Taylor Swift – Speak Now World Tour October 1 and 2, Atlanta, GA

“But…it’s not just a concert, it’s Taylor Swift!!”

I heard that exact sentence three different times over the weekend as fans tried to explain the forthcoming event to the uninitiated. In just a little over two years, Taylor Swift has gone from country-pop darling to megastar, and her current tour is not just a concert or a show, it’s an event that rivals those seen on Broadway or in Vegas. It’s big, it’s frenetic, and Taylor’s thousands of screaming fans make sure that every night is loud. Very loud. Easily the loudest crowd I have had the pleasure to be a part of. The location of my seat may have had something to do with the volume.

These two shows in Atlanta were my second and third time seeing the Speak Now 2011 tour. If you follow my blog, then you know very well that I saw the Fearless Tour twice in 2010. These two shows in Atlanta were the first shows where I bought just a solo ticket for me when they went onsale, and that’s how I ended up with some incredible floor seats. I’ll get to just how incredible they were in a bit, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first thing I noticed as soon as I got inside Phillips Arena was that Taylor’s face was everywhere. Huge life size posters advertised Cover Girl [the tour’s sponsor] seemingly every twenty feet around the concourse. At the merchandise tent where you could buy almost anything with Taylor’s face on it, there was also a big screen showing Taylor videos [I stopped to watch the video for the song ‘The Story of Us’. Watch it on YouTube if you haven’t seen it. Just a few seconds in and you’ll know why I stopped.]. Yes, wherever Taylor’s likeness was found, there was a crowd gathered in excitement; ready to make this a very memorable night for themselves and for the artist.

As I made my way back from the merch tent with new t-shirt in hand, I stopped by Guest Services to inquire about an elevator ride down to the floor. The staff was great and led me to the freight elevator which landed me ‘behind the scenes’ so to speak. I wasn’t backstage, but I did see a group of about twenty fans who had ‘T-Party’ passes getting the lecture from the tour coordinator on how the pre-show meet and greet with Taylor would work. Looking at one girl’s face, maybe ten years old, she was so excited she looked as if she was going to burst. Would I have liked a backstage pass? Sure. But I wasn’t bummed or jealous one bit, because the experience is multiplied exponentially the younger the fan is, so that these fans were about to meet someone they admire more than almost any authority figure, I shared their excitement as I nodded to the tour coordinator and made my way to my seat.

“Drop Everything Now!”

If forced to pick one favorite song from Taylor’s last two albums, I would choose ‘You Belong With Me’ from the Fearless album and ‘Sparks Fly’ from Speak Now. I mention this only because for each of the last two tours, my favorite songs have been the show opener. Not that I don’t like or love the other songs. I love them all, but that ‘Sparks Fly’ was the opener of the evening meant things were going to be off to a fantastic start.

After a brief video message, Taylor rose from under the stage, surrounded by smoke and looking regal in a long gold gown that sparkled and caught light with every step she took. Fireworks in the middle of song one told me this was a bigger show than the Fearless tour, but this was just the beginning.

Having never been to Phillips Arena before, I wondered what the sound was going to be like. Would it be as bad and echo-drenched as Washington, DC’s Verizon Center, or as clear and crisp as John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville? While maybe not as crisp and intimate as JPJ, the sound at Phillips was stellar for an arena of that size [14,000+]. Not a lyric was lost except when the screams overwhelmed the PA and literally shook the stage.

After costume change #1 two songs in, Taylor, playing the banjo, and her fiddle player Caitlin Evanson played the opening notes of ‘Our Song’, the lone representative from Taylor’s debut album, and that segued nicely into ‘Mean’, with the band dressed in the same outfits they wore in the video. Each song in the set was a sing along, because all of Taylor’s fans know all the words to all of her songs. Experiencing that aspect of the show from the floor was wonderful and something I will never forget.

That’s the thing about Taylor Swift. If you are a fan of her music, then you get it, you love her and you don’t care what anyone else thinks. If you’re not a fan, then there really is no point in me trying to explain it. You don’t get it and you probably never will. For the 28,000 who ‘got it’, this weekend was one they won’t soon forget.

