LOVELOUD Festival 2018 July 28, 2018 Rice-Eccles Stadium Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY, UT – JULY 28: Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons performs at 2018 LOVELOUD Festival Powered By AT&T at Rice-Eccles Stadium on July 28, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for LOVELOUD Festival)

I had the opportunity to attend this year’s LOVELOUD Festival at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.   The purpose of LOVELOUD is to have dialogue within our communities about loving one another unconditionally and ultimately achieve acceptance and support for the LGBTQ youth in Utah and throughout the country.  Teen suicide for LGBTQ youth is at a scary high rate here in Utah. The general message of the festival was to help those in that community to understand their worth, and that they belong. The other intent is to help the predominant culture here in Utah, which is quite conservative and centered around The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons, and the LGBTQ community to join together in understanding, and inclusion.  

What started as an extremely hot day, evolved into a beautiful evening.  The speeches and the music combined to help with the message of LOVELOUD, which was founded last year by Dan Reynolds, lead singer of LOVELOUD’s headlining band Imagine Dragons.  The goal of the day was to raise over one million dollars within the hours of the festival to help LGBTQ communities such as Encircle, The Tegan and Sara Foundation, and the Trevor Project.  

Some of the speakers were Alfonso Ribeiro of “Fresh Prince” fame, NFL Hall of Famer Steve Young, and Barb Young Encircle Co-Chair, Drew Scott Co-Host of Property Brothers, and Gus Kenworthy Olympic Freeskier Silver Medalist just to name a few.  They all shared varying messages of assurance to the LGBTQ community in attendance that they were loved, they were accepted, and that there was nothing wrong with them. All of the speakers seemed well received and had the best of intentions to support the cause.  

No matter what the message, no matter what the cause, a good festival doesn’t work unless you have good music.  LOVELOUD did a good job of putting together a solid lineup of bands and musical artists. My concern for the festival, and I’m fully aware that this might just be an “Old man alert”, is its a little long.  And by a little, I mean it’s three hours too long. It’s hard to sit in a sweltering stadium for almost nine hours. There were some really good bands that started the festival too. But they were playing to a 90% empty stadium.  Vagabon, A.W., Parson James, and Vincent should be playing in front of a bigger crowd. And some of the speakers had some great things to say, but people were waiting for it to cool down to show up. And they were waiting for the bigger acts.  

My two cents would be to start the festival at 6 o’clock.  The temperature starts to go down, and people are aware that there is only so much time in the day, so they’d head right to the festival instead of waiting until 6 or 7 anyway.  I would recommend setting up a side stage like other festivals do, and putting the bands that performed at 3 on that stage with a bigger name like maybe Tyler Glenn headlining that stage.  They’ll have plenty of fans to attend that concert and if the side stage ends a couple hours before the main stage, everyone can join together to watch the two or three big acts on the lineup.  I think it makes for a more efficient and impactful evening. Now in writing this, I know that the LOVELOUD Festival was streamed live by AT&T throughout the world in order to raise that million dollars.  So I’m sure having a longer festival helped that cause. My job is to discuss the live concert experience, and being there in person felt long. So again, my two cents.

I thought the last four acts of the concert were excellent.  Grace Vanderwaal of America’s Got Talent fame, was a true champion throughout her performance.  The strap on her ukelele broke, and she was stung by a bee for the first time ever. She persisted through the show as if nothing ever happened.  I was really impressed. She has such a unique and captivating voice. To be honest, I wasn’t too familiar with her before this.  I mean, I like a zillion others saw her amazing AGT audition.  I just hadn’t followed up since and I was glad to see that she’s developed into a true artist.  I really enjoyed her set.  I was made aware of a boy to the right of me, who couldn’t have been older than 10.  He was singing every single word to every single song to her set. It was one of the coolest things I saw the whole day. It took me back to some of the bands I liked at that age, and how I knew all the words to all their songs. I would have loved to have seen them live then.  I’m sure Grace’s set made his life!

SALT LAKE CITY, UT – JULY 28: Grace Vanderwaal performs at 2018 LOVELOUD Festival Powered By AT&T at Rice-Eccles Stadium on July 28, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for LOVELOUD Festival)

I think out of everyone I saw on Saturday, Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park was the most impressive.  First of all, I couldn’t escape the sadness I felt seeing him up there without Chester Bennington.  It’s been just over a year since Chester committed suicide, and while Mike put on a great set, the pain of Chester’s loss could be felt from him and the Linkin Park fans in attendance.  Mike paid great tribute to Chester, and honored him by asking the crowd to sing his parts on the hit song “In the End”. I thought his solo songs were really good, and I enjoyed how he moved from his synth and guitar playing along with tracks.  I was happy to see him soldiering on to help inspire others despite the tragic loss of his bandmate.  The crowd loved him, and he seemed to be buoyed by their response.

