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
Tags: Taylor Hicks, American Idol, Soul Patrol, RagsQueen, Traveling Circus