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Archive for March, 2011

Taylor Hicks: Deep in the Hearts of the Texas Challenge

Text and photos contributed by Louise Uznanski.  Click on the photos to enlarge. Videos graciously provided by Bonnie Cheung.

Ride 2 Recovery: It’s three words that have turned into so much more for me.  I was privileged to be a small part of an amazing band of brothers at an event orchestrated to benefit the ‘unit’ of veterans wounded in the line of duty to their country. I admit what attracted me to this event was the inclusion of Taylor Hicks and his band who were invited to perform at the Kick-Off Benefit Concert at the Embassy Suites in San Marcos, Texas.  I got to spend time with the artist Taylor Hicks.  We all got to spend time with the humanitarian Taylor Hicks along with his ‘band of brothers’ Brian, Sam, Leif, Jeff, David and Brandon.

Ride 2 Recovery is a non profit organization that supports the rehabilitation of injured military veterans through cycling.  In the “Don’t Mess with Texas Challenge” more than two hundred veterans and support personnel will cycle from San Antonio to Arlington, covering up to 50 miles per day on traditional bikes, recumbents, and hand cycles.  It is truly a challenge.  As rider Mike McNaughton told reporter Russell Wilde of austin.ynn.com, “The ride is hard, but misery loves company. And it’s a really good ride to not only get the wounded warriors together, but to get everyone together because we’re one big family.” (http://bit.ly/gqcdRH)


I had to think about why I was really in Texas and in doing that, I discovered that this day was not about me, Taylor Hicks or the challenges associated with the thousand miles I traveled to see this show.  My thoughts led me to the true purpose of my travels, and that revelation led to my arrival at the venue early in the day.  I said it was to check out the space, and I did learn the layout, etc., but it was the people I met there who turned my head around and set me in the right direction.Entering the hotel parking lot, I spotted this support truck in a space near the access road where the participants would make their entrance near the hotel’s lobby.  I later spoke to the men unloading the truck.  210 riders were expected in this Texas Challenge.  The truck contained bikes, parts, equipment and merchandise.

This is part of the welcoming committee including R2R organizers, hotel managers and personnel.  There were 16 greeters at the hotel lobby door and one canine greeter.

I waited next to the reception committee so I could see the riders come down the hilly access road on their way to the hotel.  Some of the riders as they crossed the finish line for the first leg of the Challenge are here.

Motorcycle escorts were part of the ride.

A rider approaches the finish line

Finishing after a long day's ride.

Service dog waiting for his partner.

In my first encounter of the day, I met American Legion Post 744 Ladies Auxiliary member Sandy.  She and her husband Tom, American Legion member, live in the San Marcos area and were the local organizers of the event.  When Sandy heard my name she immediately went in to get her husband.  I had corresponded with Tom on several occasions about the event and he told me that they were all thrilled that Taylor’s fans were coming from distant states to be a part of the Ride 2 Recovery event.  I spoke with Sandy at length about the day’s schedule.  Volunteers would serve the food and clean the ballroom before the show. Dignitaries from local and state governments would be there.  The state and national commanders of the American Legion would be there as well as representatives of the sponsors of the ride including United Healthcare. I found out that the first year of the ride, the dinner was held at the Legion post.  The second year it was held in the Embassy Suites but they had one half of the room they had on March 28th.  The event has grown and is run by Ride 2 Recovery and volunteers from the Legion, the Auxiliary and the Junior Auxiliary of San Marcos. I met Pat Murdock next who wore many hats that day to keep the schedule going as planned. Thanks to Sandy, Tom and Pat for their generosity. Everyone was very busy so I left the ballroom and went to have a look around the facility.

Sandy and Tom Tvrdik

Feeling more ready to be involved in this event, I looked for any signs that would tell me that Ride 2 Recovery and Taylor Hicks were united in this cause. No photos, no big banners or signs. I realized that this event was for the wounded warriors and the riders.  I did find this sign which says in simple terms that Ride 2 Recovery included Taylor Hicks.

We then met Christopher Swan whose job with Ride to Recovery is coordinating all of the events and participants until the last fork is cleared away and the last note played by the band.  He was extremely gracious to us and very appreciative of Taylor’s fans present at the event.  There were 12 VIP guests who would have a meet and greet with Taylor after dinner.  Then the show would start.  It was Christopher’s unenviable job of lining everyone up in order: the sponsors, the dignitaries ,the veterans and riders, the VIPs and the dinner guests and filtering them in to the ballroom when it was their turn to enter. He did a more than admirable job! Looking back at the line of veterans and riders put this night into perspective for me so deeply that I would have waited until a thousand entered before going in to my reserved table.   So many young and old wounded warriors entered the ballroom proudly wearing their medals and Legion hats that I forgot any physical problems I may have had at that moment.  Nothing compares to the bravery and courage these men and women carried with them during and after their service to our country.

Color Guard carrying the flags.

Dignitaries were introduced.  The highlight of the night’s introductions was a rider who is blind and a double amputee who was wounded in the line of duty helping to save a fellow soldier.  Ride 2 Recovery built a special tandem bike for him because he wanted to meet the challenge of riding in this event.  The funds for a bike such as this are raised by Ride 2 Recovery’s state Challenges.

