Jays Fever Sweeps Canada

Jays Fever Sweeps Canada

It’s good to have people talking about baseball again.

Normally at this time of year, 100% of the Canadian sports fan focus is shifted towards the debut of the new National Hockey League season. Games are underway, and it typically seems as though all other sports fall by the wayside once the puck drops each fall.

As a massive baseball fan, it is the time of year where I find the small group of people to talk ball with, with those few others that watch my favourite sport right through to the end of the World Series.

There aren’t many of us, especially in the desolate outpost of Edmonton.

But not this year.

This year, there are the Toronto Blue Jays, giving us something to cheer about once again.

bj3After their massive trade deadline deals and rise to the top of the American League East, and then a great comeback to dispatch the Texas Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, the Jays are back, and have created excitement across the country.

People are Jays fans now. And they are talking baseball once again.

Many people would argue that it is a bad thing that there are so many bandwagon jumpers at this point in the year. People who had ignored the Jays for the past 20 years are now back, glued to their TVs with every pitch, and talking about the team non-stop. But it’s not a bad thing. It is creating a buzz, an excitement for the game that has been absent in Canada for a long time. This Jays run is creating a new generation of baseball fans, who are learning the game, and loving watching our nation’s only team win. The Jays, simply put, are making new baseball fans, and while there is no chance that all of them will stick around if the team is lackluster next season, there is a good number that will enjoy the thrills of the sport, and be hooked on baseball for life.

bj4Even out here in Edmonton, thousands of kilometers away from Toronto, perhaps the most despised sporting city in Canada, people are all in on the Jays. Car flags, men dressed in blue unitards on the streets with signs asking for honks to support the team, packed bars in the afternoon to cheer on every big play, and seemingly everybody willing to talk baseball for the first time in a long time, it’s a great thing to see. The country has rallied around the team. There are even concerns that our federal election will be affected by the Blue Jays Game 3 on Tuesday. That is some powerful drawing power.

It doesn’t hurt that the 2015 Blue Jays are filled with fun players with big personalities. They are an exciting team to watch, and have provided some thrills along the way already. The cheers ringing to the rafters of the local pub I was at during that magical 7th inning in Game 5 against Texas reminded me of other nation-unifying events, like Canada’s run to Olympic gold medals.

The Jays games are being watched in schools, on in the background, or as a centerpiece to the lesson of the day. It reminds me of being a teenager in 1992 and 1993, when the Jays were winning their World Series titles, and us students being loaded into the library to watch the game on a painfully small tube television, the only place in the school where cable TV was available. It was a great time, back then, watching them win it all in epic fashion.

And it has started off being fun again.

While they are in really tough with the Kansas City Royals- the one team I feel they match up poorly against- it should be an exciting ride as they try to win the American League pennant for the first time in over two decades.

Edmonton, as well as the rest of Canada, is on board.

Heartbreak for McDavid

Heartbreak for McDavid

You really could see the crushing disappointment in his face, and hear it in his voice.

This kid, along with every hockey fan, is not happy that the Edmonton Oilers have again won the NHL Draft Lottery, making it the 4th time in the past 6 years that they will get the #1 overall pick in the upcoming draft.

mc6And this time, they have the chance to draft Connor McDavid, who is widely viewed as being a generational talent, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Sidney Crosby.

Normally, a Canadian kid would probably be pretty happy that a Canadian team won the lottery. But not when that team is the raging dumpster fire that has been an Oilers franchise that has missed the playoffs for the past 9 straight seasons (longest playoff drought in the league).

The hate of the Oilers began before the lottery even began. Nobody wanted to see them win, and this includes many of the fans in Edmonton. Sure, it is incredibly exciting that the future best player in the league will be coming to town, but it is also terrifying for many fans, because we have seen first hand what has happened with the other three #1s that currently litter the Oilers roster. Fans around the league would have preferred to see McDavid go absolutely anywhere outside of Edmonton. An Eastern team (aside from Carolina) where his profile would be massive, and he would help the game continue to grow. Or the Leafs, because even if their season was an absolute train wreck, they have someone in charge now who isn’t afraid to make the needed changes to get better. Or how about Buffalo, the team that tried the hardest to get him by giving up on this season two years ago?

mc3Even Arizona, a team that everybody is simply waiting to move to Quebec City, would have been a better option than Edmonton. They have some great young talent coming up, and having McDavid down there would have helped the team as much as possible. If the Coyotes couldn’t make it with him, then it really is time to pack there things and head for La Belle Province once and for all.

There was a such a league-wide groan of disbelief when the gold Oilers placard was pulled from the envelope, signalling that they had won the lottery. Absolutely, there was a ton of excitement among fans. But it is also embarrassment that this is the 4th time they are doing this. Facebook messages and sports message boards all over the place are lighting up with renewed vitriol towards the incompetent Oilers management, that has brought them to this place of being so unbelievably terrible.

