Kooza! Cirque Du Soleil Opens in Houston

This week started off by cleaning popcorn and  confetti  out of my camera bag and uploading photos because last week we had the  privilege  of attending the opening night of Kooza by Cirque du Soleil. Having never had the chance to see Cirque du Soleil in person but only hearing good things, I had no idea what the shows were all about but jumped at the chance to go find out.

Kooza is described online as, “An adrenaline rush of acrobatics in a zany kingdom” and definitely lived up to the hype. Exiting typical Beltway traffic, arriving at Sam Houston Race Park, parking in the giant lot, then walking in to the tent is really like entering another world.

From the minute you take your seat the fun is already beginning with a cast of characters working the crowd until the show gets rolling. From there it is act after act of not only exciting but funny performances. And not just funny… pretty hilarious. At one point my wife turned to me and said, “my face actually hurts from laughing so much“. What a great problem to have.

Among all of the balancing chairs, contortion, high wire, and trapeze acts what really stood out to me were the Wheel of Death and the routine by The King and the Clowns. I won’t spoil their acts but just leave it at saying they are probably worth the price of admission alone.

Then it was intermission, a champagne toast (not sure if this happens every night or if we were just spoiled), a trip to the port o potties (which there seemed to be plenty… and they were nice), and back in for the rest of the show.

A few photos from the night:

Courtney and Derek taking photos
Courtney and Derek taking photos
Cirque du Soleil - Kooza
Cirque du Soleil - Kooza
Wheel of Death
Cirque du Soleil - Kooza
The King and the Clowns
Cirque du Soleil - Kooza
Cirque du Soleil - Kooza





























Want even more photos? View the full album of Cirque du Soleil Kooza photos.

Two “know before you go” tips:

  • Parking is $10 and cash only (there is an ATM on site but also hits you with a $3.50 fee).
  • If you would like to enjoy the show with a couple beverages, plan to bring plenty of cash (around $10/drink if I remember correctly).

Short version of the story: we had an absolute blast and could not have enjoyed the  performance more. Now I’m looking forward to catching a show next time Cirque du Soleil is in Houston.

Or maybe a Vegas trip is in order…


Special thanks to Elmore PR for making us feel special with official media passes.

Tickets for upcoming Houston shows are available from the Cirque du Soleil website.

Photos by Courtney Pemberton and Derek Key. All photos are Creative Commons  Attribution. You are free to use for promotional purposes with “photo by Schipul” next to the image.

And All You Touch and All You See Is All Your Life Will Ever Be

When I was around 12 years old I was given a Rockets jersey from my parents. And cried when I got it. I cried because we lived in Minnesota and my parents told me I could wear my new jersey at my new school, in our new house in Houston.

My entire 12 years had been spent in Minnesota and I hadn’t moved since I really started going to school and making friends. The thought of changing schools seemed like the end of the world and I had no idea what existed outside of our neighborhood in Woodburry. Moving to Houston was weird, new, and uncomfortable… as many good things tend to start. And like those same different, uncomfortable things tend to resolve, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I didn’t realize it then, but that was the start of an important life lesson for me. I’ve come to see more and more how important it is to experience new things in new places. While I’m not ready to up and move again just to go somewhere new, I do try to make the most of the places I get to go and not pass up opportunities that arise. Brooke and I have taken our fair share of trips lately and have done our best to make the most of our time in new cities and find ways to get off the beaten path.

Flying in to Washington, D.C. late the night before a wedding we were going to in Williamsburg, VA gave us a chance to spend a little time in our nation’s capital. Squeezing in a trip to Arlington National Cemetery was hard (and different for me since I’m a bit uncomfortable around cemeteries) but it gave Brooke the chance to see her grandmother’s picture in a memorial to the women nurses of WWII and gave me a chance to wait around for my favorite picture from the trip. Totally worth it.

Getting up to take photos at the Houston Zoo at 7:00am on a Saturday was definitely difficult (and a bit uncomfortable), but ended up being a great experience. Watching a lion walk out to start his day and hearing and feeling his roar as a wake up call to the zoo was something to remember.

When taking a trip to New Orleans, it’s easy to stay around the center of town, eating and drinking with the tourists. With a little desire to do something different though, and a good list of recommendations from someone who knows better, you can experience New Orleans in a whole new way. Hand grenades on Bourbon Street and lunch at the Hard Rock are fine but a local beer at Cooter Brown’s and a night around a candle light piano at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar are the experiences I will remember.

The title of this post is from the Pink Floyd song Breathe. It can come off sort of negative at first, especially if you don’t share my same school of thought. To me though, it means that life is what you make it. It can be whatever you want it to be and is totally up to you and those experiences. It’s because I was forced to move from Minnesota and forced out of my comfort zone that I started to see how important new experiences are and probably why I interperate “Breathe” like I do. And for that, I am thankful.

homepage post photo courtesy of Dummications

Friday Fun Post: (kind of) Manly Tips When Getting Hitched

It’s wedding season in my world right now, both for friends of mine and for myself. For the past 7 months my fiance, Brooke, and I have been busy planing our wedding and attending a few others. Next week we will be going to wedding 7 and two weeks from now will be the 8th and final on our list for the year.

