Thanks for dropping by this week and checking out our year-in-review posts, interspersed with our usual coverage, and thanks to Brendan for a great idea.
Top Sports Moments of 2011
If you’re looking for an official or objective list of the top stories of the year, I suggest you go elsewhere. What I like about our year-in-review features is that we’ve written about the stories, albums, and events that were most interesting or important to us, and, as will be immediately obvious, I’m going to follow suit.
1. Detroit Tigers playoff push
The Tigers obviously didn’t make it as far as they did in 2006, but this year was like that year in that Detroit beat the Yankees along the way. What was different about 2011, for me, was that I was a) living in Michigan, and b) writing and tweeting for a sports blog during much of the season. Both of these things measurably enhanced my experience of and connection to this year’s team, its successes, personalities, and volatility. It also was the first time in a few years that I was able to attend a game. I spilled much digital ink on this team in these virtual pages, and the posts are easy enough to find so I’ll spare you any detailed recap, except to say that, a few months later, I am able to appreciate the way the wheels came off as a suitable ending to a dramatic (by Detroit standards) season.
2. Vanderbilt’s football season
I didn’t put the Lions’ season on my list under the rationale that it still is ongoing, so this selection is cheating a little bit, but the college football regular season is over, so I’m running with it. I’ll hit on some of the high points in my Liberty Bowl preview that will go up later today, but first-year head coach James Franklin appears to have changed the culture at Vandy even faster than Jim Schwartz has in Detroit, tripling the win total with essentially the same players. As successful as he was on the field (I’ll always maintain that they were three plays away from a 9-3 record), Franklin may be even more successful on the recruiting trail. He already nabbed a Virginia quarterback recruit away from Virginia Tech, and he took a five-star QB recruit to the wire against LSU and Notre Dame. Next year looks even more promising, when Warren Norman is scheduled to return to the backfield alongside 2011 success stories Zac Stacy and starting QB Jordan Rodgers. 2012 will look even better if the Commodores can win the Liberty Bowl and finish this year 7-6.
3. Misbehaving College Coaches
This was a great year for teams I like– Spartans, Commodores, Tigers, Lions, and Red Wings– and it was a great year for sports writing, with the launch of Grantland, OutKick the Coverage, and The Classical, but like Magalan felt compelled to remark upon the marathon record-setter, I feel compelled to mention the names Jerry Sandusky, Jim Tressel, and Bruce Pearl. Sandusky is in a terrible league of his own, and I already have written here about Tressel and Pearl. Sparing the hand-wringing, defending, and analyzing, what I’ll say in the context of the posture of this post is that it is a welcome development that the NCAA is punishing coaches individually for the violations they commit or otherwise oversee. I hope the days of slippery escape artists like John Calipari, Pete Carroll, and Lane Kiffin are over.
Top Albums of 2011
Creating this list was a bit more difficult, not because I don’t like or know about music, but because I’m not quite as hip-to-the-modern-scene as many of my co-writers here. (See, for example, my punt on Amy Winehouse earlier.) Resort to a list of 2011 releases from a trusted source, something I suspect a lot of people writing bits like this do, was unavailing. That list jogged my memory on one album, Gregg Allman’s Low Country Blues, that Bdoyk actually tipped me off to initially. It didn’t make my list though, even though I had to cheat a little as you’ll see, because I didn’t think it was anything special. I liked it, but I don’t think it deserves to be one of the three best albums of 2011, even if I can’t come up with three.
1. Revelator – Tedeschi Trucks Band
This was an easy number one choice for me. I wrote a full review of the album back in September, and I don’t feel the need to supplement it now, except to add that it was the first record I played on my turntable after recently setting up my new stereo system.
2. June 3, 2011, Pine Knob – Phish
This is a concert, not an album, but I was in attendance, and it was a perfect concert night. Put attendance together with recording (free sample streaming), and I’m calling it an album. I went with a good friend, with whom I’ve seen the band once before, and everything went as smoothly as could be. The weather was perfect, the band was playing at a level they hadn’t reached in years. and it was my first visit to this historic outdoor Michigan venue. It definitely was the best I had ever seen them, and we had the feeling during the show that something special was going on, which made it all the more neat and enjoyable. Because amateur blogging about a Phish show registers somewhere between talking to another person about your fantasy minor league baseball team and a rambling monologue at a loud bar about that “drug trip” you had “back in high school,” I’ll close this by quoting bona fide Phish blogger Mr. Miner (the second Mr. Miner— I held that username as a prior legal nonconforming use on phishows.com), who wrote shortly afterwards that:
Sometimes a show—just one set—can launch thousands of dreams, taking the audience on a voyage so cosmic and coherent; so spectacular and superb that people will look back on it for years to come. Odysseys like the second set of Detroit’s Friday night exclamation reach the very core essence of Phish—four musicians pushing the boundaries of musical possibilities while taking 15,000 fans with them into the depths of the universe. With playing so together and inspirational, Phish opened yet another door last night, inviting us further into the future. And more than ever, the future is now.
…You get the idea.
3. Fall – Root Glen
As I suggested above, I didn’t hear a lot of 2011’s new releases, but I definitely heard this one. One of two releases by this relatively new band from New Jersey, I also wrote a full review of this EP last month. What I’ll add in this retrospective is that it is cool to listen to something for the first time and immediately recognize that it represents an important step up for a band you already liked. Before Fall, Root Glen had been successful at capturing their live sound in the studio, and this was great. After all, it was their live performances that gave them a following in the first place. But a lot of bands play live and just noodle and jam without much focus or commitment, and Fall is evidence of a group redoubling its effort to put forth an even higher quality of music they always had in them.
Thanks for reading us in 2011, and be sure to stick around for much more in the New Year.