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A confident Justin Vernon delivered a really great show in July, 2011.
A confident Justin Vernon delivered a really great show in July, 2011. (Photo: CJ Foeckler)

10 music concert highs and lows of 2011

Although the list was tough to narrow down (sorry Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – you almost made it) here are seven shows I adored and three I wanted to adore.

1. Band of Horses, Johnny Mercer Theater, Savannah, Ga., April 4.

Despite the terrible Bud-based beer selection at the venue, The Band of Horses show at the Johnny Mercer Theater in Savannah was by far my top concert experience of the year. (You know this already if you read my 2011 picks posted earlier this month on The intensity of their delivery, the absolutely breathtaking screen imagery of the natural world and the fact that the band is now based in Savannah's sister town, Charleston, S.C., really exposed the love.

2. Peter Gabriel, New Blood Orchestra and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Marcus Amphitheater, Milwaukee, June 29.

Peter Gabriel delivered a three-hour concert – with a 20-minute break for the spectacular fireworks show – that featured a 50-plus-piece orchestra headed by dramatic conductor Ben Foster and included a collection of international and Milwaukee musicians. Two female back-up singers accompanied Gabriel as well, one of which was his daughter, Melanie Gabriel. They had a couple of heartfelt moments on stage.

High points included versions of David Bowie's "Heroes," the Talking Heads' song, "Listening Wind" (according to Gabriel, Heads' keyboardist and guitarist Jerry Harrison was at the show), The Arcade Fire's "My Body Is A Cage" and his own songs "Digging In the Dirt," "Secret World," "Biko" and "Mercy Street," which he dedicated to confessional poet Anne Sexton.

If anyone in the audience was already on the verge of a breakdown over the beauty and injustices of the world, the show created the perfect setting. All of the songs were deeply emotional, dramatic and anthemic, particularly "Red Rain," "In Your Eyes," "Don't Give Up" and "Solsbury Hill." Even though fan-favorite, MTV hits like "Sledgehammer" were left out, it really didn't matter.

3. Bon Iver, Rivers…

Heavenly Kidzz opened in early 2011.
Heavenly Kidzz opened in early 2011.

Miracle on Kinnickinnic Avenue?

Earlier this year, Randall and Tina Sutyla opened a Bay View children's store, Heavenly Kidzz, and stocked it with new and used clothing, toys, cloth diapers, maternity wear and other kid-related items. But even though their shop is filled with toys and there's a decorated Christmas tree in the window, the family's story is the true gift of the season.

One of the reasons why Randall and Tina originally opened the shop is because their 9-year-old daughter, Isabella, has autism and consequently is non-verbal and not toilet learned. To get cloth diapers large enough, the couple had to travel beyond the city or buy them via the Internet, so they wanted to start a business that offered non-disposable diapers for older children.

The couple has a 16-year-old son, Randy, as well as a second daughter, Leah, who suffers from Crohn's Disease.

"It's tough having two disabled kids," says Randall. "But it's really strengthened us as a family. Tina and I have been together for 20 years, married for 10. A lot of couples don't make it through something like this, but somehow, we beat the odds."

Although Randall has other jobs, the family's primary focus is Heavenly Kidzz and they spend a lot of time there. They created a special space in the back of the shop for Isabella, where she can find solace and work with her therapist.

Everyone helps out however they can, from restocking to chatting with customers to just making sure the toys are "playable." Randy Jr. designed the signage and handles all of the Internet activity.

"We all work together on this," says Randall. "We have a lot of hopes for the future with this place."

Actually, I wouldn't mind gettng onions as a holiday gift. I find them delicious.
Actually, I wouldn't mind gettng onions as a holiday gift. I find them delicious.

Bribing kids with holiday gifts

I admit it – I’ve done it. When my kids acted like jerks, I suggested that they were going to get bricks and onions in their stockings. And you know what? It worked. It stopped them in mid-meltdown.

"But I don’t like onions," my then-3-year-old son said.

"Then pick up your blocks," I said.

Variations of this scenario have gone on at Ye Olde Snyder household in early winter for years now. And even though the parenting books warn against bribing kids at any time, bribing seems to be the most tempting – and let’s face it, the most effective – during the month of December.

Krimmer at one with the ladle.
Krimmer at one with the ladle.

No soup for you: Soup's On has closed

After nine years of business, Soup's On, 221 N. Water St., is closed. Owner Mary Krimmer decided it was time to retire.

"Thank you for your patronage. I've enjoy serving each and every one of you," wrote Krimmer on her website.

I wrote about Krimmer in a 2006 article and found her life story to be powerful and inspiring. After raising eight children and running a home day care, Krimmer decided to fulfill a dream and open the restaurant.

"I ran a home day care for 30 years and, during that time, I made a lot of soup," she says.

Personally, I will miss her delicious white chili the most.