“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.” ~Maya Angelou
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” ~John Lennon
It has now been just over a year that I was randomly introduced to the music of Chris Stapleton, (http://www.chrisstapleton.com) a rising star in the Nashville scene. Though, he’s been well known in these parts for many years, I had never heard of him. But, since I had just started my job at the Ryman Auditorium (https://ryman.com) in Music City (in Sept. 2015,) I found myself listening to the music of upcoming performers, so I could
become familiar with them before I worked their show (and duck inside the auditorium to watch a song or two!) Working at such an historic venue that is on the smaller size (seats 2400 people,) and having a lifelong love of music, I didn’t take my job lightly. I was working in the place that, for 31 years (1943-1974) was the home of the infamous Grand Ol’ Opry; the stage that once held Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Minnie Pearl, and so many more! And, though I wish I had been there to experience that history, I recently realized that I am experiencing history by being amongst these hallowed walls, watching new up-and-comers, as well as old classics, perform in the Ryman Auditorium! This building, in itself, is history to the past, present AND the future! And, I’m here witnessing it all…live!!
Because of my lifelong love of music, and because I now live in Music City and work for a concert venue (or two,) I like to familiarize myself with upcoming performers by listening to their music before their show. I was going to be working two upcoming shows by some guy named Chris Stapleton, so I spent a few days in advance listening to his stuff. I liked what I heard – he had a low, resonating voice, his songs were melodic and catchy, and his lyrics were deep and meaningful. So, I was looking forward to popping my head in the auditorium for a listen when I had a chance. To my surprise, and something I wasn’t expecting, was that his music would shoot straight to my bones, and I would be absolutely awed by his voice. Firstly, the acoustics in the Ryman are second only to the Mormon Tabernacle Church, and secondly, the power in this man’s voice is God-given and rare. I felt I discovered something special. I walked out of the auditorium and announced to my co-workers, “I am a new fan!” and told them to get their butts in there to take a listen! His two shows at the Ryman were such a success that they immediately booked him for three shows for the following March. What no one could predict was what was going to take place just six weeks later during the CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville! And, I was there to witness that, as well!
On November 4, 2015, this same guy was up for a bunch of awards at the CMA Awards. And, who happened to be working that show? Me! And, by some crazy act by God, the Universe, the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, I got assigned to ‘guard’ the myriad of machinery that it takes to put on such a show. Boring, you say? That’s what the supervisor who placed me there, said apologetically. But, for this music nerd, it was Heaven on Earth! I was behind the stage, one level up, with a fantastic view of the behind-the-scenes action! I saw the entire show from behind, and it was fascinating! I watched Hosts Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley behind the scenes, saw which performer was coming on next, and could see exactly how quickly and precisely each band’s set was moved in and out before and after their performance! It was amazing! For a live show, it went off without a hitch! And, because I was situated behind the stage, I could look out into the audience and see all the famous country stars in the audience watching the show! I had to pinch myself to believe I was really doing this! I was there when Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean, Kacey Musgraves, Keith Urban, etc, etc, performed live. But, the highlight of the night was the ass-kicking performance by….Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake!! Whaaat?!?! That’s a strange combination! But, apparently not so much. Both are southern boys (Kentucky and Tennessee) on the music circuit, so their paths have crossed numerous times over the last 3-4 years. I’m not sure whose idea it was to pair them up for the CMA performance, but it was brilliant! It absolutely stunned the crowd and, along with the fact that, later that night, Chris would win three awards – Male Vocalist of the Year, New Artist of the year, and Album of the Year – it was an evening that would go down in music history! (see the performance here: Chris and Justin) And, I was there!! You could’ve knocked me over with a feather, as I felt like I was floating in Music Heaven after that night! Then, having experienced the entire show from behind, I watched it on TV the next night, at home, to see it from everyone else’s perspective. And….wow, so much went on that I couldn’t see when I was there, but the cooler stuff (in my opinion) was seen from my little perch in the background. Oh, what a night!! What an historical night that I will never forget!!
