Friday, September 4, 2015

Beer and Brute Strength

Midwest Masskrugstemmen Champion Ivars Balodis will tap Hofbrauhaus Cleveland's first keg of Oktoberfest to kick off the beer hall's monthlong Oktoberfeast celebrations, which starts Sept. 4 and runs every weekend through Oct. 4. Don't know what a masskrugstemmen champion is? Cleveland native Balodis explains.

Ivars Balodis (top) won the Chicago Masskrugstemmen contest with a time of 10 minutes 14 seconds.

It all started last Christmas. Andis Udris, president and CEO of Cincinnati Restaurant Group, which operates Hofbrauhaus Cleveland, is my cousin. Every year at Christmas, we have family over at my house for Christmas dinner and a get-together. Usually when guests come over they bring a bottle of wine, but since the Hofbrauhaus opened up last year, he brings a keg of the Hofbrauhaus beer. … So the evening progresses, and after dinner we’re sitting around talking about the Hofbrauhaus, and he brings up this beer stein-holding event.

I’m 6-foot-5, 350 pounds, I’m a pretty big ex-athlete. So I’m like, how hard can that be? He’s telling me how the average time is anywhere between 3 and 7 minutes that people can hold it. From what I’ve learned in the last few months, it’s a little harder than what you think, holding a 5 1/2-pound beer in your hand.

You’ve gotta hold it by the handle, and you can’t wrap your hand around the mug itself, it’s got to be just around the handle itself. You hold it straight out in front of you parallel to the floor. It’s got to maintain being parallel with the floor. When you start shaking you can’t spill any beer, because after awhile your arm starts getting tired and your hand starts to shake a little and the beer starts splashing around in there. If it spills, you’re out. You’ll get two warnings from the judges if your arm’s down. They’ll say, “Lift your arm up,” or “Put your arm down,” if you try to hold it up too high. After two warnings if you do it again, you’re done.

So we’re sitting at the dining room table and I’m sitting there holding the [beer stein] out, and [Udris] goes, “If you can go five minutes, you can be in the competition.” I went 9 1/2 minutes. He was thoroughly shocked.

Fast-forward a couple of months to when Cleveland had the preliminary rounds. [Udris] called me and said, “We’re having the competition if you want to give it a try.” The wife wanted me to [do it], because the winner gets a free round-trip for two to Chicago, and then the winner of Chicago gets a free round-trip to New York City for the nationals. So she’s like, “You’re going and you’re going to win, and we’re going to Chicago and we’re going to New York. “

I had no idea what I was getting into. The preliminary round I won with a time of — I don’t even remember the first round. Basically, you just go until the second-to-last person drops. When you’re the last one standing, you win. For the Cleveland finals, I won with a time of 8 minutes and 44 seconds. So with that, I won a round-trip ticket for two [the first week of August] to Chicago and free hotel for the finals.

My wife was texting. We had 50 friends and family that showed up to cheer me on. For the Chicago trip, we had almost 25 people who drove from Cleveland to Chicago to root me on. So it turned into a nice weekend getaway. With winning Chicago, we go to the national Masskrugstemmen championships in New York City in Central Park, which is Sept. 19.

I haven’t trained for it, so I’m going to say it’s brute strength. Other than lifting a couple of beers on the weekend.

I’m a 49-year-old information technology consultant that sits on his butt all day long. I played high school and college football for Ashland University, and I was in the Marine Corps, so that helped [with] discipline.

It’s just a matter of channeling the pain. In Cleveland, I was just focusing on the basketball game on the TV. It was a Cavs playoff game, and I was focusing on that to keep my mind off of it. Same thing in Chicago: There were TVs in the back, and I was focusing on that to channel the pain out of my shoulder. For me that’s where the pain is, just in my shoulder.   — as told to Laura Adiletta

Hofbrauhaus Cleveland, 1550 Chester Ave., Cleveland,

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Love Reigns: Keith Garrett and Chris Richardson

Keith Garrett and Chris Richardson

Keith Garrett and Chris Richardson were the first same-sex couple to tie the knot in Cuyahoga County. Though they professed to be marrying simply to give their 18-year relationship the weight of legality, things got a little emotional when the pair broke out in tears and embraced in Judge Anthony Russo’s courtroom. We spoke with them about what it means to finally be legal and finding acceptance in family.

