2011 VMA’s: Great Start, Terrible Finish

Last night, my roommates, Dan and Fawn, gathered into my room with me and we watched the 2011 Video Music Awards (VMAs) on MTV. This is always a must-see awards show for me. I like to watch it because first of all I am interested in the music and the artists themselves and second of all, I know the show is out there to be edgy and controversial and I like that. With that said, I thought the 2011 VMA’s really jumped the shark big time. Well, I want to give MTV some credit, I thought the first half of the show was pretty good but the second half was an absolute disaster. There are definitely improvements that need to be made.

This year the VMAs went without a host. I think a good host, someone who is really etched into pop culture at the time, helps with the appeal of the show. A talented and funny host for the VMA’s is a good thing because he/she can really let loose and provide outrageous monologues/jokes much more so than he/she could for any other awards show. Chelsea Handler hosted the show last year, Ben Stiller has done it in the past, same with Jack Black. I think someone like Daniel Tosh or maybe that really annoying actress from “Glee” (Susan Slyvester) could have been billed as the host. Did MTV not just have the budget to hire a team of writers for the show? Again, I think an awards show like the VMA’s calls for a host much more than other shows. However, I did enjoy the house artist concept. I thought Jessie J. did a great job singing going into the breaks/coming back to the show and she looked great doing it.

As I mentioned, the first half of the show was pretty good. Gaga opened the show which I hated (I will get to her later) but the other first half performances were not bad. I thought the Jay-Z and Kanye West performance was good. The Pitbull/Ne-Yo performance of “Give Me Everything” was expected but was pretty entertaining despite Pitbull’s ridiculous pants. I am not an Adele fan by any means but I do recognize a good voice when I hear one so she gets a pass from me. My favorite performance came from Chris Brown though. Yes, it was brutal on how obvious it was that he was lip-synching but his dance moves were out of this world. I am not a guy who gets too excited about flashy dance moves but some of the stuff Brown did last night in that opening sequence was down right crazy. I enjoyed watching him pretty much act out his whole performance while also flying in the air. I would definitely christen that a classic VMA performance.

I thought the award winners in the first half were pretty spot on as well. Once Nicki Minaj won best hip-hop video for “Super Bass” I was set though. As many of you know, I have a mild obsession with Minaj and “Super Bass” was by far my favorite song of the summer. It was a given that Katy Perry and Kanye West would win best collaboration and how can you argue with Britney Spears winning best pop video (“Till The World Ends”)? Speaking of Britney, I thought the tribute performance commemorating her lifetime achievement award was awesome. They had people dressed up as Brit from all her different videos as they played cuts from all of her major hits. I thought it was a cool concept and well executed. It sent the first half of the show out with a bang.

Unfortunately, once the second half of the show started, the wheels started to come off. So I know the VMA’s are voted on by the fans so it was a given that Justin Bieber was going to win best male video for “U Smile” but let’s take a moment to recognize the ridiculousness in this. First off, the award is for best VIDEO. How does the video of “U Smile” offer anything remotely interesting/flashy/cool/risky? The whole video is just Bieber playing the piano and singing in a hallway while he courts a girl. Totally basic and cheesy. Not only is the video lame, but the song is too. Bieber has way better songs than “U Smile.” Don’t think I ever took the time to listen to that song the whole way through…if I did I know I would have fallen asleep.

Speaking of winners that left me scratching my head, how about Tyler the Creator winning the award for best new artist? Excuse me, but who is Tyler the Creator? Did he really have a better year than Wiz Khalifa? Never mind the upset, I thought the award should have been taken away from him right after he gave that acceptance speech. Actually, I don’t even know if he delivered an acceptance speech because it was impossible to tell considering half of what he said was censored out. Have a clue dude and show a little bit of class up there. Sure it is the VMA’s but you could have at least used a couple of words in the English dictionary that expressed gratitude over winning the award. Maybe you could have dressed up a little too, the 1980’s called and they want their tye-dye back. But I guess who cares what you wear when you have all the friends that Tyler the Creator does. It seemed like he brought everyone up to the podium with him who lived on the same street he did growing up. I could have done without all the background noise and the flashing of signs, but I guess he wanted to make more of a statement considering the one he was verbally trying to make was pretty much completely blocked out.

Let me get to Lady Gaga real fast before I blast the second half performances. I don’t think I had ever been so annoyed and disturbed in my life as I was when I watched Gaga up on stage or the millions of times MTV cut to her in the seats. Dan, Fawn, and I could barely watch the screen when she was on. Okay, fine, if she wanted to dress/act like that for the opening segment I guess I could have stomached that but she took the whole Joey Caldrone thing way too far. I can’t stress it enough…it was just tough to watch. Gaga at the 2011 VMA’s is going to be one of those deals that will show up in five years on those TV shows that make fun of terrible pop culture moves.

The performances were bad. I am a Beyonce fan and I love “The Best Thing I Never Had” but I was bored by her performance. Didn’t like the song, didn’t get the normal Beyonce vibe that I usually do, and didn’t think she looked as good as usual. Of course that could have been because she was dressed pretty conservatively and because she is now pregnant. Am I the only one who was shocked to find out that when she revealed she was pregnant it broke Twitter records? More people tweeted per second during that moment than when Osama Bin Laden was killed.  That concerns me.

I could have cared less about Bruno Mars’ performance. The whole Amy Winehouse tribute just really did not resonate with me. What a mistake it was giving Russell Brand the opportunity to pay tribute to her. I mean, do people actually associate a shred of credibility/sensitivity with that guy? The whole time he was talking the three of us just talked about how much we hated him.

MTV saved the absolute worst for last though with Lil Wayne’s performance. It  bombed. I have  no idea why you would have someone perform at an awards show when the television audience is not going to have a chance to basically hear one lyric. Watching Lil Wayne strut aimlessly around the stage with his shirt off while all audio was cut for majority of the time was painful. And that was supposed to be the grand finale? I think “embarrassing” is the only way to describe that performance. Viewers deserve better than that. I could have had my TV on mute and gotten the same effect if I had the volume turned up.