Message: Appreciate the here and now! We can get so busy, with life and in our heads, that we miss the meaningful moments. I had been so dreamy and wishful that I had lived to experience the classic performers of the Ryman past, that I almost forgot to realize that I was actually doing it in the present! And, that some day I will be telling great stories of performers I am seeing now, and who will be in the history books later!! It’s happened before, as I’ve had younger music lovers touch me after I told them I spent a lot of time at concerts at San Francisco’s historic Winterland, back in the day! They were so impressed and envious that I got to ‘live rock and roll history!’ And now, I’m doing it again (actually, we all are!) in Nashville, Music City, USA!! So, slow down and enjoy the present, because you can never get it back again. Many times we look back on things and wish we appreciated it more at the time. Well, now is the time! Appreciate and enjoy every minute of it! It won’t last forever!
BOTTLE ROCK NAPA (http://www.bottlerocknapavalley.com)
Just returning from my second year at Bottle Rock in Napa, I thought I’d share what this festival has to offer from my perspective. But, if you want to read complaints and negativity about the event, you won’t see them here…cuz I tend to prefer things with a positive spin. Taking place at the Napa Fairgrounds in Northern California’s gorgeous wine country, this event is awesome, to say the least…but, it comes with some challenges. The lineup was phenomenal considering that this festival is all of two years old! The frustrating issue with festivals is that there are more than one stage, and the bands tend to overlap. So, you run into the problem of having two great bands (sometimes more)
performing at the same time and having to make the decision of which ones to see. It can be a tough challenge deciding whether to watch one band and miss the other, or to catch a little bit of each band, missing a portion of both shows (and usually some of their best songs.)
My two experiences (2013 & 2014) were very different from each other, but both kicked ass. But, unfortunately, due to my busy schedule, I was only able to spend one day out of three at this festival each year. Oh well, as far as I’m concerned, it’s better than not going at all.
In it’s debut year, my friends and I chose to plant ourselves at the main stage and stay there for the majority of the time. This was, according to us, the best choice, because three great bands were performing here, one right after the other. First was Michael Franti and Spearhead, who was followed by Train, and the grand finale was the Zac Brown Band. And, though the other stages featured bands we wanted to see, we felt that it was better to watch three bands in their entirety, than to catch partial shows at different stages, spending valuable listening time walking from one stage to another. This year, however, we did the opposite by mapping out our schedule and trekking from one stage (and one band) to another.
Bottle Rock 2013 was very warm, with temperatures feeling in the high 80s/low 90s. The fairground was dirt-filled and dusty, mingling with sweaty bodies, it was grimy. But, having spent what seems like a lifetime at concerts (I’m from the Day on the Green generation,) as well as experiencing festivals of many varieties (New Orleans Jazz Fest, South By Southwest, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, etc,) you know that anything can happen here, so you’d better be adaptable! It can be a scorcher, it can rain, it can be cold, it can be dirty, it can be crowded, it can be irritating, but if you truly love music, it is an experience, and usually a good one, if you ask me! As I mentioned earlier, we decided to stay put at one stage (there were four)…the Main Stage. First on was Michael Franti & Spearhead…but, I’m not going to critique or review their show here, as I’m no professional…and, that’s not what I really do on this blog. I will, however, mention that this was my first time seeing these guys and I really enjoyed them. With his hair wrapped up in a beanie, and strumming a beautiful acoustic guitar with a wooden inlaid design reminiscent of a Peter Max poster, Franti and the band hit the stage. They were high energy, with Michael commanding the stage (and the audience’s attention) from one far end to the other. At one point, he came out into the crowd to entertain us, up close and personal. Before long, the beanie was gone and his long dreadlocks hung freely in the warm breeze. I was impressed by the sharing of his personal path with the crowd, mentioning that he had been adopted by a family in Oakland, California and was so grateful for his life. He makes sure to pay it forward and is involved in a number of foundations, organizations, fundraising events, and raising awareness for those in need. Towards the end of their show, the band invited a whole bunch of kids onstage to join them for a song or two. Michael Franti embraces mankind and seems really in touch with who he is (an adopted child with French, German, Irish, Native American and African American) and where he came from (Oakland, CA.) Whereas, I really liked the music, which is a complimentary blend of reggae, hip-hop, funk and rock, I was more impressed with the man. Any way you look at it, though, it was a show worth watching…and a band worth seeing again! Check them out here: https://www.michaelfranti.com
***Little did I realize, a few months back when I wrote about my friend, Barb winning a trip to New York to see the Rolling Stones (http://www.rollingstones.com,) that it would be a precursor to ‘the best night of my life!’ At that time (Nov-Dec. ’12,) we diehard Stones fans were chomping at the bit, wondering when/if/where our beloved band was ever going to tour again. We figured it had to be soon, if ever, since it was their 50th anniversary together as a band…and a unique time in rock & roll history! Monumentous! Exciting!
