On The Road With NPR Music: Jeremy Petersen At OPB Portland, Oregon

Beyond travel, we’re also big music fans here at Gadling, largely because music is a great way to get to know a place. This month happens to be Public Radio Music Month and we’re teaming up with NPR to bring you exclusive interviews from NPR music specialists around the country. We’ll be learning about local music culture and up and coming new regional artists, so be sure to follow along all month.

Name: Jeremy Petersen

Member station/Regular show: OPB Music (from Oregon Public Broadcasting)
Producer/Blogger Host – “In House,” weekdays 2-5 p.m. PT

When people think of music in Portland, what do they think of?

It’s not really much of a secret – Portland is particularly noted for being a kind of indie mecca. It’s not exclusively the flavor, but the earnestly literate and melodic likes of Elliott Smith, The Decemberists and more recent transplants The Shins are some of the more recognizable names that have set the tone for many who have come after. The Rose City is also home to a number of indie labels that fortify the scene, homegrown and otherwise: Kill Rock Stars, Tender Loving Empire, Hometapes, Hush, amigo/amiga, Greyday, Badman, Dirtnap, Magic Marker, Fluff & Gravy and Marriage are but a few of those worth exploring.

How do you help curate that musical scene?

We try to shine a light on acts we’re truly excited about as fans. Of course we’re all over more established artists that people are more likely to know, and of course we try to connect the dots between what’s current and what came before it, but we also spend a large part of our time looking for what’s new and interesting and worth pointing out. That usually means some combination of airplay, presenting the music in a live showcase, and/or recording a session in our studios. These are often the kinds of artists that aren’t going to be getting air in most other outlets, either yet or ever.

How has the Portland scene evolved over the last few decades?

The history of pop music in Portland seems to begin with The Kingsmen and their party staple “Louie Louie.” That seems oddly apt given its idiosyncratic nature and unlikely combination of flavors. The local scene has been, and remains, healthily eclectic – folk, jazz, hip-hop and various strains of roots all enjoy vibrant pockets alongside the more well-documented rock variations. One thing that has definitely changed is the regard for Portland nationally and even internationally: a musician’s status as a Portlander seems to carry automatic caché in many circles.

As scrappy as the indie scene still feels here, to hear some of the old guard tell it, up-and-coming bands are generally more sophisticated now than a couple of decades ago. That means not only more performance-ready from their first show, but also more business-minded and with a better grasp on notions like self-marketing.

What would you say is the most unique thing about the Portland music scene?

I’ve heard musician after musician here talk about the camaraderie that exists in the scene, and these are often those who have lived elsewhere. You can see that kind of thing play out in a lot of different ways and it’s inspiring to see what can come of it. I think it clearly empowers creation and makes the work coming from the city that much stronger. It also makes it feel like a much smaller place.

One other thing – as a musician destination as of late, Portland is really interesting simply because of who happens to be around at any given time, whether that’s temporary, permanent or part-time. There’s always someone of note around working on a record: Other Lives, Deer Tick, Neko Case and Beth Orton are some recent examples. kd lang lives here now. Johnny Marr’s still a part-timer. Peter Buck is often around. Add names like that to the homegrowns and long-timers you’ve heard of and the ones you haven’t (yet), and it equals a rich and vibrant place for musicians to be.

What are three new up and coming bands on the Portland scene right now and what makes them distinct?

This easily could have been a list of ten.

Radiation City: I find them notable for a lot of reasons, the first of which are the vocals of Lizzie Ellison, who brings to mind Astrud Gilberto and sounds as comfortable covering Etta James as she singing the band’s own indie bossanova haze. They’re the rare young band with an ear for subtlety both on record and in performance and they’ve simply gotten better every time I’ve seen them. Look for their second full-length coming soon.

Shy Girls: It’s not often a band from the local scene can claim un-ironic influence from names like Bell Biv DeVoe, GUY and the Backstreet Boys – even less often still that they execute those cues well. Shy Girls, the band started as a one-man bedroom act by frontman Dan Vidmar, sounds transported from two decades back while still maintaining a freshness that rises well above novelty and recalibrating the notion of “neo-R&B” (it doesn’t necessarily come from 1972 anymore).

Aan: This is dynamic indie rock that succeeds largely on the pairing of lead singer Bud Wilson’s cathartic vocal gymnastics with twisting, turning, unpredictable hooks that keep the listener guessing. But it’s not chaos– the band keeps its avant-pop just avant enough while simultaneously daring you not to bob your head. Aan’s just been slated to open up for The Smashing Pumpkins on several of their dates later this spring, and have a full-length release coming later in the year.