Today is actually 6 months to the day from my own wedding so I figured I’d share a few things from a guy’s point of view that have helped me thus far for anyone else in the same boat. First tip, don’t call the day six months from your wedding your “negative six month anniversary”. I just learned that last night.

Second, pick a couple things you are passionate about to be more involved with then let your bride-to-be have final say on everything else about their wedding. I call it “their wedding” because it is. You get to be involved, be excited about that.

That doesn’t mean you cannot care, answer questions and have an opinion. If she’s asking she wants to know. Give your input then focus on what you can do about those couple things above.

Mine were/are…

Groom and groomsmen wedding attire:
I don’t really want to put what I get married in back in a bag and return it to Men’s Wearhouse so I’ll be using this opportunity to rationalize buying a killer Don Draper-esque suit. If suits are your thing, J Crew has some pretty rad options. Otherwise department stores give you a chance to see a wide variety.

No matter your preference on a suit or tux you will want to make sure it fits. And actually fits, not like the guy at Al’s Formal Wear says it fits to sell it to you. GQ has a couple quick slides online about buying a good suit and Esquire offers an easy 7 point diagram covering the basics.

The folks at Saint Arnold Brewery were kind enough to let us use their nifty building for engagement pics.

I like photography and think when it comes to weddings a lot of it is lame. I’ve been in weddings where the photographer needed other people to suggest photos and help arrange shots. I didn’t want to worry about this so finding a good photographer was important. One thing I found very helpful was meeting with them to see their style and how they interact as a person, not just what they post online. In the end we got a killer photog and the pictures are going to rule.

*Bonus tip for the ladies – if you follow her or friend her you can win free wedding stuff.

You want the music to get grandma on the dance floor but not be cheesy at the same time. Or I do anyways. Everyone’s style is their own so no help there but what has been useful is keeping a running list as I hear songs or think of them. You probably don’t need to write down “Shout!” but the song you and your better half scream all the words to in the car may slip your mind when it comes time to picking tracks.

And while I’m not positive yet, I think the same theory covered in this post will apply to another big wedding element… registering. We are starting this process tonight so we’ll see how it goes but my plan is to register for highball glasses and an iPad then let Brooke pick everything else. Everything minus a butter dish because those are useless.

Good luck gentlemen. And ladies, thanks.

Derek Key | @derekskey

Thumbnail photo for post courtesy of jessekruger on flickr.
Post photo courtesy of Kelly Hornberger Photography.

Sans iPod Tunes For Your Travels

Music is an essential element for me when traveling. This summer whether I’m hanging by the lake in Austin for the weekend, road tripping a couple states away or relaxing by the beach with family, music is always present. And with all there is to do to get ready for a vacation, making new playlists might not be at the top of your list.

Here are a couple ways to discover new music or stream tailored playlists without fighting over who’s iPod to plug in.

Pandora Radio

This is one of the more popular Internet radio providers (ie free) so you may already be familiar with the service. It is still worth mentioning though as it offers a great variety of music so no matter your taste, something should come up that you like. Most of the Internet radio services are modeled off the ‘choose something you like and we’ll play other similar songs’ model but I tend to use Pandora more to play music I am familiar with (since channels are based off me providing an artist). Giving the thumbs up to like songs and hear more like it and the thumbs down to refine my channels.

A great option on the laptop in your hotel room or streaming from the Pandora app on your iPhone. Plug your phone in to an aux jack in your car or dock it in a set of speakers and you’re good to go.

Slacker Radio

Another great option for sans iPod music, Slacker Radio is free as well so it comes with the standard six song skips an hour but has some great stations already set up. For me, Slacker leans more towards the ‘discovery’ end of the spectrum since you choose genres and stations then get music in that range.

It also has a great iPhone app to access music from your phone. Head down to the bay, get Slacker Radio cranking on iPhone speakers, pick a country station and commence your game of washers worry free of what to play next.


While on the road, hop on your laptop (or your uncle’s you are visiting) to log in to Grooveshark and access songs saved to you library or playlists you’ve created previously. Everyone can’t decide on a playlist? Make a new one up from the road or just choose a radio station to stream music. As for which station to choose… you’re on your own on that. Be sure to check out the Blackberry app as well for Grooveshark on the go (sorry fellow iPhone-ers, no app at this time).

And one of the cooler new services to keep an eye out for in the near future…


Rdio is a new social music service that allows you to discover and stream music easily. Big ups to Ben for the heads up on this. From www.rdio.com, “We’re making a music service that takes the work out of deciding what to play next — follow friends and people with great taste in music, get inspired by what they’re playing, and listen to their playlists.”

