Sharing thoughts about Taylor Hicks and concert travels and other musical musings!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Traveling Circus is Liberated at the Liberty Bowl

The only thing better than beautifully wrapped presents and Santa Claus as December comes to a close would be a great party, a bowl game and Taylor Hicks. Sad to say, I don’t really understand the need to chase some pigskin with pointed ends or the need to fall in some heaping pile of male bodies. Now watching Taylor Hicks sing and dance – that’s my idea of a great game! But when the audience pushes to the front of the stage in tight formation, I suppose it could be considered close kin to the tackled heap on a football field!

So as December comes to a close, here I am, living in the land of the Liberty Bowl where there are several days of festivities including a golf tournament, a parade, a President’s Gala and finally the famous Liberty Bowl game where this year’s teams are Mississippi State and the University of Central Florida. After 20 years of living in the area, and often considering going to the Liberty Bowl, I finally decided to take the plunge, but not without a bit of a push. More like a shove, really, and the opportunity to see Taylor Hicks again before 2007 is history. OK, make that the President’s Gala at the Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis, the night before the big game and then box seats on the Mississippi State side for the bowl game itself.

According to the website, the game’s a sell out and a record setter at that – more than 62,500 fans will crowd into the stadium to watch the game. Me, I’m there for the half-time entertainment, and a chance to be part of the record! I don’t know if the gala was a sell-out or not – the party was planned for about 1,100 guests, and while there were a lot of tables set up, each seating 10 guests, there were some empty places at tables in the back of the ballroom. Of course, there were many more full tables as getting to the stage area required grace and agility to twist and turn between chairs and tables!

As we munched on a salad of spring mix greens adorned with slices of tomato and cucumber, we were introduced to many of the dignitaries attending the party. Past Liberty Bowl presidents, Shelby County mayor, coaches’ wives, CEO’s of St. Jude and AutoZone and FedEx. The greeting and blessing was delivered by the esteemed Shelby County mayor, A. C. Wharton. His speech about liberty, a play on the bowl game itself, was rather meaningful…without liberty, there would be no….

Dinner was a filet of beef and salmon with whipped potatoes and mixed vegetables. Dessert was a chocolate mousse topped brownie with mixed fruit and whipped cream. It was all quite good, and with a nice glass of wine, put us in a festive mood. The opening band, The Andy Childs Orchestra, serenaded us while we ate. Before, after and during dinner couples took to the dance floor to work up their appetites or dilute the pre-dinner drinks and appetizers. Even a local dancer performed modern dance movements for additional entertainment.

Once everyone finished eating and the tables were cleared, it was time for the headline performance of Taylor Hicks. Before the final words were out of the MC’s mouth, a crowd of fans and want-to-be-fans rushed the stage for a better view as Taylor came through the stage door. Was I attending a fancy gala where long dresses and tuxedos were the attire of the evening or one of Taylor’s famous “House of Blues” shows? I didn’t care as I found myself a spot by the stage.

Now for you old-timers, the band consisted of Josh Smith, Al Carty, Felix Pollard, Jeff Lopez, and Brian Less. Taylor, of course, would sing, dance, and play the guitar and harmonica! This was going to be one heck of a performance! Donned in a dark brown jacket, white shirt, dark blue jeans and brown skin boots, Taylor with his shining graying hair was a sight for eyes that hadn’t seen him in weeks. Forget the Philippines video, tonight was pure heaven with the man himself! Sappy, I know, but I was enjoying the view!

“Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” and “Hey Pokey Way” started the groove, coupled with some mad sax playing by Jeff Lopez! Jeff was not always in my sight, but I could sure hear him play. Then throw in some great Taylor harmonica, and the pace was going to be mind-blowing and fast. The cheers and applause were great to hear.

Next was “Gonna Move”. Funky, groovy music from Taylor and company, a performance that if you didn’t know better, was performed just a day or two ago. Whether there had been a lot of rehearsal time or not– the band was still tight with Taylor leading and directing. In between lyrics, Taylor shouted out to Memphis, TN as the place to be. Rather the Grand Ballroom in the historic Peabody Hotel was the right place for tonight!

The crowd by the stage was mostly women, a few kids that actually attended the gala, and a number of men, both young and older. Everyone was enjoying Taylor. Cameras and video recorders were close by as “Give Me Tonight” and “Just to Feel That Way” were performed. Boogie (Al) was still shimming up and down as he played his bass. Josh was “chickin’ pickin’ whenever he had the opportunity!

And then time for crazy friends – those of us close up to the stage would definitely fit the bill – as Taylor Hicks did his original, “My Friend”. I was too busy watching Taylor at this point to pay much more attention to the crowd by the stage. Between taking pictures and just standing there, listening to Taylor sing, I found myself mesmerized and wanting the next tour to start right after the new year. Forget a new CD, just sing and dance Taylor, that’s what we really enjoy!

As for Taylor, it was obvious that he was having a good time himself! The smiles, the energy, and the moves – it was all there. Taylor was happy – he was doing what he wanted to do with his life – performing and providing good music to those who would listen.

More funky music time as we got “Naked in the Jungle”! Oh my goodness! What a treat! And then “Medicated Goo”! Between the individual spots and highlights for the band, Taylor Hicks gave us lots of harp.

Time to get back to the CD with “Heaven Knows” and “The Maze”. And I needed to sit down for a bit – nothing like chronic back pain to keep one from standing the whole time! I noticed some of the members of the Andy Childs Orchestra standing behind the crowd watching. The keyboard player, the guy who plays the keys where I attend Sunday morning celebration, was nodding his head in approval. I had to speak to him, to get his thoughts, and they were positive! He was enjoying Taylor’s performance!

I’d heard people earlier comment that it would be nice to hear Taylor sing “Walking in Memphis”. I knew it wasn’t in his lineup of songs, but with “The Maze”, there it was tagged right along with a few other tags. The words were there, but the melody was a bit different. Who cared – Taylor added the tribute to celebrate being in Memphis.

Whenever I hear “The Runaround”, I know the show is just about over. Sadly, tonight was no different. Some leg movements, twirls and all of a sudden, the dancer from earlier was on the stage dancing right along with Taylor. Had they rehearsed a few moves before the show, I don’t know, but they were dancing in sync! What a performer Taylor is – he can dance with the best of them – and sing with a backup band from anywhere and sound like he’s been with them for years!

Part of the gala includes presentation of the Outstanding Achievement Award, an award originally established by Danny Thomas, the original spokesperson and mastermind behind St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, located in downtown Memphis. Taylor received the award for 2007 – a huge crystal bowl atop a wooden pedestal – larger than any trophy he’d ever received for sports!

Requested to return for an encore, Taylor Hicks and band came back to the stage to perform “Soul Thing”. Each band member received an introduction, name and city, and a spotlight solo during the song. It’s always a joy to watch Taylor give accolades to other musicians who support his music and help him give the best performance possible. When the song ended, the stage cleared and Taylor was gone.

Now I have to confess something. When I was given my table number for the dinner, I received quite a shock. Well, a couple of shocks really! First, table 5, right in front of the right-hand side of the stage was Taylor’s. My table was table 6! The young ladies manning the registration table were so excited about where we were sitting – maybe even more so than I was! But then, just because it was Taylor’s table didn’t mean he’d actually be sitting there! But Brian’s parents and wife, Stacy, were seated at that table. Brian favors his mom, and she’s so proud of her son that she actually glowed! She watched the performance from the stage steps and seemed to be enjoying Taylor as much as she was Brian!

After the show, a group of people came up to the door leading behind the stage. As we watched the small crowd grow, I noticed a lot of the Soul Patrol in attendance had disappeared beyond the door. Yours truly decided she shouldn’t sit it out alone, but being slow on getting to the door, wound up in the last few guests to get to go back to greet Taylor. This was an opportunity better than a meet & greet because it was spontaneous and carefree.

A professional photographer took pictures as we all had our turns to get pictures with Taylor. My daughter reached Taylor first, and he greeted her with ‘nice to see you again’ and then turned to me with the same greeting. He followed with ‘how’s everything goin’?” With arms around us both, we had our pictures taken by the photographer as well as by another guest using my camera. Taylor had changed shirts and was now wearing one of his signature dark gray shirts. My thoughts were about how thin he was, and also how nice it was to be so close! So close that I could …….

When we made our way back to our seats, the Andy Childs Orchestra was playing again. I’d heard enough, and since Taylor was gone, we decided we needed to start the hike back to the car. And a hike it was! We both had sore feet and backs by the time we reached my vehicle which was parked a block or so away from the hotel. We wanted to valet park, but by the time we reached the hotel earlier, valet parking was full! So hiking in heels and long dresses, while not part of the plan, was required.

As we drove back to my house, we talked about how great the show was and how much fun we’d had. We sat at a table with a couple of other Soul Patrollers from the Memphis area, and table 7 next to us, had even more Soul Patroller there.

By the time I arrived home, I was wound up and unable to sleep, so I uploaded my pictures and started this blog. Finally tiring out, I went to bed because I still had a bowl game to attend the next afternoon.