Christopher then led the group to the meet and greet with Taylor.  He was waiting in a room across from the ballroom. Seeing him as we entered the room he looked relaxed and handsomely dressed in a blue velvet jacket, checked shirt and jeans.  This was our time with Taylor Hicks the artist. Each person had the chance to speak to him individually and gifts were given to Taylor, the artist.  Behind the last person in our group, a line started to form with the volunteers and riders who wanted to meet Taylor, the artist and humanitarian. This made me proud to be there and share Taylor with these people who gladly shared their time with the veterans and Ride 2 Recovery. The line was long but each person was graciously greeted by Taylor and his team of Clay Connor and Mike Douglas.

A quiet moment at the meet and greet.

The ballroom was filled with over 400 in the audience.  The state American Legion commander announced Taylor and his band by saying, “You may know that Taylor Hicks persevered to win American Idol in 2006 and that he has gone on to record CD’s and tour the country.  What you may not know about Taylor is his support of our military men and women.  When asked to help, he always says yes and for that I will hold him deep in my heart forever.”  My heart swelled.  What a moment!

Time for the show!  I appreciate your patience in waiting for the recap of Taylor’s part of the show.  I have learned that nothing is perfect but the night as a whole was so wonderful, it is easy to forget that the lighting was not ideal or the sound or the dance floor being in the front of the stage.  But, the performance by Taylor and his band made up for any of the technical shortcomings that may have occurred during the night. Getting good media was a challenge, but sometimes that happens. And, the night was not about me, it was about them. All-in-all, the night was a win-win:  Raising money for a great cause and seeing Taylor passionately perform was as satisfying as it gets!

His set list was familiar.  The solos have been heard before but the passion was elevated to new heights especially on Nineteen and Why Can’t We Live Together. Taylor has never been better performing the latter song while playing the organ.   Taylor changed some minds and made new fans.  Win-win-win.  I know these new fans were ecstatic to see their first live Taylor Hicks show since the Idol tour.

Three 'newbies"!

Photos and videos follow. I enjoyed my first trip to Texas. The people of Ride 2 Recovery are wonderful!! The veterans are proud of their service and their country. To be an American hit home seeing this laid out before my eyes. I am doubly proud of Taylor Hicks and his passion and support of our troops!

Stage ready for Taylor and the band.

Harp and blues.

Harp and blues 2.

Groovin'

At the organ.

Taylor and Brian Less

The passion of Taylor Hicks

Nineteen:

Why Can’t We Live Together?

Adam Ezra Group: Enjoying the Indie Ride

 

Photo courtesy of Louise Uznanski

Adam Ezra just hitched a trailer to the van.  It’s a new luxury, and another sign that the band is on the rise.  The Group moves both up and out this spring, traveling south of the Mason-Dixon line on their first headlining national tour.

This trip should be a much more comfortable ride.  For the first time the equipment will ride separately from the passengers.  Bassist Rob Soper will handle the logistics of packing the van and trailer, an assignment that Adam says requires the precision of a game of Tetris.  The percussionist will navigate the course; Turtle is the designated driver and only rarely shares that responsibility with other band members .  Adam will ride in the back of the fifteen passenger van where he’ll work on new songs and write blog/video entries while the wheels roll.  When the van finally grinds to a halt, the band will rest at a hotel booked by keyboardist Josh Gold.  He’s the Priceline guru, working his same day magic on a near daily basis.  The band hopes continental breakfast is part of the deal.

Like the van, the Adam Ezra Group has been picking up speed.  The first time the band played “The Half Door” on a Wednesday night, there weren’t many listening.  At their next club date, there were a few more, and now when the Group is booked, the Hartford club is packed and the crowd sings along.

The band is known for their enthusiastic and energetic live performances of original songs written by Adam Ezra.  The music is a soulful brand of rock that Adam says comes from a very personal place.  His songs often tell a

Photo of Adam Ezra by MacPolski

story, and the intent is to connect emotionally with the audience. Whether the story describes a love gone wrong, or carries a political message, the lyrics are meant to forge a personal connection with the listener.

That connection was important to the Group’s winning entry in “Pick the Band”, a national online contest that asked fans to vote for their favorite among several talented bands.  The prize was a development deal and three song recording with a major producer.   Simply titled “Part 1″, the Adam Ezra Group’s three song EP was recorded with multi-platinum producer Aaron Johnson (“The Fray”) and released in September 2010.  The Group has subsequently recorded a full length follow-up CD, also produced by Johnson, with an anticipated release in fall 2011.  If the first three songs are any indication, Ragtop Angel (working album title) should be taking off in a big way.


That’s not all.  It’s a busy time for Adam Ezra.  Projects in progress include an acoustic album and an original television theme song.  The acoustic songs have been pulled from a demo of 20-30 contenders; Adam is a prolific writer.  A few of the songs have already been recorded with producer Tim Leitner, and a novel release is under consideration.  Starting later this spring, a new acoustic song may be released every month until the complete album has been revealed.  The television theme song is intended for a series that is still in the early planning stages.  As production is not a certainty, Adam couldn’t reveal more except to say that the song is quirky – his “Tom Waits” song.

