Happy Birthday

Tuesday June 15th would have been my father’s seventieth birthday. He’s been gone since July 2001, but most days I still miss him. I would like to say that the date snuck up on me, but that’s not true. One of the things I’m great at is remembering dates. I know I graduated High School June 12, 1992; that I started my current job on September 17, 2006; that July 7, 1997 and March 7, 2009 were two of the best days of my life…and I always remember my dad’s birthday, even when sometimes I wish I didn’t.

My dad hated birthdays. He just saw it as another day on the calendar that he usually would spend at work if it was a weekday, or, if it was a weekend, he was much happier watching the NBC Game of the Week downstairs in the den than to be bothered with some big party.

The other thing I remember about his birthday is how he never really said he wanted anything, so I never knew what gift to get him. I honestly don’t remember a birthday gift I gave him, except maybe a card or two. Now, I’ve always been a great gift giver when it came to women I’ve known throughout my life, usually managing to surprise them with a grand gesture. And with my mom, she leaves no room for doubt, telling me exactly what she wants for her birthday, sometimes to the point of leaving an ad where I can see it so I know what I’m supposed to buy.

But with dad, he just would always say ‘It’s just a day, don’t worry about it.’

So this week is somewhat melancholy for me, with his 70th birthday and then Father’s Day. It’s not like my dad and I had an easy, uncomplicated relationship, far from it.

It’s strangely cruel how life works sometimes. When I moved out of the house we shared in Midlothian in 1996, I was ready to leave. I didn’t think about him or what he might be up to. Nothing really triggered a memory, but I knew in the back of my mind I could always phone him up if I needed to. I didn’t do that very often, until the last year of his life when the two of us made an uneasy peace and decided to forgive and move on. I’m so glad that when his life ended suddenly, we were on speaking terms, getting along, with plans to have dinner on what turned out to be two nights after he died. I was glad we had done our best to put the past behind us, or at least not let it drive a wedge between us any longer. The strangely cruel part of all this? Now that I can’t phone him up, a lot of things in my daily life trigger his memory.

I think my dad would find it deliciously ironic that I now work in an office in a 9-5 job where I am required to wear business attire, knowing how I told him all through my teens that I was gonna be a rock star and my stock wardrobe, literally for decades, was a pair of blue jeans and a KISS shirt. In fact when I got my hair cut to start the interview process for jobs back in 2006, I even said out loud to myself as I was leaving the barber shop, ‘Okay, you win dad…happy?’ I had let my hair grow long from the age of 18 until I was almost 33. He never really liked the long hair, but once I got into the music business and radio, he understood and respected why I did what I did, and why I looked the way I looked.

I also think of him whenever I watch baseball. That sport, and the endless statistics that accompany it, were his true passion. I was at work last month when the Braves were down 9-3 to the Reds, going to the bottom of the ninth inning. I was following the game on the MLB site with written out descriptions of play-by-play. Slowly, as I continued taking phone calls and doing my job, the Braves started mounting a rally. One run scored, then two…then they were only down three runs with the bases loaded and a bench player up at the plate.

The player’s name was Brooks Conrad, and he was only in the game to relieve Chipper Jones when manager Bobby Cox thought the game was a blow out, so he decided to rest some of his veteran players. Well, Brooks Conrad hit a game winning grand slam to beat the Reds 10-9. I got goose bumps just reading the description on my screen. Then I started shaking. It was a strange, overwhelming feeling. I quickly went on a break and made my way to the men’s room. Once I got there, I just started crying and shaking. It was a combination of an improbable comeback…and it was the first time when a baseball game made me wish really hard that I could phone my dad. I remember I was probably four years old when my dad told me ‘In this family, we like football and we root for the Redskins…but we love baseball and your team will be the Braves.’ I took it as gospel and, ever since, I have always been a Redskins fan and a Braves fan. That he instilled that devotion and love of sport in me, I am forever grateful.

Happy Birthday Dad,



Theatre Review: The Sound Of Music, presented by Barksdale at The Empire Theatre

It’s a rare occurrence when an evening out to to the theatre to see a local production of an all too well known show can go from being the expected to something wonderful, maybe even magical.

That’s what’s happening every weekend now until July 4 at Richmond’s Empire Theatre. Barksdale is showcasing Rodgers and Hammerstien’s ‘The Sound Of Music’, and it’s perhaps the best local production I’ve ever seen in Richmond, certainly the best musical production.

Now, we all know the story, or at the very least one song from the show [Do, Re, Mi and My Favorite Things are two of several songs that became standards of the American Songbook after the show opened on Broadway in 1960]. But really, that doesn’t matter.