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I’m not a cold-weather bird, although it’s easier to handle the cold than the heat for me. Add a few more layers of clothes and go. Somehow I wasn’t sure if I could handle the mid-40’s that would be the afternoon temperature. But with coat, cloak, ear muffs and gloves, off I went to the game.

By the time I got there after a great shuttle ride, getting inside the arena would prove to be a feat for patience, pushing and pulling. Over an hour later, just as the first quarter was ending, I was finally in my seat. I looked like a elephant in a tent all wrapped up to keep warm. Being in the crowd while trying to get to my seat had kept me warm and unprepared for the outside seating! Box seats or not, Taylor at half-time, I began to question my own sanity for being there! I was freezing!

As I said at the onset, I don’t understand football, but I must confess, I was elated each time Mississippi State intercepted the ball from the University of Central Florida! By the end of the first quarter, the score was 3-0 with UCF leading. Before the half-time show, the game was even. In the end, Mississippi State would win, 10-3. Congratulations!





Each school’s marching band performed before Taylor Hicks came out to sing. I heard people behind me shouting when the stage was pushed and pulled into place in the center of the field. Bands from all around took the field as Taylor Hicks and children from St. Jude took the stage. Taylor sang “Heaven Knows” and “The Runaround”. Unfortunately, for most of his performance, Taylor was facing the UCF fans, only occasionally turning around to face the Mississippi State fans! As he sang “The Runaround” Taylor pulled one of the kids over to dance with him, and then the rest of the kids joined it. Quite a cute performance which helped to warm me in spite of the cold!

Edited note: Actually, Taylor's mic died, but I didn't realize it at the time. Being the professional showman, Taylor improvised by dancing with the kids until his mic was fixed! Now was he dancing to improvise, or to keep warm!?! It was very cold by the time he performed with only his jacket on for extra warmth!

As the bands cleared the field and Taylor left to points unknown, the teams came back out to start the second half of the game. I was cold, and with quite a walk to get out of the arena, decided it was time to leave. Phone service was difficult, and finally reaching my daughter, begged her to come pick me up! Thank goodness she loves her mother and took pity on me, driving to the Liberty Bowl to give me a ride back to my car which I’d left in the parking lot when I got on the shuttle.

Finally safe in her car, I started to thaw out. By the time we reached my car, only my feet were still chilled. I’m tired now, and finally warmed. Remembering the week-end with Taylor Hicks and company adds to the warmth, and brings a big smile to my face. So below, you’ll find links to pictures from the gala and video from the game’s half-time show with Taylor. I hope you enjoy as we wait for the next tour. Oh yes, and have a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

Pictures from the Gala

Pictures from the Half-Time Show

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Saturday, December 8, 2007

RagsQueen's Letter to Santa for the Traveling Circus

Dear Santa,

I've been a very good girl this year. I've supported the local economies around the areas wherever there was a Taylor Hicks concert by staying in local hotels & eating at local restaurants all under the guise of being there to see Taylor Hicks in concert. I've even bought lots of Taylor Hicks tour merchandise under the misguided misconception that I was putting food on the merchandise guy's table and maybe some for Taylor as well. I even single-handedly kept Northwest out of bankruptcy with all the flights I had to take.

Then there's the blog that I write almost weekly, you know, “RagsQueen & the Traveling Circus”. My fingers have developed calluses because I write such detailed accounts of my adventures so the readers can feel like they were there. And I do share pictures so that they can help me keep the photo shops in business. I've enjoyed sharing my experiences, but hope no one envies me with all that tiring travel. I know someone has to do it, and I volunteered, so I've just made the best of the situation.

And then there are the charities that Taylor Hicks loves and has asked the Soul Patrol to support as well. I'm a frequent bidder on eBay for those charity auctions, so again I've been a good girl sharing all my resources and time, not to mention getting those one-of-a-kind Taylor Hicks items. Add that to what I already have, plus a few drum sticks thrown in for good measure (gotta have something to defend my goodies with was my explanation for getting them in the first place!)

But more importantly, Santa, I have been so good this year that I took my daughter and granddaughters to a couple of Taylor Hicks concerts. We needed the family bonding time and where better to do that than on the road, like Birmingham or Southaven.

Oh and before I forget it, I helped support education! It was all in good fun - those one-armed bandits in all the casinos I've been to were great at helping me be more charitable in contributing to the various state scholarship programs. They may have had to stop supporting education if it hadn't been for my contributions at those Southern stops.

So, Santa, since I've been so good this year, full of charity and generosity and economic responsibility, is there any chance that you have in your sleigh tickets for me to attend any and every concert Taylor Hicks does in 2008? If you come up with the show tickets, I'll continue to support the local economies, the airline bail-outs, and the state education funds. Front row would be nice, but I won't be too greedy - second or third row will work just as well!

And could you throw in a few extra tickets for some of the shows so that I can meet the needs of some of the addicts that call themselves the Soul Patrol, and maybe enough to donate to Taylor's Angels so that they can send a few new recruits to see Taylor as well. You never know when those new faces might help tame the Soul Patrol.

I'll leave the lights on Christmas Eve, plus a glass of wine and plate of cheese and crackers. My cats would drink the milk anyway, and the cookies would just wind up being batted across the hardwood floors like little pucks. Thanks to the cats, there are no mice, so the cheese is safe!

Hope you have a great holiday season, Santa. And when you make your stops at the homes of the Soul Patrol, take pity on those poor souls - they can't help their addiction to Taylor Hicks. Maybe you could leave them some tickets, CDs or books to help fill the tour void. I promise not to tell their sponsors that you caused them to 'slip off the wagon'!

Keep up the good work and holiday cheer, Santa!

Love,
RagsQueen & the Traveling Circus

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Concert With Taylor

One of my favorite poems to read or recite is “A Visit From St. Nick” or “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”. I personally own several versions of this holiday poem, including a version for cat lovers (go figure!). So for this entry, I thought it would be fun to take that famous poem and rewrite it as if I were attending a great Taylor Hicks’ concert! So as you read the lines, do so with the original poem in mind.

Happy Holidays Everyone!
Mandy

A CONCERT WITH TAYLOR

‘Twas the night of the big concert, and music filled the house,
Everyone was listening, including the concert hall mouse!
The chairs were all filled with fans and newbies alike
As Taylor came on stage and grabbed for his mike!
The Soul Patrol was ready to give lots of shouts
As the band started playing so that there were no pouts!
We were dancing and waving and singing along
‘Cause we knew all the words to each and every song!
“Gonna Move” started the set and was followed by more
While Taylor’s sweat was coming out of every possible pore!
“The Right Place” and “The Deal” and “Hell of a Day”
Were terrific and energetic and perfect in every way.
We listened and danced as the concert went on
While the cell cert host kept watch on her phone!
“Heaven Knows” and “The Maze” and “Soul Thing” too
Kept us dancing and screaming for more “Medicated Goo”!
Now cameras were taping and pictures were taken
For us to post on the boards for everyone’s takin’!
Then all of a sudden security did appear
Which put us with cameras in panic and fear
Then they turned away quickly and looked no more
So we kept on filming and snapping pictures galore!
Now Brian was on keyboards and Mitch was on bass
And Zippy on the drums was making his case!
Sam on the guitar and Jeff with the sax and flute
Taylor had to play harmonica just to follow suit!
Time for “The Runaround” and “Hey Pokey Way”
‘Cause we wanted Taylor and LMBO together to stay!
“Wherever I Lay My Hat” and “Give Me Tonight”
With Taylor dancing, oh my, what a sight!
Taylor was wearing a white shirt with his jeans
New Balance sneakers that give him the means
To dance and jump and shake his great buns
In a way that would make us all glad we’re not nuns!
“Just to Feel That Way” and the spunky “My Friend”
Is enough to make our backs and knees bend!
With a twinkle in his eyes and a smile on his face
We couldn’t help but wonder how he kept up his pace!
Now he tags lots of songs with out missing a beat
Which keeps us all standing rather than having a seat!
Then “Badge” was followed by Rod Stewarts’ “Young Turks” To complete a Taylor concert full of great song perks!
The band was real tight as Taylor gave each the spotlight
To showcase their talent while they played with all their might!
Brian’s fingers across the keyboards, how fast they could fly
While Jeff played the sax and the flute together, oh my! my!
Zippy on drums kept pace with Sam and Mitch
As Taylor sang his songs in perfect note pitch!
The main set had ended and the encore started when
We finally got to hear all “The Places I’ve Been”!
When the concert was ended Taylor yelled “see you real soon”
Then he dashed off the stage to miss our collective swoon!
Out by the buses he signed autographs and chatted
As we waited to see if we’d get our hearts patted!
Then he got on the bus but before they drove out of sight,
He yelled “SOUL PATROL” and “Thanks for a great night!”

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Measure of a Man

Plato said, “The measure of a man is what he does with power.”

Samuel Johnson said, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Plato and Johnson speak of the measure of a man who has power (or fame) at his disposal as well as the ability to help those who can not benefit him in return. The two quotes can be combined to show the measure of a man in Taylor Hicks. First, as Taylor was winding up the whirl wind tour of the top 10 American Idol contestants in the summer of 2006, he took time out to sign some items that were being donated to raise money for various charities.