For a Gadling playlist, what are your favorite tracks?

Elliott Smith: “Ballad of Big Nothing”

Caleb Klauder: “Can I Go Home With You”

The Thermals: “A Pillar of Salt”

Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside: “Danger”

Heatmiser: “Low Flying Jets”

Quasi: “It’s Raining”

TxE: “The Basics”

The Decemberists: “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect”

Menomena: “Evil Bee”

Onuinu: “Happy Home”

Listen to the playlist on Spotify.

[Photo credit: Inger Klekacz]

Great ‘Cultural’ Spa Experiences From Around The World

spasEven if you’re not a spa junkie, it’s hard to deny the appeal of a great massage or other self-indulgent treatment. I’m actually a massage school graduate, and although I ultimately decided not to pursue that career path, I’ve parlayed my experience into doing the odd spa writing assignment. Not surprisingly, I’m a tough judge when it comes to practitioners, facilities and treatments. I also don’t have any interest in generic treatments. What I love is a spa and menu that captures the essence of a place, through both ingredients and technique.

Many spas around the world now try to incorporate some localized or cultural element into their spa programs. It’s not just a smart marketing tool, but a way to educate clients and hotel guests, employ local people skilled in indigenous therapeutic practices, or sell branded spa products made from ingredients grown on site, or cultivated or foraged by local tribes or farmers.

Sometimes, it’s not a hotel or high-end day spa that’s memorable, but a traditional bathhouse used by locals (such as a Moroccan hammam) that’s special. The low cost of such places is an added bonus: think Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Asia, and parts of the Middle East.

Over the years, I’ve visited a number of spas and bathhouses that have made a big impression on my aching body or abused skin, as well as my innate traveler’s curiosity. After the jump, my favorite spa experiences from around the world.

ninh van baySix Senses Ninh Van Bay: Vietnam
Located on an isolated peninsula accessible only by boat, Six Senses (near the beach resort of Nha Trang) is a seriously sexy property. Private villas nestle in the hillsides and perch above the water, but the spa and restaurants are the big draw here, as many of their ingredients are sourced from the property’s extensive organic gardens.

The “Locally Inspired” section of the spa menu features treatments like the Vietnamese Well-being Journey: three-and-a-half hours of pure hedonism. A scrub with com xanh (Vietnamese green rice) is followed by a bath in “herbs and oils from the indigenous Hmong and Dao hill tribes of the Sa Pa Valley,” and a traditional massage using bamboo, suction cups and warm poultices filled with native herbs.

On my visit, I opted for a refreshing “Vietnamese Fruit Body Smoother” made with ingredients just harvested from the garden: papaya, pineapple and aloe vera. Other body treatments include applications of Vietnamese green coffee concentrate and a green tea scrub.

Foot reflexology: Hong Kong
Foot reflexologists and massage parlors are ubiquitous throughout Asia, and in my experience, it’s hard to find a bad one. That said, one of the best massages I’ve ever had was an hour-long foot reflexology session in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Hong Kong. It cost me all of ten dollars, and interestingly enough, it also proved eerily accurate about a long-term GI problem I’d been having that had defied Western diagnosis.

My bliss was momentarily interrupted when my therapist pressed a particular spot on the ball of my foot, causing me to nearly leap out of my skin. He informed me that my gallbladder was inflamed, information I processed but soon forgot. I’d already been tested for gallstones with negative results – twice. A year later, I had an emergency cholecsytectomy to remove my severely diseased gallbladder. A trip to Honinh van bayng Kong for a foot massage would ultimately have been cheaper and far more enjoyable than three years of worthless diagnostics.

Verana: Yelapa, Jalisco, Mexico
One of my favorite places on earth is Verana, an intimate, eight-guesthouse hilltop retreat located in Yelapa, a fishing village one hour from Puerto Vallarta by water taxi. Husband and wife team Heinz Legler and Veronique Lievre designed the hotel and spa and built it entirely by hand, using local, natural materials.

Although the spa doesn’t focus on traditional Mayan or Aztec technique, Verana grows or forages all of the raw ingredients for its treatments (the gardens also supply the property’s outstanding restaurant), including banana, coconut, lemon, pineapple, papaya and herbs. Try an outdoor massage, followed by a dip in the watsu tub, or an edible-sounding body scrub made with cane sugar and coffee or hibiscus-papaya.

