Monday, February 14, 2011

Welcome addition to Columbia BBQ scene

Last Friday three friends and I convened at True BBQ out in West Columbia's "Triangle City" to check out this relatively new addition to the area barbecue scene. I'm happy to report that we were all in agreement that it is indeed a worthy newcomer. True BBQ is an "a la carte" place, not a buffet, but if you get a large chopped BBQ plate I guarantee that you are not going to be leaving the place hungry. You order at the counter and they bring it to your table; the place is small but reasonably pleasant as you can see, with a lot of windows and light:

 A smoker sits out front, permeating the air around the structure with enticing 'cue aroma. "True" offers your basic 3 kinds of sauce; but they're served in a little plastic cup on the side, so presumably you could ask for a couple and see what you like best (I just tried the SC mustard style which was good if a little sweet; they also have eastern NC vinegar style and---though it shouldn't even be dignified with a mention---a tomatoey-ketchup based "Western" sauce...maybe it's good but I don't think one should put that style sauce on pork bbq). The best news, though, is that the BBQ is good enough to eat with no sauce: chopped a bit more coarsely than one usually finds around here, with a nice bit of "brown" and a truly smoky flavor.

Ordering a BBQ plate gets you a big portion of hash and rice; my experience matched that of other early reviews I've seen of the place, in that there seems to be general agreement that True BBQ makes some of the very best hash in the area. I had collards and slaw which were serviceable, there are many of the other standard sides and I look forward to trying those. They also do lots of other main dishes, too, ribs, chicken, and also they have some desserts which none of the four of us could even think about after stuffing ourselves.

Like many of your best barbecue places, "True" is only open 3 days a week, I believe; forgot to take exact note of the days and can't verify it as of this writing as their website is not yet totally functional. But I believe it's Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Great spot to dash out to for lunch on those days, better still if you can take a nap afterwards or even take the whole rest of the afternoon off. You might need to. Very friendly folks running the place, and I look forward to going back many times. We needed another good BBQ place within quick access of central Columbia; please give these folks a try and let's keep them in business!

True BBQ is at 1237 D Avenue in West Columbia.

photo: True BBQ

Friday, February 11, 2011

Where in SC is Dr. Seuss' "Iota"?

We have a giant hard-cover compilation of many of the Dr. Seuss classics in one volume, a gift that was given to us upon the birth of our son; bedtime reading has been drawn from that volume on many an evening. Our now three-year-old boy is pretty obsessed with a few favorites: The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (not limited to holiday time), The Sneetches (a classic anti-racist parable), Green Eggs and Ham, and the Sleep Book (a good inducement to wind down for a fidgety little guy). But last night we revisited one story that we'd only looked at a couple of times before: "If I Ran the Zoo." Full of fabulous made-up animals, I always take special note of this tale because in it, Dr. Seuss name-checks our home state:

In the Far Western part
Of south-east North Dakota
Lives a very fine animal
Called the Iota.
But I'll capture one
Who is even much finer
In the north-east west part
Of South Carolina.

Now, aside from noticing the use of the same "finer...Carolina" rhyme made famous in Gus Kahn's song "Carolina in the Morning" (which debuted in 1922, when Theodore Geisel was 18 years old), the other aspect of this verse that got me thinking was wondering just where exactly that "north-east west part of South Carolina" would be. Looking at a map, I think you might find that "much finer" Iota (or some other animal...not really clear whether Seuss is referring to a finer Iota or just a finer animal in general) right around Gaffney. Maybe in the shadow of the giant peach off I-85.

The really interesting tidbit about "If I Ran the Zoo" (written in 1950) is that it seems to be quite possibly the first printed example of the use of the word "nerd." And here he is:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Kansas edges out South Carolina

In what might be called a "race to the bottom" when it comes to state arts funding, Kansas seems to have "won" for the moment.

I heard positive things about yesterday's Arts Advocacy Day at the State House in Columbia, though nary a word from the hollow shell that remains of what once was our "newspaper of record," McClatchy-owned-and-gutted "The State." As for Kansas Governor Brownback's move, I do not know whether or not South Carolina's governor Nikki Haley has that kind of executive power; from what I'm given to understand about the relative lack of power vested in the executive branch in this state, I rather doubt it, but I certainly could be wrong.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Variations Sunday; Stravinsky Monday; Advocacy Tuesday

A busy three days ahead starting Sunday, and that's not even counting watching the Super Bowl...

