Although comic Steve Hirst insists he feels like an American more than 12 years after he left his native England, he still has a few drops of British blood in his veins. That's why he named his son after English soccer star Michael Owen, who scored three goals to knock Germany out of the 2002 World Cup. "It was actually a qualifying match, but he's still my hero," says Hirst, who's at the Funny Stop this week for a string of stand-up shows. "I said to my wife, 'We have to call him Owen. Or Beckham.' She goes, 'I think Owen's a better first name.'"
Hirst originally came to the U.S. to work at a day camp for disabled people in upstate New York. He then took classes at a drama school and hosted karaoke competitions dressed as Austin Powers. His thick Manchester accent helped him pull it off. "I start by letting the audience know I'm English," he says. "Otherwise, through the whole show, people think, 'He's Scottish. No! He's Irish.' But whenever I go into the pubs in England, they're like, 'Look! The Yank's here. Get him a pint of Bud Light!'" Showtimes are 8:30 p.m. today and tomorrow and 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Funny Stop, 1757 State Rd. in Cuyahoga Falls. Tickets are $6 to $14. Call 330.923.4700 or visit www.funnystop.com. - P.F. Wilson
The 180 EXPERIENCE
At tonight's 180 Experience at the Mayfield Heights Panini's, owner Tony DiTomaso will challenge folks to down brew from a 180-ounce tabletop tap. For $21, beer fans get the equivalent of 15 cans of Bud or Bud Light. "Thirsty groups tackle this thing down," says DiTomaso. "Recreational softball and baseball leagues order them a lot, but it isn't only reserved for larger groups. The size hasn't stopped two or three individuals from taking it on."
To help sop up the ale, the bar's kitchen crew will dish out chicken wings, pizza and overstuffed sandwiches. But the tap challenge is the star of the show. "We've seen personal competitions between table members, like small beerfests reflecting the volume chug," says DiTomaso. "Word of mouth has helped us a lot, but this type of thing sells itself." Grab a mug between 11 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. daily at Panini's Bar & Grill, 6283 Mayfield Rd. in Mayfield Heights. Admission is free. Call 440.605.0404 or visit www.paninisgrill.com. Ð Chad Felton
BURNING RIVER FEST
The Great Lakes Brewing Company is putting its eco-friendly mission where its mouth is for today's Burning River Fest.
The eighth-annual blowout is all about ecological conservation and environmental protection. It comes nearly 40 years after a polluted Cuyahoga River burst into flames. Brewery owners Pat and Dan Conway will show off the organically grown produce that gardener Christine DeJesus has cultivated at the 6,000-square-foot orchard at Hale Farm & Village in Bath Township. "We've farmed it in a sustainable manner, without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers," says Kami Dolney, the brewery's spokeswoman. "We're growing vegetables and herbs that come back to our restaurant. Right now, we're seeing a lot of cucumbers in our menu items. Tomatoes are going to be next."
Along with farming and cooking demonstrations, the fest features tours aboard the Michigan schooner Appledore V and the "green machine," Lake Guardian, which regularly tests the Great Lakes' water quality. In the Kids' Korner, little ones can get their faces painted, watch puppet shows and meet Mr. Balloon and his biodegradable balloon animals. And Tennessee's Dave Matthews Tribute Band and St. Lucia's Ark Band will groove tonight on the adjacent Plain Dealer Pavilion stage.
The Flats setting is a first for the festival, after various problems (including parking) made the past Whiskey Island location a hassle. "We know the Flats need some love," says Dolney. "We were looking for a place where we wouldn't have to deal with so many logistics but concentrate on the message of the festival. We're right on the river, which is where we should be." The fest runs from noon to 11 p.m. today at the Nautica Entertainment Complex, 2000 Sycamore St. on the West Bank of the Flats. Admission is $12 (free for kids younger than 9 years old). Call 216.771.4404 or visit www.burningriverfest.org. - Cris Glaser
TOUR DU TOWPATH
Unlike competitors in the fierce Tour de France bicycle race, participants of this morning's Tour du Towpath can leisurely pedal the 31 miles along Summit and Stark counties' Towpath Trail. "Some people are in it for speed, but people are encouraged to go out and enjoy the trail," says Sue Reed, project manager for Akron's Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition. "If they want to stop and sight-see, fine. Just be back in time for lunch."
