Annabelle's Take

There is a lot of outstanding musical talent in the Huntsville/Madison area. Also, there are dozens of excellent venues in which to enjoy live music. Here are a few of my observations and first impressions. Comments will be updated when I revisit a venue or hear a band/artist again.

My newest venture is to offer you "Featured Artist of the Month". If you would like to be interviewed by me,or sit and have a conversation, contact me at Annabelle@HuntsvilleMusic.com and I will gladly schedule you and/or your band members.


Artists:
Rocket City SweetheartsCLOSE
Co-written with Parker
As anyone of a “certain age” knows, the 50’s and 60’s were a revolutionary time musically. The 40’s Big Bands faded from front and center, replaced by a new form of musical expression. Rock and Roll was here and here to stay.

Lyrics to those early songs were often about boys and girls in love, and falling out of love. But the real star of that era were catchy and memorable melodies and strong choruses. You were humming them and often imitating them on street corners.

The Rocket City Sweethearts remind us of just how great those early songs were musically, as well as how innocent those times were compared to today

We heard them perform at the Madison Arts Council Summer Concert Series. The first thing we noticed is their dress. The Sweethearts look the part, and move the part as well. For example, using the Supremes' signature hand-on-hip pose during Stop in the Name of Love.

More than a visual show, the Sweethearts’ three part harmonies are strong. When applied to the songs of the 50’s and 60’s, they remind us of just how melodic the songs were from that era, and why many people loved them so.

In the course of the 90 minute concert, the Sweetheart’s took us on a 50 and 60’s romp that included songs like Be My Baby, It’s in His Kiss, One Fine Day, You Can’t Hurry Love Going to the Chapel, Baby Love and Heard it Through the Grapevine.  Each song had strong three part harmonies. The Rocket City Sweethearts blasted us out of orbit. The sound was perfectly coordinated with their set list, which enhanced their performance. A credit to their sound tech.

The Sweethearts were accompanied by recorded instruments, but the sound system was sufficiently strong that it sounded close to a live band.

When Annabelle asked me after the first couple of songs what I thought, I told her they were pretty darn good. She immediately corrected me… "Parker you always understate things... they are fabulous!"

Annabelle was right. The Rocket City Sweethearts are fabulous. And that is understated.

Above: The Rocket City Sweethearts charm at a Madison Arts Council Summer Concert Series Event




date of last listen: 8 June 2017


Kelly JoynerCLOSE
Listening to Kelly Joyner sing cover tunes with Jeff Goebel at Hopper’s Bar & Grill, I was struck by her range, her vocal prowess, her stage presence, her sheer ability to make you forget you are in Huntsville. Her singing is so beautiful, and she is so beautiful to gaze upon, I felt like I was in a dream, or in Heaven. No, I wasn’t drinking. Kelly is just that good!


When Kelly sang My Heart Will Go On, I was sobbing, cold, and desperate, floating in the water next to the sinking Titanic. When she sang Save Your Soul, I was sitting next to a friend in a theatre in Baltimore, thinking Jewel wrote that song for him.

This is not to say Kelly Joyner is not her own person. Certainly she brings her own blood, sweat, and tears to each song. One has the feeling, though, that she is singing just for you…. Just for you.

Kelly’s choice of songs to perform with Jeff  is always crowd pleasing. We have seen them twice so far. We were dazzled by her art, her beauty, and presence. Perhaps even more amazing is her willingness to talk to everyone in between sets. During such a chat, I learned she has a husband, and several small children. I know motherhood is the toughest gig on Earth, but Kelly seems to manage that as well as her career with grace. I’m sure her husband is a supportive partner. I wonder if she sings around the house? If I am lucky enough to interview her one day, I’ll let you know that, and much more.

In the meantime, do yourself a favor and get over to Hopper’s Bar & Grill to hear Kelly Joyner perform with Jeff Goebel. Bring some friends with you.  Check her schedule below.



Seeking BabylonCLOSE
Hold onto your “sox” when you hear the group Seeking Babylon. Alli, Kira and Kati formed a Trio from the Alli & Kira duo. We saw them at The Salty Nut Brewery recently. Interesting name for their band, I thought. I was transported immediately to my 9th grade History class. (Minus the beer in my hand.)

Babylon was a *Major city in Mesopotamia…. * The usual struggle to stay in power, given the wars all around it in 2300 B.C…. *Great location between the Euphrates River and that other one…. ( I forgot it on the quiz, too)  While I heard the women play their hearts and souls out, I tried to piece together the puzzle (my own, admittedly) of how they chose the name. Babylon as used in Reggae music refers to the materialistic, capitalistic world.  I think I heard that one back in the day when Bob Marley was my favorite cassette of choice. I may not be correct in my assertion that this may have influenced them, because Mesopotamia is a cool name too. However, given the Indy Folk-Rock vibe of the group, I think it makes sense. When I interview Alli, Kira, and Kati, I will ask.

