Wednesday, September 22, 2010

All Charged Up

Bluffton Today column
September 22, 2010

Last week my car battery died. So, what’s a single girl to do? Call her mother, of course! Seriously, I’m 37 years old and still called my Mom. I chalk it up to the genre of the problem. I am just not comfortable dealing with car issues. (Or cable TV, landscaping, or exterminating, just in case anyone is taking notes.)

Call number two was to AAA, who assured me that someone would be at my house in 45 minutes to an hour. Five minutes later there was a knock on the door and Carolina Towing was ready to get to work. Five minutes! You have to love Bluffton.

Brian from Carolina Towing concurred with my dead battery diagnosis and then he shocked the hell out of me. He installed a new battery, right there, in my driveway. Hello! Now that is service.

Remember the old days, when you used to have to have your car towed to the garage. Drop your keys in the drop box. (Because don’t batteries always die after the end of the business day?) Get a ride to work the next morning. Call the garage when you got to work, explaining that you are the dope who dropped your car off in the middle of the night. Then, listen to them tell you how long it would take for them to “get to it.” You catch my drift.

As Brian toiled under the hood, my Mom swung by just to make sure all was well. (And, that Brian was not an ax-murderer.) To keep him on his toes, she drilled him with car repair questions and complimented him on the nice “wrap” on his truck. Oh yes, even going so far as to ask where he got it done. Um Mom, are you planning to get your 2005 Chevy Malibu wrapped with your personal logo?

Once the work was done, in less than the time AAA thought it would take for them to even arrive, Mom reminded me of another AAA escapade more than a dozen years ago. This would be the episode where I locked my keys in my car, three times in one week.

Back then, I would go out for a morning run, and stick my keys under the car mat, while I was gone. In hindsight, not my wisest move ever. I realize now that not only was I giving a potential unsavory character access to steal the car, but they could also unlock the front door of the house. Anyway, on one particular morning (and two subsequent, but who’s counting?), I somehow managed to lock the keys in the car, so I called AAA.

Now it is important to note that my car at the time was a Kia Sephia. Basically the first Kia model ever introduced to the world. Hey, I was a recent college graduate and making peanuts, give me a break.

So, I called AAA and explained that I locked my keys in the car. The very helpful (insert sarcasm here) customer service representative began her line of questioning. Name? Membership number? Address? Car make and model?

“It’s a Kia.”

“A what?”

“A Kia. A Kia Sephia.”

“I’m sorry, a what?”

“Kia. K-I-A. Kia.” (Exasperated sigh.)

“That isn’t a car. There is no Kia in my database.”

“Oh, I assure you, it is a car.” (Volume increases and a special accent is placed on the word “car.”)


“Yes, A KIA!” (Shouting now!)

Mumbling almost inaudibly, “I’ve never heard of a Kia.”

“How about this … it is THE ONLY CAR IN THE DRIVEWAY! Think you’ll be able to find it?”

“Ok, someone will there shortly.”

Miracle of all miracles, the AAA guy did find the only car in the driveway.

Fast forward one third of my life and you can now see why my delight regarding good service – signed, sealed and delivered in under an hour – has me pretty giddy. (Thank goodness I drive a more recognizable vehicle these days.)

Now, if only we could get the DIRECTV customer service reps to employ that same level of service. Mom, will you call DIRECTV for me?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

What's In a Name?

Bluffton Today column
September 8, 2010


Old Blue Eyes.

Tricky Dick.

Big Papi.


These are the nicknames of legends - Walter Payton, Frank Sinatra, Richard Nixon, David Ortiz, and my Mom, respectively.

I want a nickname. I’ve always wanted a nickname.

The acquisition of a nickname however is serious business. Some nicknames make you cool. Some make you a laughing stock. Others prevent you from garnering votes. And then there are those that force you into a hermit-like lifestyle. I’d prefer the first -- a nickname that indicates my cool factor. One that sticks. One that defines me.

In high school, my best friend’s father, who was also a teacher, nicknamed me “Pita.” Translation: pain in the ass. When I sat three rows back in his Algebra II class, he called me Pita for 180 long days. You can imagine how well that was received. Luckily, Pita never caught on at home or elsewhere and it diminished along with my big hair at the end of high school.

My parents and sister call me “Cour.” Friends in high school called me “Court” (and still do today), but I don’t know that dropping a few letters constitutes a nickname, does it?

Why the fascination with a nickname?

Well, my first name is my father’s middle name. My middle name is my mother’s first name. My first name is also my paternal grandmother’s maiden name. So, it is only natural that my obsession with names came at an early age.

