The Blog Squad

Friday, August 31, 2007

Happy Camping with David Lowery

What started out as an extended birthday party for a group of friends is now a music sensation — in the middle of the California desert. You’re probably asking why Richmond should care, right?

Because several of the bands at the third annual Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven Campout (Sept. 6-8 in Pioneertown, Calif.) have Virginia ties: Richmond residents David Lowery of Cracker and Camper, Johnny Hott, also of Cracker; Charlottesville’s Hackensaw Boys and Ohio’s Jason Molina, whose albums Lowery has produced in his Broad Street studio, Sound of Music. (Temporarily relocated across the street, thanks to a recent fire on that block.) Molina records under his own name, as well as Songs: Ohia and his most recent incarnation, Magnolia Electric Company.

I caught up with Lowery recently to talk about the campout and the latest news on his musical projects.

“Originally it was going to be a party for friends and families and people in the band,” he says. “Lots of people in Camper had September birthdays.” Then a plan developed to invite fans, which worked out pretty well. “Everybody clamored for us to do another one,” Lowery says, and last year, the second night sold out. This year, they are adding a third night, and Cracker will play 1993’s “Kerosene Hat” in its entirety. (“Low,” off this album, was the group’s first big single.)

Pioneertown, Lowery acknowledges, is “out in the middle of nowhere,” but it’s within reasonable driving distance of L.A., Las Vegas and Phoenix. “It’s a beautiful place. Hipsters and artists have discovered that area in the last 10, 15 years. I like the vibe of the people.” It’s also not far from where he grew up, in Redlands, Calif.

When Lowery and I spoke, he was in California, writing songs for Camper. But more appears to be happening on the Cracker front. A radio station in New York picked up a demo recording (“Baby, All Those Girls Meant Nothing To Me”) off Lowery’s MySpace page this summer, and it’s gotten considerable radio play. The band’s also been touring in support of last year’s album “Greenland.” With well-attended shows, Lowery calls this Cracker’s “most successful summer in more than 10 years. Kids like rock again — I don’t know what it is.” The 17-year-old group may come out with a new album next (rather than Camper) because of this wave of support, and Lowery suggests that another “radio song” might be released this fall.

And now for the burning question: Will there be an East Coast Campout for those of us who can’t make it to the desert? Lowery says maybe next year. “We’ve thought about it, and we even know where we’d want to do it,” he says — possibly in Virginia or North Carolina. But the decision will be made after September, once this year’s campout is done. Stay tuned!

The Half-Hour Fantasy Football Blog

This week is devoted to fantasy football. Let’s jump right in and analyze the top 12 picks of the draft since most leagues have a dozen teams.

1. LT. Superhero.

2. Steven Jackson. The bruising back totaled 2,334 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns last season. The Rams have said they want Jackson to catch fewer passes this season because they want to spread the ball to their receivers more. Some think he resembles another Jackson.

3. Joseph Addai. He shared time last year and surely
that’s still the plan. However, the Colts have not found anyone who can take carries away from Addai. That means this Super Bowl champ, if healthy, will add at least 500 yards to his totals last season.

4. Larry Johnson. We waited a while for him to report to camp. It’s a good thing he took the money now before his body breaks down. Johnson rushed for 752 times the past two seasons. The Chiefs have said they want to limit his carries and with an inexperienced quarterback set to start and an inferior offensive line, Johnson’s production will certainly drop by 200-300 yards and a handful of TDs.

5. Laurence Maroney. Can’t go wrong with having the No. 1 running back on the Super Bowl favorites. Come November and December when the weather gets cold,
Maroney and his big body will run over defenses. The Patriots will have a balanced offense, which only means it will be very effective.

6. Frank Gore. The 49ers running back has a physical style mixed with surprising speed. Gore signed a huge contract in March just before the surge toward his prime. San Francisco is much improved, meaning Gore will have more scoring chances.

7. Shaun Alexander. He was injured last year after an MVP season that saw him break the single-season TD record. His foot injury is just a sign of his physical breakdown. He may have one more good season left as the primary back. But look for him to share more carries.

