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Austin: City...Limitless

The excitement I felt when I found out my spontaneous travel destination was Austin, was palpable.  It's as if Time Out New York Magazine and Booking.com knew that Austin, Texas was my spirit animal.  If you know my brand, Eat Travel Rock, at all; you're aware that I love to combine food and music...and of course travel, in any situation.  Well this was the ultimate trifecta.  Good times were about to be had...by one.  

I have traveled solo many times...for quick work trips.  I have never traveled on a solo vacation before, and I must say... I was pumped.  No one other that myself dictating when and where to go, what to see, what to eat.  The decision making began the evening before my flight when I actually found out that Austin was my destination.  I immediately went on the Booking Now app on my iPhone and began to search.  The ease and functionality was superior to ANY travel app I'd ever used.  Since Booking Now is for travel less than 48 hrs out,  I was a bit worried that desirable accommodations might not be readily available.  Incorrect.  The most luxurious hotels in town, as well as unique and boutique hotels were easy to find...and more importantly, affordable.  Many of the hotels even had discounts that were just for Booking.com and Booking Now customers.  I booked a gorgeous room at the JW Mariott in a matter of a minute and I was all set.  Ready to wing it in Austin!

My view of the Colorado River from my JW Mariott room

When I arrived in Austin, and after I got settled into my glorious city center accommodations with a stunning view of the Colorado River... I got my game face on.  Fortunately, Time Out New York Magazine and Booking.com wanted me to explore the musical culture of the Live Music Capital of the World.  This was going to be fun, to say the least.  My first challenge was to "bear hug the unknown", and seek out a local record shop...one that is hidden or known only to locals.  I decided to walk down South Congress, or as the locals call it, SoCo.  I didn't let the 100 degree heat sway me from my mission.  I found a tiny little spot called Friends of Sound, and believe me, it was hidden.  First, I ventured off the main drag and down a little side street.  The sign said "entrance in alley"  So I walked down the alley...then around an old brick building... then around another corner. Finally, tucked away, was a vintage vinyl shop that was so perfectly and authentically Austin.  I shopped a bit and of course picked up some old school Country tunes like pre-outlaw Waylon Jennings and the Best of Johnny Cash.  I then cozied up to the manager to see if he had any great recs for where to see some live music.  Not just any live music, mind you... but my next challenge was to "scare myself silly"  and find a local gig that was well outside my musical comfort zone.  Well he and a fellow shopper gave me some great tips for where to find some great live shows that evening... shows that were not necessarily Eat Travel Rock friendly.  

Friend of Sound Records

Later, I ventured out for my first ever solo "night out on the town".  It was great.  Amidst the hustle and bustle of buzzing 6th street in downtown Austin, I hardly felt alone.  The vibe was electric, and music was pouring out of every doorway and corridor. I was headed toward the Red Eyed Fly and it reached me before I reached it.  The music was LOUD... and joyfully angry sounding.  I asked the door guy to fill me in and he said the Death Metal show on the outside patio was $10.  SOLD!! Now, I'm usually very non-discriminating when it comes to Rock music.  I love it all.  But death metal has always been an enigma to me.  How can you even understand what they're saying with all that grunting and barking into the mic??? Plus it just seemed...scary! Well, I let go of all that and head banged with the best of them...with a Lone Star beer in hand.  The crowd seemed friendly and no one seemed to mind that I only had 15 tattoos instead of 50.  After a while, even though the music was starting to make my head hurt, I could see why people gravitated toward the overall vibe.  Death Metal will not likely be filling my iPod soon, but it was sure fun for 30 minutes.  

Death Metal band at Red Eyed Fly

Next up, I wanted to venture even farther from 6th Street, and "abandon my compass".  I needed to find a Rock bar that was in a part of town unknown to me.  I found this tiny little run down club called Beer Land.  It was definitely off the beaten path and looked right up my alley (no pun intended).  They had a surfer-esque garage band on stage and they were totally my taste.  A cross between the Ventures and Green Day.  As I cozied up to my 2nd tall-boy of Lone Star, I sat back and realized how fortunate I was to be experiencing something so magical.  Not even 24 hrs before, I didn't even know I'd be in Austin.  Now here I am, sippin' on a cold one, and soaking up one of the coolest musical scenes on the planet.  Bless your heart Rock N' Roll.  