Given all of the Group’s recent and anticipated successes, Adam could be forgiven for dreaming big, but this singer/songwriter keeps it all in perspective.  Asked where he sees himself five years from now, Adam answered, laughing “in a bigger van?”  He went on to say that “A lot of musicians spend their lives envisioning where they want to be, but it’s important for me to enjoy the ride and the magical moments that happen every day.”

Photo of Adam Ezra Group by Louise Uznanski

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This is Part 1 of a 2 part series.  Look for Part 2: “Adam Ezra Group: The Social Connection”, coming soon.

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For more on Adam Ezra Group, including music and tour dates: http://www.adamezra.com/index.php?page=homepage

Taylor Hicks Concert Video: Guilty Musings

Video kindly shared by Bonnie Cheung; she’s innocent.

I didn’t hold the camera or press “record”.  I did encourage the videographer, and I did enjoy and share the recording.  Guilty, I am guilty of conspiracy – conspiracy to tape American Idol season 5 winner Taylor Hicks in concert.

Oh, I understand the implications here.  Didn’t rob the bank, but planned the heist and booked the getaway car.  Plotted the attack, but didn’t pull the trigger.  Guilty, perhaps more guilty than if I had been holding the camera.  So pass the prison pants, Martha Stewart, just take them in at the waist.

Now there is a reasonable basis for recording Taylor in concert.  Mr. Hicks has been generous to his fans; the following policy was posted on his official Facebook page in late March 2009:

In an effort to promote fan interaction, Taylor Hicks will now allow audience members to record most live solo shows and permits non-profit trading of the recordings.
 
The written policy did not differentiate between audio and video recording.  Since that message was posted, hundreds of both audio and video recordings have been captured and shared by fans.  Officially, I believe that my actions can therefore be classified as “fan interaction”.  It’s hardly my fault if I’m good at interacting. 
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My concern comes not from the finished product; I firmly believe that the recordings help to solidify the fan community, and to recruit others to the artist’s fanbase.  My lingering concern is the potential impact that live recording may have on the concert experience, not only for the fans in attendance but for the artist. 
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I’d like to address that topic in a future post.  For now, my guilty conscience has been soothed by the sure knowledge that you will enjoy the following video, captured at Mr. Hicks’ Vinyl Music Hall show, February 2011.  It is a great pleasure to interact with you. 
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Taylor Hicks Goes to Washington via TX and AL

Written by Louise/4Tay, covering Taylor’s shows in the months of March and April. Tour photos by Louise/4Tay.


We are well aware that it was Mr. Smith who went to Washington but Mr. Hicks will travel to the state of Washington by way of Texas and Alabama as he rounds out his tour schedule for the months of March and April.

First stop, TEXAS! The Ride 2 Recovery Kick-off Concert will be headlined by Taylor Hicks and his band on March 28th at the Embassy Suites in San Marcos, Texas.  This is a charity event, whose purpose is to raise money for bicycles and other training devices to assist in the rehabilitation of our nation’s wounded veterans, begins with the ride participants arriving at the Embassy Suites in the late afternoon.  A dinner for the veterans and guests of the American Legion is next.  At 6:45 pm, Taylor Hicks will participate in a VIP reception for donors to the charity who will have a chance to meet and mingle with Mr. Hicks and photo ops are possible.  The event then goes to the main ballroom of the Embassy Suites where the band will perform beginning at 7:30 pm.

Last week, TaylorHicksNews on Tap  posted a heartwarming article about the organization.

The link to that article is here: http://ontapblog.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/ride-2-recovery-the-2011-texas-challenge/

The Texas Challenge Information page and the link to purchase tickets is here:

http://www.ride2recovery.com/component/content/article/7.html

Texans have patiently waited for a long time to have the chance to see Taylor perform live.  March 28th they will not only see Taylor and his great band, they will be helping a great cause.  It is expected that this event will sell out so if you are planning to go, buy your tickets now!

Armed Forces Appreciation Day, Ft. Walton Beach, FL

On to April!


April 17th appearance has been confirmed by Community Events as the date Taylor will appear at the Culture Fest at Holt High School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama!  The Fest will be held outdoors from 1-6 pm on the Holt High School football field.  Admission to the event and the entertainment is FREE!!

This information was found on Holt High School’s website (Tuscaloosa, AL)

Quote:
Taylor Hicks will perform on our football field for Culture Fest!!!!! This is exciting news. The date is April 17th, 2011 from 1:00-6:00. Many events will happen on that day from gospel music to Taylor Hicks’ performance. There will be tons of activities for the kids to enjoy, and all the entertainment and food is free. Please encourage your friends and family members to join in the fun.

http://www.holthighschool.org/?Page…hool&Itype=News

http://www.yearofalabamamusic.com/f…=4&city=&genre=

Culture Fest has drawn up to 15,000 visitors for it’s day devoted to the awareness of diverse cultures in music, art and food.  Two stages will be set up on the football field for musical entertainment.  During the day on Stage 2, local and regional acts will perform. On Stage 1, musical acts both local and more widely known will grace the stage until Taylor Hicks appears to close the Festival.  Culture Fest ends at 6 pm with Taylor and his band taking the stage to close out the day of festivities.

On to the Pacific Northwest.

