The Rolling Stones: Exile on Washington St.

The Rolling Stones: Exile on Washington St.

A visit to The Rolling Stones Exhibitionism, a career-spanning conglomeration of memorabilia and multi-media currently on view in New York, conjures plenty of tongue wagging adjectives. Just don’t call it a museum.

The promoters bill it as much more than that. And quite frankly, they hit it right between the buttons. Exhibitionism serves as a deep dive immersion in Stonesness. The immense bombardment of sights, sounds and interaction requires you to block out at least three hours to lap it up proper.

However, in the digital era of short attention spans and time-crunching schedules, some may choose to breeze through. If that’s the case, make sure and keep an eye open for these five not-to-miss things at Exhibitionism. Make sure and catch it before it leaves in March.


The Chelsea Flat

In 1962, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones moved into a flat in Chelsea, London. By ’63, drummer Charlie Watts was bunking there, too. Although no photos exist, the Exhibitionism curators took descriptive anecdotes from Mick, Keith and Charlie to recreate the tiny, dingy apartment. Watts says it was a “pigsty.” True to his description, visitors walk right through the trashed digs where blues albums fan out across the floor, and mounds of beer bottles and dirty dishes serve as monuments of consumption. Thank goodness it’s not a scratch-and-sniff experience.


Keith Richards’ 1957 Gibson Les Paul Custom Black Beauty

Oodles of instruments can be seen at Exhibitionsim, including the bass Bill Wyman used during his audition. Yet, this one rises to the top. Keef’s beloved ax bares fruits of his artistic labors. “Yeah, I painted that,” reads the Richards quote on the guitar display. “I was bored, waiting to go to jail” due to a 1967 drug bust. The multi-colored, psychedelic scribblings, including a half moon, came courtesy of paint pens. Keef wielded the guitar during the Olympic Studio sessions. The Godard flick “Sympathy for the Devil” captures Richards playing it on celluloid.


Interactive Stones Tracks

Located in the same room as the Black Beauty, you’ll find an interactive touch screen, which allows visitors to remix Stones tracks by isolating instruments and vocals. Equal parts playful and insightful, it gives you the ability to closely examine the band’s musicality. Put the spotlight on Jagger’s vox on “Rocks Off,” from the “Exile on Main St.” album, and you’ll hear the rugged beauty of bluesy white boy pipes. It’s simultaneously imperfect and perfect all at once.


Mick Jagger’s “Sympathy for the Devil” Stage Duds

Guests have the opportunity to walk into the band’s rock ‘n’ roll wardrobe closet for bright and bold look at their stage garb from throughout its more than 50-year career. Mick’s outfit from the 1994 Voodoo Lounge tour, which he donned during “Sympathy for the Devil,” remains a definite highlight. Its top hat and tail coat feature bling fitting for a voodoo priest, including a rabbit’s foot and chicken feet.


Art and Design

The Stones’ penchant for pairing its music with appropriate visuals proves to be serious business. Original album and poster artwork, mock-up stage models, handwritten notes and more show the Stones experience has always been more than simply melodic. From Warhol’s work on “Sticky Fingers” to the “Some Girls” wig ad art, the album art alone demands its own exhibit. The dynamic cover art to “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll,” painted by Guy Peellaert, begs to break through its display glass. Pen and ink drawings rendered by Jagger and Watts on hotel stationary gives evidence how the members control the band’s image.    

The Rolling Stones Exhibitionism, 775 Washington St., New York, N.Y.

'Stranger Things' Location Spots

'Stranger Things' Location Spots

Since its debut last fall, "Stranger Things" has been on heavy Netflix rotation in Casa de Agua. In fact, my daughter Violet insisted on turning her birthday party up to "Eleven" with a "Stranger Things" theme. We even replicated the ouija board bed sheet with Christmas lights.


With  "Stranger Things" on the brain, I recently gathered locales for an article I wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Take a read at the original article at or simply read below.

Originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dec. 28, 2016

Locations, Locations, Locations

“Stranger Things,” the hit Netflix science fiction-horror series, promises a second season in 2017.

Devoted fans may find the wait more difficult to handle than the unceremonious departure of character Barb in Season 1, but, according to reports, Season 2 shoots in Atlanta through April.

In the meantime, local fanatics can get their fix by visiting locations used in Season 1. Grab your selfie sticks and 1980s mix tapes, and take a look around the metro area at some of the spots made famous in “Stranger Things.”

Emory University’s Continuing Education Department

Located on Emory’s Briarcliff Campus, the building doubles as the exterior for Hawkins Laboratory, where some of the strangest things occur in the series. It’s the site where the young girl Eleven, played by actress Millie Bobby Brown in a buzz cut, serves as a lab rat due to her miraculous abilities. The building’s 1970s-style aesthetic goes well with the show’s early 1980s setting. Its cold, clinical look could be due to the fact it is the former home of the Georgia Mental Health Institute psychiatric hospital. Grab a box of Eggo waffles and pose out front for a geeky selfie.

Where you can find it: 1256 Briarcliff Road N.E., Atlanta

The former Douglasville City Hall

The Hawkins police station where Sheriff Jim Hopper (played by David Harbour) spends his mornings indulging in coffee and contemplation, set up shop inside the old Douglasville City Hall. Both interior and exterior shots were filmed here. This means it’s where Joyce (Winona Ryder) comes begging Hopper to find her missing son, Will (Noah Schnapp). Other film projects shot in Douglasville and Douglas County through the years include “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1,” “Kill the Messenger” and the soon-to-be-released “The Founder,” starring Michael Keaton as McDonald’s honcho Ray Kroc.

Where you can find it: 8485 Courthouse Square, Douglasville

Downtown Jackson

The somewhat sleepy burg sees a second life as downtown Hawkins in the series. Who needs a DeLorean to go back in time? Jackson allowed the “Stranger Things” crew to paint its buildings and transform the town into Hawkins circa 1983. It’s home to the general store where Joyce buys copious Christmas lights and the faux theater where Nancy (Natalia Dyer) gets her name smeared on the marquee. Already planning your “Stranger Things” costume for next Halloween? Consider visiting Jackson on the evening of Oct. 31 for Halloween on Second Street, an organized trick-or-treat allowing young ones a safe place to haunt, gather candy and display their spooky duds.

Where you can find it:

Bellwood Quarry

This picturesque setting, purchased by the city of Atlanta in 2006, has become quite the local celebrity locale. Zombies overran the quarry on “The Walking Dead,” and you can spot it in the first installment of “The Hunger Games.” It gets serious screen time in “Stranger Things.” Authorities find the faux Will Byers floating in its waters. Later in the series, those bullies from Hawkins Middle School attempt to make Mike take a dive into the quarry before Eleven swoops in for the save. The quarry itself had been mined for a century. According to proposed plans, it’s likely to become Atlanta’s biggest park.

Where you can find it: Due to construction, the quarry is currently is not open to visitors, but you can check it out at

The former Patrick Henry Academy

After Patrick Henry Academy in Stockbridge shut its doors, it became a choice location for both interior and exterior shots of the middle and high schools featured in the series. It’s where the memorial service for the fake Will takes place, the group creates Eleven’s makeshift sleep deprivation chamber, and the antagonists rumble with the creature at the end of the series.

Where you can find it: 109 S. Lee St., Stockbridge


Head out toward Tucker, a suburb about 15 to 20 minutes outside of Atlanta, and cruise down Sarahs Lane, located near the intersection of Cooledge Road and Lawrenceville Highway, the stretch of residential road where Eleven made the van flip over Mike and his buds on the bikes.  


Star Wars In the Skies

Star Wars In the Skies

Experiencing a Star Wars film within the walls of a theater has the rep for changing lives, one lightsaber swipe at a time. When a young Michael Roddy soaked up the original flick on the big screen in 1977, his tender mind exploded like the Death Star.

Today Roddy, a Walt Disney World show director and writer, lives his dream by taking the influential saga that laser blasted his imagination, creating something new and taking it outdoors. As director of “Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular,” a new nightly fireworks show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Fla., Roddy helps us revisit the treasured universe in an unprecedented way.

Using tapestries of explosive bursts, mammoth projections, lasers and 7.1 surround sound, Roddy and company wrap guests in an immersive experience, zipping across the Star Wars universe and tapping the well of characters, events and music from all seven films.

Back in the summer, I recently chatted with Roddy about the show’s behind-the-scenes magic, his favorite moments and the best place in the park to savor the spectacular.

Q.: Give us a little background about the show.

Michael Roddy: “Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular” is a project that’s very dear to my heart. It combines a lot of different technology. It combines projection mapping, because Star Wars is such a visual property. It combines practical effects like lasers, fireballs and pyrotechnic explosions. It combines state-of-the-art fireworks and big fireworks. We’re firing 8- and 10-inch shells, which are pretty huge. It’s all tied together with John Williams’ iconic music; a selection of the best of the best of John Williams. At the heart, it’s also about the great storytelling and emotions that we have to the Star Wars brand. We start the show at the Chinese Theater (at Disney’s Hollywood Studios). Star Wars premiered (at the real Chinese Theater in Hollywood ) in 1977. We turn the Chinese Theater into the Chinese Theater of 1977 with the Star Wars banners hanging proudly. Then the show erupts from the Chinese Theater and fills the nighttime sky. In the past, you were only able to experience that by going into a darkened theater, looking up at the screen and being transported to a galaxy far, far away that way. And now that galaxy far, far away comes to you. It immerses you and envelopes you. There’s surround sound, and you hear the iconic sounds of Star Wars as TIE fighters streak by you, the Millennium Falcon jumps to hyperdrive, and lightsabers hum. You see and feel the explosions. You hear Darth Vader’s breath surround you. It really is an immersive and emotional experience, because everyone has an emotional connection to Star Wars. Whether you love the Jedi, the droids or, in some cases, the Sith, everyone loves Star Wars.

Q.: What about the show’s story arc?

Michael Roddy: We take you through a couple of different buckets of story. First, we set the tone of 1977 to today with just a look at all of those great characters that you love, whether it’s Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Obi -Wan Kenobi, and the droids C-3PO and R2-D2. And then we take you to the beginning of the original Star Wars to a section we call “galaxy in peril,” which showcases the fact that in the Star Wars galaxy there’s unrest. There are huge groups of people who are taking advantage and creating political unrest, whether it’s the Imperials or the First Order. And we take you through some of these conflicts where you see the attack on the Rebel blockade runner or you see the flametroopers attacking the village on Jakku. We see the Hoth battle with the Rebels doing their best to try and thwart off the AT-ATs. Then we show the Death Star battle from “Return of the Jedi,” showing there’s this group that’s trying to fight back. That kind of ends that section, and then we go into our “hero’s journey” section where we focus on our heroes that start in the most unlikely of places. Whether it’s a farm boy looking out on the twin setting suns on Tatooine or a scavenger out in the junkyard of Jakku, they would never think in a million years that they’d be heroes in the galaxy. We see how they’re just starting their journey. To me that’s really when it becomes personal to the audience. Then we jump to the heroes that support them: the Han Solos, the Obi-Wan Kenobis, the Finns, the Poe Damerons. And then we go into a section that’s really about the majesty of the Force. There’s this power that’s out in the galaxy that surrounds us and penetrates us. On the flip side, there’s also the dark side, and that’s where we take a look at Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, Darth Maul and the Sith. And that all combines together to a final galactic battle where we switch between the Death Star trench and the race toward the two-meter shaft, and also Poe Dameron’s attack on Starkiller Base. And then we blow up Starkiller Base with a 150-foot fireball. Then we go into the celebration of Star Wars that no matter who you are, you can make a difference in the galaxy. 

Q.: What goes into planning a production of this size?

