Music Promoter Louis Messina’s Best Advice and Travel Tips

Music Promoter Louis Messina’s Best Advice and Travel Tips 3

Music Promoter Louis Messina’s Best Advice and Travel Tips

February 12, 2020

After promoting some of the hottest musicians of our century, Louis Messina is ready to turn some of his attention inward. For 46 years, Louis Messina has been promoting the music of his carefully vetted stable of superstars, which includes Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Eric Church, and Faith Hill. For Messina, who last year won a Country Music Association Lifetime Achievement Honor, the artists he chooses to get involved with are not picked simply for their talent. “I have to have a connection with them that’s not just artistic, but also personal and moral,” he said. “The artists I work with I want to be involved with for the rest of their career.”

Music Promoter Louis Messina’s Best Advice and Travel Tips

Messina, the son of a boxing promoter, has known the music world was his calling since he was 7, when his father took him to an Elvis Presley concert. At the heart of Messina’s love for music is the spiritual journey that a song can take you on, so that you arrive back at yourself transformed. “Music is sacred,” he said. “There are certain songs you hear that sound as if they were written about you or for you.” Concerts, which he never tires of, are the ultimate way to listen to music. “They feel good, like church. As Kenny Chesney says at the start of his concerts: Leave your problems at the door for the next two hours. Nothing can replace live, the people around you, the charge in the air—it’s magical.”

Messina Touring Group’s success has been peaking in recent years—last year he promoted Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” tour, the top-grossing tour in U.S. history, along with Ed Sheeran, who in 2018 grossed $432 million and sold 4,860,482 tickets worldwide. His artist-centric promotion model, which delivers concierge-quality service to his artists, favors excellence over volume. Each artist has a dedicated team that’s exclusive to them. “We are 100 percent all in with each artist. I don’t shop my artists out,” he said. “I look at myself as an extension of the artist rather than their promoter.”

But such devotion comes with a cost. For decades, Messina, who follows many of the tours with his own personal touring bus, was on the road for roughly 200 days a year. This year, he said, he’s committed to a better work-life balance and has promised his wife and two younger daughters, ages 10 and 13 (Messina also has four older sons) to keep it under 100 days. When he does get the rare opportunity to travel for pleasure, Messina expects the same attention to service that he showers on his artists. He chooses Inspirato because its service is impeccable, he says, from pre-trip logistics to post-trip follow- up. He appreciates being able to delegate all the trip’s details with confidence, down to having the kitchen stocked with his family’s favorite foods.

“If there ever is an issue, no matter how slight, the problem takes minutes to fix—not days,” he said.

His favorite Inspirato travel destination was the family’s most recent trip, to Long Bay Beach Club Turks and Caicos. “The ocean was just outside our window: All day long we were mesmerized watching Caribbean ‘ocean TV.’ A couple of times we’ll hire a professional chef to create a memorable family dinner, to take utmost advantage of the privilege of privacy,” he said. Of course, music may enter the scene as well. Even on holiday, his musical mainstays are the musicians who are part of his fold. “I listen to the artists who listen to me,” he said with a laugh.

Music Promoter Louis Messina’s Best Advice and Travel Tips 2

Next on Messina’s horizon is channeling some of his keen attentiveness toward someone who has been quietly waiting in the wings—himself. For his next act, he said, “I want to spend more time with my family, more time with me. I need to get back to finding Louis. That’s my next mission. I kind of like Louis,” he said, with just a hint of surprise.

As someone who is constantly on the road tending to his touring superstars, Inspirato member Louis Messina has picked these 3 Travel Tips for making vacation time sacrosanct.

First, pad your vacation with a few extra days. “It takes me a long time to decompress. By the time I actually feel relaxed, it’s time to go. Adding a few extra days to your trip can help you settle into an almost unnerving feeling of tranquility.”

Second, moderate your phone time. “At first, even on vacation, I was a phone addict, checking it every few minutes. But I’ve learned to just scan my phone in the morning and the evening and be present with my family the rest of the time.”

Third, use your vacation time to make more mindful food choices. “Take advantage of having your routine disrupted, along with less cause to stress-eat, to cut down on the eat-on-the-run, whatever’s available mentality.”

The Man Behind the Course Designs for Winter Sport Events

The Man Behind the Course Designs for Winter Sport Events 2

The Man Behind the Course Designs for Winter Sport Events

February 6, 2020

Snowboarding and Freestyle Skiing are packed with celebrities—high-flying athletes who perform other feats of derring-do during annual X-Games events, but they couldn’t do what they do without Chris “Gunny” Gunnarson. As founder and CEO of Reno-Lake Tahoe-based Snow Park Technologies (SPT), Gunnarson creates the courses for the sports’ biggest events. He builds jumps. He designs terrain parks. In short, he provides the canvases on which the world’s best athletes can paint.

The Man Behind the Course Designs for Winter Sport Events 1

The San Diego native’s first job was on the ski patrol at Southern California’s Snow Summit in 1992, which morphed into a position as the director of snowboarding. Before he left to start SPT, he built the terrain park for Snow Summit and created the camera-friendly half-pipe and park for the first Winter X Games held at the resort in 1997.

Since then Gunnarson’s designed parks for dozens of resorts all over the world, including five different resorts in the Tahoe area. His 22-foot-high half-pipe at Northstar California is one of the largest pipes open to the general snowboarding public today, while the mile-long terrain park at Alpine Meadows has more than 40 jumps, rails, and features overall.

Among pro boarders, Gunnarson and his crew are a welcome sight at any event. Chas Guldemond, a Tahoe area-based rider who has been boarding on SPT parks for eight years, says he appreciates the company’s attention to detail—especially when it comes to safety.