Most of that hatred, naturally, is focused on Kevin Lowe, the team president that has engineered the entire downfall of the organization over the past decade, and keeps getting promoted because of it.

Also, there is focus on Craig MacTavish, the General Manager that doesn’t seem to really get it, and what it takes to win in this league. He was even quoted as saying that “offense wins championships,” after winning the lottery. Does it really? Ask the last few Cup winners about the importance of their defense and goaltending in the playoffs.

mc4Immediate calls are being made by the fans to finally see that there is a player to build around, and make some moves to help the poor kid out, so that he doesn’t need to be a part of the poisonous losing culture that exists in Edmonton until he is a free agent at age 27. Trade Taylor Hall, a dynamic offensive player with a long injury history, painfully obvious defensive flaws, and a divisive attitude in the community for a D-man. Package a couple of these guys, like Nail Yakupov, one of their other high picks, for a goalie that can at least be competent in the net to give the team a chance to win. Moves need to made, or Connor McDavid will be wasted.

Already, he is going to a market where the majority of the fans of the sport will never hear much from him. Edmonton loves hockey, there is little doubt about that, but they are buried deep in the West, and McDavid will not get the coverage that he deserves because he is in a small market. Think of how underrated John Tavares is, simply because he plays for the Islanders. If he was as good as he is on the Flyers, he would be a megastar. It will be the same for McDavid.

mc2So what can this kid do? Does he have any options if he truly doesn’t want to be a part of this team that is eternally rebuilding, and seems pretty clueless about how to do it? Or does he just need to suck it up, come be an Oiler for the first 8 years of his promising career, and hope it doesn’t destroy him, like it has other top talent that are doomed to come to this team?

1. He can pull a Lindros. He can tell Oiler management before the draft that he never intends to play for them, so that they should trade the pick and get a massive haul for him while they can.

Pros: He would force the team’s hand, and he would be dealt somewhere else. The Oilers would probably get so much back for him that they could fill in the massive gaps in their roster with just this one move. There would be no shortage of trading partners that would drool at the idea of getting McDavid. Think that when the Nordiques traded Lindros after drafting him, they got the pieces that won them two Cups.

Cons: McDavid would quickly become public enemy #1 in Edmonton, not that he would really care. He would only need to see them once a year. And even still, if this happened, I feel that many fans would continue to hate the team management, and not really blame the kid for not wanting to come here. The perception of McDavid then would be that he was a whiner, but again, I don’t know that too many people would actually blame him for pulling a Lindros move.

2. He can go to the KHL for 2 years. If a player doesn’t sign with the team that drafts them, after two years they will either re-enter the draft (if they are still under 20), or become Unrestricted Free Agents. There have been cases of this before.

Pros: He would avoid the Oilers completely. He would still get to play pro hockey, even if it isn’t in the best league in the world, where let’s be honest, he is so good that he needs that kind of challenge. When he came to the NHL, if he was a UFA, he would get to choose where he would play, and it would create the biggest and most exciting bidding war in league history.

Cons: Upon entry to the NHL, he would be forced to sign a rookie contract. Not the biggest deal, but he would essentially be losing out on a lot of money (but would he? Some KHL magnate would be sure to pay him ridiculous money to go play in Russia). He wouldn’t be playing in the NHL, which is really the biggest drawback.

3. Count the days until he is 27. Being the good soldier, and then moving on, is probably the most likely choice.

Pros: He would be the most sought after free agent of all-time, assuming he lives up to the hype, of course. He would be starting his prime, at age 27, and could play anywhere he wanted to, including for his beloved Maple Leafs.

Cons: 8 years in Edmonton is a long time. If he hasn’t been broken by the losing, or tired from shaking his head at the incompetent managerial moves, or confused over the number of coaches he has probably had to work with, then he really might be the next Great One. In Edmonton, he will play in relative obscurity, while at the same time having to face the tough media and fan base here. If losing continues, how long until fans turn on him as well?

4. Hope the Oilers do something very Oilers-y at the draft. There is no question that the group running this team is incompetent. Are they incompetent enough to do something ridiculous before the draft, and not end up getting McDavid? They have arguably taken the wrong player with each of their previous #1 picks…could they do it again?

Pros: You never know with this team. You just never know.

Cons: Even the clueless MacT has to know that McDavid is a twice-in-a-lifetime player. Doesn’t he?

There really is no win here for McDavid. Surely, if you could get an honest answer out of a hockey player, he would say that he would rather be in Phoenix, or Buffalo, or Toronto, or anywhere but Edmonton. But he will never say that. He will be drafted by the Oilers, and come play here like a good soldier.

