You know it as a staple of American Roots Music, but did you know that the banjo’s true roots lie in Africa? Grammy-winning Fleckstones frontman Béla Fleck (a banjo virtuoso if there ever was one) took five weeks off from his day job to explore his instrument’s origins—in Uganda, Tanzania, Gambia, and Mali. He did a fair share of jamming along the way, with everyone from the Jatta Family in Gambia—whose music revolves around the akonting, the banjo’s three-string predecessor—to Malian singer and international superstar Oumou Sangare. Sascha Paladino, his half-brother, got it all on film. The result?Throw Down Your Heart, a moving documentary with a stunning soundtrack that transports you to Africa via Bluegrass country (film and album both out now).
If you want to catch the act live, you’re in luck: next month Fleck will hit Bonnaroo and Telluride with Malian kora master Toumani Diabate, and on July 5 he’ll take New York’s Central Park SummerStage with Sangare herself. See belafleck.com for a complete tour schedule.
Christine Ajudua is an editorial assistant at Travel + Leisure.
Starting May 10, visitors to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art will be able to walk through an enclosed glass-and-steel bridge connecting the fifth-floor galleries to a dramatic Rooftop Sculpture Garden. The new space adds 14,400 square feet to the museum, and will house rarely seen sculptures from the Museum's holdings, including works by such luminaries as Alexander Calder, Alberto Giacometti, and Louise Bourgeois.
Bree Sposato is an editorial assistant at Travel + Leisure.
On a recent trip to Barcelona, I rediscovered a cardinal rule of travel: no matter how little time you have in a new place, it pays to catch your breath. I walked all over the city to keep up with an ambitious itinerary, visiting hotels, and, of course, paying my respects to the medieval streets of the Barri Gotic, the lively fruit and meat vendors at the Mercat de la Boqueria--even the dreamlike interiors of Gaudi’s Casa Batllo.
One late afternoon on Montjuic hill, behind the Joan Miro Foundation, I cooled my heels on the ledge of a stone stairway overlooking the city, wondering how I’d muster the energy to reach the next stop on my list. And then out of nowhere, a tangerine-colored sky emerged behind the domes and spires of the Palau Nacional, and I simply had to linger until the sun dipped below the Catalonian hills. The rest of Barcelona would have to wait.
Jennifer Flowers is an assistant editor at Travel + Leisure.
Lincoln Center recently opened the dazzlingly renovated Alice Tully Hall that provides an intimacy—even with a capacity of 1,100 seats—both palpable and rewarding for concertgoers. Tully (above) is now an enviable place for chamber music, and should be a lively spot for multi-media (there’s a state-of-the-art movie screen). The new hall prompted me to think of other spots in New York that put the listener on the frontline of the music-making. Here are some favorites:
Le Poisson Rouge The former Village Gate subterranean nightclub in Greenwich Village morphed last summer into the “multi-media art cabaret” Le Poisson Rouge. When pianist Simone Dinnerstein, much admired for her Bach Goldberg Variations, performed there, the piano was set on a platform in the middle of the space and the audience packed café tables and bar (yes, there’s a full bar). This month Poisson features an eclectic genre-bending line-up.
Baryshnikov Arts Center Pressed for time? Looking for something unusual and free? The Movado Hour concerts at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in far west Midtown offers 60-minute programs that blend the familiar with the less well known. Contrasts are engaging. Concerts start at 7 p.m., take place in a loft-like space, and are gratis (reservations are required). Performers are starry, audiences appreciative. There’s a cozy feel. On April 20, the St. Lawrence String Quartet devotes its attention to Mendelssohn and the String Quartet No. 3 by R. Murray Schafer, a contemporary composer known for evocative soundscape pieces. Rubin Art Museum Some of the city’s most innovative programming—lectures, music, film—materializes in the small, cherry wood auditorium of the Rubin Art Museum, which is dedicated to Himalayan art and housed in the former Barneys department store in Chelsea. But for the world premiere on April 23 of minimalist composer John Tavener’s Towards Silence—described as a musical meditation on death and the four states of consciousness—the setting shifts to the building’s dramatic spiral staircase (originally designed for the store by Andrée Putman), along which four string quartets and a player of the Tibetan singing bowl will be positioned. The music is bound to soar.
Mario R. Mercado is the Arts editor for Travel + Leisure.
Ever think your kids would be more interested in a museum if they weren’t confined to its walls and rules?So does San Francisco’s Exploratorium. Now open along the Fort Mason waterfront (between the Marina District and Aquatic Park) is series of free outdoor interactive exhibits that put existing structures like pier pilings and parking lots to scientific use.
Each one will “explore the natural phenomena of the immediate environment. Water, wind, sound, and light, in all their complex behaviors, will be foci of investigation.” Translation: the Golden Gate Bridge is now a thermometer, and flags placed at different heights along the city skyline serve as a wind observatory. Kids can also measure the salinity of bay’s water and track tides. How cool is that?