And, what a tangled web it wove.

You see it all started when my paternal grandmother died when my father was quite young. In tribute to her, my father always planned to name a daughter Courtney. A year before I was born my aunt gave birth to her third daughter, whom she named Mary, middle name Courtney. The family called her Mary.

That is, until I came along. Then Mary became Mary Courtney. Fast forward a few more years and suddenly Mary Courtney is just Courtney. And out of nowhere that branch of the family tree started calling me Courtney Eileen.

Whoa. Wait a minute now. Isn’t the first name-middle name combination reserved for ticked off parents wanting to make a strong statement yelling down the block for their child to come home? As in, “Courtney Eileen, get your butt in this house right now!”

Once the Mary vs. Courtney smack down came to light, I made a decision. People will call me what I want them to call me. No exceptions.

So, you can imagine my surprise the year that Aunt Madeleine and Uncle Al decided to make personalized ornaments for everyone for Christmas, and mine read “Corey.” Um, who? There must be some mistake here. Either, Aunt M and Uncle A have misunderstood my real name for oh, twelve years, or they were running short on yarn. For crying out loud, no one had ever (and has never since) called my Corey because well, it’s not my name!

Twenty something years later and I am still seeking that bonafide nickname.

It is important for all of the men reading to note that “Babe” is not a nickname. It is a feeble attempt at showing the woman you are with that you have some affection toward her. However, it may be perceived in the negative. Correction. It will be perceived in the negative by moi. Think Danny Zucko. He was so much cooler when he wasn’t trying so hard.

I was actually jealous when in her early teens my sister Sharon was dubbed “Sharnee” by a girl she babysat. It stuck, and she is still Sharnee today.

When my nieces began to talk, I knew I would get a nickname out of it – Courtney isn’t exactly easy to annunciate when you are a toddler. And, I did. I have been dubbed “Nortney” and “Ninny.” But outside the family circle, they really don’t see much play. However, let it be known that I dread the day that Erin or EmmaKate says, “Courtney.”

But, I still long for a nickname.

Do I have to do something memorable? Lead the league in tackles or homeruns? Croon ‘til folks swoon? Resign the Presidency?

Or simply, be me?

Like Phreenie has. Her nickname happened upon her in the most generic way. Young girls acting silly, making rhymes, and suddenly Eileen becomes Phreenie. We don’t remember exactly when or how it happened, but she is Phreenie. And, today is Phreenie’s birthday.

Maybe for my next birthday, I’ll get a nickname. Until then, I’ll wish Phreenie the happiest of birthdays. And hope that Sharnee, Peanut and Monkey continue to call me Nortney. After all, a nickname born of love is better than no nickname at all.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Midway Blue

CH2 September 2010: The boys of Midway Blue rolled into town and I got the interview.

On a road somewhere between Florence and Myrtle Beach sits an old, rundown motel. A diner-esque sign flashes its name – “Midway” - in blue.

That sign defines the character of the country cool quintet, Midway Blue. It was lead singer Warren Stone who named the band while traversing the state headed to a gig. He was halfway to his destination when he paused for a minute and said, “wait, we don’t even have a name.” His wife looked out the car window and pointed to the Midway sign. The rest is history.

I caught up with Stone as he was once again, in the car, negotiating a state highway -- his manager talking in one ear, and me in the other. Stone wouldn’t have it any other way. He acknowledges that sometimes flying by the seat of your pants is the best way to arrive at your destination. In fact, he does it each night on stage noting, “Every night we make up lyrics.” It seems the lyrics don’t always come to him when he needs them. Stone admits that, “Sometimes on stage I just get side-tracked, I get caught up in the drummer’s energy or someone else bopping around. Heck, sometimes I even forget the lyrics to songs I wrote.” He is nothing, if not honest.

But, his band mates know him well enough to know that when he turns to them with that questioning look, he is searching for the next line. They nod, feed it to him, and the band plays on.

If truth be told, the band is often in sync like that, more so that you would expect since the five of them have been playing together for a mere two years. But sometimes things just click.

Stone believes that. In fact, his father has been telling him that for years, “Life is 110% luck, its being in the right place at the right time.” And that is really how Midways Blue’s story unfolded five years ago when Stone walked into Shuckers Grill and Raw Bar (where they are now the house band) and was mesmerized by the “kid” on the drums.

That kid was Parker Dewitt, then just 17 years old. The two hit it off immediately and eventually combined sounds with guitarist Tyler Roberts to form the trio “Stone and Friends.” In 2008, the three decided to cut a full length album as Midway Blue. In search of a new sound - to add a little edge - they invited bassist Liv McBride and mandolin player Jeff Springs into the studio. They grit their teeth and hoped for a little magic. They got it. Their self-titled inaugural album debuted last November.

