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Weekend Preview: The White Buffalo, Happy Houred, Pointsettia Display, And Whale Watching


We have holiday and non-holiday options for your weekend, including a singer-songwriter who goes by The White Buffalo, the Pointsettia display at Balboa Park, and the start of whale-watching season.

The San Diego Parade of Lights takes place on Sunday from 5:30-9pm.

The exhibit Surf Sacrifice, featuring the work of Chris Martino opens at the Project X: Art gallery in Solana Beach this weekend. The opening reception is Saturday night from 7-10.

Whale-watching options are provided by Hornblower Cruises, the San Diego Natural History Museum, and the Maritme Museum.

Game Night takes place on Sundays at Vin de Syrah in the Gaslamp.

New Year's Eve options:

Turquoise Bar Europa

Gala at the USS Midway.

First Night Escondido

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. We're closing in on the deep heart of the holiday season where people fall into one of two categories. You're either finally ready to embrace the season, or you've had enough ho-ho-hos to last until next year. Whichever category you belong in, we've got something for you on this week's Weekend Preview. I’d like to welcome my guests. Erin Chambers-Smith, senior editor of the Balboa Park Online Collaborative. Erin, welcome.

ERIN CHAMBERS-SMITH (Senior Editor, Balboa Park Online Collaborative): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: And Liz Bradshaw is the curator of The Loft at UCSD. She’s worked in the music industry for many years. Liz, welcome to These Days.

LIZ BRADSHAW (Curator, The Loft, UCSD): Hi.

CAVANAUGH: So, let’s start off with you, Liz, and a non-Christmas kind of a deal.

BRADSHAW: Non-Christmasy, unless there’s some Christmas songs thrown into the mix, which I have no idea.

CAVANAUGH: We can’t – we can’t deal with that.


CAVANAUGH: We just – But the act we’re talking about is White Buffalo, The White Buffalo…

BRADSHAW: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: …is – who is actually a singer/songwriter who is going to play the Casbah tonight. Why the name The White Buffalo?

BRADSHAW: Well, I thought you might ask me this, actually, so I did a bit of digging around. I actually had to go straight to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, because I couldn’t find it anywhere. But Jake Smith, who is The White Buffalo, thought his name lacked a bit of luster onstage and so from his mouth, he says it’s a big, rare, powerful American animal and it seemed fitting for his persona.

CAVANAUGH: He is a big man.

BRADSHAW: He is big. He’s a big, hairy man.

CAVANAUGH: Well, what kind of music are we talking about?

BRADSHAW: Well, I just described him as big, and everything about him is big. He’s a big, bluesy, soulful, gritty singer/songwriter. He performs acoustically, solo and with a band. And I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him a few times and actually presenting him. And he is just – he’s really, really captivating. He’s got a very kind of deep voice with a fantastic range. And, you know, along with doing some of those slower songs, he can really kind of belt out a good kind of jam tuning and get the audience going, too. So he’s a great artist.

CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s hear some of him. This is Jake Smith, also known as The White Buffalo with “Carnage.”

(audio clip of “Carnage” performed by The White Buffalo)

CAVANAUGH: That’s The White Buffalo, Jake Smith, singing “Carnage” from his album called “Hog-Tied Revisited.” Boy, after those nice little whistles, I did not see that voice coming.

BRADSHAW: Yeah, it comes a kind of – comes out of nowhere at you. He’s definitely, you know, a self-professed traditional sort of hard-living, storyteller telling you all about his life and, you know, life on the road.

CAVANAUGH: And are his songs basically sort of hard luck stories?

BRADSHAW: Yeah, they’re kind of like really good, traditional quite folky, very, very storytelling, you know, hard drinking, hard living, hard touring, I’m a big man. But actually he kind of seems like a bit of a teddy bear when you’re talking to him one-on-one, so…

CAVANAUGH: Well, people can see The White Buffalo tonight at the Casbah. Let’s move on to a Christmas item. The poinsettia display at Balboa Park. Erin, again, we need to tell listeners that you work for the Balboa Park Online Collaborative. Is this poinsettia display something they do every year?

