Posts Tagged ‘Kansas City’

Chely Wright Knows That God Loves Her

“Dear God, please don’t let me be gay.  I promise to be a good person.  I promise… I promise… I promise… I promise… Please take it away.  In your name I pray.  Amen. ”

Variations of that prayer were a daily part of country singer Chely Wright’s life from the time she was a third grader until she privately accepted that she was gay.

Fast forward to January 26, 2006 — a cold winter’s morning when Chely stood defeated in her Nashville home with a loaded 9 millimeter gun in her mouth.  After all of the years of living in denial and fighting to be happy, but not out, she was ready to end it all.

However, the tears started falling and Chely just couldn’t pull the trigger.  She put the gun on the mantle and went back upstairs and stayed in bed for a couple of more days.

chely wright

The former Academy of Country Music’s Top New Female Vocalist and one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” couldn’t handle the stress of being gay and not being able to be open and honest about it.

That month of depression in January 2006 and the suicide attempt was a turning point for Chely.

Today, she’s happily married to LGBT rights advocate Lauren Blitzer (they met and married in 2011) and she’s the mother of twin boys, George Samuel and Everett Joseph, who turn one-year-old last weekend.

chely-wright-weddingChely's Twins Turn One

Although the book came out in 2010, I just got around to reading her autobiography, “Like Me”, which not only talked about her love of God, her family, country music and singing, but also her struggles with being a lesbian and having to hide her personal life to be a successful country music star.

Chely Wright Like Me

Richelle Rene Wright was born in the fall of 1970 in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in a small Kansas town of 1,600 people.  She was the youngest of three children.

Even as a child, Chely knew that she was different.  She even had feelings for a teacher when she was just a little girl.

While Chely dated boys growing up in Kansas, she knew that it wasn’t going to change the feelings she felt toward women.  She moved to Nashville as a teenager to work at Opryland, where she had her first lesbian affair.

After landing a recording contract, Chely’s first album, “Woman in the Moon” and her first singles arrived at country radio in 1994 and 1995.

Chely Wright - Woman In The Moon

While the three singles got some radio airplay, none of them cracked the Top 40 on the Billboard Country chart.  However, at the gay country bar, Charlie’s, in Chicago, that I worked at during that time, “Sea of Cowboy Hats”, was a hit with the two-steppers.

Chely released a second album in 1996, but it, too, failed to catch on at country radio.  Meanwhile, she continued to tour extensively across the U.S. and visit and perform for troops around the world.

She always lived a double life.  When she wasn’t the “country singer” touring and promoting her songs, she was in an on-again and off-again relationship for about ten years with a music industry woman named Julia.

In 1997, she scored her first hit on the Billboard Country chart.  “Shut Up and Drive” reached #14.  It was followed by two more modest hits that reached #39 and #36, respectively.

While working to make it big as a country singer, she kept a low profile with Julia.  Julia even got married to a man, but that marriage ended in divorce and she and Chely got back together.  During this time, Chely also dated men, including her dear friend, Vince Gill.

Vince Gill

Even as she lived in the closet with country music fans, Chely hit the big time in 1999 when her album, “Single White Female”, went gold (selling more than 500,000 copies) and the title track topped the country charts in September.

In the book, Chely held nothing back about how hard it was to love God so much, yet struggle with being gay.  And, being in a genre of music that, for the most part, lacked compassion for gay people, she felt she was living a lie with her fans.

In late 2000, she met and started dating rising star, Brad Paisley.

Brad Chely

She had deep feelings for Paisley and he fell in love with her.  However, because she was a lesbian, her love for him wasn’t the same and he just couldn’t handle her getting close and pushing away.

brad-paisley-chely-wright

Throughout “Like Me” and since its publication, Chely regrets the way that relationship ended because she did care for Brad.

While Chely scored five more hits after the chart topper, “Single White Female”, through 2005, “It Was” was the biggest.  It made it up to #11 in 2000.

Chely knew that people on Music Row and in Nashville gossiped about her personal life and she had heard rumors that some thought she was gay.  Those dated back to 1994, just as she was starting her career.

However, Chely confirmed this with John Rich, a former member of the band, Lonestar, and one-half of the duo, Big & Rich.  The two had worked together back in 1990 at Opryland.

One night, in March 2005, the two of them were hanging out when Rich confronted her.

