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

 

 

I Love the 90’s Tour June 22, 2018 Sandy Amphitheater

I have a few questions.  What would you hope to experience from a concert like the “I Love the 90’s Tour” which featured Young MC, All 4 One, Kid ‘N Play, and Rob Base?  Is it being taken back to a great time in your life? Is it hearing songs of your youth performed live? Is it the hope that the bands you loved as a youth still sound as good as you remember? Were you just looking for a place to spend a beautiful warm summer evening with people having a great time?  Well if so then you were in the right place on Friday night.

Young MC

The show opened with Young MC.  He was on the stage less than a half hour, but he was the perfect artist to open the show.  He did a song or two then he broke into the song that the still rolling in audience was anticipating to hear from him, the hip-hop classic, “Bust a Move”.  The audience was on their feet, rapping every word to their friends and dancing like it was 1990. I’m sure Young MC has done that song a zillion times, but it still has to feel good to get that kind of reaction. Young MC said that this was usually when his set was done, but asked if we wanted to hear “Fastest Rhyme” off of his debut album Stone Cold Rhymin’.  The crowd was into it and he broke into the song which is appropriately named.  The crowd cheered him on as he rhymed faster and faster.

All 4 One

90’s R&B group All 4 One were the next to take the stage.  They sounded as good as ever. You just never know how a group that has been around for over twenty years is going to sound, so I was impressed with how tight vocally they still were.  Unfortunately, the turn out for this show wasn’t great. Let’s put it this way, I’m being generous when I say that the venue was half full. But I have to hand it to these guys, the Sandy Amphitheater could have been busting at the seams with fans and they would have performed no different.  They interacted with the audience, made jokes about the altitude and even sang to some smitten women. I watched people slow dance to ballads like “I Can Love You Like That” and “I Swear”. I think I was the least interested in seeing All 4 One out of all the acts on this bill, but I came away from the show the most impressed with them.  They were really entertaining.

Kid ‘N Play

Kid N Play’s set was like a comet.  Just a total blaze of fire then they were gone!  I think my favorite part of their set was their banter.  Maybe it was ad-libbed, maybe it was scripted but it was pretty funny and had the audience totally engaged with what they were saying.  They, of course, did their hits. Songs like “Kid vs. Play” and Rollin’ With Kid ‘N Play” were the highlights for me.  But the part I was looking forward to and as it turned out was in no way disappointing was when they did their signature dance.  If you’re unfamiliar I’m sure there are clips on YouTube. But it’s when they do some sweet 90’s moves culminating in Kid hitting his foot to Play’s. It really took me back to trying that move with my friends.

Rob Base

The artist I was most excited to see was Rob Base.  In my neck of the woods, he was one of our favorite rappers.  Everyone loved “It Takes Two”, but if you knew “Joy and Pain” it meant you were a true fan.  So you can imagine my joy when he performed that song.  Apparently, everyone in attendance was from my “neck of the woods” because the crowd shared my excitement when “Joy and Pain” started.  And the perfect way to end the night was with “It Takes Two”. The Sandy Amphitheater tuned into The Bay for one night.  Who remembers That Bay?! The song may or may not have been released in 1988, but that’s close enough to the 90’s right?  

Rob Base

I thought it was a really fun evening.  I felt like the lineup could have used one more artist, or perhaps a clear-cut headliner, but that was really my only criticism.  So yes, I was taken back to a great time in my life. Yes, I enjoyed hearing songs from my youth. And yes, they all sounded as good as I remembered.  And yes, it was a fun place to spend a summer evening. The crowd wasn’t what I’m sure the artists or the venue for that matter was hoping for, but the show itself surely didn’t disappoint.  

 

Styx w/ Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and Tesla June 4, 2018 USANA Amphitheater

It was a hot June evening out at USANA Amphitheater. It definitely feels like summer here in Utah. It was the perfect evening for Volume 1 of Utah’s classic rock station, Arrow 103.5’s Arrowfest featuring Styx, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, and Tesla. I love that feeling of being out at this amphitheater as the sun goes down. There’s almost always a breeze, and that feeling of the temperature going down while listening to live music.  It’s the best!

