Friday, December 28, 2007

The Ghosts of New Year’s past

New Year’s Eve seemed so simple in the 70s when I was a kid. My parents and I would make homemade onion rings and watch Dick Clark on the TV. It was a big deal that I got to stay up until MIDNIGHT. I used to save a Triscuit and eat half in one year and then half in the other. Those were the days.

At Penn State, where I went to college, we had First Night, which was an alcohol-free event with stage performances and fun stuff to do. That didn’t really stop us rowdy college students from having our own brand of fun.

When I first moved to Bradenton, a bunch of friends urged me to go with them to Ybor City. I had never been there. And because of the craziness of that evening, I haven’t been back. Wall-to-wall crowds and $20 cover charges aren’t my idea of a good time.

In past years, my husband and I have made the rounds to friend’s house parties or gone to see a band we like at a club. But we were always worried about getting home safely. You try calling a taxi at midnight on New Year’s and see how fast you get one. And the idea of strangers attempting to kiss me at midnight freaks me out.

For the last several years, we’ve been staying at home and having a small group of friends and neighbors over to cook good food and have some drinks. In fact, I think I’ve had the most fun of all in my own home, with my husband, eating my Triscuit before and after midnight. We are looking forward to the New Year and thinking of all that we wish to make better about ourselves in 2008.

But, if I were 10 years younger, I’d be at The Distillery in Bradenton ushering in the new year with the Skyway Jumpers.

- Jana Morreale

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

'Clash of the Choirs' something to sing about

With the holidays and the writer's strike altering prime time television as we know it, there's really not a lot to watch these days. But earlier this week, I stumbled on a new jewel of a reality show called "Clash of the Choirs" on NBC.

The show features several choirs from across the country competing against each other. The twist on this musical fanfare is that celebrity singers get to hand pick and direct the groups. They include Michael Bolton, Patti LaBelle, Nick Lachey, Kelly Rowland and Blake Shelton. On top of that, America gets to vote for who they think is the best one, with the winning choir donating the $250,000 prize to a charity.

At first I thought the show would be mediocre, especially after hearing Lachey and Rowland's teams Monday night (on Tuesday, Rowland's team didn't make the cut and Lachey's choir improved). But then things got exciting with Michael Bolton's and Patti LaBelle's vocally-rich and entertaining choirs took the stage. I'm pulling for either one of these teams to win during Thursday night's finale.

The only drawback of the show is that after every performance, the camera goes to the celebrity directors to get their response a la "America Idol." But the directors don't really offer anything of substance, like advice on how to improve or what the group did wrong, if anything. Instead, it's just the run-of-the-mill, pat-on-the-back "Great job." How can anyone really learn from such an experience if they don't get good feedback?

Despite this flaw, the show is well-worth tuning into just to hear these amateurs sing their hearts out.

Catch the show at 8 p.m. tonight and Thursday on NBC.
— January Holmes

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Now featuring: Good news

I was reading a blog a few days ago posted by a Pittsburgh reporter about his decision to cut NBC's "The Today Show" out of his TV diet. By the way, the show is my favorite choice for televised morning news.

But is this show really about news any more for those who crave newsy national stories? At least that's what the blogger was complaining about. He said "Today" is more tabloid news than anything.

I only get a chance to watch about 40 minutes of the show each morning as I'm getting ready for work. But in the past few days I've noticed lots of featurey segments and less hard-core news. But maybe that's because I wake up too late to hear about all that. Instead, I get to catch:

• The on-going segment about how men cope being in their 50s (because "Today" reporter Matt Lauer, who is turning 50 soon, would like to know)

• Interesting myths about bathing

• Holiday gift ideas

• An interview with a guy who claims he's a serial-dating Casanova

• Actor Brad Pitt rebuilding houses for Hurricane Katrina victims

• A semi-boring segment about "Today" reporters tackling a few X-treme sports

• Oh, and about three minutes of national and world news somewhere in between all that.

