Cory Branan and Jon Snodgrass at Rain Dogs

13 01 2015

Cory Branan and Jon Snodgrass played another outstanding show in Jacksonville last month. I covered it for the excellent website Shows I Go To. Take a gander.

Biking the Cady Way

30 12 2014

Cross Seminole Trail

It is easier to stay motivated to work out on the regular if you have something to train for, a goal that you eventually want to achieve at the end of this daily mix of pleasure and pain. For some folks it is a Tough Mudder competition, others a 5K or even a marathon. For me it is a bicycling trip from the border of Utah and Arizona, to the former’s capital, Salt Lake City. Spare me the naysaying. I know it is a long way. I know that the terrain is hilly at best and mostly mountainous. That I will be doing this is a forgone conclusion. The question is, how will I train?

Florida has a ton of potential to be a great place to bike- flat terrain and great weather. Of course, two things hold it back from achieving that potential. Its towns are spread out, and its electorate is generally averse to any government investment in the common good. Bikes need infrastructure to be a viable form of transportation. Bike lanes, traffic signals and places to chain up are as necessary as they are costly. But those obstacles cannot stand in the way of increased awareness and effort with regard to the benefits of cycling on society. More investment in bicycle infrastructure has the potential to thwart obesity, make us a happier society, and consequently, lead to lower health care costs- retiree voters be damned.

Fortunately, there are some great places to ride in Florida. Jacksonville has the gorgeous Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail; and Orlando is home to the awesome Cady Way and Cross Seminole Trails. Florida is synonymous with urban sprawl, and no place lends more credence to that stereotype than Orlando. Tourists and business people are often introduced to Central Florida through international Drive or Disney, so they seldom have a chance to experience funky Audubon Park, the up and coming Milk District, or the eclectic Mills 50 area.

The Cady Way Trail cuts right through Orlando, connecting with the Cross Seminole Trail, and heading all the way into Oviedo. It begins near the Fashion Square Mall (at the end of Primrose Drive), right in the heart of the big box store hell of Colonial Drive, and bleeds into the Seminole Cross Trail some fifteen miles later. Along the way you are treated to meandering creeks, average neighborhoods, golf courses, and major highways. Its scenery is diverse and contrary to the stereotype of Orlando. We need more trails like that of Cady Way, but it is an outstanding start- a well-paved, solidly-marked path that takes a rider away from the hustle toward physical and mental health.

Love’s the Only Thing That Ever Saved My Life: Sturgill Simpson at Jack Rabbits

22 11 2014

“Marijuana, LSD, Psilocybin, and DMT/They all changed the way I see/But love’s the only thing that ever saved my life.”

-Sturgill Simpson in his poetic masterpiece Turtles All the Way Down the Line

That was going to be my hook for this post. Shit, it does the trick, right? But during the process of ensuring that I quoted Sturgill properly, I Googled the lyrics to the song. Spend a couple of minutes with this-

I’ve seen Jesus play with flames in a lake of fire that I was standing in/Met the devil in Seattle and spent nine months inside the lion’s den/Met Buddha yet another time/And he showed me a glowing light within/But I swear that God is there every time I glare in the eyes of my best friend…

     There’s a gateway in our minds that leads somewhere out there, far beyond this plane/Where reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain

Those lyrics ain’t exactly Top 40 material. Yet Sturgill Simpson humbly and graciously pointed out mid-set at Jack Rabbits last month that two artists had more than one album on the Billboard charts at the time of that show- Sturgill and Taylor Swift.

For juxtaposition’s sake-

‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play/And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate/Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake/I shake it off –Taylor Swift

Such is the good and somewhat befuddling of American society. We are huge and diverse and we sell out Jack Rabbits on a Sunday night for a guy who managed some semblance of mainstream success with lyrics like, When reptile aliens made of light/cut you open and pull out all your pain, while simultaneously making a multi-millionaire out of Kim Kardashian.

To each their own, but meanwhile Sturgill Simpson is our time and place’s answer to Steve Earle or Waylon Jennings or any number of transcendental talents who made us think about country music in a different way- genre-bending bad asses that completely reinvented tunes of a certain bent.

He undeniably sounds a lot like Waylon- a fact that Sturgill begrudgingly acknowledged mid-set when he declared that Jacksonville would be witnessing the last time that he would cover Watasha, and then proceeded to melt our faces with an outstanding version of Waymore’s Blues.

