Friday, August 30, 2013

Virginia Tour

The WannaBeatles are turning into seasoned road warriors. We've been traveling a lot this summer, meeting new friends, playing new places, putting miles on Nathan's van, loading gear into the trailer. 

Last month, for example, we did three nights in a row, covering 1350 miles (Laurenceburg TN and South Carolina), but that weekend started on Friday afternoon.

The Big Tour

This past weekend was the biggest of the batch, three successive nights in three different towns in Virginia, a total of 1435 miles. This weekend tour was built around a special performance in Virginia Beach, with their local symphony, as part of their 50th anniversary as a city.

The three towns were Danville, Virginia Beach, and Clifton Forge. We were blessed with beautiful weather the whole way, and got to see plenty of a beautiful state, from the coast to the Allegheny mountains. 

Here we are on the road.
Self-portrait on I-40, driving Nathan's van. Dennis hard at work in our "mobile office."

David texting, while Nathan drives

The wonderful cookies made by Nathan's wife Sally

The smartest thing we did was leave early, driving to Danville on Thursday, so we could wake up already there on Friday. There was saw our venue, the North Theater, which was also our lodging. It looks good at night with the lights on.

The owner of the theater, a magician named Wayne Alan, has built rooms onto the theater for performers. Each room has a show-biz theme, which became apparent as we walked in.

David and Nathan took the Sinatra room. Dennis was happy in the Marilyn room.

My bed was a fold out couch in the kitchen. It didn't have a celebrity theme, but I claimed being "in the kitchen with Dinah," and suggested that Dinah Shore might be a good choice for future decorations. 

We woke up Friday morning decently rested, searched out a local IHOP for breakfast, and found a couple of local music stores to catch up on supplies. At one of them, The Music Stop, there was a Beatles drum head in the window. 

We learned that the North Theater was built in 1947, and showed movies like "It's A Wonderful Life" when it first came out. It had passed through various owners until Wayne bought it a few years ago. He sees it as part of a revitalization of the neighborhood, in a town that is rebuilding its tourist appeal. 

Here's Nathan onstage during our set up Friday afternoon.

One extra treat for the gig was the involvement of the Danville Academy of Dance, which provided choreography for "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "Here Comes the Sun." The girls on "Hold Your Hand" wore white shirts, colored scarves around the neck, and boldly colored tights in the pattern of the union jack - a fresh touch. The three dancers for "Here Comes The Sun" were more delicate, like spring flowers. Their dance was a beautiful match for the music.

Members of Danville Academy of Dance, gathering in the North Theater gallery for a photo

One more memory of the gig was David getting injured in the line of duty. He had forgotten the special drum stick with tambourine rattles attached, and felt that "I Am The Walrus" needed the sound of the tambourine added to the regular drum kit, so he found a way to hold a stick and a tambourine in his right hand at the same time to accomplish that trick. The problem was that holding those two items simultaneously rubbed against his finger, which caused some bleeding. He bravely wrapped it in duct tape, and we bought some peroxide the next day to disinfect it. Another special award for bravery beyond the call of duty.

Saturday, we left Danville and drove east for Virginia Beach, along Rt. 58, a beautiful divided highway lined with trees.  Nearing the tidewater area, we drove through Norfolk, and saw the huge shipyards of nearby Newport News.

The Sandler Center

When we arrived at Sandler Center, we pulled up into a very professional loading dock, where a team of friendly crew members helped unload our gear into a lovely facility. We met Rudy, the technical director with his glasses, grey beard, black shirt, and the bearing of a college professor, along with several members of his staff, also wearing black. 

We were greeted by Bobby Melatti, who helped make this gig possible. Bobby is a New Yorker who's lived in Virginia Beach thirty years without losing any sign of his accent. As a local event coordinator helping the town celebrating its 50th anniversary, he's helped us put the gig together over the last few months. It helped that he and Dennis connected as fellow New Yorkers. We were all charmed by his street-wise manner and energy. He reminded me of Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals, and that became a point of mutual appreciation.

We learned from Bobby that the Sandler Center cost $50 million, which is what it cost to build the Metropolitan Opera House in Manhatten, where Bobby had worked back in the sixties. 