Now, the setlists. Most of the set was the same both nights, but each night had some surprises. The bracketed songs are departures from the scheduled set, and the night they occurred is noted beside the song title:

1.Sparks Fly


3.Story of Us

4.Our Song 


6.Back to December / Apologize /You’re Not Sorry

7.Better Than Revenge

8.Speak Now

9.Fearless (Acoustic on ukulele)

10.Last Kiss (acoustic)
11.Baby Girl [Sugarland cover] (acoustic)

12. You Belong With Me
13.Dear John

14.[Yeah! with special guest Usher – Nite #1]



17.[Live Your Life with special guest TI – Nite #2]

18.Long Live


19.[Ours – solo acoustic – Nite #2]


21.Love Story
The setlist leans heavily on the new album, but that’s okay. I love the new record. I doubt ‘Haunted’ and ‘Enchanted’ will be in the setlist for whatever tour Taylor does next, and the fact they are both huge production numbers with aerialists falling from the sky, three huge bells and dancers meant there was a lot going on, but, as always, all eyes were on Taylor.
While the new album is heavy on the ballads [Back to December, Dear John and Last Kiss, for example], the song Better Than Revenge was one moment when Taylor and her band rocked out. The image of background singer Liz, Caitlin and Taylor standing on a bridge center stage, headbanging and having a mock fight was one of my favorite moments of the show. And the extended guitar outro that followed [so Taylor could do another quick change] showcased how great her band is. Guitarists Paul Sidoti and Grant Mickelson traded riffs and solos that were so fast and furious, you forgot that Taylor was offstage for a second.
Now I must confess, when the song ‘Speak Now’ was being performed, I was a bit distracted. Having seen the show in DC in August, I knew that the end of the song was when Taylor would leave the stage and make her way through the crowd en route to the mini-stage at the back of the arena. On night one, I was sitting in the third seat from the left in my row on the far left side of the arena floor. I wasn’t sure what path she would take, but I knew she’d be close. As the beginning of ‘Speak Now’ rang through the arena, security staff put up a long black rope alongside our aisle. That meant that yes, she was indeed going to make her way down the floor close by. We [the people in my row] made sure that a four year old girl was moved up to the aisle seat so she could at least get a good look. Taylor made her way to our row but she was facing the crowd to the left, sitting in the first row off the floor. No eye contact was made with our row, but she was less than five feet to my left. So close I could see the body glitter on her shoulders and arms. That was a very cool moment.
On nite two, I was sitting in the same row, but this time on the far right side of the arena…and this time I had an aisle seat! So, knowing how this worked, I knew that after Taylor sang three songs on the revolving mini-stage at the back of the arena, she would leave there and make her way back to the main stage, and thus pass our row. Well, not just our row, but pass me! Taylor sang her three songs and then the first verse of ‘You Belong With Me’ [Did I mention that’s my favorite song by her?] and she then made her way down the floor, with security  in front and behind. I stuck my hand out as she approached [so as not to get it swatted back by security before she arrived] and, as luck would have it, she turned away from the row directly to my right and quickly grabbed my hand and made eye contact before moving on.
“She just touched your hand!” screamed the woman beside me.
“Yeah…she did.”
I knew it happened, but it happened so fast, literally a millisecond, that it didn’t really register until a few seconds later. So, all of the waiting for this show, that was originally supposed to happen in July but was canceled because Taylor was ill, and the extra expense of booking another flight/hotel in Atlanta to see these shows in October…it was all made more than worth it by that one millisecond. It was very cool.
As noted in the setlists, each nite had a special guest. While Taylor has had guests join her onstage before, those appearances [by the likes of Katy Perry, Faith Hill and Justin Beiber] are usually reserved for cities like LA, NY or Nashville. Or so I thought. On nite one, after Taylor performed ‘Dear John’ she didn’t run off for a scheduled costume change [a huge ‘fairy tale gown’ for Enchanted]. Instead she stood on one of the stars onstage and said ‘Peace Up…A-Town Down!’
All of a sudden, the first four notes of ‘Yeah’ blared over the PA and then before the crowd knew what hit them, Usher was standing center stage, wearing camo and sunglasses. The place went nuts! And, to hear Taylor say the lyric she’s ‘a freak in the bed’ ranked as one of the biggest surprises of the nite.
On nite two, I was looking for another special guest in the same spot of the show, but ‘Enchanted’ happened as scheduled with no interruption, followed by ‘Haunted.’ After Haunted ended [with Taylor being hidden by a large bell so she can sneak off for, you guessed it, another costume change], she popped up immediately after the bell lifted from the stage, announced ‘We’ve got company tonite!’ and sang the opening lines to ‘Live Your Life’ which were originally sung by Rihanna.
Then T.I. appeared onstage to rap. No lie, he had just been released from an Atlanta halfway house less than 72 hours before the appearance. Quite a way to announce you’re back! [If you’re curious, both surprise duets are available on YouTube, though they are videos shot from the audience and, as mentioned, the crowd goes nuts, so at times the audio is poor. But, they’re still worth checking out.]
Lastly, the topper that surprised me more than the special guest was the addition on Sunday nite of the song ‘Ours’, which was included on the Target Deluxe Edition of the Speak Now CD. As a rule, if a song is a bonus track or a B-side, you’re not gonna hear it live in concert, especially when an artist such as Taylor has so many hits to choose from to compile her setlist. As far as I know, she had only performed the song once before a week earlier in Kansas City for a football stadium sized crowd. That the song was included as a ‘Thank you’ from Taylor to her fans was a completely unexpected and wonderful surprise.
What’s next for Taylor? Well, a live CD/DVD document of this tour hits stores November 21. And then, maybe another US leg gets added to the tour in late Spring 2012. Will the next tour be even bigger? Right now, I can’t fathom how that’s possible. Maybe she’ll go the opposite route and present an Unplugged tour of smaller venues. Whatever is next, her audience of dedicated fans will follow her. And I promise you, if she appears anywhere close to where I am…or even far away enough where I have to fly to get there, I’ll be there to see whatever it is she chooses to do next. After all, what better excuse for a road trip than to see Taylor Swift?
If you’re a fan, you’re already saving your money for that road trip!

