Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Meeting Superman

Superman - the all American hero. The Man of Steel, with blue tights, red cape, and perfect muscles. His motto: "Truth, Justice, and The American Way."

So what does this have to do with The WannaBeatles? Well, Metropolis, besides being the official home of Superman, is also home to Harrah's Casino, who hired us to play the weekend of March 6 & 7. 

Metropolis is in southern Illinois, on the Ohio River. That sounds like a long way, but we were relieved to find it takes less than 2 1/2 hours to get there from Nashville. 
Harrah's on the Ohio River

We have played a casino before (in Cherokee, N.C.), so we know about entering the alternate universe of a "gaming establishment." 

We handed in our driver's licenses at the security desk to obtain our badges, which would validate our identity during our stay. 

We had complimentary rooms at the hotel, and free meals according to a complex set of credits that depended on the time of day and the prices of the particular restaurant where we ate. We could have a nice breakfast and a nice dinner, or a nice lunch and a nice dinner, but not three meals in one day. 

We set up our equipment on their stage, in a small bar which opened onto the casino floor, where thousands of slot machines flashed their seductive lights and rang their celebratory chimes. 

We were hired to play four sets, so we had to dig deep into the songlist, and bring out a few non-Beatles extras like "Satisfaction" and "Good Lovin'." And of course, we had to compete with the slot machines for the attention of our audience. But we found some hard-core Beatles fans, who would sing along with every song, and some who got up to dance.

The most exciting part of our trip - or the part with photos we have to share - was Saturday morning, visiting the heart of Metropolis, where a famous statue of Superman guards their courthouse. There is also plenty of Superman memorabilia available at a store across the street from the statue.

The Superman Statue in the snow

 Several versions of Superman, from various historic roles
 View of the statue from across the street, 
where it doesn't look quite so imposing
 The Statue is located at the intersection of Truth and Justice
(we wouldn't kid you about a thing like that)

Of course he can fly: 
Superman leaps gracefully from a building
On the wall of the building were slightly worn 
reproductions of classic Superman comic strip panels

Our hero, WannaBeatle Dennis, assumes his Super gaze

We enjoyed seeing some friends from Nashville. Diane and Dan Drummond drove up to see us, and ate at the same restaurant where we ate on Saturday night, so we had our picture taken with them.
Harrah's Casino, as the sun sets

Somehow, not one single WannaBeatle dropped any coins into any slot machines, so our weekend had neither flashy wins nor gratuitous losses. It was a great weekend to be in the heartland, doing our job for truth and justice, and meeting an American hero.

Bloggin' Bryan 31mar2015

Friday, March 20, 2015

Florida & lots of pictures

As readers of this blog will know, The WannaBeatles have been anticipating our biggest trip yet in our history. We've travelled to NYC and Washington DC, and played theaters from Ohio to South Carolina, but we'd never been as far south as Key West. And we'd never been away from Nashville for so long.

The trip to south Florida was a big homecoming for WannaBeatle David, who grew up in Key West and Miami. That's part of the story of how we landed a series of concerts with the South Florida Symphony Orchestra, which is directed by Sebrina Alfonso, who attended high school with David in Key West. 

As a creative response to the opportunity, David not only wrote (and produced, and orchestrated) a song, "Come to Key West," in honor of the occasion, he also created a video to go with it, featuring beautiful shots of Key West, along with photos of David and Sebrina from their high school days. 

We rehearsed that song to perform it with the symphony, adding more surprises to our show - not only a full symphony orchestra, and a large video screen behind us, but also an original, very personal song, "Come To Key West."

The gig also featured the skills and energy of WannaBeatle Nathan, who became our resident orchestrator. With  his exacting eye for detail, Nathan exercised his desire to create parts that would be fun for the musicians to play.

Nathan also convinced us to tackle "Roll Over Beethoven," a special version incorporating the orchestra playing the famous opening figure from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, leading right into a classic rock'n'roll moment with a Chuck Berry guitar lick kicking it off. We added that number as our encore.

Getting to Florida involved extensive calculations about travel, equipment, and expenses, mostly handled by WannaBeatle Dennis in his travel agent mode. We ended up flying, and hiring our favorite sound man, Allan Waugh, to drive his van carrying most of our equipment along with his system down there and back. 

It was quite an adventure, and worked out well on many levels. For one thing, escaping from Tennesse in early February for a week was almost a paid vacation. 

Our adventure, as captured in a series of cell phone photos, begins at the airport.
If you've been to BNA lately, you may recognize 
this odd statue - part of the creative display at the airport.

Our spirits were up, as indicated by this photo Dennis took of me pretending to play sax by a poster of a sax playing Mardi Gras musician.

Our Florida tour consisted of three cities: Boca Raton, Key West, and Ft. Lauderdale.

Boca Raton (days 1 & 2)

We flew down to Ft. Lauderdale, and immediately felt the warmer air, and saw the signs of a different culture.

David points out Cuban Corner in the airport (it was closed)
We had never seen hi-tech toll roads before.

We rented a comfortable van and drove up to Boca Raton to check in to our first hotel. It was a lovely place, and our local show was being advertised with a sign in their lobby.

Our first morning in Boca Raton I discovered a local park nearby, which was quite a treat.