Seeking Babylon does grrrrreat cover tunes, with their own tweak to every song. They did a Bare Naked Ladies song that was super.  In fact, all of the songs performed were incredibly well–executed. It is note-worthy to mention the precision with which Alli and Kira play their acoustic guitars. The subtle, softer sections crescendoing to louder, “pay attention to me” portions of compositions, accompanied by Kati's percussion will make you realize these are three serious musicians. You can’t end a phrase or a song with such precision, after playing like a full speed freight train, without lots of practice.  Lots and lots of practice.

The same goes for their perfectly executed harmonies. Rich, bold and blended; perfectly in sync.

Next to the Conga drum Kati played I noticed her flute. We did not hear her play it because we needed to leave a bit early. I look forward to hear Kati play it in the future.  I suggest you catch these very talented women as soon as you can. Seeking Babylon, rock on, baby. Check their schedule below or visit their Facebook page in case we've missed any of their local events.

Seeking Babylon @ the Kiln



Angela HackerCLOSE
We walked into Hoppers Bar and Grill and were immediately greeted by the melodious sounds of singing duo: Angela Hacker and Jeff Goebel. WOW! I felt like I was in the Ryman in Nashville for a minute. Their perfect harmonies and effortless, intricate guitar work was a pleasure to hear. Every song they performed was stellar. They also performed several originals.

Often the crowd prefers the Cover tunes, but Parker and I just love it when singers perform their own work. All four of us were extremely impressed. We were able to hear a set and a half, but even so, we wished the show would go on and on and on. Angela has her own unique sound. Exquisite. If I am forced to describe her voice, which is difficult, I would say it is sultry, powerful,and similar to Wynonna Judd. Angela has more talent, but you understand what I’m inferring, yes? The duo performs all the Cover tunes the crowd wants to hear, yet they are so talented they make it their own.

At the break between sets, we introduced ourselves and became instant “groupies”. Angela Hacker hails from the Muscle Shoals area, and Jeff Goebel  is a local man. I did not get the back story of how they met, but I do know that he performs with Angela Hacker every other Wednesday at Hoppers Bar and Grill at the Holiday Inn. On alternate Wednesdays he performs with Kelly Joyner.  We also learned that for New Year’s Eve Party 2017 they are performing for the evening!. We have already marked our calendar! The convenience of renting a room for the event is that you can book a room and “party like it’s 1999”.


Ben Luthy Acoustic ShowCLOSE
Benjamin Luthy is a consummate entertainer. It’s not that he sings and dances like Gene Kelly. But he pleases the crowds of fans in the same way: Give’em what they want, and they’ll be back! At Stem and Stein Wine Cellar and Bar the other evening, it was no different. The back patio was packed with fans. In fact, it was SRO.

Ben Luthy sings with a soulful sound, and he plays the guitar with great expertise, but always with one goal in mind: to please his crowd of fans.  Every performance consists of different set lists. In fact, often there are no set lists. Ben knows instinctively which songs his audiences want to hear. If he overlooks a favorite, his fans have no problem calling out a request. Ben encourages his fans to do that, in fact. He obliges all requests, and if he does not have the song committed to memory, he relies on the Internet to help him out with the lyrics and chords. It all comes together.

Ben sang the usual favorites, but what stood out for me this time was his rendition of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean.  I love Ben’s raspy voice, and his switched- up rhythms to that song. I was waiting for Ben to sing some of his originals. He didn’t disappoint me. He sang a couple of songs coming out soon on Falcon Punch’s album. What a treat!  His song-writing is stellar.

I am finding that most artists I review are reluctant to play too many originals for fear of alienating the crowd. I, for one, wish all the local artists would play MORE of their originals. Cover tunes satisfy, but originals really showcase the artists’ talent and their souls. I love original music, and I listen to lyrics intently (alas, I’m a language prof) as well as the melodies. Songwriters who perform their own work in an intimate venue are always a joy to hear. I could tell the audience appreciated Ben’s treating it to a peek into his upcoming album. He and the rest of the members of Falcon Punch have been recording during the month of May, so we should be able to own a record soon.

If you have the chance to see Ben Luthy as a solo artist, or with his band Falcon Punch, I guarantee you will have a good time!

See also:


Jeff GoebelCLOSE
After a decade of a successful music career in Birmingham, Jeff Goebel moved to Huntsville to resume his career. He put together new bands, and lucky for us! Band 347, Plan B and a host of others… see his Facebook page for a complete list.