Stone says it is also luck that landed them on “Fast Track to Fame,” which he likened to American Idol for NASCAR fans. Hosted by the Speed Channel, “Fast Track to Fame” was staged at eight racetracks around the country. 10,000 bands submitted audition tapes. Midway Blue quickly advanced and was dubbed “the band to beat.” Their 90 second final performance, a stellar rendition of the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can You See,” made them the band that no one could beat, and they emerged the winner. I don’t know if this was pure luck, and chances are if you listen to them play, you might agree. There is a heck of a lot of talent in this band. And twice as much mutual respect.

To hear Stone talk about his band mates, it appears almost too good to be true. They all grew up in and around Florence, SC. They are small town boys. They love each other. They are a family. And like in any family, they each have a role to play. As the oldest member, at a whopping 29, Stone sees himself as the papa bear, always on the move handling the business of being a band.

When asked, Stone was more than happy to offer a little insight to his band of brothers. Tyler Roberts … “Well he is the class clown,” and Stone admits it is actually difficult to describe Roberts with just words.

If Stone is the hare, then Parker Dewitt is the tortoise – contemplative, he takes his time, with his music and with his thoughts. Liv McBride is the opinionated one, “you’ll never have to guess what he is thinking,” says Stone. And finally he says Jeff Springs is “pure musical genius.”

You might get a better of understanding of just who Warren Stone is by watching him on stage. He plays every show with a lit cigarette in his mouth. Yes, he is the lead singer and yes, he’s swallowed a cig or two over the course of his short career. And with a smirk he’ll tell you that, “I have worked very hard to be able to do both in tandem.”

In a recent appearance on WHHI’s Talk of the Town, the Midway Blue compatriots were dubbed “good old country boys.” But what exactly does that mean, I had to ask. Well, according to this five-some it means they like to drive big trucks, wear plaid shirts, sit on a tailgate, drink beer, and talk about good times … and they are proud of it. Frankly, they don’t care if you disagree.

They put 110% into each lyric, each recording session, and each live show. They keep pushing, because they can’t stop. Music is in their blood, coursing through their veins, it’s a passion, an addiction. “It doesn’t matter if we are playing for one person or 1,000 – someone is listening to us and that is a real good feeling,” Stone says.

The nerves are still there each time they get up to perform says Stone. And before each show you can usually find him puking in a bucket somewhere. Really. But, that’s alright because according to his mentor, the late Bill Pinkney of the Drifters (also a South Carolina boy), “The day you get up and you’re not nervous, quit. Put your guitar in its case and the case in the closet. Find something else to do.”

For now, they do it for the love of the music. They do it for their fans, “the best fans.” And they do it to pay homage to the small South Carolina towns where they come from.

Stone sums it up best -- “I was country before country was cool. I was plaid before plaid was cool. I’ll never outgrow my roots.”

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Music to Your Mouth

This month in CH2, I got to write about one of my true loves, the Music to Your Mouth event at Palmetto Bluff. And, they even took our picture!

Just a couple of weeks ago I woke in a cold sweat. However, once I realized that it was indeed just a dream that our event headliner (Gail Simmons, from Bravo TV’s Top Chef) didn’t show, I was able to relax a little.

Palmetto Bluff’s Music to Your Mouth event series is a lot of work. I won’t lie. I lose sleep thinking about all of the details. In fact, once I have my first Music to Your Mouth related nightmare, I know we must be within the 90-day mark. The good news is that as we near the fourth year of the event, I have come to expect the sleepless nights.

The better news is that I share the stresses and the successes with three other members of the Palmetto Bluff team—Sommelier Jason Carlen, Executive Chef Kirk Gilbert, and Food and Beverage Director Jeremy Walton.

Our blooper reel is quite comprehensive. Together we’ve battled frigid temperatures. Yes, when the mercury dips below 20, shrimp will freeze on a buffet. We’ve learned that pulling all the power from one source will indeed trip the circuit and result in pure mayhem, especially when it is merely 10 minutes before the start of an event, and the band is shooting daggers from their place on the darkened stage. We’ve felt the panic associated with the “what do you mean the toilets won’t flush” moment (also 10 minutes before the start of an event). And we’ve watched while the sprinkler system blasted the interior of the 10,000-square-foot main tent, soaking everything in its wake (stage, sound system, lights and all), leaving a spectacular ice coating, due to aforementioned frigid temperatures.