Tesla
The show started right at 7 o’clock with Tesla. I felt bad for the band because the temperature was still about 90 degrees when they took the stage. And the way USANA Amphitheater is positioned, the stage faces the west. So the sun sets right in the band’s faces! Those guys were getting cooked! I’ve got to hand it to them though, they seemed totally unphased. They performed their 8 song set with what I would imagine their same high level performance even if the sun was down. While much of the crowd was still filing into the venue, those who made it for Tesla were excited to see their performance which included hit songs “Signs” and “Love Song”. I met a couple seated in the row in front of me who had traveled from Great Falls Montana just to see Tesla. They traveled over ten hours to hear just eight songs from their favorite band. Now that’s dedication! They stayed for the entire concert, but they were emphatic that it was Tesla that they came to see.

Tesla Setlist

I Wanna Live
Hang Tough
Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)
What You Give
Signs
Little Suzi
Love Song
Modern Day Cowboy

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts

Fortunately for the Blackhearts, the sun had all but set when they took the stage. It was especially great for them because they were in all black. I don’t know why I’m so concerned about the body temperature of these bands. I suppose it’s because I hate being overheated, so I figure they might not love it either. But they’re playing music for thousands of people. I’m sure they’re just fine.

Joan opened her set with guns blazing! She started with “Bad Reputation” then ripped into the Runaways classic, “Cherry Bomb”, then followed that with “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)”.  It was a really cool start to her set. Unfortunately, during “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah), Joan Jett fell backward to the ground after she backed into a monitor. The band kept playing, while she encouraged the crowd to sing the “Yeah, Oh Yeah, Oh Yeah, Oh Yeah” part of the song to buy a little time to be given a new guitar and regroup for a second. I thought the band did a great job of vamping, and she recovered pretty quick. I was waiting for her to make a joke about it but she just said something like “Hey it’s Rock n Roll” and moved on. By the time the set was over, I had forgotten it even happened. Well, until now where I’m remembering to write about in this review.

Joan played some of her first Blackheart songs, as well as the Bruce Springsteen penned title track of a movie she co-starred in with Michael J. Fox called “Light of Day”.  The buddy, I went to the show with and I have determined that we must see this movie immediately. Let me know if you’ve seen it and where I can watch it. I never even knew it existed, and now my life has no purpose other than to see this hidden 80’s gem.

The main set finished with the same guns a blazing as the opening of the show, featuring mega-hit “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” followed by “Crimson & Clover” and “I Hate Myself for Loving You”. Then the Blackhearts did what would probably be considered their encore if they had time to leave the stage and come back by playing a medley of “Real Wild Child (Wild One) and “Everyday People”.

I always forget how many hit songs Joan Jett & the Blackhearts have. With famously putting her own twist on some covers, playing a couple of Runaways songs, and of course her big Blackhearts singles, it makes for a great block of music. I really enjoyed them.

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts Setlist

Bad Reputation
Cherry Bomb
Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)
Victim of Circumstance
Soulmates to Strangers
You Drive Me Wild
Light of Day
Fake Friends
Love is Pain
A Hundred Feet Away
Fresh Start
Love is All Around
I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll
Crimson & Clover
I Hate Myself for Loving You
Real Wild Child (Wild One)
Everyday People

Styx

I’m sure I’ve said this a bunch of times but I’m always impressed with how quickly they move one band’s equipment out and the next band’s in. I was given a photo pass for the Styx set so I was up close as the transition took place and it’s an art form. I don’t think we waited twenty minutes after Joan Jett for Styx to be ready. I don’t know how they do it. But I know I’ve taken for granted just how quickly the switch happens.

I had the opportunity to see Styx at the Eccles Theater back in January.  They performed alone with no openers and no co-headliners.  Just them.  It was a good concert.  I was excited to see if any surprises were in store for us at USANA Amphitheater.  And was there ever a surprise!

At the beginning of the show, I was set up between the barricade and the stage.  So basically in front of the front row for the first three songs. Let me tell you, it’s a pretty awesome sight. There were moments where I had to remind myself to keep taking pictures because I was just captivated by the well-oiled machine that is Styx.  They give each other these looks where they’re communicating more than we realize. Maybe they’re telling each other “This is a great crowd!”, or perhaps, “This crowd sucks, we need to put some extra work in to get them going!” or maybe, “We sound amazing tonight!”.   Who knows what they’re saying, but they seem so in sync that they don’t need to talk.