MTV did not fully fail at the VMA’s this year. The first half of the show was good. Regrettably, the second half was pathetic. Next year, MTV needs to bring back a host, get performers who will be able to share their music with the television audience, maybe tweak their voting formula so fans (or teenage girls) do not get total control of who wins the awards, and concentrate on putting a full show together that meets basic standards. I am looking for a 2012 VMA’s show where Nicki Minaj cleans house. Don’t Blink.

Summer 2011

As I write this, I am very mindful that I am living out the last few hours of Summer 2011. Tomorrow, classes start back up again at The University of Montana. Even though I am not a student, when school starts back up at campus it really signifies to me that the party is over. Campus is no longer the low key, ghost town type atmosphere that it had been over the past few months. Besides the fact that classes start tomorrow, September will also arrive this week, yet another sign  that my favorite season of the year has passed by. My workload will increase and increase over the days. I do like the fall but I am really going to miss the summer, especially Summer 2011.

This summer was one of the best of my life, I had an absolute blast. I traveled, met great people, hung with family/good friends, saw some great entertainment, basked in the sun, and really just lived it up.

Over the course of the past few months, I traveled over 15,000 miles. I visited places such as Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Vegas, Seattle, and Los Angeles. I made it to my hometown, Spokane, a few times over the summer. I got over to Kalispell a couple times and I got to visit beautiful Coeur d’Alene for cheer camp. I became well acquainted with airports and the full body scan security measure they just implemented. I got to see some amazing sites, eat some incredible food, visit some awesome bars/clubs, and experience the different ways that people live across the country. It was very enlightening.

While traveling and just being out and about this Summer, I had the opportunity to meet some really cool people. During the summer I have more time to invest in relationships and I made sure to really take advantage of this. During my trips, I made sure to make friends with as many people as possible. Because of this, I now have friends across the country who I still talk to on a regular basis all because of Summer 2011. I also met people local to me too. The way I met some of these people was absolutely crazy and I am going to need a whole blog post to tell you about it so stay tuned.

Although I met and got to hang out with a lot of new friends, I also got to spend considerable time with my family and good friends. My sister got married this summer and that proved an excellent opportunity for me to reconnect with relatives and friends who I had not seen in years. My brother and I got to do a lot with each other this summer and we really had some amazing times. Some of the situations we found ourselves in were crazy and we will remember them for the rest of our lives, unfortunately, I will not be blogging about those J . He accompanied me on three of my big trips, making me feel very fortunate that he was able to do so. I also got to travel to Vegas with my good friend, Dan. Once again, one word describes that experience: Memories.

I had no shortage of entertainment this summer. I got to see eight Major League Baseball games (two games at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, three games at Safeco Field in Seattle, and three games at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles) and four concerts (Sara Bareilles, Willie Nelson, Reba McEntire, and Toby Keith). Watching these games/performances as a true spectator was so refreshing because for a living I help put on sporting events and have very little time to truly enjoy them. The main highlights for me were watching the Dodgers-Nationals series in Dodger Stadium with my brother and then getting to see Toby Keith live in concert.

Basically, I just lived life to the fullest these past few months. June was definitely one of the most crazy months of my life. I lived like a rock star and actually felt like one too. July was a more low key month that was highlighted by my new job at work, my trip to Los Angeles, lots of Osprey games, and a couple of special people. August was the month marked by amazing concerts and lots of outdoor activities. Combined together, those three months added up to a memorable summer.

Now I look ahead to the fall and must leave behind all of the “Party Rocking,” “Super Bassing,” and “Blue Jean Nights”  that kept me rocking all summer long. If I make Fall 2011 half as good as Summer 2011, it will surely be a very good next few months. Let’s do it. Don’t Blink,

