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

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 façade 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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Anonymous said...

Great recap--you got everything--I was there and relived it while I was reading. It was a great night and a wonderful performance. "The Right Place" and "Take the Long Way Home" were my favorites--oh, hell, who am I kidding? Everything was great! Thx!

Anonymous said...

Great job Rags. While I'll miss reading about the Traveling Circus, I can't wait to see what you write about next. Good luck with your next adventure.

B :)

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