Taylor Swift – Speak Now: A Fan’s Review

Here again is my usual disclaimer I post when writing about Taylor Swift: I’m unabashedly, unashamedly a fan of Ms. Swift and her music. If you’re searching for a truly objective critique of the new record, you probably won’t find it here.

Okay, now onto the business at hand.

She had the top selling album of 2009, a completely sold out US tour and has spent the past two years seemingly in the full glare of the spotlight. But, through it all, Taylor Swift has remained the same person she was before this whirlwind of a career started. It’s only been just over four years since she released her debut album at sixteen, and now she’s a multi-platinum selling artist who’s latest record has been touted by some writers as the one ‘that will save the record industry’ in terms of sales.

No pressure. No, really, she seems to feel no pressure, at least she doesn’t show it.

Penning all fourteen songs herself, her songs deal with things that have happened to her over the last two years. So, naturally, there’s a song about that little incident at last years MTV Video Music Awards, [Innocent], there’s a song about her ex-boyfriend Taylor Lautner [Back To December] and  one that is a none too veiled kiss off to John Mayer [Dear John]. If you’ve followed the celebrity pages at all, then you know what Taylor’s up to, and thus, you know what these songs are about. In her earlier songs, like ‘Teardrops On My Guitar’ or ‘Hey Stephen’ she would name names. Now she doesn’t have to because everyone knows exactly who she’s talking to, or about. Even if she won’t admit it in an interview.

Yes, they’re personal songs. But, the songs are not unrelatable for the listener. Everyone’s lost at love, had to apologize to someone, been in a bad relationship; Swift just gets to do all of that [mostly] in the public eye.

Some in the country establishment have cried foul for years saying Taylor is anything but country. While it doesn’t seem like she’s trying to be a specific genre, ‘Speak Now’ does have two songs that probably sound more country than anything on her last multi-platinum effort, Fearless: ‘Mean’ and ‘Never Grow Up.’ Those acoustic gems are right alongside tunes like the disco flavored ‘Story of Us’ and the dreamlike soundscape that makes up what I consider the album’s highlight, ‘Enchanted’.

