Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Song for the World

North Platte and Up With People have a long history together. First National Bank of North Platte has been sponsoring the groups' trips to town for more than thirty years.

This year, our students are from Belgium, Violette and Gauthier,
and from the United States, Tiffany from the Hopi Nation in Arizona. Working behind the scenes is another Belgian, Michael. I will offer my apologies at this point to the young men. We didn't have much trouble with Tiffany and Violette, but I'm not sure we ever pronounced Gauthier and Michael's names properly.
The Up With People show reflects the International scope of the organization.
Many of the students wear traditional dress of their native cultures, such as our own Tiffany of the Hopi Nation. The show includes the song Vrolijke Viernden (Belgium), Carrickfergus (Northern Ireland), Oye el Boom (Spain).
The American culture is very well represented, with a medley of folk songs such as Shenandoah.
A representative of First National Bank, Up With People's sponsor in North Platte for more than 30 years and the director of the North Platte Area Childrens Museum are called to the stage for recognition.
These kids give it their all. They spend all day in community impact programs, visiting schools, painting walls, then set up the stage, rehearse and perform.
The Love Medley, includes popular songs from America.
Other songs from around the world include traditional African songs It Takes A Whole Village To Raise A Child, Gumboot Dance, Shosholoza.
A special part of the program is when the cast brings their host siblings to the stage for a song. The little girl in pink in the front row stole the show with her performance.
Songs from Asia include Hanamizuki (a Japanese ballad written after 9/11) and Jai Ho (an Academy Award winning song from India).
Two of our host children Gauthier and Violette dancing up a storm.
From the program: The goal of 'A Song for the World' is to bring the world to the local city, give thanks to our local supporters and shine the light on members of the community who work towards a better future, while encouraging every member of the community to sing their song to give their gift to the world.
From the lyrics of "One Person" (What Can I Do?): Oh, oh - what can I do? I'm just one person, Woh, oh - what can I do? I'm just one person, same as you. We've seen walls tumble down, seen chains fall as freedom sings, because one person stood and answered the question. What can I do... what can I do?
North Platte is well represented in the cast, with Breton Shepherd playing the drums and two other cast members singing.
A fan club even developed around our friend Gauthier.
The cast performs another show tonight, then we get to spend a family day on Sunday. They leave bright and early Monday morning for a performance in Minneapolis, then on to the Chicago area before they fly out to the Philippines.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Up With People

Have you been fortunate enough to have Up With People visit your town? If not, it would be well worth your time to contact the organization and try to arrange a visit. Up With People is an international cast of young people who come to your town, roll up their sleeves and work on Community Impact projects, and then put on a terrific show, with the proceeds going to a local charity.

What could be better?

An advance team arranges for host families for all of the cast members, as well as making arrangements for publicity and taking care of all of the other details such as their school and public appearances, Community Impact projects and publicity. We are hosting four cast members in our home this week and are having a great time.

The shows in North Platte are Friday and Saturday, February 26 and 27 at 7:00 p.m. at the North Platte High School, 1220 W. 2nd St. Tickets are available at First National Bank (who is their sponsor - THANK YOU VERY MUCH!) main branch and Mall branch, and Westfield Pharmacy.

When the cast was in town two years ago, the beneficiary of the proceeds of their show was our new homeless shelter, so this time around the cast members are helping put the finishing touches on the shelter as their Community Impact project. The proceeds from the 2010 show will go to the North Platte Area Childrens Museum.

If you ever hear of this group coming to your town, make it a point to see their show. Not only will you get to experience great entertainment and cultures from around the world, you will be supporting a local charity.

And, this is a perfect example of some of the great things happening in North Platte. Even if there isn't a major festival or event going on, fun stuff can always be found. Check out the calendar here at

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

If you weren't here, you missed an excellent concert...

Deciding to host house concerts has been one of the best things we've ever done. Not only do we have the opportunity to introduce great music to our little corner of Nebraska, but we get to shar our home for a short time with amazingly talented people.

Mason Douglas is an awesome performer, and what's even better is that he is a wonderful human being. One of these days, when he's playing to sold out concerts, we will know that he deserves every bit of success he gets. Go to his website and sign up to receive regular updates. His new CD will be out soon and you WILL want to purchase it.

How many times have you had the good fortune to be serenaded by a singer/songwriter playing their heart out on a song that they personally wrote? These happenings are commonplace at a House Concert. Even if you're not right beside the artist, everyone in the audience is within about twenty feet of them.