Michael Roddy: We absolutely knew we wanted to have something ready for this summer. We started talking about it probably right before “The Force Awakens” opened last December. We were wondering how to introduce the new newest Star Wars characters and brand into Hollywood Studios. We wanted to make sure it was the right fit. That’s one thing that we’re really cautious with at Disney is it has to tell a story. We don’t just leverage things to leverage things. Again, it’s about connecting to the audience. We have a saying around here: “Touch every heart.” And we believe in that. So we looked at what was the best way to bring those iconic moments to life. We started off small with some character experiences, which are fantastic. But then we said, “OK, how do we create something that everyone can see and really makes you feel the celebration and emotion of Star Wars?” And we landed on a spectacular. And we started collecting the tools for the tool kit. One of the things about this show is it’s not a fireworks show, and it’s not a projection show. It’s a combination of all of those elements to create a spectacular. We also had to start working with some of our partners at Lucasfilm and ILM, which have been incredible. They opened up their vaults and gave us their models. And one of the things we’re really proud about is we actually have animation in this spectacular that you can only see here that was created specifically for us. It’s different views of classic battles and moments you know very well, but we’re showing it from a different angle, because that’s what works well in our kind of presentation. We started with the music, because we knew that was the foundation. We worked with John Williams’ music editor to put together the perfect combination of (music). One of the things I always said was, “When we’re done with this, if we never add fireworks, projections or anything to this, I want this piece of music.” And that’s what we have.

Q.: Is there a moment in the spectacular that never fails to move you?

Michael Roddy: There is. It’s really hard, because I love it all. But I also had to put myself in the shoes of several different kinds of audience members to create these scenes. My personal favorite is when Darth Vader appears, because we don’t see him. We hear him first. We hear his breath in the darkness, and it’s such a great way to introduce the character to this presentation. I still remember as a little kid when he stepped out on the Rebel blockade runner and what the mystery of that character was. You knew immediately that he was the bad guy. Now I get to see the whole audience tense up as you hear his breath in the darkness. Then you hear this swell of cheers, because they know he’s coming. He’s become such an icon. Star Wars is our mythology. Just to be able to do that to an audience and hearing them respond, and me getting the same chills I got in 1977 when I was a little boy watching the movie for the very first time is my favorite part.

Q.: Being a lifelong fan, what does it feel like to be able to put your hands in the Star Wars universe?

Michael Roddy: Oh my gosh, I’m so thankful. I’ve been telling people everyday that I worked on this. I said I’ve been planning and rehearsing this show for 39 years. Ever since that little boy saw Star Wars, that has led me to this. And I believe that. Star Wars has been with me my entire life. And the amount of time that I played with the action figures; drew X-wings chasing TIE fighters; drew the Millennium Falcon; read the comic books or the novels; I bought the movies on DVD and watched them over and over again; it’s all prepared me for being able to do this job I’m doing right now. And I’m very thankful.

Q.: Where’s the best place in the park to watch the show?

Michael Roddy: The perfect viewing is at the center of the hub at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. That way you get to see all of the projections, fireworks and all of the effects. But the other thing that’s really great about this show is that there are so many hidden moments. We want you to come back, because you can’t take it all in at once. It’s such a large vista landscape. But definitely at the center of the hub at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the best place to see “Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular.”

Elvis Week Rules

Elvis Week Rules

For some reason geeky dream gigs seem to gravitate toward me like some nerdy magnetic force. I have serious Wookiee love for “Star Wars” and currently find myself writing for You can read my latest post here

Hanging with my son, Max (right), and Captain Phasma on the Disney Dream cruise ship for Star Wars Day at Sea.

Hanging with my son, Max (right), and Captain Phasma on the Disney Dream cruise ship for Star Wars Day at Sea.

The wailing guitar gymnastics and over-the-top showmanship of classic Van Halen still awakens my inner teen, and I worked as the band’s publicity writer for five years. Here’s a shot of me and original frontman David Lee Roth. And don’t tell Eddie, but I sing in Van Heineken, a classic VH tribute band. 

Me and David Lee Roth of Van Halen (right).

Me and David Lee Roth of Van Halen (right).

Then there’s Elvis himselvis. The king proved to be one of my early gateways into pop culture obsession. From the moment I spun my first Presley 45, he had me hook, line and hip swivel. Yes, I sang “Can’t Help Falling In Love” to my wife at our wedding reception and an Elvis jumpsuit hangs in my closet. 

So, the fact I recently wrapped my fourth stint as the official Elvis Week blogger for Elvis Presley Enterprises and Graceland means a hunka, hunka heap to me. 

For the uninitiated, Elvis Week serves as an annual gathering of Elvis fans from around the world in Memphis, Tenn., the king’s home turf. Thousands of devotees converge upon Graceland, Presley’s former home, for eight days of Elvis-themed events. This runs the gamut from concerts and dance parties to Q&As with Elvis’ musical and movie collaborators.  

Elvis Presley Enterprises and Graceland hires me to attend the events and write about them. It’s truly one of my all-time favorite writing jobs and just about as fun as it gets.

You can check out my Elvis Week blog here.

Going to Graceland

If you’ve never made the pilgrimage to the king’s castle, or even if you’re a repeat guest, visiting throughout the next couple of years will be prime time to be walking in Memphis. In fact, Graceland will be seeing its biggest expansion of all time.

The Guest House at Graceland

This 450-room resort hotel and conference center officially opens its doors on October 27, but I scored a sneak peek. What they’ve done so far looks breathtakingly cool. Taking architecture and design cues from Graceland itself, the finished portions shine with the plushness of a discerning getaway with a thoughtful amount of razzle dazzle. A theater that seats nearly 500, several restaurants and a poolside oasis make up just a portion of what the Guest House has to offer. Check out my pics.  

Elvis: Past, Present & Future

Elvis Week fans got one of the first glimpses of plans for phase two of the Graceland growth spurt. When spring 2017 hits, this 200,000-square-foot, $45 million expansion, located across the street from Graceland, shakes, rattles and rolls to life. Expect state-of-the-art flash with museums, a performance soundstage, eateries and retail. A permanent exhibition honoring the late Sun Records honcho, Sam Phillips, salutes the king’s first label boss. When the “Elvis: The Entertainer” museum swings open its doors, it will be the largest and most exhaustive hall of its kind.

Wanna go? Find out more here!

Hit the Road with The Monkees

Hit the Road with The Monkees

During a recent Atlanta-area tour stop, Peter Tork of the Monkees joked about whisking the audience away in a virtual Wayback Machine, a la “Mr. Peabody and Sherman.” Yet, we need no new scientific technology to do just that. Simply spin the new Monkees album, “Good Times!,” to do just that. 

Courtesy Rhino Entertainment

Courtesy Rhino Entertainment

Clocking in at just over 35 minutes, “Good Times!” serves a near-flawless celebration of the Monkees’ 50th anniversary, corralling the ace songwriting and jangly, pop perfection that keep the act relevant half a century later. 

Tork and Dolenz, currently touring as the Monkees, can be found showcasing the classics live throughout the summer and into the fall. If they’re not coming to your town, a Monkee road trip may be in order. 

A list of tour dates can be found here.

Below is an article I wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the Monkees 50th anniversary album and tour. You can read the original article here.


Hey, hey, the Monkees’ 50th anniversary tour hits metro Atlanta

By Jon Waterhouse for the AJC

Detractors may have stamped the Monkees as the “Prefab Four” when their eponymous TV show debuted in 1966 to a core audience of squealing teenage girls. Yet, half a century after they first swung onto small screens, the act proves they were more than just monkeying around.

Credit: Henry Diltz

Credit: Henry Diltz

To celebrate the group’s 50th anniversary, the surviving members — Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith — have climbed back into that power pop tree for the Monkees’ first album in nearly 20 years. Critics are calling “Good Times!” a seamless sequel to the group’s time-honored catalog. It takes the key ingredients that made the Monkees special and throws it all into a blender for a jangly, sweet simian smoothie.

“It’s just unbelievable,” Dolenz said in a phone interview. “I’m so pleased with how it came out. There are so many wonderful people involved and fantastic writers, just like in the old days. But we’ve always had great songwriters.”

Courtesy Andrew Sandoval archives

Courtesy Andrew Sandoval archives

In ’66, some of the best pop tunesmiths of the day — think Boyce and Hart, Neil Diamond, Goffin and King — were tapped to churn out hits for the NBC TV series. Producers cast a quartet of fresh faces — Dolenz, Tork, Nesmith and the late Davy Jones — to portray a struggling rock band, amid a comedic backdrop a la the Beatles’ flick “A Hard Day’s Night.”

Upon the show’s debut, the Monkees almost instantaneously became a cultural phenomenon, with hit singles, best-selling albums, Emmy wins and a feature film. And, with the help of syndicated reruns, oldies radio and a bunch of timeless tunes, the Monkees continue to be in pop culture’s DNA.

Credit: Henry Diltz

Credit: Henry Diltz

In fact, an array of contemporary artists influenced by Monkees music, including Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, Noel Gallagher of Oasis and Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, contributed compositions to “Good Times!” With Schlesinger acting as producer, these songs, along with some from classic Monkees contributors, were cherry-picked to best represent the group’s trademark sound. It’s unmistakable Monkees.

“Adam Schlesinger did an incredible job,” Dolenz said. “The harmonies, the instrumentation and the tonality of it were all absolutely intentional.”

To further fuse authenticity, Schlesinger had access to old Monkees masters. The title track utilizes a 1968 demo recorded by the late singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson. When Dolenz heard the cut, he jumped at the chance to create a virtual duet with an old pal.

“It was intended for me to sing that song, and it has Harry’s demo vocal on it,” Dolenz said. “Of course, knowing Harry — and we became very good friends — he never did anything halfway. So the vocal was extraordinary. And I said, ‘My God, I can do a duet with my dearly departed friend, Harry Nilsson.’ It fired me up, and it fired the record company up.”

Credit: Henry Diltz

Credit: Henry Diltz

Technology also brought Davy Jones, who passed away in 2012, back to the studio. Dolenz and Tork provide new backing vocals to “Love to Love,” a Neil Diamond-penned song Jones originally recorded lead vocals for in 1967.

Luring Nesmith back to the fold, however, provided its own challenges. As late as February, the stocking hat-wearing Monkee had yet to commit to the project.

“Mike is no fool,” Dolenz said. “We went to him very early on, and told him about the idea. And Mike chooses his moments when he wants to be involved in Monkee business. He’s writing a book, so that’s why he’s not on tour with us. But he said, ‘Let me hear the material.’”

Courtesy Andrew Sandoval archies

Courtesy Andrew Sandoval archies

It was then Dolenz became confident they could snag that missing link.

“I knew once he heard it, Mike would want to be a part of it,” Dolenz said. “And that’s what happened.”

Although Nesmith has opted to sit out the 50th anniversary tour, Dolenz and Tork will carry the torch for nearly 50 shows this summer and into the fall.

Audiences can expect a multimedia experience and an arsenal of Monkees hits, an informal deal Dolenz said he made with fans years ago.

After witnessing the Everly Brothers’ hit-laden reunion in 1983, Dolenz told himself that, if he was ever asked to sing Monkees material again, he’d oblige with the popular picks. And, three years later, he did just that, performing “Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” and others just as fans remembered them.

“I kept my promise, and I still do till this day,” Dolenz said.


Micky Dolenz Q&A

Jonesing for more Monkees? Check out more from my interview with Micky Dolenz below. 

Q.: So how did Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne become involved producing the new album, "Good Times!"?

Micky Dolenz: Rhino Records, which owns the Monkees catalog and name, came to me with the idea of Adam Schlesinger producing. Of course, I had heard of Fountains of Wayne, because I was a big fan of the Tom Hanks movie “That Thing You Do.” I thought it was a great idea, because I remember when the Fountains of Wayne song came out from that movie, everyone said, “That sounds like the Monkees.” I met with Adam and thought he was just the perfect person to pull all of this together.

Q.: Out of all the collaborations on “Good Times!,” which was the biggest surprise to you? Which songwriters really hit the pocket on the Monkees feel?

Micky Dolenz: Everybody! [Laughs] What we’re saying around the shop is that there’s not one filler track. In the old days, when you only had a limited amount of time or money, sometimes you’d have a track that was just okay. And you would put it on the album. I don’t think we have one filler track on the album, not one. There are a couple of tracks that I really liked that didn’t make it on the album, but will be on digital versions and so forth. We ended up with too many tracks that are great, and there just wasn’t room. We were just absolutely blessed, frankly, having these writers throwing themselves at us. I feel very flattered and blessed that these very talented people wanted to step up and take a shot.