As much as I hate to admit it, I can’t recall where I was when I heard they were actually going to do it – the Stones would be touring! I’m sure I mustn’t have been driving in my car, or I surely would’ve crashed! I know it wasn’t from someone else, because I am always the first of my friends to hear about important musical news like this. I’m thinking it must’ve been on the internet, Facebook, or somewhere where I could’ve seen it “hot off the press.” Being a lifelong concert goer, and Stones fan, I’m signed up for all sorts of music news, so I undoubtedly received some email notification that announced the tour. And, I was ECSTATIC! I immediately contacted my three kids and told them to clear their calendars on the night the Stones were coming to our town! It had been a wish of mine to take them to see the greatest rock band in the world, if they ever toured again. And now, that time had come!
Ticket sales were only about a month after the big announcement, so things happened fast. By the grace of god, all four of us were available on Sunday, May 5, 2013 to see the boys in Oakland, California! But, buying tickets was another story. I feared being seated in the boondocks and barely being able to see the stage. Being one of their oldest and most devoted fans, I felt I should have a seat in the front row with my name engraved on it. But phooey, I didn’t. So, it was going to be a mad frenzy online, along with thousands of other nutty fans, jumping into the lottery fan pool. Ugh… But, lo and behold (and by the grace of something!) my daughter informed me that, because she was a Citibank cardholder, (https://online.citibank.com/US/Welcome.c) she had access to presale tickets! Praise the Gods of Rock & Roll!! We’d get first crack at them!
The morning of the sale, “Dot” (daughter) and I were on the phone in front of our computers – me at home, her at work. She had four co-workers ready to go when the clock struck 10:00am, and the first to get in would grab four tickets. Studying the seat map of the arena, we discussed sections and prices, all the while I was researching anything and everything I could about the upcoming show. At the last minute, I miraculously came across a posting somewhere by a British fan who had seen the Stones in England. He clearly wrote, “pay the extra money and buy tickets in the Tongue Pit – it’s the only place to be!” I suddenly became possessed by the Concert Devil, and told Dot to
“go for it! Buy in the Tongue Pit!” I didn’t care about the price – I was going for the big time! This was the single most historic event for this concert lover, and it was never going to happen again! So, that’s exactly what we did. Dot got into site first and by 10:03 we had four tickets in the tongue pit to see the ROLLING STONES!! My joke is that “I spent my next 42 paychecks” on tickets…but I didn’t regret it for a second! We were seeing the Stones!!!
The first time I saw the Rolling Stones was as a teenager in 1974 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco; and then again in 1977 at a ‘Day on the Green’ in Oakland; then again, and again, etc, etc. If a little birdie whispered in my ear back then that in 2013 I would be going to see them with my three grown kids, I would’ve bet my right arm, left leg, a trillion bucks, and all my future children on the impossibility of that ever happening. Glad I never made that bet, because I would’ve lost big time!!
To prepare the kids (all in their 20s, so not really ‘kids’ at all,) I researched the playlists from the “50 & Counting” concerts that took place last December, took an educated guess that they’d be the same or similar, and burned them each a copy. It ended up to be a wise decision, because that’s exactly what happened (give or take a song or three…) and they were all very familiar with the songs that night, singing along, jumping around, and basically enthralled like their mother!