“I’ve ridden a bunch of stuff that’s been suspect,” he says. “These guys make sure not to let riders on anything unless they completely trust it. It’s nice to know they have your back.”

The Man Behind the Course Designs for Winter Sport Events 3

Looking forward, Gunnarson says SPT plans to work with resorts around the country to build new terrain parks with baby half-pipes and other features designed to help introduce novices to snowboarding in a comfortable and unintimidating environment.

“Everything in snowboarding doesn’t have to be about gnarly jumps and hang time,” says Gunnarson. “We believe there’s a way to get people into the sport gradually and get them excited for life.”

Explore Las Vegas Culture at This Annual Festival

Explore Las Vegas Culture at This Annual Festival

Explore Las Vegas Culture at This Annual Festival

January 10, 2020

There’s a new festival in the West, and Rehan Choudhry is leading the charge to make sure it, well, rocks. The two-day party, dubbed Life is Beautiful, will bring roughly 80,000 attendees to 15 blocks of downtown Las Vegas for a mash up of music, food, art, and big ideas.

Explore Las Vegas Culture at This Annual Festival 2

“People visit Vegas, stay on the Strip, party at the nightclubs, and develop a very one-dimensional idea of what this town is all about,” says Choudhry, CEO and co-founder of Aurelian Marketing Group, which is producing the bash. 

“We’re hoping to use the festival to broaden that impression.”

Choudhry, 33, dreamt up the festival after an eclectic career that included stints in entertainment marketing at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and Harrah’s group in Atlantic City. His goal: To organize the festival in a way that represents a cross-section of talent and personalities unique to Vegas.

To do this, Choudhry and his team have recruited national headliners Kings of Leon, Beck, and Vegas-born The Killers, as well as other local bands such as Moondog Matinee and Rusty Maples.

For food, he’s brought in Rick Moonan of RM Seafood in Mandalay Bay and Scott Conant, the chef behind Scarpetta at The Cosmopolitan. The art exhibits and installments will expose thousands to the city’s burgeoning scene.

Explore Las Vegas Culture at This Annual Festival 3

To help Aurelian make the festival a success, Choudhry’s turned to Tony Hsieh, the founder and CEO of the online clothing and footwear store Zappos.com, whose urban redevelopment program, the Downtown Project is working to transform Vegas into something more than Sin City.

“We recently had a visitor describe downtown as ‘an entrepreneur’s Disneyland full of passion and energy,’” Hsieh says. “We think the festival [will] bring that energy level even higher.”

So if you find yourself in Las Vegas and in search of a cultural experience, be sure to stop by this multi-day event. You’ll experience things like recycled Burning Man installations, Meow Wolf masterpieces, and all-star comedy and music line-ups that’ll put other festivals to shame. Who knew Las Vegas could be about so much more than gambling, breakfast buffets, and over-the-top bachelor parties?

Giddy Fiddles and Emerald cliffs on Ireland’s Atlantic Coast

Giddy Fiddles and Emerald cliffs on Ireland’s Atlantic Coast

Giddy Fiddles and Emerald cliffs on Ireland’s Atlantic Coast

December 13, 2019

Eoin O’Neill’s 55-year-old fingers flitter from one fret of his bouzouki to the next so fast they’re a blur. His grin gets ever wider as he eyeballs the paneled ceiling above. The eight musicians seated around him follow his lead, hypnotizing the entire pub with a savage symphony of giddy fiddles and mandolins, pluckety banjos, bodhrans, flutes and 12-string guitars. A bearded man yelps from the sidelines. Another, convinced that he too has found the rhythm, pounds a tabletop with his palms. The music gets ever faster. My knobbly knees bounce uncontrollably off the old flagstone floor. Things are taking off in here tonight.

Welcome to a Sunday evening at Joseph McHugh’s pub in Liscannor, County Clare. Outside a storm is raging, frothing up the ocean all along the Atlantic Coast of Ireland. Balls of salty rain smack against the dark windows, briefly clinging and then dissolving in the soft light of the turf fire. Eoin is in tune with the weather outside, somehow hatching this melody in cahoots with the gods who create such tempests.

Certainly he started calmly enough. When we first arrived, it was just him and Yvonne Casey, he with the bouzouki, she with the fiddle. Photographer James Fennell and I stumbled into the pub having spent some hours around the horseshoe bay at Kilkee and up toward Loop Head. A sagacious landlady in Kilrush advised us this stretch of cliffs was every bit as wonderful and also less busy than the Cliffs of Moher. As we parked the car and gingerly strolled toward the lofty cliff face, there wasn’t another soul to be seen.

Giddy Fiddles and Emerald cliffs on Ireland’s Atlantic Coast

It was one of those days you lean forward into the wind and it pushes you back. Thinking about the power of the invisible wind and freak gusts, I kept a healthy distance from the cliff’s edge, watching dark blue rollers steam in from afar before smashing against the same rocks that tore the Spanish Armada to shreds here in 1588.

Crouching upon the green, salt-splayed grasses and looking across at a small island maybe a hundred meters out to sea, I saw the ruins of a dwelling on its summit. Surely to God, I said aloud, that is the remotest building on this green Earth. “It was a hermitage,” says a barman at Hotel Doolin with an impressive American Civil War beard. “A saint set up a commune out there about 1,500 years ago. It was all connected to the main- land but then the land fell away and it became an island.”

This bearded barman recently won the lottery so he ought to know these things. I also rate him because, the previous evening, he counseled me to switch from Guinness stout to O’Hara’s. “Stick with O’Hara’s Leann Folláin and you’ll have no hangover,” he avowed. “Leann Folláin means wholesome stout and whole- some it most certainly is.”