Bikers can choose between three routes - which all start and end in Canal Fulton: an 8-mile, to Clinton and back; an 18-mile, to Stark County's Mile Marker 4 and back; and a 31-mile, which heads north to Clinton before it turns south to Massillon and back to Canal Fulton. At 11 a.m., a lunch of pulled-pork and PB&J sandwiches will be waiting for riders after their speed-free spins along the landmark-dotted trail. "They'll see some lock areas down to Massillon and the trailheads with their canoe liveries," says Reed. "There are some boardwalks on the northern end of the trail. The trail is totally picturesque." Start pedaling at 9 this morning at the CanalWay Visitors Center, 4524 E. 49th St. in Canal Fulton. Fee is $25 ($10 for kids younger than 13 years old). Call 330.434.5657 or visit www.ohioeriecanal.org. -- Glaser
PSA WORLD YOUTH TOURNAMENT
Teams from Nigeria, Chile and Venezuela make up three of the eight boys' soccer squads that will head to Lorain for this week's PSA World Youth Tournament. Brad Friedel's Premier Soccer Academies hosts the first-ever competition. "I'm excited by the prospect of having the best talent in the world on display," says the Bay Village-bred Friedel, who was the goalkeeper for the U.S. National Team between 1992 and 2005. "It truly will be the most competitive youth tournament in the United States."
The tourney starts with opening ceremonies at noon today, before the kickoff of the first set of matches. One division includes Mexico's Chivas, Colorado's Rush Select XI and the Venezuelan and Nigerian national teams. The second division pits Mexico's Club America, England's Blackburn Rovers, the Chilean national team and Friedel's squad against each other. After seven days of matches, the teams with the best records in each group will meet at the August 17 finals. "The talent level of the teams in the tournament will be something special for all soccer fans in Northeast Ohio," says Craig Umland, the academies' chief operating officer. Let the games begin at noon today, Saturday, August 16, and Sunday, August 17, and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at Brad Friedel's Premier Soccer Academies, 2101 Brad Friedel's Avenue of Stars (off State Route 58) in Lorain. Tickets are $7 to $12. Call 440.282.2007 or visit www.gopsa.com. - Glaser
Your pooch may want to slip on a pair of diapers before it jumps into Euclid's Roosevelt Park for today's Doggy Swim. That's because Mother Nature sometimes calls when canines hit the water. "If any dog would go to the bathroom, you still have to get everybody out of the pool," says Euclid Parks & Recreation Department's Valerie Vento. "There's not a lot of that, but some dogs are just excited to be there."No doubt. Since 2005, the department has reserved the pool for dogs on the last day of the swimming season. Last year, as many as 80 dog-paddlers jumped into the water to beat the heat. "Oddly enough, a lot of the dogs like to go in the shallow water," says Vento. "It's funny, because you'll have a King Charles spaniel tackling the deep end and a Dalmatian splashing in the baby pool."
The swim also doubles as a benefit for the city's animal shelter. There's also another dogs-only session slated for September 3 at Euclid's Memorial Pool. Just make sure Fido can float. "We've had miniature pinschers and boxers that were very good swimmers," says Vento. "Then there's this English bulldog. He's adorable, but he just sinks to the bottom." Arf! Dogs take a dip between 4 and 6 p.m. today at Roosevelt Pool, 20750 Arbor Dr. in Euclid. Advance fees are $2 for Euclid residents, $4 for nonresidents and $5 at the gate. Call 216.289.8114 or visit www.euclidrecreation.com. - Glaser
ATHENS BOYS' CHOIR
There are plenty of misnomers about the Athens Boys' Choir. For starters, only one member of the "homo-hop" act comes from Georgia. And the group's soloist wasn't even born a boy.
Meet 28-year-old Jewish trannie Harvey Katz, who's been the choir's sole member since 2005, when the co-founder quit "because he decided it wasn't exactly for him," says Katz, who's performing tracks from his latest CD, Bar Mitzvah Superhits From the '80s, '90s & Today, in Lakewood tonight. "I would have loved to work a new name in, but I spent so much time making Athens Boys' Choir what it is that it would be senseless to lose it."
Merging hip-hop beats with socio-political commentary, Katz has opened for lesbi-faves like Ani DiFranco, Bitch and Kate Clinton. Tonight, he swaps stage time with Chicago's Actor Slash Model, North Carolina's Aunaturale and Cleveland's Argyle Miss and Amy Kasio. Some of Katz's contributions deal with her 2005 mastectomy and the hormonal injections that made her a man. "Living as both genders publicly has been hilarious," says Katz, who spent his childhood as Elizabeth. "It's like being an undercover feminist. When I speak to guys, I understand them a lot more now, because they have different conversations than women have. And I wouldn't want it any other way."