SALT LAKE CITY, UT – JULY 28: Mike Shinoda performs at 2018 LOVELOUD Festival Powered By AT&T at Rice-Eccles Stadium on July 28, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for LOVELOUD Festival)

I’ve been critical in the past of EDM shows and DJ’s performing “live” and never really got why people were so into seeing DJ’s in person.  It looks like they’re pushing a button and then pretending to do stuff for the rest of the time. That may actually be the case, I have no idea, but after seeing Zedd perform I have changed my mind about EDM shows.  The energy he produced with his music, and the way the crowd reacted to it was something you just have to experience in person if you haven’t yet. It was like he flipped a switch and the crowd was at full energy. I looked around the now almost full stadium and it looked as if every single person was dancing.  I loved it! I myself may have thrown out a couple moves. So if you see some amazing new dance moves at the next EDM show, they came from me. You heard it here first folks.

SALT LAKE CITY, UT – JULY 28: Zedd performs at 2018 LOVELOUD Festival Powered By AT&T at Rice-Eccles Stadium on July 28, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for LOVELOUD Festival)

After Zedd left the stage there was some great build up to Imagine Dragons taking the stage.  There was a video clip showing a variety of celebrities encouraging the LGBTQ youth. Then there was a touching moment where we watched a video of a transgender boy’s story followed by that same boy walking on stage with people from Encircle to sing “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman.  It was a special moment for the crowd, and clearly something that boy will never forget.

Steve and Barb Young took the stage to introduce Tim Cook, CEO of Apple who in turn introduced Imagine Dragons.  Tim mentioned how impressed he was with the festival, and for the work, Dan Reynolds was doing for the LGBTQ youth.  The crowd roared their approval and as he yelled “Imagine Dragons!” the spotlight shut off, the fog machines went off, and it was showtime!  

At this time the stadium was as full as it was going to be.  If I were to guess that 40,000 would be considered a sellout, there were just over 35,000 in attendance.  That’s pretty great! Yes, they were there to see one of the hottest bands in music today, but it was clear that they were also there to celebrate the message of LOVELOUD.  The band opened with megahit “Radioactive”. Those in attendance were given wristbands that light up. But they didn’t just light up, they change colors, they flash in synch with all the other wristbands, they matched the beat of the songs, and they added an amazing element to the show.  There was a moment when Dan Reynolds pulled a sequin rainbow flag onto the stage and the entire stadium was glowing with multicolored lights. It was beautiful.

SALT LAKE CITY, UT – JULY 28: Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons performs at LOVELOUD Festival 2018 Powered By AT&T at Rice Eccles Stadium on July 28, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for LOVELOUD Festival)

Dan spoke for a few minutes after the first song, mentioning that he loved the things he learned growing up in a Mormon family.  He mentioned that he has no anger towards religion or anybody. That he just wants inclusion for all. That was met with great applause from the huge crowd.  I felt like that was the first time that everyone in attendance felt included. Dan was emotional at various times throughout the show, whether he was overwhelmed by the moment, or whether it was the stories he’d share of teens committing suicide, or his conservative LDS mother being in attendance, it was clear that the evening was a significant one for him.  He mentioned that this was the happiest he’d been in a long time.  He also stopped the show at one point to announce that they reached their goal of raising over one million dollars in one day.  What an amazing accomplishment.  

The band ripped through a two hour set playing all their hits, shooting of what seemed like an endless supply of confetti, releasing enormous beach balls into the crowd, and performing better than I have ever seen them before.  Imagine Dragons are a favorite here in Utah going all the way back to their early days playing at Velour, or playing an album release at Gray Whale. We have loved them for years. So this was a sort of homecoming show for them, and us, and it was special.  

I was a little confused by what Dan Reynolds was wearing.  He came on stage shirtless with cut off sweats or sweat shorts maybe.  Now, Dan looks great. He’s probably in the best shape of his life. I mean the guy is ripped!  He looks like a pro wrestler. It just seemed that giving the speeches he gave and the important message he wanted to convey, he maybe could have thrown on some jeans?  I mean, I saw him walking around, and he spoke on stage earlier in jeans and a LOVELOUD shirt. So he actually changed into the sweat shorts. I only bring this up because I noticed people around me discussing how he looked, and what he was wearing during his most heartfelt speeches.  I think it was hard for them to take him seriously. I don’t care what he wears, I just noticed too many people discussing it not to mention it.

The show ended with “Believer”, and it seemed as if the band and the crowd alike had exerted all of their energy.  Imagine Dragons were the perfect headliners for this festival. Dan Reynolds is such an impactful frontman that I think sometimes it’s easy to underappreciate the rest of the band.  But they’re phenomenal. The sound they produce and the energy they give is amazing.