CHAMBERS-SMITH: Yes, this is the annual poinsettia display in Balboa Park at the big, beautiful Botanical Gardens there, which was built back in 1915. It’s one of the largest wooden lathe structures still in existence today, and it’s that same sort of traditional poinsettia display that they do every year. We get lots and lots of queries about this on the Balboa Park website every year. People wait for it.

CAVANAUGH: Exactly. It’s sort of a tradition.


CAVANAUGH: Now, you know, we all know, you know, the red poinsettias, how can you actually put on a display? How varied is it?

CHAMBERS-SMITH: You know, I actually – I’ve been through it a couple of times and already this year, and it’s really pretty. Inside the Botanical Gardens it’s – they have them going up columns, they have them, the pots, sort of arranged so that they’re vertical. They have them the whole center display is all flushed out in red. When I was in there the other day, there was actually a mom with two little kids who had them all dressed up in their sweaters and she was sitting them in front of there and I’m almost positive taking their Christmas card photo right there. So it is kind of neat to walk in and see all the red. It looks very festive.

CAVANAUGH: Does it cost anything?

CHAMBERS-SMITH: No, that’s the other great thing about this, and it’s free. The Botanical Gardens are free all the time, even when the poinsettias are there, it’s free. The only thing to note is that is it not open on Thursdays. So you can’t go today but you can go Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday free.

CAVANAUGH: Good point. Now the park as a whole is very festive this time of year. What are some of your favorite holiday options in Balboa Park?

CHAMBERS-SMITH: Well, the zoo is really going all out this year. They have a whole sort of set up that takes over almost every part of the zoo called “Jungle Bells.” There’s an ice skating rink in the zoo, there’s different craft stations, there’s lights put up everywhere. And then the Museum of San Diego History is doing a really neat thing this weekend. On the 21st, actually that’s Monday, they’re doing a whole history of the gingerbread house and gingerbread carving, and it’s oriented towards kids so it’s only $5.00. Kids can come make a gingerbread house and learn about the history of it, so it’s kind of a fun, neat thing going on in the park. And the lights are up everywhere. It just fun to kind of wander through.

CAVANAUGH: The poinsettia display is on view at the Botanical Gardens in Balboa Park through January sixth but not on Thursdays. Now, Liz, it’s come to this. We’re recommending an iPhone app on the Weekend Preview. But this iPhone app is called Happy Hour. Why would people want this phone app? What can it do?

BRADSHAW: Well, I think it’s a very important after work application for iPhone users and fans of happy hours everywhere because this application basically takes the zip code, city or whatever you put into the search engine, it comes up with a good list of your local happy hours. So not only does it include the names of the bars but it includes what type of bar it is, what it’s good for. For instance, is it good for after work? Is it a dive bar? Is it a neighborhood bar? Do they serve food? And what kind of drinks do they serve? The contact details. And then it tells you the details about what the happy hour includes. So you can plan your happy hours before leaving the house, which…

CHAMBERS-SMITH: On the go. I just think that’s genius.

BRADSHAW: It’s absolutely fantastic. Especially…


BRADSHAW: …in a world where I’m fairly confident I’m not the only person who relies on, A, my phone, and, B, the internet to help me plan my life on a day to day basis.

CAVANAUGH: Now do you have to have an iPhone to use this?

BRADSHAW: You don’t, that’s the great thing. I actually just mentioned earlier, I’m not one of the iPhone users yet. But you can use this search engine online as well. Just and the application is free to download.

CAVANAUGH: That’s fabu – Now, this has been available in other cities for awhile. Why is San Diego getting it now? Any reason?

BRADSHAW: I believe it’s through popular demand.


BRADSHAW: Yeah, I had a bit of a scout around and I guess lots of people were just like, hey, why don’t we have this for San Diego? We’ve got loads of great bars, loads of great happy hours, you know, we need something like this to, you know, refer to in times of, you know, happy…

CAVANAUGH: In times of sad.

BRADSHAW: In times of sad.