Browse music by “New Releases”, what’s “Popular This Week”, and also what is “Recommended for You” based off your preferences. Once you’ve discovered something you like, add it to your “Collection” which you can view by artist and it makes a coold cloud diagram for you. Then follow your friends to see their collections and playlists. So if your car full of friends can’t decide on one of your playlists, create one on the go via the awesome Rdio iPhone app. Or if a laptop is an option, you can log in to stream to other people’s playlists.

My collection “cloud” so far

The downside, besides not being available yet, is that when it is available it will run you $9.99/mo for unlimited web and mobile access or $4.99/mo for unlimited web access. I haven’t decided yet whether or not I will spend the $10 a month for it but the more I play with it, the more I like it. Currently Rdio is just listed as “Coming Soon” with no date mentioned for availability. You can sign up at www.rdio.com to receive emails with updates.

And don’t forget to keep your ears open when on vacation, listening for new, good music. One of my favorite things to do when on vacation is to listen to local radio stations, ask cab drivers what artist is playing in the car if it is good and pay attention to what is on in bars and restaurants. If something sounds cool, ask some one if they know who it is. And if they don’t know, Shazam away. That is how I found one of my favorite songs I wouldn’t have otherwise. On a booze cruise excursion in Puerto Vallarta I asked one of the guys in the crew what we were listening to. It was “El Garrote” by Los Socios del Ritmo and it was awesome. Listen to it on a boat, in the sun, with a refreshment of your choice and thank me later.

Friday Fun: New Music for Memorial Day Weekend

With Memorial Day weekend upon us, it’s usually safe to say some form of travel or outdoor activity will be in order. And if you are like me you will need some tunes to accompany you. So before you go traveling with friends, visiting family or just relaxing by the pool, check out some of my favorite places for last minute jams.

Yours Truly – Some of my favorite discoveries here lately range from the Golden Ages remix of ‘Swimmer’s Ear’, ‘Grow‘ by Barcelona musicians Delorean, and this awesome live version of ‘Excuses‘ by The Morning Benders (you can dl the mp3 free from the band’s site)

Gorilla vs Bear – Another “indie rock” blog (based in Texas!) where I found Australia’s Tame Impala (opening for MGMT this summer) and their song ‘Solitude is Bliss‘, ‘Chinatown‘ by Wild Nothing (accompanied by video here), ‘The High Road‘ by Broken Bells and ‘Voices‘ by Big K.R.I.T.

NPR’s First Listen (currently featuring Ratatat) brought me what is my favorite album in a while, ‘Brothers‘ by The Black Keys. You can throw this on and not get a bad track from start to finish.

And if you are looking for a some local Houston flavor, my go-to’s are: Dave Wrangler who’s album ‘Under the Influence’ (free dl at his site) will get any pool party going, Runaway Sun (free listen online and link to buy) for the rockers, and ‘Let the Beat Drop‘ from our very own A. Hughes and D. Stagg.

I hope that helps your iPod a little anyways and gets some fresh tunes in for the holiday weekend. What will you be listening to this weekend?

Derek Key

photo credit

Thirty Days of Thanks – Imagination

Wonka (blu-raystats.com)
“There is no, life I know, to compare with pure imagination. Living there, you’ll be free. If you truly wish to be.”

That line is from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory, one of my favorite movies of all time. I first watched this movie when I was real young after borrowing it from a neighbor and went on to watch it so many times that I wore out the tracking on the VHS (yes… VHS).

That was probably the first instance I would say I was really influenced by the power of imagination and I believe it has had an effect on who I am today. I have now come to place great value on imagination and creativity and the   uniqueness it brings to the world. On Colin Cowherd’s radio show, he frequently talks about the importance of being interesting and the value it brings and I completely agree.

We have the ability to use our imagination to solve basic problems or fill certain needs, but we also use our imagination to go further and answer “What if…”. Imagination can take us beyond what just has to be done to “Yeah we can do that but wouldn’t it be cool if…”. Imagination drives us to do new things, fills our need to create and keeps the world interesting.

The Internet provides a great outlet for people to unleash their imagination and share with the world. Sometimes it is entertaining (Pearl the landlord) and other times it is helpful (how to carve a turkey maybe). Sometimes it is a cool t-shirt, a new website like Twetches that allows you to further use your imagination, and sometimes it is just cats playing keyboards. However it is expressed, imagination keeps things fresh and interesting and often leads to bigger things.

Because of people’s imagination, really amazing things are brought to life. World changing events and inventions come from questions like:

  • “Imagine if we got in a rocket and actually shot ourselves into outer space?”
  • “Imagine if we could just pick up some object and speak through it, with the ability for someone on the other side of the world to hear us?”
  • “Imagine if there were a group of people that could travel around the universe, moving objects with their minds and fought battles with swords. But not just swords, light sabers!”

Maybe life would go on without Star Wars but if no one ever imagined the possibilities in “What if”, we wouldn’t have the telephone and we wouldn’t have ever walked on the moon. Imagine that.

Got something that has triggered your imagination? Some great example of imagination at work you really dig? Let’s hear about it!

Derek Key

Photo from the film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory