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

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Traveling Circus Believes Charity Begins at Home

The Traveling Circus spent the week-end in Birmingham participating in several charitable events promoting help for those whose lives were affected by the recent tornados. Charity should begin at home by helping our neighbors restore some sense of normalcy to their lives.

As I was driving into Birmingham Saturday afternoon, I was shocked at the devastation I witnessed. I had seen the Tuscaloosa pictures but I didn’t realize that the Birmingham area was also hit during those same storms. Roofs were covered with tarps, trees were ripped apart and littered the area, and one subdivision was completely gone with only foundations remaining. This was why I had come: to help bring relief to the area.

For the admission price of a few canned goods, I would have an almost front row seat to a free concert in Linn Park with music featuring Taylor Hicks and Ruben Studdard, my two favorite American Idol winners. It was hot Sunday afternoon, and the sun was bright as it looked over City Hall. Armed with two bags full of groceries to help restock the local food banks, my trusty scooter and I headed to find a spot in front of the stage. Billed as One2One, Neighbor Helping Neighbor, the community had the opportunity to come together as one to help those in need, even if they themselves were in need.

At 4:00, only the most astute Taylor fans had taken up residence on the front row; I parked on the second row. Within a few minutes, others began to arrive; Ruben Studdard’s grandmother unfolded her chair next to me. Slowly the crowd began to gather, and by the time the music started, the park was packed with people standing, sitting, or walking about.

Vendors lined the streets beside the park: Full Moon BBQ and Dream Cakes to name a couple that I remember. I was there for the music, not the food and besides, it was way too hot to eat. In between performances of a local flutist and a jazz group from the local School of Art, presentations were made to fire, police and city workers who were first responders to the citizens when the storms passed that fateful day. The people of Birmingham can be proud of these individuals who worked tirelessly to help the survivors even when faced with the loss of their own homes during the storms.

Taylor Hicks and his band were first up since several band members had other engagements later in the evening. Taylor performed such favorites as “Compared to What”, “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu”, “Battlefield”, “What’s Right is Right”, “Seven Mile Breakdown” plus whatever tags he could fit into his almost 45 minute show, such as “Birmingham”! The Soul Patrol cheered on their leader as those who hadn’t seen Taylor before were ready to jump on board with the Traveling Circus! Before finishing his set, Taylor even tried to show the Mayor a few of his dance moves!

Next was Ruben Studdard with his band. Not being familiar with his music, I can’t tell what he sang, but I can tell you, the crowd loved him! At the end of his set, Taylor joined him on stage to sing “Sweet Home Alabama”.

The donations of canned goods totaled close to 3 tons! The concert had been a success, and fans had had the opportunity to see their favorite Idol, be it Taylor, Ruben or both!

While the Traveling Circus was in town to participate in charitable goodwill, it also got the opportunity to hear other Birmingham musicians, such a Rolling in the Hay and Frankie Velvet, as well as sample the fare at Ore, Rogue Tavern and several local BBQ establishments. If you have the opportunity to hear Rick Carter and these bands, please take the time to do…you won’t be disappointed! Monday was a day of rest in preparation for the Tuesday night event for which the Traveling Circus had originally planned to attend.

Tuesday rolled around and we picked up our Bama Rising VIP tickets at the BCJJ will call window. We made plans to arrive later around 6:30 for the before show festivities. It was a good thing I had the scooter because the walk between the hotel and BJCC was quite a hike, especially the route we decided to take. With the heat, we tried to stay inside only to discover there was no way to get to our destination! We retraced our steps and made the trek across the street, down the ramp and across the courtyard.

Many local eateries had furnished food for the pre- and post-show receptions, with different groups serving each time. It was a great way to sample the wares of many fine establishments in the city and for these places to do their part in helping to raise funds to restore their city. Tonight, the evening was about Bama Rising from the storm ruins to once again be home to those residents who had suffered much from the devastating storms.

The lineup was a who’s who in country music, names that were not Alabama natives but who willingly donated their time to the fundraiser. Before the end of the night, over $2 million dollars would be raised!