Morocco: hammams
A staple of Moroccan life (as well as other parts of North Africa and the Middle East), hammam refers to segregated public bathhouses that are a weekly ritual for many. A “soap” made from crushed whole olives and natural clay is applied all over the body with an exfoliating mitt. Buckets of hot water are then used to rinse.

Although many hotels in the big cities offer luxury hammam treatments tailored for Western guests, if you want the real deal, go for a public bathhouse. While in Morocco, I got to experience three types of hammam: the hotel variety, a rural DIY hammam at the spectacular yelapaKasbah du Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains, and one at a public bathhouse.

In most public hammams, you’ll strip down in a massive, steam-filled, tiled room. Request an attendant (rather than DIY), who will then scrub the life out of you, flipping you around like a rag-doll. Massages are often offered as part of the service or for an additional fee.

Yes, it’s intimidating and unnerving to be the only naked Westerner in a giant room of naked Muslim men or women, all of who are staring at you and giggling. Once you get over being the odd man (or woman, in my case) out, it’s fascinating to have such an, uh, intimate glimpse into an everyday activity very few travelers experience. The payoff is the softest, cleanest, most glowing skin imaginable.

At hammans that accept Westerners, the vibe is friendly and welcoming, and it’s a way to mingle with locals and participate in an ancient, sacred ritual without causing offense. Do enquire, via sign language or in French, if you should remove all of your clothing, or leave your skivvies on. I failed to do this at the public bathhouse, and increased the staring situation a thousand-fold, because at that particular hammam (unlike the Kasbah), the women kept their underwear on. Oops.

Three highly recommended, traditional, wood-fired Marrakech hammams are Bain Marjorelle (large, modern multi-roomed), Hammam Polo (small, basic, one room), and Hammam el Basha (large, older, multi-roomed). Expect to pay approximately $10 for an attendant (including tip, sometimes massage). Independent travelers can easily find a hamman if they look for people of their own gender carrying buckets, towels and rolled-up mats near a mosque. To ensure you visit a Western-friendly hammam, it’s best to ask hotel or riad staff or taxi drivers for recommendations, and enquire about male/female hours.

Daintree EcoLodge & Spa: Daintree, Queensland, Australia
The Daintree Rainforest, located near Cape Tribulation in Far North Queensland, is over 135 million years old. It’s home to some of the rarest and most primitive flora on earth, muchalto atacama of it traditionally used by the local Aboriginal people for medicinal purposes.

The Daintree Wellness Spa at the low-key, family-owned and-operated EcoLodge has received international accolades for both its work with the local Kuku Yajani people, and its luxe treatments. The spa relies on ochre (a skin purifier) harvested from beneath the property’s waterfall, as well as indigenous “bush” ingredients from the Daintree such as rosella, avocado, native mint, wild ginger, bush honey, quandong, tea tree and spring water. The spa also produces its own line of products, Daintree Essentials (available online).

All treatments integrate traditional Kuku Yalanji modalities and spiritual beliefs, and have received approval from the local elders. I opted for the Ngujajura (Dreamtime) package, which includes a full body and foot massage, Walu BalBal facial and rain therapy treatment (a specialty at Daintree, consisting of an oil and sea salt exfoliation, ochre mud wrap and spring water shower administered tableside … trust me, it’s revelatory). An added bonus: the lodge offers Aboriginal cultural classes that include jungle walks, medicinal plants and bush foods (try eating green ants, a surprisingly tasty source of vitamin C).

Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa: San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
This absolutely enchanting adobe property on the outskirts of the village of San Pedro is a slice of heaven, even if you skip its Puri Spa. But that would be a mistake, because then you wouldn’t be able to succumb to treatments and ingredients adapted from what’s been traditionally used by the local Atacameño people for thousands of years.

Atacama is the driest desert on earth, so on my visit, I chose the “Royal Quinoa Face Mask,” made with locally sourced quinoa (for its exfoliating and regenerative properties) mixed with local honey and yogurt. I left the treatment room looking considerably less desiccated.

The real splurge is the Sabay Massage, which uses pindas, or cloth pouches, filled with rice (used here as an exfoliant), rica rica (an herbal digestive aid also used in aromatherapy) and chañar berries (medicinally used as an expectorant and to stimulate circulation, as well as a food source) collected from around the property, which has extensive native gardens designed by a reknown Chilean ethno-botanist. You’ll emerge silky-skinned and tension-free. Dulces Sueños.