SALT LAKE CITY, UT – JULY 28: Wayne Sermon of Imagine Dragons performs at 2018 LOVELOUD Festival Powered By AT&T at Rice-Eccles Stadium on July 28, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for LOVELOUD Festival)

My main critique of the Festival is this.  The purpose of this festival is for inclusion, acceptance, and understanding that we all belong.  I understand this is geared toward the LGBTQ youth here in Utah. As it should be. No suicides should be happening because people feel alone and unaccepted for who they are.  But I didn’t feel a lot of inclusion for the Mormons in the audience who support the Festival. I spoke to a Mormon couple and asked them how they were liking the festival and they said, “We love the music, we love what’s being said, but we feel like unwelcome guests.”  I asked them why, and they mentioned that “While we don’t feel like people are hating on Mormons, and we get why there might be some animosity, We’re here. We want to help bridge the divide. But we feel like the inclusiveness that is being spoken of does not include us.”  I could see what they were saying. I heard a lot of “I’m not mad at the Mormon church anymore, or I used to hate Utah and the culture but now I’ve forgiven and moved on.” And that’s great, but what about the Mormons in attendance that are trying to be a part of the solution this festival is trying to reach?  They were rarely mentioned, and to my knowledge never one recognized or appreciated. Like I said, Dan Reynolds was the only one to even say anything positive towards Mormons all night. I guess I just thought that the purpose of the festival was to bring cultures and communities together to understand one another, accept one another, and keep each other alive.  I felt like aspects of that were lost.

That being said, it made me feel good to look out into the audience and see people who normally might not normally feel included, or might not be able to express themselves the way they’d like to have the freedom to do so.  It’s a powerful thing to see over 35,000 people there to support a cause in a place where you might not expect so many to be in favor of. Things aren’t always as they seem. Even here in Utah.

SALT LAKE CITY, UT – JULY 28: Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons performs at 2018 LOVELOUD Festival Powered By AT&T at Rice-Eccles Stadium on July 28, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for LOVELOUD Festival)

Sutton Foster w/ the Utah Symphony July 21, 2018 Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater Deer Valley

Sutton Foster was a surprise addition to this year’s Deer Valley Music Festival lineup.  This date was initially booked for Kristin Chenoweth. But it was reported that she was having neck issues and was needing surgery so she would have to cancel her scheduled summer performances.  Sutton was booked to fill the slot. Not a bad replacement I’d say. I asked a couple next to me if they had bought tickets for this event when Kristin was scheduled, or if they bought tickets specifically to see Sutton.  They told me that they had originally purchased tickets when Kristin Chenoweth was scheduled, but when they saw Sutton Foster was her replacement, they were more than excited. They said, “You can’t go wrong! Sure they’re different performers, but they’re amazing in their own way.  We would not have missed this show for anything. We love Sutton!”. That seemed to be the overwhelming sentiment from the others I spoke to.

I arrived about an hour early to Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater.  I wanted to completely take in the experience of arriving early, having a picnic, enjoying the cool air, and visiting with the others in attendance.   If you’ve never done this, I highly recommend it. It’s so relaxing.

Sutton Foster took the stage at 7:30 performing one of what would be a number of medleys throughout the evening.  This one, in particular, consisted of “Cockeyed Optimist” from South Pacific, “Everybody Says Don’t” from Anyone Can Whistle, and “Yes” from the show where she won one of her two Tony’s, Thoroughly Modern Millie.  It was an excellent way to open the show.  It gave the audience a taste of Suttons personality and performance style.  After that, we were off and running.

Sutton has the perfect personality to perform in a concert like this.  She mixes her stories with meaning and humor in such an entertaining way.  After her first number, she told the audience that she has learned to say yes to so many opportunities that have come her way in life. She said that she had many chances to say yes to opportunities to do wonderful work, and she’d encourage us to do the same.  Then she followed with “Except Porn. Don’t say yes to porn.” It was hilarious.

Sutton mentioned that she had been in Utah for the past three days and loved it up here.  She stated that this was the “highest” she ever sang, referring of course to the altitude.  She told us that she took her 16 month old daughter on her first ski lift, and her daughter handled it really well.  She was very a proud mother.

Some special moments for me were when she revisited the musical Anything Goes.  Sutton was in the Broadway revival of Anything Goes in 2011 so it was fun to see her sing some of the memorable songs from that classic show.  She sang “I get a kick” and a song she actually sang in the musical, the title song “Anything Goes”, to close out the first half of the concert.

