For freed slaves headed west after the Civil War, the frontier meant freedom from bigots on both sides of the Mason-Dixon. "What drew them out there was the promise that they'd get a fairer shot," says historian Jack Ravage, who notes that there was a big difference between having neighbors 150 feet away and ten miles away. For his book Black Pioneers: Images of the Black Experience on the American Frontier, Ravage traveled to the far reaches of the continent to collect photos and interview descendants of people like Alonzo Stepp, a young homesteader from Kentucky who left a 20,000-acre Wyoming ranch as his legacy. Beginning with black explorers who traveled with Cortez and Columbus, Ravage's book covers a lot of occupational ground--whalers in Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, miners in the Alaska gold rush, and the oft-romanticized cowboys and buffalo soldiers. You can hear about it firsthand at 7:30 p.m., when Ravage gives a talk and slide presentation at Happy Days Visitor Center in the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, on State Route 303, a half-mile west of State Route 8 in Boston Heights. Admission is $5 adults, $2 children ages six through twelve; call 800-257-9477 for more information.
Kids with ants in their pants will find a seat with their name on it at the Ugly Bug Valentine and Tea Party, where they can listen to songs about ladybugs and munch on gummy worms and crumpets shaped like caterpillars. The afternoon's entertainment is provided by Sarah Goslee Reed, a musician and storyteller who was a big hit last year at the Natural History Museum, when she narrated the story Tubby the Tuba. This time around, she'll be singing songs about ladybugs, bees, and maybe even lizards ("Lizards, Mammas, and Bears," a punchy little number about pet reptiles on the lam, is a real crowd-pleaser, says event organizer Jonathan Wilhelm). At 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, 1 Wade Oval in University Circle. Tickets are $15; call 216-231-4600.
Big-ass trucks with mothers who don't love them will crush cars like bugs at the U.S. Hot Rod Monster Jam, which rolls into town today and Sunday. Striking fear in the hearts of metal hunks (eighteen to 25 cars destroyed per show!) will be Wild Thang--a "concept" truck that's shaped like a skull with sunglasses--and Monster Patrol, a modified police truck with a driver who does "the wing walk" while the beast's in motion. And fresh from the mud bogs of Kill Devil, North Carolina, is Grave Digger--considered the Michael Jordan of monster trucking, it's outfitted with a drag-racing motor and a bulletproof transmission (to fend off all those monster truck snipers). For starters, they'll all jump over ramps made of cars in a head-to-head tournament race. But things really get wild in the freestyle, when they do a lot more doughnuts and try to demolish the track. A race between 125 motorcycles and a smash-up derby with all-terrain vehicles round out the revelry. The shrapnel starts flying at 8 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Sunday, at Gund Arena, 100 Gateway Plaza. Tickets are $17 and $20; call 216-241-5555.
NRBQ didn't earned the title "best bar band in the world" by playing Sting covers or throwing yogurt-covered raisins to the crowd. Instead, the blues rockers have captured the hearts of drunken revelers like Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, and Bubba Brewski by belting out three-minute songs like the front-porch mini-epic "Wacky Tobacky" and the barnyard wail "Girl Scout Cookies." NRBQ live shows include raspy vocals, old-school guitar, and power-pop parlor games like Magic Box, in which band members draw audience members' requests from a carton and play them, especially if they've never heard of the song. "We haven't done that one in a while," says drummer/The Young and the Restless groupie Tom Ardolino, who travels to soap opera conventions in his spare time. "Cleveland would be a good place for it." At 9:30 p.m. at the Euclid Tavern, 11629 Euclid Ave., 216-229-7788. Tickets are $12 advance (available by calling 216-241-5555), $15 at the door.
Costa Rican carts carrying tissue-paper flowers, Mexican masks, and paper necklaces decorated with alligators and jaguars are among the make-it-and-take-it paper projects planned for the Rivera's Art for Children Sunday craft workshops, which start today. Centered around the Cleveland Museum of Art's Pre-Columbian galleries, they're part of a mountain of multicultural programming organized around Art and Revolution, the museum's Diego Rivera retrospective, which opens today. The free workshop runs from 1:30 to 4 p.m in the museum's interior garden court. The Rivera exhibit runs through May 2. At 11150 East Boulevard, 216-421-7340.
When it comes to swing, saxophonist Andy Anderson is the real thing. The immaculately dressed 87-year-old (who doesn't look a day over seventy) played in the Marion Sears Orchestra, Cleveland's top black band in the 1930s, and honked his horn with Louis Armstrong in the 1938 film Going Places. Every Monday night, he sits in with Al Mazur and the Nostalgia Factory, playing straighten-up-and-fly-right dance numbers as well as golden ballads by Mel Torme, Louis Prima, and Johnny Hartman. It's mostly a sit-down affair--though singer Mazur, a barber by day, says he's in the market for a folding dance floor, if you've got one hanging around your rec room. At the House of Swing, 4490 Mayfield Road, 216-382-2771.
He may have been born a poor black child (in The Jerk), but comedian Steve Martin's hangin' with the white boys in Picasso at the Lapin Agile, a play he penned for Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre a few years back. Set in 1904 in a Paris cafe, the comedy centers around two wet-behind-the-ears geniuses: 23-year-old Pablo Picasso and 25-year-old Albert Einstein. Their witty repartee---refereed by a bartender named Freddy and his wife, Germaine--culminates in a pencil-and-paintbrush shootout at sundown. The show runs through March 14 at the Cleveland Play House, 850 Euclid Avenue. Tonight's performance is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $31; call 216-795-7000.
As their high-profile appearances on Letterman and da Super Bowl attest, the Black Crowes are still cooking up everybody else's bandanna-rock riffs in a Fry Daddy and washing it down with sloe gin served in gas-station mugs. Although vocal yokel Chris Robinson still screams like Axl Rose, the band has obliterated its Guns 'n Roses look in favor of Marilyn Manson duds--skintight velvet bell-bottoms, white makeup, and ambiguous stares. But don't let the glam fool ya--when they start playing, they hit like a trailer-park tornado from 1974. The Crowes will get cranking tonight at 7:30 at the all-purpose E.J. Thomas Hall, Center and Hill streets in Akron. Tickets are $27, available by phone at 216-241-5555.
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