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.


‘This Moment, Capture It. Remember It!’:Taylor Swift @ John Paul Jones Arena 03.20.10

The job of a critic is to be an objective observer and report on the events going on around him with an unbiased opinion.

Nope. Sorry, can’t do it. Stop reading right now if that’s what you’re looking for. I paid for my ticket and I am unabashedly, unashamedly a Taylor Swift fan, so what follows is a review that is anything but objective…and very biased.

I’ll start at the beginning, because if I start writing about the headliner, there really is no point in talking about anything or anyone else.

Glorianna is a new band that, through a stroke of luck and with the help of a great sounding debut, landed the spot as the opening act on Taylor’s Fearless tour. They’ve played almost every show, and thus their audience has increased exponentially in a way that can only happen by playing in front of people. Lucky for them, the houses are mostly packed when the show begins. I originally wrote Glorianna off as a ‘minor league version of Little Big Town’, but I came away very impressed by them. They played a tight quick five song set, starting off with their latest hit ‘How Far Do You Wanna Go?’ and ending with their biggest hit, ‘Wild At Heart’. In between they managed to play a few Zeppelin riffs, even fitting in a chorus of ‘Black Dog’. All in all, a good start to the evening.

Kellie Pickler is quite a story. She has come a very long way from the gawky, naïve sounding contestant on American Idol. She’s now a full-fledged star, with the songs and the talent to back it up. Looking gorgeous in a black tank top, very tight leather pants and extremely high silver heels, she sang her hits and talked to the crowd in the same easy going manner she’s always had. It seems that no matter where she is, be it on a TV talk show, on a tour bus or on a stage in front of thousands, she seems very approachable and appreciative of her success.

The first surprise of the night came during her set when she sat on a stool center stage to sing the song ‘I Wonder’, written as a note to her mother who abandoned her when she was two years old. I’d heard the song several times before, but hearing it live, with the audience almost quietly singing along, it was a very moving moment that caught me off guard. She closed her set with the crowd favorite ‘Red High Heels,’ thanked the crowd and made a quick exit.

Now, a word about the crowd. I knew going in that this crowd was going to be made up predominantly of young girls and their parents and, yes, that made up about 80 percent of the audience. Do you remember the first artist or band you liked as a child? You never forget your first favorite band, and the fans in attendance last night are at that age where, for them, Taylor Swift means an awful lot to them, and her songs say things that they identify with and can’t say themselves. Fandom at that age is at an intensity that probably is never matched as you grow older. The crowd last night was full of fans with homemade ‘band geek’ shirts [as seen in the ‘You Belong With Me’ video] and signs professing unending devotion, love and thanks. And then there were the screams.

Ah yes, the screams. Nothing matches the sound of over 12,000 young fans shrieking in unequaled excitement. The chants of ‘Taylor! Taylor!’ started right after Kellie Pickler’s set ended; for the next twenty minutes there was chanting, shrieking and screaming, all in anticipation.

And then the lights went down and I’m pretty sure the roof flew off.

Starting with a brief movie describing what it means to be fearless, while also showing a quick montage of Taylor thanking her fans during her numerous award acceptance speeches…at least I think that’s what she was saying, I really couldn’t hear over the screaming, the curtain then rose up, revealing a huge stage with a massive hi-def screen behind it…and then slowly Ms. Swift appeared stage left in the now infamous band uniform to open the show with her hit [and my personal favorite song] ‘You Belong With Me.’

The screams were the loudest I will ever hear, but luckily the band was louder, and the sound mix was impeccable. I admit that I was a bit nervous about what her voice would be like in a concert setting, because her most recent TV appearance [The Grammys] was a train wreck, plus she had done two nights in a row in Philadelphia so, this was the third show in three days.

No need to worry, her voice was in excellent form, with no pitch issues or unsure moments. If there is one thing that Taylor Swift is, she is sure of herself onstage.