MAY 5, 2013: THE ROLLING STONES IN CONCERT AT ORACLE ARENA IN OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA!! Decked out in Stones wear, we were off to the arena via BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit,) having to arrive between 5:00-6:00pm in order to get wristbands, VIP goodie bags*, and early entrance on to the floor. We went from one line to another to another, and after about an hour of this, were finally let loose inside the arena and down to the floor. I had informed the kids exactly where we would be standing “Follow me!” – a little to the right of center and as close to Keith Richards as humanly possible. And, that’s exactly what we did! It ends up that the only people between us and the stage were the camera man and the security dude. Excellent! Next, it was more waiting, talking to people around us, drinking beers, getting some food, killing time-all while the rest of the huge crowd of fans entered the arena. As showtime approached, the buzz in the tongue pit increased. The place was becoming electified…and we were excited. Then, the lights went dark…and, because I had heard that in previous concerts there was a drumline that started the show, I was expecting it tonight. But no! The stage lights lit up, a voice announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen…the Rolling Stones!” and there they were, larger than life, right in front of us – MICK, KEITH, RONNIE, CHARLIE & the rest of the band! They were so close (well, Mick and Keith were) that I could see their eyes, their wrinkles, their teeth!! Unreal! One of the first things that happened (that I’m sure no one else in the entire place noticed) was, after their first song (“Get Off of My Cloud”) Keith walked over to Ronnie Wood and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. They smiled at each other, like brothers and best friends, and went right into the next song. I was so excited I was jumping up and down like a little girl, a Rolling Stones cheerleader! Throughout the night, Keith and Ronnie both saw me (I’m sure
Mick did, too) and acknowledged me with smiles, a wave, and I swear Keith did a solo for me (I know, it sounds crazy, but…) because he was right in front of me, we locked eyes, then he looked down at his guitar during his little solo, and then looked back up at me and mouthed something!! Of course, I couldn’t hear it or read his lips, but he smiled at me and I gave him two thumbs up! What a thrill!! And, many times during the show, he walked to the edge of the stage, right over to us, and tossed out a guitar pick each time. My youngest kid caught the first one and handed it right over to me. Atta girl! The woman next to her offered her $1000.00 for it! “You’ll have to ask my mom,” was her response. The woman asked me, but of course I refused. “I’m sorry, but I could never part with this” I told her. The next one he flung bounced onto the floor near my eldest child (Dot,) who reached down and grabbed it, as did the guy standing next to her. They got into a little tug-o-war and my kid won. But, knowing we already had one, and seeing the disappointment on the man’s face, she said, “You really want this, don’t you?” “I really do!” he told her, so she gave it to him. Atta girl… Pick #3 was thrown during the very last song, (“Satisfaction”) bounced off some hands and fell to the floor. A few people scrambled around looking, but couldn’t find it. It stayed there until after the show, when the woman who offered us money for our first pick, her friend, me and my youngest all were looking through the litter, spilled beer, and other trash for the pick that we all knew was there. And, sure enough, the young one (my kid, again) with the good eyesight found it – her second KR pick of the night!! But, being the kind kid that she is, she handed it over to the woman who so desperately wanted it. The woman gave her a huge hug, got all choked up, and her friend said, “She’s going to love you forever for that!!”
All in all, it was a wonderful night! Seeing the Stones up close and personal, getting looks, smiles, picks from them, etc. was more than I could’ve ever wanted! Being there with my kids, who loved the show as much as I did, was priceless!! When it was over, they all came up to me and thanked me for the “best night ever”, “the best concert” they had ever seen! We were walking on clouds! The Stones put on a fantastic show, beyond all expectations, and we were flying high!