An Amazing Olive Garden Experience

If you read my blog posts and think that I am a little too negative, I am sorry. As I looked back at some of my past work I definitely noticed I wrote more negative posts than positive ones. I am definitely a positive person by nature and I want my posts to reflect that more. I will make a better effort to do so (case in point, this post).
I am not an Olive Garden fan. I think it is the most overrated, hyped up restaurant in the United States. Maybe it is because I live in Missoula where there is no Olive Garden and everyone here hails it as God’s gift to the world. Maybe it is because I dated a girl who worked at the Olive Garden. Or maybe it is just because the food is not very good and the breadsticks are bland as hell. I actually think it is all three of those reasons why I detest it so much. I would take Johnny Carino’s over Olive Garden any day in a heartbeat. Stay with me, I do promise this post will turn positive.
Last week when cheer camp ended, we headed off to the Coeur d’Alene Olive Garden for lunch before we set back to Missoula. Of course most of the team was psyched for pasta and unlimited salad and breadsticks…my excitement was more for the fact that the meal was free. Little did I know that we were going to have one of the best servers I had ever had at a restaurant.
We rolled up to the Olive Garden with a party of 31. If a group of 31 people in the 18-24 age demographic does not piss off waiters/waitresses to begin with, you know you have a special crew working at your restaurant. We tried to make it easy for the restaurant by saying that we did not need to be seated together. Thus, we were seated in groups of around five or six in pretty close proximity to each other.
At my table we  had my two mascots and then two cheerleaders plus myself. Although we were a very well behaved table with good manners, there was really no reason why our server (wish I would have made note of her name) had to treat us like absolute gods and goddesses…but she did. Despite already having the 18% gratuity locked down with no chance to receive less of a tip or more of a tip, she served us as if we had the power to leave her with a million dollars. I always feel awful, and I can always kind of sense the frustration of the server, when he/she comes over to take your order and someone asks for a couple more minutes to order. We definitely did that and she just smiled and said of course. She then came back over for the second time and after the third person in our party had ordered, she realized that everyone was ordering pasta so she took the initiative to show us on one of the hidden menus that the restaurant was currently offering their famous “never ending bowl of pasta.” Well, obviously all of us wanted to order that and this of course made it so that she had to scratch our initial orders and once again give us more time to decide on what combination of pasta/sauce we wanted. Not only did it delay the chances of her putting our order in once again, she also now knew that we were all getting something on the menu that was cheap and that would involve a lot of additional work for her (going back and forth getting more pasta for us).
When we finally put in our order and had asked a thousand different questions on the shape/type/texture of the various pastas, she still had her same positive attitude and said “I will bring out your bread and salad/soup as soon as possible so we can get you caught up with the rest of your group.” We had been the last five to get seated so we were behind the rest of our party in the order we were getting our food. This effort by our server impressed me. Our two mascots were drinking their raspberry lemonades like they were going out of style but never once were they without the red stuff for more than one minute as our server was busting her ass back and forth to make sure they had their refills. Our bread and soup/salad was delivered promptly to us and I am not kidding when I say the breadsticks, for once in my life at Olive Garden, were amazing. Our food came at the perfect time, right when we finished with our salad/soup. Upon presenting our food to us, taking special care to make sure no one touched a hot plate, she ran back to the kitchen and brought us out more breadsticks.
Now usually not too many people who get the never ending bowl of pasta end up getting a second plate just because you really do get stuffed after the first one, no matter how noble your intentions were going in. Well, we all pretty much felt this way but one of my mascots had the idea of asking the waitress if he could order a second plate just to be boxed up so he could take it home with him. I told him it defeated the whole purpose of the deal, that it was a cheap move, and that she would probably say it was against the restaurant’s policy. But then I told him the answer is always NO unless you ask so he might as well give it a shot. He asked our waitress if she could do this for him and she thought about it for a second and said “I am really not supposed to do that but if I bring out a plate for you, you can take one bite out of it to show that you had intent to eat it and then I will box it up for you.” She then asked everyone else at the table if we wanted to do the same thing as well! Amazing.
Our server brought out my mascot his plate and then boxed it up right on the spot for him, even allowing him to bypass the whole “take one bite to make it official” ordeal. She then went on to ask us if we would like any soft drinks/lemonade in to-go cups for us to take on our trip back to Missoula. Our two cheerleaders both got Diet Cokes. I had never seen a server go so out of her way to make it so that a group of kids who could be of no benefit to her had the dining experience fit for five star restaurant customers.
As we were getting ready to go, she talked to us about the camp and how we did. She showed genuine interest. She then offered us the famous Olive Garden mints that come with the bill even though we did not have a bill. Lastly, she wished us a safe trip and thanked us for coming in. No, thank you!!
For that one day, I was an Olive Garden fan. There are people out there who do their job to the best of their ability no matter what the circumstances are, who is watching them, or how they can benefit. Our radio play-by-play man here at the University signs off with the slogan “be at your best when your best is needed.” This lady who served us at the Olive Garden on Friday is one of those people who is always at their best, no matter if it is needed or not. We all need to be more like that. Don’t Blink.

Georgetown vs. China BasketBrawl

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While I was at cheerleading camp last week I kind of fell behind in the sporting world. While I was tucked away from the real world and in a land where beautiful girls roamed seemingly every square inch around me and instead of speaking in the English language you spoke in cheers, quite a bit happened. On Sunday night I had a little time to catch up on my passion and beyond all of the NFL preseason hype, the college football previews, and the escalating baseball pennant races, one thing jumped ahead of them all and grabbed my attention…
Could you believe the Georgetown-China basketball exhibition brawl on Thursday night? I only have one word to describe that scene: Scary. I love how Georgetown was trying to do something to give their athletes some culture, an exposure to a different kind of high level basketball, and an experience of a lifetime but come on, you had to do it in China?
Going to a foreign country where relations are icy with your home country is risky in itself. But did Georgetown do any research on the opponents they were going to play once they got to China? Georgetown was playing a professional Chinese basketball team, the Bayi Rockets. The professional league the Rockets play in is characterized by on-court fighting and skirmishes. When you take your team to the other side of the world into a vastly different culture and into the middle of a league that functions more like a fight club than a basketball association, don’t you think there is the potential for problems?
Okay, so maybe it was not a bright move by Georgetown but there is still absolutely no excuse for the bizarre conditions that the game was played  under. The various articles I read when researching this story said there were a half dozen altercations before the main brawl in the fourth quarter. A half dozen altercations? In a league that is known for fighting, any single altercation that happens should result in an ejection (s). If this was the case, at least one of the teams would have been hurting to continue the game because they would be so low on players and the youtube sensation would never have happened. Well, it became obvious that Georgetown had their work cut out for them to begin with. Forget the team of hooligans they were playing against and forget the hostile crowd, their main opponent might well have been the referees. I still laugh at this stat because of its complete absurdity: The Bayi Rockets outshot Georgetown on free throws by the count of 57 to 15. Enter as many synonyms for ridiculous that you can think of and mash them altogether and that phrase will only do about half way justice to that free throw disparity line. That is a complete joke.
So on Thursday night when a Bayi player mobbed a Georgetown player on a rare foul that was actually called, of course the Georgetown player was going to tell the Bayi player what he thought about it. However, there was no need for two of the Chinese players to pummel him for doing so. This of course set off the brawl. If you have not watched this video yet, you got to take look. Karate kicks and defenseless blows were what the Chinese team resulted to. After they had thrown enough of those in,  they decided to throw something else: chairs. You can’t get more bush league than using chairs in a fight. The way they were swinging those things was crazy. Yes, I do realize that one Georgetown player ended up  with a chair in his hands as well but that was after he was hit with one. The poor freshman player had to have thought his life was in danger. And you know, the sad thing is, it very well could have been. The security was more non-existent than Kevin Durant at Rucker Park. There was no one but the Georgetown coaches to restore any order in that situation. Several members of the crowd which was full of idiots were down on the floor throwing chairs as well. One fan was even swinging around a stanchion. That situation could have gotten a lot uglier if Georgetown did not have the presence of mind to quickly get off the court and to say the hell with the rest of the game.
So Georgetown was dumb to play the game in the first place and smart to end it when they did but they still had one more decision to make: Finish their tour with a game against the Shandong Flaming Bulls or cancel the rest of the tour and go home. If it was me, I would have gotten the hell out of that country that night. But Georgetown stayed and the game went on without incident. You can say Georgetown either had guts or stupidity, you make the call.
I admit it, sometimes I like seeing teams brawl in sports. However, I like the kind where it is in a controlled atmosphere with professional game officials and a strong security force that has a firm handle on everything. I don’t like seeing two different cultures battling it out in an out of control, chair throwing, one sided nightmare. Next time, Georgetown might just want to stay home during the offseason. Don’t Blink.