Comparisons aside, Sturgill Simpson stands soundly on his own two feet. There are few singers or songwriters in roots music who can hold a candle to Waylon Jennings. So far in his rise to prominence, Sturgill Simpson belongs in that breath. He put on the kind of show that keeps a working man out beyond his bedtime and leaves him buzzing for days subsequent. We witnessed slam poetry for the intellectual Southern set that night- a beautiful moment that is unlikely to be recaptured due to the size of venues that Sturgill now rightly commands. Here’s to hoping that the tides of popular sentiment allow the Sturgill Simpson’s of the world to keep pace with the starlets of pop.

Ay-Ay rdwolf

19 10 2014

Photo copyright Kris Osborne


When Aardwolf Brewing first opened, I thought it might be just another pretty face. Its exposed brick taproom in an old, original Florida Ice House next to the railroad tracks in San Marco is almost swanky it’s so cool. And it feels damn good in there. Like most breweries, they started out offering only brews from elsewhere. When that tap list shifted to their own beers, I was excited, and then disappointed.

Craft breweries ought to nail an IPA, right? The other places in Jax did just that. Intuition has its I-10, Green Room boasts the solid Head High, and Engine 15 crushes most with their Old Battle Axe. But Aardwolf rolled out an IPA and a Belgian Pale that are good but not special. And, its San Marco location seemed like a bit of an imposition considering I live within walking distance of Intuition and Bold City Breweries and only get around on two wheels.

So it had been a while between visits when we made our way back there this weekend. My incredible girlfriend had a rare Friday night off, so we enjoyed a delicious night at Corner Taco and a classy stop at The Parlour, but it was Aardwolf that stuck its head out above the others. We intended to just make a quick stop there on our way to Grape and Grain, but that’s where things got complicated.

I didn’t recognize most of the beers on the chalkboard menu, all of which I eventually determined are new-to-me creations of Aardwolf. Fortunately, they offer reasonably priced flights so we each sampled three- me trying IPAs and a Black Ale, her running with a sour/farmhouse theme. Everything we consumed was delicious. The Stormageddon Black Ale is outstanding, and the How Heavy This Hop collaboration with Pinglehead in Orange Park is a special Imperial IPA that holds weight against any in the style.

Aardwolf expertly illustrates the principle that first impressions should only matter so much. They are making great beer in a wonderful atmosphere with fantastic service in a neighborhood whose charm is often overlooked. And with events like the Green Lion Festival and weekly visits from food trucks, Aardwolf Brewing should continue to be much more than just a pretty face.

Reluctantly Quiet

22 05 2014


I haven’t written as much since I moved back to Jacksonville two years ago. That’s not because I have less culture to write about in this town. Hell, I have yet to pen a word about O’Brothers, Burro Bar, The St. Johns River, the Jaguars franchise, Chomp Chomp, Rain Dogs, Birdie’s, and on and on. No, the reason I have been so much less prolific is that my ethos has shifted from a man who has a job to a man who has a career. It happened because I fell deeply in love with this community. It happened because I fell deeply in love with the kids who are growing up on the North side of Jacksonville without the guidance of parents who regularly model good reading to them and who have to work at night and/or all day plus some to put food on the table- kids who do not eat unless they come to school for government subsidized “meals” of processed pasta and snacks of Sun Chips.

No, I don’t write as much about the finer things in life because I am bombarded on a daily basis by images of a failed education system that perpetuates poverty and disease for poor folks who are disproportionately black or Hispanic. I would love to say more about the musical oasis that is Tanquery’s in downtown Orlando- a gorgeous port among the cheesy falsehoods of that city’s urban core. Or, wax philosophical about how Memorial Park brings people of all races and creeds together on one level plain in Jacksonville’s Riverside. But, those are not topics on which I feel like I have the time to muse because the life or death reality of my job punches me in the face all day, every day.

Mind you, I am not complaining. I could do anything and live anywhere. Such is the privilege into which I was born. But this shit is a calling that rivals only the love that I feel for my future wife. We must all be concerned and we must all take action in our own way. Poor black folks may not be in the every day consciousness of white folks on the Southside, but do not dismiss the fact that the destiny of my students can be altered by better government at the local level and an awareness among property owners in this state.

If you need a more practical reason to give a damn- my kids will rob you some day if you don’t do something different. Not all of them, but many of them will end up so desperate and downtrodden that they will turn to the gangs and other unsavory, bitch-laden affiliations that have been tugging at their attention for years before they enter the impressionable season of the seventh grade. Whether inspired by self preservation or the human concern for the less fortunate, something must drastically change. It’s happening at my school, but that’s not enough.