After an onstage costume change [the first of many], song number two was ‘Our Song’, and it set the tone for the evening: This was going to be a mutual admiration society sing-along. For the rest of the night, the audience sang along loudly. [I did a bit as well, but honestly I was just happy to watch and listen and take it all in.] Several times, after a song was over, Taylor would stand center stage, twirling the hair and flashing that smile while the audience screamed and applauded. This went on for minutes at a time and, if allowed, I’m sure it could have gone on for hours. She seemed sincere in her response to the adulation. Maybe it’s all choreographed, but I’m not quite cynical enough [at least when it comes to talking about Taylor Swift] to wanna believe that yet.

There were countless highlights for me, but the moment I’ll take away is this: Taylor sung the song ‘Hey Stephen’ on a small stage to the right of the main stage on the ground floor. At least I think that’s where she was, I couldn’t see because she was so low and everyone was standing so, the sight line was obscured. After that song, while her band played an instrumental interlude, Taylor walked from the front of the stage all the way to the back of the arena, where a small mini-stage was setup. Now, I’ve seen other bands do this. KISS did it starting in 1997. Martina is also using a mini-stage on her tour as well. The difference here is, while Paul Stanley [of KISS for those that don’t know] and Martina ‘fly’ above the crowd to quickly reach the back of the arena, Taylor walked all the way back there, hugging and kissing everyone she came in contact with. I timed the return trip, after she performed two songs [‘Fifteen’ and the first half of ‘Tim McGraw’], she took a good fifteen minutes to make her way back through the crowd to hug, kiss, high five and shake the hands of her fans. A woman behind me complained that it was ‘taking too long’ but I could only stand there in awe at this gesture, on a scale I have not seen before. [Yes, Martina does walk back to the stage but she is usually only shaking hands and moving much quicker. Not a diss on Martina at all. This was very different.]

Those fans who were lucky enough to get a hug, especially the young ones, they are going to remember that singular moment for the rest of their life, and I don’t think it’s far-fetched at all to say that those fans are now Taylor Swift fans for life as well. And I bet many of them now will ask mom and dad for a guitar or a keyboard so that they can write what they feel, like Taylor does.

That gesture can’t be topped with any marketing strategy or media blitz. It really was a moment where the wall between fan and artist came down and mega-platinum superstar Taylor Swift was just ‘one of the girls’.

Taylor has learned well from those who came before. She commands the stage and demands your attention, and she keeps it and won’t let go. She’s a pro as a front-woman…and she’s not even twenty-one yet! I’ll also mention here in case you’ve just arrived from another universe…she’s beautiful.

This show truly had everything, and hit a range of emotions. I was happy to see that ‘You’re Not Sorry’ [another personal fave and one of the sadder songs in her catalog] was still in the set and was ‘mashed up’ with a cover of Justin Timberlake’s ‘What Goes Around.’ On those rare moments when I wasn’t watching Taylor, I loved watching the band interact. Fiddle player Catlin Evanson and backup vocalist Liz Huett were dancing around and having fun the whole night. Bass player Amos Heller and banjo player Mike Meadows are both from Charlottesville, Guitarist Grant Mikelson had a stand out solo moment, and guitarist Paul Sidoti has worked with everyone it seems, including KISS. [See, it’s all connected in some way]. Plus there was confetti, a castle and an onstage waterfall.

It was an unforgettable night, one of the best shows I have ever seen by any artist in any genre. It had the excitement of a Springsteen show, and the spectacle of a Vegas show. I had high expectations going in that were met and exceeded.

I already know I was very lucky to have been there, and luckier still that I get to see it all again in June.

Thanks again Eddie for everything.

Setlist from website

1. You Belong With Me

2. Our Song

3. Tell Me Why

4. Teardrops On My Guitar

5. Fearless

6. Forever & Always

7. Hey Stephen

8. Fifteen

9. Tim McGraw

10. White Horse

11. Love Story

12. The Way I Loved You

13. You’re Not Sorry / What Goes Around

14. Picture to Burn

15. Encore:

15. Today Was A Fairytale

16. Should’ve Said No

Thanks for reading,

Barry [A Taylor Swift fan for life…even though I didn’t get a hug.]