Keith: We never really sought any kind of religious acknowledgement. We never sought religious matrimony. Our relationship wasn’t based on any of that. We have a strong relationship — we didn’t need that. What this was important for was getting the legal recognition that traditional couples get just by having a marriage license. There are something like 1,100 rights that it automatically conveys. There’s only so much you can do with powers of attorney and rights of survivorship. That sounds cold, because you’re not talking about any love there. But the love was never in question. The love never needed to be recognized publicly. The legal part was what we sought.

Chris: My mother is very supportive. My parents got divorced when I was very young. My father, he is as supportive as I could expect him to be. He turned 70 this year, and he grew up in a very small town in the mountains of southwest Virginia. He grew up with those values where being gay was unheard of. It was instilled in him at a very early age that it was unacceptable. Without diving into some of the things that he said to me when I came out to him, he has come a long way. When we first got together, we went out to eat, and my dad would talk to him without actually looking at him. We sat at a square table, across from him and my stepmom, and she wouldn’t look [Keith] in the eye. And two years ago, they came up here and stayed Labor Day weekend with us. The fact that they came up was huge. I actually went down recently to see my dad, and he made a comment, basically saying, ‘You know I don’t like the fact that you’re gay, but if this is what makes you happy I support you.’  That is more than I ever thought he would say. — as told to Sheehan Hannan

Editor’s Note: In the September issue of Cleveland Magazine, we interviewed 10 same-sex couples who were  engaged or married following the June 26 Supreme Court decision. Check back every Wednesday for more stories through Sept. 30. For all the stories in this series, click here.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Lighthouse and the Whaler Grow Up on 'Mont Royal'

     The Lighthouse and the Whaler were in a different place when they made their new album — literally and sonically. Last winter, the indie-pop group spent five weeks recording in Montreal’s Mont Royal borough, which inspired the album’s title and is also the name of a small mountain and a nearby avenue. The region’s frigid weather, which often resulted in the band members’ facial hair icing over and the van getting stuck on snow-filled streets, spurred them to spend a lot of time holing up in studio with producer Marcus Paquin (Arcade Fire, Local Natives). “There was no possibility or desire to do anything else because it was so cold,” says lead singer and guitarist Michael LoPresti. “We were so dedicated and devoted to spending 10 to 12 hours a day in the studio, putting everything we had into it.” That focus led to a crisper, fuller sound that finds the band experimenting with electronic tones, while still incorporating beautiful moments of strings. The album also marks the first that the band put out after signing with Roll Call Records. As the band prepares for a monthlong national tour, starting with an album release show at the Beachland Ballroom Aug. 28, we catch up with LoPresti.

Q: This album takes a step back and examines the world and your role in it. How has your songwriting process evolved?
We changed a lot in the years since we made This is an Adventure. We spent a lot of time trying to get the next step of our career right as opposed to just taking the first thing that happened or just coming out with another album for the sake of it. My brother and I both had children. That puts a little bit of weight on you — thinking a little bit existentially in life now that you have someone who you’re in charge of. Mark and Ryan both went through various relationships through the process. That sort of just opened up our understanding of what it meant to grow up. We have to create something that both challenges and moves people without being preachy or having an agenda.

Q: Teen Wolf actress Holland Roden stars in your new video “I Want To Feel Alive,” filmed in Los Angeles. The video is a montage of vibrant slices of life but ends on a quiet moment at home. Why make that decision?
We wanted to evoke a sense of there being something intangible about life that you can’t really say. … When we got toward the end of the video and the violins are pulling this raging torrent of sound falls through you and then it cuts away, you sort of realize that being alive doesn’t have a limit on it. Everyone finds moments in their lives where you just stand back and you’re like, This is what it means to be alive right now. I find it in nature a lot. I was in North Carolina about a year ago and my wife and I hiked up a mountain and it opens up on a vast mountain range. At those moments you just stop, This is it. This is what its about right here. I think it’s like the idea of capturing those emotions in the moments we least expect it as opposed to trying really hard to do these things that we think make us feel like we are alive.