Sandler Center is a magnificent and beautiful facility which seats 1200. It's part of a beautiful downtown development, next to a tall Westin Hotel, where we had individual rooms. So this was a luxury stop for us, probably the finest gig we've ever had.
The stage at Sandler Center, during our setup. They had a large screen for our videos.
Looking out from the Sandler stage
I couldn't resist walking around the room playing the sax, checking out the acoustics. Here's another cell phone self-portrait, from the sound booth.
Here's the exterior of the building.
Our setup with orchestra before rehearsal; at right, on trumpet, is our friend Robyn. (see Piccolo Trumpet below)

As readers of the blog have learned, we've been preparing for this gig, which is a joint adventure between us and Symphonicity, the local symphony orchestra. After establishing that we would play at the Sandler Center with the orchestra months ago, we've been sweating out the details - learning "I Am The Walrus," and rehearsing other songs we rarely do, like "She's Leaving Home." 

But the biggest amount of work was preparing the charts for the orchestra. This is not only a musical chore, but an administrative one, as we are dealing with a librarian who assembles and collates the charts, and the conductor who reads a master score as he rehearses the group. And WannaBeatle Nathan stepped up to the plate in a big way, keeping his laptop busy during many of our previous road trips, as he tweaked the notes and beautified the layout of each part, sending digital files via computer to the team in Virginia Beach, in time for their rehearsals before the gig.

And so our arrival at Sandler Center, after unloading and setting up, led straight into an afternoon rehearsal with the full orchestra. We met Dave Kunkel, their conductor, who had already demonstrated his sense of humor in an exchange with Nathan over the decision of how to execute the clinking of champagne glasses in the song "Yellow Submarine." Dave suggested that Symphonicity was more of a beer stein symphony than crystal glass.

We were fascinated and excited to be playing with a full orchestra. There was a beautiful harp in front, the instrument featured on "She's Leaving Home." 

The Piccolo Trumpet

I made a point of meeting the piccolo trumpet player, a very nice lady name Robyn, who was very generous in sharing her knowledge and skills. She even let me try her piccolo trumpet, which I discovered was in the key of A, rather than B flat. 

We shared our admiration of David Mason, the British musician who played the famous solo on "Penny Lane." She confirmed that he had played a piccolo trumpet in A, which is actually used more often than B flat. Robyn's particular trumpet had four valves and a removable pipe, which allowed it to be played as either A or B flat. 

She confessed that hitting that high note at the end of the solo was not easy. It actually was easier for me on the soprano sax than it was for her on the piccolo trumpet. But there's no question that the solo sounded better on the authentic piccolo trumpet, and she played it well. We decided that I would play the last high note, and she would play the rest of the solo. She also agreed to come up to the front of the stage, joining us on that song. This level of involvement and cooperation was typical of our experience there - everyone seemed very friendly and cooperative. 

We spent two and a half hours going through every part of the show that involved the orchestra. David - our drummer - and David - the conductor, were the two cotter pins that kept the whole show together, tempo wise. They were facing opposite directions, but WannaBeatle David had a rear view mirror right beside his high hat to keep the conductor in view for maximum coordination during endings and other tricky parts. 
We had bought that mirror at an auto parts store in Danville the day before, along with a goose neck mic stand attachment, to mount it securely for that purpose. 
Symphonicity rehearsing; that's our Ed Sullivan clip on the video screen

There wasn't much time after rehearsal to relax. But there was ample hospitality in the rooms behind the stage, including a green room with small kitchen and sandwiches and tv screen showing the stage. We had time to eat, do a sound check (the orchestra, it was decided, would get no microphones), check into our hotel, get dressed, and get back to the Sandler Center. 

David and Nathan both had guests - David's wife Alice, and his daughters Gabrielle and Shaina were with us, and Nathan's wife Sally, and another couple they knew from Vermont, Alan and Monique. We were able to accommodate all these guests with various configurations of rooms and roll out beds among our four rooms. It was a great place to bring family, a great experience for us all, and a blessing to have such nice rooms available.

We had a great show. The orchestra sounded great. Our videos were shown on a huge screen behind the orchestra. 

Our song "In '63" went over well. It was the last song of the first set, which meant that its memorable melody was still circulating in our heads - and the audience's - during the intermission, which is a pleasant reminder for the songwriter. 
After the show, posing with our "James Bond," who came onstage during "Live and Let Die" to set off the fireworks and play air guitar. He did a great job.