John Rich Chely Wright

Chely writes that Rich told her that people were talking about her and wondered if she was gay and that it wasn’t cool if she had “chosen to live that lifestyle” and that fans and the industry wouldn’t allow it.  He also told her, “People don’t approve of that kind of deviant behavior.  It’s a sin.”

She goes on to talk about how uneasy she started feeling because, at that point, he hadn’t asked her about her sexuality.  Rich was just telling her what he thought and what he felt that country music fans would think.  Finally, he asked, “You’re not gay, are you?”

Taking a deep breath, Chely exclaimed, “No, John, I’m not gay” to which Rich replied, “Good”.

JohnRich2

John Rich would go on the defensive again in late 2007 when he commented on a radio talk show that marriage equality would lead to incestuous marriages.

Days later, he offered this lame apology that was nothing more than damage control, “However, I also believe that intolerance, bigotry and hatred are wrong. People should be judged based on their merits, not on their sexual orientation. We are all children of God and should be valued and respected.”

Back in 2007, I interviewed Lonestar in Lubbock, Texas.  Luckily, for me, it was lead singer Richie McDonald and keyboardist/vocalist Dean Sams.  Rich was fired from Lonestar the following year and I’m so happy that I never met that homophobe!

Chely Wright Like Me

When Chely’s book came out in 2010, she also released her seventh studio album, “Lifted Off The Ground”, which focused around her personal struggles.  It reached #32 on Billboard Country album chart.

In June 2011, Chely released a documentary about the three years leading up to her coming out called “Wish Me Away”.

It won “Best Documentary” at the Los Angeles Film Festival and the “Documentary Channel Audience Award” for “Best Documentary” at the Nashville Film Festival.

Chely has also founded two organizations:  Reading, Writing and Rhythm (RW&R), which helps supply musical instruments and equipment to promote music in America’s schools, and about ten years later, in 2010, she started “The Like Me Organization”, which provides assistance, resources, and education to LGBT individuals and their family and friends.  It also works to prevent LGBT bullying and teen suicide.

Chely NOH8

So, while country radio and the Grand Ole Opry are missing out on a first-class talent, it’s great that real fans and LGBT people still have Chely around to offer support and give people courage to be themselves and not be afraid.

Chely, thank you for sharing your story and touching the lives of those that may be afraid to make that step to “come out”.

“Like Me:  Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer” is a must read!

CMT Flameworthy Video Music Awards

Chely, best wishes to you, Lauren, and the boys.

Anthony

While this blog was ready to be posted last week, I held off on it once Chely tweeted this about the loss of her mother, Cheri.

Chely -- Loss of Mother

Advertisements

Slot Machines Are A Gamble, But the Food is a Sure Bet

Can you believe this February weather we’re enjoying?  So far, it’s been warmer, wetter, and definitely not as snowy as a typical start to February.  And, no real snow is in this week’s forecast with more above average warmth sticking around until this weekend.

As you know, we were in Kansas City, Missouri, this past weekend where Ray was speaking at a conference Saturday.

When we go on vacation or on quick out-of-town trips, we try not to gorge ourselves with food.  Don’t get me wrong — if I find a fun buffet, I’m going to eat.  However, we usually just eat one meal a day when we do that.  That was the case Saturday and Sunday.  When I share these tasty pictures, remember that was the only real meal we had each day and we didn’t spend a fortune!

Since Ray picked Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue Friday night and it was very tasty, especially the warm carrot cake for dessert, I made the choice for lunch Saturday.  I chose Swagat Fine Indian Cuisine in the Zona Rosa shopping complex.  I’ve been wanting Indian food again since having it in Houston last October and all of the reviews I read about this place were great.

The food was amazing and the service was excellent.  For the most part, I was a good boy and I stopped after two plates.  Okay, I did eat a lot of the nan (pita-like bread).

KC DSM February 2013 192 KC DSM February 2013 193

If you’re not very familiar with Indian food, some of delicious items I chose were chicken tandoori (baked chicken marinated in yogurt and spices), chicken korma (chicken with nuts, raisins, herbs and spices in a creamy sauce), chicken tikka masala (“an all time favorite cooked with marinated pieces of chicken in a dark orange tomato based sauce), chole saag (spinach and chick peas), turnip masala, mushroom masala, basmati rice, and lemon rice.