I heard Jeff Goebel perform at Hoppers Bar & Grill in the Holiday Inn. Twice so far, and we’ll come back. Each Wednesday night he plays in an acoustic duo, alternating singers each week. As of this writing, his singing partners are Angela Hacker and Kelly Joyner. These two singers are first rate, top shelf, cream of the crop, crème de la crème.

One of Jeff’s rock bands, “Plan B”, often plays in Hoppers as well. You can also catch Band 347 there from time to time.

Jeff Goebels is a musicians musician. His guitar work is superb, and his singing is smooth when it needs to be. Really smooth. When he needs to turn up the heat; when a song demands that, Jeff sets the room on fire. In a city teaming with fine talent, Huntsville is a beacon for excellent musicians; individuals and bands. When performing his duos at Hoppers, Jeff has kick- started the careers of more than a few great singers. For that fact alone, in an age of narcissism, I appreciate his generosity.

Don’t be shy about introducing yourself either. It is easy to be star-struck when in the company of such a talented musician. However, Jeff will welcome a conversation with you, and when asked, he will share how he came to be among the best musicians around. Though I doubt he would describe himself with such phrases.  Go check him out for yourself.


Jennifer McClureCLOSE
We saw the Jennifer McClure Band at Tim’s Cajun Kitchen, and I have not stopped thinking about them since! Jennifer is the lead singer, thus the name of the band. While she is the star, the rest of the band is, in a word, outstanding.

There are many “cover bands” out there playing these days, but Jennifer McClure Band sets themselves apart for several reasons. #1) Jennifer has a fabulous voice; a reminiscent blend of Jewel, Carrie Underwood, and Karla Bonoff.  #2) Jennifer’s lead guitarist is her brother, Steven McClure. More about him later.  #3) The bass player: Bryan Hopkins is a seasoned player, who does what all excellent bass players do: perform the “under music” that broadens and deepens the sound of the band. (Bryan was filling in that night for regular bass guitarist Devon Stone) #4) The drummer: Blake Andrews keeps the beat without overshadowing any of the singing or other musicians. A rarity.  In my opinion, too many drummers think they are the stars. I love drum solos, and some of my best friends are drummers. Don’t get me wrong. But when drummers try to overplay the rest of the musicians, I have a real distaste for that. The keyboard player: Benson Lewis provided the right amount of underlying accompaniment to Jennifer’s voice.   Again, Mr. Lewis’s skilled playing never yelled for your attention, rather it called your ear to listen.

Steven McClure: The lead guitarist did what  my favorite professional lead- guitarists are able to accomplish. Steven’s stellar playing reminded me of Mark Goldenberg, David Lindley, and Danny Kortchmar. Steven had the ability to “answer” Jennifer’s phrases with his perfectly executed riffs. I loved the balance of harmonies between them. For someone so young to be so eloquent in his playing, I’d say he is gifted. Again, he seems unaware of his gift. He just loves to play.

Jennifer’s voice is powerful, with perfect pitch. She is capable of bringing a tear to your eye or making you clap your hands and stomp your feet. The entire audience was engaged with this band. Keep in mind, Tim’s Cajun Kitchen is a great eating establishment, and the night we caught the band there people were listening and letting their food go cold. We discovered Tim’s food is great, even cold.  My minor  concern for this band is that Jennifer has a very shy stage presence. One can see she would rather sing and play than speak to the crowd. Personally, I really appreciate it when a singer tells us the origin of an original song. I would encourage Jennifer to look at her adoring audience, and share a story or two. I had an idea, she could even banter with her brother on stage and use that  relationship to her advantage.   I doubt I am alone when I say we like those nuggets of fun when we can get them from a performer. Talking in between songs is a skill, certainly. One I know Jennifer McClure will master with time. She has every reason to boast and brag, but part of her charm is that she does not believe it.

 If you see the Jennifer McClure Band scheduled to play in town, RUN, don’t walk to hear them play.


Josh Couts (Jazz Guitarist)CLOSE
Recently I saw Josh Couts at Luciano Italian Restaurant in Huntsville. He was accompanied by Keith Taylor on the piano the first time, and he played with songstress extraordinaire, Roberta Silva the second time.

Josh’s soulful jazz guitar solos soar!  They rise up above the melody lines, forcing you to listen as he blends them until they become melodies of their own. Then he sails right back into his own dream world and takes you along for the ride.

Josh Couts is young, but don’t let his youth trick you into thinking he lacks anything. Josh has multiple university degrees in music, served in the Army Band, and most recently, landed a professorship at a local college here in Huntsville. Besides all that, he is a heck of a nice person.

After hearing Josh for a few minutes the first time, I leaned over to Parker to say Josh reminded me of   the GREAT late Joe Pass.  I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Pass play as he accompanied the GREAT singer Joe Williams. They were friends and played together a lot. Josh would have made Mr. Pass proud. For the remainder of the evening, I pondered what it would be like if fate had decreed it so that Mr. Pass and Josh Couts could jam together.  I believe I got my wish. And in my estimation, this is the highest compliment I can pay.