For all his trivia, this barman says he cannot play any musical instruments. This makes him rather unusual in County Clare. Traditional Irish music forms the soul of many of the county’s towns and villages, from the tiny hamlets of Kilfenora, Tulla or Carrigaholt to Ennis, the energetic county capital, where musicians congregate nightly in places such as James O’Keeffe’s and the Poet’s Rest at the Old Ground Hotel.

Some melodies have passed down from ear to ear over generations since the age of the Celtic peoples who dwelled in these fertile lands. Others are the legacy of maritime traders from Morocco, Algeria, Portugal and Spain who plied Ireland’s Atlantic Coast and ventured up the Shannon estuary that forms Clare’s southern border.

The concertina, now considered a particularly Irish instrument, was an Anglo-German invention but became so popular in Clare that by the early 1900s nearly every house in the county had one. Light and portable, these two-handed hexagonal squeezeboxes proved particularly popular with women. Lizzie Crotty, matriarch of Crotty’s (pronounced “Crutty” in the locality) in Kilrush, one of the longest-standing musical pubs in Clare, was born into a large family in 1885. She grew up to be, arguably, the best-known concertina player in Ireland. Compositions included songs like “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” and “The Reel with the Beryl.” In her younger years, this shy but determined woman frequently played at “American Wakes,” where the community would gather to bid farewell to yet another young man or woman bound for a new life in America. (All but one of Crotty’s own siblings emigrated; none returned.) Her husband, Miko Crotty, was one of the few emigrants who did come back and together they converted their pub in Kilrush into a hotbed for traditional music sessions, especially after the horse and cattle fairs in the square.

Crotty’s continues to be one of the strongholds of Irish music in southern Clare. The musicians play in the old living room, tapping their feet on a worn tiled floor installed by an Italian craftsman whom Miko managed to lure down from a job at the local Catholic Church. An adjacent table was the favored spot of Richard Burton, Oliver Reed and Cyril Cusack when those hard-drinking thespians were Crotty’s aficionados in the 1960s.

Back at Joseph McHugh’s in Liscannor, Eoin O’Neill is still firing on all cylinders with his bouzouki, stomping his foot and yelping like a wolf while all around are likewise going full pelt. It’s like Zorba the Greek with a barrel of poitín thrown in. Horses’ hooves thunder on salt-stained fields, great crested rollers blast into the ancient cliffs.

Faster and faster and faster it goes, fiddlers’ shoulders rolling like the breakers themselves, until the definitive crescendo falls and everyone drops back to Earth with much woofing of chest and contagious mirth. “Sorry about that,” says Eoin, scratching the back of his head. “I get a little carried away sometimes.”

Magnificent. To my mind, I have just witnessed a piece of magic, crafted by wood, string and a melee of human elbows, fingers and wrists. This same formula is in a state of near constant infusion in pubs throughout County Clare on any day of the week. It is truly extraordinary. Many children of the county are taught how to play an instrument before they master spelling or math. As such, there are now hundreds, if not thousands, of musicians born and bred in Clare, as well as the innumerable players who have drifted here from afar. “I’m a nowhere man,” says O’Neill, who was raised on the east coast of Ireland. “When I first moved to Doolin 35 years ago, the winters would be so lonely that I would be almost crying in my bedroom, but it’s so different now. The Internet keeps you connected all the time if you want.”

Irish music is often deeply haunting and emotive. I have met men and women whose grandparents were teenagers at the time of the Great Famine of the 1840s, when approximately one million people succumbed to starvation and disease while another million fled the island. Irish history does not record many happy moments. However, there are certain things that emerged from the gloomy fog of emigration, famine and religious persecution to embolden the Irish soul, not least music and humor. At Gus O’Connor’s Pub in Doolin, a Santa Claus lookalike on crutches belts out a version of “Plastic Jesus,” and successfully entices all those seated around him to sing along. At his side, another happy- go-lucky man creates an accompanying rhythm by rattling a pair of kitchen spoons between his hands and thigh.

Giddy Fiddles and Emerald cliffs on Ireland’s Atlantic Coast

You’re unlikely to hear the spoons in Hotel Doolin on a Monday night but you will hear one of the finest acts in the county, Quentin Cooper, Eoin O’Neill and Jono O’Connell, with regular cameos from Luka Bloom. This is the same Eoin I met in Liscannor. That’s the way it works in County Clare: a different pub, different night, different partners.

Fitzpatrick’s Bar in Hotel Doolin is a deep-red paneled room, with dark timber floors, a glowing turf fire, ceramic whiskey jars on the windowsills and walls bedecked with portrait photos of musical greats from decades past. It serves local and lesser-known stouts—hence, the O’Hara’s in my hand.

Quentin is the only person I’ve heard of who is half Peruvian and half Irish. Also, he plays every instrument I’ve heard of and even makes his own. He knows his woods inside out and enlightens me. “Violas, fiddles, cellos and double basses are all back and sides maple, tough but thin enough to resonate a lot; the top is generally spruce and the fingerboard tends to be ebony or rosewood. The wire can be anything from gut-string to nylon, steel, titanium, carbon, depends what you’re into.” But now the music is on again. Big Eoin, hunched up and sucking his lower lip, strumming his bouzouki. The dapper Jon O’Connell (friends call him “Jono”), who grew up nearby, the scion of a family of emigrants, hands gliding up and down an enormous double bass.

Quentin doing crazy things with his mandolin. Once again a session brews. A man called Barnes arrives with a banjo. O’Connell’s brother Kieran, lately returned from Australia, sings “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.” Suddenly the air is thick with the ambience of Gallipoli, 1915, and the memories of soldiers who have had their legs blown off, and we all feel deeply emotional for a moment. A children’s nurse from Kerry then serenades us with “Will Ye Go, Lassie Go?” With each new song, we all move a little closer and by the end of the night I am compelled to shed my own inner fears. I sing a song called “Spancil Hill,” which I learned from a man called Robbie McMahon, another legend of Clare, since deceased, about an emigrant who dreams he is home again with his fiancée only to awaken in far away California. That is the power of nights like these, with or without storms raging outside the door, to pitch and toss with whatever tune or song stirs the room.