CAVANAUGH: Now there is actually a party to kick off this iPhone app. Tell us about that.

BRADSHAW: A very aptly timed Happy Hour party…


BRADSHAW: …to – for the launch of Happy Hour. But it’s going to be at El Dorado cocktail bar downtown. The drinks are going to be supplied by El Dorado from six until eight and there’s going to be food from Alchemy, the North Park restaurant. So…

CHAMBERS-SMITH: That’s awesome.

BRADSHAW: …it’s going to be a great event, I think.

CAVANAUGH: And you don’t even need an app for it.

BRADSHAW: And you don’t need an…


BRADSHAW: …app for it. You just need to listen to this show.

CAVANAUGH: Erin, you’re going to tell us about another holiday tradition in San Diego. That is the bay – the Parade of Lights, the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights. Tell us about this water parade.

CHAMBERS-SMITH: Yes, so this is a very San Diego tradition. I love this every year. My family’s participated in this for years and years. It’s when all the boat owners and friends of boat owners and family of boat owners, they decorate their boats all throughout the harbor with lights strung up on the masts and all kinds of decorations and then they literally get in line and they parade all through the San Diego Bay.

CAVANAUGH: And what’s this year’s theme?

CHAMBERS-SMITH: This year’s theme is “Christmas at the Zoo.” So I’m thinking that you’ll probably…


CHAMBERS-SMITH: …see lots of Christmas animals up on people’s boats. I know a lot of people, boat owners, have dogs that enjoy being on their boats, so I’m sure you’ll see them dressed up with, you know, holiday gear.

CAVANAUGH: And when we say this is the Parade of Lights on the Bay, what actually is the parade route?

CHAMBERS-SMITH: Okay, so the parade starts way on the end of Shelter Island, so way out near Point Loma near the Navy base out there, and it runs all the way along Shelter Island all the way along Harbor Island then along the Embarcadero near the Star of India, down past Seaport Village, and then across the bay sort of not quite under the bridge but across the bay over to Coronado and then along the Coronado waterfront where the ferry landing is.

CAVANAUGH: Is there a really kind of best place to see these parade of boats?

CHAMBERS-SMITH: You know, I am a little bit biased towards Shelter Island. That’s where I’ve always watched it as a kid and, you know, sort of the rocky shore there along Shelter Island…

CAVANAUGH: Right, right.

CHAMBERS-SMITH: …and there’s the big, grassy areas there. You can set up a picnic. I will say you should get there pretty early because it’s pretty popular for families. It’s free. You can bring a picnic, set up your chairs there. And I also think Coronado’s a neat place to watch it because you can see the start of the parade in the distance and then it comes all the way around the harbor and then you get to see everything close up.

CAVANAUGH: And wear your longjohn. It gets cold.

CHAMBERS-SMITH: It definitely gets cold. And I’ve done the parade on the boat before, too, but on my parents’ boat doing it and there’s lots of cider and hot chocolate and if you – if you see the boat that goes along that has the big Ho-Ho-Ho lit up on it, that’s the Chambers-Smith family boat. And they yell ho-ho-ho and everybody on the shore usually yells ho-ho-ho back. So it’s a really fun tradition, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Part of a San Diego tradition.


CAVANAUGH: That’s very nice. The San Diego Parade of Lights takes place on Sunday from 5:30 to 9:00 p.m. Now we go to non-holiday. Liz, there’s a gallery in Solana Beach called Project X and they have a show opening this weekend called “Surf Sacrifice.” What can you tell us about it?

BRADSHAW: Yeah, well, I can tell you that Chris Martino, who’s the artist, he curated and also created this exhibition is – has been surfing for 20 years, he’s been in San Diego for 20 years. And the exhibit came about because when he first broke his first surfboard, he couldn’t bear to get rid of it. I don’t know if you’re a surfer, Maureen?