The second time I heard Josh Couts was when he accompanied Roberta Silva. Roberta is so talented, I could hear her sing the Yellow Pages backwards and be thrilled. However, Josh Couts and Roberta Silva together on the same stage? I was in Heaven. So was everyone else in the packed SRO ("Standing Room Only") at Luciano.  Her beautiful soprano voice  melodiously blends perfectly  with Josh’s skilled guitar work. I hope they work together a lot in the future. I also liked the way they naturally communicate on stage. They “read”  each other. Great performers do that. And each of these performers is truly GREAT.

If you see Josh Couts’ name around town as a headliner, go see him. Check our website and seek out an opportunity to do so. Local venues should book Josh Couts ASAP because in my opinion, there is going to come a time when he will be out of range as he makes his way out into the wide, wide world, far beyond Huntsville.  Thank you, Josh Couts, for reminding us what heart-felt, soulful jazz guitar sounds like.


Keith Taylor (Pianist)CLOSE
It was Saturday morning brunch at Cyn Shea's Cafe. Apparently the Jazz group was on a break when we arrived, but soon we noticed the members of Keith Taylor’s group making their way to the stage area. Parker and I were perfectly seated to optimize our listening and viewing experience. Mr. Taylor is the Director of the Music Dept. at University of Alabama at Huntsville, and appears every Saturday. On this particular Saturday, Ken Waters, the UAH Jazz Band director joined Professor Taylor. On Saxophone, a local favorite; a stellar young musician whose name I regret to say, I did not discover.
Parker spoke with his proud father on one of the band’s breaks for a few minutes, so I assumed he secured the name. While he discovered the young man is a college freshman in a University in Texas, on a music scholarship, and that he studied under professors at UAH while he was a high school student, his name eluded Parker’s attention.  Keith Taylor puts together Jazz combos for wedding, receptions, parties and venues like Cynn Shea’s. 

Keith’s choice this day of Professor Waters as his horn player was thrilling to hear. A great musician, with smooth, cool jazz licks, Waters is a perfect match for Taylor’s skilled and easy to hear piano/keyboard parts. They blended so perfectly, and I was in Heaven! Two of my brothers were accomplished trumpet players, so I have a soft spot in my heart for a good horn player. On several songs, Ken Waters stepped down and invited a gentleman to sit in with the group. He was an older musician, highly skilled, and we were extremely impressed with his “chops”.

I expect university professors to be highly skilled, and at the “top of their game”. However, when the young college freshman started playing his sax, I was awed. This “kid” is no doubt going to be famous one day, cutting records and playing his sax all over the world. That is my prediction. His proud father told Parker that Jazz bands in the area call him to “sit in” when they know he is home from college. Professor Taylor made a wise choice because this student is a protégé, in my opinion. Since the band members change, I imagine there is always a different feel to the “concerts”  here at Cyn Shea’s  on Saturdays.



Kozmic MamaCLOSE
Parker was anxious to have me hear Kozmic Mama, having watched several of their videos while working on HuntsvilleMusic.com. We set out on Friday eve with our appetites raised for some great food and music. I was not disappointed, rather elated when I found that Parker had not exaggerated.

Carla Russell belts out a song like no one I have heard in recent memory. Her rendition of Aretha Franklin’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T was amazing.  In fact, all the songs she sang were stellar. The entire band Kozmic Mama played so many favorites, “Stand By Me”, “Respect Yourself”, “My Girl”,  “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” “Upside Down”.  Whether it was the supreme Motown sound or Disco songs, the band truly sounded as good or better as the original artists.

Every member of the band was very talented. The bass player was superior; the guitarist’s rendition of “Have I Told You Lately” exuded such emotion, I ran through the patio to take Parker away from his camera and spin him out onto the dance floor! Make no mistake, though the songs were soulfully performed, Kozmic Mama stamped them all with their own seal.   I feel compelled to say that you should make every effort to see this band whenever you can.


Tim CannonCLOSE
A popular performer who aims to please, taking some requests from patrons. I had the feeling his set list is quite full though, since he easily flowed from one cover song to the next with little or no speaking between songs.
Tim’s style is bluesy with a southern folk-rock bent. His guitar work is solid, though not miraculous. At times the sound system made it difficult to hear the words, which is always frustrating for me. I am a lyrics maniac. Tim’s raspy voice is well suited to most of the songs I heard him play, especially Aretha’s “Chain of Fools” and Prince’s “Purple Rain”. I was less enamored of “Over the Rainbow”, though it was well received by the patron requesting it. It is hard to beat Judy’s version or Jewel’s more modern take on that song. Overall, I enjoyed Tim’s performance and was especially moved by his gracious thank you toward a shy, little girl placing money in his tip jar for her mother. I hope by the end of the evening the jar was fuller than when we saw it. 


