famous movie themes -- "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" -- to illustrate  how music delights us and permeates our lives.
AFTER THE "Zoo" closed, acclaimed pianist Muzijevic and colleagues kept the action lively, performing excerpts from Bach, Scarlatti and Brahms. The sold-out concert included a nod to  movies, when Feeney played "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg,
Vintage photo of the writer
(Christene "Cookie" Meyers)
playing saxophone, age 9,
framed by her beloved piano.
beloved song from "The Wizard of Oz."
 My own musical exposure began as a 15-month old when I was assisted up onto a piano seat to plunk a tune. Music surrounded me. Both my classically trained mother and her mother played beautiful piano. Daddy played trumpet, and piano on black keys by ear, like Irving Berlin. While I learned classical music, my exposure included other genres: ragtime, jazz, show tunes, folk and gospel. I segued from piano to organ, saxophone, clarinet, flute, guitar and violin. My sister Peny, played several instruments, too, including piano, viola and trombone. Other siblings studied; ours was a house of music.
THE MUSICAL PETTING Zoo at Tippet Rise is part of an extraordinary artistic endeavor on a working ranch near Fishtail, in Stillwater County. Tippet Rise Art Center is in its third season of concerts by world-renowned musicians. Tours of its sculptures are available. The center is open through Sept. 8, on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Tickets are available for the next family concert, Aug. 15. Reservations are required to visit. More at
Friday jazz at the Handlery's 950 Lounge is always a packed house.

  UP NEXT:  On another musical note, the Handlery Hotel in San Diego is home to a wonderful tradition:  Friday night jazz. We take you inside this family run hotel, which offers delightful free Friday concerts with some of Southern California's finest jazz musicians.  Comfy seats, intimate concert space and great prices on happy hour drinks and appetizers await.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays when we post for each weekend, a novel look at travel, art, adventure, nature and family.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Shakespeare in the Parks offers the Bard's best on five-state grand tour

The ladies take revenge on their fickle paramours as the action heats up in "Love's Labour's Lost," playing in repertory
with "Othello," as Shakespeare in the Parks continues its 61 stops in a multi-state region. 


Back stage, on the lawn of Fishtail Family Park,
 actors make quick changes behind the scenes.


FOR NEARLY a half century of summers, Montana's Shakespeare in the Parks has been bringing quality professional theater to thousands of people in rural areas of the Rocky Mountains.
In city parks, on football fields, pastures and school yards, the beloved troupe presents a remarkable six dozen shows during its summer season.
 Jordan Pettis plays Don Adriano de Armado,
a fantastical Spaniard. The actor's character
keeps the action exciting and audience delighted. 
What makes the undertaking noteworthy is that in a single day, the company transforms an empty space into a believable theatrical stage -- complete with balcony, set and costumes. The feat is remarkable when one considers it is done day after day with little time off.
On their way to "maturity," the high-stepping quartet
 of young men cavort. Costumes are kept clean and
pressed, despite an arduous schedule of transportation.
 WHEN I FIRST INTERVIEWED the founder of Montana's Shakespeare in the Parks, Joel Jahnke said the touring troupe's mission was to serve rural areas and people who might not normally be able to afford or have access to quality theater. My first of many interviews with Jahnke was in 1976, a few  years after the company's 1973 beginning on a bare bones budget. The energetic longtime faculty member at Montana State University retired a few 
years ago, but his influence and goals are still felt and perpetuated in the company's 46th season., organized by executive director Kevin Asselin. This year, the ensemble is producing 76 performances in 61 communities across Montana, northern Wyoming, eastern Idaho, western North Dakota and eastern Washington. Theater lovers of all ages in five states enjoy polished productions of "Othello" and "Love's Labour's Lost" in a variety of venues ranging from fairgounds and parking lots to memorial pavilions, barns, amphitheaters and the occasional nursing home.
THE COMPANY features
Before the Fishtail show this week, workers began assembling
the stage in mid-morning. By mid- afternoon, townsfolk
began arriving to set up their chairs.
ten professional actors, selected by national auditions, and 25 more talents in the production company -- sound and lighting designers, carpenters, costumers, prop master, set designer, directors, choreographer and more. The range of towns is primarily rural, but includes the troupe's hometown, Bozeman, and Billings, another college town.  The company hails from a range of U.S. states -- Kentucky, New York, Michigan,California, Tennessee, Texas and beyond. They gather at MSU and the season kicks off in mid-June in the MSU Grove, then tours through Labor Day. The run ends on home turf: Livingston, Bozeman, Belgrade and Manhattan.
Christene "Cookie" Meyers, who has written about
Shakespeare in the Parks for decades, tips a pre-show glass.
WE TOOK IN a delightful "Love's Labour's Lost" this week at Fishtail Family Park, where several hundred people enjoyed the spirited story of  a quartet of gentlemen who try in vain to swear off the favors of the fair sex.
 The men evolve as they struggle to reach maturity -- delighting the crowd with the Bard's oft-used themes of mistaken identity, disguises, and "good for the goose, good for the gander" theatrics. Modern music enhances.
By the tour's end, more than 35,000 people will have been treated to the pair of plays. By tradition, the company chooses two works each season to illustrate the broad range of the playwright's genius.
Standing ovation this week in Fishtail, for a bravura performance.