Surfer-rock band at Beer Land

My final challenge was to find an iconic spot in town where a part of musical history occurred.  After some research, it became clear where I needed to visit.  Arlyn Studios is a place where music history has been made; over and over again.  This recording studio is not only the home studio of Willie Nelson, but many of my all-time favorites have recorded here: Waylon Jennings, Sublime, Neil Young, Snoop Dogg, Gary Clark Jr., Phish, and Merle Haggard, just to name a few.  Their history is rich, but even more impressive is what the music is made with/on.  Arlyn Studios possesses one of the few Neve recording consoles in existence.  If you saw Dave Grohl's documentary, Sound City, you would know the level of prestige and mystique this conveys.  Not only do they have a Neve console, but it is a Neve/API hybrid and the only one like it in the world.  As the gracious owner of Arlyn, Lisa Fletcher, explained to me..."It's like the Bentley and Rolls Royce of sound boards coming together."  I was lucky enough to have Lisa give me an after hours tour of the entire studio.  I couldn't get over the musical history that was in my presence.  She even let me "play" with the Neve console.  To touch the boards where some of the most significant albums in music history were made, was surreal. I could actually feel the pulse of all the sounds that have been flowing through that studio for decades.  It was an experience that will last a lifetime.  

Me getting to touch history at Arlyn Studios

After all of my musical challenges were completed... it was time to EAT!! You didn't think I'd forget the food, did you?!  Here is a run down of some of my favorite Austin meals. Many of these recommendations came from locals as well as  Time Out Magazine Austin.  Lonesome Dove Western Bistro was first.  Wow.  Chef Tim Love's latest adventure in on point.  The menu is eclectic and represented by almost every animal species on earth... from duck to rattlesnake.  The food was outstanding, and since I was solo, they let me do a tasting of several of the dishes.  I would definitely say the best piece of fried catfish I'd ever had.  The staff was overly accommodating and friendly.  It was my happy place.  

Foie Gras Ice Cream Lollipop at Lonesome Dove 

Next up was to satisfy my taco craving.  You can't go to Texas without filling up on this Tex-mex staple.  Torchy's Tacos was ALL i'd been hearing about and it was a must.  I took an Uber to this little trailer park lot and there was Torchy's. A cute little food trailer in a dusty parking lot surrounded by red picnic tables.  I actually had a fried avocado taco...my life will NEVER be the same.  It was taco heaven...in a trailer park.  

Finally, I had my last meal at Odd Duck.  I could not hear enough about this James Beard Award nominated hot spot.  I also heard their brunch was spectacular, so that's what I went with.  Everything they serve is locally sourced and sustainable.  If you don't believe me, in the most serendipitous fashion, they sat me at the bar right next to Farmer Chris, who is actually the chicken farmer from whom they directly source their eggs.  My egg education is now on a loftier level... and the dishes I enjoyed at Odd Duck were next level.  It was one of those authentic experiences that can't be described, only felt.  I knew I was in a special place, away from the tourists and the hustle, where I could feel the true sense of this remarkable city.  My last bite and breath of Southern Texas before heading back to Chicago.  

Needless to say, traveling solo may be my new favorite thing.  Not only was I able to learn so much more about Austin, its music, and its culture, but I was able to learn more about myself.  My sense of adventure is alive and well, and people and places (and music) that once seemed foreign or intimidating, are now welcomed and appreciated.  I'm so grateful for this quick journey, and even though i'm back in Chicago, in my comfort zone...Austin is already calling me back. 

Anguilla & St. Barths- Best Vacation of My Life

I had never been anywhere warm for New Year's Eve...ever.  34 NYEs have been spent in insufferable arctic temperatures.  Fortunately for me, my better half made sure my 35th NYE was spent in the warm Caribbean sun.  It can be very hard for me to stay out of the planning phase of a trip, but I let Jay and his buddies take the reigns on this one... and wow, did they pull off one hell of a trip.  Note to self:  Always leave trip planning to adventuresome men who love to party. 