A group of Texas Taylor Hicks fans formed Soul Patrol Relief and held a raffle for a signed guitar at the Antonnes after party when the American Idol Tour stopped in Austin, Texas. Taylor had signed the guitar upon arriving for the after party, and the winning ticket holder would take home a prized possession. Another item of the evening announced a signed harmonica to be auctioned on eBay for the benefit of Kid One Transport in Birmingham, Alabama.

There was the beautiful guitar signed by Taylor Hicks, the members of Little Memphis Blues Orchestra, Ace Young and Chris Daughtry that was auctioned at The Woodlands after party following the final concert in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. If you were there, you know about the dramatic bidding that took place! Proceeds were to benefit the Janet Weiss Children’s Hospital in nearby Danville, Pennsylvania.

Then there was the Blue Gill event in Daphne, Alabama, held by a group of Southern fans as part of the Kid One drive of hosting friends and family dinners to raise money for the charity. Instead, this one group held an all-out, come-as-your-are party at a local eatery for anyone able and willing to attend. And attend they did! Items auctioned that evening included a signed guitar, a leather motorcycle jacket, CDs, and harmonicas. Some items were only signed by Taylor Hicks while other items included the members of The Little Memphis Blues Orchestra or Elliott Yamin’s autograph.

With Taylor Hicks’ 30th birthday just days away from the end of the American Idol tour, Taylor had requested that instead of gifts and cards that donations be made to Kid One in honor of his birthday. Many fans came together to make this drive successful. It was the birthday drive which enabled Kid One to realize donations from all the different fan-based activities reach its goal of raising over $30,000 in honor of Taylor turning 30 himself!

With little fanfare, other signed guitars were auctioned on eBay for the benefit of Lili Claire Foundation and the Gibson Guitar Foundation. The Lili Claire Foundation provides programs and support for children with neurogenetic disorders such as autism and Downs Syndrome.

Somewhere along the way, fans came together to form other charities that have provided great service for not only Kid One, but also Studio by the Tracks another Birmingham area charity that benefits autistic children and adults to help them develop an artistic outlet.

Kid One Patrol of Soul is best known for their cookbooks, holiday ornaments and calendars, the sales of which benefit Kid One. Their current drives include the sale a 2008 calendar and collecting Beanie Babies to provide the children that Kid One services which a Christmas gift. Visit www.kidonepatrolofsoul.com for more information.

Bluzkat has helped raise funds through auctions of tour memorabilia where the proceeds of a tambourine benefited Kid One Transport and the cowbell proceeds benefited the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund. Their current drive is the sale of a coloring book with proceeds to benefit the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund. Visit www.bluzkat.com/NOMRFCB.htm for more information.

Taylor’s Angels has helped fans and charities alike. From matching donors to recipients with memberships to Taylor Hicks Headquarters and concerts tickets to contacting promoters to donate tickets to local charities, these ladies have helped promote Taylor Hicks and his music. Their current drive is to help raise money for Heroes for Children, the original Taylor’s Angels, who raise money for families of children with cancer. To learn more about this group, go to www.taylorsangels.blogspot.com.

And one last thought on how Jackson’s quote applies to Taylor Hicks. Recall the many pictures of Taylor with children. I’ve had the opportunity to observe Taylor with children – he is a true caring person who gets down on his knees if necessary to look the child in the eye. He remembers special moments from past meetings. He smiles with pride as if the child were his own. It has to be innate, an inborn gift, to humble one’s self before a child, to show true compassion, to take that moment to give that gift freely. This ability alone is a great measure of a man, and one that makes Taylor’s fan love him for himself as much as for his music.

So how does King’s definition of the measure of a man fit Taylor Hicks? For nearly a year now, there have been a number of arguments surrounding the comparing of Taylor’s success to that of Chris Daughtry’s, another American Idol Season 5 contestant and peer. Taylor has repeated asked his fans not to get caught up in the numbers games, that he and Daughtry perform different types of music for which comparison can not be based, and that he is happy with the success that he, Taylor, has found and is happy that Chris, too, has found success.

I think this also is evident in one other area of Taylor’s life, and that is his love for golf. Consider the different celebrity golf games that Taylor Hicks has played both on and off the golf course – The Regions Charity Classic Golf Tournament, The Navistar LPGA, and the recent Golf Digest Celebrity Invitational. Try playing golf with a group of great golfers and see how you might rise to that challenge!

So what then, is the true measure of a man? It is the ability to use one’s power or fame for greater good, whether to lend one’s name to a charity or use one’s name for further fan generosity. It’s the ability to help others, such as children, when there’s nothing to gain from that child. And it’s the ability to stand tall in the throws of criticism and competition to say there’s room for everyone, and we each have something different to offer. And these measures of a man apply quite aptly to one Mr. Taylor Hicks.

With the holidays fast approaching, and Thanksgiving Day next week, I’d like to take the opportunity to say that I’m thankful for the music of Taylor Hicks, the opportunity to have traveled to places I’d never been before, and most importantly for the friends I’ve made this past year. And yes, to say I’m thankful for those of you who take time to read my recaps and ramblings. May the only thing overstuffed on your Thanksgiving table be the turkey, and if you have extra funds for the holiday season to check into helping the various fan-based organizations above. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Traveling Circus Has Its Golden Night in Pearl River

It was a beautiful Friday afternoon in Memphis as I left work for the drive, alone with Madge, for a far away town in the depths of Mississippi called Philadelphia. Not a cloud in the sky, a nice slow breeze, the entrapments of fall, and time to think were mine for the next four hours. Music in the CD changer of a gray-haired soul guy that had taken me to places I’d never been and probably never would have gone otherwise. I was ready for the final adventure. Tonight was a golden opportunity – it was a celebration, a culmination and a chance to see once more what had put the passion for music and travel back into my life.

The directions on the passenger seat, Madge in the straddle between, bags close at hand, I made the first turn and then the second and finally I was on my way. A hundred and fifty miles of interstate and another forty or so of back roads separated me from my destination. Living close to the Mississippi state line was an advantage for this journey, but I had no idea where I was going or what I’d be finding. The interstate was on the only thing Madge and the casino’s directions had in common. I chose the casino’s route, and would later regret the decision.

Why take Madge if I wasn’t going to follow her lead? Well, sometimes she’s great, and other times, well, I get there but don’t know how. As I followed the written words I found I crossed paths with Madge’s route somewhere much closer to my destination. That let me know that Madge would take the lead on the return trip. Another bad decision, but another part of the story.

After three and half hours of driving I was in sight of the promised land. On the left side of the road was this curving orange taper with a huge ball atop the highest point that I recognized as the Golden Moon Hotel and Casino that is part of the Pearl River Casino and Resort. To the right was the Silver Star Hotel and Casino, my destination, and the smaller of the two gambling spots in this far away part of Southern Mississippi.

I made my way to the hotel entrance and decided that valet parking was the only way to go since I abhor walking great distances that cause terrible back pain and swollen ankles. One of my roommates was waiting outside in the coolness of the afternoon, people watching and chilling out. We found the Guest Registration and picked up our room keys. Next trek – the elevators which we quickly found and pushed the button to our floor. Arrows pointed to all rooms except ours!

Back down the elevator, after calling the front desk for directions, back across to the registration desk and down a long hallway. Another elevator, and when we got off, another long hallway to our room. But alas, we were golden – there, outside our door was the elevator to the casino and convention center where our concert was to take place!

We decided to rest for a bit before trekking down to the casino floor. After a bit, hunger was settling in and a light snack before the concert was needed. In the small deli behind the Convention Center we had our snacks and greeted a few members of our troupe. When we finished, we went in search of a bandit to take our money, and upon finding such a villain, found more of our troupe waiting outside the Convention Center doors. I tried my luck, but as usual lost, so much for a quick time at the penny slots with Abe Lincoln!

We used the time before the doors opened to greet other fans, to talk about the many trips, say hello and just be together one more time. When the doors finally opened, we went in to find our seats. There, I greeted more fans, some I hadn’t seen since the spring tour or earlier parts of the summer tour. It was nice to see so many familiar faces! I wish you all a happy holiday season, and look forward to seeing you again during the next exploits of the Traveling Circus.

I watched as the seats were being taken as the banquet-room-turned-concert-hall was filling up. There weren’t many empty seats that I could see. Since this was a twenty-one and older venue, there were no minors, but there were lots of men in tow of their womenfolk. And Taylor’s family was well-represented as well. I saw Dr. Hicks and wife take their seats in one of the center sections, and I’d heard Grandma Joni was also there to watch her talented grandson shine in the spotlights.

Soon “Soul Finger”, the tune that indicated the concert was about to start began. The guys that make up the Little Memphis Blues Orchestra sans Sam plus Josh took the stage. Due to the passing of his father earlier in the week, Sam had to miss the performance. My most heart-felt sympathies to Sam on his loss – I know what it’s like to lose a parent. Fortunately, Josh Smith from the spring and summer tour band was able to join the guys.