BRADSHAW: But I know that many surfers, myself included, you sort of have the board, you really grasp onto it, it’s really special to you. It’s really dear to your heart and it breaks and what do you do with it? And he couldn’t bear to get rid of it so he started to create pieces of art out of these broken surfboards. So almost kind of creating a shrine to the art of surfing, and it’s something really personal, I think, to surfers to do. And so this exhibit is made up of about 20 different boards that have all been made into big pieces of artwork. There’s definitely Chris’ kind of layering style and a pop art theme running through them. Some of them have got a bit of Tiki going on. And so there’ll be an art opening for that at Project X gallery this Saturday.

CAVANAUGH: And you can go online and you can see some of Chris Martino’s work and the thing is that’s interesting about it is it’s so colorful. It’s so, I mean, amazingly colorful.

BRADSHAW: It’s – This particular one is very, very colorful. And it’s actually kind of slightly removed from the type of work that he usually does. He describes himself as taking influences from band and street art and graffiti style, using a lot of layering, a lot of stencils, works with mixed media. And so, you know, he actually has a collection called “Not Quite Pop Art”…


BRADSHAW: …which I really liked and that’s super colorful and really clean and really, really fun so…

CAVANAUGH: Now I don’t know much about this gallery Project X in Solana Beach. Can you fill me in?

BRADSHAW: Yeah, well, Project X is actually—and I found this out yesterday—is actually something that was set up by Chris Martino and his wife as an opportunity to feature and showcase urban, underground, alternative and contemporary artists in the north county area. The Project X gallery is located in Solana Beach, which – in the design district, which is, you know, more traditionally slightly more, you know, kind of traditional, slightly more highbrow, more conservative. And so he wanted to throw a bit of a North Park vibe into the heart of north county.

CAVANAUGH: Interesting.


CAVANAUGH: The exhibit “Surf Sacrifice,” featuring the work of Chris Martino, opens at Project X art gallery in Solana Beach this weekend. The opening reception, Saturday night from 7:00 to 10:00. Well, Erin, this is not exactly holiday related but whale watching season started on the 12th.


CAVANAUGH: What are our options in San Diego for whale watching?

CHAMBERS-SMITH: There’s many options. The two largest companies that do it are San Diego Harbor Excursion and the Hornblower, which most people know about. But Google is your friend on this one as well. If you just Google, you know, whale watching San Diego, there’s several smaller tour companies. Even some of the charter sailboat companies will take you out on a sail to do it. So many options, and one of the funnest options, especially for kids, is to head out to Cabrillo Monument and take your binoculars and watch for the spouts yourself off the Point there.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I was going to ask you the price range but I guess it starts from free to…


CAVANAUGH: …what is – what are – if you get on like a cruise or something to go whale watching, what do you – what should you expect to pay?

CHAMBERS-SMITH: It ranges between $16.00 and $37.00 for the Hornblower cruises, which are sort of the most mainstream ones. That’s for kids and there’s a discount for seniors, so – and it also gets a little bit more expensive on the weekends. But the – You’ll never pay more than $37.00 on the Hornblower, and that just pretty much gets you on the boat. The Harbor Excursion ones, they’re affiliated with the Birch Aquarium so they have guides affiliated with the Birch Aquarium that do the talk, and then the Hornblower is affiliated with the San Diego Natural History Museum. So you’ll get an expert guide with you, and most of them have concessions on the boat, too, where you can buy a bag of chips or a coffee or something like that while you’re out there.

CAVANAUGH: You know, a lot of people that I’ve known who’ve gone on whale watching excursions never see any whales.

CHAMBERS-SMITH: Well, and this year they say – the Hornblower says that they guarantee whale sightings and if you don’t see any whales, then they’ll give you a voucher to come back a second time…


CHAMBERS-SMITH: …to see them, and so they say that you’ll see them. You’ll also see harbor seals out there, you know, hanging out on the buoys and I actually read a report, I think it was in San Diego News Network or one of the local news stations that the last excursion out over this past weekend, they actually saw orcas out there, which I guess is very rare but they do – they’re predators for the gray whales and so I guess they ended – they were in the area sort of preying on the gray whales that were migrating. So that was kind of an exciting sight, too.