We even received a plaque from the city after the show for our involvement in their 50th anniversary celebration.

On To Clifton Forge

And the tour goes on. Sunday morning, we left for Clifton Forge, our third Virginia destination. Another beautiful day, and another distinctive experience. 

One thing that made it personal for me was realizing that Clifton Forge was close to Lexington, where my brother lives.  I sent an email to my brother Doug, who confirmed that he could come to the show. And, since he's a musician, I suggested that he join us on "When I'm 64," which has a clarinet section, for which we had charts.

When Dennis heard my brother would be there to play clarinet, he upgraded the idea to a Jerry Lewis comedy bit, where he would tell me, onstage, "Bryan, I know you want to play clarinet on this song, but you're just not good enough. Are there any clarinet players in the audience?" At which point, my brother, appearing to be a random stranger in the crowd, would raise his arms and shout, "I'm a clarinet player! And I've got a clarinet!"

Beyond that brotherly connection, Clifton Forge was charming on its own. First of all, the venue, the Masonic Amphitheater, is architecturally unusual, full of curves and built out of panels of three different metals: aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium. We discovered that it was designed and built by a team of third year architecture students from Virginia Tech.
A sunny afternoon in Clifton Forge - arrival.
Multi-colored metal panels
Setting up onstage
Side view of the Masonic - wood making waves
Behind the stage I noticed more architectural surprises - like boards installed to create the impression of trees erupting from the wood

After sound check, we were offered a meal at a local restaurant, Vic's. This is a small town, where everything is within a few blocks. We walked over to Vic's to meet our host Steve Greenblatt, another New Yorker, whose dad was also a   cook and restaurant owner. Steve and Karen had prepared us three different pizzas, along with delicious locally grown cantelope, home grown tomatoes, and a salad with their own recipe of blue cheese dressing. We found out Vic's was built in 1922, and had always been used as a restaurant, so it had lots of atmosphere.

Steve had opened up his restaurant on a Sunday just for us. He was happy to get our signatures on some posters for the concert. He shared tales of his years in Nashville, when he worked as executive chef for Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theater (around '99 and 2000).
Here are the other three WB's walking from the Masonic to the Red Lantern, the charming B&B where we had rooms. 
A humorous sign at the Red Lantern

The show was plenty of fun. We had dancers of all ages get up on stage with us, and my brother Doug playing the extra clarinet part on "When I'm 64," with no rehearsal. 
The Cumming Brothers - first time as a clarinet duo
A volunteer go-go dancer during "Can't Buy Me Love"
In the sunshine during the first set
Audience view of second set

We had time to enjoy more hospitality the next morning. We had a beautiful breakfast of pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and coffee at The Tea Room, cooked and served by Barbara, just a few doors down from Vic's. 

BC, Dennis, Wilma, Steve and Nathan at the Tea Room, where we had a huge farewell breakfast

We also got a tour of the Masonic Theater, built in 1905, undergoing a massive restoration. We were thrilled to hear that Roy Rogers and Trigger had actually appeared on that stage.
Dennis and David couldn't resist replaying the roles of Roy Rogers and Trigger 

Clifton Forge is nestled in the Allegheny mountains, which gave us a surprising chill for an August morning. After meeting Steve, and Barbara, and Wilma - who booked us there - and Jo Anne, who hosted us at Red Lantern - and John, who showed us the Masonic Theater, and others who are involved in restoring the city, we got a great impression of a great place live.

Here David says goodbye to the bulldog who is the mascot of the Red Lantern Inn. 

And we drove home, but didn't unpack our trailer, because we had another gig the next day.  Monday was the drive home, then Tuesday was the drive down to Pulaski for our show at Martin Methodist College, a return after four years. 

But this blog has gone on too long already, so we'll pause till another report.

Bloggin' Bryan 29 August 2013


  1. You guys sounded great in Danville, so I'm sure the other gigs were fun! Please come to Lynchburg, VA next time you come this way!

  2. And I was in the crowd in Clifton Forge and you were awesome there. Come back to see us brother Steve did the video for you and said you all were so great to work with. Thanks for a wonderful show in the Allegheny Mountains.

  3. Enjoyed reading your blog. Wish I could have made the Virginia Beach performance. Angelique