I implore you. Go see this show! If you’re a fan of musicals, if you are a fan of theatre, if you have seen the movie…or if you’re reading this right now, JUST GO!! Yes, it’s THAT GOOD!!

Maria [Stacy Cabaj] is masterful in a role she truly seems born to play. The ‘kids’ are adorable, and if you’re not smiling and enjoying yourself by the time ‘Do Re Mi’ appears in the show, then check your pulse, you might be dead.

Director Chase Kniffen has done a wonderful job of keeping the show moving and vibrant, without sacrificing the show’s underlying political message. The sets by Brian Barker are lavish, helping to make some scenes breathtakingly beautiful.

Kudos to Jody Ashworth for being able to walk the fine line of the tender-hearted disciplinarian that the role of Captain von Trapp requires.

I could go on about how great this show is, but I’ll just say again, go! You won’t regret it, and you won’t forget it!

Seriously…I mean it. Go!

Ticket and performance info is here


Sparkles, Day-Glo and Tears: Taylor Swift @ The Verizon Center, Washington, DC 06.02.10

Prologue: Thoughts the night before the show: This was the first Taylor Swift show I was lucky enough to get tickets for. They went onsale October 20, a week before the Charlottesville show, which was in March. So, while the Charlottesville show was the first show I attended, I’ve had this show on my calendar for almost eight months. No matter what was going on in my daily life, good day or bad day, in the back of my mind, I could look forward and know that I had a phenomenal show to look forward to. It will be strange to have it as only a memory after tomorrow night. I imagine the ride home will be very quiet, partially from the exhaustion of a busy day, but mostly because of the inevitable ‘come down’ after a show. Having this one on my calendar for such a long time, I think the ‘come down’ will be one for the record books.

Show review:

Wednesday night June 2 was the second sold-out night in a row at DC’s Verizon Center for Taylor Swift and her ‘Fearless Tour.’ That shouldn’t be anything new. Every single date of the tour, which began in April of last year, sold out in minutes, so throngs of screaming fans have become the norm wherever Taylor goes. If you would like a very detailed description of her show, read my review from her March show in Charlottesville here. This review is going to mostly be about the fans.

I saw this show with Eddie. He was with me when we saw Taylor in March, so we knew what to expect. I also knew that nothing was gonna top that first show, mainly because the element of surprise was gone, and honestly, as venues go, Verizon Center is one of my least favorites, while John Paul Jones arena in Charlottesville is one of the absolute best. Knowing these things going in, I decided not to quibble about sound mix, sight lines or little things that can sometimes annoy me at shows. This night was going to be about soaking up and enjoying all that I know a Taylor Swift show to be: the hits, the lights, the hugs and one of the most devoted fan bases I have ever had the privilege to be a part of.

Case in point: Eddie and I arrived in DC about an hour before the doors opened. The Verizon Center has shops and a movie theatre around the outside of the venue, so you’re indoors, but you’re in a plaza-like setting with distractions to kill time while waiting for the venue doors to open. Upon leaving the parking deck and not quite sure where to go next, we took the escalator down to street level and saw a group of fans with multi-colored signs. I said out loud, ‘I think we’re where we’re supposed to be.’ Eddie walked up to the glass doors to read a sign posted, just to make sure that we were standing near a door that would indeed be opened when soundcheck finished. We were in the right place, so I took a look around from my vantage point, leaning on a wall beside the door in front of section 112.

Then I saw one of the coolest things ever.

Remember when I mentioned in my previous Taylor review how fans had made shirts of their own, most of them spot-on replicas of the ‘Band Geek’ shirt Taylor wore in the ‘You Belong With Me Video’? Well Wednesday night, I saw fans who had made their own homemade shirts, of their own design and inspiration. And, while waiting out front, I saw the one I will remember: A fan had taken a basic black t-shirt and, with day-glo magic marker, she had hand-written in cursive the lyrics to the song ‘Today Was A Fairytale’ so that it covered the back of the entire shirt, each lyric line a different color. I love seeing hand made signs and shirts, because I know it takes a lot of work to make a great one. I was blown away and kept looking back over at the girl in the shirt, standing with her friends talking in excited tones.

‘You like fan-made shirts, don’t you?’ Eddie said.
‘Yeah I do. It’s probably the ultimate statement of “I’m A Fan”, and it means more than anything she’ll buy at the merch table.’
‘You should make one,’ Eddie said.
‘No. I’m not artistic. The closest I would come would be silk screening a photo. Something like that [looking at the girl in day-glo] takes a lot of work.’