 Palm trees along path

Sign along road

Later in the morning was a meeting Dennis had arranged for us with a local music biz veteran named Jeff Richman. He had worked extensively with oldies acts like Little Anthony and The Shirelles, booking local shows at the theater where we were playing.

Jeff  grew up in New York around the music business, and told classic funny stories, so we were thoroughly entertained. We were also impressed with the luxurious facilities at the Woodfield Country Club. 

David with Jeff
David, Jeff & Dennis poolside

With David's encouragement, we discovered a local fast food restaurant that gets close to authentic Cuban food - Pollo Tropical. 
David shows off his fried plantain at Pollo Tropical

That afternoon, we drove to the theater on the campus of Florida Atlantic University, to rehearse the show.
 Allan views spacious stage
A view of the room from the stage
Our cynical & confident sound & light man
Nathan, Sebrina & David onstage, Sebrina in dress attire, 
having come from another performance that morning 
Sebrina and David consulting

Orchestra setting up
David at drums, Sebrina & orchestra behind

David's buddy Danny Jiminez drove up from Miami to see us, with his girlfriend Lilli. 

Danny is a huge Beatles fan, who brought along a Rickenbacker bass which he had customized to match the exact dimensions of the bass Paul McCartney played on "Magical Mystery Tour." 

Danny in dressing room with his Rickenbacker bass

Danny also brought his camera. Our show at FAU is documented with over a hundred fine photos, of which a few are shown here.

Florida Atlantic University entrance
Our venue: Carol & Buddy Kaye Performing Arts Auditorium

View of stage right before start of show
 Our wacky introduction, where Jacqueline Lorber, 
CEO of South Florida Orchestra, 
dressed as a mod 60's chick and 
told the audience about The WannaBeatles 

Orchestra dressed onstage, before start of show
Our opening number, "Magical Mystery Tour"
Nathan on tambourine
BC rockin'
Dennis rockin'
David at drums
The four lads
Nathan rockin' on Hofner
The view from the timpani
Clarinets for "When I'm 64"

We had a good show, and gathered at a local restaurant after the gig, with Danny, his girlfriend Lilli and a few other friends. 
Nathan with his root beer float
The WannaBeatles at FAU with David's family from Orlando

It would have been nice to sleep late and enjoy the weather, but we had hours to drive to get to Key West, so we were up early the next day and on our way.

Key West (days 3 & 4)

David was happy to drive us down the Keys, pointing out local history along the way. We caught the laid back vibe when we stopped for lunch.

David & Dennis at lunch

Our hotel at Key West was an upscale resort. We had full suites, with kitchen facilities, jacuzzi tubs, and private porches shaded by palm trees. 
Here's the main room in the suite Dennis and I shared; 
it doesn't show the bedrooms or bathrooms. The porch is through the sliding doors.

Our first night in Key West included appearing with Sebrina at a social event for supporters of the South Florida Symphony. That took place in a fancy condo that was converted from an old steam plant. 
Dennis, Sebrina and David at the meet'n'greet
David & Nathan in dining room, where we did 
an impromptu "unplugged" performance of 
"Come To Key West"

The show, the next day, was at the Tennessee Williams Theater on the campus of nearby Florida Keys Community College. 

The theater was actually designed and used by Tennessee Williams, when he lived in Key West in the early 1960's. It was a small but great sounding theater. We were told there were 327 seats, and not a bad seat in the house, and after our sound check, we were convinced it was true. Allan was happy with it, and so were we.
Stage at Tennessee Williams Theater
Another view
The stage again
Nathan & Hofner during soundcheck
And here we are in the dressing room, getting ready.

The Key West performance was enhanced by the addition of The Conchettes, the precision dance team from Key West High School, who worked up routines and joined us for a couple of songs onstage, kicking up their heels in their colorful uniforms.

David naturally had many friends to talk with late into the evening, but we still had to get up early the next day to drive to Ft. Lauderdale.

Ft. Lauderdale (DAYS 5 & 6)

Leaving Key West meant going back through Miami, and again David had plenty of personal stories about where he had lived and worked and had adventures with friends.
Along the freeways in Miami

Our final concert was booked at First Baptist Church in Ft. Lauderdale, a large church downtown with a huge sanctuary well suited for large performances. The South Florida Symphony had played there before.
The front of First Baptist Church
Inside First Baptist Church
The sanctuary, i.e. our stage
David setting up drums in sanctuary

There were over a thousand people at the show, and a great deal of enthusiasm from the orchestra. After "Roll Over Beethoven," we played a second encore, "Twist and Shout," which had no parts for the orchestra to play. Orchestra members rose from their seats, then began to rock along with the music, creating a massive dance party onstage. We were delighted and honored that classical musicians would show so much spontaneity and energy in a collaborative performance with a rock band.

It was an amazing reunion for David and Sebrina, and an amazing opportunity for The WannaBeatles. 

Our final resting place was a humble motel near the airport, the Red Carpet Inn.
A tree in front of the motel, typical of south Florida

One flight back to Nashville, and our big Florida tour was over. But it opened up many doors, and many friendships. And we hope to return next year. Thanks Sebrina! and Danny, and all the other friends, musicians, technicians, and helpers of all sorts.

Bloggin' Bryan 19march15