CAVANAUGH: Now, have you been out on one of these cruises?

CHAMBERS-SMITH: Umm-hmm, several. I’ve been out on several. And, you know, sometimes they are kind of slow and if you get seasick, you definitely want to take your seasick medicine because you’re kind of bobbing and you go pretty far out. I think the orca sightings were 6 or 9 miles out off the coast. So you definitely go way out there. But they’re fun.


CHAMBERS-SMITH: I like them.

CAVANAUGH: Whale watching options are provided by Hornblower Cruises, the San Diego Natural History Museum, and the Maritime Museum. Liz, you are a board game fan because you want to recommend Game Night at a bar in the Gaslamp. What happens at Game Night?

BRADSHAW: Well, at Game Night, it is Syrah, Vin de Syrah’s Alternative Game Night. They don’t have any TVs in the bar so if you’re not really interested in watching football or those other Sunday sporting type activities, you can go down and have a good old-fashioned game of Scrabbles (sic) or Clue or Apples to Apples with your friends and family and have a glass of wine and a snack at the same time.

CAVANAUGH: That – Are there many places like this or is it just Vin de Syrah?

BRADSHAW: Well, I believe there are quite a few Game Nights…


BRADSHAW: …Board Game Nights that happen around town. It’s quite a fun thing to do. Everybody’s doing like the throwback, retro right now.

CHAMBERS-SMITH: Yeah, I know there’s a bar in South Park called the Whistle Stop and I know on Tuesdays they have a Game Night where – and they’re famous for their big, oversized Connect 4 sets that they have. You can play Connect 4 there. There’s a pub I know that, Liz, you know about, too, Shakepeare’s, they have a great Quiz Night, a trivia night.

BRADSHAW: They do, which I was very, very excited to find out about because being from the U.K. obviously I’m a big fan of the traditional pub quiz. So I was very pleased to find out they have a – Once a month, they have a Music Quiz and then once a month, they have just a general knowledge Trivia Quiz, too.

CHAMBERS-SMITH: And it happens that that one is this Sunday. The once a month one happens to be this Sunday, the Quiz Night at Shakespeare’s.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, that’s funny. Now if you go down to Vin de Syrah…

BRADSHAW: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: …and you want to take part in Game Night, do you have to bring your own gamers with you or can you get people there?

BRADSHAW: Well, I think traditionally people come along with people to play games with but I don’t know, you know, if there’s anything stopping you to challenge the person at the table next to you to a game of Clue.

CHAMBERS-SMITH: I think Liz might’ve done this before. I’m sensing a little competition.

CAVANAUGH: Now it seems like one of the draws for Vin de Syrah is its décor. Could you describe it for us?

BRADSHAW: Well, it’s Alice in Wonderland all over. From the minute you walk down the stairs to the basement, you’re, you know, aka the Rabbit Warren, you have to kind of feel your way to find the door. The wall and the door is covered in this faux ivy at the bottom of this stairwell and so you eventually find the door and you go in and you realize that people have been watching you trying to find the door on CCTV that’s been linked into the bar. So that’s quite an experience.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, especially after a few glasses of wine.

BRADSHAW: Oh, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: I’m thinking that might be fun.

BRADSHAW: Yeah, best make that the first stop on your trip around town. And then you get in there and there’s big fireplaces, there’s the Mad Hatter’s long banquet table. There’s huge, high-back chairs. It’s really fantastic, actually, in terms of, you know, something slightly different to go to. You know, so it’s a big talking point from the minute you get in there, is just the furniture…


BRADSHAW: …and the style and the ambiance of the bar.

CAVANAUGH: And, Erin, you’ve been there, too.

CHAMBERS-SMITH: I have, yes. It is, it’s very striking and I like that their wine list is really amazing, their staff. Every time I’ve been there, their staff has been really good about pairing because they really are kind of…

BRADSHAW: Umm-hmm.

CHAMBERS-SMITH: …focused on wine. And they have lots of small plates and charcuterie and cheese and nibbles and things you can get, too.