Audiences agree. Katz's stage show, he surmises, takes their minds off all the gender-bending. But there's the occasional showdown. "Every time I buy a beer, I always have to have a conversation, because my license still says Elizabeth," he laughs. "But all in all, I find people just don't care. They really roll with it." Doors open at 8 tonight at the Hi-Fi Concert Club, 11729 Detroit Ave. in Lakewood. Admission is $8. Call 216.521.8878 or visit www.hificoncertclub.com. - Glaser
The Harry Buffalo in Highland Heights works in the adage that champions are made one cup at a time at its weekly Beer Pong matches. Since its June debut, the bar has cashed in on college kids' favorite game, which involves bouncing Ping-Pong balls into beer-filled cups. "There's a reason we've included popular games like Pong," says Corey May, the club chain's marketing guru. "People have a blast and keep a friendly competitive energy going."
And like any booze-infused competition, players tend to bend the rules after an hour or two of drinking. "We want people to have fun and come back," says May. "We'll continue to provide the games as long as people keep playing them." Get your game face on at 9 tonight at Harry Buffalo, 5596 Highland Rd. in Highland Heights. Admission is free. Call 440.868.0088 or visit www.harrybuffalo.com. - Felton
As a 12-year forensic specialist, Cleveland native Lisa Black wants to dispel all those myths she sees every week on TV shows like CSI. Her debut novel, Takeover, gives readers an insider's look at the real life of an investigator. "It's nice that people have faith in science," says Black, who now dusts for fingerprints and analyzes blood splatters at the Cape Coral Police Department in Florida. "And it's great that they think CSIs are cool. But now juries expect to see the case of a lifetime every time they walk into a courtroom. And that's just not realistic."
Black's book is set in Cleveland, where a forensic scientist learns that armed gunmen have taken a cop and six others hostage in the lobby of the Federal Reserve Bank. She then learns that the officer is her fiancé. That's when the action picks up, as it plays out from a command post at the Cleveland Public Library's main branch. It's more authentic than any TV whodunit, says Black. "Real CSIs have lives outside of work," she says. "We have families, and we go to the grocery store. But it's not a job that stops at 5 p.m. every day. Many a dinner party has been cut short because the pager goes off." Black signs her book at 7 tonight at the Hudson Library & Historical Society, 96 Library St. in Hudson, and tomorrow night at Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 24519 Cedar Rd. in Lyndhurst. Admission is free. Call 216.912.1981 or visit www.josephbeth.com. - Glaser
THINGS TO DO THAT DON'T COST A DIME
Movies on the Mall: The Downtown Cleveland Alliance partners with ParkWorks for an outdoor screening of The Bucket List. In the Rob Reiner-directed film, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman play two terminally ill patients who escape from a cancer ward and take a road trip with a wish list of things to do before they die. The flick starts at 8:45 p.m. Friday on Mall B, 601 Lakeside Ave. Call 216.696.2122 or visit www.parkworks.org/mallmovies.html.
Caterpillars Cannot Fly: The Cleveland Metroparks' Naturepiece Theater stages a kiddie puppet show about a caterpillar that turns into a butterfly. Afterward, the audience scours the park with insect nets in search of monarchs. Showtime is at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the North Chagrin Nature Center, on Buttermilk Falls Parkway in Mayfield Heights. Call 440.473.3370 or visit www.clevelandmetroparks.com.
Fun Fest: Meet the Wizard of Yo, take a train ride and bust a few karate moves at this annual shindig sponsored by the Downtown Massillon Association and the Massillon Museum. There will also be African drum circles, hip-hop dancers and performances by the Kickin' Kountry Line dance troupe. The fest runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the corner of First Street and Lincoln Way East in downtown Massillon. Call 330.833.4061 or visit www.massillonmuseum.org.
Summit Choral Society Auditions: Tired of singing in the shower to no one in particular? The Akron ensemble is looking for classically trained crooners for its 2008-2009 Masterworks Chorale season. Who knows? It could be your stepping stone to the New York Met. Make an appointment by Wednesday at Steinway Hall, 715 E. Buchtel Ave. in Akron. Call 330.434.7464 or visit www.summitchoralsociety.org.