9 Holiday Gift Ideas for People Who Need Inspiration

And now, for something new.

If you know me even a little bit, you know that the holidays are my favorite time of year. I am that person that people who don’t want the holidays to start until after Thanksgiving absolutely despises. I am a sucker for holiday lights, well-decorated trees (and Charlie Brown Christmas trees), cookies, 24/7 holiday music, and all of the holiday trappings. I love it all!

But, my absolute FAVORITE part of the holidays is finding THE perfect gift for those special people in my life. It always surprises me when I hear people say that they don’t know what to buy people – for me, it’s just a matter of identifying someone’s passions. So, this year, I thought I’d make a list of some of gift ideas for folks who need some inspiration AND support great individuals and companies at the same time.

Happy holiday shopping, everyone!

For the animal lover:
SarahCustom pet portraits are a great way to capture your pet’s unique personality – and they don’t have to break the bank. My extremely talented friend Sarah Flinn will do a one-of-a-kind painting of your pet on upcycled wood for anywhere from $50 for a tiny 4-inch round to $150 and up for larger sizes. In Atlanta? Check out Sarah’s artwork and pick up a pre-painted piece at Dupre’s Antique Market at 17 Whitlock Ave SW. Seen all you need to see? Contact Sarah at InLikeFlinnStudio@gmail.com.

For the sports fan:
FreakerSocks may be a tried and rather tired holiday gift, but I promise you if you pick up some sports socks from Freaker USA, you’ll be at the top of your gift recipient’s NICE list. I’m a big fan of the NFLPA socks that feature a caricature of leading NFL players, but this Wilmington, NC-based company also had a handful of college teams available, fun pop-culture socks, and unique koozies available for purchase. I’ve probably bought about 15 pairs of socks from them over the last three years…and I just love their fun packaging and personal touches! (Sorry, Eagles fans, Carson Wentz is sold out…but I’d keep checking back!)

For the art lover:
KarenLibecapAt Festival in the Park this year, I stumbled upon the cutest booth. Karen Libecap makes tiny, detailed paintings of just about everything – animals, objects, movies, music, you name it. These 5 x 5 prints pack a lot of punch into a tiny little space – the painting itself measures about 1.5 inch by 1.5 inch. It’s quirky and the perfect gift for the person who loves eclectic decorations in their home. She has a tiny painting to suit just about everyone.  For $35, these are a steal. Check out Karen’s Esty Shop or Instagram.

For the traveler:
HunkerBagCo_013_EIf your loved one loves to travel and look good doing it, look no further than Hunker Bag Company. Based in Nashville, Hunker Bag Company was started by Denton Hunker, a drummer in the band Green River Ordinance, and his wife, Alicia. They make an array of super-stylish leather and waxed canvas bags for men and women, ranging in price from $90 to $350+. Whether you’re looking for a wristlet for a night out, an every day purse or bag, a slick briefcase, or an overnight travel or duffel bag, you won’t be disappointed by what you find at Hunker Bag Company.

For the fashionista:
There’s nothing sharper than someone who knows how to accessorize well. And unique accessories can make or break an outfit. I’m a big fan of funky, unique jewelry, and I’ve got two custom jewelry makers that I adore:

LynneLynne and Lucille – I first found Kelly when I was looking for some recycled cymbal jewelry. I’ve purchased a number of pieces from her over the last few years (at right is my favorite, a dagger-like cymbal piece on a long chain). She uses lots of typically discarded materials to craft unique jewelry – everything from cymbals to bullet casings to leather scraps and old spoons. She’s branching out into stamped jewelry now, too. She fills orders really quickly and often includes discounts for additional purchases in her orders. Check out her Etsy shop.

JaclynBear on the Moon – For outdoor enthusiast fashionistas, I have to recommend my friend Jaclyn’s amazing handcrafted jewelry. Jaclyn is the free spirit I wish I could be, and she channels her love for nature into her jewelry making, mixing stones and gems with sterling silver. She is so incredibly talented. Pay a visit to her Etsy shop – but don’t wait too long on anything. She turns items over very quickly!