From Fort Payne, AL, the band Alabama came back together to spearhead the event. Joining Alabama were Rodney Atkins, Dierks Bentley, Bo Bice, Blind Boys of Alabama, Luke Bryan, the Commodores, Sheryl Crow, Sara Evans, Taylor Hicks, Little Big Town, Martina McBride, Montgomery Gentry, David Nail, Jake Owen, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Darius Rucker, and Ashton Shepherd. With the exception of Alabama and Brad Paisley, each artist sang two songs chosen for the evening. Alabama and Paisley sang additional songs for the event.

Most artists brought their own bands although it seemed there was a house band for those who needed it. It was great to see Taylor’s band with him; it was such a great opportunity for all of those guys to perform together at an event like this! For over five and a half hours we were treated to exceptional performances. If you weren’t a country music fan, much of the evening may have been boring, but if you could open your mind and be there for the artistry and talent, it was an enjoyable evening! I came away a new Bo Bice and Brad Paisley fan!

From the Blind Boys of Alabama version of “Amazing Grace” to Alabama’s “My Home’s in Alabama” to Taylor Hicks’ “Nineteen” and “Seven Mile Breakdown” to the Commodores’ “Brick House”, the crowd watched and danced and cheered as their favorite artist performed. There were several standing ovations during the course of the evening, one of which went to Taylor Hicks for “Nineteen”.

For a night filled with country music stars, Taylor Hicks seemed as much at ease on the stage as he did at Linn Park on Sunday and as I’ve seen him in many other places around the country. He was in his element and seemed to be as well received by the attendees as any other artist there for Bama Rising!

It was a great evening for the City of Birmingham and its citizens. They can be proud of the event. Aside from a few members of the Traveling Circus, I heard there were guests in attendance from the Bahamas and a number of other states! Fans of these bands came together to help, and citizens of the area, even those affected directly by the storms filled the arena to capacity, anywhere from sitting on the main floor level to the filling the seats in the rafters. It was a wonderful crowd, and the Traveling Circus was happy to do its part!

Pictures from Linn Park, Sunday night

Pictures from Bama Rising, Tuesday night

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Monday, May 30, 2011

The Traveling Circus Whoops It Up In Manistee

Tucked up in western Michigan on the shore of Lake Michigan is the port city of Manistee. It’s a quaint little town with Victorian houses and shops including an iron sign pointing the way to main area of “downtown” where the storefronts reminded me of the small town where I grew up.

As I drove from Grand Rapids, I was amazed by the farms and landscape. Flat lands and mountain areas, spots that I had no idea it they airports or levees, and tree-lined highways through a national park kept the drive from being boring. In spite of the rain, it was a pleasant drive.

The Little River Casino, just outside of the main thoroughfare on US 31 was a rustic log resort that was built on immaculately groomed grounds. I dropped the car with the valet and headed inside to check in. It was gorgeous inside – very rustic yet modern. Once I got my key I headed for my room, rather suite! A sitting area with TV and fireplace, bedroom with fireplace, kitchenette with bar and two full bathes were mine for the price! I could get lost in there quite easily! Too bad it wasn’t winter and I wasn’t there just to sit back and relax with a good book. Maybe another time!

In spite of my love for food, the Sunday night special on the buffet was prime rib which I generally just pass right on by. But for the price of dinner, I decided I’d give it a try. Good choice – the rib was so tender a regular knife could cut it! Add a side of mashed potatoes and green beans, the buffet was\the perfect way to get ready for the concert!

Once through dinner, we made our way to the concert hall. Behind the doors that stood guard were rows and rows of seats ready for the patrons to fill. Reports have it that there were few empty seats. I can’t attest myself because I was closer down front, and frankly, it didn’t occur to me to check out what was behind me!

Soon the house lights dimmed and the announcer let us know it was time for Taylor Hicks to take the stage. I wondered what all the newbies were thinking – I’d met quite a few before the show and they were all so excited to be seeing Taylor for the first time! That always excites me, and when I see them in the autograph line after the show, with new merchandise purchases, I know right then and there that Taylor has won them over!

Taylor opened the show with “Rockin’ Pneumonia & the Boogie Woogie Flu”. The crowd quickly got into the mood with shouts of “woo” and “ooohh” and heavy applause. With a substitute drummer and bass player (Sam & Brian were there), you’d never know there was band change. These guys were tight and playing with everything they had!