Q.: So you had lots of material to choose from?

Micky Dolenz: We were spoiled for choice. Some of the music, as good as it was, wasn’t right in the pocket to really capture that particular sound. We’re lucky that what goes around comes around, and there’s this world out there of groups and writers that are keeping this kind of music alive. What’s old is new and it’s incredible. You listen to Weezer, Death Cab For Cutie and Fountains of Wayne and it’s a wonderful validation. And by the way, it wasn’t just the Monkees that were making that kind of music. There were lots of other groups that were doing that same melody, hooky, jangly guitar kind of stuff.  

Q.: Absolutely, but you all were much more than that. You were a multidimensional act that was coming into homes on TV. And you hit my generation in reruns. You were doing things that other bands couldn’t. 

Micky Dolenz: As you remember, the Monkees wasn’t a band in the classic sense. It was a television show about a band, a band that wanted to be the Beatles. That’s why I think the show did so well, because it was a show about a band that struggled to be successful. On the show, the Monkees were never successful. We were always struggling for success, and that’s one of the things I think endeared us to all of those kids, because they were in their basements and garages and trying to be successful. In other attempts to do this over the years, the band is already successful. So where do you go from there?

Credit: Henry Diltz

Credit: Henry Diltz

Sneak Peek at Skull Island: Reign of Kong

Sneak Peek at Skull Island: Reign of Kong

While recently visiting Universal Orlando Resort, I got a sneak peek at the new attraction, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, set to open this summer at Universal Islands of Adventure theme park.

Although I didn't get to see the massive animatronic King Kong, Universal just released the first images.

Here's a video preview courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort:

My coverage appears on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution site.

Here's the original article:

Skull Island: Reign of Kong

Inside King Kong’s digs, you’d expect to hear the roar of the iconic giant ape, or at least a few simian grunts and the whiff of banana breath.

Instead the sound of whirring drills, pounding hammers and the pulsing beep of a forklift backing up fills the air. It’s a jungle in here as construction crews work overtime putting the finishing touches on Skull Island: Reign of Kong. 

Set to open this summer at Universal Islands of Adventure, one of two theme parks at the Universal Orlando Resort, the attraction promises enough oversized thrills to have guests pounding their chests in an entertainment-fueled frenzy.

Stepping over extension cords and two-by-fours during a behind-the-scenes tour, show producer Adam Rivest spills all of the details he can about the highly-anticipated and highly-guarded new addition. A row of faux skulls line the top of a rock wall, and the empty eye sockets look on while Rivest explains the concept of Skull Island: Reign of Kong.

With help of a barrage of special effects and technology, Universal drops guests in the middle of circa-1930 Skull Island, an exotic and mysterious locale. The Eighth Wonder Expedition Company works diligently to explore the island’s prehistoric flora and fauna. Guests hop aboard an expedition truck for a trek deeper into the island where fierce prehistoric creatures dwell. The situation turns grim as the dinosaurs prove threatening. Soon an even more mammoth beast appears: King Kong. Visitors get up close and personal with the looming ape, not entirely sure if he’ll be a help or hinderance.  

Rivest promises an unrivaled experience with Skull Island: Reign of Kong. After getting a sneak peek at some serious monkey business, we put together five things to look forward to when the attraction opens.          

Island immersion

Thanks to detailed theming, from gargantuan construction to easy-to-miss minutia, the attraction immediately whisks guests to another time in place. Universal creatives made the conscious decision to have the experience begin in the line itself. Step into the queue, and you’re suddenly on Skull Island. Blankets of fog roll throughout as visitors hear chirps, whistles and growls from some of the island’s animal and insect inhabitants. While weaving through the queue, guests come upon a radio broadcast desk. You hear transmissions from Skull Island, being sent to New York and London, relaying the findings and strange activity. Rumbling drums give evidence of native activity. The same goes for tiny touches, including the strands of human hair used as rope to tie bamboo together. Then it’s into creepy caves and catacombs featuring individually hand-carved faux rock, flickering flames, mummified bodies, and the sounds of wisping wind and dripping water. This all takes place before the ride technically begins.  

A ride like no other

Since designers set the attraction in the early ’30s, they took great pains to hide any signs of present-day technology. The 40-foot, 17-ton ride vehicle resembles a massive truck of that era, large enough to fit 72 people in its 12 rows. With full steering capabilities on its front and back axels, the vehicle can tackle ultra sharp turns. The state-of-the-art trackless ride system keeps tech out of sight, providing an autonomous romp through the prefab jungle. Since a portion of the ride takes place outdoors, the designers created an alternative route in case of a downpour to keep things rolling no matter what.

Extra special effects

Rivest can’t divulge all the details, but says if you can imagine a special effect, it’s probably used in Skull Island: Reign of Kong. He does, however, reveal the use of 4K ultra high definition 3D footage created especially for the attraction. That likely means we’ll see a combination of ginormous animatronics, practical effects and in-your-face footage on Kong-size screens. Even the ceilings of the vehicle will feature shadow projections, Rivest says. Expect the three s’s —sights, sounds and smells— to converge in sensory overload. Although those 34-inches in height and taller can take on Kong, the realism may be frightening to some.

Super size me

We’re dealing with a giant ape here, so Skull Island: Reign of Kong’s full meal deal comes super size. Creators had the task of creating the entire attraction in larger-than-large scale. The island’s Great Wall, featuring menacing carved faces, towers at nearly 80 feet. The show building itself tops out at 70 feet. “Everything’s huge on Skull Island,” Rivest said. “You’re in Kong’s home and in his world, and anything can happen.”

Keeping things fresh

Anticipating the fact fans will likely ride this thing repeatedly, Universal gives guests the opportunity to experience Skull Island: Reign of Kong five different ways. Each time you step aboard a ride vehicle, you’ll meet one of five guides: a New York City ex-con, a descendant of Skull Island’s natives, a young adventurer, a cowgirl or a paleontologist. Each comes with his or her individual personality, which makes for a different tour. 

For more information:

If you go

Daily park-to-park admission ranges from $150-$155 per person for one day to $229.99-$239.99 for four days. Single park admission ranges from $100-$105 for one day to $179.99 to $189.99 for four days.  

Offbeat Tennessee

Offbeat Tennessee

I recently penned a piece for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about offbeat attractions in Tennessee. You can read it here or check it out below:

Weird Tennessee: Offbeat spots keep an entertaining rhythm

By Jon Waterhouse for the AJC

You've gazed at the Parthenon in Nashville, hollered on thrill rides at Dollywood and bunked on the Chattanooga Choo Choo. What's left to explore in Tennessee? They may be offbeat to some, but the following suggestions each pack their own brand of unique.

Buford Pusser Home and Museum

"Walk tall and carry a big stick." OK, so that's not quite the quote that illustrated former President Theodore Roosevelt's foreign policy. But it would definitely fit the late Sheriff Buford Pusser. Pusser rose to fame for practically being a one-man wrecking machine against organized crime along the Mississippi–Tennessee state line in the 1960s. His story inspired the "Walking Tall" film franchise and TV series featuring an ax-handle-wielding law man keeping order while busting heads. His actual home, nearly frozen in time since his death in 1974, serves as a museum with Pusser's possessions and other memorabilia on view. Adamsville plays host to the annual Sheriff Buford Pusser Festival, which takes place May 26-28. This year country music artist Daryle Singletary is set to perform.

11 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays. $8; $5 ages 62 and older, and active military and law enforcement; $3 ages 7-17; free ages 6 and younger. 342 Pusser St., Adamsville, Tenn., 731-632-4080,

Kooky Canuck

Eye-popping portions put the kooky in Kooky Canuck, a casual eatery with locations in both Memphis and Cordova, Tennessee. The anvil-size burgers remain its claim to fame. Gobble up the Kookamonga, featuring a 4-pound beef patty and all the fixings, in less than one hour, and you eat for free. And a photo of your mug gets emblazoned on the Kooky Canuck Wall of Fame. The King Kookamonga and Humonga Kookamonga burgers, weighed down by 6- and 12-pound patties respectively, have their own challenges. Other ginormous bites include the Avalanche, a yeti-worthy dessert starring 18 scoops of ice cream. Visit the downtown Memphis location and waddle across the street to the Peabody Hotel where its ducks make their daily procession from the rooftop to the lobby fountain.

11 a.m.-3 a.m. daily. 97 S. 2nd St., Memphis, Tenn., 901-578-9800,

NashTrash Tour

Do you prefer your tourism hue a bit blue? For nearly 20 years, the NashTrash Tour has been hauling Nashville visitors around town, dispensing gaudy gossip about country music royalty along the way. With a mix of music and improv comedy, sisters Sheri Lynn and Brenda Kay Jugg attempt to fracture the funny bone aboard a bus so pink it would make Mary Kay blush. Those looking for less raunch can opt for the Music Row Confidential tour with Steve Pippin as your musical host. In between tidbits of Music City trivia and history, Pippin bursts into song. Both tours last one hour and 45 minutes. They tend to book up in advance, so plan ahead.

NashTrash Tour: $36 ages 15-55; $33 ages 56 and older. Music Row Confidential: $33. 900 Rosa L. Parks Blvd., Nashville, Tenn.

Christ in the Smokies Museum and Gardens

Gatlinburg, Tennessee — a land of goofy golf, junky gift shops and schmaltzy dinner shows — may seem like the odd locale for a museum depicting the life of Jesus Christ. Yet this roadside attraction does just that featuring life-size figures worthy of a wax museum. Posed in a variety of dioramas, from a detailed nativity scene to Christ's crucifixion, these creations help bring the stories of the New Testament to life, complete with a soundtrack and special effects. Tours typically take an hour and begin every 15 minutes. Located nearby the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, travelers may just find inspiration indoors and out.

9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. $10 online, $12 box office; $4 online, $5 at box office ages 6-12. 510 River Road, Gatlinburg, Tenn., 865-436-5155,

Bush's Visitor Center

That naughty, grade-school rhyme claims that beans are good for your heart. If so, then the home of Bush's Baked Beans must be pumping full throttle. Located inside the original A.J. Bush & Company general store, which opened its doors in 1897, the center includes a short film filled with beautiful bean footage. Walk through a giant can of Bush's Baked Beans to learn about how baked beans are made, and ingest the history of Bush's by perusing a company timeline. Belly up to a table in the Bush's Family Cafe for legume-laden grub, including the trademark pinto bean pie. Cruise the gift shop, and maybe even score a plush version of Duke, the talking pooch featured in Bush's commercials.

10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. Free. 3901 U.S. 411, Dandridge, Tenn., 865-509-3077,


Hidden Geeky Gems in Orlando

Hidden Geeky Gems in Orlando

Orlando may be the theme park capital of the world, but there’s plenty more pop culture juice to squeeze from its figurative orange. Consider the following destinations to enhance your next visit. 

Rock and Roll Heaven

(1814 N. Orange Ave., Orlando. 407-896-1952,

Record stores may be becoming as rare as the most treasured slab of vinyl, but this holdover keeps its figurative turntable spinning in perpetual motion. Imagine stepping inside a funky 1970s-era record shack covered from bin to ceiling in a sensory overload of memorabilia. So reads the descriptive liner notes for Rock and Roll Heaven, a music nerd’s Valhalla. It plays host to more than 1,500 square feet of meticulously categorized vinyl, CDs, cassettes, 8-tracks, VHS tapes and laser discs. Make sure and carve out several hours to wade through the inventory of more than 250,000 45 singles. Shoppers can snag a Pink Floyd poster, grab a Kiss action figure, drape themselves in a T. Rex T-shirt and peruse the thousands of pop culture-related postcards. The savvy staff, each armed with a degree from the college of music knowledge, help guide customers in the right direction. And don’t forget to bring the camera. The not-for-sale, museum-like decor includes artifacts ranging from the backing glass of an Elton John pinball machine to a Six Million Dollar Man board game.  


