THE CONCERT: FEBRUARY 5, 2020 – DR. ANTON ARMSTRONG AND THE ST. OLAF CHOIR – Marilyn Armstrong

I wish I could play you the music and listen to Anton speak. But I took pictures of the performance at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was built in 1857 and has that beautiful sound that only halls built before we tried improving them have.

The Choir Bus!

Photo: Owen Kraus

I probably should mention that Anton is Garry’s youngest brother. It’s always a delight when he is in town.

Brothers!

The beginning …

The choir was, as always wonderful. Even more important for Garry and me was the Anton stepped up. He talked about the climate, injustice, slavery. He made the concert not merely beautiful, but relevant.

It was a very good evening at the end of a very bad day.

TEN YEARS ONE NIGHT – Rich Paschall

An Idol on Tour, by Rich Paschall

It has been ten years since Kris Allen won American Idol. Despite a strong showing throughout, the win was considered quite an upset. Adam Lambert was expected to be the winner. Lambert had impressed the judges and received a lot of publicity for his flamboyant style. Nevertheless, Allen walked away with the award.

Just as previous contestants were contracted to do, Kris went out on an American Idol tour with other contestants. He made numerous personal appearances and recorded an album. His single “Live Like We’re Dying” climbed the charts and has been his biggest hit. His first album was self-titled. It included 9 songs that were written or co-written by Allen.

Kris Allen

In the years since Allen has recorded several albums, one of which (of course) is a Christmas album. This Christmas effort included five original tunes. including “Mommy, Is There More Than Just One Santa Claus?”

He has also engaged in any number of philanthropic and charitable ventures. He never achieved the overwhelming success that some of the Idol winners and runners-up have achieved, but he remains active and is a strong live performer.

This fall he has been out on his “10 Years 1 Night” Tour. His Chicago stop was at City Winery. I had mentioned this venue before when I saw another former American Idol star, runner up on season seven, David Archuleta. It was the Postcards In The Sky Tour that brought David to Chicago earlier in the year.

City Winery, a performance venue.

City Winery is a unique stop with a restaurant, wine bar, and concert venue. The entertainment room is more of a cabaret-style. It seats 300. Most of the tables are small, but large enough for your wine, or whatever, and a plate of food. Some arrive early for food and drink, while others show up just for the show. Some of the partons seem to sample quite a bit of whatever the winery is serving. This makes them feel like the performance is an interactive experience. Fortunately, Allen knew how to deal with this in good humor.

The two-hour show included a number of Idol reminiscences. One included the week when the performers were asked to do a disco hit. Allen was born after the disco era. He did not grow up hearing this type of music and was unsure what to do. Of course, the show provides suggestions and often steers contestants toward songs. Allen picked the hit from the disco queen, Donna Summer, “She Works Hard For The Money.” Since he really did not know that style of music, the song ended up with a more soulful treatment than it was given before.

In addition to performing this one for us, he reached back for other songs as well. The purpose of the night was to give us Idol memories along with others. The stories were entertaining and the songs were presented with a good dose of energy. It was just Kris and his guitar, plus an occasional assist from an electronic gadget that can provide percussion or repeat measures of music. Allen deftly worked the gadget with one foot as he performed. This added a fuller sound to a handful of songs. The diversity made for a better experience.

Not all performers have entertaining stories or even try to tell any. Kris sprinkled in some personal memories. The 34-year-old gushed about his wife, his high school sweetheart he has known half his life. He talked about winning over her parents after he was the winner of American Idol. That’s when they thought he could actually make a living at music.

Kris Allen in Chicago

He also got the crowd involved in singing along on a couple of songs. At one point he taught different parts to three different sections of the room. While this trick doesn’t always work for performers, the blend actually came out quite nicely in the end. Perhaps my opinion of that was shaded by the French wine.