But it's the holidays, right? Maybe "Today" is trying to give us a break from all the bad stuff that's happening. That's one reason I enjoy being a features reporter at the Herald. Amid all the tough news, we also offer stories that entertain and tell of good news.

— January Holmes

Monday, December 10, 2007

Living Christmas Tree: Talk of the town

If you were wondering where all of Bradenton disappeared to last Saturday night, a good many of them were at the opening performance of the 25th annual Living Christmas Tree at First Church of the Nazarene.

At least 1,000 people, if not more, packed the pews of the Bradenton church to see this enlightening holiday production.Extra seats had to be pulled out for the occasion. I was extremely lucky to get an aisle seat (a chair sitting next to a pew) in a good section about 15 minutes prior to the show. I had been advised that if you want to get a really good seat, you must arrive at least an hour early.

Plenty of great local talent was on display for the evening —- from the adorable kids who took the stage in song, to the teens who gave a 1960s and '70s-style tribute to Christmas. The adults didn't disappoint either, capturing the audience with a wonderful vocal cornucopia of hymns and southern gospel Christmas medleys, skits and the lighted Christmas tree.

You can imagine the energy it takes to put on such an exciting production night after night.

During my interviews for a story previewing the Living Christmas Tree, I learned that the 98-member choir stands on wooden platforms in the 30-foot tree for two-thirds of the performance, which can get awful tiring for some. Several church members still remember the time a choir member fainted one year from the exhaustion of standing up so long under the lights. She slipped down into the hollow backside of the tree and was attended to immediately. Since then, a paramedic stands under the tree for each performance —- just in case. There's been no incidents since, though.

As for the delightful music, worship pastor Scott Kelley told the audience he can't take credit for putting it together. He's only been with the church for about two months now, and it takes about a year to develop each new Living Christmas Tree program.

All that hard work really shows in this year's performance.

Performances continue this week: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $7. The church is located at 1616 59th St. in west Bradenton. For more information, call 794-1685.

— January Holmes

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sarasota Ballet gets high praise

Yes, I admit it. In the year that I have been here I had yet to see a Sarasota Ballet production — until last Saturday.

And I can tell you I was very impressed with what I saw.

Last weekend was the ballet's season opener and Iain Webb's debut as the new artistic director of the company. The program was comprised of George Balanchine's "Allegro Brillante" and the colorful "The Two Pigeons," by Sir Frederick Ashton.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one who thought the program was wonderful, as the audience gave a long applause and a standing ovation after Saturday's matinee performance at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota.

Especially eye-catching was "The Two Pigeons," a very sweet love story about a young girl trying to win the affection of a painter who is more concerned with working. But when a group of gypsies arrive with a beautiful woman that attracts his attention, the painter pretty much forgets about everybody else. Isn't that always the way?

I was amazed at some of the funnier moments in the ballet when the jealous young girl, delightfully portrayed by Lauren Strongin, almost gets in a fist fight with the beautiful gypsy.

More intriguing was the use of two live birds in the production, symbolizing the young girl and painter.

Though Webb, who has more than 30 years of dance under his belt, isn't a chorographer, he's brought some well-known chorographers and dancers from the ballet world (including his wife, Margaret Barbieri) to help stage these ballets that are rarely done in the United States. Their combined efforts made for a dazzling performance, displaying the unique and often beautiful choreography from both ballets.

I can't wait to see what else Webb has in store for the season. I'm sure he's winning over some new fans of the ballet company.

— January Holmes

Monday, December 3, 2007

Imus back on radio, but not in our area

Looks like the clock ran out on Don Imus' unemployment insurance (

As you might recall, MSNBC and CBS fired the radio personality (as he is euphemistically called in news wire stories) about eight months ago, after comments that he later referred to as "essentially reprehensible" and which you will not see repeated here.

Our phones were ringing this morning with queries about where listeners (as they are euphemistically called) could tune in once they heard the news he was back on the air as of 6 a.m. this morning.

You can't get Imus on the radio here in Manatee County, but thanks to the wonders of the Internet, you can hear him anywhere in the world. Go to

- Roberta Nelson