During each of their shows on this “50 & Counting” tour, the guys invited a special guest to join them onstage for a
song. Besides Mick Taylor, who was the special guest on the whole tour, some of the others were Taj Mahal, Aaron Neville, Gwen Stefani, John Mayer, Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, Katy Perry, Keith Urban, Bonnie Raitt, Gary Clark, Jr., etc. Our night featured Tom Waits singing “Little Red Rooster.” Of course, every night also featured Lisa Fischer* on vocals for “Gimme Shelter,” and man, did she belt it out!! Oh, we also had the San Jose State choir join the boys for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” The whole show was amazing, surreal, unreal, and historic!! In the following days I was both riding high with exhiliaration, and so sad that it was over. To think that, after a lifetime of The Stones, this might be it…fini…the end of an era. But, even if it was, it stands out as one of the best nights of my life…and, I could’ve repeated it over and over a hundred more times! The Rolling Stones, on stage after fifty years together!! I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!!
**In our goodie bags (canvas bags with the Stones logo) were a nice wool blanket with the Rolling Stones “50 Years & Counting” logo in black, red and white; a very nice hard back book called “50 & Counting…The Rolling Stones Live,” and a lanyard with a laminated “50 & Counting” logo.
***Lisa Fischer is featured in the movie “20 Feet From Stardom” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWyUJcA8Zfo) and has been touring with the Rolling Stones since 1989.
When Jake Owen hit the stage, I started wondering how all these talented young country singers could be so darned good looking, too! I’m almost convinced that the pre-requisite these days involves rockin’ bods and hot looks, as well as musical and vocal talent…not to mention great songwriting and performance ability! It’s almost as if these guys (and gals) were dropped down from Country Music Heaven to appeal to all the audiences’ senses.
Not that I could really see, but I hear that Jake was barefoot, which is appropriate, considering his big hit, “Barefoot Bluejean Night.” He immediately engaged the audience in a sing along, arms waving back and forth in the air in unison, chanting “Whoa-0-0-0h!” throughout the entire stadium. What a sight to see! Jake really engaged the crowd, and jumped in and joined the front few rows by forging out onto the security barrier and getting up close and personal with them. He shook hands, slapped fives, and sang amongst his fans. He also did a little crowd surfing, no doubt getting caught up in the frenetic passion of the night. The crowd was already bursting with enthusiastic country music love, but it was Jake who electrified the energy to a higher level. Go Jake!!
Slowing things down, a fairly unknown newcomer, Gwen Sebastian sang to us from the acoustic stage at center field. Between songs, she mentioned that she had been on “Team Blake” on the reality show, “The Voice.” She added how thankful she was to Blake Shelton and the show for all they have done for her, her singing career, and for Country Music, in general. She later returned to the main stage to join Blake and his band as a backup singer. Good going, Gwen!
Next up was The Band Perry– two brothers and their sister, who were 2011’s CMA New Artist of the Year winners. They started with, not their own song, but the new hit by Fun, “We Are Young,” then went into Queen’s “Fat-Bottomed Girls.” An interesting start to a country music set, but it worked. These attractive siblings expressed their appreciation to their fans when sister Kimberly shared that “You may not know this, but you’ve changed the lives of my brothers and me!” She then invited the crowd to “sing it if you know it” while they performed their hit songs, “All Your Life” and “If I Die Young.” Watching this trio, I couldn’t help but think how proud their parents must be. What it would be like to have such talented and successful children? As unimaginable it is to me (tho, I love my kids, who are successful in their own individual ways) I decided that, in my next life, not only will my kids be like the Perrys, but I will be the next Miranda Lambert, hot, gorgeous and talented!! *sheepish grin*
**I’ve always envied those artists, writers, poets of the past who followed their passion by living in foreign countries to focus on their art. Van Gogh, Capote, Hemingway and many others didn’t let reality stifle their dreams – they simply went for it. Sometimes I would visualize myself in a villa in the south of France writing a book, or painting while overlooking the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Then I would snap out of it and think to myself: In your next life, baby!
Then, it suddenly dawned on me, that where I am at in my life right now, I could possibly consider doing something similar, in a simplified, lower-class version. For years I’ve dreamed about traveling to festivals that I’ve heard about through the musical grapevine. (I’ll never get over the fact that I missed Woodstock, even though I was too young and too far away to accomplish that feat.) Austin City Limits, The New Orleans Jazz Fest, South By Southwest, the Blues Cruise, etc, were all nice sounding events that seemed out of reach to me. However, because of a series of fortunate (and some not so fortunate) events, these far off thoughts barged themselves into the forefront of my mind. Maybe I could do it!!
