World’s Coolest Music Venues – My Top 3

If I write about the world’s coolest music venues, I know some people will expect buildings like the Sydney Opera House. So let’s get this out of the way: It’s not on the list. This list is for outdoor venues, and also places where you’re just as likely to hear the crushing, cranked-up roar of an Engl Powerball as you are a Stradivarius violin.

So let’s check out what made my list … and be sure to pitch in with your favorite venues and – just as importantly – who you want to see there!

Red Rocks Amphitheatre (Morrison, Colo., U.S.)

coolest concert venues
The amphitheater at Red Rocks in Colorado (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got the idea for this post after a spontaneous stop at Red Rocks near Denver. We were driving around and just happened to see the Red Rocks signs. And the venue blew me away. It looks like the planet Vulcan. Of course, music is probably illogical to Vulcans, so I can’t imagine they’d build it.

Unfortunately, it was a daytime visit and there wasn’t a show in progress.

Who I’d Like to Hear at Red Rocks: Rush. Red Rocks seems like it was built for Rush.

Pedreira Paulo Leminski (Curitiba, Brazil)

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The world’s coolest concert venues often do more than host concerts. Pedreira Paulo Leminski was the site of Curitiba’s 2014 FanFest: About 30,000 people would turn out to watch televised World Cup matches on an enormous screen. Then, local musicians would hit the stage. Everybody had a great time in the throes of World Cup Fever. And I had never even heard of it before I went to Curitiba.

Music fans here are surrounded by a pond, sheer quarry walls and an awesome slice of encroaching rain forest. And this gives this world’s coolest music venue  entry some serious mojo.

Who I’d like to hear at Pedreira Paulo Leminski: The Gathering. Their slower tempos would be less likely to ping off the quarry walls. And hearing them outdoors in the rainforest? Yeah, that works (even with a singer other than their original).

Dalhalla (Sweden)

coolest concert venues
An overview of Dalhalla. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sweden’s entry to my world’s coolest concert venue post features a moat and a pirate ship. That’s right -- a moat and a pirate ship. And yes, like Parque das Pedreiras, Dalhalla is a quarry. What a perfect re-use of a resource!

Some might argue that the moat prevents moshing. But I don’t go to metal concerts to have meatheads slam into me. Just let the sound wash over me, thanks very much. Seems like Dalhalla wouldn’t get much use in the winter considering the climate, though.

Who I’d Like to Hear at Dalhalla: Hammerfall, who the hell else? They’re even Swedish, so nobody could do the job better!

Winter Olympics Sports – My 5 Favorites

Winter Olympics
Jim Craig – a wall of coolness and my first sports hero.

The 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver are almost here, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I love the Winter Olympics just slightly more than the summer.

That’s because my first sports memory was of the 1980 games in Lake Placid, and Team USA’s "Miracle on Ice" against the Soviet Union. Jim Craig was my hero – yes, I eventually became a goalie, but in the Arizona roller hockey rinks rather than Chicago’s ice rinks. Tony Esposito eventually replaced Craig as my hero, but Craig came first.

Anyway, to celebrate the coming spectacle in Vancouver, here are my five favorite events (I’m equally happy watching men or women in all – also I want to know YOUR 5 favorites!):

Hockey – After that intro, I’m sure you had no doubt it would be my top pick. I understand hockey better than I understand any other sport. I see goals before they happen, and am rarely surprised when a puck goes in. There’s nothing cooler than seeing a goalie make an awesome save, or an old-school defender delivering an open-ice hip check. Sure, I love all the scoring and the "odd tussle" (as Don Cherry might say). But give me a tense, low-scoring game with a pair of brilliant goalies dueling it out.


Winter Olympics
English: American Athlete Tracy Mattes with the Olympic Torch at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. Mattes is a former USA star athlete who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009. She is currently Director of Global Programs for the World Olympians Association (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bobsled – I shouldn’t even have to explain why this Winter Olympics sport is cool. Really, skeleton and luge are also awesome. But the bobsled! Bullet-shaped, heavy, fast – there’s nothing like hearing it hurtle down a twisting, banked course. I can see why the Jamaicans wanted to do this so badly (and kind of bad, too). These cats are always on the ragged edge of control. More than any other sport, too, this is the one that I want to try. When I visited Park City, you could take a ride for $200. That’s a bit stiff, but I may cave in one day. It’s just too awesome.