During the intermission, I spoke with a few people to see what they thought so far, and the reviews were all in the positive. They said things like “This is better than I could have ever expected!” or “I was really disappointed when Kristin Chenoweth canceled, but I’m glad I didn’t get a refund.  Sutton Foster is a treasure!”.

As the intermission was ending I noticed a young girl, maybe 13 years of age standing near the walkway where Sutton would return to the stage.  Sutton walked out, the girl waved hello, and Sutton responded with a kind wave and a hello back. It was a simple gesture, one that didn’t take much effort on Sutton’s part, but one that will no doubt remain in this 13 year old’s memory for a long long time.  

During the intermission, some dark clouds began to roll in.  I noticed many nervous members of the audience checking the weather on their phones.  The wind picked up a little, but no rain had fallen just yet.

Sutton walked out and began singing a medley of “If I were a bell” from Guys & Dolls and “Singin’ in the Rain”.  The audience got a chuckle at the timing of this song.  Sutton played it up perfectly by nervously looking up at the clouds while singing.  

I thought the Utah Symphony was magnificent in this concert.  They had such an opportunity to shine with this music and these arrangements, and they totally rose to the occasion.  I admire this symphony so much. The night before they’re playing with Rick Springfield, the night before they were playing Mozart, the weekend before they were playing ABBA and Bluegrass! Talk about being versatile.  And there is so much to learn! But they pull it off. I enjoyed their performance so much.

The biggest surprise of the evening was when Sutton brought her Little Women co-star and real life best friend Megan McGinnis on stage to sing with her.  They performed the song “Flight”. It was clear that they performed together many times. They had great chemistry and blended together beautifully. They seem to really enjoy performing together.   I always enjoy a surprise appearance at a concert.

Sutton performed a touching tribute to her mother who passed away a couple of years ago.  She told us that her mother loved John Denver and that they listened to his greatest hits on 8 track when she was a child.  She then performed “Sunshine On My Shoulders”. She gave a few looks up to the cloudy sky but didn’t play up the weather too much.  It was humorous, but not so much to ruin her tribute. It takes a brilliant actor to pull off a moment of levity without taking away from a serious moment.  Sutton is that kind of actor.

As the wind picked up and the show began to wind down, I noticed quite a few people exiting the show early to avoid the possible storm.  It made sense. No one wants to get rained on. But Sutton was so good, I felt bad that people were leaving. The many who stayed were treated to another great medley.  She performed “On My Way” using the wind to her advantage and letting it blow her hair back in the way you might see in a photo shoot. Before that Sutton had to hold her hair during the song to keep it from flying in her face.   It was funny to watch her make light of what cannot be ideal conditions for a performer.  The second part of the medley was “Gimme Gimme” from Thoroughly Modern Millie. The crowd was excited because this was a big show stopper for Sutton in that musical.

She finished the song, and the audience jumped to their feet.  Sutton put on a fantastic show. It was entertaining throughout, including a little suspense due to the weather.  We all stayed dry, and we enjoyed seeing a two time Tony Award winner deliver a performance worthy of those accolades.   

 

Stars Align Tour w/ Jeff Beck, Paul Rodgers, & Ann Wilson July 18, 2018 USANA Amphitheater

USANA Amphitheater was the home of the opening night of the Stars Align Tour featuring Jeff Beck, Paul Rodgers, and Ann Wilson.  It was also the third and concluding volume of Arrow 103.5’s Arrowfest.  It was a hot evening still hitting temperatures of 100 degrees at showtime. Unfortunately, the attendance for this show wasn’t great.  But the voices of those in attendance was mighty. Despite the initial heat, it was a really fun night.

Ann Wilson

Ann Wilson opened the show.  I really felt for her because the Amphitheater faces west so the sun was setting directly on her and her band.  She opened with The Who classic, “The Real Me”, then broke out into the Heart hit “Barracuda”. Following the song, she stated that she would be veering from the Heart catalog in order to share some songs off of the new album.   Many times that would be met with a large sigh, or disappointment. But Ann mentioned that her album titled Immortal consists of songs from legendary artists who have recently past such as David Bowie, Tom Petty, Chris Cornell, and Glenn Frey.  I suppose if you’re not going to do songs from the band that made you famous, might as well do some awesome covers. Right?

Just like last year, when Ann performed at the Sandy Amphitheater, my favorite song of the night was her cover of The Black Crowes song, “She Talks to Angels”.   It was as if that song was written specifically for her voice. It’s a perfect fit. I enjoyed her tribute to Chris Cornell, coinciding with her performance of the Audioslave “I am the Highway”.  Another song that fits right into her vocal register.