Zippy, with his new drums and sticks ready to pound, set the tone for the evening. A great rapping on the skins that reminded me of the opening to “The Runaround” and the concert was ready to begin. A quick shout out by Brian Less told us Taylor Hicks was in the house and with that the screams began and Taylor bounded the steps beside the stage. With a black and white guitar atop his new gray, blue and beige striped shirt, “Rockin’ Pneumonia” and “Hey Pokey Way” opened the golden concert for the Traveling Circus.

Yes, gentle readers, this was the fiftieth performance I’d seen of Taylor’s in 2007, since Mardi Gras and Jacksonville opened the first solo tour for the gray-haired Taylor Hicks! That means forty-eight tour concerts, Endymion and the famous Flora-Bama stop after the Orange Beach performance at the Wharf. I might as well confess – you could count my concert recaps and discover the same information, but I’ll save you the effort!

LiMBO had been rehearsing all week getting ready for the Silver Star show, and the rehearsing paid off, with great dividends. Close your eyes and listen. There were a few differences that added to the show in sound, but LiMBO held its own to the spring and summer tour bands. I’m sure it helped that Brian was part of the spring tour. “Heaven Knows” from the debut CD, “Taylor Hicks”, was fabulous! Jeff on the horns was great! I’ve always thought Jeff was the better brass player, and tonight proved that! We even got the famous dancing wiggles during the song which provoked more screams and shouts!

“Gonna Move” followed, and it was like listening to both the present and the past: the present because the song was on the “Taylor Hicks” CD; the past because the former Taylor Hicks band included the same song in their own set list before Taylor entered the American Idol foray. I was mesmerized listening and watching, standing and dancing to the beat, and taking pictures at the same time as we were moved, transported to another time and place where the old and new met and melded.

The first single from the same album, “Just to Feel That Way” was next. I replay the song over again in my head even now, and find the sound familiar. Then I hear Jeff in the background on the sax and I realize that it’s the same, only with different players. The quality is astounding, and then Brian adds a new ivory tickle that sends chills up my spine and puts a silly smile on my face. Yes, I’m feeling that way, too, and the song ends too quickly.

Taylor Hicks asks how we are feeling and doing and intersperses a few shouts of “Soul Patrol” that gets the audience up and screaming loudly. One of my favorite covers, “Medicated Goo” is next. Lots of guitar and harmonica and Taylor swaying to the music. It was nice to see Josh again and getting the solo attention deserving of a great guitarist. And Taylor on the harmonica is always a treat. I don’t know how he does it – sing then suck and blow. He must have powerful lungs, or at least one very good set!

At some point, I notice a gentleman with white hair approach the stage, camera in hand. He stands and takes a couple of shots, then approaches the stage until he rests his arms upon it and takes a couple more pictures. As he turns to go back to his seat, he pumps his arms in the air like an avid fan that has just captured their first bounty of concert pictures. I had stopped watching Taylor long enough to observe the man, and only as he left the stage and gesture did I realize the man was NOT Taylor’s father, Dr. Brad Hicks. But he sure was a strong look-alike!

Back to the music for “The Maze” and more harp. It was incredible to say the least, and then the “Five Minutes” tag from some song I didn’t know. Fine sax blowing from Jeff at the end to bring us out of the maze. One thing I was learning tonight. Take great musicians and put them together and you can get any sound you want, the usual or something totally different, but either way, it would be a-mazing!

“Call Me the Breeze” brought me back to reality. This was another song reminiscing of the American Idol Summer Shadow Tour of 2006. This was the old Taylor Hicks Band, back together, once more, and a chance to see the past. Brian had a great solo part that shows his talents, and at one point he even stands to pound the keys only harder and faster! I believe Taylor introduced the song as pure honky-tonk and he was right, right on down to the harping near the end. Oh was an incredible feast of musical pleasure! A true delight!

What a pleasurable experience this concert was about! And to think I considered passing on it, only deciding just two days before that I would go it alone. I’m glad I did, because this was definitely a ‘can’t miss’ opportunity of musical delights. More Taylor Hicks’ originals with “The Deal” and “Soul Thing”. I watch as Mitch smiles and Zippy sets the pace. It was time to pay homage to the past as well as the future. I would later leave the venue hoping that perhaps the old Taylor Hicks Band would now become the new Taylor Hicks Band – their sound was perfect and rivaled the tour band from the spring and summer tour.

Listening to the ivory tickles and wind blown sax during “The Deal” was chilling – and will need to be relived over and over, as one of the best concerts I had seen, probably coming in second to Orange Beach and followed by Birmingham Two. That, folks, is a compliment to a deserving bunch of musicians who make their living following their passions.

Josh’s guitar solo in “Soul Thing” was nothing to sneeze at. Nor was Brian’s keyboard or Jeff’s sax. “Play the blues” was definitely the sound, old or new, incredible is the only word to describe it. Even “Eastbound and Down” was an audience hit as it ended the number with Brian jamming on the keys as the last words of “Soul Thing” were sung!

Taylor made a few comments before the next song that I wasn’t able to understand, but the familiar bars on the keys by Brian let me know what was coming next! “Will It Go Around in Circles”, an old Billy Preston cover often performed by LiMBO that would get the crowd up dancing and turning circles on the dance floor. The front row, right in front of the stage, was no different – they were turning around in circles whenever the song asked the familiar question. And Josh on the guitar – doing his ‘chickin’ pickin’ as Taylor calls it. What a fun song for a great ending to the musical ride of a lifetime! But before it would end, a call and tag between Josh and Taylor, guitar and harp was needed to show the abilities of these fine artists and musicians.

No concert is complete without a song that should have been a single from the “Taylor Hicks” first major albums, “The Right Place”. Yes, Philadelphia, MS, the Silver Star Casino was the right place tonight. The opening keys of Brian and the low sax tones from Jeff, the song was, for me, the highlight of the night. I can still hear it, and the spine-tingling chills continue. Even the harmonica playing by Taylor, what more can I say, but you had to be there, to hear the beautiful music to get the full effect for the great song that it was.

And then, then…..the drum line start of “The Runaround” featuring Zippy on the drums. Me, I was grinning like one proud mama as I watched and listened to Zippy show he had mastered both the sound and technique of the opening. I was proud of and for Zippy – knowing how talented and yet how apprehensive he must have been about that one song. There may have been no drum sticks thrown in the air, but Zippy, as his own man, did the song proud as he pelted the skins. Zippy had nailed it! Jeff had too, in his own way, on the sax.

Taylor asked “how about it for the band” amid cheers, screams and applause. This was ‘THE’ band tonight. What an opportunity for these talented guys and seeing them together again was treat. Taylor on the harp, “Willie Brown Blues”, tagged before Taylor said good-night and left the stage. What an ending! What an ending!

To mine wondering ears did I hear shouts for Taylor to come back, to do an encore, to give us more. We weren’t finished. I had witnessed a lot tonight including seeing Taylor do a little two-step with the microphone stand! Don’t remember which song, but it was cute! Finally Bill with his flashlight appeared and so did the band!

Jeff started the encore with a flute solo, the introduction to “Forever Man”. This was another song from the old Taylor Hicks Band days. Jeff and flute, Brian and keyboards, Mitch lost in thought on his bass guitar. Yes, Taylor, you will be our forever man, full of soul and blues, harp and guitar, gray hair, and gyrating movements as you play, sing and give the band its opportunities to shine. What an amazing end to an amazing night. “Thank you very much”, and with that, the concert was over, and the Soul Patrol was left to wait for the next album and tour and the next opportunity to see one talented Mr. Taylor Hicks!

As we gathered our belongings to make our way back into the casino, we stopped to chat with more friends, to compare notes about the performance and bid a fond farewell until the next time. I stopped by the merchandise table to say ‘hello and see ya later’ to Stephen. The big questions were when was the new DVD, “Whomp at the Warfield” being released and what was next. DVD release date unknown and watch the TH HQ store for new items to be released just after the major turkey day (aka Thanksgiving) and just in time for the holidays!

By casino time, it was still early. The buffet was still going strong, and hunger pangs were even stronger, so off we went. After filling the tank, as Garfield might say, we headed for the slots again. I was up and then down, back up and finally out. But on a penny machine and with a Jefferson, you can sit for quite a while, and that’s just what I did: sit on very uncomfortable stools, designed either for very small derrieres or to keep you moving around rather than stable on a single machine, which I was doing!

Given my age or the fact I’d worked the morning, I was quickly tiring, so up to our room we went. Nice thing about our room’s location – cross the casinos, turn left, find the mini lobby and take the elevator just outside our door! After climbing into bed and turning off the lights, we chatted about family, concert highlights, our children, husbands and former husbands, concert memories, and finally drifted off to sleep. An early phone call a few hours later would bring us back to reality and getting ready to head home.

As I wrote earlier, I decided to let Madge be the navigator she’s supposed to be. I wanted to see the town of Philadelphia, which I had quipped earlier that I wondered if it had it’s won Liberty Bell (I knew better!) and headed off in that direction. Fortunately Madge had the same idea. But somewhere in the process we both got mixed up, mixed signals and whatever else could go wrong. I decided to heck with finding the town center and left the directions to Madge. At least the roads were wider than the trip down, but I had no idea where I was going. Somewhere close to Mississippi State in Starkville and other places I’d heard of but had no idea where they were, geographically speaking. After nearly two hours of hoping and praying I’d find where I was, the familiar I-55 was in sight, and I was on my way home down familiar highway.

