Tempers Flare Over NJ Transit Summer Train Schedule

BY  |  Thursday, May 25, 2017 11:00am  |  COMMENTS (3)

Everyone is angry and bitter about the announced summer reroutings to Hoboken for NJ Transit’s Morris & Essex trains—even the announcements about the reroutings.

The official news release from NJ Transit about the planned six-week shuffling of all M&E trains scheduled for Penn Station begins on a pissy note: “NJ Transit rail customers have been forced to deal with delays, derailments and unreliable service because Amtrak, which owns the tracks our service relies upon, has neglected the maintenance of its critical infrastructure for years.”

The announcement goes on to say, “Long overdue Amtrak track repair work will significantly disrupt travel this summer for customers who normally travel on the Morris & Essex Midtown Direct service to and from Penn Station New York.” (All Midtown Direct trains on the Montclair-Boonton Line will operate on regular weekday schedules with minor time changes to/from PSNY.)

And NJT’s approach was actually more civil than the one taken earlier on Tuesday by Gov. Chris Christie. The New York Times reported that Christie said, “We know we can’t trust Amtrak,” in an article that added, “Mr. Christie expressed no faith in Amtrak’s ability to keep any trains running on time. He said that he agreed with Mr. Cuomo that the long-term solution to the frequent disruptions and derailments at Penn Station is to replace Amtrak as the station’s operator, ‘given Amtrak’s duplicity, their dishonesty and their inability to keep this infrastructure in a state of good repair.’” Continue Reading

A Young Montclair Actress Stars in The Miracle Worker

BY  |  Friday, May 12, 2017 12:15pm  |  COMMENTS (0)

When Ayla Schwartz isn’t busy being a fourth-grader at Watchung Elementary School, she’s performing a miracle—Ayla is starring as Helen Keller in a new production of The Miracle Worker at the Queens Theatre.

At 10 years old, Ayla is getting her first opportunity to be part of a professional production, and The Miracle Worker is putting her to the test. In order to play Keller, who became deaf and blind when she was just 19 months old, Ayla did training with a disability coach and a fight choreographer, and even used a blindfold and earplugs during rehearsals to better understand how Keller experienced the world. Continue Reading

Everything Is Awesome on a Legoland Vacation

BY  |  Wednesday, May 10, 2017 1:00pm  |  COMMENTS (0)

If the contents of your house are at least 10% Lego, then your Master Builders will love a family vacation to the Legoland hotel and theme park in Florida.

Located in Winter Haven, FL (a short drive from the Orlando and Tampa airports), Legoland is on the grounds of Cypress Gardens, one of the first amusement park resorts in the state. The Lego folks bought up the property, rebuilt it the Lego way, and now everything about it is designed to delight kids 3 to 9 who can’t get enough of the plastic-brick stuff.

The hotel states its intentions as clearly as possible: The entrance is a fantasia of giant Lego characters, the lobby has a castle play area surrounded by a moat filled with thousands of colored bricks, and the pool has large-scale floating Legos in it so kids don’t have to stop building even while they swim.

Each floor of the hotel has a different Lego theme (Adventure, Pirates, Friends, etc.), and there are insanely complicated Lego creations everywhere they could possibly be. When we got into our room, our son was immediately met with a set of puzzles that revealed the code for a small safe near his bed, and inside were Lego kits, juice boxes, and activity books.

Even the elevators are fun: once the doors close, disco lights switch on and snippets of songs like “Dancing Queen,” “YMCA,” and “The Hustle” keep you moving until you get to your floor.

The hotel also has a pretty good “Brick Restaurant” buffet and daily activities for kids to work on cool projects and show off what they’ve built. The resort isn’t fancy or luxurious, but it hits its target audience like a ton of brick fun.

Of course, the real attraction is just next door: Legoland amusement park. Like the hotel, it’s overstuffed with cool Lego fun, including rides, shows and attractions built around Ninjago, Lego City, Brickbeard the Pirate, and even Duplo areas for little kids. The park has lots of rollercoasters and other thrill rides, but none of them are too much for little kids (and in fact would bore older kids—we didn’t see a single teenager with any family in the park). For an extra fee, there’s a water-park section at the back with lots of splashes and slides and such to cool off in the Florida heat.

Even though it’s an amusement park, there’s still a strong focus on the bricks and the builds. The Imagination Zone has giant Duplo renditions of Albert Einstein and a giraffe outside, and all sorts of projects for kids who want to make cars, buildings, and other creations. And the large-scale Lego creations on view are pretty amazing: there’s a full-size Ford Mustang made of Lego, several detailed scenes from Star Wars movies (plus life-size Darth Vader and R2-D2), and Miniland USA, which features scaled-down re-creations of the Vegas Strip, Midtown Manhattan, the Kennedy Space Center, and more. It’s hard not to be amazed by the hundreds of thousands (or more?) of bricks that are painstakingly put together all over the park.