Near the end of the show, Allen delivered his big hit. As you might expect the song was well received. He mentioned that he is aware there is a Tim McGraw song with the same title, but this one is his own.  You could hear many in the crowd singing along with the chorus:

We only got 86,400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away
We gotta tell them that we love them
While we got the chance to say
Gotta live like we’re dying

At the end of the show, Allen went around the front of the stage, shaking hands, and having pictures taken. At least one person got a selfie with Kris. Since I was close to the stage anyway, I moved up to the edge and shook his hand. He said something like, “Thanks for coming,” which he said to many. I guess I should have said, “Thanks for the good show.”

Then, it was time to use the Uber app on my phone.


Sources:

Kris Allen, en.wikipedia.org

City Winery enters a crowded music and restaurant market, by Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune, July 26, 2012.

Kris Allen Somethin’ About Christmas, discogs.com

Kris Allen Lyrics, Live Like We’re Dying, azlyrics.com

IT NEVER GETS OLD – Rich Paschall

Chicago in Chicago, by Rich Paschall

The first big concert that I attended in my life was at DePaul University Alumni Hall on May 13, 1971. Three DePaul alumni and two other DePaul music students, along with a Roosevelt University music student and a local musician were making it in the big time and were coming home to play a benefit. The concert ticket prices were a rather high 3.50 and 6.50 US dollars. I am sure I went for the cheaper ticket. I had been to many Blue Demon basketball games in Alumni Hall so I knew there would not be a bad seat.

The Chicago Transit Authority

The band’s first album came out 50 years ago and was the self-titled The Chicago Transit Authority. While on tour the local transit authority actually threatened legal action if they kept the name. Thus the band name was shortened to just Chicago. The first album was doing OK, but did not garner any indivdual hits in the beginning. We didn’t care. We liked what we heard. Then something happened.

While the boys were on the road, their songs were finally making it from the FM album-oriented stations to AM radio. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is, Beginnings and Questions 67 & 68 climbed the charts. When Chicago the band made it back to Alumni Hall, they were rock stars, “rock with horns,” that is. The student newspaper noted at the time: “The memories are there, as are the photographs and copy, but no camera or pencil could have successfully captured the exchanges of expression between the members of the band and the proud, beaming faces in the front row of Alumni Hall – their parents.

Chicago at Park West 1982

CTA, as we liked to call the album in Chicago, stayed on the Billboard 200 for a record 171 consecutive weeks. It was helped along by the success of the next album just titled “Chicago.” The album that followed in 1971 was “Chicago III.” Singles were making it to the AM radio where we could all hear them without buying the album. There are now 36 albums, the most recent being “Chicago Now,” or Chicago XXXVI.

Chicago at Northerly Island, Chicago

I have seen Chicago in concert about a dozen times over the recent decades. Besides seeing them at the site of my high school and college gym, Alumni Hall (now gone), I also saw them at Poplar Creek (also gone), Soldier Field for a “Saturday in the Park,” Northerly Island, Chicago (more of a pennisula, methinks), Grant Park for “Taste of Chicago,” and several times in recent years at Ravinia Festival just north of Chicago.

Ravinia Festival is reported to be the oldest outdoor music festival in the United States. It began in Ravinia Park in 1905 and now runs from June to about mid September each year. The calendar of events typically contains 120 to 150 events. In addition to the 3400 seat outdoor pavillion, there is the 850 seat Martin Theater used largely for classical works, and the 450 seat Bennett Gordon Hall.

Ravinia Park train stop

The outdoor concerts encompass every type of music from classical to jazz, show tunes to opera, rock to blues. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra finds a summer home there and they perform many outdoor shows. The popular site can fill the Pavillion and put thousands more on the lawn.

The original purpose of Ravinia Park was in support of the Chicago and Milwaukee Electric Railroad. This stop along the line was meant to provide a variety of amusements just a short distance from the city.   The railroad went bankrupt in 1911 putting the festival in jeopardy. A group of local residents, including prominent Chicago businessmen, purchased the park and secured its future as an entertainment spectacular.

Ravinia Park is spread across 36 acres. Theaters, restaurants, souvenir stops, refreshment stands, a food court and beverage store help to fill the space. The lawn frequently includes a giant screen for all those who can not see the stage. The sound is great everywhere.