Time to take down and put away the tent for a while, at least until the next tour. Time to reflect on the past ten months of travel and making friends. Time to spend time with family and get ready for the holidays. Time to focus on other interests. Time to wait for the next part of the journey.

As Taylor also said during the concert, “Thanks for being on the journey with me”. You are very welcome, Taylor, because I’ve had the time of my life. And to you, gentle readers, thank you for being with me on my journey. Happy Holidays everyone. Until we meet again! Much love to all!

Pictures from the Silver Star, Philadelphia, MS

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Traveling Circus Graduates at Millersville

As I was driving to the airport to catch my flight, I wasn’t thinking about the hour of the morning or why I had chosen to fly into Baltimore and then drive to Millersville. I wasn’t even thinking that this was the last show for Taylor Hicks and the current band! I was thinking about seeing beautiful fall colors and meeting friends and adding to the traveling circus once I got to my destination.

What I didn’t think about was the reality that this was the last concert for the current band. Taylor was going to take a break and write some music for his next album. And get some much needed rest before embarking on another tour sometime next year. This was Millersville University’s homecoming week-end. And in some respects, it would be a homecoming celebration for the Soul Patrol as well, at least for those of us circus clowns who have been to a number of performances. It would be time to graduate from Taylor’s freshman album and take a break until his sophomore album was recorded and ready for distribution. It would be a week-end of seeing some of our friends one last time this year.

Since I was going to arrive several hours ahead of my traveling companion, another devoted ringmaster, we decided that I would pick up the rental car, grab some lunch and come back to pick her up. Getting the car was a different kind of experience. We had to catch the bus to the car lot which included every rental place known all under one roof. I reached the ticket counter where I renting our car, signed the contract and made my way to the parking lot to the assigned slot.

Now I ordered a compact to mid-size, so I was expecting small. It turned out to be silver Ford Focus. (Quite a step down from two weeks ago when I was driving a Chrysler 300!) Once I was able to get my seat in a comfortable position, I was ready to leave the lot. At least I thought I had the seat in a good position. I think the last person to drive the car was quite tall or liked to lie down while driving because the driver’s seat back was half way in the back seat!

I drove around a bit to see what was in the area in the way of food, and finally found a MickyD’s. Before I got out of the car, I adjusted the seat some more, and finally the seat was comfortable. The head rest had my back arched in a position that there was no way I would be able to drive for two hours and then be able to get out of the car or stand up!

After a burger & fries, I was back in the car and heading back to the airport. My friend’s plane wouldn’t be in for another hour so I just drove around the airport trying to find someplace to park and wait. I decided on the hourly parking garage since the first half hour was free. I finally found a space, parked, pulled out my book and read a few pages before the half hour was up. The second half hour would be $2 and I didn’t want to pay. I left the garage and started circling the airport because it was about time for her plane to land.

The airport police were out in force, making sure the speed limit was obeyed. A few unsuspecting drivers were caught and pulled over. I did my best to keep my speed down, and fortunately was successful! I tried calling my friend, but didn’t get an answer. By the time I knew her flight had landed (I called to verify it was indeed at the gate), I decided to continue circling just in case her cell phone wasn’t working. I knew from past experience that her service didn’t always work when she was too far away from her home network, and this was one of those times! I finally spotted my co-ringmaster outside looking for me! I blew the horn and found a small space to wedge into. We loaded up the car, and off to Millersville we went!

As we drove we were busy catching up, making plans, and watching the scenery go by. We were both hoping to see lots of fall color but quickly realized we were too far south of where I’d been two week ago, and that the leaves hadn’t yet started to turn in the area. We did see a bridge going over a river that caught our attention. Bad thing I was driving – I wasn’t able to take any pictures. Beside the bridge remained the old supports from an older bridge that had long been removed. Trees had grown on the supports and looked like they were just out in the water until closer inspection showed the old bridge bases.

Once close to Millersville, we took what we thought was the right exit – it said Millersville so we thought we should take the exit. We wound up driving through downtown Lancaster which had many older connecting buildings. In the middle of downtown was a statute of civil war generals (at least that what I think they were) and an old historic fa├žade that was being held up with beams. The architecture was incredible, and I was glad to see the remodeling project was going to preserve it.

A quick call to the hotel and we had directions to get there. Had we not taken the exit we did, we would have been at the hotel maybe thirty minutes earlier, but we would have missed the quaintness of downtown. Or the Amish gentleman hooking his horse and buggy up outside at one of the larger chain stores in a shopping center outside of the downtown area.

Finally at our hotel, we made our way to our room and were greeted by the rest of our troupe of circus veterans. Plans were made to grab dinner before the show, but since we spent more time catching up and gabbing, we found we only had time for a quick stop at Wendy’s and then make our way to Millersville University campus and find Pucillo Gymnasium where the concert was going to be. We were glad we had stopped at Wendy’s because we were given directions by a table of young ladies wearing the Millersville sweatshirts. We asked if they had tickets for the show and when we found out they didn’t, we gave them our extra tickets!

By the time we found the Pucillo these same girls were crossing the parking lot headed in our direction. They told us where to park and from there we all went out separate ways to the concert. After parking, we ran into a number of other Soul Patrollers milling around outside the venue. Quick hugs and greetings were shared as we passed by to enter the doors to the gym.

As I walked in a lady came up behind me and asked it she could interview me. I said yes, but to give me a second to turn in some tickets at will call for a couple who I was sure was waiting for them to be delivered. The woman was interviewing various fans that had traveled from outside the Millersville area to see Taylor Hicks in concert. After a few minutes she had what she needed from me and was off to talk to others lingering in the lobby.

I wanted to go in to find our seats and leave my sweatshirt, and to see what the venue looked like. The stage was set up in front with all the expected instruments. We knew Loren and Josh were supposed to be there, and maybe Al and Brian. Felix had indicated he wouldn’t be there so the drummer would remain a mystery until the concert started. More friends and acquaintances were greeted as we sat down for a few minutes and surveyed the accommodations for the concert.

This was homecoming week-end for Millersville University, and the night before there had been a Ville Idol contest. We would get to see the top three alumni and top three current students receive their prizes as well as hear the winner sing their winning song. The alumni winner did an old Frank Sinatra number while the current student winner did a Pat Benatar song. The student was much better and definitely had great stage presence. She even mentioned that tonight her imaginary band had instruments!

The gym lights dimmed and “Soul Finger” began to play while some members of the Soul Patrol sang along! The band came out and took their places and began their opening song. As the band finished their opening montage, Taylor Hicks walked out and sort of jumped into place! “Gonna Move” was the first song. I swear I could hear a couple of changes in the melody but I can’t seem to remember what they were. Probably different intonations in the last few words of a verse and at the end.

The front rows were mostly Soul Patrollers, and they were all standing up and dancing along with the music. Some of the rows further back chose to sit and watch. Reserved seating was on the gym floor and the bleachers were for general admission ticket holders. Those sitting in the bleachers were free to sit anywhere they wanted to – close to the stage or further back – as long as they sat in the bleachers!

I looked around to get a feel for the crowd. Most were older tonight. Those not part of the Soul Patrol were mostly alumni or Millersville locals. I did see some students especially in the bleachers. There were only a handful of children, if that. And the gender mix was fairly even. I did notice a little girl on the front row was dancing more than Taylor Hicks! She had moved from her seat to the open area between the front row and the stage. The child was definitely having a great time!

The next song was “Give Me Tonight”. Taylor Hicks was definitely feeling the music down in his bones because his performance was so full of energy and smiling. Talking about making his move, he was giving everyone everything he had!

A Taylor Hicks original, “Heart and Soul”, followed next. Even with a new drummer the band seemed tight and their instruments blended like always. A bit of “Brown-eyed Handsome Man” was tagged, and while the usual baseball part was there, it wasn’t quite the same as I’d come to enjoy. I missed the typical music when the ball is hit out of the park! But Taylor was still playful with the song! Taylor finished the song by going back to “Heart and Soul” and ended the number with the famous Woody Woodpecker call in the ‘Soul’.

The first single from his self-titled album, “Just to Feel That Way”, was next. With hand touching his chest, Taylor seemed lost in the song, as if he were singing a special song to his lady love. I love to watch Taylor doing that – the pictures in the link below will show you what I mean.

A couple of originals, “My Friend” and “The Deal” followed. Taylor mentioned that they came from his second album, “Under the Radar”. The drummer gave a quick solo near the end of “My Friend” and then the song ended with the jazzy feel of New Orleans. “The Deal” is one of my favorite originals, and tonight it had the sound and feel of perfection.

The main set ended with more songs from “Taylor Hicks”. Before singing “Wherever I Lay My Hat” someone in the audience yelled out “I love you” and Taylor responded with “I love you too!”. Everyone in front laughed – we’ve come to expect someone to do sometime during a performance. Another favorite of mine, this song always brings a smile to may face while I watch and listen as Taylor sings it. I noticed the guitars or else Loren’s keyboard had a bit more twang and was more pronounced which added an extra element to the song to make it stand out. It was probably one of my favorite versions of the song!