Speaking of the crowd, I’m not sure if it was the heat or that fact that it was a Monday, but they weren’t as energetic as I had expected them to be. That’s not to say they weren’t into it, and it could have been just my section, but it took a few songs before the crowd was fully into the show.

Styx is promoting their first album in over 14 years called The Mission.  It’s a pretty good album. The fear for fans is that the set will be over saturated with new songs when what they really came for are the hits. I thought Styx did an excellent job picking just the right spots to drop a new song into the setlist. They opened with “Gone Gone Gone” from The Mission. I’ve always felt that the first song is the perfect place to play a song off of the new album because the crowd is just excited the band is on stage. By the time they realize it’s a new song, it’s half over. After playing a new cut, Styx rewarded the audience with seven hit songs in a row. That’s how you do it. I think if other bands understood this, their fans would be more open-minded about hearing newer material.

Tommy Shaw was in his usual great form. I don’t know how he’s continued to sing those high notes over the years. He sounds as good as he did when he first joined the band. JY who they now call the “Godfather” of Styx seems to really be enjoying himself up on that stage.The member of Styx that has impressed me since the day he took over for late drummer John Panozzo is Todd Sucherman. I think he is one of the best drummers out there today. He really is underappreciated in the rock world.

Of course, it’s always great to see original bassist Chuck Panozzo take the stage for a few songs. It seems like him and current bassist Ricky Phillips have fun when they perform together.

Styx played all the hits you’d expect to hear if you’re going to a Styx concert. You know, “Blue Collar Man”, “The Grand Illusion”, “Fooling Yourself”, “Too Much Time on My Hands”, “Renegade”, “Lady”, “Come Sail Away”, and “Mr. Roboto”. Ok, maybe that last song isn’t one you’d expect to hear at a Styx concert. But if you’re rubbing your eyes to make sure you read that right, let me assure you, you did. Dennis Deyoung-less Styx sang “Mr. Roboto”.

Now even up to the time of writing this, I still don’t know how I feel about it. I have this one side of me that can’t figure out why they would do it when they’ve made it known for years how much they (Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young in particular) don’t like that song and have tried to distance themselves from it. Maybe I’m a little defensive for Dennis Deyoung and feel like, hey, this is the song that is attributed to breaking up the band and giving him the boot, how can you play this now without him? There is also a side of me that wonders if the fellas have simply evolved over the years to the point that they tolerate, maybe even appreciate the song now. And maybe performing it is a way of saying “Look, we know we haven’t done this song in a billion years, we don’t hate it anymore, and we love our fans so here you go.” And maybe it was some kind of an olive branch to Dennis Deyoung. Not necessarily to reunite, but to say, it’s water under the bridge.  So yeah, I don’t know how I felt about having heard that song. I’m not sure if Styx is sure about how they feel playing that song. 

 

As I looked around the amphitheater, I think there were many in as much shock as I was. The initial response I noticed was people with open mouths, and looking at each other totally surprised. I can say this. Lawrence Gowan did an amazing job on the vocals. He sounded really good singing “Mr. Roboto”. I really wish I would have known that they were going to do this song when I interviewed him a few weeks ago. I would have at least wanted to know who proposed the idea, if anyone fought it, and why they ultimately decided to go through with putting it on the setlist. I’m so curious about it. I did enjoy the shock of it all. Unless you cheated and looked at a previous setlist, there is no way you saw that coming.  Way to keep us on our toes Styx!

All in all, it was a beautiful night. The weather was perfect, the bands were fantastic, and the music was alive. Well done Arrow 103.5. Can’t wait for Volume 2 of Arrowfest.