8. Willie Parker. Just like Maroney, Parker will get the ball come winter in Pittsburgh. Six of his seven 100-yard games came at home, including a pair of 200-yard outbursts. He’s good value with the No. 8 pick.

9. Reggie Bush. He might be a stretch this high because he shares time with the Deuce. But just to be able to watch him on Sundays perform for your team is worth the risk. He won’t carry it 20 times, but he will have 20-30 touches. So that means he’ll line up in the slot and return punts.

10. Rudi Johnson. The man from Petersburg is suppose to break down already. But he continues to grind out the yards. The Bengals drafted Kenny Irons in the second round to take some of the load off of Johnson. Not gonna happen. Irons blew out his knee.

11. Brian Westbrook. The best running back in the NFC East. Westbrook is a threat to take it home every time he touches the ball. He’s also the best receiving back in the league. Injuries are a concern, but if he’s on the field, there are few better ballers.

12. Peyton Manning. There’s no question that running backs win fantasy leagues. However, Manning is worthy of a first-round pick. The Colts used their top pick to draft a slot receiver. Tight end Dallas Clark keeps improving. Manning does not make mistakes and he’s good for at least 30-TD passes.

OUT AT HOME: You know you have a cool wife when she eagerly anticipates a special delivery all week. When that delivery comes, she can’t wait to show it to you. My wife bought my daughter a “HAIL TO THE REDSKINS” T-shirt. It’s AWESOME!!! The kid and I will be sporting our gear on Sundays.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: You can’t possibly want another one. But hey, who I am to judge? A tribute to a great woman gone too soon.

Friday, August 24, 2007

He's in the Game

I didn’t buy Madden 08 when it was released Aug. 14 and I probably won’t ever. You see, I’ve given up on the video game. No matter how much time I put into it, I’ll never be good. Plus I’m always the Redskins, and I’m sure that doesn’t help much.

One guy who has perfected Madden is Justin Chow of Great Falls, Va. Chow, 22, is considered one of the best in the country and has competed in the $100,000 Madden Challenge and appeared in the first season of Madden Nation on ESPN.

Chow started his video football career by running Bo Jackson wild on Techmo Bowl. His father grew up in Los Angeles, so naturally he learned to love the L.A. Raiders. Techmo Bowl was indeed one of the best games ever produced and Bo Jackson was perhaps the greatest game icon in the history of video sports.

“Then I got a Sega Genesis in 1994,” Chow says. “That’s when I first played Madden.”

Chow would whip his dad but soon gave up the game. It wasn’t until 2004 when he bought PlayStation 2 with an online adapter that he started playing Madden again.

Chow learned playbooks, glitches and cyber opponents on his journey to become an online legend. Madden players across the nation knew who he was.

“I’m a competitive person,” says Chow, who is a senior at Radford University. “I really got into it. I played all the time.”

By 2005, he had heard of tournaments and the circuit. He traveled to Las Vegas for his first tournament and won $10,000. He later qualified for the Madden Challenge by taking the Washington D.C. tournament.

Soon after, EA Sports, the makers of Madden, came calling and picked Chow to appear on a reality television show. The gamers rode cross-country on a bus and played for survival. The winner collected $100,000.

In the eight-episode Madden Nation, Chow lasted until the seventh show. Chow recently entered a tournament in Hawaii but lost in the final eight. He says over the past two years, he’s won about $35,000 in prize money.

But how does he pay for the travel expenses?

“All I need is a plane ticket, and I get that from sponsorships or wherever,” Chow says. “It’s weird, perfect strangers treat me well because I’m good at Madden. I have strangers pick me up at the airport, let me stay at their house, feed me and drive me wherever I need to go.”

During the Madden season, which starts when the game is released and runs until May, Chow says that he can practice up to 12 hours per day. He’ll play online or in practice mode.

As for secrets, he says at his level, it usually comes down to the mental aspect because so many players are equal in their execution.

“Madden is about adjustments,” Chow says. “You need to have in your head every possible play at any given situation that will not be stopped by your opponent.”

But for regular folks like me, Chow offers suggestions like knowing the playbook and just getting in some practice. He also says that perfecting the glitches help a lot.

