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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Phil Keaggy with Ashley Cleveland


     It's only been a year, but Phil Keaggy is back at The McPherson Opera House to perform and this time he brought along a friend, Ashley Cleveland, to open for him.

     What can I say about a Phil Keaggy show that hasn't already been said in a previous review? Keaggy is professional, fun, entertaining, and his songs touch you in ways that aren't apparent right at first. I guarantee that one or more songs will touch you to your core at one of his live shows and you'll find yourself humming them long after the show is over.

     I don't think that those attending the show know just what goes into the sound check before the show. The performer comes in off the road or a long flight, as Ashley Cleveland did from Nashville. It wasn't a straight shot to Wichita and even after she arrived there, she had a drive in unfamiliar surroundings to get to the venue in McPherson. Once she arrived at the building and had some time to acclimate herself and speak with Keaggy, she was fresh as a daisy once again and ready to get to work.

     Out came the flashy candy colored guitars in turquoise and purple, placed on guitar stands ready for the nights entertainment. She tuned up, explained to the sound technician how she wanted her mics set and about the special quirks of both her guitars. She picked up the turquoise guitar and ran through "Walk In Jeruselem" and then "If I Had A Hammer" which she put her own twist on. I loved it and wished she had had time to sing the entire song in rehearsal. Then she picked up the purple guitar and played "Born to Preach the Gospel". Cleveland is very confident and knows her guitars quirks well, and her sound check was a quick, one and done.

     At this point Keaggy came back to the stage and the two rehearsed a duet that they sang during Keaggy's portion of the show, "Ezekiel". Changes were made with the way both voices would sound on the song. It was interesting watching Cleveland and Keaggy collaborate on the song before they presented the finished product in front of an audience.

     For Keaggy's part of the sound check, which actually occurred first as Cleveland hadn't arrived at the venue yet, a lot of time went into the peddles that Keaggy uses to provide additional accompaniment. One of the peddles kept popping when he'd step on it. Adjustments were made but nothing seemed to help, so that peddle was disconnected and not used.

     Keaggy sang several songs during his soundcheck. I'm not sure I have the title of this first one correct, but during the refrain the words were "La Love You", also "Fearless Love" and then it was "Anytime At All". Hearing portions of all this great music but not getting to hear the entire piece was almost painful. It really whetted my appetite for the concert.

     It's interesting to attend a soundcheck and then see the finished product on stage for the full concert. There is so much work that goes into a live show, between the performers, sound engineers and other collaborators to make it look so easy, so polished. If everyone has done their job, it just looks to the audience like a couple of folks showed up with guitars, hopped up on stage and started playing. On this night, that's exactly how it looked, effortless.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Destination: Gem Theatre, 18th and Vine

Photo by Sean Korsgaard on Gem Theatre Facebook
      This past Friday night, I had the great good luck of attending a jazz concert at the Gem Theatre in Kansas City , Missouri, courtesy of The Sunday Jazz Brunch on B98 FM. Heading out from Hutchinson, Kansas to the bright lights and big city feel of Kansas City, to hear Nick Colione and Everette Harp play some smooth jazz.

Photo by Jayne Leiker on Gem Theatre Facebook
      Everette Harp opened the show with about an hours worth of tunes.  He took to the stage mild mannered and quiet; then he picked up the sax, began to play and magic happened. I can't tell you the songs that he played, except to say that they were all tunes known to me, popular tunes if you're into smooth jazz, I just got lost in the music. At one point in the show, he sang "Rainy Night in Georgia" while accompanying himself on the saxophone, which is no small feat. He played a version of Janet Jackson's "Let's Wait A While" which was killer. I could have listened to him play and sing all night.

     Then it was time for Nick Colione, who has to be the best dressed man in jazz. From top to bottom, Colione exuded nothing but class. Sporting a white Fedora hat, a three piece silk suit,  and patent leather shoes, he was truly a site. The audience sat up and took notice as he entered the stage and began to play the guitar. He played the title track from his new CD, "The Journey" which is available April 1st, and then went right from that into one of his more well-known tunes. When he ended that song, he quipped, that the next song he was going to play was on one of his CD's, he couldn't remember which one, so those in attendance would just have to buy them all and it would be on one of them. Of course this had everyone laughing. He'd play a little, then talk a little, always in a humorous vein. At one point, Colione and Harp played a song together. One of the highlights of the evening for me. Colione connects with his audience well. Toward the end of the show, he walked out into the audience and picked out a few ladies to dance with while he played, even making it up into the upper seats. On the last song, Colione had everyone on their feet grooving to the beat.