Snoqualmie Falls, Snoqualmie, WA Photo: Dan Nutt

After appearing at two charity events (Ride 2 Recovery and Culture Fest) Taylor Hicks and his band move to the great Northwest to perform one show at the Snoqualmie Ballroom of the Snoqualmie Casino and Resort. Set among the evergreen forests approximately forty minutes east of greater Seattle, this stop on the tour takes Taylor across the country on a tour that some say never ends.

Here is the information about the Snoqualmie Casino Ballroom and where to buy tickets.

Tickets/Infohttp://snocasino.com/events/taylor-hicks/

Casino Location:  37500 Southeast North Bend Way, Snoqualmie, WA

Phone:               425-888-1234

Seating capacity: 1,000

Taylor’s performances at casino settings have historically sold out and have been rated among his best live shows.  For beautiful scenery, a luxurious venue and live music by a dynamic performer like Taylor Hicks, this show is not to be missed!

May is filling up fast with shows (at the time of publication) May 1 in Huntsville, AL; May 5 in New Orleans; May 8 in Ogunquit, Me; May 14 in Greensburg, PA; May 16 in Glens Falls, NY; May 27 in Coos Bay, OR and May 29 in Manistee, MI.  Get in shape for MAY by seeing Taylor in March and April.  Great live music, beautiful scenery, friends and travel.  This IS the tour that never ends! Now only if Mr. Hicks would go to Washington!

White House Visit 2010

I Spent the Night with Elton John

I spent the night with Elton John, but he never knew it.  I admired his attitude, wondered at his skill, applauded his performance, but he was unaware.  After each song, the legend turned from the piano and acknowledged the cheers of the crowd.  He pointed to first one and then another section of the arena; it was a motion that at once acknowledged the fans in attendance, yet made clear that he was in total charge of the evening.  He never pointed to my section.  Later I realized that, cloaked by darkness and distance, my section was hidden from his view. 

He missed quite a sight.  We were a lively group at the back of Mohegan Sun arena, on our feet and dancing.  We had the fever last Friday night as we sang along to “Levon”, “Take Me to the Pilot”, and “Tiny Dancer”.  It wasn’t until Elton introduced “Crocodile Rock” and announced that this was a song suitable for an audience sing-along that I realized our earlier efforts probably (thankfully) hadn’t reached his ears.

It was a three hour and ten minute show.  No hesitation, no breaks, no mercy.  Aside from brief pauses for song introductions and applause, the music rained continuously until the concert was half done.  Then Elton stepped around the piano and walked to the opposite side of the stage.  He commented that the songs from his new album “The Union” just didn’t feel right without his writing/singing partner, and he welcomed Mr. Leon Russell to the stage.  I opened and closed my mouth, stifling an elated scream that ended as a gurgle in the back of my throat.  I had hoped, but not expected, that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee would perform.  He did not disappoint; his voice was full of character and proved a perfect complement to Elton’s smoother tone.

Most of the arena, however, had a more subdued response to Mr. Russell’s appearance.  They didn’t know his name.  They weren’t familiar with the new songs.  The young woman next to me turned and said, “I don’t want to hear this stuff.  I want to hear the old songs!”  And then it struck me that even Elton John faces challenges.  Introducing new music is difficult; most prefer to hear what they already know through repetition and rote.

Those older songs were delivered in a strong, clear voice that belied Mr. John’s 63 years.  His vocals covered the songs’ middle and lower ranges; the high notes were handled by four female back-up singers who added depth and richness to the performance.  One of those women, Rosie Stone, is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Sly and the Family Stone).  The band was tight and the band members enthusiastic, none more so than drummer Nigel Olsson who has been with Mr. John since 1969.

At my first Elton John concert, I was most impressed by his skill at the piano.  He played an extended solo during the performance of “Rocket Man”, and the video feed showed his hands on the big screens.  His fingers were perfectly flexed, held perpendicular to the keys in a posture that would have made the most demanding teacher proud.  Those fingers flew, and the sound was brilliant.

Elton told us that he was happy to perform for us, and he truly looked happy.  He assured us that after four decades of performing, he still feels a rush when he comes on stage, and that it’s just getting better.  The audience felt the same way about the evening’s entertainment- happy, and it couldn’t have been better.  Three hours passed as one.  Many were heard to say “We certainly got our money’s worth!”, and at ticket prices up to $250, that’s a pretty strong endorsement.

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Photographs of Elton John and band are from an earlier performance, and kindly provided by Anna Kim.  For more of Anna’s professional photography: http://www.annakimphotography.com/

Ride 2 Recovery: The 2011 Texas Challenge

Photo by Russ Brock

When the convoy leaves San Antonio, the group will be more than 200 strong.  Together they’ll face the physical and mental challenges posed by a six day, 350 mile cycling tour that ends in Arlington, Texas.  The participants are members of the United States military who have been injured and are now in rehabilitation.  They’ll use recumbents, hand cycles, or traditional road bikes to travel the distance, and the support and camaraderie of their fellow cyclists to meet the challenge. 

Photo by Russ Brock

Many of the bikes have been custom-fitted to accommodate the unique needs of the rider.  The cycles and the Challenge event are provided free-of-charge to active duty U.S. military by Ride 2 Recovery, a non-profit organization that is making a difference in the lives of wounded warriors through cycling.  In its first year of operation, Ride 2 Recovery purchased 20 bikes.  Fifty-five cyclists participated in two Challenge events held on the east coast and in California.  In 2010, 275 cycles were purchased and over 3,000 participated in six Challenge rides across the United States.  This year the program plans seven events, including the “Don’t Mess with Texas Challenge” that begins on March 28, 2011 at the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio.