Carl ThomasCLOSE
We saw Carl Thomas sing at the Rocket Republic Brewing Company and he was on fire. Carl’s Seeger-esque voice is gravely and raspy, and perfectly suited for the cover tunes he performs. He sings songs from the 70s 80s 90s and beyond. He beats up his acoustic guitar while belting out songs springing from a well of talent. Even though the Brewery is large, the acoustics are pretty good and Carl fills the room with his voice.

I really liked how Carl put his own spin on many of his cover tunes. Many artists do, but Carl is the first one I've heard who alters the original chords and/or melody.  Most of his changes are subtle but effective. But some are more apparent. This makes his covers songs much more memorable.

Combine that with his stage presence, and “folks, we have a winner!” Carl jokes around with his audience whether they listen or not. In fact, the funniest thing I heard him say between songs was in response to this one very large table (20) ignoring him. In hindsight, I think they were more into each other rather than purposely ignoring the talented Carl Thomas. One of my pet peeves is seeing an audience ignore a performer. I must constantly remind myself that I am not attending a concert, but seeing artists perform in venues.
 
I very much look forward to hearing Carl Thomas sing again, and I hope you will seek him out. Don’t be afraid to approach him in between sets. Carl Thomas is a performer who really appreciates his audience.



Venues:
Pane e Vino PizzeriaCLOSE
It’s easy to find Pane e Vino Pizzeria. It’s physically part of the Huntsville Museum of Art building. The patio faces Big Spring Park, with its beautiful gold-fish filled pond. The pond is surrounded by well-maintained sidewalks, perfect for a family or leashed pet stroll. Look for the large patio, filled with people enjoying good pizza, pasta, wine, beer and warm conversation.

On this visit, Dave Anderson entertained patrons on the patio, and as of this writing, performs there each Saturday at 5-8pm. The staff is attentive to your culinary needs and the patio is covered from sun and rain.  If you’d rather enjoy your food inside, there is plenty of seating.

Here is their food menu. We’ve been here three times, and have not been disappointed.  Each time we ordered a different kind of pizza. I enjoyed a glass of wine and side Greek salad. Parker doubled down on a Caesar side salad. Our pizza this time doesn’t look like a traditional pizza, but if sausage and all manner of toppings is your delight, they have them as well. 

Judging from the smiles and conversation around us, everyone was as pleased as we were.

Above: This was our third visit. This time, we tried something different, a Michelangelo Pizza. It may look plain but it was yummy, particularly the sauce


date of last visit: 17 June 2017


Tim's Cajun KitchenCLOSE
When you hear the name “Tim’s Cajun Kitchen” and you think of fine, fresh seafood cooked any way you can imagine, you would be correct. But Tim’s is SO much more! For starters, it is way larger than any place with such a straight- forward name like that. There is a large quiet dining room, a good sized bar and live music area, and a private, large area used for a Comedy Club the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Friday of the month. Tim’s certainly offers its patrons lots of choices, and I don’t only mean the spaces.
There are catfish, oysters, shrimp and crawfish delicacies to meet even the most finicky person. Tim will prepare your Cajun meal to your liking. Whether you are in the mood for a Down Home Luzianna  Po’ Boy , or a full Fisherman’s Platter with all the delectable trimmings and sides you can handle, I promise you will savor every bite. Whether fried to perfection or boiled, you will be appreciative of Tim’s skill in cooking seafood.

Tim’s also cuts its beef on premises to ensure it meets Tim’s high standards. Besides the expected burgers, the restaurant offers a Rib-Eye steak. This particular night Parker and I were accompanied by Constant Companion-Mary June, and she is a connoisseur of Rib Roast and Rib-Eye steaks. I also love a good steak, especially a Rib-Eye. So we both ordered our steaks rubbed with Cajun spices. Tim did not overdo it, like so many places may have. I decided to go for the 12 ounce, and Mary June ordered the 8 ounce, “medium rare, more rare”. Our waitress, who is undoubtedly the BEST server this side of the Mississippi, translated the order to read “rare”, knowing the Chef’s cooking style. Both of our steaks arrived perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked and were tender and juicy. In a word: Incredible.

Steak"
Above: Rib-Eye with cajun spices, a side of shrimp, twice baked potatoes, ocra and roll.