Lawn viewing at Ravinia

Unique to this venue is the picnic aspect of the lawn. Not only can you bring in your own lawn chair, but also your own food and drink. People arrive with coolers and picnic baskets. Even low tables to hold your candles, and wine and cheese are allowed. If you forget anything or did not want to carry items in, just run to the store on site.

Picnic in front of the Pavillion

I like to take the Union Pacific North line from the Ravensood stop at Lawrence Avenue, just two stops from downtown Chicago, right to the gate at Ravinia. The entrance is literally steps from the train. On the return, they hold the train until the show is over, including encores, and people have a chance to get to the platform. Don’t be too late or you may have to call an Uber! Of course, you can drive out there. The park has adequate parking if you did not make it to the train on time, or have a lot of picnic gear to bring.

Chicago at Ravinia

Chicago the band is 10 now instead of just 7 they had at the start. There are two pecussionists, not a single drummer as in the beginnings. Replacing the multitalented Terry Kath following his death in 1978 added to their numbers as well. When Jason Scheff (Pete Cetera replacement in 1985) recently left the band, a bass player and singer were added to cover the parts. In fact, many lineup adjustments have been made through the years.

“Rock with horns”

The current line up still provides the same great sound. Remarkably, original trombone player James Pankow and trumpet player Lee Loughnane are as stong as ever. Robert Lamm (from Roosevelt University), the heart and soul of Chicago, still delivers on multiple instruments and lead vocals.

Chicago the band is a major component of the soundtack of my life. Even though it is 50 years on, the music never gets old.

Sources include: “Sweet Home, Chicago,” resources.depaul.edu/newsline, Patricia Chavez, November 16, 2017.

POSTCARDS IN THE SKY – Rich Paschall

David Archuleta Tour, a review, by Rich Paschall

If you wanted to know what was on the mind of a singer-songwriter, pop star, this was the event. A formerly-shy guy, who let his singing do his communicating, had plenty to say on his Spring 2019 tour. Some of it may have been a bit surprising, coming from the singer who came to prominence as a teenager on Star Search and runner-up on the 2007-2008 edition of American Idol.

The 25 city tour included stops at a number of City Winery locations across the country. These smaller venues allow for an intimate relationship between performer and audience.

City Winery, performance venue.

The Chicago location includes a restaurant and wine bar, and a separate 300 seat performance space where you can order food before the show and drinks throughout. If you arrive an hour or more early, you can chat with your waiter about the food on the special menu and the long wine list. Some patrons arrive closer to show time for the performance only. There is no need to order anything, no minimums required. You do have to have a show ticket, of course.

Archuleta’s tour was basically in support of his 16 track album, Postcards In The Sky. Originally released in 2017, the Official Music video for the title track was not released until March 2019.

Postcards in the sky
Saying what’s inside
Hoping you will fly away
And find a way to you
Postcards in the sky
Hoping you will fly away
And find a way to you

After a few songs, Archuleta explained to the audience the journey his life has been on. He rose to fame as the cute kid on American Idol and became a pop star with songs on the radio and requests for personal appearances. He toured the country, recorded albums and sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Then he surprised everyone at the end of 2011 with the announcement that he would do missionary work. He needed to do “Something That Has Nothing To Do With Me.” 

In March of 2012, he was off to the back roads of Chile and putting his singing career on hold. On his return two years later, he made some appearances and eventually moved from Utah to Nashville to work on music. But when he went to work with his producer on songwriting, as he explained to our audience, he was not sure he wanted to write, record, return to pop music. He just could not get back into it. It was suggested when he went to a previously scheduled session, that he write about what he was feeling.

“It occurred to me that maybe I can actually write about what I’m really going through instead of teenage love songs because that’s what people want to hear.”

I don’t wanna feel numb
Falling over all of my shadows
Yeah, I’m all done
‘Cause none of that ever really mattered
It hurts to live so wide awake, oh
But it’s a chance I can take
I won’t run run run
‘Cause I don’t wanna feel numb

Archuleta performs the songs from the Postcards album, and particularly Numb, the first song written for it, with an intensity you might not expect from the young artist. These are his personal messages. Postcards that he has sent off into the sky. They are there for you to grab. He is hoping that some of these messages will reach you and maybe you will send back a postcard of your own.