It could be a tricky situation for some, trying to grow up in the spotlight, with so many looking forward to what you have to say next. Swift has grown up a lot over the last two years and her maturity shines on this record, but nothing here sounds forced or calculated to be a hit [but who are we kidding? This album will be platinum in two weeks anyway!] Amid all the buzz this album has, the underlying fact is that the songs are strong and radio-ready.

With all of the music world watching and waiting on her, Swift has delivered a very personal, direct record that builds on the success of Fearless  without sounding like Fearless Part Two. Will this win her any new fans? Maybe. But it you’re not a fan already, then you probably won’t be.
That’s okay. You’ll be the one missing out on all the fun.

Taylor Swift — Speak Now — Big Machine Records: Highlights — Back To December, Mine, Sparks Fly, Enchanted, Better Than Revenge.


Read the story of how I became a Taylor Swift fan here
Read my reviews of Taylor’s Fearless tour here and 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.


Odds and Sods [Thoughts on ‘Tommy’, Taylor and Elvis, Part 1]

It’s been a while since I posted on the blog, so I thought I would take a moment to talk about this past weekend’s activities and look forward to what promises to be a phenomenal show this Saturday at The National.

Let’s start with last Saturday [04.17]: VCU Theatre’s production of ‘The Who’s Tommy’ at The Raymond Hodges Theatre.

You’re either a fan of The Who, or your not. No production of Tommy will persuade you to like The Who, nor will the ‘normal’ Who fans seek out other musical productions after seeing ‘Tommy.’ People go see this show to hear the songs live, hoping they sound somewhat similar to the double-album they already know.

It’s hard to believe that this ‘rock opera’ is now over forty years of age. Most of it has worn well, and this production brought home the point that, as a story, ‘Tommy’ is still as sick, as twisted and as sadistic as it was in 1969. Moments still make me cringe [the whole ‘Uncle Ernie/Cousin Kevin bit] but, this is a good thing. It’s a heavy play that doesn’t flinch from subject matter that was very taboo back then and doesn’t get discussed often now. And, don’t forget, at its core, it rocks.

This production, done ‘in the round’ is very fluid and never slows down. The performers that stood out to me were Eric Stallings as the teen-aged Tommy, Malorie Mackey as the ever-optimistic believer Sally Simpson, and young Cooper Timberline as the young Tommy. Stallings and Timberline did a masterful job of remaining in character, in the required catatonic state of Tommy, while being poked, prodded, carried and pushed. It really was a wonder to watch these two actors embody this singular character.

Lastly, the band is top-notch. Yes, there was only one foursome that had the bombast of The Who, but these local musicians do a great job staying true to the soundtrack, even playing ‘The Underture’ in Act One, which I fully expected to see cut from the show.

The show is playing this weekend and closes Sunday. Go to Theatre VCU for details. Tickets are $25 for the public with discounts for VCU students, alumni and staff. If you’re a fan of The Who, go support local theatre and check out this ambitious production.

Sunday 04.18 – The ACM Awards

Just a brief note about Sunday’s ACM awards, since I had some new readers ask why I hadn’t written anything about it on Monday. Taylor Swift may not have walked away with any awards this time [which, even though I am a big fan, I kind of expected, seeing as how the album has been out for a long time], but she had one of the most memorable performances of the evening that should, once and for all put to an end the notion that she can’t sing live. This was an appearance where her voice sounded as strong as it did a month ago when I saw her live show in Charlottesville. If ya missed it, here it is, via the wonder that is YouTube.

Taylor at The 2010 ACMs — Change

Congrats to Lady Antebellum and Miranda Lambert on their wins and performances. Miranda’s performance of ‘The House That Built Me’ was a great showcase for her, showing that she can sing the quiet song, not always having to be the ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’.