I had never been to, nor really heard of Anguilla (pronounced: An-gwhil-uh).  Apparently it was in the British West Indies...and that was good enough for me.  Let me cut to the chase.  The island is perfection.  It's only 13 miles long and 3 miles wide (you fly into St. Maarten/Martin and take a 20 min boat ride over).  It is encircled by the most glorious talcum powder beaches and pristine turquoise water.  It is not heavily developed and the islanders are gracious and welcoming.  They are very proud of their island paradise, and rightfully so.  Very few resorts occupy Anguilla, and the ones that do are quite exclusive.  We stayed at Ce Blue Villas, a gorgeous resort made of only 8 villas overlooking a quaint, yacht speckled bay.  The terrain and waters seemed more reminiscent of Hawaii than the Caribbean.  All in all, a sight for sore (and frozen) eyes.  

Our first day there we went Scuba Diving.  There was a great little dive shop on the beach and we were able to charter a private dive boat for the 6 of us.  The diving was not the best i've experienced (that actually would be Hawaii) but it was solid.  The shallow dives were a bit murky but the deeper (80ft) wreck dive was fantastic.  Clear warm water and an abundance of sea life was visible, including several sea turtles.  Overall, definitely worth it.  

SCUBAAAAAAHHH

Day 2 was an experience of a lifetime.  Being all "eat travel rock" as I am, many would be surprised to find out that I'd never been in a little plane.  They've always made me nervous, so I've avoided them at all costs.  Well I was outvoted when it came to deciding how we were getting to St. Barths.  It's an 1:15 boat ride, or a 9 minute plane ride.  The plane won.  We chartered a small 8-seater, and low an behold, 10 minutes later (landing on Earth's shortest airstrip, and one of the world's most extreme airports) we were in the South of France.  

The hills of St. Maarten on the way to St. Barth's 

Jetsetting- aka puddle jumping

St. Barths was surreal.  I literally felt as if we were magically transported to Europe.  EVERYTHING is in French, EVERYONE speaks French, they use the Euro, and the streets and buildings look much more European that Caribbean.  We had reserved a table at the world famous, Nikki Beach, and had the time of our lives.  Fresh sushi, delicious grilled chicken and steak, and magnum bottles of Domaine Ott Rosè for days.  The crowd was international... we may have been the only Americans, which was such a relief.  Live music, dancing on tables, endless food and wine, while playing on the St. Tropez-esqe beach was otherworldly.  We then WALKED to the airport and hopped aboard our little flight back home... touchdown... 9 minutes later.  

We had 3 of these.  Yikes.

Sushi at Nikki Beach, St. Barth's 

Chicken for days at Nikki Beach, St. Barth's

Eva, me, and Kate enjoying the view.

Da Boyz... Ben, Jay, and Zach... paradise at their backs. 

When people ask how my trip was, my first comment is:  The food was amazing!!  It's true.  EVERYTHING we ate was delicious.  The service is friendly, but timing...well everyone is on island time.  So don't go to a restaurant starving (hard for me) because you won't eat for about 30-60 min.  But soooo well worth the wait.  Each meal we had was perfection.  From beach shacks (Blanchard's Beach Shack), to fine dining (DaVida), everything was on point.  Of course each menu was seafood heavy, which was expected and welcomed.  Yet they do great BBQ, and have other great ethnic food such as Italian.  The meal that took the cake, however, was Scilly Cay.  This restaurant encompasses one entire tiny island.  Our instructions were to: "go to the end of the dock, wave like an idiot, and a little boat will come pick you up."  I was the one who volunteered to wave like an idiot, and sure enough, 1 min later, a little boat scooped us up.  The island was a 2 minute boat ride away and it was untouched, authentic, and gorgeous.  The food:  Grilled lobsters or grilled chicken...that's it.  Oh and some earth shattering rum punch.  That. Is. It.  I went with grilled lobby, and smarter people went with a combo... I missed out because the chicken was some of the best i'd ever had.  Both were coated in a sweet coconut curry sauce that was sublime.  After my big meal, I went over to a little lawn chair on the beach, had a spiritual moment, and just let it all sink in...