Now at 28 years old, David retains the boyish charm that made him a teenage sensation. He seems eager to share his story and explain the meaning of the types of songs he is writing now. He seemed at ease with the audience and even chatted with some of the fans close to the stage. One brought a poster depicting all his albums and David chatted for a few moments with the fan.

Postcards in the Sky

For those who followed David for the past dozen years, he sprinkled in a few early hits. Certainly, the boys and girls who followed at the start and are now young men and women would have been disappointed if they were not treated to a few memories. In this regard, he did not disappoint. A Little Too Not Over You was there early on and near the end, he reached back for Touch My Hand.

Here is the original music video for Touch My Hand from 10 years ago.  Just as he does in this array of video clips, he reached out to the crowd at the Chicago performance. I suspect he was not just trying to shake hands with those by the stage. He was really trying to reach them, as well as the entire room, with this show.

OPEN THE DOOR … AND COME ON IN

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It’s my favorite Judy Collins song. Not because it’s her best ever, though it’s very good, but because I was in a very bad place when the song came out and it comforted me. I listened to it and along with some good friends and time, emerged into life again.

When we went to see her in concert in Boston last year, she sang it to close the concert. Obviously, I’m not the only fan who loves it.

I hope this will brighten your day, too!

OPEN | DAILY POST

BIG NIGHT IN BOSTON

Once a year, because we are very lucky, a good friend sends us tickets to see the Boston Pops Christmas concert. It’s always a joyful experience and is the high point of our holiday season.

This is one Sunday night in December 2015 — at the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall, Boston.

2015 – NIGHT AT THE POPS

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Take the The Boston Pops and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus … then add Keith Lockhart and an audience of happy holiday celebrants and what do you have? A gathering of joy and celebration of holiday music.

Symphony Hall, Boston

Symphony Hall, Boston

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The Boston Pops Christmas concert, 2015. A joyous gathering of music lovers and music makers in Symphony Hall, Boston, Massachusetts.

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FOLLOWING, FOLLOWERS, AND COMMENTS

I follow so many blogs I don’t always have the time to visit everyone in the course of a weekend, much less daily. And yesterday, we actually went out. I did not stay home glued to the computer. What a concept, eh?

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We had tickets to see the Boston Pops Christmas Concert at Symphony Hall and we were going with our best friends. They were driving in from the western part of the state. It was an occasion.

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I didn’t spend the evening reading blogs. Not even favorites. This morning, on seeing another 100 notifications in my inbox along with those I didn’t get to yesterday — or the day before — I deleted everything I hadn’t yet read. Because I don’t have enough time.

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It’s just two weeks until Christmas. I haven’t wrapped a package or put up the tree. Or extracted the decorations from the attic.

If I follow you … and you know who you are … you know I like you — or I wouldn’t follow you.

HEARING IS BELIEVING

CEE’S FUN FOTO CHALLENGE: SENSE OF HEARING

This week’s topic is the colors of the sense of hearing.    You can be simple like I did this week and used instruments.  You can also get radical and show someone blasting apart a sidewalk with a jackhammer or the soothing sound of the ocean waves.  This week you can post anything that stimulates or delights you when you hear it.   Be creative and have fun. Feel free to dig around in your archives for photos if you don’t have anything new you can photograph.   Most of all I hope you have fun.

And fun it is. To you from way up in the mountains of Vermont …

 

PHOTO A WEEK CHALLENGE: LIVE, ON STAGE!

A Photo a Week Challenge: Live Performance

I love taking pictures at concerts … when they allow it. I don’t use a flash, so I depend on spot metering to get my pictures. This doesn’t always work out the way I intend. Sometimes, it comes out better than I imagined possible … and sometimes, every shot is blurry. This is a gallery of pictures in which the magic worked.