 

Styx Setlist

Gone Gone Gone
Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
The Grand Illusion
Lady
Light Up
Rockin’ the Paradise
Radio Silence
Miss America
The Outpost
Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
Too Much Time on My Hands
Khedive
Bohemian Rhapsody
Come Sail Away

Encore

Mr. Roboto
Renegade

UCR Interview Lawrence Gowan of Styx

By: Kevin Rolfe

Photo Credit: Rick Diamond

Styx returns to USANA Amphitheater on Monday, June 4 with Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and Tesla.  They credit Utah as one of the first regions to truly embrace their music.  Because of this, it’s always a good time when they come to town.  

I had the opportunity to interview Keyboardist/ Lead Singer Lawerence Gowan.  When I think of his contribution to Styx I generally think of his influence in the live show.  I also think of him as a newer member of the band, but as you’ll read, he’s actually been in the band for quite some time now.  We talk about that as well as the band’s new album The Mission.  He was really fun to talk to.  Enjoy!  

Utah Concert Review:  The first time I saw Styx was in 2000.  And I think you had joined up with them a couple years before that.  You should be close to your twentieth anniversary with the band, yeah?

Lawrence Gowan:   Yes! I’m about a month into my twentieth year.  Time flies.

UCR:  I just wanted to congratulate you on that.  I think you’ve been great as a member of the band.  I know it was probably a weird situation to come into and I think you’ve been so gracious with everything.  

LG: Thank you very much. It’s a great band to be a part of and it always was a great band before I got into it so it’s something I always want to acknowledge.

UCR:  Now I’ve always felt like the past drama with the band is not really part of your history with the band.  So we don’t need to get into all of that. But I am curious, you’ve replaced a principal songwriter, a founding member, and a vocalist that people love and associate many of these songs to, was there ever a transition period initially that you noticed the fans not being sure about you yet? And was there a moment/tour where you felt like the fans accepted you as an official member of the band.  

LG:  It’s funny, I have to go right back to the very first show I did with the band.  There was only one moment in the entire twenty years when I felt anything but 100% worthy of being with these guys.  The very first show we did together we opened with “Grand Illusion”.  Actually, they had just done an album called Brave New World so they did a short piece from Brave New World that segued into “Grand Illusion”.  And after the “Grand Illusion” intro I drew breath to sing that first line “Welcome to the Grand Illusion…”  and just about five seconds before I hit that first line I realized “Oh, there are a few thousand people here that are about to hear someone else sing this song that they’ve never heard before.”  And at that moment it all kinda flashed in my mind that “in about four or five minutes from now I’m going to know if this is going to work or not.” Because we hadn’t really considered that. We really were quite confident that it would work out because we had rehearsed it and everyone had smiles on their faces.  But by the time we got through the song I remember Tommy and JY walking forward and nodding and there were people with their arms in the air and it was all high fives. It’s kind of been that way since that time. And that’s something that has been inspiring to me that this was a good move.

The other thing I would always clarify is, right from that first show to this very day I have never looked upon the idea that I replaced anyone in the band.  It’s an easy thing to say, and I used to just accept it. But it really is not that. It really is that the band’s life was extended because they got another new guy.  Similar to what happened to them in 1976 when they got Tommy Shaw into the band after they had made five albums. Similar to what happened in the 90’s Todd Sucherman came in when original drummer John Panozzo could no longer do it.  It just so happens that because there was all the backstage brooha drama and all of the gut-wrenching emotions that go along with that because that preceded my joining the band, I think there’s a heightened sense of gravitas of it being a weighty situation.  But my time in the band has always been playing to a fantastic audience of Classic Rock Styx enthusiasts. And they always leave with a lot of smiles on their faces.

UCR: That’s a great way to approach it.  I enjoyed the band’s new album The Mission.  I believe it’s only the second album of original music you’ve done while in Styx.  Is that right?

LG:  Yes. We’ve only done two albums of brand new music.  There have been a good number of live albums and DVDs.  There was the covers album and of course the Regeneration album which were re-recordings of the classic hits with this lineup.  So there are a good number of records, but only two brand new records. That’s really a testament to how much we tour. The band never toured to the extent that we have over the last twenty years.  We have yet to play less than 100 shows in a year and then you add in all the travel that entails, and the distances. We’re in an era of the music world now where the live show, the live performance is at the center of what people gravitate towards because we’re in a different time.  We’re in the internet era where everyone gets their entertainment from their laptops. So when they go and see a live rock show it’s even a bigger seismic shift in their lives because they’re actually living something in real time in the real world. Even if they are holding up their cell phones for most of it.