Ride 2 Recovery has already made a difference in the life of US Army CH-47 Juan Carlos Hernandez.  Hernandez was injured in October 2009 during an aerial mission over the valleys of Afghanistan.  His plane was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, causing severe damage to his right lower leg that required below-the-knee amputation.  During subsequent outpatient treatment, Hernandez’ therapist recommended the Texas Challenge to him.  Juan Carlos accepted the challenge and had this to say about his experience, “When I ride my bike, I feel relaxed.  Free.  It is as if nothing else in the world mattered.  It helps keep my mind clear and focused.  Riding my bicycle has dramatically helped me with my walking and my quick recovery; it has not only helped me physically, but also mentally.”

Hernandez is one of many event participants who consider other riders to be their extended family.  New friendships are made and cemented on the road where cyclists ride in ability matched groups for five to six hours per day.  Stories, laughter, and an important sense of normalcy are shared among athletes who have a unique understanding of the trauma inflicted by war and the ongoing challenges of recovery.

Cyclists are supported on the road by the USO and American Legion, as well as friends, family, and schoolchildren who line the streets to cheer the riders on their way.  Corporate sponsors like UnitedHealthcare, and celebrity sponsors have helped to increase awareness of Ride 2 Recovery events, and have been important to the program’s steady growth since its 2008 inception.  At the 2011 Texas Challenge, American Idol season 5 winner Taylor Hicks will perform for the cyclists, invited guests, and other ticketholders.  Mr. Hicks will have the opportunity to meet and spend time with the troops the day prior to the event.

Sponsors are important to the future of Ride 2 Recovery.  Program goals include growth of indoor and outdoor cycling programs at U.S. military Warrior Transition Units and possible expansion to Department of Veterans Affairs facilities.

This summer the program welcomes new advocates – the students and faculty of St. Paul’s School, Concord, NH.  Seven high school students will cycle 3,568 miles across country from Seattle, WA to York, ME in support of military veterans and Ride 2 Recovery.  The fundraising trip begins soon after school is dismissed for the year and is expected to conclude on July 30.  Each student will cycle in tandem with a wounded warrior; that warrior’s photo will come along for the ride, tucked safely into the student’s pack each day.  The fundraising goal is $100,000.

In just a few short years, Ride 2 Recovery has already shown that cycling can play a significant role in the rehabilitation of physical and mental injuries, ranging from loss of limb(s) to post traumatic stress disorder.  Cycling can also be a lifelong activity and a source of shared pleasure with family and friends.  It’s also true that cycling can be a stress reliever, and not just for the rider.  As one veteran’s wife suggested during a brief moment of tension, “Go ride your bike!”

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For more on Ride 2 Recovery: http://ride2recovery.com/

To donate to Ride 2 Recovery:  http://ride2recovery.com/r2r-sponsor-a-rider.html

For more on the St. Paul’s School cyclists: http://www.sps.edu/podium/default.aspx?t=204&nid=591205

For more on singer/songwriter Taylor Hicks: http://www.taylorhicks.com/

Taylor Hicks Tour: Bon Temps at Beau Rivage

Video and review of Taylor Hicks Band at Beau Rivage Theatre courtesy of Bonnie Cheung; original photos provided by Louise/4tay

The Taylor Hicks Band performed at Beau Rivage Theatre in Biloxi, Mississippi on February 26, 2011.  I watched and listened from the fourth row, and enjoyed subtle differences in the delivery of some favorite songs compared to prior shows. 

“Nineteen”, the story of a fallen soldier, was given an emotional delivery by the entire band; heard not only in the vocals, but in the haunting flute play at song’s end.

“Why Can’t We Live Together” was given a different feel and arrangement at Beau Rivage with a striking saxophone solo.

“Maybe You Should” is a signature song that at Beau Rivage was delivered with quiet passion.

Another original Taylor Hicks song “Hold on to Your Love” was given a new treatment with falsetto addition.

“Just to Feel that Way” was the first single released from the self titled 2006 debut album; I believe this was the first stateside performance of the song since the 2007 national tour!

Taylor and his band have a way of making the music fresh and new at each show.  That’s why I keep coming back for more.

Taylor Hicks: The Passion of Live Music

by Margaret Reilly (all photos copyrighted by ©NolaMarImages)

Click on images to enlarge.

Should I or shouldn’t I? Travel that is. That is the 1st question that pops into my mind when I hear a new Taylor Hicks Band show announced within a reasonable driving distance, and one I asked myself when I heard they were opening their 2011 tour at the Vinyl Music Hall in Pensacola, Florida on February 24th.

I have only occasionally traveled to see artists during my life. Growing up in Houston, all our favorite rock bands would come do shows right there in the city, but we would sometimes go to the Willie Nelson 4th of July picnics in the country , or to Austin for a ZZ Top show at Texas Stadium. And once I traveled to Cleveland for a Bruce Springsteen concert while temporarily living in Ohio.