He will be awesome, and he will be a hero in the city.

mc5But sadly, this is just giving this terrible management another life to live. MacT will keep his job, because he was the guy that got them McDavid. So will Kevin Lowe. Well, that, and the fact that he is best friends with an owner more concerned about money and hanging out with his 80s friends than money. The management team will soon forget that it is because they are so absolutely terrible at their jobs that they have been able to put this losing waste of a team together, which in turn landed them a stud like McDavid. No skill was involved in getting this kid. In fact, it is the complete opposite.

My heart genuinely breaks for this kid, having to walk into this complete mess, and be expected to be the savior of the whole thing. Even though what the management has done is put together some good players that barely look like a cohesive team on most nights.

Personally, as a citizen of this city, I am torn. My entire life, I have cheered against the Oilers, even during the dynasty years that nobody here will ever let go. I want them to fail and continue to be a laughingstock for the rest of my days. But I just feel bad for this kid, because I truly feel that elsewhere, he would have been one of the greats. That by no means that his career is over by becoming an Oiler, as some have suggested.

It just won’t be the same.

Welcome to Edmonton, Connor McDavid.

River Ridge Golf & Country Club (Golf Course Review)

River Ridge Golf & Country Club (Golf Course Review)

I had never before been to River Ridge Golf & Country Club, in the Windermere area of Edmonton, Alberta, and now that I have, I wonder why.

Tucked along the beautiful North Saskatchewan River, the course offers 18 beautiful and isolated holes, away from the city noise, without being far away from the city. I booked here because the pictures looked nice, and the price was absolutely right, at $55 for 18 holes that included a power cart (it would be advisable to have a cart on this course, as there are some long journeys between some of the holes, and a walk would actually take a while).

The course is wonderfully laid out, some of the holes being right alongside Edmonton’s main river, offering great views for your entire round. With the river, and frequent water hazards, and trees on pretty much every hole, River Ridge is a pretty challenging course for the average golfer. Many holes are heavily dog legged, and being straight off the tee is paramount in many cases. The greens, and the whole course, were in tremendous shape, and many of them offered challenging, but not ridiculous, lies. You won’t have to be putting straight all day here, you will get the chance to read the greens and try and execute some cool, bending putts.

river2The course even offers some wildlife, as there were plenty of ducks and geese along some of the water holes, although they weren’t a disruption to the game. There was even a deer on the 10th hole that decided to wander around the green for a little while.

I managed to pull of a decent first nine, despite my drivers and putter completely abandoning me. Having a solid iron game on the front saved me from what could have been a terrible score. I saved my terrible score for the back nine. It was still a nice course, and a great day to golf.

The marshall comes by often, and is quite friendly. He will give advice on holes, tell you about the course, ask you how your day is going, even chase a goose away for you. The beer cart girl is your typical beer cart girl, but she didn’t come by as often as I would have liked, especially since it was a very hot day outside, and more beverages could have been consumed. But, she was quite cool with us, given that she did bust us with some outside drinks that we brought in.

The pro shop is solid, with a quick and knowledgeable staff inside, and a good selection of clothing and items in case you need to stock up your bag before hitting the course. Upstairs, the clubhouse offered great views of the course, had some pretty good food, and some reasonable prices to go along with it. They could use some umbrellas on their outdoor tables, especially for days when it is 30 degrees and cooking outside, but besides that, there is nothing to complain about.

River Ridge is a great little escape within the city limits. Normally, you wouldn’t expect such isolation from a city course, but River Ridge is definitely the best place I have golfed this summer, and at the prices, will be well worth it to go back.

Now I just need to find my golf game in order to compete with the tougher course.

Eating Edmonton: The Sugarbowl Bar & Cafe

Eating Edmonton: The Sugarbowl Bar & Cafe

For a long time, The Sugarbowl has been one of the most hyped up places in Edmonton. Located in the Garneau area near the University of Alberta, it has long been a place where students congregate for food and drinks to discuss whatever class they are taking this semester, or what class they are skipping in order to have food and drinks at The Sugarbowl.

It has been a long time since I have visited this Edmonton establishment, since I was one of those University students. We used to go there frequently for class during one of my summer courses. There were only five of us in the class, plus we had the best professor ever.

sugar3Going there again, it is nice to see that it is exactly the same as it used to be on the inside. For a sort of hole-in-the-wall type of place, it is actually quite nice inside, and has a pretty good patio out front, where they really cram in the tables. There is much more space inside, and you still get the outside feel with the large garage doors almost always open during the summer.

The Sugarbowl is like the grandfather of the hipster-style craft beer pub, simply because it has seemingly been around forever, while these new places (like Craft, Beer Revolution, Three Boars, The Next Act) are new to the scene that was basically created by the Sugarbowl.

This pub is known for its good food and extensive beer menu. Always has been. And still is. You can read the reviews on other sites, like Yelp, and see the generally positive recounts of time spent there.