[Photo credits: Massage, Flickr user thomaswanhoff; Six Senses, Laurel Miller; Verana, Flickr user dmealiffe]

Seattle Ranked ‘Best City For Hipsters’ According To Travel & Leisure

hipsterSo Travel & Leisure has published a list of “America’s Best Cities for Hipsters.” This is amusing – and a wee bit annoying) to me for a variety of reasons – not least of which because Seattle makes the top of the list. I’ve lived here (actually “there,” because as I write this, I’m in a sublet in Oakland) for nearly three years. Apparently, I’m reverse-trending, because San Francisco is #3 (Portland, OR is #2).

As the sun (metaphorically – this is Seattle we’re talking about) sets on my time in the Pacific Northwest and I prepare to relocate back to the Bay Area for what I hope to be at least a couple of years, I’m filled with mixed emotions. Hipster-mocking and -baiting has been one of my favorite pastimes in Seattle, which is both ironic and hypocritical of me when you take T & L‘s definition of “hipster” into consideration:

“They sport vintage bowling shoes and the latest tech gear-but they also know all the best places to eat and drink. [The magazine] ranked 35 metropolitan areas on culturally relevant features like live music, coffee bars, and independent boutiques. To zero in on the biggest hipster crowds, we also factored in the results for the best microbrews and the most offbeat and tech-savvy locals.

It’s our take on the debated term hipster….whatever your take, you generally know hipsters when you see them-most likely in funky, up-and-coming neighborhoods. A smirking attitude toward mainstream institutions means they tend to frequent cool, often idiosyncratic restaurants, shops, and bars-the same kinds of venues that appeal to travelers looking for what they can’t find at home. There’s also an eco-conscious influence in contemporary hipsterdom.”

So let me get this straight: I’m a hipster because I care about the environment, and I write about food, thus I eat and drink in places that are too idiosyncratic for mere mortals. And jeez, I just edited a craft beer guide. And I really support my local indie businesses. Conversely, I know jack about tech, and you will never, ever see me in a pair of bowling shoes. I also want to bitch-slap the bejesus out of smirky, pretentious funksters who feel the need to categorize themselves in order to maintain a sense of self. Cliques are for high school, kids.

[Image via Flicker user Conor Keller fortysixtyphoto.com]yellow shoesI also find it deeply ironic that a luxury magazine likes to think it knows what’s hip, because real hipsters love nothing more than a bargain, whether it’s $2 happy hour PBR’s or a sweet bowling shirt from Value Village. I can assure you the average T & L reader does not shop at Value Village.

What I find interesting, however, is that part of my mixed feelings about leaving Seattle have to do with its very hipsterness. I love street fashion, vintage, indie anything, tattoos and food artisans (hipster alert!). People watching has been one of my favorite activities in Seattle, because most Seattlites have such great style. It’s a city where the alternative-minded can grow old semi-gracefully, without looking like roadkill from Gen X or beyond. In Seattle, no one gives a f— about what you look like, or what you’re into. You can just be.

It’s sheer coincidence that last week, while reacquainting myself with Berkeley (where I lived for nearly a decade), I wondered why it is the natives here have no style (in my hipster eye view, pilled fleeces, flowy hemp clothing and ergonomic shoes are terminally unhip). I already missed Seattle’s eclectic street style, which never fails to inspire, amuse, and yes, sometimes horrify me (Boys, please stop with the neon, nuthugger skinny ankle jeans. Just sayin’).

Is this essentially a very shallow essay on an incredibly superficial topic? Yes, absolutely. But if it is a “tipping point” as T & L claims, then hell, I’m game. I’m ultimately leaving Seattle – an amazing, beautiful, vibrant city – because the climate kicked my ass (see my forthcoming post on “Sleeping In Seattle: SAD And Its Side Effects”). I’m back in the Bay Area because the economy is simmering and for someone in the food business, this is Ground Zero.

You can’t have it all, and the grass is always greener. Those cliches aren’t very hip, but they’re true. I miss all the hipsterness that once surrounded me, but I also love seeing sun, citrus trees and the Bay Area’s unbeatable food scene again. And that, in a nutshell, is why I’m trading down to a place a little less hip. I can always visit Seattle when I’m feeling frumpy.

[Image via Flickr user Andrew . Walsh]

How to Dress Like a Hipster

The Afro-Punk Festival: not your mama’s punk show

Each week, Gadling is taking a look at our favorite festivals around the world. From music festivals to cultural showcases to the just plain bizarre, we hope to inspire you to do some festival exploring of your own. Come back each Wednesday for our picks or find them all HERE.

You think you know what punk is. But you haven’t seen anything until you’ve joined the thousands of head-bangers who make the pilgrimage once a year in June to Brooklyn’s Afro-Punk Festival.

