AwesomeCon is this Weekend!

It wasn’t so long ago that liking comics, science fiction or any other aspect of “geek” culture would get you wedgied, swirlied or otherwise quietly ostracized from mainstream social circles.

How the wheel has turned!

Nowadays, if you tell people around the office water cooler that you didn’t see the last Avengers movie, they’ll look at you like you just said you don’t have indoor plumbing in your house, and then, after you leave, quietly whisper to each other that you’re an elitist.

Are things better or worse now? Hard to say.

The lines are definitely longer at AwesomeCon, though, which is happening this coming weekend at the Convention Center downtown. What started in 2013 as a relatively small fan convention has mushroomed into a major DMV cultural event, complete with a roster of guests including Weird Al Yankovic, four cast members of Star Trek: the Next Generation, and the guy who played Hercules in that Xena spinoff from the ’90s.

Fans of Marina Sirtis, the benevolent and busty Counselor Deanna Troi, will be excited to know that she is on the list. Also on tap: Brent Spiner (Commander Data, the modern version of the emotionless Mr. Spock), Gates McFadden (Dr. Beverly Crusher, a somewhat dull character who writers kept interest alive in by creating some sexual tension between her and Captain Jean-Luc Picard) and Jonathan Frakes (Commander William Riker, aka No. 1, another bland character).

Older movie buffs will be excited to see Ralph Macchio, the original Karate Kid, at the convention. If you decide to buy an autograph for $40, ask him about what it was like working with Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny.

Even older comics fans will remember Lou Ferrigno, the hulkier half of The Incredible Hulk, a 1970s TV series also starring Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner, the Hulk before he gets angry.

Kelly Lebrock will be there because she was in Weird Science, but she will always be better remembered for that ’80s Pantene shampoo commercial where she says, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” If you go and you find she is no longer beautiful, please be kind, despite the temptation to taunt her.

Although we haven’t heard much from him lately, revered and respected actor Anthony Michael Hall, star of coming-of-age iconic classics such as The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, will also be in attendance, probably talking more about his roles in Weird Science, Edward Scissorhands and The Dead Zone.

Another serious and beloved actor of his time, Val Kilmer, best known for his portrayal of Jim Morrison in The Doors movie and his appearance alongside Tom Cruise in Top Gun, has also been reduced to signing autographs for money on the weekends, although his John Hancock is $75.

Somewhat curiously, James Brindenstine, NASA administrator appointed during the Trump administration, will also be in attendance.

Maybe the guest list’s not exactly chock full of A-listers, and maybe geek culture isn’t quite totally mainstream just yet, but AwesomeCon’s guest list might be the most eclectic ever compiled.

If only they’d gotten Worf …

AwesomeCon, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Place NW; Friday, April 26, noon-8 p.m.; Saturday, April 27, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, April 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; tickets, $15-$999.


Party at the Anthem for NFL Draft

If you’re a good planner — and you’re lucky — you already have your tickets for Redskins Draft Night at the Anthem this Thursday.

Doors open for this big NFL draft party at 6:30 p.m. First up is the Redskins marching band, followed by the First Ladies of Football cheerleaders at 7. Several Redskins players will be on hand for the event, including Adrian Peterson, Jonathan Allen, Ryan Kerrigan, Ryan Anderson, Matt Ioannidis, Tim Settle, Trey Quinn and Chris Thompson.

The evening’s host is popular Hot 99.5 DJ Elizabethany, also host of Hail to the Siblings, a podcast that focuses on interviewing those on the outskirts of the local football scene, such as a famous tailgate party host, legendary fans and wives of players.

Lending Elizabethany a hand will be Sunni from WPGC 95.5 and Bram Weinstein formerly of ESPN, now host of Fox 5’s Like it or Not.

The draft starts at 8 and will be broadcast live from Nashville, Tennessee. The Redskins have the 15th pick in a heavily weighted pool of defensive players. What many Skins fans are hoping for is a new quarterback to bring some magic back to the home team. Some have their fingers crossed for Dwayne Haskins out of Ohio State.

This party will be a great opportunity to hang out with fellow Redskins fans, talk smack to rival NFC East fans and have a good time.

If you snoozed, you lost, because the tickets — free and limited to four per person — are already gone. Click here for updates to see if more become available.


Cannabis Festival 2019

People who love weed and people who hate weed have one thing in common: smoking weed.

This isn’t supposed to be some kind of glib little non-comment; I mean that if you talk to people who smoke weed regularly, you’ll find that most of them like it, but a lot of them don’t really like it. I happen to be one of the latter.