Boom-Art by Rogers Studio

(1821 N. Orange Ave., Orlando. 407-895-0280)

Just across the street from Rock and Roll Heaven in Orlando’s antique district sits a concentrated splash of acid-laced whimsy and chromatic pop culture. Co-owner Glenn Rogers, a rat-a-tat wordsmith and the spitting image of a younger Wavy Gravy, says the shop lands somewhere between the Guggenheim and “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” He and wife Sandy, a pair of former Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus clowns, inject shots of Technicolor imagination into recycled and found items. You might walk out with a pair of bottle cap earrings dangling from your lobes. Stools and tables are slathered in iconic images of The Cat in the Hat, Marilyn Monroe, Batman and an endless array of others. A mannequin torso painted up in a Wonder Woman onsie, clocks made from pulp magazine covers and a jewelry box plastered with the faces of all four Beatles make up just a smidgen of the inventory. It’s all hand painted and encapsulated in a plastic sheen, giving a literal pop to the Rogers’ work. Even some celebrities themselves indulge in Boom-Art. Rogers says Robert Plant, Jay Leno, members of The B-52s, Ann-Margret and other notables have shopped there. Rogers put some boom in Shaquille O’Neal’s room by creating a table emblazoned with the Superman symbol especially for the b-ball legend


Acme Superstore

(905 E. State Road 434, Longwood. 407-331-0433,

Acme’s super power comes in the form of 10,500 square feet of showroom space teeming with toys, comics and collectibles. The dynamic duo of husband-and-wife owners Terry and Tory Dinkins keep geeks breathing heavily from their mouths. Racks upon racks and rows of glass cases house vintage and contemporary action figures. Think Tron, Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Transformers and an exhaustive roster of others. It’s enough to light the nostalgic sabers of children of the 1970s and ’80s. Comic book mongers devour new and back issues, zipping from the golden age and back again. Once busting at the seams like the Hulk in slacks, Acme took over the neighboring space. It’s now home to the Danger Room, a special events facility that holds free improv classes and shindigs including a Batman 75th anniversary bash on July 23. Heck, a couple even exchanged nerdy nuptials within those walls. Who says geeks stay trapped in their parents’ basements?



(205 N. Mills Ave., Orlando. 407-796-2522,

Have a hankering for classic stand-up video games and discerning suds? Stop by Bart, and you’re in like Flynn. The Jeff Bridges character would likely approve of this watering hole and nostalgic nod to arcade iconography. Chris and Adrian Brown have created a bonus level of the grown-up kind; a place where you tip back a Terrapin while playing Frogger. Original art hangs from the walls, and Abita, Rogue, Dogfish Head and a slew of other hops and barley await. As for the games, Bart plans on rotating them in and out. Expect to come across the glory days of vintage acardia. Bart promises Ms. Pac Man, Centipede, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong and more of the usual suspects.  


The Cloak & Blaster Gaming Pub

(875 Woodbury Road, Orlando. 407-674-7435,

Geeks looking for a retreat from the jock strapiness of a lackluster sports bar can visit the Cloak & Blaster. The restaurant and bar serves up piping hot board and card games. Its sprawling library holds time-honored picks such as Monopoly and Mouse Trap, and new schoolers like Munchkin, 7 Wonders and Cards Against Humanity. Console gamers plug in in the video game lounge. Don’t be surprised to see an episode of “Doctor Who” flickering on one of the TV screens. And it’s not unlikely to watch cosplayers bite into a Smaug burger and wash it down with a Soul Stealer, a combination of mead and ale.

Go on a 'Big Holiday' with Pee-wee Herman

Go on a 'Big Holiday' with Pee-wee Herman

If I come across perpetual man-child Pee-wee Herman and gush about how much I love his new movie “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday,” I can only imagine his response.

“Then why don’t you marry it!,” he would blurt out, quickly followed with a Pee-wee chuckle.

Go ahead and grab the preacher; I’m ready for my vows, Mr. Herman.

The fact “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday,” a made-for-Netflix feature that premiered March 18, seamlessly picks up where Herman’s alter ego, Paul Reubens, cinematically left off 28 years ago proves to be a feat in itself. The comedic tone and rhythm remain pure, unadulterated Pee-wee. The character and jokes come off as rip-roaringly funny as Pee-wee was in his prime three decades ago. The streams of tears that lined my face while watching “Big Holiday” serve as the perfect testament to that.

So why is “Big Holiday” such a big deal? Look at it this way. Imagine your favorite musician, who delivered a career-defining performance 30 years ago, hitting it out of the park again in the present day. It’s rare, folks. Sure, it happens, but certainly not often. Most icons get rich, fat and happy, and lose the creative hunger that brought them to the dinner table in the first place.

With “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday,” Reubens not only shows us he still has quite the appetite, he lays out a bountiful buffet of near-timeless comedy we’ll be feasting on for years.

The premise is simple. At the beginning of “Big Holiday,” we find Pee-wee Herman perfectly content living a simple and sheltered life in Small Town, America, while flipping omelets and whipping up milkshakes as a short-order cook. That all changes when a buff celebrity biker, Joe Manganiello playing himself, rolls into town. The two quickly form a man-crush bond and big Joe encourages Pee-wee to break out of his bubble and journey to Joe’s birthday bash in NYC. 

Mr. Herman obliges and soon finds himself tangling with a trio of bad ass babes straight out of “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”; hitching a ride with a traveling salesman; being chased by a brood of big-boned country babes; cruising with some hardcore hair stylists; hopping aboard a flying car; reluctantly hanging with a mountain man; and pit stopping in Amish country before arriving in the Big Apple.

Now that I’ve dispersed my rave, it’s time to get back to the blog business of geek travel. Since I can’t celebrate “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” with each of you, gorging on a big, communal bowl of ice cream soup, here are a few California travel stops tied to all three Pee-wee Herman films.

"Pee-wee's Big Adventure"

Prehistoric Pee-wee

Arguably the most iconic location in “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” director Tim Burton’s debut feature, is Cabazon Dinosaurs, about 16 miles west of Palm Springs, Calif. It’s the site where Simone the waitress and Pee-wee become pals, and where Simone’s jealous beau, Andy, attempts to rip Pee-wee a new one.

Home to a pair of mammoth dinos, Mr. Rex and Dinny, Cabazon allows guests to get up close and personal with the creatures. You can climb inside both the tyrannosaurus rex and the apatosaurus for prehistoric selfies.

The attraction is open daily, and tickets are $10 for adults, $9 for kids, and $7 for seniors and active military. Tots ages 2 and younger are free. A special dinosaur kiddie ride is available for $2 per youngun.

50770 Seminole Drive, Cabazon, Calif. 951-922-8700,  


Go Ride a Bike at The Hollywood Museum

Second only to Pee-wee himself, the brightest co-star in “Big Adventure” would be Pee-wee’s bike. Several of the prop bikes used in the movie can be found in museums around the country, but film geeks will likely salivate once inside The Hollywood Museum.

Located just around the corner from the TCL Chinese Theatre and neighboring the N. Highland Avenue location of Mel’s Diner, the Hollywood Museum sits inside the historic Max Factor building. More than 10,000 Tinseltown artifacts live inside. Step right off of the third floor elevator and you can scope out Pee-wee’s righteous ride.

Other eye candy includes W.C. Fields’ top hat, Rocky’s boxing gloves, old-school “Planet of the Apes” costumes and Hannibal Lecter’s entire cell from “The Silence of the Lambs.” A special summer-spanning Marilyn Monroe exhibit has enough blonde bombshell treasures to blow up your skirt. That’s just a smidgen of what you’ll find across four floors with 38,000-square feet of exhibit space. And unlike the Alamo, it has a basement. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students and seniors, and $5 for kiddos ages 5 and younger.

1660 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood, Calif. 323-464-7776,


Pee-wee at the Studio

“Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” rocks its third act with a romp across the Warner Bros. Studio lot. Where else would Pee-wee stumble upon Twisted Sister, Godzilla and demanding child stars?

Today you can actually tour a portion of the 110-acre backlot where Pee-wee ran amok. “Conan,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “The Ellen Degeneres Show” are a few of the shows currently getting busy on the grounds.

Visit the Archive, featuring “Harry Potter” costumes and props, and its Picture Car Vault, complete with Batmobiles. Ticket prices vary depending on the tour you choose. Visit its Website for the skinny.

3400 Warner Blvd., Burbank, Calif. 877-492-8687,


"Big Top Pee-wee"

Pee-wee Herman Had a Farm

“Big Top Pee-wee” may not be the greatest show on earth to some, but it still has my inner child reaching for cotton candy and giggling like a hyena. According to the Internet Movie Data Base, much of the film was shot at Disney’s Golden Oak Ranch in Newhall, Calif., less than an hour from Los Angeles.

Basically the last remaining studio ranch in operation, it has nearly 700 acres with rural town sets, city streets, houses, barns, a lake with a covered bridge, waterfalls and more. Thanks to Bill Cotter’s Website, I learned this amazing hunk o’ nature served as the Triple R Ranch on the “Spin and Marty” segments on the original “The Mickey Mouse Club.” “'The Apple Dumpling Gang,” “Pete's Dragon,” “Bonanza,” “Little House on the Prairie” and “The Muppet Movie” were just a few of the films and TV shows shot there.

More contemporary productions that have used the Ranch include “CSI,” “Entourage” and “Sons of Anarchy.” Although it’s on private property and not open to visitors, Cotter, who actually worked there at one time, says if you pass by the entrance, you can get a decent view of the town built for “Roots II.” Take the trail at the nearby Placerita Canyon Nature Center, and you can walk up to the edge of the Ranch. 

19802 Placerita Canyon Road, Newhall, Calif.


"Pee-wee's Big Holiday"

Big Nature in “Big Holiday”

Although “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” doesn’t have striking locales like the looming lizards of Cabazon, the Internet Movie Database says some scenes were shot in beautiful Big Bear Lake, Calif. If I were Madam Ruby the fortune teller, I’d guess the Grizzly Bear Daniels scenes were filmed in the area.

The city of Big Bear Lake, tucked in the San Bernardino Mountains along the south shore of Big Bear Lake, serves as an escape from big-city bustle. The San Bernardino National Forest surrounds it. Snow skiing, snow boarding and other seasonal activities hit the slopes in the winter. A wine festival, a Renaissance fair, an Oktoberfest bash and oodles more pack the rest of the year. It’s a two-hour drive from L.A., two-and-a-half hours from San Diego, and three hours from Vegas.

Top 5 Tolkien Treks in New Zealand

Top 5 Tolkien Treks in New Zealand

A little more than three years ago, I interviewed several die-hard Atlanta-based enthusiasts of author J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and director Peter Jackson’s subsequent films. The story appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and explored the Shire of serious fandom in anticipation of the release of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” You can find the story here.

Tolkien super fan Chris Herzberg of Augusta, GA was one of the folks I interviewed for my story. Credit: Jack Herzberg

Tolkien super fan Chris Herzberg of Augusta, GA was one of the folks I interviewed for my story. Credit: Jack Herzberg

While tracking down Tolkien devotees, I came across Rebecca Perry, who writes articles and makes convention appearances for the fan site Her story hit close to home as it involved an uber geeky travel experience of the Tolkien kind. Not unlike Bilbo and Frodo, Perry had gone on her very own journey to Middle-earth’s cinematic stunt double: New Zealand. 

Rebecca Perry of Atlanta, GA visits Hobbiton near Matamata, New Zealand.

Rebecca Perry of Atlanta, GA visits Hobbiton near Matamata, New Zealand.

There she explored immaculate locations from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and even found herself in the midst of all the hubbub surrounding “The Hobbit” premiere in Wellington. And like everyone I’ve ever spoken to who’s been to New Zealand, she couldn’t get over the myriad of natural beauty.

Since writing the article back in 2012, I periodically run into Rebecca at nerd-related events. I recently asked her if she wouldn’t mind putting together her Top 5 Tolkien sites in New Zealand. 

Although Perry’s preparing for yet another adventure —she’s attending HobbitCon April 1-3 in Bonn, Germany— she quickly obliged. Below are her picks. 

So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags, and go on your own unexpected journey to New Zealand. Just don’t forget to double up on the lembas bread.