For the music lover:
LstnWherever you go these days, headphones are sort of ubiquitous. I’m an Apple fan, but those white headphones are obnoxious. Don’t subject your music lover to a life of tunes with ugly headphones. Check out the beautifully crafted headphones over at LSTN Sound Co. Whether you’re looking for full-sized headphones or earbuds, they’ve got you covered with both wired and wireless options. Bonus: a percentage of every purchase goes to the Starkey Hearing Foundation to help provide hearing aids to people in need around the world.

For fans of Charlotte:
704ShopI might be a Jersey Girl, but I love my adopted home of Charlotte. I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere in my life, and I love everything about the Queen City. 704 Shop has an array of funky Charlotte-themed shirts, hats, socks, and more to help you show off your love of our Crown Town, including fun collabs with teams, sports stars, neighborhoods, and more.

For the impossible to buy for person:

NikkiWe all have one – the most impossible person in the world for whom to buy gifts. You get stuck every year. Well, what about a custom map of a special place in their life? A college campus, a first home address, a restaurant or park where someone got engaged… My super talented friend Nikki makes these intricate, hand-cut maps that are simply perfect for the person who has everything. All she needs is an address to get started! Contact Nikki through her Etsy shop or pay a visit to her Instagram.

New Year, New Mix

Hello, friends.

I know it’s been months since I’ve written. No excuses. I just haven’t felt like writing much lately. Work is kicking my butt and the last thing I want to do at night is come home and fire up the old computer. My company – where I have been for nearly 18 years – got sold and the merging of the two new companies isn’t the smoothest transition ever. It’s been stressful. And my Mom had to have some more treatment – cancer sucks, by the way – so I made a quick trip home to Jersey to be with her for awhile. (She’s doing okay…strongest person I know, my Mom.)

Honestly, you guys, I’ve been pretty blue. And tired.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. I haven’t been sitting around doing nothing. I closed out 2015 with a big milestone…seeing more than 100 live shows in a year (101, to be precise). Kind of a big deal for me – I’ve never done it before, and I’ve been keeping track of all the shows I’ve gone to since 2004. It was such a big deal that one of my sweet friends made me a trophy. I’m really proud of myself…I got outside of my box and saw a LOT of new music this year. Artists and bands I didn’t know. I found new loves. Oh, and Christopher Jak is BACK. Played a show in Charlotte. And is making a new record. So there’s that.

And of course, the Panthers are making history here in Charlotte. So that’s super exciting, especially for those of us who have cheered them on through a couple of really tough seasons.

In between all of this, I made the Winter Mix. But the notes, which are usually my favorite part, just weren’t coming easy to me. I guess the whole not feeling like writing thing has been sort of infecting all of my life. So I’ve been sitting on it for awhile. But it’s a new year, and I’m trying to get re-inspired about writing.

So here it is. The Winter Mix. Winter’s definitely not my favorite season, but I like this mix a lot. Hope you will, too.

Grab the notes and the label here.

Lots of love,


Marcus Foster Coming to Charlotte

Oh, British soul.

I do have an affinity for the British.  Really.  Especially ones that sing and play guitar.  And have insanely buttery, soul-filled voices that make you feel like you should be lingering over whiskey in a dark corner of a dark bar with a smoking hot man at your side.

And us lucky American gals, an amazing fella of just this sort is heading our way.  Marcus Foster released his spring US tour dates today and there is a really nice concentration of shows in the Southeast.  I nearly whooped with joy when I saw a Charlotte date on the list.  April 2nd at Tremont Music Hall.  Tickets aren’t on sale yet, but … plan to scoop them up as soon as they do.

Get ready to melt when this man sings, ladies. Here’s him doing a John Martyn song. Hot.

More Marcus Foster: Web | Facebook | Twitter

Easily the Best Show of the Year

Saints of Valory at Crown Station. Forgive the sad little picture, but I was too mesmerized by this amazing show…I only took two!