UCR:  I’m sure with this much touring, not only is it the number of shows and travel, but I’d imagine that you need to spend your off days on vocal rest.  So there probably aren’t many off days the band would be able to spend in the studio laying down vocal tracks take after take.

LG:  It is exactly that.  It really is. You’ve got to stay focused on the most important thing that’s going to have the band continue on.  In the 70’s it was obviously “Let’s get an album out as quick as we can while people are noticing. Let’s make sure it’s really high quality, and then let’s get out and play some shows to support it.”  Now the creativity, for the most part, has been in how the myriad of ways we can improve the live show. And that’s something we’ve really worked at.

Now when we made The Mission, we just set aside the time.  That’s how it got accomplished.  We cut back on shows, we set parameters of how much time we had to work on it.  It took us well over a year to actually pull it together. And that was with some really creative maneuvering around the schedule, but it got done.  

UCR:  When I saw you back in January at the Eccles Theater it seemed like the album was well received.  Which I thought was great. Generally speaking, bands that have been around for 40 years don’t really get to enjoy that.  

LG:  The beauty of being in a band with great hits to play is, you’ve got great hits to play.  The detraction is so often the audience doesn’t want to hear anything but that. However, if you give them just the right thing on the right day you might be surprised.  It seems with The Mission that’s what’s unfolded.  The audience was ready for it, they were ready to hear something that after all these years this lineup could accomplish in a studio setting with the writing and the culmination of our lineup.  I know what you’re saying, “Radio Silence” and “Gone, Gone, Gone”, and “Khedive” those songs are going over as well as many of the classic hits. I think it’s because they slot into the show in an effortless fashion and the audiences are digging it.  

UCR:  And for you, as somebody who had success as a solo artist how has it felt to get to create music again, and with this band?  

LG:  Really satisfying.  I thoroughly enjoyed being a solo artist, but there were times where I was kind of jealous or envious of the idea of creating with a band and having a collective voice that still sounds like one entity.  There aren’t all that many solo artists that I listen to compared to the number of bands that I listen to. I enjoy listening to Elton, and a few others but really the list of bands is far greater. Maybe it was the “grass is greener” idea, but the idea of the collective and what happens when the creative friction comes into the room and something emerges that really doesn’t sound like one guy but very much like this outside entity that no one can claim as their own because it exists as the sum of the parts.  

UCR:  Do you remember the first time you ever performed live?

LG:  I was in grade 2.  I grew up in Toronto.  I can even tell you the date!  It was February 10, 1964. I remember that because The Beatles played on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on February 9, 1964.  When I went to school the next day, I don’t know why but everyone was asked to sing or perform something in front of the class.  I had nothing prepared but I already kind of knew “All My Lovin’” and “Love Me Do” because I had heard them on the radio prior to seeing them on Ed Sullivan.  So basically I got up in front of the class and stood there and I pulled up three other unsuspecting guys and showed them where to stand, and belted out “Love Me Do” in front of the class.  What I remember is the rest of the class looking like “What the hell is he doing?”, but my teacher Ms. Davis had this big grin on her face. I know now what it was. She was probably in her early twenties, and she was obviously a big Beatles fan already.  Or had seen the show the night before. So I was basically doing what a whole generation of musicians have been doing ever since. Trying to figure out “How do we put a band together that looks as much fun and artistically satisfying as that band?”. It was an entire generation of musicians that were affected by that night.  I think I might have beat them all to get in front of an audience with that schtick (Laughing).

UCR:  Do you remember the first concert you attended?  

LG:  I do.  It was in Toronto.  It was a Canadian band called “The Guess Who” that people, of course, know for their biggest hit “American Woman”.  I was 14 and they sounded exactly like the record. They were just so good live. It really had an impression on me.  Whenever I see a band live, if they don’t come up to or surpass the quality that they do on record they kind of lose me forever.  I was branded with that way of judging an act. If I’m on the fence with an act or indifferent to them and I see them live and they just slay the audience I’m forever devoted to what that band can do.  And vice versa, I’ve seen acts where I actually like their record but they’re subpar live they kind of lose me for good.