The real treat of the evening came during “Soul Thing”. In past performances Taylor has done a call and response between harmonica and guitar. But tonight, ah, something even more beautiful than can be expressed happened – the call and response was between Taylor and Brian – harmonica and saxophone. It was incredible! And we would be treated to this duet one more time during the night. You need to find some video to see and hear the beauty of the harp and sax together. It truly was incredible.

“Heaven Knows” was next. During the song there was a call and response where Taylor goes “ohhh” and then the audience does the same thing. Only when Taylor goes back to the song, he sings out “thank you” which I don’t think I’ve heard him do before. As Taylor finished the song, Al and Josh were given short spotlight solos.

Next Taylor performed “The Maze”. Taylor played the harp at the end which was nice. And the harp gave it a different feel. I’m always amazed at how he can play that instrument. Years of practice I know, but watching him play always leaves me breathless.

After “The Maze” Taylor wanted to know how many were from Millersville – maybe 30 to 50 responded. When he asked how many were NOT from Millersville, the entire place seemed to erupt. Taylor did a turning swing that lowers his upper body in a move that implied surprise. I don’t think he was all that surprised since the Soul Patrol made up the first five or six rows and good bit of the closer seats in the bleachers! He gave a shout out to a fan from England who had flown all night just to be at the concert! Now that’s dedication!

Often “The Runaround” is the last song of the main set, but not tonight. The substitute drummer did a good job of mimicking a drum corps. I was impressed by his ability to come in and seem like he’d been with the band all along.

What an ending for the first set by doing “The Right Place”. Definitely this was another show being performed in the place. Taylor’s performance, if you closed your eyes and just listened, was like listening to Ray Charles! So beautiful and soulful! There was another call and response between Taylor and Brian what was even better than the call and response in “Soul Thing”. I absolutely loved the harp and sax duet! Breathtakingly beautiful!

We’ve come to expect and know that Taylor does an encore, and Millersville would be no exception. Taylor Hicks came out, picked up Josh’s guitar (he didn’t have one of his own with him) and started turning up for “Hope She’ll Be Happier with Him” which is a beautiful ballad. Before he could start, several fans were making comments, and finally a child yelled out “my mommy loves you”. Now Taylor had been tuning the guitar with his eyes closed, and at that moment he opened a single eye and raised his eyebrow at the same time to see who had just yelled that out.

The little girl said something else that I didn’t understand. Taylor said he had a funny comment but wasn’t going to make it. Someone else hollered out for his to go ahead and tell us. He gave an emphatic “NO” and began to sing the acoustic number. That was a good performance! One you have to see to enjoy! I’m sure you’ve probably found some video by now!

The band came back out. The drummer, Andy or Randy or something like that got a drum solo and when it was time for Taylor to play his harmonica, he said “enough of him!” and started blowing his harp. “Take the Long Way Home” was going to close the show. Taylor’s harp was the best I’ve heard yet. I’ve always wanted to see Taylor play the harp off the stage, and tonight that’s how he ended his performance. He continued to play as he walked across the stage, no wave, no good-bye, just walking and playing. As he descended steps behind a curtain, I later heard him say “Thank you, guys. See you later”. The band finished the song, and then the concert was over. When the lights came up, it was obvious the ending tonight had touched a lot of people – quite a few people around me were expressing the emotion with tears, including this ringmaster!

After the show we decided to walk around behind the gym to see where any vehicles carrying the band might have parked. We didn’t have to wait very long before security came out and told us to get behind a table set up next to a long white van. Out came Bill Will to put some things in the van – the band’s mode of transportation for the evening! We had found the “bus”! As we patiently waited for Taylor Hicks to come out, several people kept telling others waiting close to the doors to come behind the table too.

Finally security came back out and told everyone to get behind the table or Taylor wouldn’t come out. Those who didn’t believe us earlier were now believers and joined us behind the table. Only a few seconds later Bill came out followed by Taylor. With a jacket over a dark tee shirt, Taylor greeted us and signed whatever we had, chatted a bit with us, let us take pictures of him, and then he left. Actually, though, I left before he did. I had tried to take a few pictures but because it was so dark, all I could see on my screen was blackness with some blurring light. Since I wasn’t having much luck, I gave up and moved away so someone else could get where I was standing. Actually I pretty squashed up against the van next to the end of the table. I actually got a couple of pictures, but didn’t know it until I downloaded my pictures (more than I realized really).

After a bit of watching the table action and crowd, my little group of circus acrobats were all sharing a room at a hotel in Lancaster so we decided to go back to there rather than go somewhere for dinner. We’d meet in the bar and order pizza and maybe a couple of drinks before going to our room to get some sleep. We must have closed the bar down, and only a few mushrooms pieces and a lone slice of pizza remained from two large thin crust pizzas. We were tired but happy, and ready to retire for the evening.

The next morning we decided to go for breakfast before going our separate ways. Several of us were going to drive to Hershey and see what the town looked like, and maybe catch a quick candy-making tour. The drive over was relaxing, and seeing all of those beautiful farms and red barns was a nice diversion.

Once in Hershey, you knew you were there by the street lamps – huge Hershey kisses! We went to Hershey World and walked around the main exhibition hall and candy store. There was a conveyer belt that you could pretend you were a Hershey employee capturing kisses in a gear-shaped box. Reminded me of an old “I Love Lucy” show where Lucy and Ethel got a job in a candy factory, and as the conveyer belt was speeding up, both ladies were stuffing excess candy in their mouths because they couldn’t sort it or pack it fast enough! No, I’m not going to show you the picture they took of me, or anyone else in the group!

After a little more walking around and taking a riding tour of mini-production facility, it was time to get into our cars and head for our respective airports. I had an hour and a half drive back to Baltimore. Boy, that was hard! It was then that it hit me the magnitude of the entire week-end. We had just had our last homecoming event and graduated. Our diplomas were airline tickets home – home to wait for the next tour sometime next year.

So what happens next for the Traveling Circus, you might wonder. Well, there is a concert in Philadelphia, MS in a couple of weeks, and I’ll be there for the last known show of the season. Then I’m going to take the blog on different journey. I’m going to post some musings about other soul musicians, maybe something on the history of Stax Records (we’ve seen Taylor wear lots of tee shirts with the Stax logo), and perhaps some other musical ramblings. Stick around, check back often. You never know what you might find waiting here for you!

Pictures from Millersville, PA

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Traveling Circus Fairs Well at the Big E

I’ve found the biggest advantage to traveling alone is that I have no timetable to stick to while the biggest disadvantage, aside from being alone, is that I have no one to keep me on track! But this week-end, in addition to catching two Taylor Hicks concerts, was to be a time to just drive, think, ponder and see the scenery. And let me tell you, the scenery was beautiful!

As I drove from Bloomsburg, PA to Springfield, MA, the miles I covered were through some of the most beautiful mountain ranges I have ever had the privilege of traveling in and around. And I’ve been through a lot! The trees were just starting to change so there wasn’t a lot of fall color to be seen yet. Give it a week or two, and the mountains will be alive in all its brilliance and glory.

Speaking of glory, I couldn’t help but spend some time in prayerful communication with God (or whoever or whatever your higher power and creator may be). I don’t know what He used for His design plan, but when it came to the mountains, His imagination was peaked, no pun intended. From the tree covered ranges to the barren rock mounds, the entire scene left me feeling quite small and insignificant compared to the majesty of earth’s creation. The beauty was, well, beautiful. When you have a day with nothing planned, take a drive through the mountains or even around a lake and drink in the solitude. It leaves one with a sense of awe and peace.

And when I wasn’t in amazement with the mountains, there were the streams with the still waters and sand and rock bars in the center. These streams added to the beauty I was seeing as I drove along the interstate. Somewhere on I-84 on the New York side, there was a pull-off where you could stop and take pictures. Believe me, I stopped and just stared in amazement at what I could see.

So you can imagine what should take about four to five hours of driving time took more like six to seven for me! Between potty breaks and photo breaks, I finally made it to Springfield. And yes, I even managed to get a couple of pictures while I was driving, but it wasn’t too easy, but since I was stuck in traffic at the time, it helped make the time more enjoyable!

Because I took my time getting to Springfield, by the time I finally arrived it was 5:30 and I needed to get to the Big E so I could get to the Comcast Stage to get a reasonably decent seat. I checked into my hotel, freshened up and headed back out for the quick drive to the fairgrounds. Quick drive, about 5 minutes according to the front desk at the hotel. Right!

The quick drive of 5 minutes was more like an hour! Once I got close to the fairground, traffic was bumper to bumper and moving at a snail’s pace. Two cars maybe made the light before traffic stopped again. And then there was the rotary (like a circle with spokes leading off to other streets) that had three or four lanes of traffic trying to get around to the other side or the street leading to fair parking.