Meeting Toby Keith

On Thursday night, I had the opportunity to go see Toby Keith live in concert at Northern Quest Casino in Spokane. Prior to seeing him, my bucket list of people I needed to see in concert were Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith. This was a huge deal to me. A couple years ago Toby came to the Spokane Arena but I was in New York and missed it. Even though I was watching Yankees games and Mets games in the Big Apple, I felt terrible that I missed a chance to see one of my all-time favorite artists perform.
I almost thought I was going to miss Toby again this time around. As I blogged about last night, I was in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for a cheerleading  camp. I thought I would be locked in at the hotel with our squad on Thursday night. However, on Monday of last week I learned that I would be able to skip out for a few hours and attend the concert. Immediately upon hearing this news I jumped on stubhub (read my blog about stubhub) and bought a couple tickets. No price was going to make me miss this show.
On Thursday night, my brother was nice enough to come down from Spokane and pick my boss (Christie) and I up at the hotel we were staying at during the camp. We then made the drive out to Northern Quest Casino. If you remember my Reba concert experience from last week, you know that Northern Quest Casino was the venue that she performed in as well. Not a bad couple weeks for concerts at Quest. Just like for the Reba show, the weather was perfect. Comfortable temperature, light wind, little humidity. Christie and I were ready to rock.
The first opening act was J.T. Hodges, a relatively new face on the country music scene. Before going in, I knew of one song of his, “Hunt You Down,” as it has received quite a bit of air time on CMT. During his set he also sang a song about small towns that both Christie and I liked. He probably only played about six songs, which is custom for the first opening act in a show where there are multiple opening acts. He seemed cool and definitely had a good voice. I will look for him as more of his stuff comes out.

                                   JT Hodges performing on Thursday night.

Christie and I watched J.T. Hodges from afar but after he finished we moved right up to the front of the stage where my brother and I were for Reba. Once again, no one said a word to us as we  got a better view than most people who were shelling out major dollars to have seats close to the stage.
One of my favorite young country singers, Eric Church, was the second (and final) opening act. I saw Church once before in a small venue a few years ago and even though his only big hit at the time was “Guys Like Me,” I really enjoyed his show. Fast forward three years and about five hits later and I was psyched to see Eric Church perform again. This guy was great. He came out on stage drinking beer and shooting water into the crowd and he kept a high level of energy throughout the whole show. He has a cockiness to him that reminds me a lot of Jack Ingram which I liked. I went nuts when he sang “Hell on the Heart,” my favorite Eric Church song. I thought his performance of it in concert was better than on his album. Church has a large contingent of female fans who are obsessed with him. I think every single one of them showed up for the Spokane concert. At the end of his set, Church chugged two Busch Light beers on stage and then exited. Graceful.

                               Eric Church during his set. Great performer.

Toby Keith has a reputation for doing everything big. His concerts are not just concerts, they are major productions. Pyrotechnics, large video screens, and crazy lights are all characteristics of his shows. On Thursday night, all of these things were present. Before he came out a video played on the large screen in the back of the stage with a bunch of talking dogs setting the tone for Toby’s performance. Once the video ended, Toby stormed the stage singing “Bullets in the Gun.” He then transitioned right into “Made in America” and the show was on. Toby himself is larger than life. While he was up on stage I got to see how it is no lie that he is 6 feet 4 inches. I would guess he is around 250 pounds. As I mentioned with Reba, when you are such an established star with so many hits, your concert is going to be exciting the whole way through. Toby spread out his best songs perfectly throughout the show.

                             Toby’s opening video before he took the stage.

One person asked me on Friday if the crowd at the show was crazy. You know, I would not say it was too out of control. To be honest, when it comes to our little area by the stage, I would say Christie and I were the ones having the most fun. We were dancing and yelling while other people kind of just looked on. Yes, we were those annoying people at the concert who were belting out the lyrics with Toby instead of letting him just take it away himself. Who cares, we were having fun.
                               We were pretty close to Toby!!
Toby sang one of my all-time favorite country songs of all time, “Should’ve Been A Cowboy” towards the end of his set, and I would say it was my fondest memory of the concert. He played to the audience when he sang his bar song classics such as “Get Drunk And Be Somebody,” “Good As I Once Was,” and “I Love This Bar.” Toby also sang a song called “Get Out of My Car” which I had never heard before but was hilarious! Believe me, google it and read the lyrics. He sang Elvis’ “Little Less Conversation” which was a nice surprise. For his encore he sang his patriotic songs, “American Soldier” and “Angry American.” For “Angry American” his passion and heart was delivered in every single lyric and the fireworks were shooting up in the air. It was a great moment.

                                            Our view of Toby…no zoom!!