The menu itself is minimalist, which is nice. There are only a few items on there, and they cook all of them extremely well. This is not a place where you have to scroll though a thick menu and struggle to decide what you would like to eat. There is a list of perhaps a dozen meals, and all of them sound pretty enticing.

sugar2As for the beer menu, it is indeed pretty extensive. Prices have gone up since the last time I was there, and now they are a little more in line with the other craft beer houses in the city, although I would argue, are still a little cheaper. There is perhaps a dozen beers on tap, but the real gems come from the lists of bottled beers that they have. There are a lot, and you could get pretty indecisive when it comes to making a choice here. There are selections from local breweries, as well as small breweries from other places, such as Portland (of course). I did pretty well at selecting some good beers to try. And the prices weren’t totally crippling, like they are at Craft.

The vibe inside is unique. During the day, it remains a place that is popular with families, as it is not a total bar, like some other craft beer places have become. There are definitely the “artsy” people who frequent the place, and it is a hipster joint as well. It is a nice blending of people here.

The staff are generally quick and fairly attentive, no complaints there. I had the bison chili, which was pretty delicious. It had a good amount of heat to it, but nothing overwhelming, and it was definitely hearty. I was full all day off one bowl of it. I would definitely eat it again.

I like this place, and would definitely go there again. My bill was about $60 for two people, both with meals and several beers. Not the cheapest place you will find in Edmonton, but something different from the standard chain restaurants that we too often choose. The Sugarbowl feels like a cool place that you would find in a bigger, cooler city than Edmonton.

A great place to grab some food and drinks. I agree with the hype, and the Sugarbowl is still a cool place to go.

Millwoods Golf Club (Golf Course Review)

Millwoods Golf Club (Golf Course Review)

The City of Edmonton operates a few of their own golf courses sprinkled throughout the city, and while we may think of them as being run down, neglected courses, this is not the case.

The Millwoods Golf Club is a nice course inside the city, and one that is perfect for beginners, given its wide open fairways and lack of hazards throughout the course.

millwoods2The course is located just past the Millwoods Park, a popular destination for families in the area during the summer time. But the course is tucked away behind all the picnics and screaming kids, and offers a nice, secluded area to play for the day. The clubhouse is warm and friendly, housing a great staff that is very kind and helpful. It is nice to see a clubhouse where the people inside know things about golf, and care about the sport, making them able to either help you with any questions, or joke around with you. There were no surly teen workers texting away to be seen here.

The rates at Millwoods are very reasonable. I paid $56 for 18 holes and a power cart, which is a great price. I did receive a $10 discount on my green fees as they had recently aerated the greens (which ended up being fine, it did not affect my terrible putting one way or another).

At the first hole, there is a starter who is there to tell you when to go, and she did a good job of making sure all was in order. She will also offer you a complimentary bottle of water. This was welcomed, since it was one of the smoking hot days of the Edmonton summer in which we decided to play there.

As I said, the course is very wide-open, which is perfect for the golfer who wants to play, but doesn’t want to lose 10 balls over the course of the round. Even with my impressive hooked shots, I didn’t lose a single ball during the day, which is always nice. The rough is not too surly, and can be fairly forgiving if you are not dead-on with your tee shots.

millwoodsOne great thing about this course was that it wasn’t very busy. Granted, I golfed there during a weekday, but at one point, the beer cart girl told us that we were the only people on the back nine. This is always nice, allowing you to play at your own pace, and not feel the pressure from the people behind you. We started behind a foursome, but with the starter being sure to space things out nicely, we never ran into them again, and never needed to wait for them at another hole. This freedom makes for an extra relaxing day.

The views on the course are not the most beautiful you will find in the city, that is for sure, but this is a public course that serves the purpose of letting people play golf in a relaxed environment on a not-overly challenging course.

The greens were the roughest part of the course, as they had been recently aerated, leaving them hard and fast. As I mentioned, my putting is atrocious, but the speed of the greens often made them difficult to read. Aside from that, they are pretty straightforward, with very little break on the majority of the holes.

In all, for the price, Millwoods golf course is a great place to play. Higher end players will be able to put up some of their career best scores, and newer players will be able to play without absolutely lighting up the scoreboard.

I would definitely recommend Millwoods Golf Course, especially for those who live close, on the south side of town.

NHL Free Agency: Some Thoughts

NHL Free Agency: Some Thoughts

Okay, now that the first few days of free agency are over and done with for another year, we can sit back and start to look objectively at some of the deals that were signed over the past few days. The free agent cupboard is now bare, and all that is left is some serviceable and semi-serviceable players who will probably be waiting all summer for a call to join a new team.