UCR:  It makes a difference how they sound live, doesn’t it?

LG:  Yeah!  I’ve tried to figure it out over the years.  Ultimately music is communication. So in the live arena, that’s where it’s the most real and visceral and intense, or the opportunity is there for it to be that.  And a great rock show is the best form of entertainment I’ve ever witnessed in my life. I don’t think anything is going to surpass it. I know what it can do to you, and when it fails to do that it’s disappointing.  Fortunately, that hasn’t happened all that often because most of the bands I like are phenomenal live.

UCR:  I think that’s something that could be attributed to Styx.  I’ve seen bands where when they take the stage it looks like they are going to work.  But with Styx, I’ve seen you at the beginning of tours and at the end of tours and it looks no different.  Every time you guys seem excited to be out on that stage. That goes a long way for fans.

LG:  I’m glad you perceive that because I can tell you it’s genuine.  It’s funny that you say that you’ve seen bands that “look like they’re going to work”.  We’re only doing this so that we can avoid going to work! (Laughing) The last thing we’re doing is working!  We’re basically just trying to create this great vibe in front of a few thousand people. When you leave the stage seeing this sea of smiles on faces as far as the eye can stretch, that’s a pretty good end to a satisfying day.  You should really drink that in and be happy to suit up again the next day. I’m lucky that I’m in a like-minded band in that regard.

UCR:  You’re really giving people their escape for a couple hours from their work week.  So it’s good that you guys have that approach.

LG:  The effort it takes to get out to a show, and park, go through a crowd, and that whole ritual, they deserve the best possible performance.  And we’ve jumped through a few hoops of fire to get we are so we don’t want to let ourselves down either.

UCR:  Is there a particular Styx song that no matter how many times you’ve played it, you still get excited?  

LG:  Every night I look at “Renegade” on the setlist.  It’s always towards the end if not the very end of the show.  I embrace that moment every time. It’s great too because I don’t have to sing lead on that one!  I get the opportunity to take the temperature of the audience and every time it’s at a fever pitch.  So I get to observe it and enjoy it so I love seeing that that song is coming up on the setlist.

UCR:  Do you have an experience or two as a performer that you might say are your very best?

LG:  A couple pinnacles come to mind.  First I’ll go back to 1985 prior to joining Styx.  In my hometown Toronto, my second album went to number 1.  It wasn’t released in the states which was a terrible frustration, but it did get to number 1 in Toronto the very week I had the biggest show I had ever done to date which was about 9,000 people. That was one of the highest moments for me personally because I had played all the little clubs around the area and then suddenly to have that happen, it was like, it’s what you’re dreaming of but yet it hits you like “Wow!  That was an unexpected thing.  That was great!”.

The next one I would say, in joining Styx I think we played twice at the Super Bowl.  Funny enough it was the second time, which is weird, I don’t know why, but it was the second time we did it.  I had been in the band for five years at that point. We were still reaching to see what was achievable. The show in San Diego that day was really spectacular.  I remember feeling like I was at the center of the universe. It was just astounding. That was an obvious giant thing. But, there are other moments that I can mention along the way.  Like the first time we played at Red Rocks in Colorado was a phenomenal moment. You’re looking up at this gigantic natural amphitheater a mile or so above the city, it’s almost like you’re in outer space playing there.  It’s an unbelievable spot. And then there are surprises along the way. Like playing the Eccles Theater there in Salt Lake back in January where you don’t know what to expect. You’re playing a new venue, you don’t know how it’s going to go. You’re playing some new material in this case.  And suddenly that’s just as rewarding as anything you’ve ever done. So the answer to your question has become a real moving target over the years.

UCR: Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Gowan.  I really enjoyed this!

LG: Me too!  We’ll see you out at USANA with Tesla and Joan Jett!  It’s gonna rock!!!

 

For tickets to Arrowfest: Styx, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, with Tesla on June 4 click here.  

To purchase Styx new album The Mission, click here.