It seemed that the heat and the sun began taking its toll on Ann.  I noticed her walking back to the drummer fan once, and often shielding her face from the sun.  When she finished singing the Eagles song “Life in the Fast Lane” she quickly said, “Thank you Salt Lake!”  and abruptly walked off stage. Everything seemed to happen really quick. I watched her as she walked off stage to make sure she was ok.  I didn’t know if the plan was to come back out or not, but just then I saw a crew member signal to the soundboard that they were done.

As it turns out there were two more songs on the setlist that weren’t played.  I can’t say I blame her though. It was so hot for me and I was in the seats. She must have been cooking up there.  I love Ann Wilson’s voice so it would have been great to hear another song or two, or seven. But it was good to hear her again, and I look forward to her album Immortal when it comes out on September 14th of this year.  

Setlist

The Real Me
Barracuda
Fool No More
I’ve Seen All Good People
She Talks to Angels
I Am the Highway
You Don’t Own Me
Life in the Fast Lane

(Unplayed Songs)
For What It’s Worth
Love, Reign O’er Me

Paul Rodgers

Now if I’m being honest, Paul Rodgers is the main reason I wanted to attend this concert.  Paul is known for being the lead singer of the bands Free and Bad Company. Known as “The Voice” by his fans and peers, it’s no wonder he gave the crowd quite the performance.  The last time I saw Paul here in Utah was back in 2002 when Bad Company played the then titled E Center with Styx. He sounded amazing then, and unbelievably he sounds as good if not better than then.  How is that possible. He mixed the show between his two bands playing some classics and old forgotten gems. While many of the fans enjoyed the Free songs, it appeared to me that the majority of the audience was the most excited when Paul performed the Bad Company hits.  People went crazy when “Feel Like Makin’ Love” started. And a huge sing-along took place with “Shooting Star”.

Paul did his best to cool down the crowd by throwing water from his water bottles on the first few rows.  Fortunately, by this point, the sun had finally ducked behind the western mountains so the temperature finally started to go down.  

Paul left the stage and was cheered back on to play the Free mega-hit “All Right Now”.  This was probably my favorite part of the entire evening. I love that song, and it was pretty clear that everyone else in the crowd  felt the same.  The crowd sang the chorus in full voice and the venue sounded as if it was at capacity.

I can’t imagine it’s easy to play in the heat, in a venue that is maybe a third full.  But Paul came out, played his songs, and seemed to really enjoy himself like a true pro. He sounded so good.  I hope he comes back on his own tour or a tour with Bad Company. It would be great to see him again soon.

Setlist
Can’t Get Enough
Wishing Well
Feel Like Makin’ Love
Ready For Love
Walk in My Shadow
Mr. Big
The Stealer
Woman
Fire and Water
Shooting Star
Rock and Roll Fantasy

Encore:
All Right Now

 

Jeff Beck

The sun was finally gone, and the temperature was perfect for Jeff Beck.  Jeff is a guitar legend, known for having replaced Eric Clapton in The Yardbirds and leading the Jeff Beck Group.  

I must admit it was a difficult transition for me to go from hearing two of the most iconic voices in the classic rock era to a mostly instrumental driven set from Jeff Beck.  Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing. He’s a guitar virtuoso. It just took me a minute to settle into what he was putting out.

His band was incredible.  Jeff’s drummer Vinnie Colaiuta was as good a drummer as I’ve ever seen live.  It was impossible at times to not just look at what he was doing in awe. Bassist Rhonda Smith had melodic bass lines that are not always heard from that instrument.  She was impressive. Vanessa Freebairn-Smith brought a special element to the show with her Cello. You don’t always see a cello as part of a rock band, but in this case, she fit right in.  

Jimmy Hall walked on stage to sing vocals about three songs in.  He had a powerful voice and an engaging stage presence. I think he would enter the stage at just the time the audience seemed ready for a vocalist.  His highlight moment for sure was singing vocals during a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious”.

It’s so interesting how we’re conditioned to hear a voice at the forefront of a rock band.  But what Jeff has done is put the guitar, sometimes the even the bass as the lead “vocalist”.  I felt at times as if Jeff’s guitar was singing to me and telling me the story. Once I was able to wrap my head around that, I was able to see just how deep Jeff Beck’s talent really is.  My favorite part of his set was when he played an instrumental version of The Beatles “A Day in the Life”.

All of the artists on the bill are legends.  I’m not totally sure if they should be on tour together.  Or maybe Paul Rodgers should have closed the show. The energy from the crowd just seemed to dip a little after he left the stage.  It was a great night of music, but the show was unfortunately not well attended and I’m not sure why. My guess is the combination of artists or the order of the lineup.  Either way, those that weren’t there missed out, and those who were there saw some great performances!