During the intermission and after the show, guests have the opportunity to get to know the artist, purchase their music and get pictures and autographs. One of these days I am going to remember to hand my camera to someone and get pictures with all of the artists! For now, the autographed head shot will have to do!

Our next artist is Daniel Boling, who will be live in our living room on March 19. Please plan to attend.

I know it's a little farther away, but mark you calendars for our April concert. It's the 23rd, featuring Celtic musician Marc Gunn. He promised to dance in his kilt (although not necessarily at our concert) if I posted a link to his website, so here it is Be sure to come to the concert and help me hold him to it.

Now I've got to stop writing and reliving the great evening with Mason Douglas and get ready for my six Up With People host children who arrive tonight!

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mason Douglas in Concert Feb. 19

We've had quite a few acts grace our stage (actually our living room) since we started hosting House Concerts more than a year ago. We've had folk, Americana, bluegrass, a German brass band, western, and now COUNTRY!

Mason Douglas will be appearing on Friday, February 19 at 7:30 p.m. We've never hosted an artist with their own fan club before, but since I posted the event on our Facebook page, I've heard from quite a few of them about how lucky we are to have him in our home.

A House Concert is an amazing way to see an artist. It's a small, intimate setting (and I have to admit that our acoustics are great!), and there's plenty of time to get to know the artist. If you're worried about what to expect, check out these next two videos. The first is composed of pictures taken from some of our previous concerts (OK, so I'm not a professional videographer... thank goodness our artists are professionals).

Some advice from Fran Snyder, the recognized leader of the House Concert movement:

Are you interested yet? Well, I'm not going to post my address and telephone number here in my blog, but you can e-mail me at nebraskaoutback@gmail.comfor all of the details, or check out our electronic House Concert Flyer.

There will be finger food provided, and feel free to bring your own to share as well. You're also welcome to bring your own favorite adult beverage, although our concerts are considered low-alcohol. Child care will be provided, so music-lovers of all ages are welcome. We will ask that you contribute a donation of $10 to $15 per person, ALL (yes, 100%) of which will go to the artist. We do this because we want to bring great music to the people in our corner of Nebraska, not to make money.

So what are you waiting for? RSVP now, or just make plans to be at our house on Friday!

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Don't Make Travel Decisions Based on Politics

I've written before about the hardships caused by well-meaning people who make travel decisions based on politics. The people it really hurts are working men and women, just trying to make a living helping visitors have a good time. Penn Jillette says it much more entertainingly than I can. The following editorial appeared on

Editor's note: Penn Jillette -- the larger, louder half of Penn & Teller -- is a magician, comedian, actor, author and producer. At a February 2 town hall in Nashua, New Hampshire, President Obama said, "You don't blow a bunch of cash on Vegas when you're trying to save for college."

Las Vegas, Nevada (CNN) -- President Obama made a couple of stupid little jokes about Vegas. He uses our Las Vegas as a symbol. Everyone knows what Vegas means. Doc Pomus wrote "Viva Las Vegas" for Elvis years before Doc ever visited Sin City and got everything right.

Vegas means ... wild, irresponsible, what-happens-here-stays-here. Smoke cigars, have sex with strangers, get wasted and see stupid shows with stupid Elvis impersonators doing stupid impressions of that stupid hillbilly.

That's an image we know and love in Vegas. It's the image we spend our stupidly low tax money to promote. "What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas" was an official slogan.

It's the Vegas image Katy Perry has in her video, "Waking Up in Vegas," and Penn & Teller do a cameo in that video. We all promote that image. In Vegas, our service industry services that nutty image. We make money off people thinking Vegas is a place to get stupid and waste money.

I know a joke when it bites me in the ass. And I've done plenty of jokes biting other people's asses. It's my job.

It seemed like Obama was off-prompter for his Vegas bashing. His attacks weren't like Ford trashing New York City (I lived in NYC when Ford was doing all the Big Apple trashing - maybe it's ME the presidents hate). Gerald Ford and Jesse Jackson meant it about NYC.

I know Obama doesn't really hate Vegas. I bet he'd have a blast here, if he were still welcome. Obama's good-natured symbolic joke was an applause line. People knew what he meant and agreed. Yeah, don't waste money on Vegas, send the children to college!

The last time Obama made a negative comment about Vegas, some jumpy, patriotic, image-conscious corporations canceled some trips here. That's what we figure here in Vegas. There's no way to really know if many people really canceled.

Do people really go to the president for travel advice? But in Vegas, most of us make our money from tourism or serving others who make their money from tourism.