-Jon Waterhouse, Nerds on Holiday

My Top 5 Tolkien Things To See in New Zealand

By Rebecca Perry


1. Hobbiton

The Hobbiton set near Matamata, New Zealand.

The Hobbiton set near Matamata, New Zealand.

Built on a private farm near Matamata for “The Lord of the Rings trilogy,” Hobbiton was rebuilt for “The Hobbit” trilogy to look exactly as it does in the films.  Once you've gone on the guided tour, you can stop in The Green Dragon Inn for a pint!


2. National Park Village

Mt. Tongariro. Credit: Rebecca Perry

Mt. Tongariro. Credit: Rebecca Perry

The Whakapapa ski field on Mt. Tongariro. Credit: Rebecca Perry.

The Whakapapa ski field on Mt. Tongariro. Credit: Rebecca Perry.

There isn't much to do in the village itself besides visiting its hostel and a cafe/gas station. But it’s centrally located with breathtaking views of three active volcanoes: Mt. Ruapehu, Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe, which were featured in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Mt. Ngauruhoe was the model for Mt. Doom, the Tukino ski field on Mt. Ruapehua was used to film the Gates of Mordor, and the Whakapapa ski field on Mt. Tongariro was used for Mordor.   


3 - Hakatere Conservation Park

Mt. Sunday. Credit: Rebecca Perry

Mt. Sunday. Credit: Rebecca Perry

This is where Edoras was flimed. The Golden Hall of King Theoden was located on Mt. Sunday.  It's tricky getting there on your own, because it's pretty remote.  The easiest way to get there is with one of the many “Lord of the Rings” guided tours.  My favorite is Red Carpet Tours:


4. Putangirua Pinnacles National Park

Putangirua Pinnacles National Park. Credit: Rebecca Perry.

Putangirua Pinnacles National Park. Credit: Rebecca Perry.

Made up of a large number of unusual earth pillars, this was the filming location for The Paths of the Dead, where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli go in search of The Army of the Dead, in “The Return of the King.”


5. Wellington

Wellington, New Zealand. Credit: Rebecca Perry.

Wellington, New Zealand. Credit: Rebecca Perry.

Rebecca Perry at Weta Workshop in Wellington, New Zealand.

Rebecca Perry at Weta Workshop in Wellington, New Zealand.

No Tolkien fan’s trip would be complete without a visit to New Zealand's capital.  In addition to all of the great shops and restaurants, it's home to Weta Workshop (who did all of the props, costumes, and visual effects for both film trilogies). You can now take a behind-the-scenes tour.  Mt. Victoria is also nearby, where some filming for “The Fellowship of the Ring” took place.

Take a Monster-Making Vacation

Take a Monster-Making Vacation

An old truck stop hotel that’s seeing a second life as a paint ball complex may seem like a strange haunting ground for special effects artist Shane Morton. Yet once inside the doors of his Silver Scream FX Lab, it transports visitors to another realm, one that gives birth to monstrous creatures painted, sculpted and built by the hands of Morton and his crew.

Morton work his magic.

Morton work his magic.

The Silver Scream FX Lab, located just outside of Atlanta, churns out a barrage of creations for film, TV, commercials, music videos and special events. It’s where Morton and company blast their airbrushes, sling paint, handcraft props out of clay, and strike many o’ mold. 

Matt Servitto (left) and Henry Zebrowski don some of the handiwork from Silver Scream FX Lab.

Matt Servitto (left) and Henry Zebrowski don some of the handiwork from Silver Scream FX Lab.

Since 2013, Morton’s been serving as the makeup department head and lead special makeup effects artist for the Adult Swim TV series “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell,” basically “The Office” for the damned. Other projects that have rolled out of the lab include creature creations and effects for several Mastodon music videos; the gore found in indie horror flicks “Dear God No!” and the upcoming “Frankenstein Created Bikers”; and the twisted cat puppet Smarf that Morton and co-hort Chris Brown built for the Adult Swim viral video “Too Many Cooks.” 

Gary (Henry Zebrowski) gussies up Cerberus on "Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell."

Gary (Henry Zebrowski) gussies up Cerberus on "Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell."

Silver Scream FX Lab may be an effects studio, but it looks more like a museum. A massive three-headed Cerberus offers its cartoonish, canine gaze to passersby. Fantastic latex masks literally overflow from shelves and cases. A melted-face zombie buddies next to a gorilla mug. The jagged teeth of a jumbo reptilian alien mask look less intimidating than the demonic baby heads half its size.   

Some of the creations found at the Silver Scream FX Lab.

Some of the creations found at the Silver Scream FX Lab.

Turning the Lab into museum is exactly Morton’s plan. The idea, he says, is for it to become a tourist destination, a roadside attraction for rabid horror and sci-fi fans. A 3D trek through Hades is already up and running, the appropriate eternal resting place for “Pretty Face” props.

Smarf with co-builder Chris Brown. 

Smarf with co-builder Chris Brown. 

Morton hopes to have the attraction finished by the summer. In the meantime, he’s holding special effects make-up classes. The next one, an exercise in the basics, drops March 20. 

One of Morton's zombified mugs.

One of Morton's zombified mugs.

The class, which costs $150, includes a professional make-up kit. Each student walks away with a stash of the essentials, including water-based face paint, spirit gum, crepe hair, liquid latex, stage blood and more. 

Morton’s interactive, six-hour class teaches wannabe monster makers face painting techniques, and how to create bruises and wounds. Students also whip up a latex zombie face and learn how to transform an average Joe into a howling good werewolf. 

Those interested in taking a creature-creating vacation and visiting the Silver Scream FX Lab can learn more by visiting its Facebook event page.

Can make the trip? Here are a few creature feature tricks of the trade from Morton himself.

Morton's alter ego Professor Morte.

Morton's alter ego Professor Morte.

Doing the robot:

“I did a big job for Adult Swim where we built all of these giant robots. The bulk of the material we used were old Rubbermaid trash cans and different gallon jugs. We just cut them, drilled holes in them and ran zip ties through them, assembled them and spray painted them all silver. We used vacuum tubing for arms. Those robots were pretty impressive, and they were made on a shoestring. So you can build a giant robot and have it standing in the yard, or you can put someone inside it and have them scare people.”

Pour some syrup on me:

“I always recommend Karo syrup for blood. It’s thick, and it moves and looks like blood. But a lot of people don’t like it, because it’s sticky, it can cause a mess and it’s hard to clean up. When it dries it gets hard like candy. But nothing really tops that for me. Sometimes to cut down the shine you might want to add a bit of corn flour. You can even add chocolate syrup and mint flavoring to make it more palatable in your mouth. You want to use red food coloring, but blood isn’t really red, it’s dark brown. So the trick to make your blood look realistic is putting a couple of drops of green in there to darken the blood.”

Thrifty frights:

"Growing up on St. Simons Island in a family without a whole lot of money, we had to think creatively. My all-time favorite costume was Lon Chaney from “London After Midnight.” My dad ran to the five-and-dime store and bought a sheet of black poster board to make a top hat. He cut a set of fangs out of a milk jug. We didn’t have money for make up, so he just burned a cork, and darkened my eyes and raised my cheek bones up. I had a black trash bag as a cape with the bat wing shapes cut out at the bottom. It was really scary and kind of like magic. He made this thing happen and might have spent 25 cents on the whole project. And in my mind I looked just like Lon Chaney."

Traveling to a Tee

When I travel, tangible proof of my adventure always comes home in the form of a T-shirt bought along the way. The following are just a few of my favorite patches of cotton. 

999 Happy Haunts

Call me a foolish mortal, but if I could only pick one theme park ride to be stuck on for perpetuity, the Haunted Mansion at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom would be my eternal choice.

In recent years, Disney Imagineers have only amped up the wizardry found within the ride’s walls. The endless staircase, the effects in the attic and the animated hitchhiking ghosts add contemporary whiz-bang. I literally wear my love of this attraction on my sleeve with this out-of-print tee. Since the Mouse House doesn’t sell this design anymore, I rotate it out to make it last.

Put the Toon Back in the Lagoon

The theming at Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando continues to amaze. Heck, Universal creatives set the bar way high when they opened Islands of Adventure in 1999. Sure, Harry Potter rules the roost, but one of my favorite sections continues to be Toon Lagoon. The design and decor drop you right in the middle of the Sunday funnies. Yet the gift shops fall short. The park has a Dudley Do-Right ride, but no Jay Ward merch? Gimme a Snidely Whiplash mug or a Bullwinkle shirt, for crying out loud.

Luckily, I found this tee during my Universal excursion in 2015. It features a gaggle of Toon Lagoon characters, including my beloved Popeye. I’m keeping my toon fingers crossed that the merchandise powers that be add to the offerings. 

Get Cozy

Memphians regularly battle over what barbecue is best. Yet there’s no denying Cozy Corner trademark barbecue cornish hens.

Ribs, ’cue and bologna sandwiches lure the faithful. I’m one of them and count Cozy Corner as my favorite stop while traveling in the Bluff City. So I don this tee proudly and totally dig the old-school artwork. I’m happy to be a walking advert.

Do You Roo?

Prior to 2013, if you would’ve asked me if I’d ever dreamt of going to Bonnaroo, my answer would’ve been “Oh, hay-yull no!” The idea of being stuck in the sweltering heat with Molly-eating 20-somethings sounded like a form of torture. Yet when I was hired to help create audio slideshows for, I obliged. The promise of a more cushier campy experience and the opportunity to see Paul McCartney from the front row provided serious incentive. Although the work hours proved grueling, I look back ever so fondly at my Roo stint.

It was an absolute blast, and I made some cherished memories watching Macca up close with my Beatle-loving son, Levi.


The secret to NYC souvenirs lies on the tables of street vendors in Chinatown. I want to say I bought this Chinatown tee for $5. As you can see, I’ve worn the heck out of the thing.

Yes, its days look to be numbered. The shirt’s future may be destined as a car wash rag. The next time I’m Big Apple bound, I’ll be looking for a replacement.

A Head of the Game

Nothing says family vacation like a shrunken head on a T-shirt. I grabbed this one at the Ripley’s Believe it Or Not in Dallas, Texas in 2012. When I slip it on, it conjures memories of exploring the grounds with my daughter and her absolutely losing her mind in the monstrous wax museum.   

Going Over the Rainbow

Going Over the Rainbow

Talking trees, wicked witches and magical mushrooms. Do these repressed memories from the 1970s lurk along the Yellow Brick Road in your mind?

And no, we’re not talking about some sort of hallucinogenic flashback. 

If you answer “yes,” chances are you visited the Land of Oz theme park high atop Beech Mountain Resort in Banner Elk, North Carolina. Want to reclaim a bit of that nostalgia? It’s a whole lot easier than clicking your heels and chanting “There’s no place like home.”

The Park

The Land of Oz was the brainchild of creator and designer Jack Pentes, and entrepreneur Grover Robbins. Robbins, who owned the park, had great success with the popular Tweetsie Railroad attraction in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, which still chugs along today. Sadly, Robbins succumbed to cancer just months before Oz went operational.

Joe Sonderman, design director for Pentes Design, works on Land of Oz models.

Joe Sonderman, design director for Pentes Design, works on Land of Oz models.

Opened in 1970 as a warm weather attraction when Beech’s ski slopes were closed, the Land of Oz brought to life the world and characters found in “The Wizard of Oz,” and plopped tourists smack dab in the middle. Actress Debbie Reynolds, who helped the park acquire some of its “Oz” movie props for the park museum, cut the ribbon on opening day, her bored-looking daughter, Carrie Fisher, in tow.  

Debbie Reynolds (right) with Land of Oz creator Jack Pentes (center) and a pre-"Star Wars" Carrie Fisher (left).

Debbie Reynolds (right) with Land of Oz creator Jack Pentes (center) and a pre-"Star Wars" Carrie Fisher (left).

Guests took an enclosed gondola lift or surrey bus to the top of the mountain where they would find Dorothy’s house on Aunt Em and Uncle Henry’s farm, which also played host to a petting zoo. Visitors would tour Dorothy’s digs then journey downstairs to the cellar for a simulated cyclone. 