 

ST. OLAF CHOIR RETURNING TO MECHANICS HALL ON FEB. 4

Anton and GarryIn 1972, Anton Armstrong’s pastor “kind of dragged me, not wanting to go” to a concert by the St. Olaf Choir at New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

One problem was that Armstrong also had tickets for a show that night featuring the Moody Blues at Madison Square Garden. But it wasn’t a question of balance. His mother decided the matter. “My mother said ‘You need to go,’ ” Armstrong recalled. Namely, go to the concert by the choir of St. Olaf College from Northfield, Minn.

The decision has definitely had life-changing destiny attached to it. Not only did Armstrong end up going to St. Olaf College as a student and graduating with a bachelor of music degree in vocal performance, he is now celebrating his 25th year as conductor of the St. Olaf Choir..

Source: www.telegram.com

Garry’s illustrious younger brother, the renowned Dr. Anton Armstrong, will bring his world-famous choir to Mechanics Hall, in Worcester, Massachusetts this coming February 5th!

See on Scoop.itForty Two: Life and Other Important Things

LAST CHRISTMAS AT THE POPS

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 Weekly Photo Challenge: Crowd

When I looked at this challenge, my first thought was “I don’t have any crowd pictures.” Then I thought again and realized it was all about how you define a crowd.

So here’s one from last December, at the Boston Pops!

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JUDY COLLINS, AMAZING GRACE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

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Marilyn and I had been looking forward to the Judy Collins concert for months. Marilyn bought the tickets last January before her complicated heart surgery. At the time, I wondered if she was being extravagant given our tight budget. I was very wrong. Marilyn figured the concert would give us something to look forward to in the months while she struggled to recover from the surgery.  It’s taken a toll on her body and spirits.

The concert? She was right.

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It didn’t seem particularly right during the long drive into Boston yesterday. Intermittent heavy rain showers made the usually easy Sunday drive a challenge. Often the traffic looked like something out of “Wagon Train.” Yet, by the time we got to Boston, it was all good. A handicapped parking space was available directly in front of the theater — like on television or in the movies. And the rain stopped, just like that.

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We took a quick scan of nearby restaurants and Japanese got our attention. We chowed down on sushi and tempura with plenty of time to spare to make our 7 pm curtain. Marilyn took pictures and we watched as the crowds arrived for the Collins concert. The audience appeared to be three-quarters casually dressed baby boomers. Our kind of folks.

And suddenly, it was time to pack up the camera and find the tickets. Showtime!

wilbur theater judy collins

The Wilber is an old theatre. Built in 1914, it’s rather cozy inside and they have arranged the orchestra level as a dinner theater. Both of us had been to the Wilbur in the past, though not recently, so it was a bit of a shock to see how it had changed. Instead of theater seats, there were high, padded bar stools. Wait staff brought refreshments.

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Sometimes you anticipate, but are disappointed. The moment Judy Collins walked on stage, the evening turned magical. Judy Collins has — at 74 years old — not only kept her voice, but improved it. I had not realized what a skilled pianist she is, either. Her musicianship was remarkable and it perfectly suited the cozy theater.

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She entertained with a preferred list of her most popular songs. Folk, Broadway and Standards. There was no forced chit-chat but shared stories and memories of professional life across half a century. Most of the audience, including me, were nodding and smiling. It was our story too. The artists and  music of our generation. The music that was the background to our lives.

The songs brought back a flood of memories. “Send In The Clowns” reminded me of my days in TV news dealing with politicians. “Danny Boy,” always a sentimental favorite, took me back to our honeymoon in Ireland where I discovered my Irish roots. I was smiling with tears in my eyes.

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I thought the concert was over as Judy Collins thanked her pianist-music director while blowing kisses to the audience. It couldn’t be over. Not yet.

It wasn’t over!

Marilyn reassured me as Judy Collins began to sing “Amazing Grace.” Our song. That was the song the bag piper played at our wedding. That our friend sang. Apparently it was everyone’s song because Judy invited the audience to join in and go for the harmony. We sang and filled the 100-year old Wilbur Theater with our voices.

Magic time! We held the last words of “Amazing Grace” for long minutes, the music and our voices echoing through the venerable theater.

A night to remember!