I don’t smoke every day — I’m not one of those compulsives who downs a liter of vodka in the closet in the morning and then wrings their hands about it — but I do partake when it’s offered, which, if you’re a long-haired layabout with an ironic crustache, is fairly often. And I hate it about 90% of the time.

But my fear of being thought uncool is far greater than my fear of spending the next three hours staring at myself in a mirror and muttering, “What the hell are you DOING with your life?” So I always smoke the weed that’s offered, and I always hate it.

So it was strange, being at the 420 Festival at the RFK Festival Grounds where weed — and weed smokers — were everywhere. I was with my friend Anthony, who loves weed, and within 10 minutes of us walking in, he’d seen someone he knew, who offered us their dab pen.

I took what I hoped was a small hit, but soon I was thinking about the inevitability of death, how my refusal to schedule six-month checkups at the dentist was a symptom of a profound lack of self-respect, and how everyone was looking at me.

But maybe I was just high?

“Hey,” I said to Anthony. “Are all these people staring at us?”

He looked around. “I think so, yeah.”

“Oh, God. Are you sure?”

“Yeah, they’re definitely staring,” he said. But he didn’t seem bothered.

This is sort of what I meant about how people who love weed and hate weed both smoke weed.

I used to think that I was having a different experience when I smoked weed than the people who loved it. But a little questioning revealed that, no, we were both experiencing roughly the same thing. It’s just that they didn’t seem to care, and I cared too much.

As we walked around the festival, I was struck by how many educational booths we passed. There were a lot of booths about how weed was actually good for you, like kale or flossing, which made me like weed even less.

A clean-cut young man was talking about how he microdosed a small amount of THC edibles throughout the day, to increase his productivity at work. Consuming weed to be better at your desk job? Not even the most deranged, paranoid pothead in the seventies had ever envisioned this future.

There were even booths about how weed legalization was good for the economy because it created jobs. Jobs? That’s like selling vodka to an alcoholic by telling them it’ll give them cirrhosis. I’m trying to live in a world with fewer jobs, not more.

There were also several community service booths, but unfortunately I was too high to appreciate them.

When I saw the table for the free HIV test, I immediately became sure I had HIV, and then when I saw the table about some kind of community bail project for people in jail, I became utterly sure that I’d committed some crime for which I would be sent to jail. I just couldn’t remember what. I looked around for cops, but what I saw instead was the DC Slices booth.

A few minutes later we were sitting down with slices of pizza, mango lemonades and funnel cakes. We were bent over our plates, staring at passersby as they stared at us, eating as fast as we could. This, I thought, is exactly what eating is like in jail. I made a mental note to Google, “how to make a shiv out of a toothbrush handle” when I got home — if I made it home.

An attractive woman in yoga pants walked by. “You’re staring,” said Anthony.

I tore my eyes away and thought for a minute. “You know,” I said, “being an attractive woman is probably like being high all the time. Everywhere you go, everyone’s always staring at you.”

Anthony looked at me and then stared off into the distance. “Whoa,” he said.


Sayonara, Cherry Blossom Festival

Washingtonians’ love for Japan stretched four blocks on Pennsylvania Avenue Saturday, as the National Cherry Blossom Festival culminated with Sakura Matsuri, the annual celebration sponsored by the Japan-America Society. The corridor was lined with food trucks serving Asian and American cuisine, tents with traditional crafts such as silk dolls and bamboo umbrellas, and booths educating visitors on Japanese dance, music, science and technology.

Attendees sat on the ground with plates of sushi and tempura, enjoying demonstrations of martial arts moves and live music from a female guitarist and a drum corps. Like modern Tokyo, the festival was a blend of ancient and a week ago: People dressed as geishas and ninjas hung out with characters from Pokemon and Harajuku fashion was everywhere in its outrageous glory.

Representing DC Anime Club, husband-and-wife team Christopher Wanamaker and Monique Sharp drew a lot of attention as Mr. and Mrs. Red Ranger (Mighty Morphin Power) and enthusiastically posed for pictures. Monique said the club was for anyone over 13 who loves anime. The two have attended for seven of the last 10 years.

Leo Liebreicht and his son Sǿren of northern Virginia Kendokai demonstrated the Jedi-like (George Lucas ripped them off) swordplay of Kendo, which Leo said used physical energy for self-defense, i.e. making eye contact with one’s opponent to draw their energy from them. He said the group gets a good response at the festival and comes every year.