Some thoughts on the signings…

  • Paul Stasny to St. Louis: I like this one. Yes, $7M is too much for a player that is not even a #1 center, but he was the best free agent out there, so he got paid like it. The four years is nice, as it gives the Blues a chance to re-evaluate where they are fairly quickly, and not getting saddled with 7 years of someone who will probably end up being their second line center.
  • Brooks Orpik to Washington: Everybody has been piling on this signing as the worst one of the day. Five years for a 33-year-old is too much. The money is ridiculous. So, will I disagree, and take the other side? Nope. This is a bad deal, and quickly will be one that the Capitals regret.
  • Ryan Miller to Vancouver: Don’t like this one at all. Miller is showing his age, and demonstrated in St. Louis that he doesn’t really have the ability to help a team out over the hump anymore. Sure, he put up good numbers in Buffalo last year, but that means very little when the team was so bad. How does he help Vancouver? He is nearing the end of his career, and the Canucks are on a downward spiral. They are maybe the 8th or 9th best team in the conference, and I don’t see Miller making them any better to push them into the playoffs. Eddie Lack has similar numbers, and by bringing in Miller, they are pushing Jakob Markstrom out of the organization, which is a mistake, since he has plenty of untapped potential.

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Edmonton Oilers

  • Spezza and Hemsky to Dallas: Sure, Spezza arrived to the Stars via trade, but I’ll still count it. This is a good add for Dallas, even if they only get one year of Spezza before I could see him bolting for the West coast. But it definitely makes that team dangerous looking on paper, doesn’t it? This pair could have a really nice year since most teams will have to focus on shutting down Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin first. Although it doesn’t help their defensive liabilities at all, the Stars just got a whole lot scarier.
  • Benoit Pouliot to Edmonton: People are praising this as a win for people who love advanced statistics. And maybe it is a step in the right direction for the sad sack Oilers, who have done little aside from make poor decisions over the past few years. But my question revolves around Pouliot being able to put points on the board. Sure, his possession numbers are nice, but does that translate to success on the ice? He could be a decent addition to the third line, however. And yes, that is a lot of money to give a third liner.
  • Martin Brodeur to Nobody: I like this move. He is done. Wanting to move on from New Jersey is a huge mistake, and he should just put in one more year as a backup to Cory Schneider if he wants to keep playing. Yes, he is a legend, but the longer he plays, and if he switches teams, that legend will continue to be tarnished. Ask Mike Modano how his time in Detroit went to end his career? Or if he wishes that he just hung it up as a member of the Stars.
  • Christian Erhoff to Pittsburgh: Maybe the signing of the day, getting him for only $4M. I would have looked at signing him to a three-year deal, but this is a good chance at having him show the league what he still has left, and that was not completely sucked out of him from being in Buffalo for a couple of years.
  • Matt Niskanen to Washington: The only question that needs to be asked is if Niskanen can continue to put up points without guys like Crosby, Malkin, and Neal on the power play with him? Too many years given for one good season.

There were a lot of signings to get the whole thing started, which makes the negotiating window prior to free agency a nice idea. It makes for more interesting television when there are actually things to report, and the deals came in fast and furious over the first few hours of coverage. TSN must have been thanking their lucky stars, after a run of uneventful trade deadline days, and draft days.

Some teams made themselves a little bit better, and some of the signings were definite head scratchers, as they are every year. Of course, only time will tell if any difference will be made once the league resumes play in the fall.

Battle Lake Park (Campground Review)

Battle Lake Park (Campground Review)

About 10 kilometers west of Ma-Me-O Beach lies Battle Lake, a pleasant, and usually calm, lake that provides a solid alternative to the much larger, and busier, Pigeon Lake. Battle is a long, and thin lake, where you can easily see the shore across from you, but will have to spend some time making it from one end to the other.

The main place to stay is at Battle Lake Park, a decent little campground that is actually kind of tough to find, due to poor signage in the area. It’s maybe a 10-15 minute drive from the Pigeon Lake Village, down some of the gravel roads off the main highway.

The boat launch area.
The boat launch area.

Here are the good and bad about the campsite:

The Good

  1. Lots of spots (about 40) for trailers.
  2. There is an indoor washroom, if you don’t want to brave the outhouse for an extended number of days.
  3. Free firewood, which saves a lot of money.
  4. Proximity to Edmonton. It is only about a 45-minute drive away, which is nice.
  5. The lake itself is solid. The waters are usually calm, and it is not infested with boats. There is plenty of space. There are often canoes or dingies out there fishing, which speaks to the calmness of the lake.
  6. The fishing is pretty good. There is a zero limit on walleye, however, which is unfortunate, because you can catch some pretty decent ones out there. You can keep jackfish if they meet the length requirements.
  7. The day use area has a small little beach, some spaces for cooking, and some grass to lounge on. Battle Lake isn’t nearly as busy as other places, so there always seems to be lots of room for people just out for the day. The water is a decent temperature during the day.
  8. Some of the camping (tenting) sites allow you to park your boat in the water right at your site. This is extremely convenient, but only available at a few of the dozen campsites.
  9. $25/night is reasonable.
  10. Closeness to Pigeon Lake Village. If you forgot anything and feel like overpaying for it, you aren’t far away.
  11. All tent sites are right on the water. There may be trees in the way, but it is right there. You aren’t buried in a forest at Battle Lake.