I have also traveled to see a few artists more recently. I don’t do it very often, but some artists are just worth the extra effort to go see if they don’t come to you.  Gov’t Mule in Houston;  Shemekia Copeland in Baton Rouge; Rick Carter &  LOLA at the FloraBama.

Then there is Taylor Hicks. I saw him once in New Orleans in 2007, but he has not done a show here since then.  I usually try to wait for musicians that I like to come to me, but Taylor is one of the best live performers I’ve ever seen. For this reason I go to see him just about anytime I can get there in my car in 6 hrs or less.

As a lover of  live music I get more than my fair share of it in New Orleans. With all the local spots around the city,  the French Quarter, Frenchmen Street, and a music festival for just about every occasion you can imagine, I had the opportunity to see close to 40 different artists & bands last year alone. Photographs of some of my favorite, most memorable shows are found here:  http://bit.ly/hhUH9F

Even with this sumptuous feast of music here in this city, I often yearn to go to some of the other big festivals around the country. Bonnaroo in Tennesse, Wanee in Florida, SXSW in Texas, and one of the newest  music celebrations, The Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores, AL. What is it about live music that compels us travel to it, wait in long lines, stand in blistering heat, pouring rain or a sea of mud for hours??  For me it is the inherent passion  in live music that draws me to it.  When you participate in live music, you don’t just hear it, you actually experience it. It can be a time of corporate revelry, like at Jazz Fest or Mardi Gras. Other times, depending on the genre and  the atmosphere of the venue, you can just let it envelope your senses & emotions and get lost in it. Experiencing live music encompasses the senses in a way that just listening to it does not. You see it, you hear it, you taste it, you FEEL it when it’s being performed in front of your very eyes. The music is a binding force that connects you temporarily to the artists on the stage. It’s intimate. It’s sexy.

I totally love the visual aspect of a live show. Watching the expression of the music by the artist is a big part of the experience. No more huge arenas or stadium concerts for me. Nothing larger than a Workplay, House of Blues or Tippitina’s please.  I want to watch the music being made. Even at Jazz Fest I don’t want to be a part of  it unless I can get up close to the musicians. Days of wandering from stage to stage are fun and fabulous, but I have also camped out at a stage barricade or the front of the Blues Tent for an entire day for the up close & personal experience of headliner bands like Derek & Susan, the Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule, Panic, BB King, Jeff Beck….  You do what you gotta do..

For me, a great venue actually enhances the mood and experience of a live show.   The Vinyl Music Hall turned out to be just the kind of Venue I love the most – not too big, loads of character, and very intimate like the Blue Nile, The Maple Leaf, DBA, Old Point Bar and so many other great spots here in New Orleans – places where you can really connect to the artists.

The stage was open on two sides, giving more of the audience a chance to view the band either up close or from the bars.

I arrived at the venue early enough to be up close in front because watching Taylor perform is a musical experience like few others. Not only does he put together a fantastic, tight, rockin’ band and sing his ass off with his beautiful, powerful, sexy voice, but his passion for the music he performs just pours out of  him, spills over into the audience, and ties us to him, the band, and the music to a degree that I rarely experience. And I love it!

It seems the more Taylor digs a song or a particular tag, the more he gets lost in it… You see it in his facial expressions….

or maybe in his whole being through his dancing.

This was my favorite of the Taylor Hicks shows I’ve been to see. Taylor truly excels on harmonica. His harp-playing is thrilling, and there was lots of it in this show.

Other highlights of this particular show for me: Gene McDaniels penned protest song Compared to What added back to the setlist; gettin’ on down with the funky Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody, a favorite of mine; Taylor playing the organ on a new song for him, Timmy Thomas’ Why Can’t We Live Together; this was a special surprise for us Taylor fans.

Rockin’, bluesy I Live On A Battlefield!! ALWAYS a favorite too, especially live; super extra sexy harp solo in What’s Right Is Right.

As the mom of a Marine who has been in harm’s way more times than I want to think about, “19″ always brings me to tears. Taylor sings this with TOTAL feeling & conviction. The lyrics, Taylor’s passionate delivery, and Jeff Lopez’s Dixie flute solo at the end always make this song an emotional experience for me. Taylor’s band was on fire, as always! They are all so incredibly talented and made this show even more memorable.

The venue, the setlist, the kick ass band, lots of blues and harp, Taylor’s incredible talent and overflowing passion… they all made my “yes” answer to the question “should I travel to this one”  the RIGHT one.

Here is a slide show of the photographs from this post, including some extras that are not shown here:  http://bit.ly/howkWl

Should I Go Negative on Taylor Hicks?

Reflection

The internet is an equalizer, I think.  The computer offers a voice to anyone with a keyboard and an opinion to share.  There is opportunity, but no guarantee.  Some voices are louder than others, and it’s often difficult to be heard above the clamor.

There is pleasure in the simple act of writing and publishing a blog.  There is a sense of satisfaction when I feel that a phrase has been well turned, when the words flow easily in sequence.  That said, I’m not writing a diary.  I’m writing with purpose, and in the hope that others will read and enjoy what I’ve written, and perhaps seek out the artists/music I’ve presented.

During the first six months of the blog, I’ve learned a few empirical truths about writing and marketing.  Much of what I’ve learned has come from trial and error, and even more through the generous counsel of other bloggers.