After the storm, they’d exit through a door that led to an exact replica of Dorothy’s house, which was decked out and distressed as if it had been trashed by the cyclone. 

Stepping out the front door, visitors would find themselves on the Yellow Brick Road, the witch’s feet sticking out from underneath Dorothy’s house. 

The experience would unfold on the Yellow Brick Road with encounters with the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion along the way. Each character had his own house, and they would step outside and greet guests as they passed. 

The Wicked Witch’s castle loomed above the trail, too. She would jump out and cackle at all of the little pretties skipping along the bricks.

The Yellow Brick Road led to Emerald City where a stage show starring Dorothy, her buds, dancing mushrooms, puppets and the Wizard took place. Gift shops shilled Oz T-shirts, kazoos, buttons and more. And you could make like Dorothy and hop on a special ski lift for a simulated hot air balloon ride.

Although it proved to be the most popular attraction in the Southeast in its first year, a myriad of problems, including economics and dwindling attendance, caused Oz to shut its doors in 1980.


Oz Today

Beginning in 1990, a development dubbed Emerald Mountain began sprouting homesites in the area. Although the remnants of the Land of Oz had become overgrown and prey to vandalism, the property owners slowly began restoring portions of the park. 

Today the Yellow Brick Road has reclaimed its golden glimmer with caretakers replacing missing bricks over the years. The Witch’s castle and some of the anthropomorphic trees have been rebuilt. The covered bridge still stands, as does the fountain at the park’s entrance. A lone surviving hot air balloon car is perched high on a pole.

From June through October, guests can actually bunk in Dorothy’s house, which comes blinged with Oz memorabilia. My family and I rented it out several years ago. The place looks almost the same as it did when I visited the park as a wee munchkin in the ’70s. The property owners have even recreated the cellar cyclone scene right down to the witchy glow-in-the-dark “Surrender Dorothy” mural on the wall. 

Crash at Dorothy’s and you have access to the Yellow Brick Road. Ask nicely and the caretakers might show you their Land of Oz museum featuring park artifacts, and actual screen-used props and costumes from the 1939 film. Breathtaking, some of this stuff, including the Witch’s stockings worn by actress Margaret Hamilton in the movie, could be in the Smithsonian. 

Want to get married in Oz or simply party on the Yellow Bricks? The property can also be rented for parties and special events. Fork over an extra $100, and Dorothy will materialize. 


Autumn at Oz

Each October, the Land of Oz throws a two-day bash billed as Autumn at Oz. Oz characters, some portrayed by original Land of Oz cast members, mingle with the crowd. Live music, food vendors, a petting zoo, Oz museum tours and more bring the magic. 

Cruising Memphis in Kingly Fashion

Cruising Memphis in Kingly Fashion

When Brad Birkedahl and Brandon Cunning decided to take Memphis tourists back in time, they skipped on doing it in a DeLorean. Under the banner of their company, Rockabilly Rides, Cunning and Birkedahl drive guests on intimate jaunts around the Bluff City in either a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air or 1959 Ford Fairline 500 Skyliner Galaxie. 

Both Birkedahl and Cunning showcase Memphis-made melodies for a living by performing regularly in venues along Beale Street. It’s the same legendary stretch of real estate where W.C. Handy helped popularize the blues and B.B. King blazed on his ax Lucille. So it makes sense Cunning and Birkedahl would translate their passion for the city’s tonal legacy into specialized tours. 

Brad Birkedhal posing in front of his 1959 Ford Fairline 500 Skyliner Galaxie.

Brad Birkedhal posing in front of his 1959 Ford Fairline 500 Skyliner Galaxie.

Their Red, Hot & Blue tour, an Elvis-centric experience, replicates the treks Presley would take his Hollywood pals on when they visited the king in Memphis.

The two-hour cruise visits Presley’s high school, the outdoor stage of his first professional performance and more. It includes pointing out the legendary Sun Studio on Union Avenue, the site of Presley’s first recordings and worth a visit all of its own. 

The Memphis 101 tour drives through history with a focus on downtown. The guides explain Memphis during the Civil War, the cotton industry, the yellow fever epidemic and the Civil Rights movement. It wraps at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.

Rockabilly Rides also offers limousine-style service in Memphis. Pro wrestling legend Jerry "The King" Lawler, a lifelong Memphian, reached out to Rockabilly Rides to drive he and his fiance to Valentine's dinner. According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Lawler plans to open a wrestling-themed restaurant on Beale Street.

Jerry Lawler (left) with Brad Birkedahl of Rockabilly Rides.

Jerry Lawler (left) with Brad Birkedahl of Rockabilly Rides.

The folks at Rockabilly Rides say they’ll be fueling up with an additional tour in the future focusing on the city’s soul music heritage.

Here's a look at their promo video:

126 Beale St., Memphis. 901-264-0819,

A Purple Rain Tour of Minneapolis

A Purple Rain Tour of Minneapolis

You don’t have to own a pair of paisley riding pants and a frilly button-down to appreciate “Purple Rain,” the landmark semi-biographical musical drama starring Prince. 

While some of the acting may not have warranted an Academy Award like its music did —many critics rank the soundtrack as one of the all-time greats— the flick still stands center stage as an achievement in rock ‘n’ roll cinema. 

The high-energy stage performances by Prince and his band The Revolution remain an exercise in showtime perfection. And Morris Day, Prince’s foil in the film, nearly steals the show as a primping, comedic gigolo frontman with a glide in his step.

If “Purple Rain” still causes you to blush lavender more than 30 years after its release, then a Minneapolis vacay may be in order. 

First Avenue & 7th St. Entry

Minneapolis’ answer to the Fillmore, First Avenue has served as the launching pad for a variety of area acts, including The Replacements, Soul Asylum and Husker Du. Yet it's Prince who continues to be its biggest export. 

Appropriately enough, First Avenue’s stage was used in the film for live performances featuring Prince and The Revolution as well as The Time. All that air humping during “Darling Nikki” and wing flapping during “The Bird” went down in that very venue. In August 1983, the album version of the song “Purple Rain” was recorded live during a Prince performance. 

The club still looks similar to how it does on celluloid. Check its website for upcoming acts, and book your visit around a show. Make sure and grab a First Avenue T-shirt or hoodie at the gift shop.

1st Ave. S., Minneapolis, Minn. 612-332-1775,


Cedar Lake

If you’re looking to make like Apollonia and purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, you can go to the spot where she made her topless splash in the movie. Cedar Lake offers a trio of beaches, a dock for fishing and a place where you can launch a canoe or kayak. Keep in mind Cedar Lake Park will be closed until May 27, 2016 for its special development project.

25875 Juniper Ave. New Prague, Minn. 763-694-7777,


Crystal Court in the IDS Center

Remember when Prince eyes that white guitar with the curvy body through a storefront window? He first saw what fans call "the cloud guitar" on the Skyway level of Crystal Court. For the most part, it still looks as it does in “Purple Rain.” Although you won’t likely find any royal axes for sale, you’ll find retailers including a Banana Republic and a shop shilling Minnesota souvenirs. Grab some sushi, a little fro-yo or a hot cup o’ Starbucks.

80 S. 8th St., Minneapolis, Minn.


The Ultimate Purple Vacation Playlist

While packing for a Prince-infused vacation, don’t forget to load your iPod with some Minneapolis-related funk rock essentials.

“Purple Rain” by Prince and The Revolution - Go ahead and include the whole thing. It’s flawless from start to finish. While some call Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” the ultimate 1980s disc, we say “Purple Rain” knocks its sequined glove right off. However, make sure and add the dance mix version of “Let’s Go Crazy,” which is heard in the movie. It’s 7:35 of Princely indulgence.


“Nasty Girl” by Vanity Six- Under his Jamie Starr moniker, Prince produced this saucy dance track. Originally slated to play the female lead in “Purple Rain,” lead singer Vanity left Prince’s stable before filming and was replaced by Apollonia Kotero.


“Cool,” “The Bird,” “Jungle Love” by The Time - This trifecta of awesome captures the best of Morris Day and The Time in a nutshell. Originally put together by Prince as an outlet for some of his funkier material, The Time proved to be a platform for Day’s personality to run rampant. “Cool’s” 10 minutes of elongated funk make it dance floor ready. “Jungle Love” encapsulates the Minneapolis sound in a pop song package. And “The Bird,” recorded live, captures The Time in their prime.


“The Glamorous Life,” “A Love Bizarre” by Sheila E. - Another one of Prince’s proteges, Sheila E. brought an impressive percussive pedigree to the table. She’s the daughter of famed drummer Pete Escovedo. Through the Prince filter, her amazing drumming paired well with sexy songwriting and her breathy vocals. The latter tune features Prince singing an uncredited co-lead.


Matt Fink Q&A

Not only did Matt “Doctor” Fink hold down a keyboard spot in Prince’s band from 1979 to 1991 and co-wrote iconic tunes with the Purple One,  he wore his trademark stage scrubs in “Purple Rain.” Fink even delivered an oft-quoted line in the film. Today, he leads the Purple Xperience, a touring tribute to the heyday of Prince and The Revolution. 

Q.: You began playing music live as a teenager, and then you teamed up with Prince in 1978. So how did that come about?

A.: At that time, I was playing in another group in Minneapolis around 1977. And Bobby “Z” Rivkin knew me, because we both went to the same high school together. One night he came out to see the band I was playing with at the time. He had Prince’s first demo tape with him. And he invited me to the car to listen to the songs. He wanted me to be aware of who Prince was. And I said, “Wow. This is very impressive. Who is this guy?” He explained to me who he was. I said, “Who’s the band playing with him?” He told me, “It’s not a band. It’s all him in the studio.” Of course, my jaw dropped. I asked, “How old is he?” And Bobby told me he was the same age as I was at the time, which was 19. I said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” He said, “No.” I said, “How do you know him?” He told me he was working as an assistant to Prince’s manager at the time. So I told him to keep me in the loop, and that I was interested in meeting Prince someday. I said, “If he decides to ever put a band together, let me know.” His management was trying to get him a record deal. …A good year later, once Prince got a record deal with Warner Bros., I called Bobby and Prince’s management to see if I could get an audition to join the group. Unfortunately at that point, they had already put the band together and had filled the keyboard slots. About six months later, the male keyboardist left the group, and Prince started putting his feelers out for another keyboard player. So that’s when I had the opportunity to audition, and he hired me after that.

Q.: What was your first impression of Prince?

A.: He was extremely bright and had a great sense of humor. The interesting thing is, we were from the same generation and born the same year. We had the same experiences growing up. So we got along very well. It was a really good experience working with him.

Q.: We all hear those stories of Prince’s eccentric artistic behavior. What was the dynamic like with him in the studio? 

A.: Obviously, it was his talent that procured the record contract. Really, the majority of the creative side was on him. Although, he did come to people in the group for some input and he was always open to creative ideas and songwriting ideas. He really liked to work with the band and just jam a lot and listen to what we were doing that way. If a musical idea popped up that he liked, he would possibly run with it and create a song around it. But as far as melody and lyrics were concerned, it was always coming from him. He was really not open to working with others on that side of the songwriting process. …My co-writes were always musical ideas that he latched on to, and he would write the melodies and lyrics to those and create the songs.

Q.: Of course, things went nuts when “Purple Rain,” both the album and movie, were released. What was your life like at that moment?

A.: It changed everybody’s lives, because you get to that point where everyone on the planet knows who you are. So going out in public can be interesting. While were on the Purple Rain tour in Atlanta, I’ll never forget something that happened. Bruce Springsteen was on tour at the same time. He was walking around the Omni mall (what is now CNN Center), and myself and some the rest of the band ran into him. He was kind of incognito wearing and old, ratty trench coat. He hadn’t shaved and wasn’t easily recognizable, but we recognized him. I said, “How are you?” He said, “Great.” Bruce had to take off, but the rest of the Revolution and I —Prince wasn’t with us— went to have lunch in one of the restaurants there. We were sitting in the restaurant and somebody recognized us. Somehow the word got out we were there in the mall. Next thing you know, the entire entrance of the restaurant was covered with hundreds of people and we couldn’t get out. We had to sneak out through the kitchen through the employee’s entrance to get away, because it was getting scary. 


