Kelly Clarkson & Friends Bring a Christmas Miracle to Nashville

Shane McAnally, Ashley Arrison, Kelly Clarkson and Aben Eubanks sing
"Wrapped in Red," co-written by the quartet

This holiday season, Kelly Clarkson decided to bring more than just a little cheer to her adopted hometown of Nashville with the inaugural Miracle on Broadway event at Bridgestone Arena. Performing December 20 with more than a dozen of her musician friends, Kelly hosted a star-studded evening that delighted the crowd while raising $400,000 (half from ticket sales, merchandise sales, and text donations and half through a matching donation from Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks) to benefit four of Nashville's charities: Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at VanderbiltMonroe Harding Children's HomeSecond Harvest Food Bank, and Thistle Farms.

In addition to performing nearly all of her 2013 Christmas Album, "Wrapped in Red," and several new-to-her Christmas cover songs, Kelly welcomed several guest artists from a range of genres to share the stage: Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, Charles Esten from Nashville, Meghan Trainor, Hayley Williams from Paramore, Ronnie Dunn, Kix Brooks, Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Arrison, Shane McAnally, Deborah Allen, and a 20+-piece orchestra of musicians.

Trisha Yearwood, Kelly Clarkson, and Reba McEntire singing "Silent Night"

The entire evening was magical, beginning with an instrumental "Carol of the Bells," Kelly's performance of "Underneath the Tree," and a brief cameo by Kelly's six month old baby girl, River Rose. The night continued with nearly 30 more performances filled with joy and a few (happy) tears.

From the perspective of an audience member (a Jewish one at that), the event was a huge success. Hopefully, as she said on stage, Kelly is able to continue this new tradition and have an annual Miracle on Broadway. Every Christmas, we'll wait.

Jason Halbert and Kelly Clarkson performing "White Christmas"

All of my photos are here, and my video of one of the evening's highlights is below.

Miami University: The School That Built Me

Out here it's like I'm someone else, 
I thought that maybe I could find myself.
If I could just come in I swear I'll leave. 
Won't take nothing but a memory 
from the house that built me.

-Miranda Lambert "The House That Built Me"

I've been feeling incredibly nostalgic lately, missing friends I haven't seen and places I haven't been to in a long time. So, this weekend I went to Oxford, Ohio to visit Miami University for the first time since 2003, the year I graduated with my Bachelor's degree in architecture. There were a number of places I wanted to see again for sentimentality's sake, and I managed to get to most of them in the few hours I was in town.

My first stop most definitely had to be Western Campus (fittingly for a rogue human like me, located on the eastern part of Miami University). I lived on Western for all four of my years at the school.

The 2014 version of Western is both drastically different than the 2003 version and much the same as well. Most prominent is the lack of the Western College Program (phased out in 2006/2007). Peabody, McKee, and Mary Lyon are now filled with students studying a variety of majors instead of interdisciplinary students and architecture/interior design students. Nobody but Paula Abdul could have predicted how we opposites would attract and form a utopia both for a grade and for our livelihoods (hey, was that intentional?! Mind. Blown.), but we absolutely did. And the students living on Western now have no idea what they're missing.

Finding Their Own Way - Jill & Kate Michigan House Show

More than 11 years ago, I met a group of girls in Ann Arbor (so, it was a Justin Guarini concert in a food court, and they were rocking homemade t-shirts with "Justin" written in glitter. Don't judge me them, they were barely teenagers at the time. I, on the other hand, was in my early 20s, and was clearly much more dignified). Today, we're all full-fledged adults with real jobs (and, in some cases, real husbands) whose musical tastes have grown and expanded over the years.

Tonight, thanks to fully grown Lizzy Finn, we got to see a Jill & Kate house concert in her friend Kelly's backyard. You may remember this singing/songwriting duo from their somewhat regular appearances on my blog (here, herehere and here). I first met them when they were touring as Kelly Clarkson's background singers for six years, and they have (during and since) released a handful of solo albums, mostly containing originals, but also including a recent covers album featuring their own versions of seven songs by some famous independent women (Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Jann Arden, Jordin Sparks and Kelly Clarkson).

