Taylor Hicks at WorkPlay: Sweet Home Alabama
Recap and photos provided by Louise/4Tay
Just the word WorkPlay evokes tremors of anticipation amongst the fans of Taylor Hicks. An institution in the city of Birmingham, Alabama, WorkPlay hosts some of the finest blues talent from near and wide. The two day event in September, 2009 brought fans from all over the US and Canada and for their time and efforts, a more memorable night of Taylor Hicks’ music hadn’t been seen like this since right after he won American Idol.
Fast forward to 2010. The announcement comes that Taylor is doing a show at WorkPlay. It’s a Thursday: check, don’t care. It’s right before Christmas: check, I gotta go. Two days off from work needed: I’m so there. And so the conversations heard and seen by many on twitter and the fan boards only reinforced what we knew would be true: if you can get to WorkPlay, you won’t regret it. EVER. You’d miss so much.
The stage is set, so to speak, for a night of who knows what? An opener? A special guest or two like the last time? Will one Thursday night in December be able to sell tickets? NOT to worry. The opener was a 16 year old cancer survivor whose girlfriend was celebrating her birthday on the biggest night of his young life. Carson James performed a mix of teenage covers and original tunes accompanying himself very ably on an acoustic guitar. His band was supportive and very competent. His fans were teenagers who if we dialed back the clock, we would all be there swooning over Frankie Avalon and the Beatles.
Carson was a little edgy at the end of his set because he then had to intro the man, the local music legend, who had reached out to him and prepared him to make this a night to remember. He did the introduction of his mentor and as Taylor ambled onto the stage, Carson high fived him and they closed in on an almost embrace. Superstition was the song and when it was Taylor’s turn to play the harp, no matter how much Carson tried to pry it out of Hicks, Hicks wanted to sing some more with Carson and didn’t bring their moment together on stage to a halt of blues blowing harp. How generous can one man be to have this youngster on the stage to realize his dream and all he wanted to do was keep on singing the duet with the kid?
Carson left and the stage was set up for Taylor’s band of Leif Bondarenko, Brian Less, Jay Smith, Jeff Lopez and Sam Gunderson. Having ended a successful summer tour in October at Epcot’s Eat to The Beat Concert Series, Taylor and the band played like they never ended the tour. The band started to open their set until the other brother from Birmingham came onto the stage.
Ruben Studdard’s voice is indescribable. All I can say is that hearing him sing Woman’s Got to Have It with Taylor: velvet’s got nothing on Ruben Studdard. Smooth and bluesy, he complemented Taylor’s growling and dancing as they advised one another to ‘not walk on shaky ground.’
When Ruben entered the stage, the applause was thunderous. Another performer we knew from AI. I say we know him because, like Taylor, we relate to his ‘rags to riches’ story. He ‘s a veteran, no doubt, but the way we saw both of these men from Birmingham on the Idol stage is nothing like what we got to see on Thursday night. Their mutual admiration brought the house down.
Before we knew it, Ruben Studdard had come and gone, spreading his honey voice across the arena. I loved that section of the show and no matter what I remember from that night, the two Idol champs, on stage together made all the effort to be there more than worthwhile.
They say good and sometimes bad things come in three’s. 1. The amazing Carson James. Brave, independent and childlike, Carson lit up the stage like no other 16 year old I’ve ever seen. 2. Ruben Studdard connecting his voice to the fans of Taylor who are not Ruuuuuuben fans, for sure. In my dream of dreams, I’d like to see the two from the ‘Ham tour together but if that never happens, we all got to see a mini tour of sorts with the incomparable Ruben Studdard.
3. The 3 encores. There were 3. 3! After a 10 minute intermission, the band came back on the stage and revved up the already revved up crowd. If Taylor was attempting to mash two WorkPlay shows into one this year, he very nearly did it doing 3 encores. And to see Carson on the stage with Taylor in the encore AND Clay Connor was icing on the already sweet red velvet cake.
Do we need to see Taylor on an extended tour or was this the end of the 2010 phase of the moon for our soul man? Where will he go from here in between his two scheduled casino dates in February and May? If WorkPlay was an example of what we can expect, then we need to support him in the career he has chosen for himself and built from scratch. Taylor tweets that he is headed to Nashville to write with Rascal Flatts. Well, I say go Taylor Hicks because good things come in threes but if you’re a cat like Taylor, you have nine lives.