Experience Summer in Russia’s Cultural Capital

St. Petersburg, Russia

Experience Summer in Russia’s Cultural Capital

December 12, 2019

There is no city like Saint Petersburg, former capital of the Russian Empire, home of tsars and intellectual and artistic elites, witness to revolutions and inspiration for great Russian art, music, novels and poems, including Pushkin’s Bronze Horseman, Gogol’s Nevsky Prospect and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. On the Baltic Sea, St. Petersburg’s old glory—its baroque and neoclassical palaces, churches and monuments—has been preserved, as has its place as Russia’s cultural capital. Today this city of about 5 million bursts with life, especially during its famous summer White Nights, when darkness never falls and instead buildings, bridges and parks are submersed in the soft light of a perpetual twilight.

I will never forget my first trip here, back when it was called Leningrad. I was a 16-year-old Moscovite and, even though my visit lasted just six days, fell in love with the city right away. Each day, the schedule was the same: Mornings and afternoons were spent at either the Hermitage or the Russian Museum. Evenings were music or theater: the Mariinsky for ballet and opera, the Alexandrinsky for drama, the Grand Hall of the Philharmonic or, for chamber music, a smaller hall inside a palace.

In between, I wandered the city: the wide, arrow-straight and always-busy Nevsky Prospect, which leads to the Palace Square, or the embankments of the Neva or smaller rivers and canals like Moika, Fontanka or Griboyedov. It was January, and the cold, dark and snow didn’t matter.

St. Petersburg—the name changed back to the original in 1991 when the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse—pulls you in. I have been returning to the city again and again, visiting from Moscow and later from New York, in spring and summer, during its White Nights and in winter again.

I go to the southern bank of the Neva River, where the neoclassical Admiralty, the baroque Winter Palace and the Bronze Horseman are located. Walking slowly, you get beautiful views over to Vasilievsky Island’s Rostral Columns and some of the city’s oldest buildings. I absorb the spaciousness—the enormous sky and wide waters—and the harmony between nature and architecture. After midnight sometimes I join the crowds watching some of the 21 drawbridges rise for large ships to pass on the Neva. You can do a canal cruise, passing under several of

St. Petersburg’s 300-some bridges. Or visit a museum; there are more than 200, dedicated to military, science, vodka, toys, bread, literature, theater, musical instruments and great writers, composers and painters whose lives and work were connected with the city. Some of the latter are the restored residences of these artists—from Pushkin to Akhmatova and Rimsky-Korsakov. Take a stroll in the Summer Gardens of the tsar who imagined and built this city.

Younger than Philadelphia, St. Petersburg was born in 1703 by the will and determination of the energetic, tyrannical and visionary Peter the Great. He wanted Russia to have a strong naval post on the Baltic; the city was built on dozens of swampy, wooded islands in the estuary of the Neva River on the Gulf of Finland. By 1704, Tsar Peter I was referring to St. Petersburg as Russia’s capital, although the capital wasn’t officially moved here from Moscow until 1712.

After laying the foundation for the Saint Petersburg fortress on Zayachy Ostrov (Hare Island) on St. Peter’s Day (hence the city’s name) in 1703, construction began on the city’s first residence, Peter’s home, a cabin that he built largely on his own. Carefully preserved, it is now a museum.

Early in his reign (Peter became the sole ruler of Russia in 1696), Peter traveled for months around Europe, studying everything from carpentry and shipbuilding in Holland to city planning in England. He was eager to build a true European city (like his favorite Amsterdam) as a symbol of a new, Westernized, modernized and powerful Russia. Unlike medieval Moscow, St. Petersburg would be built methodically, according to a plan, from bricks and stone, in the newest European styles. Neither expense nor human force was spared: Many thousands of serfs, prisoners of war and Russian soldiers labored and died building the city. Foreign craftsmen, builders and architects were recruited. The Italians Domeico Trezzini and Bartolomeo Carlo Rastrelli were among the first to work here, planning streets, canals and buildings in the decorous Petrine Baroque style. In 1716, Frenchman Jean-Baptiste-Alexandre Le Blond became the first Architect General of Saint Petersburg.

Le Blond’s plan was for Vasilievsky Island to be the city center. Strelka (Arrow), the Stock Exchange, the Kunstcamera (the first Russian museum), government offices called “Twelve Collegia” and a grid of straight streets and canals were built there. But, because the island frequently flooded, the population gravitated to a bank on the mainland where the Admiralty—the shipyard and fortress—had been built earlier. In 1719, the German Nikolas Fridrich Gerbel designed a plan for that part of the city: five ray-like avenues (including Nevsky Prospect, the main “artery” of the city today) that converged at the Admiralty. Gerbel’s plan is the city’s backbone today.

St Petersburg Russia 3

After Peter’s death in 1725, subsequent rulers and governments left their marks, from Empress Elizabeth’s baroque-styled Winter Palace and Smolny Cathedral to Empress Catherine II’s neoclassical Russian Academy of Sciences, Academy of Fine Arts, Russia’s first public library and Falconet’s Bronze Horseman. Through the centuries, the city experienced floods and fires, and during the Leningrad Siege in the early 1940s, bombing and destruction. Remarkably its architectural and art glories remained mostly intact. In 1990, UNESCO added the city center to its list of World Heritage Sites. “In the history of urbanism, St. Petersburg is no doubt the only example of a vast project that retained all its logic despite the rapid succession of styles,” UNESCO wrote. St. Petersburg is no longer the official capital of Russia, but there’s no doubt it remains the country’s cultural capital.