If you were born at the Woodstock Festival (and it’s said that two people were), you’re celebrating a 40th birthday this summer. Congratulations! Of course, the 40th anniversary of the muddy shindig at Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York is also at the center of its own schedule of celebrations. The site of the concert (which as any amateur musical historian knows was not in Woodstock but in Bethel, nearby in Sullivan County) is now home to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, an outdoor performing arts center and complex, including the Museum at Bethel Woods. From now until May 30, visitors to the museum can wax nostalgic at “Rock Heroes: Selections from Hard Rock International’s Music Memorabilia Collection,” which will display the Gibson SG that Pete Townsend played and smashed on the Woodstock stage, a red vest once formerly owned by Jimi Hendrix, and many other mementos.
The Center’s Pavilion Stage, which seats 4,500 under its roof and an additional 10,000-plus on the lawn, is also hosting its usual variety of concerts this summer, with much of the schedule related to 40th-anniversary festivities. Most of the lineup isn't set yet, so check bethelwoodscenter.org for updates. Among the gigs that have already been announced: a gray-haired blast from Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire (June 14) and a burst of blues from B.B. King and Buddy Guy (August 27). If your aging-hippie ears can’t take all the noise anymore, put July 11 on your calendar. That’s when the New York Philharmonic comes to town. Just don’t take the brown acid.
Buckets, hoses, water guns, balloons…not typical items associated with religious holidays—unless you’re in Thailand, evidently. That’s where, every April, the Buddhist New Year is commemorated with what just might be the world’s biggest water fight: the Songkran festival.
Songkran traces its origins back more than a thousand years, when celebrants heralded spring with the throwing of water. At first people would sprinkle drops on their elders as a sign of respect; then they began bathing statues of Buddha; eventually it evolved into the soggy celebration it’s become today. Songkran is a national holiday and, since it falls in one of the hottest months of the year, it’s no wonder that everyone’s eager to partake in the water wars.
For three days revelers run amok in the streets, soaking passersby indiscriminately. Thanks to the scores of people of all ages spraying everything in sight, if you’re out and about, you’re guaranteed to be the victim of a drive-by drenching.
So if you plan to be in Thailand from April 13–15, you may want to pack your rain poncho—and stow your water gun with your checked luggage.
It’s difficult to conjure up a dull weekend in New York, but that task is downright impossible on the first weekend of every month, when the city’s museums—including bastions of high culture like the Guggenheim and the Whitney—host Friday or Saturday gallery bashes with DJ’d music, fully-stocked bars, and, of course, art. My favorite First Saturday ritual revolves around the cultural hub of Brooklyn. New York’s second borough knows how to party, and it’s never better than on the first Saturday of each month. Here, my top picks for a classic first Saturday in the BK.
Chavella’s Start your night with dinner at this pint-sized Mexican nook, with welcoming waitresses and colorfully painted walls. Try the tilapia baked in banana leaves with capers and olives, chicken simmered in mole sauce….I could go on….Get here early—the 11 tables here fill up quickly. 732 Classon Ave., Prospect Heights; 718/622-3100; dinner for two $25.
Brooklyn Museum Arrive here around 9 p.m. to see the scene at its uniquely inclusive best: tri-generational families dancing together to salsa music in the vaulted courtyard, wine-sipping artistes browsing the museum’s permanent collection, and 20-something regulars meeting and greeting in the sculpture-filled lobby. 200 Eastern Parkway, Prospect Heights; 718/638-5000; brooklynmuseum.org; entrance free.
The Rub This famed monthly dance party is only beginning to heat up as the museum bash dies down. It’s challenging—but possible—to do both events. And it’s worth it: DJs at the Rub play only the best old-school hip-hop and pop jams, and the mostly-local crowd comes expecting to boogie ‘til the wee hours of the morning (wallflowers, skip this stop). Southpaw; 125 5th Ave., Park Slope; (718) 230-0236; $5 cover for ladies, $10 for men.
Joe’s Pizza What good New Yorker doesn’t crave a 2 a.m. slice? Stroll to the Brooklyn outpost of Joe’s Pizza where Park Slope’s partiers finish their nights with tasty thin-crust renditions of classics like tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil, or barbeque chicken pizza. After so much dancing, you’ll probably need the extra calories just to make it home—or back to your hotel. 137 Seventh Ave., Park Slope; 718-398-9198; pizza for two $6.
A new Muni bus line, dubbed the CultureBus, now services San Francisco's prominent cultural institutions. Bright yellow coaches bearing red "CB" logos will link the new California Academy of Sciences and the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park with the Asian Art Museum in the Civic Center, Union Square, and all the museums in the Yerba Buena neighborhood. Riders will be able to enjoy everything from "penguins to Picasso."
Buses run daily every 20 minutes, from 8:40 a.m. to 5:50 p.m.; there's also an all-day, on-and-off fare of $7 ($5 for seniors and youths) that includes discounted admission to selected museums including the California Academy of Sciences and de Young museums. Ridership is projected to be between 168,000 and 250,000 per year. Today, 50 percent of visitors to the Bay Area ride the Muni system, especially the cable cars and historic F-line along the Embarcadero.
The City of Paris inaugurated "Cinema Street" in the Forum des Halles, which includes the brand new François Truffaut cinema library. It will be located next to the historic UGC Cine Cite movie theater complex (which shows many films in VO, the original version). The cinema library includes over 7,000 digitized films about Paris. It includes five theaters and a bar; tickets are 5 euros (half the price of a regular movie ticket).