I left the outdoor concert venue at Northern Quest thinking I had been about ten feet away from Toby Keith and that was the closest I was ever going to get to the Big Daddy in my life. Little did I know that during that night, the ten feet was going to change to about ten inches.
After the concert, my brother, Christie, and I ate dinner at The Q, a restaurant inside Quest. After dinner we hit the tables for a little gaming. Christie and I played Spanish 21 while Glen played Blackjack. After we had had enough, we started to walk out when suddenly I saw something strange. I looked to the other side of the Quest casino floor and I saw two large men standing behind a chair at one of the Three Card Poker tables. This immediately looked out of place to me so I looked down to who they were standing above…it was Toby Keith.
There was absolutely no mistaking that it was Toby Keith. As I have said in previous posts, I do not get star struck but if there is anyone who I have deep celebrity admiration for, it is Toby Keith. I excitedly told Glen and Christie that we were going to go over to the table. We crossed over and I had Glen sit down a couple seats from Toby and had him buy-in so that he could say he gambled with Toby Keith! We watched them gamble for a couple minutes before I got the nerve to speak up.
I used the exact same line I used on Sunny Sweeney the week before: “Hey Toby, that was a great show!”
Toby Keith looked over his right shoulder, realized it was me who said that to him, and then he stretched out his clenched fist and gave me a pound! He then moved his fist in Christie’s direction and gave her a pound and asked us how we were doing! I then told him that we had come all the way from Missoula to see him in concert (which was a lie because we were already in Coeur d’Alene for cheer camp but I thought it sounded good). He then responded that he and his band flew into Missoula so they could go vacation in Big Sky! He then asked us how far Missoula was from where he was at right now. I personally could not imagine how draining it must be on tour, going from place to place. After a while everything all has to blur together and you completely lose your sense of direction/geography. We then asked him about where he was going to go next (it was Portland, Oregon). After a little more small talk he thanked us for coming out and returned to his gambling.
A couple observations about Toby from our encounter with him:
*He is an extremely nice guy who takes the time to acknowledge his fans even when he is trying to relax after a long show.
*When we got up close to him, his facial features were pretty much just the same as anyone else. Sometimes celebrities go through plastic surgery/botox/etc. that really distinguish themselves from average joes but not Toby.
*Toby’s real distinguishing feature is his voice!!! When he talked, it was vintage Toby Keith. His voice does not change when he is on stage, when is doing interviews, or when he is talking to his fans. I will always remember for the rest of my life him addressing Christie and I in his signature deep, southern drawl.
*His drink of choice: Michelob Ultra
*Toby was gambling $100 on his main bet. He also had $100 on the bonus bet. In Three Card Poker after you see your hand you have to match your initial bet if you feel that you are going to beat the dealer before the dealer turns over his/her cards. Toby bet it regardless of what his hand was every single time. Obviously, this meant that each hand Toby was betting $300.
*At one point, Toby re-bought for $2,000. He gave the dealer twenty $100 bills. It was cool watching the dealer sprawl the twenty bills all across the table (yes, Floor was called).
*Believe it or not, Toby stiffed the dealer when they changed out while members of his band tipped him. Toby very well could have set up something with Quest where they were tipped in a less public fashion.
The three of us were the first people to spot Toby. However, more and more people started to catch on and they started to crowd around the table. Christie was having a great time chatting up Toby’s big and bald body guard. He gave her some very interesting information about the tour. As the crowd started to grow and grow and with Glen at about even on his gambling at the table, we decided to head out. We said our goodbyes and went back to Coeur d’Alene. The whole experience reaffirmed to me the advice I live by: Don’t Blink.

                                     Christie and I had a great time!

This One Time, At Cheer Camp…

The past three days I was in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, accompanying our spirit squad to Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) camp. It was definitely an interesting experience but absolutely worth it. First, let me give some background.
When I refer to the spirit squad, I am talking about The University of Montana Spirit Squad which consists of our cheer team, dance team, and mascot program. As many of you know, I work in the athletic department at UM as the Director of New Media. One of the duties that I brought over from my old position as assistant marketing director to this new position is the role of mascot coordinator. This was a year where we decided to take our two performers who play Monte to camp so naturally I went along with them. UCA is the best cheerleading organization in the nation. They hold camps, workshops, and competitions around the country that are wildly popular. If you ever turn on ESPN and you see the cheerleading competitions in Disneyworld, that’s UCA. Also under its umbrella, UCA has the Universal Dancers Association (UDA).
On Wednesday morning, our group of around 40 (cheer squad, dance team, two mascots, and four coaches), piled into five suburbans and made the drive to Coeur d’Alene. I drove one of the suburbans and I am one of those drivers who never stops for anything on any drive that is under five hours. Well, when you are transporting lots of females you better be ready to stop for numerous bathroom breaks. We arrived in Coeur d’Alene and after lunch we went to North Idaho College, the host campus for the camp. We went into the gym for the welcome and we were introduced to the staff instructors. The staff consisted of elite cheerleaders, dancers, and a mascot who competed (or are still competing) at the college level. Anyway, they welcomed us by performing a routine that was loaded with cuts from “Party Rock Anthem,” “Give Me Everything Tonight,” and “Yeah 3X”…you know, everything you pretty much expected. After that, we broke into our individual sessions.

                             At the hotel getting ready to go to the North Idaho campus.

Before I talk about our individual sessions though, let me communicate how out of place I felt initially at the camp. When you go to a cheerleading camp, you are in a different world. You are around hundreds of collegiate cheerleaders who are passionate about cheerleading. You are around a staff that is obsessed with every little thing about cheerleading. You are around cheerleading coaches who eat, breathe, and sleep cheerleading. If you attend a camp like this and you are not a cheerleading fanatic, you are going to feel a little awkward. I knew what to expect a little because I attended UCA National in Orlando this past January but I still felt weird. I felt like I had absolutely nothing to offer. I watched as all these people worked their asses off and I kind of just watched. As time went on though I felt a little more comfortable. Being with such a great squad really helped with that.

                                        Our Cheer Squad working hard.

As I mentioned, I was at camp for the mascots so I attended their sessions. Besides Montana, we were joined by Butch from Washington State and then two students from the University of Idaho who play the role of Joe Vandal. Instructing the mascot campers was a dude named Kendall, a guy with an outrageous personality who performed as the mascot of the Baylor Bears during his collegiate career. This dude was one of those people with a “who cares?” attitude who does anything on his mind. He was a great dancer and a great storyteller, I laughed throughout the whole time he was instructing us. During our sessions with Kendall, the mascots were given verbal instruction/lectures/advice from Kendall, they performed on campus in random spots, and they practiced a skit they performed on the last day of camp. I was able to pull some cool stuff out of what Kendall said and I hope to use it to make our mascot program even better.