Setlist

Pull It
Status
Nadia
You Know You Know
Morning Dew
I Have to Laugh
Lonnie on the Move
Mna na h-Eireann
Just for Fun
Little Wing
Big Block
Cause We Ended as Lovers
You Never Know
Brush with the Blues
Superstition
A Day in the Life

Encore:
You Shook Me
Going Down

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder w/ the Utah Symphony July 14, 2018 Snow Park Amphitheater Deer Valley

By: Amelia & Amanda Roper

Photo: Amelia Roper

Before this concert, we weren’t too familiar with Ricky Skaggs.  We knew he played bluegrass and country music, but that’s about it.  But when Kevin Rolfe (Editor and Chief of UCR) offered this opportunity to review the show, we were on it no questions asked.  We’re huge country music fans so all we needed to hear was “Ricky Skaggs, country music legend”, and we were in.

We’ve been to concerts at Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater in Deer Valley many times so we were excited to get back up there.  We have our own go to spot to sit and everything. So we settled in and waited for Ricky Skaggs to come out.

One of the first things we noticed was Ricky tunes his instruments incessantly. He mentioned that even when he was a child he just couldn’t stand to play his instruments out of tune.  He joked that his father used to tell him that he was “Taking the tuning thing a little too far”. He followed the story about his dad with a song called “Gone Home”. The thing that Ricky has mastered is the ability to tell a great story while he is tuning his instruments.  He told stories about the great Bluegrass legend Bill Monroe being his mentor, and how Bluegrass is based on Irish Folk Music. It was amazing to hear the Irish influence on Bluegrass after he said that.

Photo: Amelia Roper

Ricky and Kentucky Thunder sound so great together.  Skaggs stayed on the mandolin for most of the concert.  The rest of the group were a mix of banjos, guitars, and fiddles.  They looked like they were having a great time playing together as a band.  After a number where it seemed like they just did a bluegrass jam session, Ricky gave the rest of the guys two thumbs up.  

We thought the Utah Symphony played beautifully in this concert.  They were a huge part of the show and truly enhanced the evening. Especially on one song in particular.  Ricky stated “I never get to do this song because it’s made for a full band and a full orchestra. It’s a hard song to get through.  The words hit like a rock and cut like a knife. But if you are a believer, you will understand what this song is about. It’s called “Instead”.  Then the Utah Symphony began playing, softly and slowly building into the song. And he was right, this song can only be done this way. It was our favorite song of the night, and it appeared to be a favorite of the entire audience as well.  

This crowd just absolutely loved Ricky.  They ate up every story and laughed at every joke.  They danced throughout the entire concert and held signs expressing their love and devotion to him.  While Ricky was tuning his mandolin (Which I know we said this already, but he really tunes that thing every time he’s not playing it!) a cry from the darkened crowd yelled out “I Love You, Ricky!”.  He simply looked up and raised one eyebrow. It was classic! Everyone loved it. He made sure to thank the audience for their massive applause after each song.

Another special moment of the night was when Ricky spotlighted one of his bandmates named Jake.  He told the audience that Jake was from Salt Lake City. Of course, the crowd roared their approval.  Ricky then asked the audience, “How many of you are Jake’s students?!” A section of the audience cried out in acknowledgment.  Ricky then yelled out, “How many of you are Jake’s family?!” An even bigger cheer rang out from the audience. We could tell that Jake was excited to be playing in front of his loved ones. We’d imagine it was an extra special evening for him in particular.  

We might not be in the exact mountain range where this music was originated, but there is something to be said about hearing mountain music when you’re in the mountains.  It just felt right. This was some old-time bluegrass music too. Some of these songs had to have been the original songs of Bluegrass. And Ricky’s voice is perfect for this style.  He sings so clear and so high. He attributes his voice to his mother.

Photo: Amelia Roper

We actually were able to have a brief but fun interaction with Ricky.  After the intermission, we happened to be right where Ricky walked out to go back on stage.  He looked at us and smiled. So we said, “Hey would you mind if we took your picture?” He said “Sure, but you might want to take a lot so you can hang them up on your wall at home.”  He laughed, we laughed and began taking pictures. Which made Ricky laugh even more. It was an indicator to us that he was having such a great time. It certainly came across in his performance, but we were glad to get a brief encounter with him and see for ourselves just how much he loved it.  

It was a beautiful evening with a bluegrass legend.  The music was great.  The audience was really fun.  And the weather was excellent.  The sky was moody, but no storm.  Just like the show.  

 

 

 

ABBA The Concert: with the Utah Symphony July 13, 2018 Snow Park Amphitheater Deer Valley

It’s hard to believe, but July 13, 2018, was the first time I have ever attended a concert at the Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater in Deer Valley.  I’ve always heard great things, but for one reason or another, I had never had the opportunity. I was excited that my first experience attending this venue would be as a witness to one of the acclaimed Deer Park Music Festival concerts featuring the Utah Symphony.  On this particular evening, the Symphony would join forces with tribute band Waterloo to play the unforgettable music of ABBA. This would be a Friday the 13th not soon forgotten.