The American Tournament Designed with Tennis Fans in Mind

Indian Wells Tennis Tournament

The American Tournament Designed with Tennis Fans in Mind

December 10, 2019

The racket rips across the top of the tennis ball like a cracking whip, sending it rocketing, brutally fast and spinning ferociously, toward the net. Standing 10 feet from the edge of the court, I swear I can hear it whizzing through the air. As it clears the net—by many feet—the player who hit it, intense and powerful, finishes his swing. Most players finish forehands across their chest. This one, his palm nearly underneath the racket handle, has an above-the-head follow-through, like he’s a rodeo cowboy twirling a lasso. Before his shot drops, quickly, heavily and almost at the feet of the opposing player, he’s back to ready position, knees bent, stance wide and looking like he ate a heaping bowl of Eye of the Tiger for breakfast.

I’m confused. This player, with bulging biceps—at least by tennis player standards—and beads of sweat escaping a headband knotted at the back of his unruly hair, is a dead ringer for Rafael Nadal, the Spaniard who was the youngest player in history to win a career Grand Slam (he did it by age 24), the winner of 14 Grand Slam titles (including nine French Opens) and, since 2005, ranked as one of the top five players in the world. Spectators could never get so close to Rafa, though, could they?

“As we’ve grown, one of the things we’ve tried to do with all of our facilities is to get people as close to the courts and action as possible,” says Steve Simon, the chief operating officer and tournament director for Indian Wells’ BNP Paribas Open, the annual two-week tournament widely considered the front-runner for the colloquial title of the Fifth Slam. The smallest court at the U.S. Open seats 2,500. At the BNP Paribas Open’s Stadium 9 there’s seating for 1,250. The crinkling of a wrapper in the back row can disrupt play. The 20 practice courts are even more intimate. “You can be as close as you’d be sitting across a desk from someone as you can be watching [Roger] Federer practice hitting balls,” Simon says. I guess it is Rafa I’m watching on one of Indian Wells Tennis Garden’s practice courts.

Indian Wells Fans Tennis

Last year, when my boyfriend suggested a march trip to California’s Coachella Valley to watch the BNP Paribas Open, I had no idea what I was getting into, other than the valley’s spectacular late-winter weather—seemingly always 80 degrees and sunny. A newish tennis player preferring to play rather than spectate, I had previously seen parts of the four Majors: the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open. But always on television. And always only parts. I’d get so inspired, I’d text a friend and we’d head for the courts ourselves before the match I had been watching ended.

“Watching in person is different,” explained my boyfriend, a lifelong tennis player who records matches on television and watches in person as often as possible. He said that when he’d been at the BNP Paribas Open before, he’d often be on the grounds for upwards of 12 hours. A day. For several days in a row. Researching all of the things to do in and around the valley—Palm Springs’ great mid-century modern design stores and home tours, fabulous hiking, a scenic tram, spas, Joshua Tree National Park is nearby—I doubted I’d watch 12 hours of tennis one day, much less multiple days.

We were in the valley for four days and I never made it further from Indian Wells Tennis Garden, which was purpose-built in 2000 to host the tournament, than where we stayed. When you’ve got the freedom to wander around 20 practice courts and in and out of nine stadiums and to rest in between matches on soft, well-manicured lawns, watching the world’s best tennis players in person is graciously all-consuming.

The BNP Paribas Open (most people call it Indian Wells after the town it is held in) draws most of the talent pool—there’s a 96-player singles draw for both men and women—that shows up at the U.S. Open or Wimbledon later in the year. It doesn’t have Grand Slam crowds, though. Look past the stadiums and it does have snaggletoothed peaks—some snow-capped—rising 10,000 feet into a Georgia O’Keeffe desert sky. It also has an army of over 1,200 volunteers whose primary goal is to make the tournament the best possible experience for both players and spectators. Stadium 2, added last year, doesn’t seem to have a bad seat in the house and does have an outpost of Nobu.

Of course, Nobu overlooks the court; it’s also a great place to spot players. “The players love to eat at Nobu,” says Kris Gerring, the volunteer manager of the players’ lounge since 2000. “They go there all the time.” And all of this is in a laid-back, resort destination. Golf at one of the valley’s 120+ courses or hike on San Jacinto Peak in the morning and watch tennis all afternoon and evening. Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2015, there’s no other tennis tournament like it in the world. That was the idea from the beginning

“When it was first developed, it was an extremely quaint event located in a beautiful resort,” Simon says. “The uniqueness of it at the time was that you could enjoy a world-class tournament in an idyllic setting and never have to get in the car.” That was in the early and mid-80s, when 30,000 people annually came to watch pros play at the La Quinta Hotel & Racquet Club. Even in 1987, when the tournament moved to the 350-room, 10-acre Grand Champions Resort Hotel, where there were 12 courts, including a 10,000- seat stadium, it felt wonderfully small. “We could have stayed at the Grand Champions and kept on as this quaint, intimate event,” Simon says. “But we wanted to pursue growth opportunities and had confidence we could do that while maintaining the sense of intimacy that makes us special.”

