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Event picks for this toasty week in Cleveland

Thursday | 15

Greg Owen at the Improv

He's Working It Out

What brings a "theater" comic like Gary Owen — a screen actor, a regular on Tyler Perry's House of Payne, and the guy Ebony magazine recently proclaimed Black America's Favorite White Comic — to the Cleveland Improv? "The check," he tells us by phone, followed by a polite chuckle. "Really, I've been on tour so long now (with Shaquille O'Neal's All-Star Comedy Jam) that I just needed a break. People don't realize it, but comedy clubs are like gyms for standups: They're where we can work things out, try out new bits — and that's pretty exciting!" That explains the "why" of Owen's six shows at the Flats comedy club this weekend. As for the "what": The Cincinnati resident says he's working out new material that comes straight from his personal life. "I'm a white guy married to a black woman, with kids who look nothing like me. Believe me, that provides plenty of material." Still, Owen claims his comedy isn't about race. "It's more a cultural thing — like a Jewish guy married to a Catholic woman. I guess I just don't conform to the usual perceptions: I don't know why racial things are often taboo. I'm just talking about my life and what I go through as a married man. That's about 70 percent of my material; the rest is sports and current events." Owen's True Story DVD drops on April 8. He also has a new Showtime comedy special premiering in early May. Tonight, though, he's at the Improv at 7:30 p.m. Additional shows go down on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Tickets are $17 to $20; a dinner & show package costs $39. Reserve your spot by phone, online, or at the Improv box office. — Elaine T. Cicora

1148 Main Ave., 216-696-4677, clevelandimprov.com.Elaine T. Cicora

Attention, Thrifters!

Big Bargains in Solon

Whether it's a thrift store, a yard sale, or a flea market, nothing gets the heart pumping quite like pawing through other people's castoffs. You can snag your fair share of shopping CPR — not to mention killer bargains on used clothes, shoes, jewelry, and handbags — today through Tuesday at the Budget Bin, a twice-a-year consignment sale sponsored by the Solon P.T.A. "Basically, it's a huge, indoor, week-long garage sale," says co-chair Suzi Castiglione. That means nearly 400 consigners hauling in everything from prom dresses to household appliances. Among past treasures, Castiglione recalls the year when several pieces of Arhaus furniture showed up. "Another year, we had antique photo developing equipment!" Today's shopping hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; tomorrow, it's 10 a.m. to 7. If you want to trade selection for price, Saturday and Monday are "bonus" days, with 30 percent off all purchases. And on the final day — Tuesday — whatever you can stuff in one of the PTA's bags will cost just $5. All monies go to provide scholarships to Solon High School seniors; leftovers go to local charities. It's happening at Parkside Elementary School Gymnasium. — Cicora

6845 SOM Center Rd., Solon, freewebs.com/budgetbin.

CityMusic Cleveland

Fun, Free & "Really, Really Good"

In the years since its 2004 founding, CityMusic Cleveland has introduced thousands of new fans to the joys of classical music. In the process, the non-profit professional chamber orchestra has come up with some unorthodox incentives: free childcare, fun intermission receptions, and a no-charge policy at all performances. But mainly, people show up for one reason: The music is great. "It's not just a gig to us," says executive director Eugenia Strauss. "It's important that what we put on the stage is really, really good." According to Strauss, there are two more reasons why the series will rock: guest Sean Newhouse, an award-winning young conductor Strauss calls "a rising star"; and Dylana Jenson, the internationally acclaimed violinist who will be performing Brahms' formidable Violin Concerto. "She's an inspiration — and a very strong woman," Strauss says of Jenson, who famously made a comeback after her patron withdrew use of her cherished violin. The series kicks off tonight at 7:30 at St. Colman Church on the near West Side. On Friday, the orchestra moves to Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights. Saturday finds them at the Shrine Church of St. Stanislaus in Slavic Village, and Sunday they're at the Elyria United Methodist Church. No reservations or tickets are required. — Cicora

2027 West 65th St., 216-321-8273, citymusiccleveland.org.

Friday | 16

Kid Stuff

Hear a Cool Clarinet at Severance Hall

Raise a juice box to the brave Robert Woolfrey. The Cleveland Orchestra musician will be marching into a room today filled with scores of squirmy three- to six-year-olds, for no better reason than to introduce them to the joys of The Cool Clarinet. "It's just a half an hour!" the Toronto native cheerfully says of the program he is debuting as part of the orchestra's PNC Musical Rainbow series. Woolfrey, who joined the Cleveland Orchestra in November 2008, says he's delighted to share his passion with the small fry. "What I'm really looking forward to is the kids who have never heard a woodwind live before." Also on Woolfrey's program: demos, short solo selections, and a chance for the kids to sing along to familiar tunes. It all goes down today at 10 a.m. in Severance Hall's intimate Reinberger Chamber Hall. Two encore performances are set for Saturday at 10 and 11 a.m. General admission is $7 by phone, online, or at the box office. Check out the website for details. — Cicora