Curling – I know, from two of the fastest sports to one of the slowest. But curling is way more awesome than you realize unless you’re Canadian. Watch the movie Men with Brooms and you will begin to understand the appeal. Bonus points – the Swedish women’s team picked the song "Hearts on Fire" by their countrymen and friendly local power metal band Hammerfall as their theme song in the last winter games. So what did Hammerfall and its likeable lineup do? They shot a cheesy-but-hysterical video with the team, of course! If only all bands were so self-deprecating. For the record, some of the team members were pretty hot. I’m just sayin’, guys --

Giant Slalom – This event rocks. Those skiers are freakishly awesome. If you don’t already know that, try skiing on their courses. They do runs at high speed that scare me at a granny’s pace. They are brave, skilled and super-strong. And it’s just flat-out fun to watch them rip down the course. I have to admit, crashes can be fun, too – but only if they don’t get hurt. There’s also incredible drama and tension with each run. It’s totally unpredictable.

Biathlon – Cross-country skiing + shooting = awesome. If you’ve never strapped on a set of cross-country skis, you may wonder why it’s a big deal. Well, it’s freakin’ hard. And it’s even pretty fun! The downhill sections will make you whoop for joy, but you don’t have the consequences of blazing down a black-diamond run on downhill skies and losing control. And this is a cardiovascular workout. It must be really rough to have your heart hammering and thighs burning while trying to shoot a target. Bring your gun up, take a deep breath to steady your nerves, put your finger on the trigger -- that all gets harder with your heart rate soaring. You’ll soon have a new appreciation for this Winter Olympics sport.

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5 Places to See the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights. Photo courtesy of the US DoD.

I’ve just made a decision: I need to see the Northern Lights. You know … the aurora borealis. Can you imagine how cool it must be to see that dark sky above you light up with multicolored swirls of electrons? The jury is still out and whether you can actually hear the aurora; it occurs about 60 miles into the sky, where the air is very thin for the passage of sound waves. But scientists still don’t discount the possibility that there might be some aural aspect to the aurora.

So here’s the downside: It’s best to see them in winter at high altitudes. And it’s gotta be dark out. That means that, if I want to see it, I’ll have to be fully prepared to freeze my goolies off. So, then, where I should I go to get a glimpse of the lights?

Here are some good candidates:

Jukkasjarvi, Sweden – It’s far north. It’s so secluded that you have to take a dogsled to reach it from Kiruna, the nearest city. It’s also home to the ICEHOTEL. That adds up to a safe bet to check out some serious aurora viewing. And maybe I could schedule a visit when Hammerfall is in action.

Oulu, Finland – The Northern Lights are such an attraction in Oulu that many hotels offer wake-up calls when they’re active. It’s not quite as secluded as some places, offering a lively night scene and lots of museums. Apparently, the light pollution isn’t enough to put a damper on the displays. And there are lots of Finns online boasting about how much Oulu rocks.

Iceland – This island nation is right in the circular path that defines the aurora’s favorite stomping grounds. Combine that with a sparse population, and you have good odds of seeing an unforgettable light show. When you’re not tripping out to the lights, the daytime offers geysers and volcanoes. It’s also easy to get to from the west, with Icelandair offering flights from Seattle.

Tromso, NorwayUS Airways is running some really good specials for flights to Norway. From Phoenix, the base price is something like $760. That’s a good incentive. Tromso also has a good reputation as a place with clear skies and minimal light pollution (only 50,000 people live there). Apparently, there are mountaintop viewing areas near the city, too. Oh, and there’s cross-country and alpine skiing!

Fairbanks, Alaska – Sure, you can see ’em in Juneau or Anchorage. But why not go a little further for what’s considered among the state’s better displays? The local hotels also offer packages for travelers who want to boost the odds of getting an awesome lightshow.