My Soldier Son, Taylor Hicks, and the Tour Bus
This story and photographs kindly contributed by Susan Mika
This was going to be one very special night indeed – Friday, May 20, 2011! My family and I were attending the Taylor Hicks concert that evening at the Bull Run Restaurant in Shirley, MA. Even more magnificent was the fact that we would be seeing my son, Private First Class Seth Jarek, for the first time in FOUR long months. He had just completed a rigorous, 14-week training program with the U.S. Army at Fort Benning, GA. The plan was for Seth to fly directly from Fort Benning, GA to the Taylor Hicks concert to meet us for an evening of great music and fun. As we were soon to find out (and as Taylor surely knows), even the best-laid plans can go awry!
Justin, Cally, Matt and I set out for Massachusetts to attend the concert. We knew that Seth was going to be late in arriving, as he was unable to book an earlier flight. I hired a private limousine (for big $$$) to retrieve my son at Logan Airport in Boston and bring him directly to the concert. My oldest son and I had a plan. Earlier in the day, I had posted a Twitter message to Taylor, asking him if he could dedicate the song, Nineteen, to my son who was coming back from the U.S. Army. I truly was not sure that this was really Taylor Hicks on Twitter, much less if he would read a random request from me. When we arrived at the Bull Run Restaurant, Justin approached Taylor’s tour manager, Clay Connor, as he was setting up and asked if he could request that Taylor sing Nineteen to his brother when he arrived. Clay told us that Taylor would be glad to acquiesce to our request. I cannot describe how elated we were that Seth was going to receive a well-deserved welcome home from us AND Taylor Hicks!
Fast forwarding a bit – Taylor and the band came out and so the show began! We were all enjoying ourselves for the first part of the concert. My son was expected to arrive via limo at approximately 8:30 pm. The concert was well underway when Taylor Hicks announced that he was going to sing Nineteen. Taylor scanned the crowd to see if he could locate Seth. When he quickly realized that Seth had not yet arrived, he announced that he would sing the song again if Seth came before the end of the show. My son caught this on videotape so that, when and if Seth finally made it, he would at least be able to see the footage of Taylor making a dedication on his behalf. I was happy with just the video for my son – little did I know what the rest of the night held in store for us!
As the time for my son’s arrival at the airport loomed closer, I began texting and calling him on his cell phone. We quickly learned that his flight had been delayed and was expected to land in Boston an hour later than previously thought. I was in a state of panic, frustration and anger with the turn of events. I had so hoped to give my son a fun first night back from the military – now this??? I ran back and forth, in and out of that Sawtelle Supper Room in a frenzy, trying to reach my son and the limousine service. I missed a good portion of Taylor’s concert because I was busy simultaneously speaking to my son and wreaking havoc with the limousine company. I insisted that they best get my son there NOW. Ha ha – lots of good that did me! It did not take long for me to realize that my soldier was not going to make it by the end of the concert.
We could not leave the Bull Run Restaurant without my son, so we HAD to stay there until he arrived. I felt terrible now because I was worried that Taylor and his band would think we were lunatics – that perhaps we had fabricated this whole soldier story after all! We literally waited until there was nobody left before approaching the table where Taylor was signing autographs. I was all fired up by the chain of events so there was alot of energy in me. As I met with Taylor, I blurted out the entire story to him. I thanked him for being such a compassionate guy. Taylor had gone above and beyond the call of duty when he attempted to dedicate a song to my son. Gee, what celebrity or artist would go out of their way to take personal dedication requests from the audience like Taylor? Not too many, I assure you! I was astounded when Taylor told me that, when Seth got there, he would sing an acoustic version of Nineteen to him. I thanked Taylor profusely for showing such kindness and consideration towards my son and family. I believe that there must have been something that Taylor saw in us that made him reach out to us in this manner. I suppose that is something I will never know, but I am very happy that celebrities of Taylor’s caliber so exist!
Taylor’s crew members succeeded in clearing the entire restaurant of lingering concert-goers. The highlight of the evening finally came when my handsome son, Seth, walked through the doors of that restaurant and into my outstretched arms. Boy, I cannot say how happy I was that he was here in the flesh. Little did he know that he was about to be personally serenaded by Taylor Hicks himself! After security was cleared, Seth and all of us were led to Taylor’s tour bus where Taylor sang him a heart-wrenching rendition of Nineteen, with Sam Gunderson on guitar and Jeff Lopez on flute. My son was completely overwhelmed with the whole thing! He said that he did not know what to say or how to act, because he has never been sung to by such a big star like Taylor! He said he was tongue-tied and awestruck! The whole event of being on Taylor’s bus and having the band sing to him was so surreal for him!
Ironically, my son and his friends had begrudgingly attended the concert to make me happy. They seriously doubted that they would enjoy Taylor’s music. I am thrilled to report that they LOVED Taylor! Justin said that he was so cool and was a really nice, down-to-earth guy. Cally said that she thought Taylor was “hot”. She also liked his music a lot! She liked it so much that she made me buy a CD at the end of the concert for her! Matt also liked Taylor and the band, saying that he was very impressed with his music. He went home the next day and “liked” Taylor’s Facebook page. I find the kids’ thoughts to be of particular interest because of the importance of exposing the younger generation to Taylor’s music in order to widen his fan base.
Taylor spent a decent amount of time with us onboard his “home”, the beloved tour bus. He gave Seth all sorts of autographed items to take home. Jeff Lopez had an American flag that he kept stored in his instrument case, waiting for someone special with whom to share it. He decided my son was to be that special someone! It was suggested that Taylor should autograph it, but patriotic Taylor wouldn’t have any part in desecrating the American flag! We got to hang out with the band members. These guys are truly an amazing, fun-loving bunch of people! I had a blast playing Bumper Stumpers with drummer, Leif Bondarenko (hee hee)! Because Seth had missed the entire concert, Brian Less (plays keyboard and is Taylor’s right-hand man) took down our contact information and vowed to give him concert tickets to any show that he could make. We were hoping to be able to catch one of their concerts before Seth had to ship out to his duty station, but we were not able to do so. Brian assured us that we could come to any of the shows – even go backstage. Brian, you truly are a dynamo and a great guy. Thanks for going out of your way for Seth! It is truly appreciated! You will definitely see us at one of the upcoming shows.
All I can say is that we all left that evening with a deep appreciation and love for Taylor and his band –on a very personal level. He opened up his home to us that evening. We were deeply touched by the “indiscriminate act of kindness” that Taylor had bestowed upon Seth. Taylor Hicks surely is all that the fans know he is – superstar musician, owner of the highly-acclaimed ORE restaurant, pragmatic businessman, author of his own book, Lord of the Thighs (oh yeah, those dance moves are what I’m talking about), Broadway star, devastatingly handsome dude, self-proclaimed smart a$$, charity supporter extraordinaire – shall I go on? But the bottom line is this – underneath all of the glitz and glamour lays Taylor Hicks, the human being. He is a living, breathing individual who has feelings, thoughts, wants, needs, dreams, goals, setbacks, obstacles and so on. The one thing I took away from this special encounter with Taylor was that he is all about “keeping it real.” He is just like you and me…what a sweet, caring, charismatic, tender, genuine guy! For that, we give him our utmost respect and sincere gratitude for allowing us to share his world. Taylor Hicks – we salute you!
P. S. Soul Patrol – yes, I did see the Pop Tarts on the shelf, the Reebok sneakers on the floor, and the Tempur-Pedic mattress on his bunk. Taylor, I still want to know how you fit in there, dear!!!