I opted for fair parking myself. Once I was able to get into the fair parking area, I paid my fee and drove down the strip to the parking areas. One road led to the back lot while the other led to handicapped parking. I tried the handicapped route to see what else might be closer. Good choice! I found parking about 100 feet from the entrance, not in the handicapped area either. It may have been the exhibiters’ parking lot. Anyway, I parked and headed into the fair.

With verbal directions I headed for the staging area. Once there, I was shocked to see how few people were already sitting down waiting for Taylor Hicks to perform! I found a seat and began chatting with a few others who were waiting for the concert. But I didn’t see any familiar faces which was strange. Needing a visit to the ladies’ room, I decided to try that first and then maybe I’d find more Soul Patrollers lurking about.

No merchandise table was visible, but I figured since the show was still over an hour away, there was no need to worry. I hiked through the exhibit hall behind the stage, watched the Royal Canadian Mounties and found the facilities. Once back at the seat, no more seats had been taken than when I left. Something was definitely wrong with the picture.

Finally I realized that the drum set on stage was some sort of pea green, nothing like what I’d seen Felix play in the past. The stage crew was working so I walked up to find out who was going to be playing. Some band I’d never heard of, so then I understood. I was at the wrong stage! I announced to the kind ladies who saved my seat while I went to the ladies’ room that this was not the right stage and headed off in the direction the stage hand told me. Ok, it was the Comcast stage I wanted – the BIG stage, not the LITTLE stage. Both stages said Comcast so you can hopefully understand the confusion!

Finally about fifteen minutes later I saw the right stage entrance. Oh my word! The area was huge! With seating for about 5,000 I wasn’t sure where I’d wind up! I started toward the chairs, but they were either taken or being held for late-comers or those off to take the last potty trip before the concert. No where was there a close seat for me!

I chatted with a couple of Soul Patrollers that I frequently see at shows, and had a couple of fans stop me that I’d met earlier in the summer. Since nothing in the chair area appeared available, I moved further back to the bleacher area. There off to the left of the stage I found a front row seat and took it. I wasn’t about to climb the bleachers and fall and break my neck. And I don’t do steps very well anyway.

With a planned cellcert for The Official Soul Patrol (TOSP) fan site, I made my phone call to make sure everything was set up and ready. I was lamenting where I had to sit, but it would be fine for what I was going to do. So what if I was too far back to get any pictures. I WAS going to be helping others listen to the show. A lady behind me quizzed me about the cellcert so I explained what I would be doing.

As I finished explaining the concept of a cellcert, someone I had spoken to earlier came running up to me and said she had an extra seat and to come join them. Not one to turn down such a wonderful offer, I left my bleacher seat and followed her. Thank you so much for thinking of me and coming to look for me! I hope you read this blog and will know just how grateful to you I am that you thought of me! If we meet up again, I owe you big time, and I hope I can return the favor for you. After all, that’s what Tay-ing It Forward is all about.

And what a great seat I was given! Fourth row, almost center of the stage! Mama was going to get some pictures with her big boy! Be sure to check out the PhotoBucket link for some great shots from the concert!

We sat and chatted while we waited for the concert to start. Behind the stage were the Midway rides including the usual Ferris wheels and some sort of ride that leaves you upside down on a circular roller coaster. It was fun to watch but not where you’d find me in this life time! No sir! I value my life, and my dinner, thank you very much! What went down was supposed to stay down!

Finally “Soul Finger” starts and the band takes the stage. They do their opening montage before Taylor Hicks takes the stage. Out comes Taylor at first walking in the dark off to the side and then he runs and leaps over a speaker and lands in a position reminiscent of a surf board rider. Hope Taylor has good insurance because he almost crashed landed. He had to catch his balance, but the grin on his face let us quickly know he was just fine! Like a cat that falls and ends up landing on his feet, Taylor had that look of “I planned it that way!”

With shouts of “Big E” and “how’s everyone this evening” amid a screaming myriad of fans, “Give Me Tonight” was the official opening song. Signature moves and clapping himself, the audience was up moving and grooving. Every where I looked people were standing and moving to the beat. Yes, old Rags, herself, was standing up! And tonight would have me sitting very little! That was a change even for this old bird!

“How’s everyone at the Big E! Soul Patrol!” Time for Taylor Hicks’ own original “Heart and Soul”. We are standing up and clapping to the beat. Taylor was looking great in a navy velour or corduroy jacket, white button down shirt and light blue jeans. Before tagging “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man” we were hearing more “Soul Patrol” shout outs! During the tag the band decided to play a trick on Taylor. The second time Taylor hit the imaginary ball, the band stopped, Taylor looked at Josh and then the band picked back up! Taylor’s expression was so funny!

Now keep in mind that I’m doing a cellcert for TOSP and attempting to take pictures. But how could I do both at the same time with only two hands, in spite of offers of help! For a while I try holding the phone and using the camera at the same time, but it wasn’t too comfortable. So what else could I do? Just to give you a visual of what I had to do to juggle my camera & cell phone. Picture a cat holding a mouse by its tail where the tail is in the cat's mouth and mouse is hanging down. Now I'm the cat and my cell phone is the mouse. You get the picture! Sorry, but there is no photo to prove the pose! Thank goodness!

Now I can watch, snap pictures and everyone can listen at the same time! What I note is that Taylor is smiling the entire time, stopping only to sing phrases that don’t lend themselves to smiling or to play the harmonica. It certainly wasn’t at the sight of me, contrary to what I might wish to think otherwise! Taylor was feeling the energy of the crowd and giving us everything he had and then some!

Lots of shout outs to the Big E and the Soul Patrol and acknowledgements of the individual band members. And lots of harp! Oh that sweet harp! Time for the first single off of his post-Idol “Taylor Hicks” album, “Just to Feel That Way”. And we were still up and going strong! We were certainly feeling the song and energy ourselves and giving it back to feed Taylor so he would have more energy to give us! What a trade we were doing!

One of my favorite covers, Traffic’s “Medicated Goo” was next. It’s hard to stand still, even for me, when Taylor tries to cure our ills with this number! And for those of us with crazy friends, even if our crazy friend is ourselves, “My Friend” is a jazzy little calypso number. It’s all about sharing that smile, and we sure were tonight! And so was Taylor – he was so happy that his face was glowing with joy! Or was that perspiration? Who cares – it was obvious the man was very happy and enjoying entertaining us!

Another favorite of mine is Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks”. Those young hearts beating free were what we were feeling and doing! When I surveyed the audience, the breakdown between male and female was fairly even, and all ages were well represented. There were even a few people standing behind that hadn’t seen Taylor Hicks since his American Idol days. And they were being Taylorized as the night wore on! WHOOO! Soul Patrol! Join us other crazy friends!

It’s always nice to hear Taylor Hicks do his own pre-Idol original music, so “The Deal” was a nice addition. I don’t remember if he played harp during it like he did at Newport News, but either way the song was great! “Gonna Move” followed and it had some different phrasing or way to handle the melody. I really liked the changes that I could hear!

With a Felix drum solo, “Soul Thing” led us into Jerry Reid’s, “Eastbound and Down” as Taylor shouted he was going to take us to church. Yes, we went alright, and it wasn’t even Sunday yet! Man, what Felix can do on a set of drums is pure magical! The bad thing about the Big E was this was Felix last night of the tour. We’re going to miss Felix, because no one plays the drums like him when it comes to “The Runaround”. No one!

Back to the album for “Heaven Knows” and “The Maze”. I think someone behind me shouted he wanted to be in the maze as well! Taylor tagged in some “Warm Love”, “Want Ads”, and the ever popular “Let’s Get It On”. Now you can only guess the audience response to that bit of tagging. And yes, Taylor was giving us lots of his booty dance, for lack of a better way to describe it! So much fun, so little time to enjoy and watch! Just a short bit, just enough to make us want a heck of a lot more!

With just a mike stand to hold on to, “The Right Place” tonight would be the Big E in West Springfield, MA. As Taylor begins the song, the audience sings along to Taylor’s amazement and he stops to laugh and then starts again. Yes, this was the right place alright. And the harp! Oh my! The chills just made the cool night cooler! The audience was still standing but much quieter as we savored the moment and song. Too bad it was never released as a single – I think it just might have been a winner. My opinion, that’s all I’m stating, my opinion.

Nearly an hour later the final song of the set, “The Runaround” starts with those drums giving full sound as only Felix can. Even Taylor does several of his spins and as he does his coat tail and shirt tail spins and rises to the point I’m sure we are about to see skin! But the shirt and jacket are a little too long and Taylor’s dignity is safe and protected.

Taylor thanks us for coming and the Big E for having him. We watch as he leaves the stage, shouting Taylor, Taylor, Taylor and knowing he will be back. We don’t have to wait long! He was closing the show with the Doobie Brothers, “Long Train Running”. Taylor wanted to know if we could hear the wail of the train whistle coming down the track. Yes, Taylor, we can!

“Without love where would you be now?” Without having heard Taylor Hicks what would we all be doing now? With that, Taylor said he’d see us later and bade us good night. When the song ended, Taylor asked us to applaud the band, gave us his famous ‘Ray Charles’ pose of head slung to the back and side and then he left the stage. When the band finished the song, the good-bye music started and the show was over.