battle3The Bad

  1. The price is per unit, meaning if you have two tents, all of a sudden you’re paying $50/night. This is not good, and that is too expensive for this campground. At that rate, you might as well just take up extra camping spots instead of putting up two tents on one site. Then you would get double the space.
  2. Some of the tent spots are just field, with trees obscuring the view to the lake. Others provide you with direct access to the water. Choose well!
  3. All tent sites are in a long row. This means that you will have people walking past you all day. Only a mild nuisance, but one nonetheless.
  4. The owner is not the friendliest man.
  5. There seems to be very little upkeep to the sites when there are not people there. Meaning, the fire pits are consistently filling up with ash, the sites are littered with goose feces, and other minor problems that could be fixed with some TLC by management to make for a more pleasant camping experience. I understand that geese make a mess, but if there was someone cleaning up now and then, it would allow you to set up without having to take an hour cleaning up bird crap before putting any of your belongings on the ground.
  6. Not much for privacy. Because the sites are in a row along the lake, you had better hope your neighbors are cool. Sound travels, and you will be seeing a lot of them.
  7. Unloading your stuff. If you are in the first couple of sites, you are okay. You have to haul all of your stuff from the parking lot, which is extremely inconvenient. We load everything in our boat and drive it up to the site. Much easier, if you have a site with boat access. It can be painful watching people make 20 trips to get all their stuff to one of the distant sites.
  8. Pay showers. If you want to get clean, bring loonies.
  9. Cash only, no change. The owner will not make change for you, claiming that he “never carries cash,” even though all he accepts is cash. Make sure you have the right bills to pay for your stay.
  10. No power at the site, including for RVs and trailers. If you need it, you’ll need a generator.
  11. Parking. There simply isn’t enough spots for people tenting. Even though people aren’t supposed to park there for day use, they do. This leaves the possibility of having to park near the entrance to the camp site, which is a long ways from where your tent would be.

The Battle Lake campground has its issues. By no means is a perfect place to camp, but some of its advantages are worth the trip. Going during the week would be nice, to avoid some of the crowded problems, but in the end, this really is a quiet alternative to Pigeon Lake. I’ve never seen all the tenting sites filled up, which is always good. With a few minor adjustments, this campground could be extremely good. For now, it is simply okay, and a decent place for a quick escape from the city.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds in Edmonton (Concert Review)

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds in Edmonton (Concert Review)

Wow.

Incredible.

Amazing.

A true musical experience.

There might not be enough superlatives out there to describe the concert put on by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the Northern Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton last night (June 28, 2014). There were several moments during the show, when you could truly feel that you were witnessing something absolutely incredible.

To start, this was my first time seeing Nick Cave, and hopefully it won’t be the last. I had never been a massive fan of his music. Not that I didn’t like it, or care for it, but I didn’t really know all about him. Sure, I had dabbled every few years with his music, but then I moved on. With such a long and distinguished career, sometimes it is intimidating getting into an artist that you discover so far along in the journey. I had listened to albums over the years, like a brief obsession I had with Murder Ballads when it came out, and I had even read Cave’s first novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel, but I wouldn’t call myself a massive fan.

Well, I think that has changed now.

After the opening act (Reggie Watts), a strange combination of comedy and music that was a definite odd choice as an opener, but he had the crowd laughing and questioning what we were really watching, the band took the stage after a brief break. The Jubilee is usually a fancy place, where people sit in their seats with their fancy clothes, and known for its incredible acoustics. Well, the venue is perfect for Cave. The great sound really came across from the very start of the show, and it made the music that much more powerful. The entire bottom section of the auditorium stood for the whole show, and the first few rows rushed up to the stage, where the very interactive lead singer spent most of his time in very close proximity to his fans. Note: if you are looking to go to a show, and want to be right there, try to get seats right up close on the left or right edge of the stage; this is where he spent the majority of the show, often singing directly to a fan or touching them.

nick caveGetting going a little past 8:30 PM, the band played until about 11:00, for a lengthy, two-and-a-half hour set that included a five song encore. In total, they played 19 songs, which is a delicious chunk of music. They varied their song selection from their illustrious career, while playing six songs from the newest album, Push the Sky Away.