Tourism is what we really, really do in the Silver State. It's not like Obama is giving the Mojave subsidies for not growing soybeans. It's too easy to not grow soybeans in the stinking desert; we do it for free. Not farming is one of our vegan gifts to the rest of the country.

We don't know how much, but when the president of the United States of America makes his jokes about Vegas -- he costs real people real money.

Obama knows that no one cares if Penn Jillette has less money. Obama is pretty happy to say that the rich (and, man, am I rich. I don't have even 10 percent of the money Obama has, but I'm rich by my hometown standards) should have more money taken from them.

Who cares about a magician losing money? Not even me. I'll be fine. My children will go to college if they want.

But, when people cancel trips to Vegas, I'm not the one who gets laid off. A few less people go to the Penn & Teller Theater, and we still do fine, but the hotels lay off other people. It's the people downstream of me who get punished for the president's joke.

We all know what Obama thinks is so laughable about Vegas. We know why we're a symbol of wasteful stupidity.

We're a city built on gambling. It's gambling no matter how much PR calls it "gaming." Things have changed over the past 10 years. The shows and the restaurants are no longer loss leaders, we make real money on things other than gaming. There's a wonderful, normal suburban community here, but the symbol is still gambling.

We have gambling with money, but we also symbolize all sorts of other real-life gambling. After your fiance dumps you, maybe you'll fly to Vegas with the boys and someone who happens in Vegas will stay with you the rest of your life. Maybe you'll really get lucky.

Teller and I moved to Vegas to do our own show in our own theater. We took a big chance. Vegas also stands for stupid gambling like that. Vegas is gambling in the broad sense, the idea that taking a wild chance on an unknown might turn out to be a good thing.

What's the main thing that drives stupid gambling? Hope. I'm not sure how I feel about hope. I don't gamble in the casinos. That kind of regimented hope seems less fun to me. I'm a skeptic. I'm pro-science.

I like to say I don't believe in hope, but I had the hope to move to Vegas to do a magic show. And I do hope that Vegas pulls through this bad economic time and people come and visit us and we do our stupid shows for all the stupid, hopeful people.

Obama, please remember, it was those stupid, very hopeful people who took the over on a stupid point spread on Obama with a stupid hope to help our country, which includes stupid Vegas.

The gamble Obama took with his run for president and the gamble that the American people took on him sure weren't taken at good odds. It wasn't putting everything we had on red in roulette, or "don't pass" in craps, or carefully counting cards in blackjack.

Obama's presidency is more than all of us putting our whole future on 00 in roulette. It was more like putting everything we had on one slot pull at the stupid Elvis impersonator slot machine in the stupid Elvis casino for the stupid hillbillies who are filled with hope.

Maybe the Vegas jokes in the Beltway should stay in the Beltway.

Shortly after Obama's comments, he sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, saying, "I wasn't saying anything negative about Las Vegas...there is no place better to have fun than Vegas, one of our country's great destinations.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Penn Jillette.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Hay Springs, Nebraska High School Donating Prom Savings to Haiti

I don't know where to go online to link to this article, so I am just going to recreate it here. It appeared in the North Platte Telegraph on Saturday January 30. It is written by Kiley Cruise of the World-Herald News Service:

The Hay Springs High School junior and senior classes aren't going to pay for the usual niceties at this year's prom - and they don't want anyone else to pay for it, either.

Instead of using the $5,300 they had raised for a dinner, deejay and decorations, the students voted last week to donate the money to Haitian relief efforts.

We're just a small town, and we don't care about a fancy prom," said Trenton Kuhn, a junior at the high school, which has 65 students. "We just wanted to show people that we care."

As word of their generosity spread, a deejay offered his services and some in the town started organizing for a dinner. But the students are declining the offers, instead asking potential donors to contribute to a bank fund they opened.

"We are not spending a dime on prom," said Hay Springs Principal Alan Frank. "If anyone donates money to us for the prom, it will go directly to the bank fund.

"We are keeping it bare-bones. It may be mac and cheese and hot dogs and an iPod."

To take one step further; the students from the western Nebraska town of about 550 want to challenge other high schools to downsize their proms.

"They could give up their paper trees and send $20," Frank said. "We ask them to prioritize what is important."

Now I don't know about you, but I am choking back sobs as I write this. I've never met any of them, but I am so proud of those students, and so proud of the Nebraska spirit of generosity that their example embodies. If you want to find out more about the high school these wonderful kids call home, you can visit it here: The wikipedia entry on Hay Springs can be found here:,_Nebraska

Do you have any contacts or influence over other high schools? Perhaps you know of some that would like to take up the Hay Springs on their challenge?

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.