Several of us turned around to see how the Taylor Hicks’ newbies were doing and they were definitely ready to see another show! Curiosity got the female as to why Taylor didn’t do “Do I Make You Proud”. A brief explanation followed and she was satisfied.

We made our way back to the merchandise stand to visit Stephen and then make our way out into the fair itself. I had a long walk back to my car so I started the hike out of the fair. Once in my car, getting out of the parking lot was not going to be so easy. Thirty minutes of no movement and I decided to cut across the parking lot. That proved a good move and soon I was on my way back to the hotel. Thank goodness Madge was with me – she got me back to the hotel safely.

Once back at the hotel, I thought I’d give the lounge a try for a late night snack. After waiting ten minutes or so without acknowledgement, other guests let me know I had to go to the bar for service. It was easier just to leave. I went by the front desk to get a delivery menu and returned to my room to place my order. Even though it was rather late, I was hungry. I went through my photographs as I waited. This was going to be a ‘nap’ night so it was fine.

As I reviewed my pictures I relived the concert and enjoyed it all over again. Too bad it had to end, because I had had a terrific week-end! But will it be enough to tide me over until Millersville in two weeks? We’ll just have to wait and see! Until then…..

Pictures from the Big E

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Traveling Circus Takes Blue Ribbon at Bloomsburg

To make sure I plenty of time to drive from Philadelphia to Bloomsburg, I flew into Philly on Thursday night. I could sleep in a bit, get up and then make the drive. I considered going by way of Hershey or driving into downtown Philly to see a few of the historic sights.

Downtown Philly won! And what a winning time I had! Narrow streets, impatient drivers, and lots of one way streets! But I made it, and was able to drive around the historic district for a bit before heading on for the fair in Bloomsburg. The historic district is really very nice, and if I had more time, I would have parked and taken a carriage ride. The architecture is absolutely beautiful! I must go back again just to see the historic area in more depth before too long.

The drive to Bloomsburg was beautiful. Breath-taking is probably more descriptive! The trees were just starting to take on the fall hues of reds, yellows, and oranges. Not a lot, but enough to make me happy! The mountain views were equally as enjoyable. Then there was the high mountain that I didn’t see how the highway was going to go around it, over it, or anything. Next thing I know I’m going down a slope and into a tunnel, right under and through the mountain.

As I continued my drive, I recognized areas I’d been to before! Jim Thorpe and Wilkes-Barre to name a couple of previous trips for Taylor Hicks concerts. Seemed a bit like coming home, the northeastern home, that is!

Once in Bloomsburg, I checked into my hotel and got settled in. It was getting cooler and rain clouds were in the sky. I’d driven in and out of rain the last fifty miles of the trip, but the rain was more like quick showers or sprinkles. Either way I was going prepared so I grabbed my “Taylor Hicks” sweatshirt just in case.

I checked with the registration desk to get directions to the fair. Taking the shortest route was my choice, good or bad. I had no idea just how big this fair would be. It was huge! The exit ramp near the fair also served as the parking entrance, which surprised me! I wound up parking almost near the main highway, which was quite a way back from the fair entrance. Thank goodness they had trams to take you to the entrance!

Finally inside the fair, I headed for the venue. I literally had to go through the entire fair to get there. Past all the wonderful smelling fair food – corn, French fries, bar-be-que, candied apples – everything you could imagine that would tantalize and satisfy the taste buds of even the most stubborn critic! But fair food and I don’t mix so I had to settle for the passing smells and sniffs of all the powerful aromas.

Since I was meeting up with several friends from the Pennsylvania area I wanted to get on over to the concert area. Another long walk and I was finally there. I found an entrance, gave them my ticket, met my friends and found my seat. Great seat, too! As we waited for the concert to start, I couldn’t help but notice the darkening clouds. Was that nightfall or rain clouds we were seeing? It turned out they were rain clouds because the rain would come just as Taylor Hicks was to take the stage and last about half way through his performance. But where I was sitting was under the stage canopy, so I was nice and dry!

Finally it was time for the show to start. Out came the band, the usual suspects: Al, Josh, Brian, Loren, and Felix. Felix had cut his hair short! I almost didn’t recognize him, but as he pounded those drums, I knew exactly who he was! The band was in good form and obviously rested after a couple of weeks since their last show in Newport News, VA. When the opening montage ended, Taylor Hicks came from behind the band and with a running leap, jumped over the first speaker and landed at the front of the stage in a “ta da” position – arms outstretched, legs apart and leaning forward! What an entrance! Good thing he didn’t fall!

“Gonna Move” was the opening number. With a medium blue jacket over a white knit shirt and jeans, Taylor Hicks was ready to take the blue ribbon for his performance. Moving about the stage in his usual manner with only the microphone in his hand, the other hand was free to direct the band. No guitar, tambourine or cowbell tonight.

“Give Me Tonight” followed. The section where I was sitting definitely wanted to stand and dance, but security had other ideas. They kept telling everyone to sit down! How can you sit and dance? Not that I mind sitting! The two or three young women in front of me decided to get even by shouting back at security and then proceeded to disturb the rest of us with their incessant chatter. Why couldn’t security tell them to be quiet!

The front row was busy dancing up a storm off to the side of the stage. Poor choice of words – they must have been doing a rain dance because pretty soon the sky opened and those not under shelter got wet! But since they weren’t blocking anyone’s view they were left alone. “Heart and Soul” was next. Taylor threw in some “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man” for good measure. The feel good song, “Just to Feel That Way” followed. The real crowd pleaser, though, was “Medicated Goo”. Now that’s a get up and dance kind of song!

Next was “Wherever I Lay My Hat”. Bloomsburg would be the place tonight to call home. And then the crazy friend song, “My Friend”. At the end, Taylor sang out ‘share that smile, you crazy people!’ And yes, the audience was full of crazy people – from those sitting in the rain to those dancing near the stage to the kids singing along with the music!

Through out his performance, Taylor Hicks was giving shout outs to Bloomsburg and the Soul Patrol. The crowd was a mixed bag of gender and ages. The front sections were pretty much full with one section of the grandstand fairly full. All I could see was a sea of people behind me. Plus the lady who kept screaming in my ear some weird cat call and that it was her birthday. So if you are reading this, hope you had a great birthday!

“The Deal” was pretty much the usual standard. Little, if any, harp tonight with this version. But we were getting harp, just not with each song. “Lowdown” followed. By the time “Soul Thing” with “Eastbound and Down” was over, we’d heard some great ‘chicken pickin’ as Taylor calls it. What I like about the chicken picking is the expressions Taylor makes as Josh strums and plucks those guitar strings! And the dueling sounds of harmonica and guitar that both musicians do so well!

“Heaven Knows” moved right into “The Maze”. Taylor did his usual butt strutting dance which always gets the audience up with applause and screams of thanks! Taylor tagged “Did You Get Healed” and “Moonshadow” into the Maze, which I think were new tags for the song. I really liked “Moonshadow” because by now the rain that had been coming down had stopped and I could see a few stars in the clearing skies.

To me, the blue ribbon performance of the night was “The Right Place”. Just Taylor gripping the microphone and moving in his ‘Ray Charles’ style with such intensity that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. This was a new and different way to perform the song. And it was quite moving to say the least. Between Taylor’s facial expressions and keeping a tight hold on the mike, the performance definitely left the crowd in awe of Taylor’s talent. Definitely, this song and performance earned Taylor Hicks a blue ribbon.

Time to ignore security and stand up and dance! “The Runaround” is definitely the song to do that with! “I’m All Right” and “Big Boss Man” completed the number. With a few waves, salutes to the band and ‘thanks for coming’, Taylor left the stage. But I knew he’d be right back for an encore!

And tonight’s encore was “Take the Long Way Home”. Felix started it off with a drum solo. Taylor Hicks comes out and searches through his harmonica case. Then the wail of the harmonica! We were going to be taken to church tonight! When Taylor performs this song, the harmonica reminds me of the whistle of a train as it rolls down the tracks and fades into the wind. Would Taylor exit the stage doing the same – playing the harmonica as he leaves us for the last time? The answer is yes, but only for a few bars. Then he waves good-bye and is gone until the next show.

With the show over, my group of friends met at the designated spot to walk back through the fair. A couple of the ladies wanted some home-made ice cream before they left. As we got close to the stand, I spotted Loren grabbing a bit of fair food. I’m sure these guys worked up quite an appetite after their performance! As the ladies were waiting their turn at the ice cream counter, we noticed Josh, Al and Felix in front of us. We chatted with them for a few minutes about the show, who would be at the next show and how fair food was so good. Then we left them to finish our walk to the entrance so we could get our cars and head home.

As we neared the entrance, we bade each other good-bye, knowing we’d be back together in two weeks. A couple of the friends were going to spend more time at the fair while a couple of friends had an hour or so drive back home. Me, I was headed back to my hotel to upload my pictures and write my recap. And hopefully get some sleep because I have a long drive to West Springfield in the morning for the Big E, another northeastern fair.

Pictures from the Bloomsburg Fair

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Some of My Favorite Pictures