Mary June had ordered a baked potato and the green bean casserole to accompany her meal. I opted for the Stuffed potato and fried okra. Both were delicious. We were in Heaven!  The ocra had a thin crust, a dusting of corn meal, and was prepared perfectly; not greasy in the least. The stuffed potato (more commonly known as a Twice Baked potato) reminded me of a holiday dinner.   Parker ordered the Seafood Salad, which may not sound like much, but he had ordered it before and enjoyed it so much, he ordered it again! It is a salad with the expected lettuce and veggies, but it is loaded with boiled, tender shrimps, crab and other fish. He was thrilled and ate every bite.

Steak"
Above: Parker's seafood salad.

To add to our dining enjoyment, our server, Anna Marie guided us with choices along the way. She is an expertly skilled server and advisor. Given the large beer and food menus, you will appreciate that. Anna Marie takes care of so many people with such ease, and always a smile on her face, it boggles my mind. She is a server who is there when you need her, but never hovering. Chef/Owner Tim often roams through the restaurant, speaking with his patrons when time allows. He makes the time. Beware: he enjoys showing off the occasional giant crawfish ( alive), and may come walking your way with what looks like a mini lobster.

I highly recommend you visit Tim’s Cajun Kitchen as soon as you can gather a group of friends together who want to share some great Cajun Étouffe, Jambalaya, Boudin, sandwiches, Seafood or steaks! Drinks and meals are reasonably priced.  Decorations are amusing to look at and I guarantee you will leave with a smile on your faces. Before you go on over to Tim’s Cajun Kitchen in Huntsville, loosen your belts, or better yet, just don’t wear one.

Date of last visit: 17 Mar 2018



Hoppers Bar & Grill (Holiday Inn)CLOSE
When Parker suggested we go to the Holiday Inn to hear two folks he has been wanting to listen to I admit, I was skeptical. It was quite late. I thought, “The Holiday Inn? As in motel? Really?“ I was not expecting such a wonderful surprise. But Hoppers Bar and Grill delivered.

If there had been blue smoke circling around in the air, you could almost imagine you were back in time, a time in the USA when all the best night clubs were filled with  patrons and smoke, the lights lit low, and a talented combo performing on stage. Think film noir. Men outfitted like Don Draper, sipping martinis, conversing with their “lady eye candy”.  Hoppers does not disappoint at all. There is a very large lounge, with comfortable seating and tables, a large bar, and great servers and bartenders. They had no idea who Parker and I were yet they treated us as Royalty. Constant Companion Mary June was with us that evening, along with our friend Elizabeth. There is also plenty of dance floor room, and a separate stage. An honest-to- goodness stage. That spells respect for musicians to me.

Our server and bartender were both excellent. We sampled the quesadilla and Mary June ordered the fries. (You can count on Mary June to sample the fries. That gal loves ‘em!) We all agreed the food was excellent.  The ladies checked out the powder room, which always tells a tale. This time it told us that Hoppers and the Holiday Inn care for cleanliness and your comfort. We stayed until the musicians packed up their instruments. We will be back, and bring more friends. We heard that Saturday nights are always SRO, so get there earlier if you want a table.



Humphrey's Bar & GrillCLOSE
If you love the smell of good hamburgers and sweet potato fries, then Humphrey’s is the place to be. Of course they have many other excellent choices, which Parker and I can attest to, but if you venture out Tuesdays from 5 pm till closing, they offer half priced burgers. On this particular occasion we had eaten at home before arriving, so we enjoyed the libations and music on the back patio.
Management offers daily special “themes”. Mondays 7-10 they host different artists, Tuesdays half priced burgers, Wednesdays   a Patio Paella Party is waiting for you from 5 pm till closing, with $2 Yuenglings and live music from 7 pm.

The spacious outdoor patio is set between buildings in a courtyard reminiscent of New Orleans’ courtyards. The large oak tree in the center which is lit with mini white lights, sets a neat atmosphere. Inside there is a large comfortable bar, lots of tables and the atmosphere is pleasant. Clean, casually decorated, and lit appropriately. Lots of TVs for those who care. I observed Humphrey’s to be  LGBT friendly. The restrooms are very clean.

Caution: if you want a seat on the patio, you need to arrive well before the band starts or else risk the patio being full. It is unfortunate that they do not make reservations for the patio area (as of date of last visit which was August 2016). 

NOTE: My visit was October 23, 2016. Described prices and offerings are subject to change.



Luciano Italian RestaurantCLOSE
Luciano’s is a small Italian jewel on Airport Road that has worked hard to ensure you have the very best experience in fine dining. In spite of its “strip mall” location, it succeeds in transforming its space into four basic areas that may remind you of Italy. There is a place for al fresco dining, a courtyard- like entrance, complete with wall mounted fountain, which ushers you into a formal dining area; beyond that you will see a tastefully decorated bar area, complete with small grand piano and several tables. Near the piano there are several steps which lead you into a sunken dining room area, also decorated in the Tuscan tradition. Lucciano’s is not lacking for romantic atmosphere!