Hailing the boat to Scilly Cay

And New Year's Eve! This is all I will say.  When the clock struck midnight, I was on the beach with my feet in the water, glass of champagne in my hand, watching fireworks, kissing my guy, and hanging with great friends. Best. EVER.  

IMG_6441.JPG

Anguilla is an island destination I would absolutely return to.  I've been to Jamaica twice, and Dominican Republic twice and I'm not a huge fan because you can't leave the resort or really explore the indigenous food, people, and beauty of the island.  Anguilla is different, it's safe and easy to find hidden gems and mingle with the locals.  The food, the people, the beaches, and the scenery make this my favorite Caribbean destination, and overall my favorite trip I've taken.  If you need more activity or restaurant recommendations, let me know by commenting below!  Viva Anguilla!! 

Living it up in Hell's Kitchen

Hell's Kitchen was not a New York neighborhood I was too familiar with.  I'm sure I've driven through it from the Upper West Side to downtown, but I never paid too much attention to it.  Maybe because I thought it was too close to Times Square, or maybe because the name sounded scary...nevertheless, I finally got to know this little "hood" and I likey.  

I'm now partial, mainly because my new favorite hotel is in Hell's Kitchen.  Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants  has prestigious boutique hotels all over the country, including several right here in Chicago (Palomar, Allegro, etc.) but Ink 48, right in Hell's Kitchen is outstanding.  From the second I arrived to the second I departed, the service was on point.  My room was GORGEOUS and unique.  The jacuzzi tub was in the living area and the enclosed stone shower was tucked away around the corner... very cool layout.  I had a great view of the city and other room amenities included a granite vanity (perfect for doing my pre-TV makeup) and a yoga mat (perfect for a very early AM stretch before heading to VH1).  They also have one of the city's most killer rooftop bars called The Press Lounge.

The location of Ink 48 and Hell's Kitchen is great.  It was an easy walk to Times Square, where I film.  But it's also a short cab ride down town or up-town... close to subways too (I usually take subways everywhere in NYC).  There are also some great dining options.  Ink 48 has their own upscale and trendy dining spot, Print, and you're only two blocks away from the badass Gotham West Market which is the coolest "food court" I've ever seen.  It also has a quick serve version of the famous Ivan Ramen.  

Cannot WAIT to go back soon and stay with them during my next visit.  Never thought I'd say this, but hope to see you all in HELL's Kitchen ;)

 

Food Network In Concert... Eat Drink Rock.

It's ok, I'll let Food Network piggy back off of Eat Travel Rock.  Quite flattering the hashtag for their event last weekend at Ravinia Music Festival was #EatDrinkRock... haha, ok seriously folks.  My manager, Chantel, and I headed up to Highland Park to explore what was sure to be incredible food and incredible music...sounds right up my alley!!  I also managed to snag 2 quick interviews with some heavy hitters in the culinary world.   

The first chat was with Billy Dec (Co-Founder of Rockit Ranch Productions) and Chef Kevin Hickey (Executive chef of Bottle Fork and the upcoming Duck Inn).  They were FRESH off their win for BEST HOT DOG.  Quite an accomplishment being in Chicago and all.  Check out the Video HERE! 

Next, I had a chance to interview a Food Network Chef/Host I've been a fan of for a while.  She has a simple yet bold take on Latin American food... hence her show's name, Simply Delicioso! Check out this video of Chef Ingrid Hoffmann !!!


Seattle Sound 2014

It's finally happening.  I am finally going to the birthplace of my favorite music...after 20 years of thinking about it.  Seattle is the Mecca and founding city of most of alternative rock... namely "Grunge".  Even though most of these artists hate the term, "grunge"  it is how it's been classified.  Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, etc.  They all began here, and these bands helped shape my life and were instrumental in the formation for my appreciation of modern rock.  It also happens to be the birthplace of my boyfriend, hence the trip.  I've come to grips with the fact that I'm sure the music scene has changed since 1992, but I would love to see some remnants of that vibe.  Even though I missed out on the early days of when Mother Love Bone still existed, Layne Stayley was just becoming known for his tortured vocals, and the movie Singles was all the rage... there must be a highway of nostalgia still in play... or the ability to witness new burgeoning bands who aim to make it big on the scene.  Any local or underground rock clubs I should visit?  Regardless, just being in the presence of where all of this went down will be excitement enough for me.