                                  The mascots huddling up with Kendall

While we were doing our mascot thing, the cheerleaders and dancers were hard at work in their individual sessions learning dances/cheers and being evaluated by the UCA staff. Each day they were stressed to the max because they were having so many different routines thrown at them that they had to learn. When sessions were not going on, the dancers, cheerleaders, coaches, and mascots were together. We stayed at the Best Western and we ate meals together, carpooled to the campus together, and got to know each other better. This was so valuable to me because I see these people every single day coming in and out of my boss’ office (she is the director of the Spirit Squad), work with them when it comes to music at basketball games, and see them at our many offsite non-athletic appearances Grizzly Athletics participates in during the season but I don’t really get to spend time really getting to know them. This trip I got to do that. Throw out any personality stereotypes you have of collegiate dancers and cheerleaders when it comes to the UM Spirit Squad. Let me tell you, they are some of the nicest and sweetest people you will meet. They very easily could have rolled their eyes at me because A. I was with the mascots and B. I did not really do much at all but they didn’t.
I also got to know our cheer coach and our new dance coach better. I also got to spend time with my boss in a different type of setting which was good. The first night we were there, the four of us coaches hung out in the hotel lounge with the coaches from other schools and people on the UCA staff. We then moved onto an Irish bar called Paddy’s. It is definitely an experience drinking with cheer coaches. They start busting out routines from their glory days and make sure the entire place is focused on them. It is pretty hilarious. I felt out of place at first but I continued to drink and then it seemed as if I just fit right in!! Continuing my theme on bonding experiences, my boss and I went to the Toby Keith concert on the last night but that is an entirely different blog post for tomorrow…stay tuned, it will be great!

   From left to right: Christie (Asst. AD/Spirit Squad Director/My boss), Megan (Dance Coach), Jenny (Cheer Coach)

So how did our squad do? I could not have been prouder of our mascots as they were awarded CAMP CHAMP and the Leadership Award. They cleaned up and were by far and away the best mascots there. Our dance team took home the First Place Superior Award and First Place Fight Song Award. Our cheerleaders received Third Place Game Planning Award. It was a very successful camp and I felt so lucky to be associated with The University of Montana Spirit Squad.

                                     Our Montes with their trophies

                                     Some of our dancers with their hardware

Did I come back to Missoula with a cheerleading obsession? Did I decide to watch “Bring It On” to relive camp memories? Did I look up cheerleading stunts on youtube? No, no, and no. But what I did come back with was a newfound respect for all of the hard work that our spirit squad puts forth to be as good as they are and a stronger relationship with the young adults that make up that squad. Not bad for a few days. Don’t Blink.

                                  Our wonderful UM Spirit Squad

Off to Cheer Camp

Usually I always manage to post on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Unfortunately, that will not happen this week. This morning I am off to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, with our University of Montana Spirit Squad for Universal Cheerleaders/Dancers Association camp.
One thing I do not mention too much is that part of my job responsibility is to serve as the coordinator of the mascot program. Basically, I am the boss of Monte, our grizzly mascot here at UM. Because of this, I am very much tied into the spirit squad. This is awesome because not only do I get to develop relationships with our two mascot performers but I also become close to our cheerleaders and dancers.
UCA camp is a huge deal. It is the leading authority in the cheerleading world. These camps are intense. Sure it is cool to hang out with probably around 500 different cheerleaders from various schools in the west over the next few days but I am wondering if it might be a little too much. We will see! I will be sure to come back with some good stories and some good blog posts. Until then, have a great rest of your work week. Don’t Blink.