It was Parker’s birthday, so I had high hopes for a lovely evening. Even his decision to order Spaghetti and meatballs in such a fine restaurant could not sway me away from my goal of celebrating, though I admit, I did try to talk him out of that simple choice.  He was very pleased, and allowed me to taste just a bit. The meatballs were tender, moist, likely made with beef and pork ,spiced lightly, and not loaded with fillers. The spaghetti was cooked al dente, beautifully presented, so I believe he was very pleased. His empty plate by evening’s end confirmed that.

Parker ordered a blueberry mojito before dinner. Lots of fresh mint and blueberries and he seemed to enjoy it. I ordered a champagne drink laced with limoncello and fresh muddled raspberries. Delicious! For dinner, I ordered fettuccini al fredo with shrimp. It was served al dente, with the shrimp perfectly prepared, and beautifully presented . Each dinner was preceded by “salad in a jar”; very trendy these days. The mason jars were filled with chopped romaine lettuce, cherry  tomatoes, Greek olives, feta cheese and pepperoncini. Quite delicious. I am dusting off my mason jars at home in anticipation of my next party with friends.

Combined with its excellent service, delicious food, and superior entertainment, I would award 5 stars to Luciano’s Italian Restaurant. Whether you want a gathering place for drinks, or are craving an up-scale,  authentic Italian meal, I highly recommend Luciano’s. I can’t wait to return!  




Nick's RistoranteCLOSE
The lounge at Nick’s Ristorante is a cozy and charming place to have a cocktail before dinner, which is exactly what Parker and I did while waiting for our dinner party to arrive. Once our party arrived, we moved to the main dining room. Elegantly set formal tables awaited.

The dining room is large, but the acoustics are such that one does not hear conversations from other tables; a rarity when dining out these days. I like that lack of annoying noise.  A lot.  Nick’s Ristorante understands how to make a dining experience special. Not only is the dining room beautifully appointed, but every wait- staff member was expertly trained. They were available, but unobtrusive. They were easily able to advise us because they were knowledgeable about the menu offerings. A truly delightful experience!

Our salads were perfect. Our dinners were perfectly presented and delicious. Two of us  ordered Eggplant Parm,  another had  Linguini with Red Clam Sauce and my sister in law had  Veal Marsala.  All of us were thoroughly delighted with our meals. Dessert consisted of two  Cannoli,  a  Brownie creation, and one person at the table showed great restraint by foregoing dessert. We all left Nick’s Ristorante vowing to return soon for another delectable adventure into Italy….Alabama style!


Salty Nut BreweryCLOSE
Salty Nut Brewery is a cool place. It is a brewery; an inside, family-friendly listening gallery; and an outside, picnic-tabled, family-friendly listening spot. Did I mention your well-behaved dogs are welcome?

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SPICEFEST 2017 INFORMATION 8 Jul
Click here for full list of bands and links to tickets
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The first time we went there, we saw Carl Thomas. There were a lot of veterans in the house who seemed to enjoy Carl’s show along with us. I noticed families with small children enjoying the show, and making good use of the myriad games that Salty Nut Brewery provides. They are shelved neatly on bookcases in the sofa area. There are tables and plenty of chairs, inside and out. That night, we saw families chatting, sampling the house made brews, and putting together puzzles, playing board games, and lounging on the sofas. Think specialty coffee houses….with a twist!

Salty Nut Brewery did a great job planning the outside entertainment area as well. They can accommodate fairly large crowds with their tables, chairs, benches, and picnic tables. An interesting choice of décor to be sure. It made me think the owners want me (and others) to sit a spell, enjoy a fresh, cold, house made beer, and stay a while. We did exactly that!

All your local, favorite Food Trucks take turns parking near the entrance. They all serve up delicious meals, so you can plan to have supper there if you want to chase those cold brews down with some solid, stick to your ribs kind of food.

Salty Nut Brewery  allows your well-behaved dog to join you, inside or outside. I saw no signs prohibiting Fido from dancing, so if he kicks up his heals and wants to stay a bit later, why not indulge him? From what I observed, other patrons may spoil your friend more than you do.

We liked Salty Nut Brewery so much, we returned the next week to listen to Seeking Babylon and sample some delicious brews. There were several families with dogs on leashes that night. There was some adoption festival going on in Huntsville the next day, and you guessed it!  I talked Parker into letting us adopt a black lab puppy, 7 weeks old. Thanks, Salty Nut Brewery! We like your beer, and your attitude! Oh, I also loved the indoor ship-lap décor. Alas,Parker has refused me on that one. ( Thus far.)


Stem and Stein Wine Cellar and BarCLOSE
Stem and Stein in Madison boasts over 800 wine selections and hundreds of beer choices! Upon arriving, you will notice the second little inside dining area hosts the selections. If this seems overwhelming to you, never fear. There is a sommelier on duty to help you decide which wine or beer pairs well with your food selection. Oh my! What a selection.