Get Up, Stand Up!

Alright fellow Chicagoans, the polar vortex has subsided... at least for now (hopefully).  We all know Chicago has a great patio scene and that drinking ice cold beer in the summer sun is our favorite pastime.  But what if you want to REALLY enjoy the weather, our gorgeous city, AND the lakefront, but still be healthy?  I've got the answer, folks.  I have been paddleboarding for the last 3 years and I swear it changed the way I look at fitness.  Granted, we cannot do this all year round in Chicago, but while we can, I definitely take FULL advantage.  It's a very useful skill to have, as it's become a popular sport the world over.  (One of my best friends was paddleboarding in Cinque Terre, Italy last week).  Not only is it fun, relaxing, and an amazing workout (core, arms, legs) but you can get a great tan while doing it! 

I go, as often as I can, to Chicago SUP at North Ave Beach.  They rent the boards for $30/hr, or you can buy a package that can save you some dough.  They also offer private lessons (which I don't feel are very necessary, the 2 min tutorial should be enough).  What's even more fun is they offer SUP YO! Classes...(stand up paddleboarding yoga).  Click here for class schedule.  Can you think of any better way to do yoga?  With the backdrop of the most gorgeous city right behind you... and if you get too hot... ya just jump in the water!! 

Lately, after I finish my paddle session, I head into the ground floor of Castaways.  Now usually, when you think of beach food, you think of hot dogs and burgers and snow cones...so basically shit.  Now you can complete your healthy day because the little stand in there makes green smoothies.  My favorite is the Kale Ginger- made with Kale, Banana, Orange, Fresh Ginger, and Coconut Water.  It's the perfect healthy hydration after your work out.  

Go check it out!  Trust me, you'll love it.  Do NOT be scared to fall in, I guarantee you'll welcome  a quick dip.  It's the most tropical thing you could possibly do in our fair city, so take advantage of it while you can... then go do it around the world!

Summer Concert Preview- Eat Travel Rock's Picks

Ok everyone.  Time for MY picks of the shows I am most excited about over the next couple months.  They are ALL over the place.  So listen up!

Phish- (July 18-20)  Calm down everyone.  I know, I know.  I have avoided this mega tour since 1995.  And today, it's finally happening.  I have always enjoyed Phish's studio albums, especially in high school and college.  I have been super anti-jam band basically because I lack patience and don't wanna hear a 18 min song.  But I have relented, and thanks to a free ticket, I WILL be attending a show this weekend at Northerly Island.  It's all happening folks...

Down With Webster- (July 24th) Subterranean in Wicker Park.  My favorite Canadian band (and also besties) are back in town.  I am SO excited for this venue, mainly because it won't let in their usual under 21 screaming girl fans.  These 6 guys are so talented and their style covers hip-hop to rock to pop.  They are awesome to listen to and not bad to look at.  They give Avril Lavigne and Justin Bieber a run for their money at all the Canadian music award shows, and sell out shows to thousands of screaming fans in the Great White North...Yet are still under the radar in the US.  So get in while you can and see them up close and personal... because they are going to be HUGE here soon.  Mark my words.  

Panic! At The Disco-  (July 25th) Northerly Island-  If you're unfamiliar with Brendon Urie (lead singer) and how hilarious this man is, you're missing out.  Check out his Vine videos.  But more importantly, the band rocks.  Their newest album (Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die) is a hit, especially with tracks like Miss Jackson and Vegas Lights, and Far Too Young to Die.  It's more electro-pop than their past albums, and if you like Fall out Boy you'll love Panic! as they're the cooler, sexier, bad-boy LA version of the Chicago band.  

