Close Encounters of the Taylor Hicks Kind: Tampa 2007
by Caryl Zimmerman
February 22. 2/22. This date always makes me smile because it was February 22, 2007 when I first saw Taylor Hicks perform live. I was a brand new fan, feeling very much like an outsider in the fandom. But since fate brought me to Florida for a family party during the first leg of Taylor Hicks’ solo tour, I knew I had to see him, even if I had to go to the concert alone.
I was sharing a room in Tampa with my Mom but I had only one ticket to the show. By the time I had realized I could actually go, it was sold out. But my hero, Gray Charles, had a forum on his website where fans could make plans for the tour. It was there that I found one lone ticket for sale. And it was in the fourth row!
Mom and I arrived at our hotel in the afternoon and decided to walk around to see if we could find the theater because I was nervous about finding it later. It turned out to be an easy three or four blocks:
I talked Mom into walking around to the back of the theater because I had read online that other fans had seen Taylor outside his tour bus during the Idol tour and had gotten autographs and pictues with him. The only vehicle we could see was a gray truck. All along the sidewalk next to it were drums, guitar cases and amps. A couple of guys were loading them into the theater. “Oh my God! Taylor Hicks’ instruments!” I squeed to myself. “They’ve been in the same room as Taylor! Lucky.”
We walked by the open door and when I finally tore my eyes away from the dark interior, I spotted this across the street:
Wow! The tour bus. Mom and I lingered on this corner, while I paced and said, “What do I do? What do I do?” When it dawned on me that whoever was inside the bus could probably see me, I bolted around the corner. “Smooth,” I thought to myself.
Mom must have been exasperated with me at this point because when she spotted a security guard over by those instruments she simply asked him if that was Taylor’s tour bus. He told her, “No. It’s the crew’s bus. Taylor won‘t be here for a couple of hours.”
When Mom told me, I finally exhaled. Meeting celebrities obviously wasn’t something I could handle, so we headed back, a feeling of relief coming over me with every step. I asked Mom what she planned to do that evening while I was at the show, stopping at a red light across from our hotel. I stopped in mid sentence when I realized there was another big bus parked in front of it.
“That can’t be,” I said out loud. The light turned green and as we walked around to the other side of the bus, a small group was rummaging around in the cargo compartment. One of them was Taylor.
He was wearing a hat, a scarf and sunglasses but I recognized him anyway. Some kind of courage came over me. I squared my shoulders and told myself that nothing good in life happens without taking a chance. As I walked up to the group, Taylor jumped swiftly back unto the bus.
I don’t know for sure that he was avoiding me. In fact, I’ve decided to believe he wasn’t. He probably just forgot something, right?
Even Mom seemed a little giddy at this point. She thought this was all great fun and told me we had to wait him out. We stood to the side of the hotel entrance, our cameras ready to take shots of the reigning American Idol walking inside.
Taylor must have found whatever it was that he forgot on the bus (*cough*) because he finally came out, walked over to a man with a clipboard and signed something as we snapped photos. There were no other fans around. I was thinking, “Wow! Taylor Hicks is right there, like ten feet away from me! How cool is this?”
But then, through my camera lens, I saw him turn and walk directly towards me. Holy crap.
“How y’all doin?” He said.
I think I replied something like, “Hamana, hamana…” but I said it in the coolest possible way. Then I blurted out- “CAN I TAKE A PICTURE WITH YOU?!” (Dial it down, Caryl)
He said “Sure,” put down his backpack, turned towards my Mom’s camera and slipped his arm around my waist, ruining my waist for all other arms.
I put mine around his, feeling awkward but aware that this was my chance to tell him how his voice had lifted me out of despair and that his determination was inspiring and that the way he can move people through music is a gift.
“How was the show last night?” was all I could croak out.
He replied, “Good.” Mom clicked the photo, we thanked him and he was gone.
I looked at my mother and said, “What just happened?“
So I finally had my photo. I could relax and get on with my life. Oh! And enjoy the show later that evening.
