Five Favorites: Events

by Brian Jewell 14. December 2012 02:07

Courtesy CMA

If I had to choose, here are my five favorite events that I would recommend to anyone.

Fiesta San Antonio

During Fiesta, several large parades take place in locations throughout the city. There are flower parades, pet parades, the Fiesta Flambeau and more. My favorite memory of Fiesta is attending the Texas Cavaliers River Parade, a grand evening event that takes place on the beautiful San Antonio River Walk.

CMA Music Festival
Casual music fans can enjoy any given night in Nashville, Tennessee, but serious music-lovers come to town during the Country Music Association (CMA) Music Festival, which takes place over three days each June.

More than 100 country artists come to Nashville for the CMA festival, where they perform more than 40 hours of concerts. Some 60,000 music fans come out every year to enjoy the music and to meet their favorite artists during the Fan Fair.

Mardi Gras
The South punctuates winter with the celebration of Mardi Gras. Special Mardi Gras “krewes” celebrate with elaborate costumes, formal galas and lavish parades where they throw millions of plastic beads. The festivities are accompanied by plenty of fresh seafood and king cake, the traditional Mardi Gras dessert.

Mardi Gras is too big to be constrained to any one city. Although New Orleans is traditionally known as the capital of Fat Tuesday celebrations, I’ve been to great Mardi Gras parades in Shreveport, Louisiana; Biloxi, Mississippi; and Mobile, Alabama.

100 Miles of Lights
Virginia welcomes winter in style with 100 Miles of Lights, a coordinated series of holiday events that stretch from the Capitol in Richmond all the way through the Hampton Roads area to the Atlantic Coast.

Groups will find drive-through and walk-through light displays in parks, gardens and other public places. In Williamsburg, the colonial center of town is decked out in period Christmas trim, and the Grand Illumination celebration brings in Christmas with candlelight and fireworks.

Indianapolis 500 Festival
The Indianapolis 500 is one of the most famous events in auto racing, and the community celebrates with the 500 Festival. Throughout May, a series of 50 smaller events and programs take place around Indianapolis.

Some 300,000 spectators fill the streets of Indianapolis for the 500 Festival Parade, which features floats, costumed characters, celebrities and giant helium balloons. The 33 starting drivers for the auto race serve as grand marshals of the parade. Among the other events are foot races, a community festival and “Breakfast at the Brickyard” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Tags: ,

Travel Thoughts

Hard work makes great memories

by Brian Jewell 18. June 2012 22:14

The four hardest-working days of my year are coming up this month. But they don’t take place here at the office; in fact, they have nothing at all to do with my job.

I spend four hot, sweaty days each June on a farm in Wilmore, Kentucky, for the Ichthus Music Festival. This contemporary Christian music event is the oldest festival of its kind in the country, and it attracts up to 20,000 visitors from throughout the South and Midwest.

Ichthus is dear to my heart — I first went to Ichthus as a child with my brother and my father to see my favorite band perform. Throughout my teen years, the festival was the regular highlight of my summer. I would get excited just thinking about all of the music, the fun with my youth group, the junk food and the late-night camping. I always enjoyed the shows and appreciated the ministry that took place during the course of the weekend.

As an adult, I began to see Ichthus not just as a place to have fun, but also as a chance to volunteer and help make a difference in the lives of today’s youth. I’m now part of the festival’s steering committee and head up a team of volunteers who take care of the needs of the artists while they’re on the property.

The steering committee has been working since January to prepare for this year’s festival, but the real work starts when the gates open on Wednesday, June 20. The artists arrive early and leave late, which means that my team and I are on duty from 7 in the morning until whenever they leave, sometimes hours past midnight. The days are incredibly stressful and exhausting. And I love every minute of them.

I first went to Ichthus because I loved music; I began working with the organization because I love the ministry behind it. Each year, our work affects the lives of thousands of teenagers and young adults. It’s this combination of fun and ministry that makes the work so worthwhile and brings me back to the festival year after year.

I’m telling you all this because I see a lot of similarities between what I do at Ichthus and what you do as group travel leaders. Many people believe that traveling is all fun for you, but of course, you know better. Although it is fun, it’s also a ton of work. But the work is worthwhile, because you’re touching a lot of lives along the way.

So this travel season, when the stress mounts and the road gets long, remember the love of travel that got you started in the first place. And remember that the fruit of your group’s travels will long outlast the hard work it takes to make it happen.