We’ve also watched a two-day event that started just four years ago grow into a year-long food and wine series with more than 40 events and some of the most noted chefs and winemakers in the country. I think it is fair to say that we are quite proud of what we have created. As a team, we are a force to reckoned with. We work hard. And we are hard on each other. In the end, however, we truly enjoy the camaraderie and have fun. But that wasn’t always the case.

Flashback to October 2007. We were just 45 days out from the first ever Music to Your Mouth event. Jeremy had recently joined Palmetto Bluff and was walking into the event planning mid-stream. So we got together for the first time to tackle all of the looming logistics.

All was well until we came upon the topic of glassware. I was adamant that we need glassware for our block party. Jeremy was concerned (and rightly so, I’ll admit in retrospect) that if someone dropped a glass on the “block” (i.e. street), it would shatter and someone could get hurt. The debate was on. As I think back to it now, I can picture everyone else in the room shrinking back in their chairs as Jeremy and I jousted for dominance. That first duel was a draw, but he eventually won the bout (however, our acrylic-ware was of the highest quality!). We learned later that we both walked away from that first meeting muttering, “Geez, what a bleep he/she is.”

We still have our battles, but we’re smarter now. We know each other’s personalities well enough to guess where we will each land on a topic, and we certainly play our hand accordingly—sometimes we gang up on each other; other times we accept defeat.

Picture a square. Now try putting the four of us in that square. We would each exist in a totally different corner. We’re that different. But in the end, despite our differences—and our never-ending debate—the whole of the team is certainly greater than the sum of our parts. Meet the players:

“FOOD FEST COURTNEY” —The guys call me “Food Fest Courtney.” On the rare (cue laugh track) occasion that I get a little persnickety, I apparently morph into this alter ego. Food Fest Courtney has a little more sass (read: attitude) and an agonizingly infinite attention to detail. I can often be heard saying, “No, move the table to the left, another inch, now back, to the left again, a little bit more, no, no, no!” They won’t let me in the kitchen, so instead I handle the organizational aspects. I maintain the look, balance the books, book the travel, coordinate the vendors, court the sponsors, tout the event. And I move tables back and forth, and back and forth again, to ensure that our vision is achieved.

JOLLY JUICE DIRECTOR —Jason. He makes magic. He is a certified sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, but we prefer to call him the director of jolly juice. People get sauced on his good drink. He’s concocting cocktails and toiling away in his wine cellar, seeking the best and brightest stars of the wine world, enticing them all to Palmetto Bluff. And, if he can’t find exactly what he is looking for, he’ll travel to Napa to blend his own. (He unveiled Palmetto Bluff’s first Pinot Noir just a couple months ago.) Persuasion is a tool that Jason has mastered. Celebrated winemakers with standout collections travel from as far as Germany to be a part of Music to Your Mouth. He’s that good.

CHEF KIRK —I picture the culinary team standing behind the line saluting Chef Kirk. He commands attention. Almost stoic, he is all business. He takes his job quite seriously, which is probably why his résumé includes a Mobile Four Star rating and a guest chef stint at the James Beard House. During Music to Your Mouth, Kirk and his team provide support for nearly 30 guest chefs, no small feat. As the newest member of the team, Kirk had to elbow his way into a pretty tight trio. We’ve found that when the work is done, his quick wit keeps us all on our toes. He’s a perfect fit.

SOUTHERN COMFORTER —Jeremy is the lone southerner in the group, and he works to ensure that the traditions of the South maintain a presence at Music to Your Mouth, and on Palmetto Bluff’s menus and tables year-round. Jeremy works with our culinary team and guest chefs to coordinate the tastes of 17 event menus. But he isn’t just in the kitchen; he dives into all aspects of planning and helps build the events from soup to nuts. We’ve seen him carry tables on his back, de-lint linens, tap a keg, and polish wine glasses. He may talk a little slower than the rest of us, but he moves twice as fast. He gets the job done.

We’d like to think that we put together the finest nibbles and nectars to ever tickle a taste bud. And when people ask what we want this event to become, we actually provide the unorthodox answer. We could make this the biggest food and wine event in the Southeast—heck, in the country. But believe it or not, we don’t want to. For us, it is about creating connections. You’re not just going to taste the food; you are going to talk to the chef who prepared it. The winemaker himself is often filling your glass. The farmer is explaining why his food is best for your table. All of these elements come together to create an experience that can only be described as … Music to Your Mouth.

We invite you to join us at our table and become a part of our tradition. And we’ll try to make sure the bathrooms are working, the power is on, the food is not frozen, and the tent is dry. It’s the least we can do. Cheers!