There is a full menu to select the perfect food item to satisfy your cravings.  On the night we visited with our sister Mary June, we were in the mood for appetizers. After much consideration, we finally settled on the Cheese Board, and Jim’s Cheese Dip with chips. There was an abundance of smoked gouda, cheddar, and melted brie to accompany a pleasing assortment of crackers and crostini. The specialty cheese dip was a superb blend of melted cheddar, diced pimentos, diced jalapenos, and just a hint of sautéed hamburger meat. Don’t let that deter you. It is not overloaded. Stem & Stein knows that “less is more”.


Above: Two of our three appetizers. May it RIP, our soft pretzels did not make the photo shoot.


There are several unique salads to choose from, home made soup, and lots of sandwiches.  It was a hard decision, and next time we already decided we will order the fresh mozzarella, tomato, balsamic vinegar served on crostini. (View the food menu here) Or maybe the specialty pizzas, or the puff pastry asparagus… For this visit, the appetizers were perfect.  Mary June  ordered the unoaked Chardonnay and I had the Pinot Grigio. Both were excellent. (And we indulged ourselves with refills.)

Above: "I've always wanted to travel to far away places."


Above: Stem & Stein says there are over 800 Wines and the night of our visit a sommelier stood by to help with wine choice.

We sat outside on the very large patio area. It was filled to capacity when we arrived at 5:45, so we availed ourselves of the benches in a way back corner. Parker spotted an empty table with a “reserved” sign on it. He requested that we be first in line if the party didn’t show. After 30 minutes of missing the reserved time, the waitress came to give us the good news. We now had back, center seats, and we were able to see and hear the entertainment perfectly! Word to the wise: call and set up a reservation on the patio if you want to hear your favorite artist. We will certainly do that next time.

Stem & Stein offers you an unhurried, relaxed atmosphere in which to enjoy the entertainment and your friends. The band area is roomy, the wait staff helpful and pleasant, food is delicious, and I can’t  wait to return! It is an easy location to find in Madison, so venture out and treat yourself.


Voodoo Lounge Bar & GrillCLOSE
The first thing you may notice about the Voodoo Lounge is how hard it is to find. Its sign is overshadowed by the adjoining Greek restaurant’s sign.

This is a “man’s bar” (in the 1940s sense of the expression) where the patrons can drink too much, be rowdy and the artist rolls with the punches. I admit, I thought about this literally happening at some point in the past or future. It reminded me of rough, old neighborhood bars where the barkeeps broke up fights among patrons, threw them out the back door, and minutes later the ousted ones entered as friends once again through the front door. I laughed to myself because the bartender was a woman who was clearly able to take care of herself, and any patron who might overstep the boundaries. Though honestly, it would be hard for me to describe what that might be. If any fight broke out after we left, my money would be on the barmaid.





Cyn Shea's CafeCLOSE
As soon as one enters Cynshea’s Café you notice the fine décore; tables neatly arranged, not too close together, but still creating an intimate atmosphere. I am a fan of good jazz and good brunch food. We made our way to the back of the large café where we looked at the menu on the wall; easy to read, by the way. They also have printed menus for those who prefer to hold a menu while making decisions. The menu, as the physical layout of the café, is well thought-out.
There is even a kid’s Breakfast menu. Everything is made from scratch, including the breads. What a find! I was already thrilled Parker had discovered this place.  I didn’t hear any music so far, but I did see a stage area, filled with guitars, a keyboard, and a trumpet, flugelhorn, cornet, and a saxophone.

EVERY SATURDAY 9 a.m. till 2 p.m. you can enjoy items from the Brunch Menu or the regular menu. I selected the Cranberry-Orange French Toast, served with real maple syrup. I was raised in REAL maple syrup country, so I am a stickler that restaurants, especially good ones, should serve “the real stuff” with breakfast items. My choice was very good. Parker chose the white chili. He had no complaints. I selected a Specialty beverage to accompany my brunch, suddenly feeling excited about being at this venue.  Might as well try the Fuzzy Navel! Everything was delicious, presented beautifully.

There are plenty of wait staff milling around, clearing dishes as needed, and clearing tables as folks left. Note: I did not see too many folks leave!   Patrons were eating and chatting all around the café. I would not hesitate to bring well-behaved children.  The venue is clean and  bright; a friendly environment, and I applaud Cyn Shea’s effort to provide Huntsville with a cool Jazz place to “hang” during the daylight hours. This is not your smoky jazz dive from an old B&W movie. I suspect Cyn Shea’s will be around for a long time.  I hope Professor Taylor and his “band du jour” will be in attendance for a long time as well.