11001 Euclid Ave., 216-231-1111, clevelandorchestra.com.

Saturday| 17

Family Fun

Maple Sugar Fest at Hale Farm

Like buzzards and tax forms, regional maple syrup fests are a sure sign of spring. This weekend, you can tip your toque to ol' Ma Nature at the Hale Farm & Village Maple Sugar Festival. Just show up between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. for pancakes, a stroll to the sugar camp, a chance to try your hand at making maple sugar candy, and an opportunity to peep at a whole bunch of craft demos — spinning, weaving, glassblowing, and blacksmithing among them. While you're there, say howdy to the new team of four-year-old oxen, an historic English breed that will be helping out the Hale farmers by pulling carts, hauling supplies, and plowing fields. The fun continues on March 18 and next weekend, March 24 and 25. Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for kids ages 3 to 12. Hale Farm is a living history museum operated by the Western Reserve Historical Society. — Cicora

2686 Oak Hill Rd., Bath, 330-666-3711, halefarm.org.

Fresh Air

Work Up an Appetite in Kirtland

The annual homage to maple syrup continues on the East Side with this weekend's Spring Hike and Pancake Breakfast at Kirtland's Holden Arboretum. On the menu: buttermilk or multigrain flapjacks, local maple syrup, sausage links or veggie sausage, home-fried spuds, fresh fruit, OJ, milk, and coffee. Afterward, walk off the calories with a guided hike around a small part of the 3,600-acre grounds to uncover signs of spring. Seatings are today and tomorrow at 9, 9:45, 10:30, 11:15 a.m., and noon in the Warren H. Corning Visitor Center. Cost is $15 for adults, $10 for kids 4 to 10, and free for ages 3 and younger. Make reservations by phone (especially if you want the gluten-free option) or online. — Cicora

9500 Sperry Rd., Kirtland, 440-946-4400, holdenarb.org.

Go Green!

Trade Your Phone for Tickets to the Zoo

Bring in your old cell phone today for recycling, and get free admission to the Metroparks Zoo and RainForest. Or throw on at least one piece of visible green clothing and snag a $2 discount off regular admission. It's all part of the zoo's annual March 17 celebration, where "going green" refers less to St. Patrick and more to the mantra of "reduce, reuse, and recycle." Proceeds benefit the zoo's conservation and recycling efforts. Today's hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Regular admission is $8 for adults, $5 for kids 2 to 11, and free for children 2 and younger. Find out more on the website. — Cicora

3900 Wildlife Way, 216-661-6500, clemetzoo.com.

Fit for Foodies

A Taste of Spring in Milan

In a welcome change of pace from corned beef and green beer, Milan's Culinary Vegetable Institute is hosting an idyllic springtime celebration inside its handsome riverside lodge today. Dishing up the culinary magic is chef Jason Coperine, taking time off from his gig as chef de cuisine at Fort Lauderdale's Ritz-Carlton. Don't come here expecting soda bread and stout. Coperine's mouth-watering menu is a compendium of essential spring ingredients: morels, fava beans, mustard greens, pea tendrils, rabbit, spring lamb, and suckling pig among them. The dinner bell chimes at 6:30 p.m. Price is $75 per person, plus tax and a 20 percent gratuity. Make your reservations by phone. — Cicora

12304 State Rt. 13, Milan, 419-499-7500, culinaryvegitableinstitute.com.

Sunday | 18

Fresh Air

Sap Time in Middlefield

So you say it's not enough to just slather maple syrup on pancakes; you want to learn how the sweet stuff is made? Today you're in luck, as the Geauga Park District invites the public to its sugarhouse to learn how sap from maple trees is transformed into a yummy treat. The 1983 sugarhouse is part of the 32-acre Swine Creek sugar bush, where guests can wander through the maples and help gather the sap. Afterward, warm up in the lodge where you'll find woodcarving demos, maple popcorn, and live country and blues tunes from Al Bonis & the Sugarhouse Serenaders. Who knows? It might add up to an attitude adjustment, says naturalist Judy Bradt-Barnhart. "I really didn't like the month of March because it was dreary and cold. But once I started maple sugaring, it got into my blood, and I just love the season now." It's happening from noon to 4 p.m. today at the Swine Creek Reservation. An encore program is set for Sunday, March 25. It's free. — Cicora