And, here’s something I didn’t know before my correspondence with Anoop Choong at Swagat.  Chicken Tikka Masala is now the most popular dish in the United Kingdom!  Fish and chips are now ranked #2 in a recent survey!

I topped the meal off with Kheer (rice pudding in sweetened milk with raisins and almonds) for dessert and  a very tasty mixed-spice chai tea, which is pretty much black tea, Indian spices and herbs brewed in milk.  Yum!

KC DSM February 2013 194

As we paid to leave, instead of mints, the restaurant had a bowl of  fennel seeds and tiny, colorful, black licorice-flavored candies.  It’s called “mukhwas”.   In addition to serving as a breath freshener, it also helps with digestion and is very popular among the Indian crowd.

If you visit Kansas City, you definitely have to try Swagat Fine Indian Cuisine for their lunch buffet!

After leaving Swagat, we decided to try our luck at the casinos since we saw signs for them.  Our first stop was Harrah’s.  Since Ray and I are not big gamblers and we hate parting with our money, we only played $60 each.  It didn’t take long for Ray to lose his and while I was up $60 on my first $20 bill, it didn’t take long for my luck to change and before you knew it, I was also down $60!

We moved on to another casino, Ameristar Casino.  While playing there, we ordered and paid for our one drink.  I don’t know how you can go wrong with a vodka/diet coke, but it was lousy.  Oh wait, that’s because it was pretty much just diet coke.  The slots there were not friendly to me so I lost my $50, but Ray broke even.

As we were leaving, we decided to try one more casino that we saw a sign for that promised 95% payback.  We drove in Kansas City, Kansas (we were staying in Kansas City, Missouri) and found the 7th Street Casino.  It basically looked like an old two-story church and, needless to say, the crowd was interesting — a very different mix of people.

Since I mentioned before that Ray and I are not big gamblers, we usually just play the “penny machines” and we don’t usually lose big or win big.  However, Ray was pretty lucky hitting two nice payoffs.

KC DSM February 2013 196

Since that’s a penny machine, he won $214 that time and that was his first win.  After that, he hit another jackpot thanks to a bonus spin that gave him 30+ free games.  However, I lost my $50.  At that point, I was mad at the casino world.  I had to make the decision to go home down $160 or try one more time.  I marched over to the ATM and then I sat down at a slot machine that I saw a woman playing earlier with “Vegas” in the title.

Instead of playing the usual minimum bet of 30 or 40 cents I usually play on the penny machines, I was determined to play like a real gambler and I started off with the maximum bet of 200 credits ($2).  Spin after spin, I kept losing and I was down to $40.  Deep down inside, I was getting sad thinking that I was going to lose all my money.

And, then it happened.  I got three “Bonus Spin” icons and I got to play the bonus round!!  The “wheel” started spinning and instead of landing on one of the extra spins spaces, it landed on the “money wheel”, which meant I got to spin another wheel for money.

The gambling god was looking down on me.  It landed on $140.  I would, at least, win back the money from the last ATM visit.  I decided that I’d keep the $100 and play the other $40 and the $40 I still had on the machine.

Needless to say, I hit it the “bonus spin” a few more times and I won back all the lost money at Harrah’s, Ameristar, and the money from this casino earlier.  Ray’s two wins there won back his lost money and he cleared a little more than I did!

It took three casinos and nine hours, but I walked out with $107, the most money I’ve won since the 1990s when I won about $600 once in Reno, Nevada, and about the same amount in Palm Springs, California.

KC DSM February 2013 200!

Before leaving beautiful downtown Kansas City Sunday, we decided to have our one meal of the day — brunch.  We chose Bristol Seafood Grill and it was a great choice.

KC DSM February 2013 206 KC DSM February 2013 210

While I only got small portions of food, my favorite, by far, was the char-crusted tuna.  I had two pieces and added a small dollop of creamy horseradish and capers.  Their biscuits and gravy were fantastic and I also enjoyed the lobster mac & cheese, the Chipotle grilled shrimp enchiladas, and the chicken picatta.

For dessert, I sampled the carrot cake, the cinnamon twists, and vanilla bean creme brulee.  Okay, the cream brulee was so amazing that I had two!

And, I know that many of you read my Saturday blog, but I want to share this again.  If you want the best, most spectacular carrot cake ever, stop by Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue.