“There’s a glitch in Madden 08,” Chow says. “There’s a way to make the receiver jump real high. He’ll jump over two or three guys and make the catch.”

Chow will be back at Radford in a few days to finish his studies in computer science. EA Sports has offered him a job as a game tester once he’s done.

“I want to be a game designer one day,” Chow says. “I just can’t work 9-5 at a desk. I need to be connected to video games in some way.”

OUT AT HOME: I’m a geek, I’m a geek, I’m a geek. My cousin Ernest called me up recently to say, “Hey, ESPN is doing mock drafts. You wanna do some?”

Of course I did. We drafted teams in four leagues. Not satisfied, I suggested a few days later that we create a league that included individual defensive players and a punter. GEEK!

The draft for the Salty Prunes League is Tuesday, Sept. 4. I plan on making Julius Peppers or Champ Bailey my first defensive player selection.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Here’s a video of a friend of my wife’s sister. Bernard Pollard is a safety for the Kansas City Chiefs. All hail Fort Wayne!

Monday, August 20, 2007

What We’re Working On

While you’re enjoying the final weeks of summer, over at Richmond magazine we’re gearing up for our October issue, which will include a package of school-related stories. We're interested in learning more about tutoring programs throughout the area's public schools. If your child has taken advantage of any tutoring opportunities in either Richmond, Chesterfield, Henrico or Hanover schools, give me a call at 355-0111, ext. 324, or e-mail

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Baseball Great Heads Home

My grandfather’s property in Mountainside, N.J., looked massive through the eyes of an 8 year old when in fact it was just less than an acre.

My younger brother, grandfather and I would walk the land in the mornings, cutting up gypsy moths that were trapped in potato sack aprons that hung around oak trees and shooting blue jays away from sparrows nests with homemade sling shots.

We would spend the afternoons swimming in the pool, which seemed as big as the ocean, but now I know I could have covered its length in five strokes. My grandfather, a baseball player at Rutgers and a civil servant his entire life, taught us to dive—spring three times on the board and cut through the water without nary a splash.

When we were refreshed from swimming, it was time to put on the gloves and box. My grandfather, Anthony Glenn Harter, wanted his grandsons to protect themselves in the schoolyard.

“Uppercut to the stomach,” he would say. “That way you don’t break your hand. You can hit someone in the stomach all day long.”

He drove a Lincoln Continental with suicide doors and steered with one finger, boasting about the supreme vehicle’s power steering. We would go with him to the Stop & Shop and among the purchases we would buy several gallons of milk, deli meat, root beer and vanilla ice cream.

Dinner was eaten when the sun clocked out for the day. Bath time followed. And then we all gathered in the living room for Yankees baseball.

I was never a Yankees fan. My father grew up loving the Brooklyn Dodgers to oppose my grandfather’s beloved Bronx Bombers. So I naturally was steered to follow my father’s team.

But I was a fan of my grandfather. Whatever he did, I wanted to do. Whatever he said, I wanted to repeat. So it was during these hot summer nights, when my grandfather would teach me about Reggie Jackson, Mickey Rivers, Chris Chambliss, Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage, Ed Figueroa, Sparky Lyle, Bobby Murcer—how easy it is to remember the names—Catfish Hunter, Thurman Munson, Bucky Dent, Jay Johnstone, Roy White, Paul Blair and Billy Martin, I became a Yankees fan.

If Mickey Rivers stepped up to bat with runners on base and he was 0 for 3, my grandfather would say, “he’s due.” If the hitless streak was over two or three days, Anthony Glenn would add, “he’s overdue!” Inevitably, these slumping Yankees would find their stroke and I would believe he performed magic over them.

The seventh-inning stretch in Grandpa Harter’s house meant ice cream soda. My brother and I were responsible for making them—two scoops of vanilla and the root beer from the Stop and Shop.

I’ve never made or had better.

I was reminded of all of this a few days ago. It had been years since I thought in detail about my grandfather. But when Phil Rizzuto died, the great Yankees shortstop and broadcaster, “Holy Cow!” the memories flowed.