Poison w/ Cheap Trick May 22, 2018 USANA Amphitheater

As I was driving out to USANA Amphitheater for the first time this season, the sun was shining and it was a perfect 72 degrees.  But on the horizon, in fact, headed right towards West Valley where USANA Amphitheater is located it was impossible to miss a very different picture.  A dark cloud was rolling in fast! I knew this was a rain or shine show, but I’m sure like anyone heading to an outdoor concert, I preferred there be more shine than rain.

Cheap Trick

When I arrived, it appeared that Cheap Trick was about to take the stage.  The fog machines were on, and the crew was leaving the stage. But just then, I noticed the huge elevated speaker stacks lowering to the ground, and the crew rushed back to cover the soundboards and equipment as the wind picked up and the rain started to fall significantly.  At that point, someone took to the microphone and announced that there would be a slight delay to allow the weather to improve.

Ultimately this worked out in Cheap Trick’s favor because more people en route to the show would be there in time to see them.  As the rain diminished, Cheap Trick frontman Robin Zander walked on stage in a fur coat and his signature shiny police captain’s hat. He stood there, looked out to the crowd without saying a word.  His presence signified that the show was about to begin.

Sure enough, the speakers were lifted, the plastic was removed and Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Cheap Trick took the state.  It took a minute for things to settle in. The crowd was shuffling back to their seats, removing parkas, wiping the water off of their chairs, maybe a little distracted by the rain delay.  

But about halfway through the ten song set, It seemed like everyone locked in on the moment.  The band was in good form, and the crowd was now focused on the legendary and extremely influential rock band.  

The crowd sang along to such hits as “The Flame”, and “I Want You to Want Me”. Now we were off and running.  Guitarist Rick Nielsen cracked the audience up when he told us they were getting ready to release their “150th album” when in fact, it will be their 20th. He stated that if we hated the song it was only three minutes so it would be over soon.  The song “Here Comes Summer” fit right in with the rest of the set.

There seemed to be some confusion on if the band was going to cut their set short due to the delay, or play a couple more.  I’m not sure if they cut some songs or not, but they played a few more songs and I’m glad they did. I would have been disappointed if I didn’t hear “Surrender”, which was one of the songs they finished with.  

Rick Nielsen threw out literally hundreds of guitar picks to the crowd.  And what would be a Cheap Trick show without an appearance from Rick’s custom made five neck guitar?  Rick left the stage and returned with it just in time to finish their set with “Auf Wiedersehen”.

Cheap Trick handled the rain delay perfectly.  It was a perfect warm up for what was in store for the rest of the night.  Cheap Trick is an iconic band and I’m really glad I got to see them.

CheapTrick Setlist
Hello There
You Got It Going On
California Man
Baby Loves To Rock
Here Comes The Summer
The Flame
I Want You To Want Me
Dream Police
Surrender
Auf Wiedersehen

 

Poison

Due to the rain delay and USANA Amphitheater’s 11 o’clock curfew, the crew had to work fast to switch out Cheap Trick’s gear and move Poison’s in.  I’ve got to say, they did an incredibly efficient job. Poison took the stage within ten to fifteen minutes of Cheap Trick leaving.

Now to me, Poison is one of those bands that people absolutely love, or absolutely love to hate on.  And I think Poison must know this.  They work hard on that stage to give their devoted fans a night they’ll love, and put in an effort to win those over that might not be so sure about them.  

For the first three songs of Cheap Trick and Poison, I was at the front of the venue taking pictures.  One of the security guards was telling me that he was looking forward to Cheap Trick, but wasn’t too interested in the Poison part of the night.  I found it funny that by the third song in Poison’s set this same security guard was bobbing his head, and singing along to “Ride the Wind” with the rest of the crowd.  

This tour is called the “Nothing But a Good Time Tour 2018”, of course referencing their monster hit of the same name.  As corny as it is to use the name of a song, or the name of a tour to describe the night’s events, there is simply no other way to describe this show.  It really was a good time. They took  the stage and opened with “Look What the Cat Dragged In”.  It was light speed ahead from there.  I barely had time to recover or take a mental note for this review before they were ripping into the next song! 

I have to give it to Bret Michaels, he’s an excellent front man.  His energy knows no bounds. He was jumping, clapping, running, dancing, and still singing the whole night.  He never seemed to be out of breath, or to even slightly slow down. I was so impressed. After several songs, throughout the night he’d say something like “Let’s just keep this going!”, or “We’re gonna keep this train rolling!”  as they jumped into the next high energy song.