Yes, you’ll hear “Everything Is Awesome” too many times while you’re there. But Legoland is a fun and totally awesome Florida family vacation for Lego fans.

For more information about Legoland Florida, visit www.legoland.com/florida.

A DeCamp Bus Driver’s Musical Ode to Montclair

BY  |  Monday, May 01, 2017 2:15pm  |  COMMENTS (1)

Riders of DeCamp bus No. 66 between Montclair and NYC might view the trip as a daily necessity, but the bus’ driver, Clifford M. Blackwell, finds it inspirational.

He’s been driving the 66 bus for the last seven years, the latest stop in a 38-year career as a bus operator, and his route drove him to write and record a jazzy local tribute, “My Old Town Montclair.”

The song is four minutes of swinging vocal jazz, and Blackwell says it’s inspired by the people who ride his bus each day: “The song chronicles the great accomplishments, achievements, and popularity of this little extraordinary, diverse community of wonderful professional people.”

Blackwell lives in Union with his wife Marceline (they have four adult children), and for more than 45 years he’s been a church musician and songwriter. “I was surrounded by music throughout my childhood,” he says. “My mom loved and sang opera and grew up in the Greater Bethany Baptist Church of Newark. My father also grew up in Bethany and loved jazz, 40s big bands and pop, and he was an avid listener of WBGO jazz radio.” Continue Reading

Montclair Artist C.J. Cohn Turns Divorce Into Art

BY  |  Monday, Apr 24, 2017 9:00am  |  COMMENTS (0)

For as long as there’s been love, there’s been heartbreak—and people turning that heartbreak into art. Which is exactly what Montclair artist C.J. Cohn has done in her new show at the Wade Maxx Gallery, “The Art of Divorce.”

Cohn, who has lived in Montclair for 20 years, says that following her divorce, her therapist “suggested I keep a journal or create art as a release—that was all I needed to hear.” So she began creating illustrations that helped her process what she calls the “daily emotional roller coaster of divorce.”

The works in the show are in mostly muted colors and depict figures that appear to come from fairy tales and classical myths—but with added visual cues of fractured hearts, and people pulling apart from each other and themselves. Continue Reading

Yance Ford Brings Strong Island to the Montclair Film Festival

BY  |  Friday, Apr 21, 2017 2:00pm  |  COMMENTS (0)

In 1992, Yance Ford’s brother William was murdered in a Long Island suburb. While reports of young black men being shot without consequence are part of the common conversation now, 25 years ago it was not the sort of story we paid attention to. But William is getting the attention he deserves in Strong Island, a documentary Yance made about the crime and its impact on his family. Yance is bringing the film to the Montclair Film Festival and is taking part in the “Emerging Black Voices” panel discussion on May 6.

At the time of William’s death, Yance and I were students at Hamilton College, where we’d become friends in our freshman-year dorm. I’ve been following the path of Strong Island on social media, which has included some major news: the film won a U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival, and Netflix bought the film for worldwide streaming later this year.

When I saw that Yance would be at the MFF discussing the film, I was thrilled to get a chance to interview him about the making of Strong Island. An edited version of our conversation follows.

When did you start Strong Island? When did you finish it?
My brother’s murder really started making its way into my work at Hamilton, as an art major, doing performance art pieces within months after he died. The work was rough as I continued to work through his death. But the film and my skill set came together in the early aughts. I began thinking very seriously about making a film. I was working interesting day jobs and ended up at the series POV, where I got to watch really amazing filmmakers do their work. So I worked up the courage to say, ‘OK, I’m starting this.’ I did my first interview in May 2008, got a grant on the basis of that interview, started working with my cinematographer, Alan Jacobsen, in 2010, and wrapped at the end of September 2016. From the time when I sat down in front of my computer and seriously took notes to when I got off the plane from Copenhagen with the locked picture it was 10 years. Continue Reading

Get Your Kicks With Red Bulls Soccer

BY  |  Tuesday, Mar 28, 2017 3:15pm

Spring soccer season is kicking off across Baristaville, and families who want some big-league inspiration can find it at Red Bull Arena.

The stadium in Harrison, NJ, holds up to 25,000 soccer fans who want to cheer for the home team, the New York Red Bulls. (Yes, just like the Giants and Jets, the Red Bulls are another NY squad that plays in Jersey…) And this is the real deal: the Red Bulls are part of Major League Soccer, which has 22 pro teams across North America.