And finally, I look forward to Saturday night when none other than Elvis Costello performs at The National – right here in Richmond!! I’ve seen Elvis twice before, and I can’t wait to see and hear what this show will be like in this amazing venue. His last album, 2009’s ‘Secret, Profane and Sugarcane’ has a country/bluegrass flavor to it, so I am hopeful that we’ll hear some rare songs from his catalog. A dream set list for me would include:

Anything from his country covers album, ‘Almost Blue’ but especially Good Year For The Roses

Stranger In My House

Cheap Reward [which was sung wonderfully by Stephen Colbert in November, with Elvis on guitar on ‘The Colbert Report’

Motel Matches

And, of course, my dream setlist isn’t complete without the inclusion of I Hope You’re Happy Now.

I will be happy with whatever is played. But if any one of the above songs is heard, I’ll be ecstatic. Thanks again to The National for really putting Richmond on the music scene map for the first time in a very long time. It’s so nice to have a club that bands want to play!

Full review of Elvis Costello at The National will be posted by Monday night. If you have tickets to that show, see you there. If you don’t, go see Tommy at VCU.

More shows and reviews coming soon…including Jonathan Coulton at The Hat Factory May 13, Carrie Underwood this Tuesday at the Coliseum, and a full recap of the madness that is NASCAR on May First.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned!



‘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 setlist.fm:

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.]


A look back at 2009, my year of Taylor Swift [Or, how did this happen?]

[This was written in January, and I figured since I’ll be seeing Taylor Swift in concert this week, I’d post the story of how I became a fan. I edited one name out of the original writing, and the psudeonym chosen is not meant to be disparaging or mean in any way. I just can’t think of a good ‘fake name’ that fit.]

I have been meaning to write this story down since November but, it wasn’t until two friends asked me over Christmas break the direct question, ‘So, how did you become a Taylor Swift fan?’ that I decided to actually get this down on paper.

As usual, it’s a rather involved tale. I’ll do my best to keep it interesting. First, we have to go back a bit.

The first time I became aware of Taylor Swift was actually sometime in the summer of 2007. I was visiting my friend Eddie and his family and, the TV was on one of those Country Music Magazine shows, like Entertainment Tonight dedicated exclusively to the country music genre. There was a brief interview with Taylor on a video set [years later I would come to realize it was for the vid ‘Picture to Burn’ but at the time I was clueless]. I just remember seeing footage of her with her guitar, lip-synching to the audio. I thought, ‘Wow, she’s cute,’ but that was it. The vision and the thought left my mind as quickly as it came.

Fast forward to September 2008; I had begun to watch country music videos very late on Friday nites, just as something to pass the time. It’s been well documented in other notes that I grew up around country music, so, while it was never my first choice, it wasn’t foreign to me. On one of these evenings while watching videos, I saw the video for Taylor’s then new single ‘Love Story.’ I thought again, ‘Wow, she’s cute, and that’s a really good song.’ I saw the writing credit on the video listed her as the only author, so I was impressed, but again, the song didn’t stick with me so nothing more came of it. Life went on as usual.

Now, we move to April 2009. I am in Vegas at a conference for work. The very first seminar I attend is a ‘Think Positive’ motivational piece. It was Tuesday April 7. The speaker handed out sheets of paper and said ‘I want you to take five minutes and write down everything that is important to you and your life, the things you care about, the things you want and desire…the goals you have in your life and your career.’ I sat there and immediately wrote down the words ‘Maddie, mom, Brian and baseball’ and then the only other thing I wrote down, and kept tracing over was the name of a girl I’ve known and loved for years [heretofore, referred to simply as ‘The Girl’ because writing out ‘the girl I’ve known and loved for years’ takes too long]. That’s when it hit me as clear as anything I’ve ever felt before. Not to be cliché, but it was like the line in ‘When Harry Met Sally’:

‘When you find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.’

Only problem was, The Girl was living with someone. So, I kept the revelation a secret from everyone.