Florida needs a sea change. It is long past time that people think about the legacy of their state. Whether you moved here to retire or spent your whole life going muddin’ and stepping around cypress knees while you wade in shallow water, you bear responsibility for the future of our state. It is not okay to move here from Ohio and think that your choices have no consequences. Own your impact on the future. It’s not an easy glimpse in the mirror for any of us, but our state will not survive without a self-evaluation befitting the gravity of the problem.

The Fight Against Food Trucks?

26 02 2014

Dear President Gulliford,

My job ranks among a small handful of critical tasks that are in perpetual need of talented and dedicated individuals to service Jacksonville. The communities on Jacksonville’s Northwest side have long suffered from a dearth of creative, intelligent, and (most importantly) devoted educators in its schools. Teachers come in fired up to help, and then either become complacent to maintain the status quo against considerable odds, or give up altogether. Consequently, students from those communities are at a disadvantage when it comes to gaining the education needed to live health, happy, fulfilling lives by either reinvesting in their own communities or pursuing opportunities elsewhere. Young teachers do not stay in the profession because they get tired of being beaten down every day by a system that forsakes student achievement and teacher sustainability.

But, Jacksonville has a lot to offer that young, passionate teacher- a beautiful setting on the river, good people, parks in which they can play with their friends and family, great restaurants, a vibrant live music scene, the NFL, and, yes, food trucks. Cities like San Fransisco, Austin, Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Washington D.C. – all bastions of hip culture – have long embraced mobile food vendors as low cost outlets for culinary creativity to get off the ground in a hyper-competitive American economy. Fortunately, Jacksonville has followed suit and our own food truck scene is to be envied, having even given rise to some of the more creative and interesting restaurants in town- Pele’s Wood Fire Pizza and the Blind Fig among them.

If Jacksonville is to remain the Bold New City of the South, we must continue to embrace the kinds of things that will attract new and retain current talent. The uproar over an attempted ordinance to effectively snuff out food trucks is not rooted in a passion for mobile grub so much as it is the manifestation of a community that is ready to celebrate its considerable strengths while continuing to build a twenty first century city that is no longer mistaken as a hillbilly hamlet. There is no good reason to outlaw food trucks. But, there is great reason to expect that Jacksonville can continue to move forward if the City Council does its part to support innovation in the culinary arts and beyond.

I intend to teach in Northwest Jacksonville for the rest of my career. And I intend to encourage others to join for decades to come. But, that is going to be a hard sell if our town begins to turn its back on simple, unassailable progress just for the sake of resistance to change. Please encourage your fellow council members to join you in voting against Ordinance 2014.


James T. Payton III

New Year’s Eve with Antique Animals at Underbelly Live

18 01 2014


Joe Shuck’s voice sounds like a freight train driven by Kurt Cobain running over a mutant grizzly bear. It’s gritty and soulful and it grabs you from the first song in the set and doesn’t let go until his band, Antique Animals, has fully sated you. Shuck is a rockstar in the tradition of Sid Vicious or Jimi Hendrix- intoxicated and intoxicating, a throwback to punk rock and soul, stumbling that tightrope half-drunk. And when his narrator tells a man about the things that are happening between “Me and your daughter”, you believe him. In fact, the whole show seems real- like dude is unencumbered by pretense or the attempt to impress anyone. He professes his love for the audience and the band and everyone returns the gesture in kind. Trumpet, drums, guitar, bass, vocals, and audience all working with the common goal of living in a passionate moment.

My New Year’s Eve was supposed to include the legendary Greg Allman with the legendary-in-my-mind J.J. Grey and Mofro. But, we waited too long to buy tickets and that show sold out. So my friends and I were left with finding a plan B. I wanted to see Antique Animals on New Year’s Eve last year, but a girl got involved and messed that up. This year I am fortunate to have a woman in my life who, far from discouraging me to do such things, wholeheartedly supports such ideas. And a wildly successful idea it proved to be. Antique Animals put on the kind of show that you want on New Year’s Eve- fun and energetic, with a perfect mix of originals and not-so-obvious covers like an outstanding version of Nine Inch Nails’s Closer. It was a fitting end to a year that brought opportunity and change- a year that proved to be dynamic and trying, but ultimately beautiful. Cheers.