With a mix of music from his different records, we heard “The Deal”, “Battlefield” and “Gonna Move”. Several covers on the 2011 Tour That Never Ends like “Back to Louisiana” gave rise to more enthusiasm from the audience. Reaching back to his American Idol days, “Living for the City” received great response. One of my favorites, “What’s Right is Right”, was performed with Taylor’s usual passion. “Nineteen” ended with Brian playing “Dixie” on the organ and keyboard, but not at the same time. It gave a different feel than when Jeff plays the flute, but it was riveting just the same. The crowd loved it gave Taylor a well-deserved standing ovation!

Taylor Hicks again brought the crowd to its collective feet as he rocked the house with his final song of the set, ”Seven Mile Breakdown” with tags from “Valley Road” The encore, “Taking it to the Streets” again got the audience to its feet clapping and cheering!
There was a lot of harp tonight, including getting down on his knees at one point! I hadn't seen Taylor do that in a long time!

After the show, the line at the merchandise table wound around the lobby and back to the theatre doors. Security was strict, if you purchased merchandise, you could greet Taylor. I bought the poster for a change, and waited my turn. As I waited I saw the couple I had sat next to waiting to meet Taylor. All I wanted to do was to tell Taylor how much I had enjoyed the show and to thank him for delivering another great show. Taylor was more concerned with my flight there! Such a sweetheart, really.

A group of us went for a late night dinner and dessert at the nearby bar. From there, we saw Taylor with a group of friends head into the casino area. We chatted about the show and decided this show really was different. While we were disappointed that the regular band members weren’t there, we realized that Taylor’s voice was more the focal point. With the great acoustics, his voice was clear and powerful. I don’t know who the sound guy was, but he did a great job of making sure that Taylor’s voice would be heard over all the instruments!

This was a show I almost didn’t go to, and had I missed it, I would have missed a great performance! No matter the circumstances or changes, Taylor Hicks always gives more than 100% and that makes him the best American Idol in my book!

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Traveling Circus Celebrates Mother's Day with Taylor Hicks and Lobster

The words to that familiar song…”if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with…” would be the theme for Mother’s Day me. I knew my daughter would want to spend the day with her family, so I boarded a jet plane and gave myself the treat of a week-end in Maine! I’d never been there before, but my father swore the lobster up there was worth eating three times a day. He was right!

Arriving Friday night, I had plenty of time to get my fill of lobster and sightseeing. Saturday was spent driving around the Ogunquit area, a quaint town near the ocean. Homes ranged from the typical New England abode with the weathered shingles to more modern residences of brick and wood. Depending on the route, the road might be winding and narrow, with peaks and valleys, and just a marvel to view. The ocean waves were lapping the shore and the rock ledges that dotted the coastline in many areas. It made me wonder how the ships from England were actually able to make port and dock during the colonization of our country.

The resort where I was staying recommended Billy’s Chowder House for lunch, so off I went in search of sustenance as my late night snack dinner had long worn off. The restaurant was situated near the inlets outside of town. I fancy myself a connoisseur of clam chowder, so a bowl was the first thing I ordered. It was a thin creamy broth with enough butter to make a moist pound cake that reminded me of the oyster stew my mother used to make. The clams were whole and not the type I was familiar with. The chowder did have the potatoes and clam chunks I was used to. I loaded up the bowl with oyster crackers and additional pepper and I was all set! It was heavenly to say the least!

Now in ordering my soup, I really had to decide if it would be the lobster stew or clam chowder. One bowl of soup wasn’t enough, so for dessert I ordered a bowl of the lobster stew. The broth was the same as the clam chowder only now I had lobster meat! I’m not particularly fond of lobster claws, but the meat in the stew was tender and cooked to perfection! There were smaller chucks of tail meat as well. The lobster took up most of the bowl so the oyster crackers had to go in slowly! So good that just writing about it makes me want to head back to Maine for another bowl!

The rich soups made me sleepy and if I wanted lobster for dinner, I’d have to be well-rested to tackle the crustacean. A couple of miles from the resort was the Ogunquit Lobster Pound, a wooden cabin looking place nestled in a thick grove of pine trees. The lobster tank greeted the patrons so you pick out dinner before you even walked through the front door! I opted to see what else was on the menu before deciding how to have my lobster served. Coward that I was, I played it safe with two stuffed lobster tails with the usual sides. Turned out to be a great choice! But the raspberry cobble, recommended by the guest at the next table, was supreme! The cobble was juicy, sweet and juicy, and I would have gladly settled for a glass of the warm liquid!