I’d like to share some of my lessons learned through comparative examples.

A Tale of Two Blogs or The Power of Negativity

Facts:

Last October I posted “Taylor Hicks and Marilyn Monroe: A Photographer’s Story“, a news story with promotional intent (Taylorhicksnews on tap blog).  In January, Harris Decker published “Opinion: How Taylor Hicks Ruined American Idol“, personal commentary based on statistical review (The Truth about Music blog).

My article pulled 420 views the first day, 1260 views in the first three weeks.  Harris’ article pulled 500 views the first day, 815 views in the first three weeks.  The news story prompted 14 comments from readers; the editorial elicited 78 comments.  There were approximately 20 “tweets” about my post in the first day or two; Harris received 80 twitter replies to his post, many with angry/negative tone.

My post was 4 months from concept to publication by the time interviews and necessary approvals were obtained; the post was rewritten 3 times.  Harris devoted one day to research/analysis and forty-five minutes to writing.

Analysis:

I consider both of these blog posts to be successful with regard to generating interest/views and comments.  Clearly, Harris’ post was much more successful in encouraging reader interaction.

Conclusions:

1.  Negative headlines attract attention.

When asked about his attention getting headline, Harris had this to say, “I actually spent an entire year as an entertainment editor for a college newspaper, writing headlines for every single article in the section. While I hated it at first, I grew to love it. In the past, I’ve used headlines like: “Katy Perry, Please Go Away, You Aren’t Loved (Anymore)” or “Indie Music Fans Think They Are Special, Here’s Why They’re Not.” I know that a dramatic over the top headline will spark interest…”.

2.  Negative content evokes emotion and generates views/comments.

In discussing his post, Harris offered “I’ve learned over the three years of writing this blog that negative articles always do better than positive ones. I can’t say that I was going for this emotional chord in this case but you certainly couldn’t put it past me.”  Harris also voiced surprise at the well of support for Mr. Hicks that erupted within minutes of his blog’s posting.

3.  Effort is no guarantee of success.

There is at best a weak correlation between time and effort spent on a post and the eventual success of that post.

4.  Readers play a critical role.

By reading and then sharing a post, readers play an important role in its success.  By commenting upon or discussing an article on social media sites, the reader encourages others to visit the blog.  In this respect, positive and negative comments are nearly equivalent.  Both bring more attention to the post and help the post to remain visible on internet search engines.  Negative comments may actually prove more useful as curiosity drives readers to the post.

Through their actions, readers also provide feedback that guides future post selection.  When articles garner a large number of comments, tweets and/or reposts, then the blogger is encouraged to provide more of the same.

A Tale of Two Posts or Animals Rule Humans

Facts:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of these photos received far more views than the other.  In a July 2010 post “Doggone Smart: Curry, Rob, and Taylor“, the Glen of Imaal terrier was the focus of nearly 50% of the comments posted.

A New Year’s Eve post that featured little in the way of new blog content but that included a photo of a squinting cat received an embarrassingly large number of views.

Analysis:

Readers prefer cute animals to humans.  It is unclear if a boa constrictor would have yielded the same result.

Conclusion:

1.  Animals enhance blog views.

The perfect headline would marry negativity with a handsome animal while still advancing the blog’s viewpoint.

2.  I missed my chance.

It was there, if I had only known then what I know now.

The headline that could have been:

“Hound Dog Pans Taylor Hicks Performance”

The First 6 Months: The Most Important Lessons I’ve Learned

1.  There’s more to learn.

I’ve read many blogs on a variety of topics over the past several months.  Most of these were written by authors with far more experience and skill than I.  I look forward to learning and improving.

2.  I have my own voice.

Singers have their own unique style; so do writers.  My style is my own and it’s here to stay.  Over the last 6 months I’ve developed a fair understanding of what I can and can’t do.  I can’t do negative effectively.  While the blog may occasionally tease with a negative headline, the content is unlikely to run that way.  It’s a personal and stylistic choice, not an indictment of other bloggers.  The artists presented here are those who entertain me; I’m grateful for their efforts.

.

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The truth about Harris’ blog is that most of the posts are well written with a neutral/positive slant.  Here’s the link to his blog.  Leave him 78 comments on a post that you like; chances are you’ll get more of the same.  http://truthaboutmusic.com/

Taylor Hicks Tour: Biloxi Dirty Dog Delta Blues

In Pt. 3:  Taylor Hicks finishes the Blues Patrol march through the Mississippi Delta.

All text and photos provided by Louise4Tay.  Click on the image to enlarge.

“Who here remembers the dirty dog? The dirty dog?  Yeah, you remember the dirty dog.  …..Uh, huh, I think I just made that up.”


Taylor may have made up that dance but the music he played at the Beau Rivage Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi on February 26th was true blues and funk. The blues were down and dirty as they could be given that there were families and family members in attendance.  While it was cool and misty outside in the Gulf coast night, inside the venue the concert goers went from cool to warm to red hot thanks to the reverberating beat of funk and blues provided by Taylor and the band.