The atmosphere at Snow Park Outdoor is very friendly.  Many patrons arrive early to picnic and visit with friends and other concert-goers before the show starts.  The temperatures at Deer Valley are significantly lower than in Salt Lake City so I’d imagine many in attendance were eager to get to the venue early to enjoy the cooler air.  I enjoyed looking around at the various dishes prepared and the creative devices people used for tables, coolers, and chairs.

The concert began promptly at 7:30 PM.  The orchestra had tuned and when Waterloo walked out, everyone was ready to go.  The show opened up with the huge ABBA hit “Take a Chance on Me”. I was immediately impressed with Waterloo.  Their voices were perfect and their harmonies were right in step with the ABBA sound. It blows my mind when a tribute band can resemble the real band so well.  Yes they have the hair, and yes they have the costumes, but it takes so much more than that. I’ve seen tribute bands and they have the look of the band, but their sound isn’t even close.  Waterloo was spot on. That’s not an easy thing to do.

The Utah Symphony never lets me down.  They sounded amazing as always. I think they are one of the most underrated symphony orchestras in the nation.  I really appreciate the variety of their performances. I’ve seen them play the score to great films live, as the movie plays overhead, I’ve seen them play with the greatest vocalists in the world, and there I was seeing them pay tribute to one of the most iconic bands of all time.  It’s versatility like this that makes them one of my favorite concerts to attend, no matter what the theme. You’re guaranteed to be entertained. My only issue with their performance on this night was there were times I couldn’t hear them enough. I don’t know if it was the mix, or if Waterloo was just louder, or if maybe I’m just going dear, but I couldn’t hear the orchestra a few times and it was disappointing.  

 

When the show first started the audience seemed quite subdued. The music was great, and spirits were high, but the crowd was so quiet. Then all of a sudden things changed.  I’m not sure if the temperature dropped, the sun went down, or maybe the wine simply kicked in but about 45 minutes into the show the energy of the crowd was totally elevated.  People started to get up and dance, sing along the way I had anticipated them doing the entire evening. Better late than never I suppose. The enthusiasm of the crowd remained for the rest of the concert.  

One of the highlights of the show was when Roger Palm, a drummer who played on many of ABBA’s hit recordings took the stage with the Utah Symphony and Waterloo.  He moved from drums to tambourine through a number of songs. It was just really cool to see someone who had taken part in the ABBA magic up there on stage. The crowd seemed really happy to have him there.  It was an unexpected pleasant surprise. Of course, the pinnacle moment of the evening was “Dancing Queen”.  It felt like it was 1976. ABBA fans of all ages were totally lost in the song and just dancing their hearts out.  There was even a kick line of about 20 people up on the lawn. It must have looked amazing from the stage to see so many people having so much fun.  

 

It was a perfect evening for fun music, great musical talent, and beautiful weather.  I’m not sure if the Utah Symphony was aware when they put this show together, but their timing could not have been more perfect.  If you’re an ABBA fan you’re well aware that there is a sequel to the 2007 movie musical Mamma Mia, which consists of ABBA’s greatest hits.  Mamma Mia, Here We Go Again, comes out one week after this concert.  So after this show, the ABBA pump has been primed!

If you’ve never been to the Deer Valley Music Festival do yourself a favor and get up there to see the summer home of the Utah Symphony.  I can’t believe it took me this long to take in a show there. I’m really hoping to be at every show possible from here on out.

Pentatonix July 12, 2018 USANA Amphitheater

I’ve seen Pentatonix over the years on talk shows, award shows, YouTube, their cameo in Pitch Perfect 2, and this years’ A Capitol 4th in Washington DC on PBS.  Clearly, they’re a really tight and talented group.  However, I was really curious to see them perform in their own headlining show.  I wanted to see if it was actually possible for an acapella group to pull off an entire 90-minute concert in front of fifteen thousand plus fans.  Well, judging by the fifteen thousand plus, they most certainly did.

I find it amazing that without any live instruments, or even backing tracks, a vocal group can sound that in tune for a whole concert.  The thing we concert-goers don’t always realize is that in the moment, we’re excited to hear a song, and many times we’re singing along, so we can’t always tell when a band goes slightly off-key momentarily because there is usually so much other music, effects, and our own voices hiding it.  But with Pentatonix, it’s impossible to hide those moments. The remarkable thing to me is they never seemed to have any of those moments. I noticed a few times Kristin Maldonado had to remove her inner ear monitor. That can happen due to feedback, volume issues, including not being able to hear your own vocals.  But the impressive thing was that she didn’t miss a note. She just carried on and reinserted the monitor when the song was over. This tells me just how locked in these guys are. They’ve practiced and performed so many times it’s as if they almost don’t even need to hear to blend with each other. 