Backers and donors keep the performances free, another unusual feature. Civic groups and arts organizations sponsor -- our Fishtail show was presented by Absaroka Fine Arts.
DONATIONS are welcome and the website shows you where to catch the next show. The company's outreach extends beyond Shakespeare in the Parks to a school program and other fund-raisers and presentations.
The troupe is in Silvergate, Big Timber, Powell, Cody and Worland Wyoming, Roundup and Townsend this week.

Hands on coaching comes to aspiring cellist Elliana Broscious,
from New York based cellist Myron Lutzke at Tippet Rise Art Center.
UP NEXT:   Tippet Rise Art Center near Fishtail, Montana, imports world class musicians to entertain in a summer concert season.  The creative enterprise also introduces youngsters to the music with a novel "Instrument Petting Zoo."  We take you there, with our great niece, Elliana, who had her first cello lesson from a noted New York cellist. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays when we post for each weekend, a novel look at travel, art, adventure, nature and family.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Spectacular Yellowstone Park delights foreign guests in high season

And they're off! British guests John and Sue Speight, left and second from right, visited Christene "Cookie" Meyers, Bruce
Keller and Nick and Nora recently, for a week of travel through south-central Montana and into Yellowstone National Park.
Thumbs up to Yellowstone Lake and the historic Lake Hotel from our
English visitors, John and Sue Speight, of Yorkshire, with Bruce Keller.
They enjoyed our "off the beaten path" tour of our corner of Montana.



YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK is best shared with friends -- and most pleasantly, with chums from another country.
We showed off the nation's oldest national park recently to our friends, John and Sue Speight, an adventuresome English couple we met a few years ago on a Southeast Asia cruise.
Stellar view from Lake Hotel, the park's oldest accommodation.
A few years ago, we hit it off at our table on Celebrity's Millennium, traveling together to Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam. We share a love of travel, nature and the outdoors -- they own a farm and bed and breakfast in Yorkshire and we spend part of the year in the rural Northern Rockies. We all love to read and enjoy music.
So when we discovered Yellowstone was on their bucket list, we offered ourselves as tour guides, and they accepted with pleasure.  Next year, we'll visit them in Yorkshire and they'll show us the sights of this lively, lovely and historic part of the United Kingdom.
Up the Sioux Charley trail near Nye, Montana, a prelude to several days
in Yellowstone National Park.  Here John and Sue Speight and Christene.
THE TWO flew from their home to Denver and spent two days driving through Colorado and Wyoming to our Montana place not far from Red Lodge.  We knew they would be tired before tackling the park, so we began our week together with short jaunts to Red Lodge, Roscoe and a hike up the Stillwater Gorge towards Lake Sioux Charley.
They were amazed at the vastness of the American West.  They're accustomed to driving through a country or two in a day on the Continent, and can be at their vacation home in southern Spain in hours -- from door to door.
Sue and John Speight joined tourists estimated to reach near 4 million this
year, in their visit to Yellowstone National Park, here at the Lower Falls.
SO TAKING into account the expanse of Yellowstone -- and our limited time together -- we decided to tailor a tour to their desires and interests.
They'd never seen a wolf or bear outside of the Discovery Channel, and we knew we hadn't much of a chance of spotting either critter on the parks busy summer roads. So we decided to take them to the wonderful Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone.  
Stop and smell the roses -- and taste the cappuccino, here
at the charming Piccola Cucina in Red Lodge.
WE'D WRITTEN about this delightful place before, where birds and animals that cannot be returned to the wilderness are cared for.  Exhibits, films and demonstrations delighted our friends and the four of us spent a lovely afternoon there after a fun lunch at Bullwinkle's.  That was most of one of three full YP days, which included driving from our Lake Hotel base to places  which we knew would be less crowded. The area around Norris fascinated them with its geysers, hot pots and well designed boardwalk.  
Bison in the fields and on the roads were a highlight
for our guests from Yorkshire, England.
BECAUSE WE KNOW what high summer season means in terms of crowds,lines and slow-moving traffic, we asked them to prioritize. "You're in charge," said Sue. "You know your park and the highlights -- and we appreciate avoiding crowds as much as possible."
We studied Yellowstone's main road, the Grand Loop, and decided we could not tackle the entire loop -- even in the three days we had with them. Our "scenic tour" actually began before the park, because we'd driven into Yellowstone via Bozeman, Big Sky and the beautiful Gallatin Canyon, on US Highway 191.  We'd also spent two days exploring the Red Lodge, Roscoe and Stillwater areas, so our guests already had an introduction to the wonders of Montana's back roads. We decided to skip the places we knew would be crowded. That included the most visited attraction of the park, Old Faithful, the Old Faithful Inn and the pools on the walking paths. Fine with our fellow crowd-avoiders.  
A visit to Lake Hotel is a must, even if you're not staying there.
The beautiful lobby features live music and the restaurant is tops.
OUR BRITS enjoyed what we chose instead -- the hot pots, petrified sequoia and a colorful exit through Mammoth and Gardiner where they posed by Teddy Roosevelt's arch. We also nixed the Grand Canyon's Artist Point view of the Lower Falls, the most traditional stopping off point.  Because it was backed up with cars and campers, and Uncle Tom's was under construction, we took our guests instead to Lookout Point, a stunning vista of the falls, closer to Canyon Village with an active osprey nest. They also enjoyed a hike into Fountain Pots near day's end, when the crowds thinned. And they saw geysers at Norris Junction, without the crushing Old Faithful crowds. Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to see the wonders and we also saw bison aplenty.
WE AVERAGED 35 or 40 miles an hour in our guests' car, taking our time, stopping as bison meandered across the roads and into the fields to graze. A few times we were at a standstill.
It's 142 miles around Yellowstone's main loop, which doesn't sound like much, but with stops and starts, it can be at least five to seven hours. Most people split it into at least two days.
You may not see a grizzly bear in Yellowstone, but you can enjoy friendly
service and fine Montana fare at the Grizzly Bar in Roscoe.
Our best advice for delivering a thumbs-up tour for guests -- foreign or domestic -- is to give them something unusual.  If they want to avoid crowds, as our Brit pals did, and wish to soak up a few spectacular parts of your area, take them to favorite local places. Once in the park, there are plenty of mud pots, geysers and pools aside from the most famous ones. 
OUR GUESTS were thrilled that they did get to see a grizzly -- up close. We took them to a delightful dinner at the friendly Grizzly Bar in Roscoe. Complete with tasty, grass-fed Montana burgers.

Four gentlemen decide to give up women and other "distractions" in
"Love's Labour's Lost" -- here on stage at Fishtail Family Park.
UP NEXT: Montana's beloved Shakespeare in the Parks has been delighting people in five states for 46 years.  We take you on the road with the troupe, presenting two of the Bard's classic works in 61 venues with nearly 80 performances.  We enjoyed "Love's Labour's Lost" this week at the Fishtail Family Park. We'll let you know how to catch the company for "Love's Labour's Lost" and "Othello."  Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays when we post each week, a fresh twist on the arts, travel, nature, family and more.