Tags: ,

Travel Thoughts

Las Vegas welcomes the Smith Center

by Bob Hoelscher 7. May 2012 20:00

Despite the numerous visitor attractions for which Las Vegas is famous, one thing that the city did not have until recently was a first-class performing arts complex. This March all of that all changed with the opening of the $450 million Smith Center for the Performing Arts, located at Symphony Park, a new downtown development that was formerly occupied by extensive railroad yards. I got to visit this truly impressive facility this spring to explore the Smith Center’s performance venues. 
Like his other well-known projects, the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth and Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, the architect, David M. Schwarz, has designed the Smith Center in art deco style. For this design, he incorporated design elements that pay homage to the art deco features of Hoover Dam. No expense was spared in obtaining Indiana limestone for the exterior, fine Italian marble for the lobbies and foyers, plus custom fixtures, decorative artwork and sculpture, as well as state of the art technical resources. Crowning the center is a 47-bell Carillon Tower. Across the entrance driveway sits the lovely Symphony Park for another special outdoor events and exhibitions venue.  

The Smith Center intends to host a wide variety of performances, ranging from “Broadway” theatre productions (The Color Purple was in the midst of a one-week run during my visit), to popular, jazz, classical and “crossover” music artists, as well as other special attractions. Resident companies include the Las Vegas Philharmonic and the Nevada Ballet Theatre. 

An initial challenge with an overly “hot” sound (as the stage manager termed it) and the reported lack of bass response have apparently led to some mixed and negative reviews of the Reynolds Hall acoustics. However, the extensive efforts required to assure that any new performance space is optimally “tuned” are still underway, and the acoustics are sure to be improved as that process nears completion. Additional information is available through Amber Stidham, Public Relations Manager, who graciously guided me on an extended tour in early April.  Amber can be reached at

Exterior Art Deco Building Detail

Smith Center as Viewed from from Symphony Park

Reynolds Hall Lobby

Tags: , , , , , ,

Springtime in the Southwest

Macon Rocks

by Brian Jewell 10. April 2012 23:20

Macon sits at Georgia's intersectoin of history and music. There are plenty of great attractions to visit duirng a tour of the city, but my favorite during my short visit was The Big House: The Allman Brothers Band Museum.

The Allman Brothers were one of the pioneering bands in the music today called Southern Rock, blending traditional rock 'n' roll, country, jazz and blues styles. During the early 1970s, the band lived, wrote and rehearsed in a rented house on a hill overlooking downtwon Macon.

"They moved in here in 1970 as an unknown band," said E.J. Devokaitis, the museum's curator. "By the time they left in 1973, they were one of the most popular bands in the country, but they had lost their two leaders in motorcycle accidents."

Visitors to the house today will find that it has been transformed into a museum that pays tribute to the band and their musical achievements. Near the entrance, a television plays a continuous loop of live concert footage, helping to familiarize guests with the bands' characteristic dual-guitar solos and other signature sounds.

From there, galleries throughout the house help to tell the bands' story, illustrating it along with way with various instruments, props, costumes and other artifacts from the group's heyday. Music buffs will marvel at the numerous drums and unique electric guitars on display. Other exhibit areas deal with life on the road, the band's touring crew and the equipment necessary to stage a 1970s rock show.

Upstairs, two of the house's bedrooms have been re-decorated as they were during the band's time living there, with the help of one of the founding members' wives. Visitors can also see the re-created "getaway room," where the musicians and their families would escape the music business proceedings downstairs to relax in a typical 1970s "hippie's" den.

I'm not old enough to have remembered the Allman Brothers in their heydey. But after an hour exploring this museum, I came away with a great appreciation for these musicians and how they helped to shape the modern musical landscape.


The museum's front rooms now house museum displays.

An original Allman Brothers drum set.

Artwork memorializes the band and their era of rock 'n' roll.

Tags: , , , , , , ,


Dinner with a Dynasty

by Brian Jewell 26. February 2011 13:47

In Xi’an, a city of six million people in central China, the legacy of ancient emperors is still alive today. For many years, Xi’an was the imperial capital of China (the current capital is Beijing).

After flying to the city this morning, we spend our evening attending the Tang Dynasty Dinner Show. The Tang emperors ruled China from 618-907, during a time that has become known as the golden age of Chinese culture and civilization. The show presents many of the traditions of the period -- including music, costume and dance -- in vivid color.

If you’re a frequent group traveler, you’ve likely lost count of all the different dinner shows you’ve attended; this one though, was unforgettable. More than 100 dancers and musicians are involved in the production, playing Chinese instruments and music that date back more than 1,000 years. Though the sights and sounds were completely foreign to us Westerners, they were also beautiful and captivating.

This show is a first-rate production as well, with intricate staging and lighting. At one point, it actually rains on the stage; in the ending finale, actors representing the Tang emperor and his entourage parade majestically through the audience.

The more I travel in this country, the more I realize how much of its national identity comes from the imperial attitudes and dynasties of old. Perhaps understanding more of China’s past will inform the way we interact with them today.


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Wonders of China

pandorapandora braceletspandora charmspandora jewelrypandora beadspandora necklace

Category list