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Aug 23rd) United Center-  Honestly, I can't... Can't being to explain how FUCKING PUMPED I AM FOR THIS!!!!  Out of the hundreds of shows I've been to in my life... Tom Petty may be number ONE.  Dead serious, can't top it.  I've never heard such badass guitar riffs and instruments fill an arena more than when I've been at a Tom Petty concert.  He's a legend... so is his guitarist Mike Campbell.  Case closed.  

Zac Brown Band (Sept. 13th) Wrigley Field- I know, y'all were wondering where the country music was on my list.  Fear not.  ZBB is my favorite modern day country artist.  Part Southern Rock, part jam band, part bluegrass, ALL hardcore talent.   Zac has some of the strongest vocals in the biz and he can shred the shit out of an acoustic geetar.  Whether you're a "country" fan or not, you will not be disappointed seeing this Georgia crew tear up the Friendly Confines.  

 

Let's Get Smokey

Hey Y'all.  This weekend marks the 3 day period where Chicago bows down to 2 of the mightiest forces in the universe.  BBQ and Country Music.  This may be controversial as, I've come to find out, not EVERYONE is a country music fan.  Well shame on you! You have a chance to make it right!  The Windy City SmokeOut starts today and not only will some of the best BBQ from around the COUNTRY be featured, but,... there will also be some of the biggest names in Country Music...right here in our own back yard...in River North!  Bub City puts it on, and we already know how great their food is.  Smoque, Chicago's Q, and Lillie's Q from Chi-Town are also repping as well as Salt Lick BBQ, Myron Mixon, and Dinosaur BBQ from around the ole US of A.  But of course, the twang will be flowin' and some of my favorite acts (and friends) will take the stage at Grand and the River.  Including Clayton Anderson, Brett Eldredge, Chase Rice (who I'll be interviewing for Eat Travel Rock TV on Sunday) Eli Young Band, etc.  Tix are still available.  Come on people, get your shit kickers on!

 

 

Introducing My New Bestie: Drizly!!

Don't you love it when things just work??  Ok let me clarify..  Don't you love it when you get to sit back, relax and with a finger swipe on your smart phone you get to have your heart's desires brought to your doorstep? No, I am NOT talking about Tinder, people, come on.  Heart's desires= delicious craft beers, every wine varietal, and a full spectrum of spirits.... obviously.  We all got complacent and lazy with the invention of Grub Hub.  Trust me, no one has felt more entitled to have my every hunger whim satisfied immediately without leaving home.  But those delivery services only satiate HALF of your meal needs; or more importantly FUN needs.  What about the booze?  Who's bringing that to your door?

For those of you who know me I'm always on the go and I frequent my fair share of concerts and events.  But sometime you wanna get the party started a bit BEFORE you arrive at your destination.  On Saturday I was taking in everything that Wicker Park's  Do Division Festival had to offer.  Food, music, frosty beverages... the whole nine yards as a good Chicagoan should.  But my boyfriend and I found out that we scored VIP access to a private Brad Paisley show at my favorite live music venue, Joe's Bar.  We had a little down time before the midnight show and needed to keep the party goin' so I took out my iPhone and a few swipes later... the party was comin' to us.  My better half asked, "What did you just do?"  I told him not to worry and that happiness will arrive shortly.  He was blown away when NOT EVEN 15 minutes later, we had a 6 pack of my favorite craft beer, Lagunitas Lil' Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale, and a bottle of his favorite toasty brown spirit Bourbon, in hand.

Drizly is my new best friend.  Chicago has desperately needed a go-to alcohol delivery app, and here it is! Drizly is the easiest and most intuitive app I've used.   They make it so simple and quick.  They even have a credit card scanner so you don't have to do the tedious type-in.  I am not exaggerating when I say I've used it 3 times in the past 3 days.  Now please don't start getting concerned about me.  It's not what you think.  Yesterday, before the heart wrenching Blackhawks game 7 loss to LA, I had my mom and sister over for dinner and the game.  My sis looked in my fridge and was bummed when she didn’t spot our favorite Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc.  So once again, a few iPhone swipes, and then Voila... We had a bottle of our yummy "Kimmy" in 13 minutes, just in time for some homemade pasta and hockey.   And finally, tonight, I'm making a home cooked meal for my loving boyfriend, and he doesn't deserve to be wine-less either.  Since it's an insanely busy day and I don't have time to run to the store, Drizly just came to me.  There is even a little GPS map that tells me exactly where the driver is.  The driver was super friendly and expeditious and our delivery came in a reusable shopping bag... planet friendly!