Sunday afternoon, Feb. 6, at 5 PM, I'll be doing a slightly-under-an-hour recital at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Columbia, just across Sumter Street from the State Capitol building. The interior of the sanctuary at Trinity has recently undergone a magnificent renovation and it's a great place both to listen to music and in which to play music. I'll be doing three pieces that all deal with the concept of "variations" in music, and are each almost exactly the same length, about 16-17 minutes in each case. I'll be opening with the famous D minor Chaconne from the 2nd Partita for solo violin by J.S. Bach, in the arrangement by Johannes Brahms for piano, left hand alone.  (See Bach's manuscript original of the opening, above). The program closes with Beethoven's next-to-next-to-last piano sonata, in E Major, Op. 109. That sonata's final movement is one of the most sublime sets of "Theme and Variations" that Beethoven ever wrote, a real journey of the spirit made more poignant by LVB's hearkening back to a Baroque-and-earlier tradition of repeating the theme after all the variations have concluded.

In-between this Bach-and-Beethoven sandwich is a remarkable work by USC's own John Fitz Rogers, the "Blue River Variations," penned in 2003 for the virtuoso USC piano professor Marina Lomazov and later brilliantly recorded by her. I wrote the liner notes for that recording, which you can read here. It's a major work, also a powerful emotional journey, and superbly written for the instrument. I hope more pianists take up its cause. This has been a big year locally for Rogers: in November his Concerto for Two Pianos was premiered by the SC Philharmonic and the same week, at the same place where my recital will be taking place, the Trinity Choirs and the SC Phil under the direction of Jared Johnson premiered Rogers' 7-movement offering for the reopening of the Cathedral, Magna Mysteria, indeed Rogers' magnum opus to date.

Then, Monday evening at 7:30 PM at the USC School of Music, speaking of John Fitz Rogers, it's another evening of the superb series he curates, Southern Exposure. This installment is an all-Stravinsky affair, as a co-production with the school's Chamber Innovista series, so the concert will feature many of the stellar faculty we are lucky to have in this town. I'm particularly excited to hear the neoclassic Octet, written in 1923 and a shock in its own way to many listeners who were just beginning to try to come to grips with Stravinsky's revolutionary works of the 1910's, including Rite of Spring. Of the Octet, Aaron Copland said:

I can attest to the general feeling of mystification that followed the initial hearing. Here was Stravinsky . . . now suddenly, without any seeming explanation, making an about-face and presenting a piece to the public that bore no conceivable resemblance to the individual style with which he had hitherto been identified. . . . No one could possibly have foreseen . . . that the Octet was destined to influence composers all over the world.

After all that music on Sunday and Monday, time for some political activism on Tuesday. As mentioned in my last post, the South Carolina Arts Alliance is organizing an Arts Advocacy Day at the State House beginning at 11:30 AM.  This is a chance for all of us to stand and be counted when it comes to the kind of South Carolina we envision for the future.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Arts Commission supporters to Haley: not so fast

Response to Governor Haley's "State of the State" proposal to zero-out funding for the South Carolina Arts Commission came swiftly and is continuing steadily. A subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing last week that was packed with arts supporters, including SC Philharmonic conductor Morihiko Nakahara. More hearings of the full committee lie ahead, and the process will be continuing through June as the full legislature slogs through the tough budgetary decisions that must be made, but the preliminary indications from this January 26 hearing were encouraging.

Arts Commission Executive Director Ken May's address to the panel is worth reading in its entirety. He focused on the arts' role in education and the economy, and made clear that the Commission's work benefits many traditionally underserved corners of the state:

It is also important to note that private investment in the arts—by individuals, corporations, and foundations—is almost exclusively local and is not equally distributed. This is why the Arts Commission’s investment of grant funds statewide is so important. In poorer communities it helps to fill a gap in local funding, and in communities with more resources, our investment helps to leverage additional local contributions. Last year, across all programs, we awarded more than $2.2 million in grants. These awards went to schools, arts organizations, and other community groups and were spread broadly around the state—more than 340 grants in 41 counties. These grants helped local groups raise more than $91 million in matching funds—a return on investment of better than 40 to 1.

May later added, "I don’t think it will help our image at all if we decide to be the only state in the nation that says no to any investment in the arts for all of its citizens." But sadly, South Carolina is not the only state where arts funding is under attack: Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas has proposed privatizing that state's arts commission and to provide no state funding for it whatsoever.

Back home here, the South Carolina Arts Alliance is spearheading an Arts Advocacy Day at the State House next Tuesday, February 8, with arts supporters gathering at the Capitol in the morning followed by a luncheon with legislators at the Capital City Club. Details here; also join the Alliance's Facebook page to find out lots more specifics about the events of that day.