I’ve always known that life is precarious and can be over in an instant (my mother left this world WAY too young at 43) and that you can spend your life taking care of others and not yourself (first, the kids, then, ailing parents.) So, I decided that 2012 (and probably beyond) will be devoted to checking out whatever festivals I can manage into my time and budget. I have a window of opportunity, and only the shadow knows how long it will last. So, I’ve got to seize the moment (and share it with others who might not be able to go on such adventures, for one reason or another.)
So, here I sit in my hotel room in the French Quarter of New Orleans, ready to bounce to the Jazz Fest today. (http://www.nojazzfest.com/) I arrived last night and, of course, ventured over to Bourbon Street, popping into Le Bayou Restaurant (http://www.lebayourestaurant.com/) for some spicy Cajun shrimp and a lovely Voodoo Juice cocktail. The streets were bustling, as always in this town, but my guess is the ‘best’ is yet to come! Beginning today, I’m sure the masses will flood into NOLA and overpopulate the French Quarter and the Fair Grounds Race Course, where the party begins! Tonight’s featured bands are The Beach Boys (50th Anniversary Tour,) Bon Iver, Buckwheat Zydeco, to name a few. The music starts just after 11:00 am and plays all day and into the earlier evening hours, probably so that everyone can boogie over to Bourbon St. and continue the partying and patronizing.
Let the adventure begin…
*** In my experience here, I have observed the massive use of technology. The halls of the convention center were loaded with people tapping a mile a minute on their cell phones, iPads, and laptops. Gladly, the art of conversation is also still alive and well, but so much information comes through via the internet that people were constantly searching what the latest updates were. There are so many last minute changes and announcements at SXSW that the written programs and schedules are practically obsolete by the time the event starts. So, everyone is connected to Twitter, Tumblr, texting and phone calling, and truly get news hot off the press. There was so much information flying around, it made my head spin. Believe me, I was plenty busy with my own full schedule, but never failed to find out the next day how many things went on during any given day or night that I missed while I was out doing something else awesome! It was mind-boggling at first, but when you let go and realize that you can’t be two places at once, you begin to accept it! I came up with a little quip to explain each day at SXSW: “I did a million things yesterday, but I didn’t do two million!”
We’re getting to that place where websites are almost already obsolete. In a fast paced place like SXSW, things happen faster than lightning and you can’t possibly keep up, not to mention appear at everything. You never know who is going to fly into Austin unexpectedly and decide to perform. I think this is what 50 Cent and Eminem did, to name a few. I only found out through the shuttle driver who was bummed that he had just missed the pickup of 50 Cent from the airport. Decision time is crunch time….where do I go and what do I see? There are so many last minute changes it’s like a whirlwind of news flashes. But, the cool thing was that none of it (at least none that I encountered) was rumor. When someone reported a last minute show somewhere, it ended up being correct. I guess when everyone is getting the same information from one or two places, it’s not like playing the old game of ‘Telephone’ and getting the message garbled. It’s pretty accurate and everyone is hearing it. This is all wonderful stuff, but at SXSW, there definitely is too much music, and way too little time!! And, all you can do is be happy to just scratch the surface and see the tip of the iceberg!!
During the week, I popped into the Convention Center Ballroom as often as possible to catch whichever band happened to be performing. Bands were
showcasing here, by special invitation, as well as in a place or two in town. Every band I watched in the Ballroom was talented, very talented. In fact, there is so much talent in Austin during this week that it’s both heartwarming, and sad. I’m thrilled to see that live music will never die, that there is still a monumental love of the creative art of music. But, sad because it seems to me that there isn’t enough room for it all – not enough clubs, people, or money to sustain the vast numbers of musicians. During a discussion about this with one of the many, many musicians in Austin this week, she said very matter-of-factly, “It’s a labor of love.” She had the artist’s view of the situation, where I had the businesswoman’s view. She just wants to play and sing, whereas I want all the musicians out there to be able make a living at it! I guess we will all have to be satisfied with something in the middle.