Morris Day Q&A

As frontman for The Time, Morris Day’s cackling laugh and fancy footwork became as synonymous as his singing. And being able to chew up scenery and take attention away from Prince on the big screen ain’t no small feat. Today, Day continues to tour, write and record. He fronts a touring group called Morris Day and The Time, as well as the original incarnation of The Time, now known as The Original 7ven. The latter released a reunion album in 2011.

Q.: So what’s the difference between your onstage persona and the real Morris Day?

A.: The onstage image is a culmination of everything energized and shrunk down to an hour-and-fifteen-minute package. ...I like to think that that side of me is the up side and the side that likes to have a good time. ...But of course as with anybody, there’s all the personal facets and other sides. A lot of people get disappointed when they see me in public because I’m not sliding sideways into the room and doing “The Bird.”  That’s the person they want to see. They don’t want to see a person who’s got something on their mind and on a mission to get the car serviced.

Q.: Could you ever have imagined that “Purple Rain” would be remembered as an ’80s pop culture classic?

A.: It was such an innocent effort on everybody’s part. Prince was like, “We’re going to make a movie.” And everybody was like, “OK.” He started lining up acting classes and dancing classes. ...And I got kicked out of acting classes for always cutting up just like back in my school days when I’d get kicked out of class for the same kind of thing. And it turned out that that kind of cutting up is what worked for me in the film. So that was kind of my revenge to the acting teacher who kicked me out of class.

Morris Day 5.png

Q.: How did your life change after the movie?

A.: For us it was just a complete life-changing experience from the way people treated us. You hear that probably a lot from musicians who get a hit record. In a town like Minneapolis where nobody knew who you were and you were broke and everything costed you money, all of a sudden everybody’s letting you in for free and giving you free drinks. And when you finally have a little money in your pocket, you don’t need free stuff anymore. Then everybody’s trying to give you free stuff. We had hundreds of extras on the movie. I did alright meeting women, but I had to work to get a girl interested. Then all of a sudden we walked past all of the extras and folks are going crazy. The whole game just kind of flipped overnight from the start of the movie to the finish of the movie when it took off and was a hit. Then all of a sudden our songs are all over pop radio around the clock. The whole thing was a life-changing experience. 

Q.: Looking back would you have done anything differently?

A.: Had I known it was going to be a big hit, I would have asked for more money. I didn’t get paid much. And most of the money I got paid, I ended up paying my band in salary to keep them. So I think contractually I would’ve definitely done some things differently, but other than that it was a good time and just a segment of my life. I’m an individual who believes things go as they should go. And I think I’m on a course, and I feel like there’s still great things to come.

Disney's 'Star Wars' Day at Sea

Disney's 'Star Wars' Day at Sea

Many “Star Wars” geeks likely fantasize about escaping reality by hitting hyperspace aboard the Millennium Falcon, cruising to that galaxy far, far away, and leaving day-to-day cares in a cloud of space dust.

Leave it to Disney Cruise Line to nearly makes it happen. Yet instead of Han Solo’s favorite hunk o’ junk, guests hop aboard the Disney Fantasy for the “Star Wars” Day at Sea cruise. Taking place a total of eight times through April, it’s a seven-day Western Caribbean sailing departing out of Port Canaveral, Fla. with an entire day devoted to “Star Wars.” Along the way, the ship docks in Cozumel, Mexico, Grand Cayman and Disney's private island, Castaway Cay.

Credit: Matt Stroshane

Credit: Matt Stroshane

Like a Tatooine sandstorm, “Star Wars” Day blankets the ship for 24 hours, immersing guests in “Star Wars” character experiences, special events and more. Blasting your eyes, ears and even taste buds with the intensity of a stormtropper laser rifle, it’s an unprecedented, nerdtastic experience, and a must-do vacation for “Star Wars” fans.

Here's a video of an interview I had with Dan Fields, Dan Fields, executive creative director of Walt Disney Creative Entertainment.

Having stowed away on the inaugural “Star Wars” Day at Sea cruise, I’ve put together a list of highlights and not-to-miss activities. Keep in mind, no Bothan spies died in order to obtain the following information.

‘Star Wars’ Like It Should Be


“Star Wars” flicks were meant to be seen on a mammoth screen, a bucket of corn nestled in your lap. Beginning on the first day, “Star Wars” films start hitting the screen of the Buena Vista Theatre. It kicks off with a showing of “Star Wars: Episode One - The Phantom Menace.” Not so surprisingly, all of the prequels only get shown once. On day two, the powers-that-be squeeze in “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith,” following them with three, yes three, screenings of “A New Hope.” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” get three screenings each on day three and four, respectively.


By the time “Star Wars” Day at Sea arrives on day five, “Jedi” screens again in the morning, and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” gets three showings in Dolby 3D inside the massive Walt Disney Theatre. And not only can you watch these movies with a bucket of popcorn in your lap, you can buy tubs in the shape of tie fighters and Han Solo in carbonite.   


Staying in Character

A Tusken Raider messes with Max's iPhone.

A Tusken Raider messes with Max's iPhone.

When the ship’s horn booms in the morning on “Star Wars” Day —the first strain of “The Imperial March” no less— it’s almost as if it signals the “Star Wars” characters to begin popping up around the ship. And that’s just what happens. But you never know who you’ll see as they all show up organically. Characters include representatives of both the Light and Dark Sides, including a fair share of scum and villainy. 

Boba Fett patrols the pool. Credit: Matt Stroshane

Boba Fett patrols the pool. Credit: Matt Stroshane

Some “Star Wars” characters pose for photos with guests while others act as they do on screen. Stormtroopers march along the pool deck. Bounty hunter Boba Fett scopes out guests as he stands on the plank near the ship’s towering smokestacks. Sand People examine a guest’s iPhone, while a pig-faced Gamorrean Guard stomps by, axe in hand. 

Jon and his son Max get grilled by Darth Vader.

Jon and his son Max get grilled by Darth Vader.

Guests are guaranteed at least two ticketed character photo opportunities. If you score a visit to Tatooine, you might rub metal with C-3PO and R2-D2 or get scowled at by Darth Maul. Cloud City features a meet-and-greet with either Chewbacca or Boba Fett. The dark side experience finds cruisers getting verbally grilled by either Darth Vader or Captain Phasma. With help from technology, both Vader and Phasma talk to guests in their screen vox. Most impressive. And at the moment, “Star Wars” Day at Sea is the only place where fans can see Phasma in the flesh.   


Get Your Jedi On

Credit: Matt Stroshane

Credit: Matt Stroshane

If you have a young Padawan in your party, check the schedule for “Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple.” It takes place throughout the day in the Walt Disney Theatre. Kids lucky enough to be chosen can hop on stage and go saber-to-saber against Darth Vader. Although it’s geared for kids, the entertainment value glows brighter than a Jedi’s weapon of choice. You never know how these kids are going to react facing some serious Sith.


Be a ‘Star Wars’ Star

Fans have oodles of ways to get in on the act. Cosplayers can show off their duds during a pair of costume celebrations in the ship’s atrium. We saw gaggles home grown costumes from Yodas to droids to Kylo Rens. Even someone’s mom donned a slave Leia get-up. Yikes!

Credit: Matt Stroshane

Credit: Matt Stroshane

Later in the evening on the pool deck, guests can take the stage and play a part in “Star Wars Saga: Tales from a Galaxy Far, Far Away.” If you’re picked, you can take on a role in a condensed stage version of the original trilogy. Have you always wanted to belt out, “It’s a trap!” Well, Ackbar, here’s your chance.


Eat Like a Wookiee

Credit: Matt Stroshane

Credit: Matt Stroshane

Food seems to be as much apart of cruising as the water you’re sailing on. When dinner time arrives, each of the ship’s three main restaurants serve up a special “Star Wars” Day at Sea menu. Fans bite into Lord Vader’s Nerf Steak, Yoda’s Pappardelle Pasta and other themed cuisine. Make sure and finish it off with Princess Leia’s Warm Apricot Pudding, complete with hair bun-shaped cookies. All of the dishes are listed on snazzy lenticular menus created just for the meal.

Kiddie menus come as take-home masks featuring either Chewbacca or a First Order Stormtrooper. 

And the grub it doesn’t stop there. A late-night buffet in Cabana’s features a bevy of “Star Wars” treats from Vader-shaped chocolates to Dark Side sliders.


The Really Big Space Show

Credit: James Kilby

Credit: James Kilby

Around 10:30 p.m., the day’s main event drops on the pool deck. “Summon the Force,” a stage show featuring all of the on-board characters, uses the “Star Wars” soundtrack and film clips to help celebrate the franchise.

Credit: Matt Stroshane

Credit: Matt Stroshane

Tiny Jawas chase C-3PO and R2-D2, Darth Maul gives a lightsaber demo, Captain Phasma shows up with some First Order Stormtroopers, and Chewbacca belts out a Wookiee roar for the crowd.

Credit: Matt Stroshane

Credit: Matt Stroshane

Actual explosions blast from stormtrooper rifles, and a fireworks display takes place in the sky above.

Credit: Matt Stroshane

Credit: Matt Stroshane


A Boatload of Merch

Credit: Matt Stroshane

Credit: Matt Stroshane

Of course, you’ll find copious amounts of “Star Wars” Day at Sea merchandise on board. In fact, there’s so much of it, they have to roll it out over several days.

Credit: Matt Stroshane

Credit: Matt Stroshane

This includes everything from collectible pins and T-shirts to high-end fashion bags and limited edition artwork. 

Credit: Matt Stroshane

Credit: Matt Stroshane

Taking the cake on the cool meter, however, are the customized “Star Wars” Day at Sea badges, similar to what Disney Cast Members wear on the ship. Your name is printed in the “Star Wars” Aurebesh alphabet, and you get to choose your title. Options include Jedi, Bounty Hunter, Captain, Sith and more.

Remaining Star Wars Day at Sea sailings take place Feb. 6 and 20; March 5 and 19; April 2 and 16. 888-325-2500,

Hack the Center For Puppetry Arts...Muppet style

Hack the Center For Puppetry Arts...Muppet style

Muppet fans looking to pull the strings of the ultimate puppet vacation look no further than Center For Puppetry Arts in Atlanta. 

If the puppet world has a Mecca, this is it. Further cementing the fact is its brand-spanking new $14 million, 15,000 square-foot museum wing, “Worlds of Puppetry.” It’s where Miss Piggy, Gumby and countless other creations bunk behind glass.

The double whammy experience features two galleries: the Jim Henson Collection and the Global Collection. The former serves as an unprecedented ode to the career of Muppet maestro Jim Henson with more than 75 artifacts spanning his career. The latter proves to be a visual representation of how puppetry crosses cultural lines, featuring 175 puppets and artifacts representing five continents.

Yeah, it’s a pop culture sensory overload. So how do you hack this puppet-palooza? Keep on reading, Kermie.

Spring for the tour and a show.

Through May 22, the Center offers an all-inclusive ticket that includes admission to both the family series show and the museum. Now through March 10, you can catch “Space!” a sort of “Schoolhouse Rock”-esque trip through the solar system. Written and directed by the Center’s own in-house answer to Henson, Jon Ludwig, it turns a scientific lesson up to 11. Combo tickets cost $20.50 and also include a create-a-puppet workshop. If you wanna skip the show and just hit the museum, tickets are $10.50.

Get trippy.

On the Henson side, take your time in the recreation of Henson’s office. The light-up, papier-mâché moose head, created by artist John D. Richards, that actually hung in his office is worth a photo op. Stop in front of the video monitor playing “Time Piece,” Henson’s psychedelic live-action short film. You’ll get a contact high.

Get to work.

After geeking out on the “Sesame Street” section, complete with the towering Big Bird, try your hand as a puppeteer in the mock TV studio. Grab a hand puppet and see what it takes to be a Muppeteer. Once you step behind the stage, lift your puppet into the camera’s view and watch your handwork on the TV monitor below just like the pros. See if you have the skills to pay the bills like Frank Oz.

Honor the Goblin King.