I had the opportunity to interview bassist Bobby Dall a few weeks back leading up to this show.  I asked him if there was a song that he really looked forward to playing above others.  He mentioned “Ride the Wind” was always a favorite, but then he stated that he never tired of playing any of their songs.  I found that hard to believe since they’ve played these songs over and over thousands of times. But after watching him play in person, I have changed my mind. He looked like he was loving it up there. He seemed into every song  and just totally fired up to be playing in front of this crowd.  He was a pretty mellow guy during our interview, but he was far from that on the stage. I loved it.

C.C. Deville, which by the way,  is one of the greatest lead guitarist stage names in history, was also really fun to watch.  There has been so much turmoil in this band over the years, but I was happy to see that it looked like he and the rest of the guys were in a great place and having (here I go again) a good time.  

I thought his guitar playing was as good as it’s ever been, and the crowd seemed to think so too.  He received one of the loudest cheers of the night when he finished his guitar solo.

Rikki Rockett (Another fantastic stage name!) is a really entertaining drummer to watch.  Due to the nature of the instrument, most drummers are animated. But Rikki adds an extra flair and showmanship to his playing that fits this band perfectly.  I enjoyed his drum solo which concluded with Bobby Dall returning to the stage to duet the “Pink Panther Theme” with Rikki. From my vantage point, I could see a little boy off stage with glowing noise cancelling headphones and drumsticks.  I’m assuming this was Rikki’s child because he came on stage and played with Rikki during the encore.

From what I can tell, the setlist was condensed by maybe one or to two songs.  So really, not a big deal. However, they played their biggest hits. And I have to admit, I had forgotten just how many hits these boys had!  They paid a special tribute to the military with a heartfelt rendition of “Something to Believe In”. They had the crowd at full voice singing along to “Talk Dirty to Me” and “Your Mamma Don’t Dance”.  And of course, they brought down the house with their number one hit, “Every Rose Has its Thorn”.  Couples were slow dancing, others were singing along, and of course, cell phone lights were beaming bright replacing the lighters that I’m sure Poison used to see fill their audience back in the day.  

Poison finished their main set with the title of this tour, and I guess what could also be the title of this article “Nothin’ But a Good Time”.  USANA Amphitheater was electric. The stage lights were amazing, the people were so happy, and I could tell the band was totally happy with the reception.

In the past several years Poison has been a part of these package tours where there will be three bands of a certain era or genre touring together.  For example, I saw Poison open for headliner Def Leppard, with Lita Ford going before Poison. But on this tour, Poison is the headliner and closer of the show.  I think it’s the right place for them. With these songs, this energy, and this fan base, I hope they headline their tours from here on out.

The band came back for their encore and sang a cover of the great KISS anthem “Rock and Roll All Nite”.  The place went wild, sang every word, and danced as if it was 1987.

I brought my high school friend Jamin with me to this show.  For the sake of context, Poison was at their height when we were in 5th and 6th grade.  He mentioned before that he wasn’t really a Poison fan. Not a hater, just enjoyed a different type of music.  He stated that the only song he really knew was “Every Rose Has its Thorn”. But as I was dropping him of for the night he said “You know, like this band or not, they’re really good, and they put on a great show. That frontman was so entertaining.  They did a really good job. I really liked it.” That tells me that Poison did exactly what they set out to do here in Utah.

Poison is a band that represent a specific era of music.  Things back then seemed care free and all about looking for “Nothin’ But a Good Time”.  With the way things seem today, it was nice to feel that care free for a couple hours.  

Look What the Cat Dragged In
I Want Action
Ride the Wind
Something to Believe In
Talk Dirty to Me
Your Mama Don’t Dance (Loggins & Messina Cover)
C.C. Deville Guitar Solo
Fallen Angel
Unskinny Bop
Rikki Rockett Drum Solo
Bobby Dall Bass Solo
Every Rose Has It’s Thorn
Nothin’ But a Good Time

Encore
Rock and Roll All Night (KISS Cover)