Indian Wells Tennis Tournament

The Indian Wells Tennis Garden was completed in 2000 and, at 54 acres, has the same footprint as the U.S. Open site, the National Tennis Center. On March 8 of last year, when the BNP Paribas Open set its new single-day attendance record, 31,764, the only line I had to wait in was three minutes, for a frozen lemonade. From no more than 20 feet away, I was able to watch Rafa, Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dmitrov hitting on the practice courts. Checking out the latter, a towering Bulgarian whose one-handed backhand, among other parts of his game, is almost a mirror of Federer’s, I think we had the bleachers all to ourselves. With a general admission ticket, you could wander in and out of all nine stadiums, watching Kei Nishikori, Flavia Pennetta (who went on to win the women’s title) and Tommy Robredo. In the smaller stadiums with no assigned seating, you could often score the seats of your choice—I liked front-row baseline center, especially during Aussie Sam Stosur’s match. Television does not do justice to her kick serve, heavy forehand or muscled shoulders.

After its move to the tennis garden, groups in the Middle East and Asia offered to buy the tournament for enormous amounts of money, but the owners, determined to keep the event in the Coachella Valley, resisted. The tournament needed investment, but partners held out for someone who would carry on their legacy of continuous improvement here. In 2009, they sold to Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle and an adrenaline and tennis junkie worth upwards of $50 billion. Under Ellison’s ownership, the tournament became the only one in the world to provide Hawk-Eye technology, used by players to challenge calls, on every match court and for every match played. “We’ve always said here that if you’re doing the same thing you did last year, you’re going backwards,” Simon says. “We don’t want to do that to fans or players.”

Explore Colorado’s Rare Beauty with This Epic Cycle Race

Explore Colorado's Rare Beauty with This Epic Cycle Race

Colorado's Epic Cycle Race

August 2, 2019

Characterized by high elevations and relentless climbs, the weeklong USA Pro Challenge is too epic for any one city: Ten communities play host to the race’s seven stages, which link Aspen, Crested Butte and Vail with larger hubs such as Colorado Springs and Denver. All test a champion’s mettle. “It’s one of the hardest races I’ve ever done,” says pro rider Tanner Putt of the Bissell Development Cycling team. But legions of fans motivate racers to conquer the challenges.

Over the course of the week, 1 million spectators turn out to watch and cheer. “Riders race here and feel like rock stars,” says Shawn Hunter, the race’s co-chairman and CEO. “The only other race in the world that has this level of excitement and energy is the Tour de France.” 

Aspen  

Leave 12,095-foot Independence Pass to the racers. Mere mortals content themselves with the route to the iconic Maroon Bells, which serves up the state’s most celebrated mountain panorama yet demands a relatively modest effort (1,600 vertical feet over 10 miles). As an added bonus, the road is closed to cars from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The 20-mile out-and-back ride begins at the roundabout 1 mile west of downtown Aspen. Take the Maroon Creek Road “exit” and pedal uphill past Aspen High School. Rest assured, the hills become gentler as you pass Aspen Highlands ski area. The road climbs gradually, hugging the banks of Maroon Creek as mansions give way to the White River National Forest, where aspen fringed meadows afford glimpses of majestic, 14,026-foot Pyramid Peak. At the road’s end, dismount and walk some 200 yards along the paved path to viewpoints showcasing the Bells’ stunning symmetry mirrored in the blue waters of Maroon Lake. 

Wheel Deals: Ute City Cycles rents drool-worthy Orbea and Felt bikes for 100/day, or get a pro tune for your own ride from the repair crew. Refuel: Peach’s Corner Café tops off your fuel tank with the likes of kale salad or a chicken and avocado panini, served on the outdoor patio. Recover Check into Remède Spa (in the St. Regis) for a stint in its steam caves, stone-lined pools stirred by cascading water and treatment rooms offering wraps, facials and massages featuring local skincare products.

Vail

Like all routes out of the Vail Valley, the 12-mile Daybreak Ridge loop includes a stout climb (1,800 vertical feet) that humbled cyclists in the 2013 USA Pro Challenge. But from the circuit’s high point you overlook the soaring peaks of the Gore Range. And because the upper section of the ride takes place within gated neighborhoods, traffic is scarce. “You’re more likely to spot deer and bear than cars,” says local Brett Donelson. Start in Avon, 11 miles west of Vail, and crank up Village Road, passing through the gated entrance to Beaver Creek Resort. At 1 mile, turn right onto South Holden Road, left onto Borders Road and left again onto Strawberry Park Road. Ogle the luxury residences lining the road, pass beneath the Elkhorn ski lift and pick up Daybreak Ridge Road to top out at a high point affording those well-earned views down into Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch.

Follow Daybreak Ridge Road as it serpentines down through Bachelor Gulch. Stop to refill a water bottle at the RitzCarlton and then cruise down into Avon via Bachelor Gulch Trail. Venture Sports in Avon rents bikes, organizes group rides and employs the valley’s best bike technicians. Vail Valley riders have long embraced Yellowbelly in West Vail for its all-natural chicken and veggie-laden side dishes Recover.  Spa Anjali (at Avon’s Westin Riverfront) draws from healing traditions in the Alps, Himalayas and Rocky Mountains to create three unique “journeys” that go way beyond a standard massage. 

Colorado Springs

Pikes Peak isn’t the Springs’ only scenic landmark— although cyclists do get to admire this 14,114-foot-high summit from portions of the 18-mile Garden of the Gods loop. It gains 1,200 feet of elevation and visits the city’s other “rock star”: The Garden of the Gods, a pocket of blazing red-rock spires and cliffs tucked among the foothills west of downtown. To taste this eye-candy, get an early-morning start (to avoid crowds and traffic heading into the famed Garden) and head northwest out of downtown via W. Bijou to N. Walnut to Mesa Road. Continue north past Garden of the Gods Country Club and then bike south on the bike path, which parallels N. 30th Street and offers motivating panoramas of Pikes Peak and the Kissing Camels rock, which looks exported from Utah’s Arches National Park. Enter the Garden of the Gods to pedal the one-way loop among its sculpted rock pinnacles, separated from the traffic by a wide bike lane.