Q: What can we expect from the Beachland show?
At the Beachland show, we are going to be using an in-ear [monitoring] system that we’ve been putting together for the last few months. That will help us to translate these songs in the best and purest way possible. That’s taking us to a focused and concise performance that we’re trying to convey. … There’s something special in Cleveland that you don't find in other cities. When I was in LA when we were shooting the video, I was talking to them about what Cleveland is. 'Cleveland is for Cleveland, man. You guys are all here against each other. When you’re in Cleveland sure there is competition, but we are all rooting for to succeed.' I’m really excited to be able to share the emotion of putting this album out in Cleveland first.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Idina Menzel Lets It Go for Summer Tour

Photo by Robin Wong
Idina Menzel is spending her summer melting hearts throughout the world. Spurred by the success of her Academy Award-winning smash “Let it Go” from Frozen, Menzel has played venues from South Korea to New Jersey on a summer tour that hits Blossom Music Center Aug. 21.

“My ability to give an intimate performance is very important to me,” said the 44-year-old Menzel during a press conference. “I’m trying to connect with every single person in that audience.” The Broadway veteran talks Frozen and why you won’t catch her lip-synching.

Q: Do you expect your audiences to be any younger?
Ever since Rent, each defining project and role I’ve been a part of has garnered a very young audience. Between Rent and Wicked and Glee and now Frozen, I’ve always had to navigate around a wide demographic, which is obviously a very lucky thing but can also be tricky. It’s a challenging thing to reconcile.

Q: Were you surprised Frozen had such an impact?
I knew it was a beautiful song when they sent it to me to learn, but I had no idea it would become the kind of phenomenon that it’s become. It’s wonderful to have a song that’s heightened my profile and given me more opportunities. The best thing about it is as much as it speaks to young people, it also speaks to me as a woman and the things I think are important – the idea of not hiding those things that make us really powerful.

Q: Do you feel you have to introduce new generations to what a live performance is?
A: There’s no Auto-Tune happening here. What people hear in a recording is not what’s always going down. Yet live performance is stronger than ever. It’s those beautiful imperfections that make things more interesting. I’m certainly not going to lip synch … when people come to hear you live and see what you really can do, they get it.

By Barry Goodrich

Monday, August 17, 2015

Facial Hair Faceoff: The Beard & Mustache Championships Come to Cleveland

Men — and a few women — with beards and mustaches twisted into curly Q’s or flourishing in untamed splendor packed into the Agora Theatre and Ballroom Aug. 15 to use their facial hair for a good cause: to help raise awareness and funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The fourth annual Great Lakes Regional Beard & Mustache Championships, hosted by Beards of the Old Northwest and held in Cleveland for the first time, brought in people from throughout the country to compete onstage in 13 categories. It's a personal cause for members of the hosting facial hair social club, including Scott Sykora of Chardon whose brother-in-law has multiple sclerosis. “If we have to use big beards to get into people’s faces, then that’s the way we have to do it,” says Sykora, event organizer. Here are four fuzzy faces that caught our attention.

Aarne Bielefeldt stars on IFC’s Whisker Wars and currently holds the title of World Champion Full Beard Freestyle from the World Beard and Mustache Championships. “It was a category that was started over in Europe… and it was pretty much owned by the German beardsmen,” says Beilefeldt, who flew in from San Francisco to judge the competition. “So I’m honored to do that and take it away from them.”

Adam Paul Causgrove is president of the American Mustache Institute. “We fight for the rights of facial-haired humans in the workplace,” explains Causgrove, who emceed the event. “But really against any sort of discrimination from the bald-faced majority out there trying to hold us back from living our ruggedly handsome lifestyle.”

Mike Rado, a Medina High School graduate, is a self-employed, bearded butcher in Pittsburgh. “I was a chef, and they frown upon this sort of stuff. But I bought and started my own business and threw the razor away,” says Rado, who has a strict daily regimen of combing, conditioning and oiling to prevent loose hairs. He competes up to six times a year (full beard natural, four to eight inches), sometimes taking the competition stage in various degrees of nudity or in a samurai costume and often placing.