CAVANAUGH: Well, we – the one establishment we’ve been talking about is Vin de Syrah and the Game Night takes place on Sundays and Vin de Syrah is in the Gaslamp. Now, it’s not too early, in fact, it’s about the right time to start planning for New Year’s Eve if you haven’t done so already. Erin, tell us some suggestions that you have.

CHAMBERS-SMITH: Well, I brought three different options and it definitely is time to make reservations if you are planning to go out.


CHAMBERS-SMITH: In north Pacific Beach, there’s a really neat little bar called Turquoise, Turquoise Bar Europa, it reminds me of a little corner bar in Spain somewhere, very European feeling. And they have a really neat thing going on New Year’s Eve, the Noche de Cabaret. They’re flying in a Latin cabaret revue from Vegas.


CHAMBERS-SMITH: So there’s going to be dancing and music, and it’s between $50 and $100 for a ticket and that includes food and wine and a toast at midnight.

BRADSHAW: And I would add to that, I live in Pacific Beach, actually, but I really find that going to Café Bar Europa is actually not like going to – it’s like leaving Pacific Beach…


BRADSHAW: …and going somewhere completely different, which…

CAVANAUGH: Interesting.

BRADSHAW: …I, personally, you know, like. It definitely gets you away from the more college oriented bars on the strip there. So it’s really fun.

CHAMBERS-SMITH: It’s much farther north than the Garnet Avenue scene.

BRADSHAW: Umm-hmm.

CHAMBERS-SMITH: It’s on Turquoise Street so to almost sort of Birdrock.

CAVANAUGH: Interesting. And what else?

CHAMBERS-SMITH: Then there’s a black tie event aboard the USS Midway, the big floating aircraft carrier museum. And this is fun if you want to go all out. Tickets are over $150. I think they’re $159 bucks. But it’s black tie optional. They’re going to have champagne and a band and very sort of old school romantic, high class, high end, really want to celebrate the end of 2009. That’s a great option.

CAVANAUGH: That really does sound like something. Now, can you still get in there, do you think?

CHAMBERS-SMITH: Yeah, you can still buy tickets right now but they always sell out every year and it does have a maximum capacity. But I don’t know if you’ve ever been to an event out on the Midway. It holds a lot of people, so it’s definitely a big sort of fun, big party vibe out there.

CAVANAUGH: And for people who like a family-oriented…


CAVANAUGH: …nonalcoholic…


CAVANAUGH: …New Year’s Eve, tell us about that.

CHAMBERS-SMITH: It’s nice to find an option where it’s not all about alcohol and champagne. And up at the First Night Escondido celebration, I mean, it’s just an all-out family affair. It starts at the California Center for the Arts and it stretches all along that street up in Escondido. There’s craft stations for kids, there’s dancing, there’s live bands, and what I love about this, too, for families is they have a fireworks display early, at 9:00 p.m. So you don’t have to wait until midnight to celebrate if you want to get home and get the kids in bed. And there is no alcohol at this one but there is food to be had. So that’s a really fun, almost kind of like a big block party up in Encinitas for families and kids.

CAVANAUGH: Well, that’s fantastic and I want to tell everyone, you know, you can find links to all of – everything that we’ve been talking about if you go to Ladies, thank you.


BRADSHAW: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with Erin Chambers-Smith, senior editor of the Balboa Park Online Collaborative, and Liz Bradshaw, curator at The Loft at UCSD. Thanks so much for coming in. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.

CHAMBERS-SMITH: Thank you. Happy holidays.

BRADSHAW: Merry Christmas.

CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know that These Days is produced by Angela Carone, Hank Crook, Pat Finn, Megan Burke, Josette Herdell, Sharon Heilbrunn, senior producer is Natalie Walsh. Production Manager is Kurt Kohnen, with technical assistance from Tim Felten. Our production assistants are Jordan Wicht and Rachel Ferguson. The executive producer of These Days is John Decker. I’m Maureen Cavanaugh. Have a wonderful, happy holiday. I hope you enjoy the rest of the week. You have been listening to These Days on KPBS.

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