A raucous crowd welcomed the singer on stage as Brian Less tickled the piano keys and Taylor struck the beat on the cowbell to Compared To What.  More cowbell! could be heard from the crowd!  The honky tonk started early and furiously when Back to Louisiana began to ring out in the venue thanks to Brian Less’s furious intro. The set list had remained the same from the previous two nights but the flavor had changed.  The dirty dog laid down his tracks and made the audience patrol for the blues.  Responding during and after every number, catcalls, whistles, hoots and hollers could be heard in this classy venue on the Mississippi beach.


The passion was evident as Taylor dove into The Deal, an original tune from his independent release, Under the Radar.  It was a nice segue to the more intense, rowdy and gut wrenching love song Battlefield. Sam Gunderson has perfected the dancing steps and riffs with Taylor and the fever pitch created by the duo makes you wonder, what battlefield?  This song is pure funk house rock-a-billy blues.

Latin has a place in the down and dirty blues and Taylor’s original tune Hold On To Your Love blends Leif Bondarenko’s drums, Brian Less’s piano and Taylor’s guitar until you can feel the castanets clicking in your hands.

In a falsetto voice, Taylor tags ‘no golden rule, no method, no teacher’ into HOTYL along with ‘find someone to love’.  As Sam strips the song down to the bone on guitar Jeff Lopez’s sax lays the groundwork for Taylor as he scats the last lines of the song. It was an unexpected Latin tune  from a man who says he did not get a whole lot of Latin music growing up in Birmingham, Alabama.  No worries.  With this song he has made his mark in Latin music, too.

Just To Feel That Way brings back memories of Taylor’s 2007 solo tour.  The first release from the Taylor Hicks CD, it was instantly recognizable by the large contingent of hard core and casually familiar fans of Taylor’s music.  Taylor’s voice was strong and clear on a song that seems virtually impossible to sing. But, as Jeff Lopez lead the way out of the song with his sweet sax, Brandon Peeples strummed the bass and made us remember how it felt to ‘walk on the wire.’

Interjecting some dirty dog humor came during the introduction to What’s Right Is Right, a Simon Climie tune off of Taylor’s second solo CD, The Distance. Everyone fell for the dirty dog joke and as he tagged What’s Right Is Right with Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey, the laughs turned to hoots, hollers and oh yeahs!   ‘The beeezzzz, listen for the beeeezzz’ spoken into the harp mic, preceded a long harp solo that made you feel like you were going to church.

Love the One You’re With made the audience look to their right and look to their left.  Satisfied with the one they were with, the catcalls just got louder in agreement. Jeff Lopez starred in the next number, Nineteen. The audience began standing up and singing along and Jeff is the main reason.  The sax becomes the soldier lost in a faraway war.  The audience respects that and all are on their feet and cheering the band and Taylor for their patriotic music played from the heart.

The set list then moved to the Stones’ Can You Hear Me Knocking. A staple from the 2010 summer tour, this song gives the band street cred with the rockers in the seats.  And they do it proud!  Taylor, by now a virtuoso on the organ, climbs on board to accompany the band on Why Can’t We Live Together? A surprise move when he did it in Pensacola the first night of the tour, it remains a refreshing rendition as the band and Taylor improve with each playing.

Donna Hall of Wet Willie fame came on the stage and brought the house down singing a duet with Taylor on Seven Mile Breakdown.  Tagged with ‘roadhouse, Gulf coast, swamp music’, the duet was sassy, raucous and fired up leading into tags of Valley Road and Running on Empty. Then Donna was on her way and Taylor left to change and get ready for the encore.

Clay Connor brought out the ‘acoustic’ stool and the crowd ran to the stage from their seats.  In his new T-shirt, Taylor introduced a song he wrote when he was 19 and hurt by love.  The Fall is a favorite encore in small, intimate venues and in the Beau Rivage, the song retained it’s intimacy.  It was just Taylor, his guitar and the crowd at his feet feeling his teenage pain.

Bulletproof got the audience on their feet and dancing to the beat.  The song ended and to our surprise, 1:40 hours had passed since the opening notes of Compared to What. It was Mississippi Masala all right.  Dirty dogs, roadhouse blues, rhythm and soul and a little Latin rounded out the night.  The band left the stage and Taylor greeted the longest line of fans waiting to see him and talk to him that I have ever witnessed.  After the funk and blues had been left on the stage for the night, Taylor went on to sit-in with a casino floor bands. He then went next door to keep the Delta blues  alive in his soul by playing late into the night, howling at the moon.

After each Taylor Hicks show, fans comment that it was the best he’s ever done.  In the case of the three shows Taylor did in the South, this opinion was repeated at the end of each night’s show. There was something different and better about the shows that was evident from the first note of Compared to What at the Vinyl Music Hall.  Whatever it was that made the fans think in such a way just got stronger with each performance. By the time the Beau Rivage show was history, we once again declared that this was the best Taylor Hicks we had ever seen.  Until the next time.

In the line we passed three young fans with signs and badges and headbands that said ‘HICKS’. They met Taylor earlier in the day and were thrilled to see him perform live on stage.  I wonder if Taylor will take them up on their offer ‘will you marry me?’.

Next on the horizon is the Ride 2 Recovery Benefit Concert in San Marcos, Texas on March 28th.  More tour dates are being added and if you want to capture any version of Taylor Hicks, you will want to get your tickets early and get on board the Blues Patrol.

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