Eric Zatchok of Lakewood is the president of Beards of the Old Northwest Cleveland chapter. His beard is more than three years old. “It’s been a different journey because you’ll see others with a thicker beard, and you’re kind of envious,” says Zatchok, who helped organize the event. “But at the same time, you need to realize it’s all genetics, and you need to be proud of what you can grow.”

Friday, August 14, 2015

Dedicated to Devo: Fans Gather to Honor the Band This Weekend

Courtesy of Mark Kozee
The band Devomatix exists for one reason: to pay tribute to the iconic robotic-punk group from Akron at this weekend's DEVOtional. Since forming the Devo cover band a year ago in Atlanta, Mark Kozee and his group, which includes his older brother, Casey, and son, Brett, have been rehearsing twice a month in preparation for the two-day gathering of hopelessly devoted fans at the Beachland Ballroom & Tavern. "It is a labor of love for us," Mark says. The band also includes Andrew Doss on keyboards and Adam Zisser on drums. Devomatix play the DEVOtional at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 15. The event coincides with the unveiling of a life-size installation of a famous Devo photo in downtown Akron Aug. 15, which Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh spoke to us about for our August issue. Kozee tells just why he loves Devo so much. 

Devo was the first band that I saw live when I was 13 years old in 1980 at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. I always tell people, and tell my wife, that I would be a much different person if the first band I ever saw was Journey. I’d probably be a normal person. But Devo was the first concert I ever saw, and it still is the best concert I’d ever seen. I’ve pretty much been hooked ever since.

Casey, my older brother, was going to Georgia State University in Atlanta. Casey had heard Devo on his local college radio station and said, “We should really check this band out. We should really listen to this.” We sort of were scratching our heads when we first saw them on TV. We were like a lot of people back then. We didn’t know if it was a gag, if they were pulling our legs; we didn’t know if they were serious; we didn’t know if they really thought they were robots. 

In 1980s music was disco and punk and classic rock, arena rock, album-oriented stuff. It was a good time for music, but there was also a lot of bad music. I was a young teenager so I was really interested in fitting in and being cool. When I saw Devo, I realized that being cool was about being yourself. It really gave me a different appreciation for what was really important in my life. I love the music. When you’re 13-years-old and in the South, it’s a little risky to like a band like Devo. After seeing them live, I really felt a connection with them. I felt like, “They understand me.” I didn’t feel different anymore.   — as told to Lauren Swanson

Monday, August 3, 2015

Bleachers and Robert DeLong are the Boys of Summer for lead up to Made in America

Brightly colored tribal body paint, heady electronic music and cans of beer collided for a free anthemic concert Sunday when Bleachers and Robert DeLong took the stage at Jacob's Pavilion at Nautica in promotion of the fourth annual Budweiser Made in America music festival.

DeLong, whose second album In the Cards drops next month, amped up the crowd as the opening act by using a loop pedal and jumping between interfaces stacked with gaming equipment to create an otherworldly wave of electronic dance music. Known for using brevity in his lyricism, DeLong performed his first single "Global Concepts" alongside newer tracks, "Don't Wait Up" and "Long Way Down", while fans colored and covered in neon body paint swayed along to his hypnotic beats.

Bleachers, led by Jack Antonoff of fun. fame, carried the crowd the rest of the night by performing songs from their first album Strange Desire. Their performance of "Shadow" and "Wake Me" were reminiscent of long-lost loves and summers past, while "Rollercoaster" and "I Wanna Get Better" flowed effortlessly with a synth-drenched '80s-inspired modern-rock vibe. Reimagined covers of "Dreams" by the Cranberries and "Only One" by Kanye West and Paul McCartney were unexpected highlights of the night, along with an awe-inspiring solo sax performance by band member, Evan Smith.

One attendee at the concert won an all-expense-paid trip to this year's Made in America music festival — made famous for bringing together massive hit artists spanning every genre — that will take place in Philadelphia Sept. 5 and 6, where Beyonce, the Weeknd, Metric and Banks are set to perform.

Robert DeLong uses gaming equipment like a Wii remote to create his unique blend of electronic dance music.

Fans were given body paint treatment to celebrate the summer night show.

Jack Antonoff, Bleachers lead guitarist and lyricist, performs anthemic songs for summer.

Evan Smith takes on a solo with his silver sax.