Beginning the show with the sedate “We Know Who U R,” things quickly changed, and the first true “Wow” moment of the show came with the second song, “Jubilee Street.” Here, the crowd witnessed Cave at his demonic, rock-god best. The band perfectly played the softness and the beastliness of the song to perfection, Cave oozing with an intense passion, bordering on evil, as the song cascaded upwards, truly mesmerizing the audience. We heard for the first time how loud the band could be, and how powerful that could be in such a small venue. It was nothing short of intense. From the final chords of the lengthy “Jubilee Street,” we knew we were in for something special here. It put the crowd on edge, in the most positive way possible. Nick Cave had taken control of the concert hall, and was going to own us for the rest of the night.

The Bad Seeds are an extremely solid band. Most of the six members would play multiple instruments, and they were incredibly tight for the entire show. Many of their songs are fairly simple, with each taking on a simple part, but together, they are very impressive. Timing, and the often hectic changes between soft and delicate to sonic and menacing always went perfectly, creating the exact mood and tone that they had intended when the song was written. They were able to fill the venue with powerful ambiance when needed, and raw power when required. They were fantastic, and even though they get overshadowed by their frontman, they are a worthy band in their own right.

But let’s be honest: it is Cave himself that people go to see. He commands the audience in such a way that we may be reminiscent of what someone like Jim Morrison could do in the height of his career. He can stand and sway on the stage, singing about darkness and murder, and have the rapt attention of every single person in the theater. In a place like the Jubilee, it is possible to hear what someone on the lower level says, because the acoustics are that good. But during the quiet moments, there was nobody speaking. Everyone was listening to Cave, with rapt, cult-like attention. It was incredible. People were so into the show, that there was significantly less cellphone use than you would normally see at a concert. People were enjoying the show, the strange journey that our leader was taking us on. Cave is a psychotic preacher at times, but as he postulates about passion, death, murder, and lust, we cannot help but listen.

Dressed in a black suit, Cave truly connected with the audience. Twice during the show he wandered well into the audience to sing an entire song. It had people turned in all directions, craning themselves to see the frontman. He controls his voice incredibly well, going from a whisper to a deep baritone scream often, and well. He has mastered his craft, having been doing it since the 70’s (not all with the Bad Seeds, but he’s been going for a long time).

Personal highlights for me included “The Weeping Song,” which comes across with the intense, southern gothic sound that Cave is probably most known for. It was an incredible live song, adding to the greatness of the recorded version. Also, “The Ship Song,” and to close the show (prior to the encore), “Push the Sky Away,” which filled the hall with a haunting ambiance, while Cave controlled us once again, making us feel that there was something important happening. It was an incredible tune, one that could send shivers up your spine.

In the encore, it was all hits. I was happy that they played “Deanna,” as well as one of my favorite tunes, “Do You Love Me?”, which also came across incredibly well live. They ended the whole thing with “The Lyre of Orpheus,” allowing Cave to have a call and answer with the audience. It was phenomenal. There is no other way to put it.

Seeing this concert was one of the greatest I have ever been to. I love the smaller venues like this, and it makes you understand how annoying it can be to watch arena rock. There are no issues with the regular trappings of arena rock, like poor sound, poor sight lines, drunken throngs of people, terrible parking, etc. This is how concerts are meant to be seen.

If you are on the fence about going to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, don’t be. Just go. It doesn’t matter if you know one song, or the words to every single one, you will be in for a treat. An incredible band, led by an incredible singer, will make for a stunning show. I may not have been the hugest fan going into the show, but I was expecting a good performance. And I got more than I bargained for. It was masterful, epic, and something that will be remembered for a long time.

This is rock and roll. It is having darkness mixed with tenderness, all guided by the somewhat vampiristic Cave.

See them. You will absolutely not regret it.

Show info:

Opener: starts at 8, plays for about 30 mins

Nick Cave: starts at approximately 8:30-8:45. Ended at 11:00. (2.5 hour set)

Set List:

1. We No Who U R, 2. Jubilee Street, 3. Tupelo, 4. Red Right Hand, 5. Mermaids, 6. The Weeping Song, 7. From Her to Eternity, 8. West Country Girl, 9. The Ship Song, 10. Into My Arms, 11. Higgs Boson Blues, 12. The Mercy Seat, 13. Stagger Lee, 14. Push the Sky Away. Encore: 15. Watching Alice, 16. Deanna, 17. Do You Love Me?, 18. We Real Cool, 19. The Lyre of Orpheus

Tickets: $40 for second balcony. Good view, great sound.

Eating Edmonton: Craft Beer Market

Eating Edmonton: Craft Beer Market

It’s hard not to love all of the places opening up in Edmonton that specialize in good food and good beer. Because, food and beer are some of my favorite things in the world.