As expected, several booths were manned by folks from Japan, with the science and technology tents being the most popular. PARO, a ridiculously adorable robotic baby seal, was featured in one. The lifelike therapeutic toy has shown success in improving the physical and mental health of the elderly and dementia patients.

Hisashi Kanamoni, a friendly representative of the Central Japan Railway, promoted Maglev, the world’s fastest bullet train, which can go 603 kph. Kanamori attended NYU and enjoys visiting Washington D.C.

Apparently, he visits a lot, because when I asked if the Maglev was faster than the Metro, he busted out laughing. Nothing like a joke between friends, made possible by a gift of trees 115 years ago.

Audi Field — Having Fun is the Goooooooal

For those of you who haven’t yet had a chance to visit Audi Field, the home of D.C. United, our own Major League Soccer team, let me assure you — it’s fabulous.

I got to go to my first MLS game there last week when D.C. United hosted Montreal Impact on Cherry Blossom Night, the first time a professional sporting event has been included in local festival celebrations. Attendees got a D.C. United/National Cherry Blossom Festival pin as well as the opportunity to buy special foods, beverages and commemorative merchandise.

I was quick to spot the drink carriers offering vodka and bourbon strawberry lemonades — so pink and pretty!

The concession stands offered a selection of imported beers, as well as sandwiches, pizza, hot dogs, nachos, burgers and cheese fries. If it sounds to you like Audi Field is all about traditional sporting event fare, it’s not. Local acclaimed Spanish chef Jose Andres teamed up with Audi Field to offer comidas deliciosas, including not just tacos, pupusas and quesadillas, but also hongos, tortas and arepas. Soccer is o jogo bonito (Portuguese for the beautiful game), so it’s fitting that we should be able to get some authentic Latin food while we watch Luciano Acosta — La Joya — and legendary superstar Wayne Rooney work their magic on the field.

Tickets for D.C. United games are usually between $20 and $40 (except for when they play LA Galaxy and fans want a chance to experience the greatness of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, then they’re $60).

Before the 20,000-seat field opened last summer, D.C. United had to play at the run-down, 50-year-old RFK Stadium, now left sitting vacant with an uncertain future. Parking at the new field can run more than $50, so you might want to consider taking the Green line and getting off at Waterfront or Navy Yard — each almost a mile away. On game days, the streets are crowded with enthusiastic fans riding scooters and bicycles, whooping it up and taking over the streets.

While the game I attended ended in a draw, it was still so much fun to be at this fabulous new field, enjoying the food, drinks, crowd and atmosphere. Next time I have to figure out how to make my way over to the EagleBank and Heineken MVP Club sections …

Lyman’s Tavern: Warm Atmosphere, Cool People

Not all bars have a mascot. In fact, most probably don’t. But there’s a lot that’s different about Lyman’s Tavern, a beloved neighborhood bar at the southern tip of Piney Branch Park on 14th Street NW in Petworth, and the most memorable may be their affinity for the (mythological) jackalope.

Stationed at various intervals throughout this dimly lit local watering hole, the jackalopes bring a little humor and campiness (as well as a few cobwebs).

People complain about the gentrification of Petworth, but Lyman’s Tavern, on the block for five years, isn’t to blame. They didn’t have to beat their furniture with chains to get that distressed, shabby-chic look — it was already like that. The paint is chipped, and the shelves are crowded with odds and ends, including a pencil holder, an old radio, a gumball machine, an old seltzer bottle and a cocktail shaker — it’s like a flea market or the Mansion on O Street.

It’s comforting. Not like the bar at the Four Seasons, where terror strikes your heart if you spill your drink or have to throw up.  

The pinball machines at Lyman’s are another fun throwback. I was there on a fairly low-key Sunday evening, when most of the seats were taken by young hipsters who preferred conversation and laughs to flashing lights and flippers. In fact, this bar is so hip, local artist Robin Bell — extra-famous of late for getting hassled by Capitol Police for projecting “Discrimination is Wrong” onto the Capitol building — stopped by. He plugged his exhibition at the The Atrium Galleries at GWU to my companion before joining a jovial crowd out on the patio, despite the evening’s chill.

The bartenders at Lyman’s are efficient, friendly and helpful. Although I frequently drink Angry Orchard hard cider, they didn’t have that, so bartender Arnold Robles recommended Supreme Core’s Nother Mother, a grapefruity cider with hops that made it seem more beer, less apple juice.