Anthony Glenn Harter passed away a couple of years before Rizzuto retired from the booth. Here’s hoping the two of them are sharing an ice cream soda and talking about how Alex Rodriguez is overdue.

OUT AT HOME: Jennifer, my wife, and I were dressed up and drove to a social event recently. I don’t know what it was, maybe I had a few seconds at a traffic light, or maybe her sheer beauty kept catching my attention, but I noticed.

“Honey, I just had a moment to look at you, and you look great,” I said.

She smiled and laughed. And it was the kind of smile and laugh that if we’re lucky enough to share more often, we’ll be happily married forever.

So the lesson I learned? Take time to check out the wife because she’s beautiful.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: In honor of “The Scooter.”

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

17th Annual Down Home Family Reunion

Sunday was a wonderful day for Carytown’s Watermelon Festival. Let’s hope the weather is as forgiving this weekend for the 17th Annual Down Home Family Reunion, a celebration of African-American folk life hosted by the Elegba Folklore Society.

On Saturday, Aug. 18, the free festivities at Abner Clay Park (Belvidere and West Leigh Street, in Jackson Ward) are from 4 to 11 p.m. Here you’ll find artist/producer Pauline Bailey (whose work is also on display through Aug. 26 at The Propaganda, 101 E. Leigh St.), soul singers The Intruders, Toby Foyeh and Orchestra Africa, the steel drums of Trinidad by Caribbean Pan Vibes, jazz singer Lady E, children’s activities, demonstrations, and Southern and African-inspired foods.

The Sunday at Dusk event (5 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Central) will feature neo-soul recording artist Dwele, comedian Antoine Scott and spoken word by Tuesday Verses Poets with Chicken Grease. Tickets for the Sunday at Dusk event are $10. For more information, call 644-3900 or visit

Friday, August 10, 2007

Jhoon Rhee Means Might for Right!

If I’m in a crowded area, say a doctor’s waiting room, and I want to know who grew up in the Washington D.C. area circa the 1970s and 1980s, all I have to do is say “Nobody bothers me.”

Anybody who responds, “Nobody bothers me either,” will definitely earn a smile and some conversation.

For those of you who weren’t privileged to grow up with Joe Gibbs and the Hogs, Manute Bol, Mike Gartner and Eddie, Eddie, Eddie, then you wouldn’t know what I’m talking about.

So here, check this out.

The commercial was perhaps the most popular during its 15-year tenure on Channel 5 (WTTG) and Channel 20 (WDCA). Every kid, and I stress every kid in my generation saw it and could recite it.

I can’t remember a single phone number, not even my wife’s, but ask me how to reach Jhoon Rhee, and I could tell you under the influence of bad sushi.

“Call USA-1000!”

Now I might have a Western name, but I look 100 percent Asian in the winter (some say with a summer tan I look Hispanic). So it was pretty cool back in the day to have that little commercial in my back pocket and anyone who messed with me, got a little Bruce Lee glare and the Chinese restaurant waiter accented “Nobody bothers me.”

I tried to actually reach Jhoon Rhee (USA-1000 is not the number now) at one of his dozen schools that also can be found in Texas and Arizona. The 5-foot-6, 135-pound Rhee has built an empire after coming to America from Korea with $46 in his pocket.

Apparently, at age 75, Rhee is as active as ever. He does a lot of speaking engagements and seminars. People who see him marvel at his youthful appearance.

But Jhoon Rhee was never the interesting one to me. While watching cartoons like Underdog or Scooby-Doo after school, I often would see the commercial and imitate the little boy.

“Nobody bothers me either!” And then wink a good wink.

He’s not so little anymore. Chun Rhee is now a master and runs the Jhoon Rhee Falls Church school.

“I remember my dad was going to say the line,” Chun Rhee says. “His friend, the cameraman, suggested the kids do it. There were never any intentions for us to do the commercial. We were just there to watch.

“It took me five takes to get it right. It was the wink that got me. You can see me struggling with my eyebrows.”

Chun Rhee was five when the commercial first aired in 1972. His sister, Meme, was a year younger. The ad cost a few hundred dollars and catapulted Jhoon Rhee to cult status.