And here's the best part folks, for the month of June if you use the promo code EATTRAVELROCK you will receive $15 off of a $30 order.  That's a better deal than any local bartender will give you!  Don't say your friend Kelly never did anything for you.  ;)

NB: Drizly delivers to most parts of down town Chicago.  Lincoln Park, Gold Coast, Wicker Park, River North, South Loop, etc. and they are expanding rapidly.  They charge a $5 delivery fee and the cost of all alcohol is on par with grocery store prices. It's worth every penny.  Each time I ordered took 15 min but the app states 20-40 min- still super fast.  Just download the Drizly app from your app store.

Get Your Shine On (2013)

There is no better opportunity for me to write a blog than when I'm able to combine all of my favorite things into one event.  Turns out, 2 weeks ago was the epitome of eating, traveling, and rocking out... all rolled into one incredible 4 day trip.   Actually, the traveling began when my best Nashvillian friend, Nanci, asked me to drive with her from Music City USA to Los Angeles.... of course, the spontaneous lunatic in me said..."Hell Yes!"  We made our way from Nashville, through Memphis where we got to eat some of their famous BBQ and pay an obligatory visit to Graceland.  Stayin in Dallas and Fort Worth Texas was probably some of the most fun I've had in years.  Witnessing real life cowboy honky-tonks and learning to two-step were experiences I'll take with me to the end of my days.  Yet the craziness began while we're driving through New Mexico and I get a phone call from the manager of Florida Georgia Line, "Hey Kelly... ummm can you be in Cancun the day after tomorrow? We really need you for the lead in our new music video- BK said to call you asap."  So I hauled ass to Phoenix so I could hop a plane home to Chicago, so I could fly down to Cancun.  It was a whirlwind but was the best hasty decision I've ever made.  Turns out my good friends, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley (BK) of the smash hit Country Music duo Florida Georgia Line were filming the video for their big new single, "Get Your Shine On".  I was beyond flattered they wanted me to be BK's "video girlfriend" and one hell of a trip ensued.  I arrived on Monday at the Hard Rock Hotel in Cancun to find the entire hotel flooded with pictures and posters of FGL and their upcoming mega-concert on the beach.  Turns out, the band and over 50 person crew from all over the US and Mexico dominated the entire hotel that week.

Video shoot Days 1 & 2: These were no ordinary days in paradise.  Usually waking up at 5:00 is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to me... yet when it's accompanied by a beautiful sunrise, breakfast chilaquiles, and country music blasting at the pool....it wasn't so bad ;).  My fellow video chick, Estephania (Tyler's " video girlfriend"), and I got to watch the boys finish their first shoot... where their whole band was actually performing IN the Hard Rock pool.  It was surreal to actually watch the making of a huge production music video... let alone being a part of it.  The scenes over the next couple days included... The 4 of us playing pool, flying across the ocean on waverunners, partying at a swim-up bar, frolicking on the beach with Mexican wrestling midgets (yes, I'm serious), cruising through the jungle and through town in an old army Jeep, and diving into clear pools and caves in the Cenotes.  One of my favorites was BK chasing me on the beach in Tulum and trying to take pics of me with an old fashioned camera.  There may or may not have been an on-camera smooch as well.  Let's just say trying to act "romantic" with a crew of 40 people watching you is much more glamorous than it sounds!  The down side of all of the was that craft services was the most delicious authentic buffet of regional Mexican specialties...yet whenever I was about to load up my plate I got some interesting "looks" from my stylists and the directors as my wardrobe consisted of nothing more than a bikini, and that I should probably be indulging in the veggie platter instead.  Nevertheless... I would sneak some Empanadas con jamon y queso... and proceed to "suck it in" for the rest of the shoot.