I realize I’m given to excessive love for singers, bands, musicians in general.  But when talking about live shows, statements such as “It was the best show I’ve seen all year” are not comments that I make lightly.  I see a lot of live music; last year, I saw more than 80 live performances.  Having that many under your belt gives you a lot of options for “the best,” so it’s not easy for me to bestow that title.

But, I can say this without a doubt:  Hands down, Saints of Valory‘s performance at Crown Station last night was the best show I’ve seen all year.

This little quartet from Austin plays with such passion and heart – and it was evident to everyone in that room.  I watched people who didn’t know their music at all turn into fans last night.  Huge, soaring vocals.  Intricate guitar work.  Simple and beautiful keys.  Then there’s world’s most silent man, Gerard Bouvier, who plays drums like a lion – his quiet personality completely belies his skill. When you combine their talents with an intimate, micro-sized venue like Crown Station, you’ve got a recipe for a magical show.

When artists genuinely want to connect with their audience, there’s an electricity that’s created and just can’t be matched – and last night’s show was chock full of spark and ignition. They played nearly everything off of their Bright Lights album (they call it an EP, but I think they’re taking the very literal definition of EP), both “new” songs from the Neon Eyes EP, and even performed a few new songs, including “Million to None,” which could easily become a new favorite of mine.

I have a thing for bands where there are more vocals than just the lead singer, and SOV does not disappoint here.  Guitarist Godfrey Thomson and keyboardist Stephen Buckle lend their voices on a lot of songs to produce a veritable choir.  Then there was this small, almost imperceptible thing that I noticed.  If you study Gavin while he sings, he makes these little hand motions that might seem like they’re personal – reaching a hand out towards the audience ever so slightly, holding his hand to his chest, or touching his head like he’s thinking – but they’re really part of the performance, pulling you into the songs, making you feel the songs on his level.   The recorded CD couldn’t possibly capture these energies…you’ve got to just see it live.

When I ask my friends to come out to shows, they never let me down – and there’s always one or two out of a big group that walk away with a CD or saying they really like the band.  But last night, I watched my friends, along with other people that didn’t know their music, become fans. They were, like me, caught up in the magic of their show.   And that high that you can only get from seeing a truly great music performance, carried over into today, as I watched my friends tweet, blog, and tweet some more about the band and their own connections with the music.

To put icing on the evening, the band was just the nicest, most down-to-earth group of guys, who were content to hang out with us after the show for a few hours (yes, hours) telling stories, laughing at our crazy antics, and talking music.

The thing is…Saints of Valory is a band truly on the way up.  They’ve got so much passion for what they’re doing, and their music is already so good, but you can hear it getting even better.  From the CD, which was released in November, to now, they’ve made just small tweaks to songs – guitar bits here, a slight lyric shift there – and the songs are richer because of it.  The new songs they’re playing, some of them literally just written in the last few weeks, are incredible. I have no doubts that by the next time I see them these songs will be really developed and absolutely floor me.

Mark my words – these guys are going to continue to push their own envelope.  You want to be on this journey with them.  Buy their music, but more importantly, get your tush out to a show to see them. And prepare yourself, because you’re going to fall in love with Saints of Valory.

More Saints of Valory:  Web | Twitter | Facebook

Acoustic Gareth Goodness

We all know I adore him, so no need to torture you with a long post.

My good friend and fantabulous musician Gareth Asher made a stop by 106.5 The End when he was here in September. He and another favorite, Michael Tolcher, performed a bunch of acoustic songs. The good folks at 106.5 decided to record and share them. Since I left town that morning to go home because my Mom was very ill, seeing these videos makes me way happy. You can check out the whole series of five songs, but I thought I’d post my favorite of them here – a new song called “Holy Train.”

All I have to say is, “Wow.”

Thanks 106.5!

Gareth Asher: Website | Facebook | Twitter | MySpace
Michael Tolcher: Website | Facebook | Twitter | MySpace