Each member of the band could be the lead singer of their own group.  That’s how strong and talented each vocalist is.  Including Kevin Olusola the group beatboxer. Which seems a little unfair.  He’s the beats guy. He shouldn’t also have such a rich high caliber voice. Not only does he have quality vocals, and top-notch beatboxing, but he also plays the cello exceptionally well.  In fact, there is a segment of the show where Kevin breaks out the cello for the only moment of the show involving a musical instrument. It was one of the biggest highlights for me.  

I really enjoyed the reception the USANA Amphitheater crowd gave to group newcomer vocal bassist Matt Sallee.  As I understand it Avi Kaplan was a fan favorite but decided the road was no longer for him so he stepped down from the group.  That transition can sometimes be awkward, especially for fans. But Matt was given a welcome reception and the group sounded excellent with him in it.  He brings tremendous value to the group.

Mitch Grassi seemed to be the crowd favorite at this show.  Any time he said something or sang a solo line, the place went nuts.  I was impressed with his vocal range. The guy can sing! Really high!  Like really high! There were a couple times where I was looking down at my phone (I know rude, but it was to write down some notes for this article I promise!) and I thought Kristin was singing, only to look up and see that it was in fact, Mitch.  I was blown away. He brings a flair to the group that the audience adores.

I think my favorite vocalist in the group is Scott Hoying.  There is something about his vocals that I connect with. He has such a sincerity in his tone that makes me feel like he means every word he is singing.  He looks like he’s having a blast on stage. Well, they all do, but in watching Scott it just felt like he was stoked to be on that stage with his friends, and doing what he loves.  

As I’ve mentioned before, during some shows, I get a photo pass where I’m in front of the front row for the first three songs of the night.   While I was taking pictures of the group, I looked behind me to see what they were seeing. It’s astonishing to see an ocean of faces looking back.  Understandably I’m anonymous because the group people are there to see is right behind me. This gives me an opportunity to look around and see what the band could possibly be seeing.  How can they not love what they do? Everyone is smiling, everyone is so happy to see their favorite group on stage, and everyone is singing along. While I was looking out to the crowd, the first song ended.  I quickly snapped back around to get a look at Pentatonix to see how they’d react to the roaring applause. I quickly took this picture of Kristin Maldonado. I don’t know her, (Obviously) but I felt like I could see in her eyes the excitement of performing, and the joy of hearing an approving crowd, and the eager anticipation of what was about to happen that night.  It was a cool moment for me to see. She also could have just been thinking “Wait, what’s the next song again?” But I like my version better! By the way, Kristin’s vocals were amazing the whole night! If she had a solo album I’d buy it immediately. She really is extremely talented.

The two major highlights of the evening for me were when, after a costume change, Pentatonix reentered the stage and performed John Lennon’s “Imagine”.  First of all, it’s amazing how applicable that song still is. Second, their version was beautiful. It was a special way to begin the second act of their show.  

The other highlight for me was their Rihanna medley.  I guess I didn’t anticipate it so it was a pleasant surprise.  I really enjoy me some Rihanna. It was a fun moment for the crowd, and it was obvious that Pentatonix was excited to perform this segment.  

The show ended with a beautifully harmonized version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  Another song I didn’t expect but was thrilled to have heard.

Before the show, I was able to speak to a few fans along the front row railing.  I asked them how many times they’d seen Pentatonix. The answers varied, but one pre-teen, in particular, mentioned that it was her first time.  She said all she wanted was for one of them to come over to her, wave to her, and if she was lucky enough, sing to her. I paid attention to that for the rest of the concert. And not only did one come over to her, but throughout the show, each member of Pentatonix came over to her, waved to her, and sang to her.  How stoked was she?! Those are the marks of a group that is in touch with their fans.

When a group wins a reality show to get the career they have, you never know just how ready they actually are for it.  And while it’s been a number of years since Pentatonix won The Sing Off, it is clear that they are a genuine talent. The type of talent that can entertain a huge USANA Amphitheater audience for an hour and a half.  Good for them.

Setlist
Intro/ Sing
Finesse
Attention
Can’t Sleep Love
Havana
Stay/ The Middle
Cello Moment/ Perfect
Daft Punk
Despacito x Shape of You

Imagine
Love You Long Time
Rihanna Medley
New Rules x Are You That Somebody?
Cracked/ Natural Disaster
Hallelujah
Sorry Not Sorry
Aha!
Bohemian Rhapsody