This two-day celebration of music, skating, and film has become a Mecca for the burgeoning movement of Afro-Punk, a collection of African-American bands, fans, and misfits who are embracing hardcore rock culture and making it their own. Launched in the summer of 2005, the festival was the brainchild of record executive Matthew Morgan and filmmaker James Spooner, who wanted to give voice to the growing popularity of indie and punk rock in traditionally urban communities. It has ever since been a focal point of musical and cultural cross-pollination, fueled by an audience as diverse as the music itself.

Each day of the festival features bands ranging from eclectic rockers like Houston-based American Fangs to genre-bending artists like crooner Janelle Monae, that by turns, awe and electrify the crowd. Afro-Punk is the wild, weird alternate universe where anything is possible (I personally will never forget seeing bass guitarist Ahmed of Brooklyn’s Game Rebellion strut onstage sporting a fan of giant peacock feathers). Want to learn more about the Afro-Punk Festival? Keep reading below…

For first-timers, the Afro-Punk mashup of grunge guitar and streetwise swagger can be overwhelming. But have no fear: punk is a contact sport, and no one can stand still for long. Crowd surfing is encouraged, from the tiniest faux-hawked kindergartener to the heaviest thrasher, so dive away! And if you yearn for the days of good ole-fashioned moshing, you’ll have no trouble finding a scrum for a little full-body ping-pong.

Other thrill-seekers can get their kicks on the festival’s custom-built skate park. The dizzying array of jumps, ramps and rails is also the battleground for the annual URBANX skate and BMX competitions, where pro-skaters and bikers defy gravity and common sense for a coveted $5,000 prize.

Listen for the distinctive clink and hiss of spray cans and you’ll also find a one-of-a-kind outdoor art exhibit. At Afro-Punk, graffiti is king, and true to form, the artists work at lightning speed, to the delight of onlookers, tagging a rich tableaux of original pieces along a 30-foot wall of wooden panels.

On Sunday, the festival closes with a block party featuring live DJ’s, fashion, and food. But before you go, take a moment to enjoy the greatest spectacle on display: the crowd itself. Revel in being someplace where piercings outnumber iPhones two-to-one, and ‘business casual’ means keeping your shirt on. There are few places on Earth where dreadlocks and leather chokers so seamlessly co-exist. Afro-Punk is the center of a movement that defies definition. In the end, what could be more punk than that?

The 2010 Afro-Punk Festival hits New York June 26th and 27th, and will this year open in two new cities: Chicago and Atlanta. Check out afropunk.com for dates and updated details.

Indie Travel Podcast launches new magazine

Craig and Linda Martin have been traveling the world together since 2006. In that time, they’ve launched the Indie Travel Podcast and turned it into a successful website (they were named Best Podcast in Lonely Planet’s 2009 Travel Blog Awards) and an excellent source of information for the independent traveler. Now, in a time when major glossies seem to be folding right and left, they’ve launched a magazine. You’ve got to admire that kind of moxie.

The Indie Travel Podcast website combines inspiring destination features with practical advice, like how to use Skype and other internet phone services or what to look for when booking a hostel. There are also entertaining and informative podcasts, videos and hotel reviews. The newly launched magazine combines the best features of the website with the same Indie Travel focus – it’s geared towards independent, adventurous travelers, and budget and long-term travelers.

The Indie Travel Podcast Magazine launches September 1. There will be four issues per year, available at NZ$40 (around US$27) including postage. I had a chance to take a sneak peak and was quite impressed with the quality of the production and the writers (familiar names in the blogosphere) attached to the project.

The feature articles are fresh and interesting – Tim Patterson’s article on the Kachin Independence Army in Burma put a human face on war, and Lola Akinmade’s photos of Lagos were stunning – and the regular columns promise to be informative and helpful – Kim Mance will offer practical advice for woman traveling solo and Christine Gilbert will show us how to be “location independent” so we can earn a living while traveling the world. In the premier issue, there are also blog reviews, an interview with round-the-world traveler Gary Arndt, a guide to tapas in Seville, book reviews, and profiles of Tonga, Egypt, Alaska, Angor Wat and the Baltic capitals of Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius.

If you’ve ever felt out of touch with the Travel + Leisure set (you know, those who file a $200 per night hotel under “budget options”) or if you’re just looking for more inspiration and practical information to feed your wanderlust, check out the Indie Travel Podcast Magazine. I think as the mag continues to grow, the quality will get even better. Plus, I’m a sucker for moxie, and I like the idea of supporting two “indie” travelers with the courage to follow their dreams.