The wrap party was bitter-sweet as we knew our time in Cancun was winding down.  Yet we still had some party left in us.  The entire crew and band bid adieu to the Hard Rock by consuming massive amounts of Tequila while head-banging to a Mexican hard rock cover band.  It was a blast and probably one of the best nights I can (somewhat)  remember.  The video will be released within the next week and I CANNOT WAIT for everyone to see it!  It will truly be an epic music video and will go down in my history books as one of my coolest life experiences and the time I got to Eat, Travel, and Rock Out Mexican/Country style!

Joe's-A-Palooza (2012)

This last weekend at Joe's Bar was like this year's second Lollapalooza.  It was an over-the-top smorgasbord of interwoven and overlapping acts and concerts.  Let's just say I am STILL worn out!  The most wonderful aspect was that even though not every show was AT Joe's Bar...Joe's was still a huge part of everything that was going on.

Here's how the craziness began: November 29th witnessed a mass immigration of country artists to our fair city of Chicago.  They were scattered everywhere... from State Street to Weed Street.  My first stop along this musical journey was the House of Blues for The Florida Georgia LineLove and Theft, and Jake Owen concerts.  Love and Theft's Eric and Stephen are good friends, along with Eric's beautiful wife, Emily, so we watched the rapid fire shows from the artist's balcony.  Unfortunately, I had missed Florida Georgia Line's energetic performance at Joe's in September, so it was amazing to finally see them live.  It's incredible to see the reaction the crowd has every time "Cruise" is performed.  I had to sneak out of this show early as I needed to rush over to Joe's to interview Jerrod Niemann as well as host the live streaming of his concert.  This was so cool, as this type of broadcast, using Laplive.TV, hadn't been done before at Joe's and it was a monstrous production. Over 3,000 fans around the country got to watch the show live at Joe's thanks to the live streaming.  Jerrod was thrilled to be able to "bring Joe's TO all of his fans."  You can catch the rest of our discussion/interview here. Jerrod's show was non-stop action with an entire horns section and back to back crowd pleasing hits.  He has such a wonderful demeanor and stage presence, he makes every audience member feel like a family member and an integral part of the show.  The highlight for me was his beautiful ballad, What Do You Want, which was also co-written by a dear friend, Rachel Bradshaw.  Jerrod's deep and powerful voice had the audience captivated for the duration of the show but that song was on a whole different level.

The next day, Friday, was truly epic.  If you were at Joe's, you witnessed the intensity first hand.  Once again, I ventured to House of Blues for the 2nd performance of Florida Georgia Line, Love and Theft, and Jake Owen.  After the show I had to round up the troops and help get all the boys over to Joe's so they could support their friend, Chase Rice, who was performing his first sold out show.  Chase is an interesting guy.  On the outside, he seems to be a tall, handsome, ummm jock?  But he's got so much more going on than that.  This guy has done it all, and all by the young age of 27.  We had a really fun interview... you can watch it here.  When Chase took the stage, he really rocked it... of course, the ladies were ecstatic, but he really was pulling the guys in too... as they could all relate to his "fun time"  music.  Chase called up buddy Stephen Barker Liles (Love and Theft) to jam with him for one song, yet the "piece de resistance" was during the encore performance.  Chase sneaked off stage and was scrambling upstairs to gather all his fellow songwriters and performers for one last colossal track.  He grabbed Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line, and Jesse Rice (co-writer).  They are the conglomeration responsible for the current number one song in country, Cruise.  No one  at Joe's had ever seen a crowd go so crazy before... especially during the last chorus of "In this brand new Chevy with a lift kit... would look a HELL OF A LOT BETTER WITH YOU UP IN IT!"

Fortunately, for those of you who missed any of these shows, you can be confident all of the artists will be back in 2013.  There's already an incredible line up that's in place for January and February.  Check it out here and hope to see y'all soon at a show soon!! Stay tuned... I'm going to tell you about my last crazy trip to Nashville and review Florida Georgia Line's new chart topping album, Here's to the Good Times.