Exit via a plunge down Ridge Road, then left on W. Pikes Peak Ave., and right on 21st St. to connect to the Midland Trail. This former rail line slopes downhill as it heads back to Colorado Springs. Wheel Deals Criterium Bicycles maintains a big fleet of low-mileage road bikes for riders of every shape and stripe. Refuel The Irish fare at McCabe’s Tavern rewards hard effort with homemade shepherd’s pie, pretzel bread and smoked salmon served on a shady outdoor patio. Recover A Colorado icon, The Broadmoor pampers athletes with therapeutic massage and facials performed in treatment spaces fitted with chandeliers and fireplaces. 

Experience the Magic of Tuscany in These Restored Historic Villas

Experience the Magic of Tuscany in These Restored Historic Villas

August 1, 2019

Nestled in the most traditional of landscapes—the pastoral central Italian region of Tuscany—sit two reconstructed villas that embody a luxurious modern style all their own. Meticulously rebuilt and impeccably curated, La Galleria and Monticelli are part of a collection that will eventually include another nearby villa, San Bartolomeo. “Our vision is that of a new way of living the timeless beauty of Tuscany,” says Massimo Lauro, owner and designer of the villas, along with his wife of 35 years, Angela. “The striking contemporary art, iconic design and the latest technology lead to a different style of understated elegance that blends with local culture and lifestyle and fulfills the fantasy of la dolce vita.” 

Restoring the historic properties according to a comfortable, contemporary aesthetic is a shared passion for the couple. A scion of a prominent family of former ship owners in Naples, Lauro grew up in a home filled with works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and other pop art masters, which his parents collected during the 1960s. Along with his wife, Lauro began collecting art in earnest during the 90s. “Massimo has a very good eye,” she says. “He can spot a great artist years before he becomes famous.”  

In 2009, the Lauro family began spending less time in Naples and more at a family property in the ancient comune of Città della Pieve, near Perugia, the capital of Umbria, which is known as “the green heart of Italy.” Nearby, they renovated a winery formerly run by Lauro’s father into an art space called Il Giardino dei Lauri to house their sizable collection, which includes significant works such as New York-based artist Banks Violet’s Untitled (Horse), a galloping white horse projected onto a wall of vapor. 

Inspired by the beauty of the area, especially nearby Val d’Orcia, a scenic valley and UNESCO World Heritage site that is “one of the few wild and unspoiled areas of Italy,” Lauro says, the couple bought two old country homes and began a new shared passion: restoring historic residences. “In the 18th century, the properties hosted both stables and farmers’ homes,” says Lauro. “The homes were not habitable, so we started off by tearing them down. As we rebuilt both houses, we ensured that they would fit beautifully into the gorgeous, untouched landscape.” Following strict local historic preservation rules, La Galleria was reconstructed in the traditional stone-and-mortar style with red-tiled roofs. Because environmental concerns were a priority, the home, as well as Monticelli, boast energy efficiencies that earned both an AAA energy rating. 

The interiors, however, are another story. In contrast to the local tradition of using antique furnishings, the villas’ interior spaces are bright, open and filled with a mix of contemporary art, furniture and the latest modern amenities. “I want the houses to be as comfortable as possible,” says Angela Lauro. “I think about what I would want to find in a house. One must feel at home inside.” Working with local artisans and craftsmen, Lauro designed the windows, doors, beds, tables, white-upholstered couches and armchairs, kitchen cabinets, stone sinks and even the fireplaces. “The process was long and difficult because we wanted everything to be custom made,” he says. Interspersed with the contemporary furnishings, such as Philippe Starck bathtubs, are Biedermeier pieces from the mid-1800s. 

Completed in 2009, the 6,400-square-foot La Galleria can comfortably host 12 guests with six bedrooms and 6.5 baths. The 1,700-acre estate features a private infinity-edge pool, bocce ball court, rare rose gardens, a vegetable garden and a magnifi cent 400-year-old oak tree that “fascinated me from the start,” says Lauro. The expansive patio and lawns offer a majestic view of Val d’Orcia— green rolling hills, bright red poppy fields and the old volcano lava dome of Monte Amiata—stretching all the way to the ancient towers and cathedrals of Pienza, another World Heritage site that is considered the ideal representation of a Renaissance-era town. Located nearby on the same estate, the recently completed 6,450-square-foot, 6-bedroom Monticelli offers similarly delightful touches, including a color therapy shower in the bedroom beside the infinity pool. Lit by lamps, the rain-effect shower water changes colors (yellow, green, blue and red). Angela Lauro created two distinctive rose gardens at the house. “Everyone here has wild herb gardens with rosemary and lavender,” she says. “I thought, ‘what’s the most different thing I can do?’” Roses were the answer. The smaller walled garden features languid shades of red and pink. In the west-facing terrace garden, pink, orange and yellow blooms reflect “the same fantastic sunsets you find in Renaissance paintings, with very wild, bright colors,” she says. 

Guests at La Galleria and Monticelli enjoy a unique opportunity to live with museum-worthy contemporary art curated from the Lauro’s private collection. For instance, over Monticelli’s fireplace hangs Massimo’s favorite painting, Young Lonely Palm, done by his close friend, American artist Aaron Young. Nearby hang two works by another American painter, Richard Aldrich. Rashid Johnson’s Run Jesse Run, the title’s words spray-painted white on a large mirror, animates La Galleria’s dining room. Other artists represented include Brendan Fowler, Piero Golia, Matthew Chambers, Nicola Pecoraro and Sam Falls. Massimo inherited his passion for art from his parents, who discovered contemporary art and began collecting it during travels abroad. “I learned to love beauty in general and to search for the very best—that one can afford,” he says. He still keeps updated on emerging young artists, “which is not that easy living in Italy,” he says. “But I manage.” 