It was actually a bit too beery for me, so next he offered me the locally brewed Anxo District Dry, which was more my speed. It was drier and less sweet than my go-to cider, but less bitter than the Nother Mother.

My companion, a repeat customer at Lyman’s, usually enjoys their tacos and well-considered whisky list, although he opted for local beers the night we were there.

If you enjoy a relaxed atmosphere, super-cheap happy hour specials and free popcorn, Lyman’s Tavern is the place for you.

Lyman’s Tavern, 3720 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20011


Cheers to Beers and Baseball

The DC Beer Festival will be back at Nationals Park for its 8th year on Saturday, April 20th. You can celebrate craft beer by sampling cold ones from over 80 breweries from the DMV and beyond, including Monocacy, Old Bust Head, Fair Winds, Old Ox and more. See the full list here.

For an admission price of $45, attendees can sample unlimited beers, nosh on local eats (that’s extra $) and play lawn games. Entertainment includes DJs, a ’90s cover band and dueling pianos from Bobby McKey’s. You can choose one of two sessions: noon to 3 p.m. or 5 to 8 p.m.

For those who want to go big or go home, there’s even an option for VIP access for $75.

These tickets get you access to the warning track and dugouts, a DC Beer Fest baseball cap, and a commemorative tasting glass.

Designated driver tickets (no sampling allowed) will be sold for $20 cash at the door. Designated drivers must be 21 and over. Children and dogs are prohibited from the event.

April showers can’t rain on this beer parade — the event will be happening rain or shine. So come out and pretend you’re hitting a home run while drinking an eclectic variety of beers. At the DC Beer Fest, we’re all winners.

Cherry Blossom Festival Culminates This Weekend

Like many celebrities, cherry blossoms have a list of demands and require accommodating handlers. The “excessive heat” clause in their contract can shorten their performance by days. The cold clause can delay it by a week or more. Snow might be OK, but a freeze will send them back into their dressing rooms until next year.

Fortunately, planners have made the festival diva-proof by scheduling the grand finale after the blossoms have begun leaving the building. The most popular events, the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade and the Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival, are saved for the final weekend, which starts this year on Saturday, April 13.

Grandstand seating for the parade starts at $20, but you can enjoy it for free on Constitution Avenue anywhere between 7th and 17th Streets NW. Actor and comedian Anthony Anderson of Law and Order and Blackish will be honorary grand marshal. Get there early, because it rivals the Rose Bowl parade in flower power and draws masses of small-towners who are weary of pig-tailed baton twirlers marching to “Funky Town” played over scratchy loudspeakers.

The Japan-America Society’s Sakura Matsuri is the largest one-day Japanese cultural event in the country. There will be 80 cultural groups, food booths and art vendors set up on Pennsylvania Avenue between 3rd and 7th Streets NW from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Live music and dance are the highlights, celebrating the grace, beauty and intensity of Japanese culture. The family package and Sake tasting fast pass are sold out, but general admission tickets are still available for $10.

So you still have time to enjoy the 2019 festival. The forecast for Saturday is 67 degrees and partly cloudy. But even if the weather takes a turn, you’ll get another chance. Those prima donna blossoms are under contract for at least 100 years.





DC Cocktail Festival is Tops — Bar None

While most fun-seekers are drinking in pink petals at the Cherry Blossom Festival this Saturday, a lucky few will be drinking something less wholesome at the DC Cocktail Festival, being held at the National Union Building in Penn Quarter.

Tickets sold out quickly, undoubtedly because the list of vendors represents the top shelf of drinking establishments in the city: Left Door, The Morris American Bar, Jack Rose Dining Saloon, The Royal, The Gibson, Service Bar, Barrel, Truxton Inn, Destination Wedding, James Hoban’s, Farmers Fishers Bakers, Richard Sandoval Hospitality, Crimson Diner + Whiskey Bar, Daikaya and Emissary. Each will offer a signature cocktail for sampling.

Bear in mind: the event is about medleys being tasted, not patrons being wasted. Organizers made clear that participants showing signs of inebriation will be cut off.

The festival’s speakeasy theme is perfect for the National Union Building; its Romanesque style was popular during the Jazz Age. (Jay Gatsby would undoubtedly have visited when he was in town buying off politicians.)