The doors opened and we found our way to our seats. For this show, we had a straight-on view of the stage, though further back than when we were sitting stage right in Charlottesville. It  did mean we would have a better view of some elements of the show that are missed unless you’re looking straight ahead and not from a side. Also, it meant that, when Taylor appeared on her ‘mini-stage’ in the center of the arena, we would have an excellent view.

I will mention here quickly that openers Glorianna continue to impress. They kept it short and sweet, playing the same five songs I heard in March. In fact, as I suspected, all three artists on the bill played the same setlist as they had in Charlottesville. That didn’t surprise me, but, with it being the last arena show of the tour, I was hoping the encore would change a bit [namely replacing ‘Today Was A Fairytale’ with the rocker ‘Change].

Kellie Pickler really should be headlining her own tour. I thought for sure once the Fearless Tour wraps Saturday in Foxboro, MA, that Kellie would begin plans for a headlining jaunt of her own, but she’s opening for Rascal Flatts thru the summer. That’s a great tour to be a part of, I’m sure, but I’m puzzled as to why she isn’t headlining yet. She came out onstage, in a red top and blue jeans and, as always, was breezy and easy going in her delivery and banter with the audience. Now, you and I know that I paid to see Taylor. Kellie was a bonus, but I was genuinely sad to see her leave the stage, seemingly so soon after she arrived. She’s someone I will gladly pay to see in concert again, hopefully on a headlining tour…soon!

This is where it gets interesting. Ya see, I’ve said that a Taylor Swift show is, for me anyway, on par with any show I’ve seen by any artist of any genre. That includes especially KISS shows. I say this because Taylor presents a ‘show’, with set pieces, video montages [to fill time between costume changes] and props. Her show, like a KISS show, presents the same show at every stop. I’ve heard Paul Stanley explain the reasoning as ‘The fan that didn’t see last night’s show, deserves to see the same show that last night’s fan saw.’ Now, some fans of some artists hate that a set list never changes on a tour. What was great about Wednesday night though was, I knew exactly what was coming, and it still had me on my feet, clapping, singing and screaming along. And, even when I knew what was coming, there were a few surprises.

Taylor always sings the song ‘Hey Stephen’ from somewhere other than than the stage. I never knew where she was singing it at the show in Charlottesville, but Wednesday night, she sang it from a section off the floor, among the fans…and directly across from where Eddie and I stood. Luck of the draw. Had we been on the other side of the auditorium, in the same section, we would have been part of a ‘friendly mob scene’. Yeah it would have been fun to be part of that, but I had fun watching those fans freak out.

Taylor sang the song, then made her way thru the crowd to the mini-stage. Here before starting her normal introduction for the song ‘Fifteen’, she mentioned that she had visited Walter Reed Medical Center earlier in the day, thanked the soldiers for sharing their stories, and said several ‘troops are here tonite.’ Then, after singing ‘Fifteen’ and half of ‘Tim McGraw’, Taylor made her way thru the crowd in the floor seats. Here, in several aisles on the floor, were where the veterans from Walter Reed were seated. Taylor made a point to hug each one, leaving both artist and soldier visibly moved. Also while making her way back to the stage, Taylor saw a blonde girl in a straw cowboy hat, who could not have been older than four, and again Taylor made a point to hug her, give her a kiss on the cheek and even take one of the many bracelets from her wrist and put it on the arm of the young fan.

I’ve said it before, but country artists really have a relationship with their fans unlike any other genre. It really is something to behold.

One more thing I must mention. In front of us sat a family of four: Mom, Dad, Son [age 8] and Daughter [age 5], and as soon as the lights went down and the screens showed that famous Taylor Swift logo in neon, I knew immediately that the reason this family of four was here was for their daughter. She spent the concert being handed back and forth between mom and dad so she could see, and whenever Taylor started to sing a song this little girl knew [which I’m pretty sure was all of them], she would take her hands, ball them up into little fists of excitement and start hitting her dad’s shoulder while she jumped up and down in his arms, swinging her blonde hair back and forth singing at the top of her lungs. The song ‘Love Story’ must have been her favorite, because once that song was over, I guess she figured it was okay to give in to sleep. It was a pleasure to watch someone be the definition of unbridled excitement, and I know it’s a night that little girl and her parents [and maybe even her older brother] won’t ever forget.

Taylor sparkled, her vocals were flawless and the evening was one that lived up to eight months of buildup and anticipation. As I left the concourse and headed to the parking deck, soon after the confetti and water had fallen, I saw a young girl, maybe ten or eleven, sobbing, seemingly unwilling to believe the night was over. While I kept my emotions in check, I felt the same way.

Now, I really can’t wait to see what Taylor does next. And if she tours again, whenever that might be, I’ll be there.

Trust me, she’s one you don’t want to miss.