After completing the third residence later this year, the Lauros’ twin passions of art and architecture will turn to an even more ambitious project. Close to home in Città della Pieve and Il Giardino dei Lauri, they have purchased a parcel of land where Perugino painted his famous fresco, Il Battesimo di Cristo. There, they plan to build Art Borgo. “A borgo is a group of houses around a church or council, but in this case, it’s a museum,” says Lauro. Internationally known architect Piero Sartogo, who designed the Italian embassy in Washington, D.C., is currently working on a very contemporary plan. “It’s something not seen here,” Angela says. 

Experience the Magic of Tuscany in These Restored Historic Villas Monticelli

When asked why they go through the expense and time to carry out their ambitious projects, Massimo and Angela respond with the passion for which Italians are famous. “I try to offer as much as I can. I want our guests to have a special experience in my house,” says Angela. “The houses aren’t built to be rented; we create them as if they were our own home,” Massimo adds. “Many of our guests say the house is even better than the photos. We try to take you to a more passionate place and every small detail contributes.” 

Make Yourself at Home

Tuscany The Lauros’ homes in Val D’Orcia are just two of the more than 12 Signature Residences available in the general area of Tuscany that also includes Chianti and Siena. Members can choose from the sprawling 12,700-square-foot Il Campanile villa in Siena with its nine bedrooms to host a family reunion or the more intimate Cottage Chianti and its two bedrooms and 2,370 square feet of charm. Between the two, members can pick from villas with three, four, six, eight and nine guest rooms.

Top Picks from a Vacation Advisor

Where to Eat: A former 16th-century convent, Relais Santa Chiara in Sarteano serves local classics in its elegant courtyard. In the ancient walled village of Monticchiello, seek out the trattoria, La Porta. The restaurant inside the castle La Locanda del Castello is famous for its white truffle dishes, the best in Montalcino. 

Day Trip: The road to a wine tasting at Montalcino winds through the vineyards that produce one of Italy’s most exquisite wines, Brunello di Montalcinao.

Sarah McLachlan on Songwriting, Family and Travel

Sarah McLachlan on Songwriting, Family and Travel

Sarah McLachlan on Songwriting, Family and Travel

August 1, 2019

Playing Live has the intimacy of gentle sex,” says singer and songwriter Sarah McLachlan. “You’re emotionally wide open up there on stage, and when it’s good—when the audience is giving back—you feel part of something much bigger.” Speaking from her home in Vancouver, British Columbia, McLachlan chuckles with mild embarrassment at her admission, but it explains her sense of excitement heading into her tour of Shine On, her first album in four years. 

For fans of the singer, the album and the tour can’t come soon enough. For McLachlan, though, the timing is perfect. “I started writing songs for this album three years ago,” she says. “But I had some big distractions: revamping and running an after school music program at an inner-city school in Vancouver; being a parent to two kids. By the time I got back to those songs, I realized I was a different person.”

My father had passed away as well, and I recognized that life was so much bigger than what those songs were about.” McLachlan started fresh, fueled partly by the loss of her father, partly by the changing perspectives that come from being a parent to her daughters, now 12- and 7-years-old (Of parenthood, she says, “It’s a terrifying and joyously beautiful responsibility”). Many of the songs on the new album are about mourning a loss, but she explains that because of her children, she found herself dwelling less on the past and more on moving forward in a meaningful way. Finding solace through her music, McLachlan uses the songwriting process to work through her own demons and issues. “It’s very therapeutic,” she says. “If I’m feeling wound up and frustrated, I’ll go settle down at the piano and noodle around. If I like something, I’ll record it on my iPhone and keep going.” 

Eventually those therapy sessions turn into melodies that become songs. “There’s nothing sharp about the process,” she says. “It happens when it happens.” Her lyrics come after the melody, and she’s learned in her 25 years as a professional to jot down those snippets immediately or lose them forever. In the studio, the melody and lyrics come together to form a song that she’ll perform for the rest of her life. With more than an estimated 40 million records sold in her career and Grammy awards for songs on her 1997 album Surfacing, McLachlan brings her emotionally powerful voice to cities across North America this summer.  

When asked how she knows whether a song will work live or not, she replies, “If a song works while singing solo and playing a single instrument, then you know it’s strong.” Exhibit A: “Angel,” her smash-hit song from Surfacing that features McLachlan, her piano and nothing else. She enjoys summer tours for the chance to play outside.  

The first half of the show is under the fading light of day, when she feels surrounded by the audience and embraces the casual atmosphere. Then for the second half, darkness sets in and the dramatic stage lighting takes over. For this tour, she gave herself plenty of time to line up venues she loves that allow her to do just this: Red Rocks in Denver, the Santa Barbara Bowl and Berkeley’s Greek Theatre, among them. But beyond the venues, a summer tour schedule means that her children can come with her on their summer break from school. 

“It’s a big camping trip and road trip for them, and it’s wonderful to show them new places and new cities,” she says. “I’ve been to many children’s museums and science and natural history museums. It’s all about exploration with the kids. Everything looks new again through their eyes,” she says. “If we have time, I do like to seek out nature. I get a truer sense of place from the landscape—the trees, mountains or the ocean—than I do from the downtown streets where our hotels are usually located.”  

family-vacation

Two weeks after she finished recording Shine On, and mere days after returning from a well-deserved Hawaiian vacation, McLachlan sounds ready to open herself to an audience on a nightly basis, revisiting heartache and triumph through songs old and new, and recharged by the presence of her children and fans, many who’ve already snapped up the tour’s VIP tickets months ahead of her opening night. “It’s comforting to know that those people are there, and they care about what I do.”