Donating Plasma

Last night at the Osprey game I was gazing around at the advertisements on the outfield wall and I could not help but notice the Biolife Plasma advertisement in left field. For the better part of three years during college, I dutifully gave plasma twice a week.
Looking back at it now, I can’t say that I totally regret it. When you are in college you have to do what you have to do to survive. I worked two jobs but I needed the supplemental income. Back then, getting an extra $60 – $70 a week was a big deal. Would I ever think about doing it now that I am out of college and actually have a career? Hell no! The whole process of what you put your body through and the time that it takes is torturous. Thankfully, an extra $70 a week does not mean a whole lot to me these days. I mean you really have to be scrapping for cash if you donate plasma. The whole experience makes me queasy just thinking about it. If you have never donated plasma before, I will run down what you can expect if you do:
Let me preface this by saying that your overall experience is going to depend on what plasma center you go to. I donated to both Biolife in Missoula and then I donated to ZLB Plasma in downtown Spokane. Biolife in Missoula was a top-notch, clean, technologically advanced plant. ZLB in Spokane was a dirty, disgusting place. The Missoula plant attracted mostly college students and middle age respectable people looking for a few extra bucks. The Spokane plant attracted transients and other very low income people with even lower levels of education. While your experience is going to be different depending on what plant you go to, the process is going to be relatively the same.
Once you get to the plasma center you check in. At Biolife all you have to do is go up and scan your fingerprint. There is a computer screen and It brings up your file and it starts to ask you a series of about 15 questions. Now these questions are always the same but they try to trick you by putting them in a different order each time so you can’t go on autopilot (they are yes and no questions). The questions are stupid. Have you had sex with someone who has AIDS? Have you traveled to Congo since 1972? Have you used needles within the last three months? Are you feeling well and healthy today? Have you used dangerous drugs? Have you had sex with a prostitute? I am not kidding, these are the types of questions they ask. If you answer all the questions with the proper answers you go onto the next step, if you don’t then someone from the staff comes over to you at your computer and re-reads the question(s) that you did not pay enough attention to and you look like a dumbass in front of everyone.
After you pass the questionnaire you get called up to be weighed. Sometimes this goes quickly, sometimes you have to wait a long time. After you are weighed you then have your blood pressure taken and  your blood drawn. In order to do this, they prick your finger. No matter how many times I donated, I never got used to this. I hated it! I hated the sound of the clicker pricking your finger and I hated the feeling of the warm blood rolling down my limb as the processer collected it into a tube. After the blood pressure and blood collection tests are done, you wait to make sure you passed. This is never a gimme. I got rejected several times because my protein level in my blood was too low. Other people get rejected because their iron levels are not high enough or their blood pressure is too high. I have seen people cuss out the staff before because they were not allowed to donate on a certain day because they did not meet the requirements. True, coming from someone who did get rejected several times it does suck because you budgeted time to donate, you already got your finger pricked, and you are denied some money you thought you were going to have in your pocket. I never felt the need to act like a baby and harass the staff though.
If you do make it past the blood tests you go and sit down next to one of the plasma machines, called a bed. Then, a person who sets you up and sticks you, called a phlebotomist, comes over. He/she hooks the machine up and checks to make sure you fit the chart that someone else on staff has brought over. Once your identity is confirmed they hook you up to the machine by taping a tube to your arm, just as if you were giving blood. The phlebotomist then tells you to start pumping your hand. After a few pumps he/she tells you to hold it and then they shove a huge, gigantic needle into your vein on the inside of your elbow. Some phlebotomists are good at sticking people and the discomfort is minimal and others should be fired because they inflict so much pain on you. After the needle is inside you, they hook it up to the tube and the plasma collecting process starts.
What happens is the machine draws your blood but it sorts out the plasma. By the time your donation is over, the machine will have returned all of your blood. When donating there are action and resting phases. When the lights of the machine are turned on it is the action phase and you have to pump your hand continuously for about five minutes. The lights will then go off and you will get to rest for a few minutes as blood is transferred back into you. Then the lights go back on and it is another five minutes of pumping. You actually watch your plasma go into a plastic bag. Once the plastic bag is full, you are done. At the point that you are done, the phlebotomist will come collect the bag and then press a button that allows blood, water, and other nutrients to go back into your body. After that is completed, you are finished donating and it is time to get paid. The whole donation process of actually giving your plasma takes a little over an hour.
I never really particularly enjoyed the actual donation process. Sure I was able to study and get homework done but it sucks being hooked up to that machine. It is a drag pumping your hand. More than once I fell asleep donating. For all the people who think I don’t sleep enough now, I was about 10x worse in college. Getting three hours of sleep a night was a good night for me. Many times I would sleep for maybe two hours or an hour on my couch. No Doz got me through college. So you can imagine that when I sat down in that bed to donate, usually in the early afternoon hours after my 6am workout and three classes later, I was tired. So not only was I fighting the queasiness feeling that comes from donating but I was also fighting fatigue. When you fall asleep while giving plasma, especially if it is during one of the action periods, it sets you back about fifteen minutes. It is definitely not something you want to do.
Not everything was bad about my twice-a-week trips out to Biolife. A lot of my friends and classmates donated as well so I always ran into someone I knew when I went out there. Sometimes you would be in a bed right next to one of your friends and you could carry on a conversation throughout the whole donation period, it made it go by really fast. I actually really enjoyed the staff as well. You get to know them quite well when you are a frequent customer. Believe it or not, I ended up dating one of the phlebotomists. Before we started dating I would always cross my fingers that she would be the one to stick me so that we would get to talk. There was definitely a social aspect of donating.
I feel if you are a college student and you need extra cash, go ahead and donate plasma. If you go to a place that is clean, you really need to have no concerns. Donating plasma is extremely safe. Still, I am very happy that my plasma donating days are behind me. Unfortunately, I can’t say that my donating period in my life has not left a mark on me. I have a big scar on the left inside of my elbow. I notice it every single day. It is ugly but I guess it was the price I paid for “selling my body” so to speak. Don’t Blink.

Reba Mcentire Live in Concert

This past Friday night I made the trip to Spokane to watch Reba Mcentire live in concert. She was playing out at Northern Quest Casino, a continually growing resort stop in the Airway Heights area of Spokane. This summer, Quest added an outdoor concert venue. It was cool to experience a concert with such a premium name in a brand new place.
I left work on Friday afternoon and I drove over to Spokane (no speeding tickets this time). Once in Spokane I went to my parents’ house and got my brother and the two of us headed out to Quest. After a couple pregame drinks and gambling, we went to the concert portion of the complex. I have to say, it was not like the venue was that overwhelming. You had the stage and you had a big lot of grass with chairs. Quest’s parking garage was to the left of the stage and then the actual casino building sat about 50 feet in back of the stage and snaked to the right of it. The crowd was definitely mixed. I saw a lot of people in their forties and fifties, lots of couples my age who were out for a nice date night, and  then tons of girls in their teens.
So the opening act for Reba was Sunny Sweeney. I have to admit, and this is kind of embarrassing, but prior to the show I did not even know who Sunny Sweeney was. I did not know if Sunny Sweeney was a band, a male singer, or a female singer. Well,  Sunny Sweeney is a young and very attractive female singer who is on the rise. Once she started singing, I did recognize a couple of her songs. You know that phenomenon where you only start to realize how many people drive the same type of car you drive only after you actually buy it?  Something kind of along these lines happened to me with Sunny Sweeney. The next day when I turned on CMT, Sunny Sweeney’s video for “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving” was playing! Then, and I am not making this up, when I turned on the radio a couple hours later, the song that just started playing was “From A Table Away.” Pretty cool.

                                   Summer Sweeney this past Friday!

Back to Sunny’s actual performance…she was very good. I liked her stage demeanor too. She definitely had a cocky attitude but I kind of liked it, I can do without all the complimentary BS that performers usually throw onto their audience. She reminds me exactly of a Miranda Lambert type entertainer/personality. She sounded really good, the Quest concert venue lends itself very well to sound. One cool story about Sunny from the concert: Once Reba started playing, Sunny made a really random appearance on the concert lawn. She crossed over from where her tent was backstage over the fence and to this area in the corner where there was practically no one. Thank goodness for my brother’s good eyes because he spotted her and alerted me. We went right over to where she was standing. By this time a small crowd had gathered. We were two feet away from her. She was drop dead gorgeous. It became kind of a weird situation because Sunny was really nice but she kept saying that she could not be visible while Reba was performing (which makes sense). She kept looking up at the stage and then right back at the probably 15 person crowd that had gathered around her. Back and forth her eyes shifted, she was very visibly uncomfortable with the situation and I did feel bad for her. I really wanted my picture with her but I was not going to push the issue considering the circumstances. As she was leaving I said “Good show, Sunny” and she looked at me and said, “Thanks, hun.” I never really figured out what possessed her to make that appearance.

                                  Sunny randomly appeared and we went on over!

                         Sunny walking back to her tent. No idea why she even came out.