16004 Hayes Rd. Middlefield/Parkman Townships, 440-286-9516, geaugaparkdistrict.org.

Give Peace a Chance

Free Concert in Cleveland Heights

Cleveland Peace Action — the largest peace organization in the state — is hosting a classical concert this afternoon at the Unitarian Universalist Society in Cleveland Heights. On the bill: cello and piano duets by Beethoven, Shostakovich, and Faure. On the stage: Diane Mather, retired assistant principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra and a founding member of Performers and Artists for Nuclear Disarmament, accompanied by pianist Christine Hill of the Cleveland Institute of Music and Cleveland State. The concert is a benefit for Cleveland Peace Action, which aims to bring the national military discussion down to the local level. "Diane is just magnificent," says coordinator Elizabeth Schiros. "It's not often that you get to see a legend — and she is a legend — in such an intimate setting." There's no cost to attend, though free-will donations will be accepted. The concert begins at 4 p.m. — Cicora

2728 Lancashire Rd., Cleveland Heights, 216-231-4245, peaceactioncleveland.org.

Monday | 19

Smart Talk

What's Missing in Medicine?

Jerome Groopman has a knack for medicine. That's pretty obvious from his distinguished career as a physician, educator, researcher, author, and member of the American Academy of Arts & Science. But he also has a knack for translating medicine's Big Issues into layman's terms. Among the topics he's tackled in his well-received books: the spiritual lives of seriously ill patients and the imprecision of medical diagnoses. His newest tome, Your Medical Mind, explores how consumers can cut through conflicting medical opinions and media reports to determine which treatments are right for them. Tonight Groopman will be sharing his insights on all of the above at Severance Hall in a 5:30 p.m. talk entitled "What's Missing in Medicine?" (Hint: It isn't technology.) While there's no cost, reservations are required; make yours by phone or online at Severance Hall. — Cicora

11001 Euclid Ave., 216-231-1111, clevelandorchestra.com.

Tuesday| 20

Chucklfck

An Honestly Funny Comic at the Grog Shop

Chucklefck's weekly comedy showcase returns to the Grog Shop tonight at 8 with a blend of Cleveland and Chicago talent. Among the former, you'll find comics Curtis Cook, Michael Strenk, and James Burge Jr. And among the latter, there's tonight's closer: James Fritz, who has become a fave on that city's scene, not least among the LGBT crowd. ("I love gay dudes," he says. "Who else will give me coke and tell me that I'm pretty?") Peer a little deeper into Fritz's bearded head at youcouldbedead.com, his comedy talk-show podcast. Or just show up at the Grog Shop tonight at 7:30. Tickets are $8 at the door or $5 in advance. — Cicora

2785 Euclid Hts. Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588, grogshop.gs.

Wednesday | 21

Polka Jam!

Accordions of the Stars

"Imagine bringing together the guitars of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and John Lennon," says Joe Valencic, trustee for the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame and curator of its museum. "That's how important these accordions have been to Cleveland-style polka." He's talking about the button boxes now on display in the museum's newest exhibit. All-Star Accordions is an impressive roundup of the actual instruments played by polka greats like Johnny Pecon, Johnny Vadnal (pictured), and Frank Yankovic. "These are the accordions that got the world dancing the polka," Valencic says. All-Star Accordions opens tonight with a free 7 p.m. reception, including remarks from Valencic and a jam session. The exhibit will remain on view through the end of the year; hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. — Cicora

605 East 222nd St., Euclid, 216-261-3263, polkafame.com.

Fun for Foodies

It's Fried Rice Night!

It's time to grab the chopsticks and head over to Euclid's Beach Club Bistro: The once-a-month, Asian-style fried-rice chowdown may seem like a strange fit for a spot that specializes in wine and gourmet pizza. But it's all good: Staffers tell us Fried Rice Night has been a sellout since it started in November. The idea came by way of chef Dave "Big Wave" Hance, who spent five years in Hawaii perfecting his Asian-style comfort food. Starting with steamed and sticky Calrose rice, Dave dishes up the goods in five versions, including Hawaiian, Korean, and Thai — a favorite that comes complete with bamboo shoots, ginger, scallions, Thai chiles, and fish sauce. Each is priced at $9.95; optional enhancements like sesame shrimp or Mongolian beef are available too. Fried Rice Night starts tonight at 5. Make your reservations by phone or online. — Cicora

21939 Lakeshore Blvd., Euclid, 216-731-7499, bcbistro.com.

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