“A lot of people still remember the commercial,” says Chun Rhee, who graduated from William & Mary. “It’s amazing.”

OUT AT HOME: I want to know what’s in Dora the Explorer that has my daughter addicted. It was just a month ago we introduced her to Dora, Boots and Swiper and now she’s obsessed. What is it that make children want the blanket, the pillow, the towel, the action figure, the freakin’ backpack and map?

Man, the people who make children’s television are good! Real good!

“Dora, Dora!” that’s all I ever hear her say anymore. She ignores her toys, her mother and her friends. She doesn’t want to eat. She doesn’t want to sleep. She sneaks a dose of Dora behind our backs.

It’s time for an intervention.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: I feel bad for this poor guy, but he did come up with a cool catch phrase, “BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE!”

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Will he finally win a ring?

It had been 20 years since a high schooler considered entering the NBA draft. But that’s what Kevin Garnett did in 1995 when he declared himself eligible.

I remember going to my own fantasy draft auction that season drooling over the prospect of this kid. At 6-foot-11 and with kangaroo-leg springs and arms that could stock the top shelves at grocery stores, Garnett possessed freakish athletic tools.

I opened with a high bid. I waited. Nobody topped me. I was told that he was a high school kid who should go to college. He didn’t belong with men.

“But what about Moses Malone? Or Darryl Dawkins?” I protested.

Those guys had butts the size of minivans when they were teens. They could move you out of the lane with just one bump.

Garnett? He was a skinny young’un with no obvious skills. No outside shot. No patented post move. No intimidating snarl. And certainly nothing that could budge a 7-foot grizzly out of rebounding position.

I told my friends they were insane, that Garnett would become the best player in the game and eventually win a handful of championships.

Unfortunately, I was half right.

Garnett learned after a tough rookie season that he didn’t need to go through post players. Just over them. He also developed a nice jumper. He added a quick first step and fadeaway. He even threw in some baby hooks.

I don’t remember when, but No. 21 once dunked on or “posterized” (as some are fond of saying) an opponent and Minnesota Timberwolves play-by-play man Kevin Harlan responded with this famous line, “Garnett dunks with no regard for human life!”

Garnett grew confidence. He earned respect. He was the perfect teammate and leader. He signed a six-year, $126 million contract in 1997. He appeared blessed.

Well, there was this one thing.

It’s funny how sports stars age so quickly before our eyes. Garnett lost year after year in the playoffs, and people always thought he would be back and eventually win it all. But it never happened.

Meanwhile, Tim Duncan, Garnett’s chief rival, kept winning and did it without much effort. The pair will go down in history as two of the best power forwards of our time. However, Duncan will be held in higher esteem because of his four championship rings.

Now Garnett is traded after serving 12 years in Minnesota. His statistics are already good enough for the hall of fame.

He’s going to the Celtics for seven players, the most for one player in the history of the NBA. When he arrived and saw that the last of Boston’s 16 championships was won in 1986, a reporter said, “21 years ago.”

To that, Garnett responded, “21 is a good number.”

I don’t believe the Celtics are good enough for Garnett to finally win a ring. Just like Charles Barkley going to Phoenix in the early 1990s, this will end with Garnett’s body breaking down and him realizing one day that it was not meant to be.

He’ll join a long list of talented players who never won it — Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Reggie Miller, to name a few from my era.

Danny Ainge, Boston’s executive director of basketball operations, said the team gave up a lot to get Garnett and added, “Too much? Time will tell.”

OUT AT HOME: I had my daughter on the changing table the other morning. I took off her diaper as she said, “pee pee.”

I felt the diaper, and it was dry. So I said, “No pee pee.” Wait a second. She went all night without wetting the diaper? That’s when I saw the devilish smile. She had just given me a signal of what she was about to unleash. And she did. All over the changing table, all over the floor.

So what did I learn? My 21-month-old daughter is probably ready for potty training, which means I need to figure out how to train her. I also learned that when my little girl sends out a warning, I need to heed.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: At last, football is here! So in honor of the start of training camp, here’s a video that will blow your mind. Of course, it’s of the best quarterback in the National Football League! Be sure to check out the other ones in the related section.