Now, we move to May 14, 2009. I am in the office of a retinal specialist. It’s up to him to determine if my retina will be able to withstand the needed eye surgery I was hoping to have in June. I don’t usually get nervous at a doctor’s office but, knowing I would have to find other alternatives to surgery if this doctor said ‘No’ had me on edge. They ran tests, they dilated my eyes…and they had piped in music I couldn’t control. So, I sat there in the dark waiting for them to come back to run more tests…nervous and on edge just a bit. I heard a radio DJ say, ‘and now the latest hit from teen pop sensation Taylor Swift, You Belong With Me.’’ At that point I was pretty much a captive audience.

As I listened, I remembered the two other instances where I ran across Taylor Swift, and I thought, ‘This is another catchy pop tune, good stuff.’ Then, the song got to the bridge…and my entire relationship with The Girl was summed up in five lines that took 18 seconds:

‘Oh, I remember you driving to my house in the middle of the night / I’m the one who makes you laugh when you know you’re ‘bout to cry / I know you’re favorite songs and you tell me ‘bout your dreams / Think I know where you belong / Think I know it’s with me. ‘

The song stuck in my head for the rest of the day, then for the next week, what I could remember of the song played on an incomplete loop in my ‘cerebral jukebox’ so much so that at the end of that week, I downloaded the album ‘Fearless.’ I decided to download the album instead of just the single ‘You Belong With Me’ because ‘Love Story’ was also on that album. I figured if I liked at least two of the songs, it was worth checking the other 13 songs out.

Now we move to early June. At some point the first week of June, I saw the video for the song ‘You Belong With Me’ and I loved it. That same week, The Girl and I had a conversation [via text as we always do] that changed things. I asked her point blank if she was happy with her current relationship. She said she was. Even though I didn’t believe her, I took her at her word, and did my best to move on.

Suffice to say, it became clear that, of all the things The Girl and I may be to one another, we would never be a couple. Despite my hopes and my best effort, it wasn’t going to happen. It took me a few days to get over that, and the one thing I kept going back to and listening to, was Taylor’s “Fearless” album. There’s a journal entry of mine from July that says simply: ‘My relationship with The Girl in three songs. 1) What it started out as: ‘You Belong With Me’. 2) What I wanted it to be: ‘Love Story’. 3) How it ended: ‘You’re Not Sorry’. It’s no coincidence that those three songs, in that order, remain the three most played songs on my iPod, by a wide margin.

So, the relationship I wanted with The Girl was more or less over at that moment and I needed something else to focus on, something positive that made me smile. And that’s when I threw myself into being a Taylor Swift fan. I downloaded her debut album, bought the Christmas EP on eBay [it was out of print in the summer, only to be re-released this past October]. I bought the out of print ‘Beautiful Eyes’ CD/DVD package from a seller on Amazon and downloaded any videos I could find on YouTube and iTunes. Was it an obsession? Some might think so but I prefer to think of it as a needed distraction when I was dealing with a broken heart and a bruised ego. And, in the end, if the songs weren’t any good, I really don’t think I would still be listening to them. Luckily, most of them are very good.

In late August, I was looking at Taylor’s tour itinerary. Every show was sold out but tickets could still be obtained thru StubHub. She had a show scheduled for Labor Day weekend in South Carolina. I already had a trip planned to visit a friend in Jacksonville, Florida that same weekend, with plane ticket bought and plans made. I ended up going to Florida, but for several days, I thought long and hard about bagging that trip and going to South Carolina instead to see Taylor in concert.

Happily, her management, knowing a good thing when they saw one, decided to add dates to the tour starting in February. Tickets went onsale in October for two shows relatively close; Charlottesville in March and Washington, DC in June. I was lucky enough to get tickets to both shows, and both shows sold out in less than five minutes. I thought I would have to convince a friend or talk someone into going with me, since I don’t drive, but once Eddie [who was there at the start of this whole thing when I first saw Taylor in 2007] heard about the shows, he was eager to attend.

This past year, really since Christmas 2008 when I asked for a Buck Owens box set for Christmas, I have listened to a lot of country music that in the past I would have ignored. Some people, including my brother, don’t get it. That’s okay. I still listen to my first love, KISS, but since that day at the doctor’s office in May, I’ve had a steady diet of Taylor Swift music. It got me through a very rough patch and, no matter my mood, it continues to make me smile.

What more can you ask of music?

Thanks for reading,