After recently touring with country star Trace Adkins as his background singers, Jill & Kate are currently on a house tour across the Midwest and stopped in Farmington Hills, Michigan for a relaxing evening of good music and good friends. They played a setlist including songs from each of their albums (and one brand new one, "Better," not yet released), stopping between each one to chat, tell stories about the songs' meanings, and answer questions.

Afterwards, they hung out, taking pictures, signing autographs and discussing a range of things, including how excited they are for their upcoming tour with Canadian singer, Jann Arden (most famous for her hit song, "Insensitive") as her opening act.

Thanks so much to Liz, Kelly and Jill & Kate for a wonderful evening, can't wait to see you all down the road.

All of my photos from tonight are here.

Wilson Phillips: Toledo 7/19/14

A night at The Palace (Detroit) with Queen

I have seen a lot of concerts over the past decade or two. But, it's not every day that I get to see a band so legendary, so unbelievably massive as Queen, who performed at The Palace of Auburn Hills near Detroit this month.

With the obvious absence of the late Freddie Mercury, Queen got quite possibly the best available stand-in to put a voice to their songs - Adam Lambert. While Freddie is completely irreplaceable, Adam undeniably has the vocal talent, the stage presence, the confidence, the charisma and the "camp" mastery to ensure that the show go on ... because it must.

It has been more than 20 years since Freddie Mercury tragically passed away, but original Queen band members Brian May (guitar) and Roger Taylor (drums) have kept the band, and Freddie's memory, alive through performances with singers such as Paul Rodgers (2004-2009) and most recently, Adam Lambert. At The Palace, the band played a 27-song set that started just a few minutes after 8 p.m. (no opening act needed) with "Now I'm Here;" from the moment the opening chords played and Adam's voice sang "Here I stand," I had chills. Those chills continued for the more than two hour show as the band played one of the best songs of all time, following by another one of the best songs of all time, and another and another.

To hear songs like "Somebody to Love," "Killer Queen," and (!) "Bohemian Rhapsody" (shout out to the 20-something guy in the row behind me wearing a Wayne's World hat. I see what you did there) live is just an other worldly experience.

And while Freddie was physically absent, he was there in spirit throughout the show, like when Brian May sang lead vocals on "Love of My Life" with a tape of Freddie playing behind him. And when Adam performed a "duet" of "Bohemian Rhapsody" with Freddie. If you closed your eyes, you could almost believe Freddie was in the room. 

Please check out all my photos here.

Queen Bareilles in Cleveland > King James

On July 11, royalty officially came back to Cleveland. No, I'm not talking about "King James"; I'm referring to queen of everything, Sara Bareilles, who performed at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica* as part of her Little Black Dress Tour just hours after Cleveland began celebrating LeBron's return. In an "I'm so excited. I'm so scared." moment even Jessie Spano wouldn't envy, the city got some of its best news in a long time. (He hurts us because he loves us).

As Cleveland began healing from four years of PTSD, many of its residents came out to enjoy a few mid-tempo jams from Ms. Bareilles, who joined in on the excitement of the day by wearing a Cavaliers hat with "Cleveland" in big block letters under the brim. As she introduced her two opening acts, Emily King and Hannah Georgas (a tradition that illustrates just one of the ways Sara is unlike any other artist in the business right now. How many other pop stars would come on stage before their headlining set - sans makeup - to introduce their opening act(s) and give a short description of why she picked them to join her tour? None that I've ever seen), she joked "I made a call...You're welcome, Cleveland."

After the two openers, Sara came on stage once again to perform a 19-song set that included tracks from all three of her albums as well as a couple cover songs, a haunting take on Sia's "Chandelier" (<-- click for YouTube link) and an upbeat "My Lovin' (Never Gonna Get It)" by En Vogue. Sara's stage and production were bigger and flashier than any of her previous tours, a testament to her hard work and success over the past several years, culminating in several Grammy nominations and future plans that include an autobiography and penning the score of a Broadway musical based on the film, "Waitress."

One of the most touching moments of the show involved a young girl named Carly (sp?) and a series of interactions that she'll probably remember for the rest of her life. After wearing her Cavs hat once again while performing her current single "I Choose You" (LeBron chose us, guys. He didn't mean what he did), Sara gave the hat and her guitar pick to Carly in the front row.