It took me a lot longer to get out to Craft than I would have expected, especially with its convenient downtown location, right across the street from the Sherlock Holmes pub. Well, it is convenient if you actually manage to get parking downtown without having to pay and arm and a leg for it. But this is less of a problem in the evening, once the workday crowd has mostly dispersed. Still, don’t expect to get one of the very few spots right across from Craft. Plan to walk a few blocks.

craft2First off, the space that Craft has is incredible. It is very large, two floors, and has recently opened their rooftop patio for the summer months. The space is very open, spacious, and tastefully decorated. It has the feeling of a beer hall, but classier, not unlike other establishments of this ilk.

The staff are pretty quick, friendly, and attentive, and you are greeted warmly upon entering the building. There are various table sizes, which is a nice option depending on the size of your group, with tables and booths aplenty.

One of the most impressive things about the place is the kegs of beer everywhere. If you accidentally wander down the wrong staircase trying to find the washroom, as I did, you will get to the basement level that includes a room with hundreds upon hundreds of kegs of beer in it. Momentarily, I believed it to be heaven. You can also see the beer on the main and upper floor, as it is contained in glass rooms, similar to how it is in Beer Revolution in Oliver Square.

The food at Craft is good. As is expected now, they have a full and interesting menu of what I call Pub Grub+. Typical fare for this kind of place, but it is really tasty, and not simply sloppy chicken wings. It actually took our group a while to decide on what to eat, because there was definitely more than one enticing option. Pretty much every appetizer sounded delicious. But we had to restrain ourselves.

As for the beer selection, well, it is probably second-to-none in Edmonton. I believe there are over 100 beers on tap, and they are changed regularly. This is awesome. It can be difficult to navigate the beer menu, simply because there are just so many to choose from, and it can become quite overwhelming, if you don’t really know what you want. The servers are very knowledgeable about what they serve, so don’t hesitate to ask about a certain beer, or describe what you are looking for. They will be able to help you out with that, which is always nice.

Because of its food and drink, Craft would seem like a place that could become a home away from home for me. But for one thing: the prices.

I get it. Craft beer is all the rage. Pub Grub+ food is all the rage. And you can expect to pay for quality. I don’t mind paying for quality.

But Craft Beer Market has priced itself out for me. This cannot be a place where my friends and I hang out for an evening and sample different beers. I would go broke, especially when the majority of beers at Craft are over $9.

$9!!

While the food prices are only slightly above average in comparable pubs, it is the drinks that will absolutely destroy your bank account. This makes Craft a perfect place to come after work for a meal and a beer, but little more than that. Sadly, I am not a one beer type of person, and the price just adds up far too quickly for me. It would be great to be able to spend some time there, and sample a lot of the different beers that they have to offer, since it is such an amazing selection, but I don’t feel like selling my car just yet. I feel that the high prices are actually a detriment to the sampling of new beers, simply because I am nervous about spending $9.25 on something I have never tried before. If it isn’t very good, then that is a large waste of money, when I could have just been smarter, and gone for the $8.25 Sapporo that I know is good.

Me complaining about it won’t change the prices, and from what I’ve heard, Craft has been very successful since its opening in Edmonton, which is great. It continues to be nice to see downtown being revitalized with new places all the time, creating a place that is good for the older crowd that has mostly tired of Whyte Ave.

Craft is great, if you have the money.

Eating Edmonton: The Common

Eating Edmonton: The Common

Downtown, on 109th street, one of the many newest places to eat and drink in Edmonton is The Common. Not the hugest restaurant/bar around, The Common does very well to use all of its space properly, to get as many people in there, while still maintaining a level of comfort and not getting terribly overcrowded.

The best things about The Common, and one that sets it apart from other new, hipster-ish places downtown, are the prices. They are actually reasonable. If you manage to hit happy hour (prior to 6PM during the week), you will get $2 off pints of beer, which is a pretty solid deal. And to begin, their beers aren’t nearly as expensive as an alternative, such as Craft Beer Market. There is a decent selection of drinks available, including a personal, and hipster, favorite, of having Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap. It’s just so good!

common2The food is also quite good there. It is a tad expensive, but it is similar to other places of this ilk. Pub grub plus. The usual stuff, but it is far better, and more high-end. Something like the short rib poutine will definitely hit the spot, and for a price that won’t destroy your wallet.

The Common has a cool vibe to it, good design (the two sides of the bar seem to be different places, and tend to have a different feel), friendly wait staff, and usually quick service, regardless of how busy it gets.

The patio is small, and on the 109th side of the street, which makes it pretty noisy, but it is still nice, allowing us to get outside in our incredibly short summer season. There aren’t many tables out there, only one row of picnic tables, that can accommodate four people each. There doesn’t seem to get more people in there if you have a larger group, unless you really want to squish into those tables.

Overall, The Common is a top choice among downtown establishments that are focused on grabbing the attention and business of those who like beer, a variety of beer, and decent food at prices that won’t slaughter them for the month.