It turns out that it didn’t matter that I was by myself in the theater. It felt as if we were all in this together. We responded to the musicians and they fed off of our energy. Taylor called the shots, signalling the band to extend certain songs or “’shushing” to segway into another song altogether. He sang, played guitar & harmonica, and danced, letting the music take his body wherever it wanted to go.
“And now I’m gonna play a little guitar because… well, I can!”
He showed us no mercy. One song built into a frenzy as Taylor wailed on his harmonica, hunched over, face red and sweaty until finally he threw the instrument down as if it were on fire.
And then the show was over. I checked my watch to find that an hour and a half had flown by. So fun. So short!
When I was growing up, my parents would sometimes take us to the back of the theater when a show ended to get autographs from the actors as they left the building. I thought it was worth a shot.
I stood out back with a small crowd that gasped in unison every time the door opened and then sighed with disappointment when we saw that it wasn’t Taylor. Band members thought that was pretty funny and started playing games with us, opening and closing the door. The opening act, The Greyhounds, came out and took pictures of US. It was a fun little group. In the midst of these distractions, Taylor appeared.
All chatter ceased. We just stared at him silently. Finally Taylor said, “Well, don’t you have anything for me to sign?” The sound of his voice snapped us back to Earth and everyone rummaged around frantically, looking for something to thrust in front of him. The woman in front of me had him sign an empty candy box. He signed my ticket. None of us expected him to stop. We were ready with our cameras to catch him walking to his bus, but we didn’t expect to get autographs.
I watched him move on away from me for a moment but realized how lucky I had been that day and decided to give someone else a chance. I worked my way back towards the street and headed to the hotel. I floated back to my room and filled Mom in on all the details.
I was antsy. I paced back and forth as I talked, glancing out the window at the empty street below, then walking back across the floor to hang up my shirt, turning around and passing in front of Mom’s bed again, glancing out the window at the tour bus below, then kicking off my shoes…wait. What did I just see? I looked down at the street below and saw the top of Taylor’s tour bus.
“Mom! I’m gonna go downstairs and stand in the crowd to watch the band come off the bus! I’ll be right back!”
Throwing my shirt and shoes on, I headed down to the lobby. As I walked down the hall, towards the entrance to the hotel, I passed Brian Gallagher and Loren Gold. I said, “I recognize you guys! Great show!” They nodded and thanked me as I continued on. Boogie and Felix were next.
I was expecting a crowd of fans by the front door but no one was around. I decided to sit and watch what might happen. The doors opened and there he was. Taylor Hicks, all in black, very subdued and unassuming. Suddenly, I felt awkward, a little stalkerish and didn’t want him to see me. When a couple of teenagers ran up to him, I decided to get the heck out of there.
“What a great night,” I thought to myself as I waited in the empty hallway by the elevators. Two guys rounded the corner as the doors opened. Oh. My. God. A young blond guy and Taylor. The three of us got on the elevator and the doors closed. Taylor asked me “What floor?” and punched 5 for me.
He looked exhausted and somehow smaller than the guy I had seen on stage. It was obvious that he wanted to be left alone. I did. Pretty much. Here’s what I said around the 3rd floor: “Now, you know I have to write a review of the show.”
Yeah. He gave me the same look you probably have on your face right now. The look said: “What the f’ck are you talking about??”
So I stammered, “Gray Charles wants us to review all the shows.”
The adorable, smiling, blonde guy with Taylor (who I found out later was his brother) asked, “What are you gonna say?”
“I’m gonna say it was great! It was a great show!”
Luckily for everyone, we arrived at my floor. Taylor thanked me and told me to have a good night. I gave a little wave over my shoulder as I headed for my room.
My Mom still laughs when she tells people that after closing the door to our room, I fell on my bed and gushed, “I rode up in the elevator with him!!” I acted like a Bieber fan with not only the fever but a little rash as well. I was a complete pain in the neck for the rest of my Florida visit. I told my story in excruciating detail to any unwitting cousin who would sit still long enough to listen.