The recently departed David Bowie played Jareth the Goblin King in the 1986 fantasy flick “Labyrinth,” directed by Henson. Tip your hat to both Henson and the Thin White Duke by checking out puppets and props from the film.

Make a stop at the stop-motion exhibit.

Inside the Global Collection, you’ll find a section focusing on stop-motion animation. Get the camera ready. A pair of tall, lean and exquisitely beautiful stop-motion puppets from director Tim Burton’s 2005 film “Corpse Bride” —Victor Van Dort and the Corpse Bride— are jaw dropping. Gumby and Pokey hang nearby. And make sure and behold the beauty of the kitchen scene from “Coraline,” featuring the title character and her parents noshing at the table.

Make it special.

Schedule your visit around an upcoming special event. Valentine’s Date Night drops 7 p.m. Saturday, February 13. Peruse the museum and a cash bar with your sweetie in tow. Or opt for Jim Henson Trivia Night at 8 p.m. on March 19. Rock your Henson knowledge for prizes.

Center for Puppetry Arts, 1404 Spring St. N.W., Atlanta. 404-873-3391,

A Rocky Vacation in Philly

A Rocky Vacation in Philly

When the iconic boxing flick “Rocky” first stepped into the cinematic ring in 1976, its tagline on the movie poster read: “His whole life was a million to one shot.”

The same could be said for the odds of “Creed,” the new “Rocky” spin-off, punching up the same magic of the original series. 

Yet somehow filmmaker Ryan Coogler, and stars Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, the latter reprising his role as Rocky Balboa, can raise their arms in victory. “Creed” stands toe to toe with the best of the “Rocky” franchise, perhaps second only to the original and “Rocky II.” 

It’s fantastic and already generating Oscar buzz. 

“Creed” tells the story of Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of the late heavyweight boxing champ Apollo Creed. Shadowboxing his father’s image, Adonis seeks to make a name for himself in the fight game. And the only way he can do it is by enlisting help from his dad’s old opponent and friend, Rocky Balboa.

Most of “Creed” takes place in Philadelphia, not only Rocky’s theatrical hometown, but a legendary boxing mecca. In honor of the new film and the entire “Rocky” legacy, check out these Rocky-related stops when visiting Philly.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art

The famed steps of this museum first gained notoriety in the original “Rocky” as the big palooka ran them as part of his cardio workout. With the exception of “Rocky IV,” the steps have played a part in every “Rocky” movie, including “Creed.” Make it to the top, and you’ll find the imprint of Sly’s Converse sneakers.

Toward the base of the steps in the museum’s garden lives the bronze Rocky statue first seen in “Rocky III.” 

26th St. Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia. 215-763-8100,

The Italian Market

Remember the scene in “Rocky” when the Italian Stallion ran through Philly’s Italian Market and a vendor tossed him an orange? That actually happened spontaneously and unscripted, and the filmmakers kept it in. Retrace the champ’s steps in the same place and watch out for flying fruit. Schedule your visit around the Italian Market Festival, which typically drops in May.

8 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays. S. 9th Street and Carpenter, Philadelphia.

Mighty Mick’s Gym

Although Mickey Goldmill, Rocky’s trainer, had a Philly gym in the films, the interiors were shot in L.A. However, you can still find the red brick exterior seen in the franchise. It’s a circa 1910 three-story building that’s now home to a Dollar Plus market. The pet shop Adrian worked at, which is now defunct (2146 N. Front St., Philadelphia), can be found nearby.

2147 N. Front St. Philadelphia.

Adrian’s Restaurant

In “Rocky Balboa,” we see the Italian Stallion has become an Italian restauranteur. His eatery, Adrian’s, pops up again in “Creed” when Adonis tracks down Rocky. Adrian’s is actually a real-life restaurant called Di Stefano’s Victor Cafe. Go to its website for the full “Rocky Balboa” story. Want some tortellini or linguine and clams? The menu features those Italian delicacies and oodles of others. Stop by for a meal in the evening and listen as the waitstaff performs live opera.

5-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 5 p.m.-midnight Fridays; 4:30 p.m.-midnight Saturdays; 4:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Sundays. Di Stefano’s Victor Cafe, 1303 Dickinson St., Philadelphia. 215-468-3040,


Cheesesteak Your Claim

A visit to Philly isn’t complete without a mouthful of an authentic cheesesteak. So we consulted an actual former Philadelphia fighter to point us in the right direction. 

Xavier “Bad Pads” Biggs, a trainer of champions and brother of 1984 Olympic super heavyweight boxing gold medalist Tyrell Biggs, may have relocated to Decatur, Ga. where he runs Decatur Boxing Club. But he knows where to find the reigning champs of Philly’s cheesesteak scene.   

Geno’s Steaks (1219 S. 9th St., Philadelphia.

Biggs doesn’t recommend fighters gorging on cheesesteaks while training. But if they’re in Philly after a fight, he’ll send them to Geno’s. Open 24/7, the place lays claim to the Steak Milano featuring fried tomatoes and oregano.

Pat’s King of Steaks (1301 E. Passyunk Ave., Philadelphia,

When he makes it back to Philly, this one lands on Biggs’ personal hit list. Pat’s offers an array of steak sandwich creations, from the barebones Steak to the Mushroom Pepper Pizza Steak. Pat’s has been whipping 'em up since 1930. 

Learn more about Xavier Biggs at:


Sweet Dream

Sweet Dream

Soothing your sweet tooth on a Disney Cruise Line ship can be as easy as battling brain freeze by indulging in unlimited soft serve ice cream. If they’d let you stick your face underneath the tap, I’d be tempted to open wide and do just that.

Yet if you want to take it to the next saccharine level, step inside Vanellope's Sweets and Treats, a fresh out-of-the-box dessert shop, part of the Disney Dream’s recent enhancements. Replacing the ship’s arcade —hey, kids have games at their fingertips on their mobile devices these days— Vanellope’s scoops up high-octane theming based on the virtual world of Sugar Rush, the racing game found in “Wreck-It Ralph.” Handmade gelato and ice cream, baked goods and other novelty desserts, and mounds of candy sweeten the deal.

Yeah, the confections boast high scores. But Vanellope’s almost comes off as a mini attraction in itself, sprinkled with the type of sensory overload you’d expect from Disney Imagineers, the creatives responsible for theming and design on the theme parks and cruise ships belonging to the House of Mouse. 

Take a bite of my five favorite aspects of Vanellope's Sweets and Treats.

The Cream of the Crop


They roll out freshly baked waffle cones, and you can fill them with imaginative flavors of ice cream and gelato. Yet the full-on Vanellope’s experience comes in the form of one of its artisan sundaes. My personal pick rolls to life as Vanellope’s Go-Kart Sundae. Choose three scoops of ice cream and/or gelato. The staff crowns it with whipped cream, a cherry and as many as five toppings. It all comes housed in Vanellope’s go kart, complete with rolling wheels. After you finish it off with the last lick, they’ll wash it out and dry it, and you can take the tiny ride home.

The Leader Board

Wanna see what sundaes rise to the top at Vanellope’s? As a nod to the video game-flick it came from, Vanellope’s has a leader board perched above the counter listing the top-selling sundaes of the day. Check and see how Ralph’s Family Challenge, a communal affair starring eight scoops of ice cream in a take-home trophy cup, stacks up against the competition.

Sweet Treats

Not in the mood for ice cream? Peruse the daily offerings, from cookies emblazoned with edible illustrations of Wreck-It Ralph’s mug to brownies on a stick. Cupcakes, candied apples, eclairs and a host of other toothsome treats tempt guests from behind the glass.

Sour Bill

Gas pump-style gumball dispensers help decorate the floor of Vanellope’s. One of them, however, serves as home to one of “Wreck-It Ralph’s” co-stars. Keep an eye out for Sour Bill, King Candy’s dour henchman with the Steven Wright monotone. He pops up periodically inside one of the dispensers dishing out bits of new dialogue specially recorded by “Wreck-It Ralph” directorRich Moore, who also voiced Bill in the flick.

Photo Ops

Try snapping a shot of Sour Bill during one of his unpredictable appearances. If you can’t pull it off, other serious photo ops abound in Vanellope’s. A life-size version of thestore’s namesake hangs upside down from a candy cane. King Candy can be found, too, his tongue in a frozen dangle. And you can plop down in the driver’s seat in a replica of Vanellope’s kart. Sweet.

Vanellope’s Sweets and Treats can be found on board the Disney Dream. For Disney Cruise Line information, go here.

A Dream Cruise on the Falcon

A Dream Cruise on the Falcon

Imagine making like Han Solo and flying the Millennium Falcon. It continues to be the things backyard playdates are made of. Now with the help of Disney’s creative makers —Imagineers in Mouse speak— kids can put their tushies in the pilot’s seat.

Book a cruise on the Disney Dream, one of Disney Cruise Line’s four vessels, and you can hop aboard that Kessel running spacecraft for real. As part of the Dream’s recent dry dock enhancements, the Falcon play area lives in Disney’s Oceaneer Club, a space open to kids ages 3 to 12. 

Before you start crying in your blue milk, adults can crew the Falcon too. When on board the Dream, download the Disney Cruise Line Navigator app on your mobile device or check the printed Personal Navigator publication in your stateroom each day. Look at the daily schedule for open house opportunities in the Oceaneer Club, and you can check it out with your kiddos. 

This is jaw dropping, amazing stuff, folks. It’s not just the Wookiee who’s winning on the Falcon. Everyone who experiences the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy wins. Simply incredible.

I recently sailed on the Dream and had a chance to check out the baddest ship in the galaxy. Below are my favorite Falcon finds.


The Cockpit

They knocked it out of the galaxy with this one. The movie set-worthy recreation of Han and Chewie’s sweet spot looks like it just flew right off of the screen. Buttons, switches, knobs and even the famed throttle all work. Hang on as you zip through hyperspace and cruise some of the coolest planets. And we ain’t just talking about Hoth. Tatooine, Endor, Kashyyyk and other lands await. It’s all footage from the Star Tours: The Adventure Continues attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland. They even resurrected the Death Star footage from the original version, which you can only see here. And don’t forget to look up above the window for Han’s lucky dice. Check it out in action below.  



That astromech droid can be found on board and kicking back inside a special droid repair unit. Step up to him and he buzzes, bleeps and flashes. R2’s dome spins, and he even bounces a bit when excited. When it comes to photo ops, he’s definitely the droid you’re looking for.

The Holochess Table

It can’t be all work and no play in space, even for smugglers. A larger version of the Falcon’s game table may not feature stop-motion holographic creatures in a calculated rumble, but that doesn’t make it any less cool. It serves as a place where kids can engage in arts and crafts and soak up the scenery. No chess games take place, but that means you don’t have to worry about a Wookiee pulling people's arms out of their socket when they lose.

Training Remote and Helmet

Look on the shelf just behind the holochess table, and you’ll find a training remote ball, a helmet with a blinder and a lightsaber just like the ones Luke used in “A New Hope.” Wanna see something cool? Patience, young Jedi. Stare at the training remote long enough and it levitates and flashes. 

Chewie Wuz Here

As copilot of the Falcon, Chewbacca feels comfortable enough to leave his stuff lying around the ship. Keep an eye out for his bowcaster, located in the computer game laden control room, and his bandolier and stash bag.  

The Smooching Wall

When the Imagineers were building the Falcon play area, they had a blank wall to fill. They decided to recreate the spot where Han and Leia smooch for the first time. Although it has light-up effects and looks as if it’s seen plenty of sky miles, it doesn’t do much else. Yet when moms and dads visit during open house, they often recreate the encounter by posing for a kiss.

Jedi Training

Jedi training experiences take place on the Falcon. Young Padawans even learn how to use the Force and move crates and boxes. If Stormtroopers and other Imperial baddies board the ship, they can put the whammy on them too. Here’s a video of what happened during my tour. 

Although the Star Wars Day at Sea events don't begin on the Disney Fantasy ship until early 2016, the Force is already strong with Star Wars merch in the Disney Dream gift shops.


In the next installment of Nerds On Holiday, we’ll take a look at the new “Wreck-It Ralph”-inspired sweet shop on board the Disney Dream.

For more information, visit Disney Cruise Line