IMG_1666

I know Kansas City is known for its steak and barbecue, but I experienced so many different foods that proves the city’s culinary versatility.

Anthony

Exploring Culture Down The Road

Working in television has given me the opportunity to live in cities and states I most likely would never have considered moving to: Rhinelander (WI), Lubbock (TX), Youngstown and Mansfield (OH), Salisbury (MD), and, even, Moline (IL).

I’m very happy that I was given the opportunity to move to Moline in November 2005. Miss ABBA didn’t care where we lived because as a beautiful golden, she made friends wherever she went. Our lives changed for the better almost four years ago when Ray and Gretel came into our lives.

The point of this blog is not to tell you that I’ll be moving away to another television city that I wouldn’t have normally moved to. 🙂 It’s to share a couple of experiences with you and some pictures of our current road trip. Saturday morning, Ray spoke at a sustainability conference in Kansas City, Missouri, talking about how great Moline is. He was invited to speak at this conference l

But, before Kansas City, we drove to Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday for a meeting Ray had with some mall developers there. That night, we met his Aunt Irene and his sister, Ann, for dinner at a Russian-American restaurant, Irina’s, in Urbandale.

Aunt Irene suggested the place and it was fantastic. I had a peach vodka cosmo and the others had Russian beer. We ordered stuffed mushrooms and stuffed jalapeno peppers for appetizers because they were half price for happy hour!

But, look at these fantastic entrees. I chose a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich and it was huge. The others ordered some more upscale, fun, Russian entrees.

IMG_1588 IMG_1584

I loved the presentation of the huge portion of tasty garlic mashed potatoes. After the meal, dessert was not offered, but Ray took part in a Russian tradition.

IMG_1589

Those are shots of Russian vodka, rye bread, and dill pickles. You take a deep sniff of the rye bread, breathe out before you drink the vodka shot, and then you eat the dill pickle. (Who needs tequila, salt, and lime? That seems so “spring break” and MTV, right?)

As our waitress explained the process to Ray and he was ready to try a new tradition. He says it worked because that was the smoothest shot he ever took. It didn’t burn and you could taste the rye bread even though it was only sniffed and not eaten before the shot.

The owner of Irina’s Dmitri Iakovlev (who owns the bar with his wife, Irina Khartchenko) told Metromix Des Moines, in 2010, that “In Russia, people don’t take shots to just get drunk like they do in the States. Drinking vodka is a social event, and Russians drink, eat, drink, and eat some more.”

We had a great time at dinner with Irene and Ann: the food was excellent, the drinks were refreshing, and the 1980s music playing was fantastic. But, I have no desire to move to Des Moines now.

However, Kansas City would be a different story. I absolutely love the downtown area. It seems hip, young, and happening.

Once we got settled into the hotel, we went walking around and found the beautiful Crown Center Mall. It seems that Kansas City has the second most fountains in the world behind Rome.

IMG_1631After shopping in the mall, we ended up only buying English Toffee, a freshly baked chocolate cherry cookie, fresh popcorn, and a bag of old fashioned popcorn mixture with regular buttered, cinnamon, cheese, and caramel. Yum!

That was pretty much our lunch, but we stopped at “The Cashew” and split a chicken quesadilla. It was okay, but the real winner was the happy hour peach sangria. You could have it by the glass…or by the pitcher…

IMG_1635

Okay, for full disclosure and honesty, I didn’t drink mine out of the pitcher. I had a glass, too! 🙂

For dinner, many hours later, Ray chose real Kansas City bar-be-que at Fiorella’s Jack Stack BBQ. He had a plate with BBQ beef brisket and pork with a cheesy corn pudding and fries, and I chose a sandwich with BBQ pork and BBQ turkey. While both were great, I think I liked the pork side of the sandwich a little better.

And, the fries and cole slaw were very tasty, too. However, the real treat was yet to come. For dessert, we had the absolute best carrot cake I’ve ever eaten. It was heated and the icing was just dripping off the cake. Incredible!

As we walked back to our hotel to work off some of the calories, we were treated to a fantastic light show on the side of our hotel, the Marriott.

That was Friday in Kansas City.

On Saturday, my restaurant pick was Swagat Fine Indian Cuisine. In Indian culture, swagat means “respectfully Welcome”.

Anthony