Once Reba took the stage, Glen and I decided to see if we could get up close…real close. If it was not for our liquid courage we probably would not have attempted this because it was an assigned seat show and tickets were very expensive. Adding to this, the concert security was very strict and they had no problem telling people what was up. Imagine our surprise when Glen and I pretty much walked up unbothered to the bicycle rack type fence that separated the stage from the seating area. Granted we went over to the side a little but it was still front row and still way better than the seats people were paying $200 for. Again, I thought security would have protected the integrity of the premium seats from people like Glen and I who did not even pay half as much for our tickets, but no.
It is hard to critique someone like Reba. She is a flat out entertainer. Everything about her performance was absolutely natural. No dead spots, no awkward moments, no mishaps. It was flawless. When you have as many hits as Reba does, you never have to worry about getting bored at her concert. Yes, she did play her new stuff off of her latest album but it was all sandwiched in with her signature songs. I said the venue itself was not overwhelming but the sunset sure was that engulfed the sky as Reba started her set. The whole thing was just perfect.

                            So this is where I watched the concert from. No zoom.

                             Packed place with a beautiful sunset. Perfect.

My favorite song that Reba sings is “Turn On The Radio” and she rocked it when she performed it on Friday. I firmly believe that she was singing to me during that song because she came right over to where we were standing and seemed to look me right in the eyes as she belted out the chorus of “You can hear me on the radio….” It was so cool. I normally don’t care for it too much in concerts when artists sing songs in which they have collaborated with other artists on but Reba was an exception. She did not need Kelly Clarkson at all when she sang “Because of You.” I fell in love immediately with her new single, “Somebody’s Chelsea” the moment she sang it. When she sang “Consider Me Gone” you could consider me in a seventh heaven. Reba did perform an encore and predictably she performed her most well known song, “Fancy.” She received at least a two minute ovation.
On Friday night I saw one of the best performers I have ever seen live before. I would give her top three. Not only did I get to see a legend put on an amazing show, but I got to see it up close and personal. Thank you Reba, I will always “turn on the radio” for you. Don’t Blink.

                                 Glen and I at the concert

AmBUSH Sports Talk Radio

If you read my blog frequently or follow my Twitter account, you know  that  I am a big fan of sports talk radio. I listen to it getting ready in the morning, I listen to it in the car, I listen to it at work. I love the dialogue and I love the opinions.
Today, an exchange happened on the Zakk & Jack show that made me sick. Before I divulge into the exchange, let me just give the basic information on Zakk & Jack: Dominic Zaccagnini (Zakk) and Jack Trudeau (Jack) host their show on Fox Sports radio on the weekday mornings…1340 AM if you live in Missoula. I sometimes listen to them going to work but that is only in the instance when Mike & Mike is at a commercial and there is nothing good playing on the FM dial. Zakk is a former FM radio personality who knows nothing about sports and Jack is a former college and NFL quarterback. When they are not talking over each other at the same time, dialogue about sports sometimes comes out. In my opinion, it is just not a very good show.
This morning they had Indiana head football coach Kevin Wilson on the show. Before they started his interview they eased into it by playing the Indiana fight song in a very mocking way. Jack talked about how he never heard the Indiana fight song when he played football at Illinois because they were always beating them so bad. Of course he laughed at his own “joke” and you really have to listen to the clip to hear how arrogant and annoying this guy’s laugh is. He went on to say that Indiana football has “had a tough go” over the years. They then decided to invite Coach Wilson onto the show.
You know, it is not just a principle for radio guests but it is a principle for all guests in general: You warmly welcome them and you treat them with respect. If I went over to someone’s house and I was on their doorstep waiting to be let in and they were mocking my family so I could hear, I would not take too kindly to that person once he opened his door and said “Oh hey Brent ol’ buddy! How are you?”
This is exactly what happened this morning. After they trashed Indiana’s program, Zakk tried to act as if the past couple minutes did not exist and started the interview with Wilson. Of course, Wilson was not in a very good mood by this time. The coach offered some short answers that took shots at how the hosts were joking about his football program. But honestly, what do you expect? Do you really think any other head football coach in the country would have acted differently? I know our head coach here at Montana would not have stood for that garbage. Well after a couple of short answers, the hosts start twisting the knife again by asking questions that dealt directly with Indiana’s losing tradition. Jones fielded those questions but then Jack went on the attack. Jack starts telling Jones that he has an “attitude” and that Jones ought to understand that the program is not very good and that they are just trying to help it out by joking about it. Come again? Even though Jack says this, Wilson actually seems to calm down a little bit and gives the hosts a legitimate answer, ending it with saying that he just takes offense when people crack jokes at the expense of the program. After Coach Wilson said this, Zakk and Jack completely cut him off, saying that he had an “attitude” and they were “shocked” by how he was acting. They then ended the interview there.
Now I hate it when radio show hosts don’t treat their callers with respect but I get enraged when they do not treat their guests with respect. It is even more maddening when they interrupt their guests or are not classy enough to give them the last word. It is the ultimate sign of disrespect when you hang up on your guest.
It is really not necessary for me to analyze Jack Trudeau’s tirade after they had hung up on Coach Wilson. Really no reason to dig deep into Zakk’s feeble attempts to get a word in to agree with Jack while he was on his soapbox. I will simply just call it what it was: Straight up BUSH LEAGUE. There is absolutely no excuse for radio show hosts to rip apart a guest before and after an interview, especially when the interview was completely unfair. I think Jack’s rant after the interview will go down as the golden example of how NOT to act when hosting a radio show. The most laughable part of Jack’s meltdown? He said he expected Coach Wilson to apologize.
I feel sports talk radio hosts should be held to certain standards of decency, especially national sports talk radio hosts. Look, these guys are paid to have strong, controversial opinions…I get that. It is one of the reasons why I am so drawn to it. But some of these guys think their gigs give them the license to be jerks. It does not.
Like I said earlier, I do not listen to the Zakk & Jack Show, it just so happened that they created considerable controversy today so I was drawn into it. So I will continue to listen to the good shows that are out there and hope that the Zakk & Jack Show stops giving sports talk radio a bad name. Remember, always treat your guests with respect. Don’t Blink.