     After the show, both Harp and Colione patiently signed autographs, took pictures and met their adoring public. Both stayed until the crowd had disbursed. This was a fund-raiser for the Negro League Baseball Museum.

Photo by James Lowe
      The 18th and Vine Jazz District is truly a phenomenal area. Before the show, I had a chance to walk around and take in the ambiance. There were bars on every corner with the sounds of live music spilling out through doorways to those passing by on the sidewalk. I stopped in at the KC Blues and Jazz Juke House and had supper before the show. Excellent food and the customer service was fantastic. They had a live band playing jazz (what else) and it was a great appetizer to whet the ears for the the concert later on that night.

Photo by James Lowe
      And what can I say about the Gem Theatre. Outside, it has this great vintage feel of neon and days gone by, but then you walk into the theatre and it's totally modern. There isn't a bad seat in the house. All seats are easily accessible and on this night I was having issues with a bum knee, so I noticed the elevator and the handrails along the steps to reach to top tiers. The staff was friendly and engaging. Oh and the people, those attending the concert were dressed to the nines and it was great fun to take in all the different varieties of outfits that everyone was sporting.

     This is a great destination spot to visit if you are in Kansas City. It's only about 4 blocks long, but it packs a lot into those four blocks. My only regret was that I didn't have time to take in the museums. Next trip to the Gem, the museums are high on my priority list. To find out more about this unique area of Kansas City, check out these sites: Gem Theatre on Facebook and 18th and Vine Jazz District.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Women of Ireland

      The McPherson Opera House wished Central Kansas a Happy St. Patrick's Day this past Thursday with the Women of Ireland Show. Three sisters: Fiona, Naomi and Evangeline O'Neill, took to the stage along with an extensive cast of extra's to celebrate the holiday.

     This show went far beyond anything I had imagined. There were a variety of Irish songs and even a Beatles tune, "Let It Be". These ladies can belt out a tune. Their voices were rich and full, harmonizing perfectly together. Multiple costume changes throughout the show kept the content fresh and exciting. I found out during the interview before the show that the O'Neill sisters travel with a seamstress who personally helps them change their dresses throughout the show. Those changes happen so quickly and the dresses are so complex, there would have to be someone behind the scenes helping out. As the ladies sang throughout the evening and changed their outfits, other things were also happening on the stage.

     Remember Riverdance, that Irish dance show sensation that swept across the country? Well, one of the dancers from Riverdance, Kierran Hardiman,the male lead dancer of the Women of Ireland show, danced in Riverdance.  He along with Kelly McDonnell, the female lead dancer, kicked up their heels along with two additional female dancers. Throughout the show the dancers would take to the stage at breaks in between the singing to entertain the crowd with fast, flying feet and amazing energy. Tap dance was also incorporated into the routines which added another dimension to the dance selections.

     Of course there was a band which consisted of a fiddler/piper, accordion, drums, guitar, and piano. They played along with the O'Neill sisters when they sang, they played for the dancers to dance and they played a variety of instrumental selections that were band specific. The fiddle player even had multiple costume changes of her own.

     On top of all of this, there was an aerialist. Hard to believe that there could be an aerial act at the compact stage of The McPherson Opera House, but she was there and her name was Taylor. She was amazing and terrifying at the same time. She performed on a trapeze bar, on silks, and on a large hoop. She performed a variety of tricks on these aparatus that seemed to be impossible and yet, there she was on stage, in the air, doing feats of incredible acrobatic moves. On the silks, she was particularly terrifying. Twice she wrapped up in the silks and at two points of the song that was playing she let go and dropped, wrapped in the silks, from the ceiling to the stage, to oohs and aahs. Timing is everything. Not once did she hit the stage, but it was touch and go for the audience each time she did this particular trick.   

     This show defies description. It went far beyond just a music show. It had more of a variety show feel to it. This was something so different, unlike anything I've ever seen. If you missed this show, you missed something unique. Find out more about this show at: The next show at The McPherson Opera House will be Phil Keaggy with Ashley Cleveland on Saturday, March 19.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Jim Brickman

     Jim Brickman debuted on stage at The Historic Fox Theater this past Thursday night to a sold out house. It was also the debut of the recently purchased Steinway grand piano.

     Brickman arrived on stage in a flashy red shirt, took his seat at The Steinway and began to play. The tune was one I was not familiar with but it focused everyone's attention on the moment, and the concert began.

     We heard "Rocket To The Moon" from the "No Words" album, Brickman's first album. This was followed by "Romanza". Brickman spoke between songs about his life, his art, and his influences. Sesame Street had played a big part in his life and some of his favorite songs were the alphabet songs, particularly The Letter B, which he sang to the tune of The Beatles "Let It Be".

