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