Then, a few songs later, Sara commented on Carly's adorable dancing throughout the show and brought her on stage for a hug and a few pictures. Clutching the hat and guitar pick for the rest of the evening, Carly was clearly the star of the show.

*Special shoutout to this gorgeous venue, which I'd never been to before. The stage sits just in front of Lake Erie, and you can even see boats pass by behind the show. However, make sure you aren't in the front row like I was; the stage, about 10 feet high, really blocks your view. You are much better off farther back. There are really no bad seats in this intimate venue - except front row center. But hey, the side of Sara Bareilles' piano is really shiny.

Check out all my photos here.

Pop in the 21st Century: Neon Trees in Detroit

Neon Trees recently brought its Pop Psychology Tour to The Fillmore in Detroit, putting on a show as colorful and unique as its name. The Utah band - known for hit songs "Animal," "Everybody Talks," "Sleeping with a Friend," and "Text Me in the Morning" (a "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" for the 21st century) - are a truly underrated group of artists. Led by singer Tyler Glenn and his undeniable charisma, Neon Trees is one of the best live bands out there right now. Fans discover them through their killer hooks (like the brilliant, "It started with a whisper," from Everybody Talks) and stay for their relatable lyrics (such as "Four chords and a beat keep me alive," from Living in Another World).

Two opening acts I had previously never heard of performed in support of Neon Trees, Nightmare & the Cat and Small Pools. In a case of "that's the point," I fell in love with the former and their brand new debut album, "Simple," which just came out last week. Lead singer, Django Stewart, has his own unique distinctive style that evokes a touch of (Jeff) Buckley and maybe even a little bit of (Rufus) Wainwright while still bringing something new. The band also includes Stewart's brother, Sam on lead guitar, etc.; Claire Acey on guitar, background vocals, etc.; Scott Henson on bass; and Spike Phillips on drums, etc. While Django and Sam come from famous parents Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) and Siobhan Fahey (Bananarama), they're forging their own path (lyrics in their album's title track include "Mother, tell me is this what you wanted/I have tried my best to keep away from the privilege in my father's name"), and I'm really looking forward to what this group will do over the next few years.

To heir is human
Check out all my photos of Neon Trees, Nightmare & the Cat and Small Pools here.

Shiny, happy costumed people take over Wizard World St. Louis Comic Con

This past weekend I ventured outside of my comfort zone to a land our ancestors called "St. Louis" and to a convention the geeks call "Comic Con." Because I am a geek (and I also have ancestors), I fit in much better than I had originally anticipated. See, a week ago I viewed myself as less Comic Con and more Comic Sans (you know its name, but sometimes you just want it to calm down or go away all together). Less Marvel-ous and more Narvel-ous (inside joke).

So, when I bought my Nathan Fillion (CastleFireflySerenityDr. Horrible's Sing-Along BlogWaitress, my dreams) VIP ticket less than a week before the show, I didn't really know what I was in for. Turns out, it was amazing and incredible and now on the top of my list of memorable St. Louis things (formerly: 1. arch; 2. Nelly; 3. Mark McGwire).

I got to the three-day event (official title: Wizard World St. Louis Comic Con) Friday evening, and I checked in to the convention to get my VIP wristband, lanyard, Nathan Fillion photo op pass, Nathan Fillion autograph pass, and Nathan Fillion exclusive lithograph. He wasn't scheduled to appear until Saturday night and most of Sunday, but I wanted to be completely prepared. Not to mention, there were other celebrities of yesterday and today appearing all weekend, including Matt Smith and Karen Gillan from Dr. Who, William Shatner, Adam West and Burt Ward of Batman and/or Family Guy fame, Sean Astin from The Goonies and Rudy, Milo Ventimiglia from Heroes and Gilmore Girls, Eliza Dushku from Buffy and Dollhouse, and more. I ended up only getting a glimpse of Ralph Macchio (the original Karate Kid, cousin of Vinny) and Adam Baldwin from Firefly/Serenity, so I got my swag and prepared for a weekend with my "big damn hero," Nathan Fillion.

Jennifer Nettles: Detroit, Michigan - 3/11/14

Check out my photos here.

Amos Lee: Lakewood, Ohio 3/8/14

Check out my photos here.