     This was followed by "The Gift" and "Angle Eyes". Brickman said that "Angel Eyes" was a signature song. He played this song in Wichita at one of his first ever concerts at a B98 outdoor concert series. B98 liked the song so much they began to push air play of it, as well as the audience that had heard it at the concert. Soon air play of "Angel Eyes was everywhere and Brickman's career took off from there.

     "Angel Eyes" is also a good song to learn to play the piano by as it is played on only the white keys, there are no sharps or flats (these are the black keys). So it's very easy to learn for a beginning student.

     Brickman then introduced us to John Troons, a vocalist who has appeared in many Broadway shows. He sang "To Hear You Say You Love Me". It was simply beautiful.

     The banter back and forth between Troons and Brickman was infectious. They had the audience laughing so hard many had tears streaming down their cheeks.

     The evening went far beyond a soloist at the piano. There was music, song, and comedy. It was a jam packed evening of entertainment with just a little bit of everything. The audience really got their money's worth.

     Another thing that was spectacular about this show was the stage lighting. It just enhanced the overall effect of the performance. To find out more about Jim Brickman, check out his website at:

     Josh Davies has done it again with yet another sold out show. We're getting some well known acts playing here in Hutchinson at The Historic Fox Theater. Make sure to buy tickets and support these shows, so we can continue to get top quality entertainment. There is nothing in the world better than going to a live show.

     Up next at The Fox: Patty Griffen, Sara Watkins and Anais Mitchell on Saturday, March 26 at 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Tony Memmel

     I had the honor of seeing Tony Memmel and his wife Leslie, in concert at Ad Astra Books and Coffee in Salina this past Saturday night. What a treat! Memmel and his wife are on the road promoting their new CD: "We'll Be On The Radio".

     Memmel plays the guitar and sings since he taught himself at around age 11. While that might not seem all that remarkable, it is in Memmel's case. What sets Memmel apart is the fact that he plays the guitar with one hand. Memmel was born without his left forearm and hand. He uses Gorilla tape to attach the guitar pick to his left elbow. The result is magic on the guitar strings.

     Two of my favorite songs of the evening were "I Know We'll Get There" a song that was written during a Battle of the Bands 24 hour challenge. Memmel and his wife sang together on this song. Then there was the tune "Rock N Roll Was New", which Memmel sang solo. There was so much emotion in his voice as he sang. It pulled the listener right into the song. It's a song of possibility.

    Memmel has defied the odds and pushed the envelope of possibility to deliver strong lyrics and soulful tunes. Check out his website: The new CD "We'll Be On The Radio" is available now for purchase everywhere. On Sunday, Memmel played a house concert at Bob Collady's home and then the couple are off to stops in Kansas City and St Louis.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Jason Bishop Show

     It was wonderful to see the new director of The McPherson Opera House introduce the show on Friday night. Diane Fallis did a terrific job on her first night introductions. 

     Then it was time for The Jason Bishop Show. I didn't know quite what to make of this illusionist. He was a bit off putting with his humor. Perhaps that was all part of the act but between the humor and the arrogance, I couldn't warm up to his act.

     As the audience entered the theatre, there were two screens set up on either side of the stage running a variety of video's for current songs, as well as the big screen at the back of the stage. Mr. Bishop appeared and performed a trick, then remarked that this was a $65. trick and since tickets were only $30, the show was now over. It was so funny not only did I forget to laugh, but so did the audience. The show went from there.

     Bishop used a lot of electronics in his act which I had never seen used before during a magic show. He even demonstrated to the audience how a trick was done and it wasn't until near the end of the trick that the audience realized that he had in fact performed another trick as he demonstrated how the previous trick was accomplished. There is absolutely no question the Bishop has a lot of talent.

     His assistant changed clothes over and over and over again throughout the show as she performed various tricks inside boxes and bags. In one trick, with audience members and children alike on stage, she went from standing on top of a locked box that Bishop had been placed into, and holding up a bag that she disappeared into; as she and Bishop not only changed places but she changed clothes as well.
     Clearly a show that for the entire family. Bishop has talent and his act is not run of the mill. The use of electronics clearly going to be the wave of the future. I just wish I could get past the arrogance and the mean spiritedness. Those two things just really didn't sit well with me. The crowd seemed to enjoy it and there was a lot of laughter but I wonder if it's because people actually thought it was funny or just reacted that way because the folks around them laughed.

     Coming up on March 17, just in time for St. Patrick's Day, will be The Women of Ireland. This show features an aerialist which should prove to be quite a treat. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are on sale at the box office.