The classy and talented six-piece band Foggy Bottom Whomp-Stompers will perform what they call “Prohibition-era” jazz, so folks can kick up their heels while they sip concoctions like Julio’s Hideaway, Hot House Spritz and When Pirates’ Eyes Are Smiling. (Makes you wonder whose music future generations will play to recreate the marijuana-prohibition era: Snoop Dogg? Bob Marley? The Grateful Dead? Miles Davis? It’s been a long era.)

Catering extraordinaire Talk-of-Di-Town II will be serving sumptuous eats to soak up the alcohol: crab panini, jerk chicken sliders, smoked pulled pork sliders and assorted tacos. For dessert, DC kosher bakery Baked by Yael will provide cake pops, cool bars and raspberry bars.

For those who were quick enough to snatch up tickets to the Cocktail Festival, have a good time for all of us. For those who missed the train, use this rule of thumb as a reminder next year: When the National Park Service Bloom Watch site announces the trees have reached the “elongated peduncle” phase, get on Eventbrite and break out the plastic.

The DC Cocktail Festival runs from noon to 10 p.m., Saturday, April 6, at the National Union Building event center, 918 F Street NE, Washington D.C., 20004.







Hill Country Barbecue Serves Up Tang and Twang

I was so excited to head out to Hill Country Barbecue Market last weekend, and not just because I was going to get to dive into a tin tray of tender and savory smoked meats, but also to experience the homegrown talents of a couple of local bands in the Boot Bar downstairs.

I didn’t get the memo that the dress code was plaid and showed up in polka dots, but the hostess was kind enough to seat us anyway. The fact that my friend sports a ponytail and full beard and appeared to have appropriated the Brawny Paper Towel guy’s red plaid shirt made up for my transgression, no doubt.

The Texas-style décor — lots of dark wood, beams, cattle horns and Lone Stars — made us feel like we had been transplanted into the epicenter of barbecue.

Since neither of us had been there before, the waitress introduced us to their service concept, where you take the cards she gives you over to the food stations and make your selections cafeteria style.

The servers at Hill Country Barbecue are always in motion.

I was excited for the pulled pork, but sadly, they had run out. I didn’t think I could eat a lot of pork belly, so I asked the server to help me decide. He pointed me toward the ribs and I wasn’t sorry — they were delicious.

My friend went with the brisket, juicy and thickly sliced. They offer lean or moist, and he got some of each. No surprise — he pronounced the moist one superior.

I got a side of coleslaw and two adorable little cornbread muffins, and he got beans and mac & cheese. We had just enough left over to take home for a snack later.

While the cowboy brownie and special cupcake were tempting, we could hear the show had already started, so we skipped dessert and descended the staircase.

Gina Dalmas performs her Americana tunes.

You couldn’t beat the price on this Friday night — $5 per ticket (although for some other acts, tickets are as much as $30). The opening act — Gina Dalmas and the Cow Tipping Playboys — bill their music as alt-country honky-tonk Americana. They sang many of their own songs and gave killer renditions of Hank Williams’ Your Cheatin Heart and Tom Petty’s Yer So Bad as well. They even did an arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll.  

In between acts, I headed to the bar for a drink. I happened to be just the right height to be obscured by a large, decorative pair of longhorns, but the bartender noticed me anyway. He cheerfully mixed my rum and Diet Coke, garnished with a lime, which was strong enough to make the show even more fun, but not so strong that I missed the next act.

Jay Jenc belts out a rockabilly tune.

Next on stage was Jumpin’ Jupiter, a local rockabilly band headed by esteemed barbecue chef extraordinaire, Jay Jenc. Jenc radiated energy with each tune he sang, hydrating himself between songs by drinking water straight from a pitcher.

Keeping with the Zeppelin theme, Jupiter played a twangy version of Ramble On. Toward the end of the night, Jenc pulled out his signature megaphone, treating the audience to his budget version of Auto-Tune.

The dance floor was populated by couples who looked like they frequent the club scene, stylishly dressed and dancing like they had taken lessons. An older fan didn’t let his wheelchair get in the way of his fun, as he danced sometimes on his own and at other times with partners. He was arguably the liveliest one there, although to be fair, he did take a nap between sets.

While the venue features local as well as national bands, they have live band karaoke (no cover!) every Wednesday, so you get a turn to perform! Stand on stage in front of your backing band and belt out a classic like I Fall to Pieces or the more modern Beautiful Crazy.

But it doesn’t matter who’s playing at Hill Country Barbecue — even if it’s you — you’re sure to have a great time.

Hill Country Barbecue Market, 410 7th St., NW; happy hour nightly 4-7 p.m. and 10 p.m.-1 a.m.