Sunday finally rolled around and a drive to Kennebunkport was the destination. I stopped at an omelet shop before leaving town. Yum! It was thick with veggies and shrimp (no lobster available) and very satisfying. It was a small place, owner-run, with just a few tables. After a satisfying breakfast, I hit the trails for the next historic village. The welcome sign said the village was established in 1640 and it looked like some of the original structures might still be there. It was quaint and clean, lots of tourists walked about taking pictures. I drove to the ocean parking lot and sat for a bit watching the waves crash around the beach and a father help his daughter climb down the rocks between the parking lot and sand.

As I drove back to the resort to take another quick nap before meeting friends at Jonathan’s for dinner, I reflected on what the New World settlers thought as they landed along the Maine coast over three hundred years ago. There was a serene tranquility about the towns and villages, the buildings with the expected coastal appearance, the boats docked along the waterways, and the waves as they ebbed and flowed to the shore. I considered the area as a retirement option and a nice place to visit with my grandchildren. Hard winters are not my bag, but I do love snow and a blazing fireplace, so maybe I’ll have to check it out again during the winter months.

The New England Soul Patrol, one of the many fan groups that has followed Taylor Hicks’ career was there running a drive to help raise awareness of the needs of Safe Haven Humane Society, a no-kill cat shelter. Being the cat lover that I am, I made my donation to help further their cause. Besides cash, the group received food, litter and toys for the feline residents at the shelter.

Jonathan’s was having a special Mother’s Day dinner, two whole Maine lobsters. We all ordered the special so when the lobsters appeared we weren’t sure where to put everything! They were decadent – moist and perfectly cooked. First went the claws, the goal being to get the claw meat out in a single piece. Forget it; I was just happy to get the meat out! The tail was a whole different experience! It was lift, pull, break, bend, snap and voila, the tail was separated from the body. A dinner at the next table had to help us get the tails opened, but once the meat was exposed, the rest was easy!

We finished dinner in time to go to the room upstairs for Taylor Hick’s concert. Dessert or a glass of wine was part of our dinner package. I opted for a lemon tart. The tables were close together, and I was seated at the table right in front of Jeff Lopez. That would prove beneficial before the evening ended.

The guys came out, dressed in black, with Jeff and David wearing ties. Jeff Lopez on horns (sax and flute), David Keith on percussion, Leif Bondarenko on drums, Brian Less on the keys, Sam Gunderson on guitars, and Brandon Peeples on the bass started the warm up intro as Taylor made his way to the stage amid applause and excited shouts from the sellout crowd! There wasn’t a lot of room to move about the stage, but what room there was, Taylor made the most of it!

Cowbell and drumstick in hand, Taylor Hicks opened the show with “Compared to What”, a song guaranteed to make you want to stand up and dance, or at least dance in your seat. Other songs for the evening included “Soul Thing”, “Just to Feel That Way”, “The Maze”, and “The Deal”. I was nice to hear the older songs again since Taylor hadn’t performed them in quite a while.

“Maybe You Should” brought out a wishful pose that the song would soon be recorded by someone out of Nashville. “What’s Right is Right” and “Battlefield” kept the audience at full attention with lots of applause and cheering. “Nineteen” garnered a standing ovation by the audience, both young, mid-thirties, and old. No show is complete without “Seven Mile Breakdown”. As the song ended, Brian shouted to the band to remain and “Stay with Me”. That was the encore song. Instead of leaving the stage and coming back, they rolled right into the encore. Perhaps because of the close tables it was decided not to risk life and limb going back through the narrow pathway from whence they had come in the beginning.

Taylor was animated throughout the evening, chatting with the audience and teasing about his “Grease” tour run. Said he sang “Beauty School Dropout” about 585 times, and the next time he sang it, if there was a next time, might be for his kids. Then he sang the opening bars! For me, this was the highlight of the show!

When the show ended, Taylor Hicks headed straight for the merchandise table to sign and take pictures with those wanting such souvenirs. It looked like everyone in attendance was in the line which snaked from the table at the back of the room to the stage Taylor had just left.

It was a great show, the last of a very busy week for Taylor. In spite of any tiredness, Taylor gave everything he had to make sure everyone got the show experience they came for. I don’t think anyone left disappointed. At least I didn’t!

Additional Pictures from Jonathan's

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Some of My Favorite Pictures