Which means this isn’t like a trip to a minor-league ballpark. The focus is on the game (don’t expect a half-time show or lots of breaks with additional family entertainment), and the hot dogs cost $6. But the soccer is high-caliber, and kids can get the feeling of going to a major stadium sporting event without parents having to drop hundreds of dollars just for seats: tickets start at $15 for the top of the upper section and max out at around $60. But with only two levels in the stadium and clear sight lines everywhere, there aren’t really any bad seats in Red Bull Arena. Continue Reading

Montclair’s Forth Wanderers Rock Rachael Ray at SXSW

BY  |  Monday, Mar 27, 2017 9:30am

What does Rachael Ray do in her spare time? At this year’s SXSW festival, we learned that she likes to rock out to Montclair’s own Forth Wanderers.

The band made its first trip to Texas’ annual music and technology festival and earned the headline “Forth Wanderers Charm The Hell Out Of SXSW.” Guitarist Ben Guterl said that just getting to attend and play was a dream come true: “I’ve heard about it since 8th grade. It’s always been this huge milestone in my mind, and to make it down and play SWSW was kind of surreal.”

Even more surreal was one stop in the band’s 8-shows-in-6-days schedule: a live gig hosted by celebrity chef and TV host Rachael Ray.

“She was actually there, watched our set, and said she’s a big fan of us,” said Guterl. “She was in the front taking pictures, then cheering really hard after each song.”

Montclair was well-represented at this year’s festival, with Pinegrove side project Half Waif also in the mix.

So what does an up-and-coming local band do after playing to enthusiastic crowds in Austin? They hit the books—all of the Forth Wanderers are still in college, and they’re not letting recording and touring get in the way of school.

The band is recording when they get breaks from school, and they’re planning a summer tour out to Chicago and back. Guterl notes they’re making sure to really appreciate the big moments like SXSW along the way. “We have a crazy opportunity, and we want to take as much advantage of is as we reasonably can,” he says. “We want to have stories to tell. We want to enjoy it, tour when we can, keep recording, and just enjoy being a band.”

Summit House: a New Restaurant with a History

BY  |  Wednesday, Jan 25, 2017 12:15pm

summit house 2016When two New Jersey families began laying out plans to open the Summit House restaurant, making sure it fit into its surroundings in the town of Summit was a priority —so Dylan and Melissa Baker and Tyler and Sara Reeder headed for the Summit Historical Society.

Their research into the history of Summit House — both the name and the location — has informed some of the physical flavor of the restaurant.

There was a Summit House in the town starting in the mid-1800s, a boarding house on Maple Street and Morris Avenue (the current site of the Presbyterian Church) opened by town founder Jonathan Crane Bonnel. The boarding house burned down, but “Summit House” lived on as a name attached to several buildings, including a restaurant that closed its doors in 1970.

The new Summit House, which will feature seasonal menus in a neighborhood atmosphere when it opens in March, is at 395 Springfield Avenue, a spot with its own local history. The building was originally built as a YMCA in 1894, and the Y is still on site: the shell of a small swimming pool is a prominent feature in Summit House’s basement.

summit house 1906

“We’re striving to create a modern and thoughtful dining environment, and at the same time remind guests of the building’s rich history,” says Dylan Baker.“ The more than century-old exposed brick walls will help with that, and we’ve added other nods to 395 Springfield’s past, such as a black-and-white exterior reminiscent of the Fanny Farmer candy store, which stood here for more than 50 years.”

The building’s latest tenants are very much aware that even as they build out their restaurant space, from the address to the physical details, the history of the building is a key ingredient.

“We loved the idea of embracing that history, and a time when food came from local farmers, local butchers and local fisherman,” says Baker. “In renovating this amazing 120-year-old building and taking the Summit House name, we hope our guests feel as though we’ve peeled back time just a bit.”

For more information and updates, visit www.summithousenj.com.

THING-ONE Does Its Thing at Montclair’s Wellmont Theater

BY  |  Tuesday, Jan 10, 2017 2:45pm

thing1Montclair has music venues of all shapes and sizes, but The Wellmont Theater is a stage you only get to play when your band has made it. And THING-ONE has made it.

The band started in Spen Miles’ Glen Ridge basement, and after paying their dues at venues like Tierney’s Tavern, the now-defunct Bloomfield Avenue Cafe, local house parties and gigs at Montclair State, THING-ONE will be at the Wellmont on Saturday, February 25, opening for The Gin Blossoms.

“To be playing the Wellmont, a venue we grew up going to, will be pure glory,” says THING-ONE co-founder Joey Palestina, who remembers being in the crowd for The Flaming Lips, The National and Steely Dan—“They were all epic Wellmont shows.”

thing2Palestina started playing with Miles in the summer of 2003, and they put together a musically omnivorous sound that has evolved over years of playing and recording. Their initial music included hip-hop and jazz elements, and their latest EP, the three-track Fair Weather Friends, puts dance-rock beats under big melodies and hooks. Continue Reading

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Another "ground-level basement" (to get around the building height rules)?!

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