On Friday night, New York City was treated to an intimate live performance from one of the rising stars of country music, Rodney Atkins.I was greeted by Vanessa Wojtusiak, the Manager of Digital Marketing & Programming at Clear Channel Online Music & Radio, who informed me that the Theater was just renamed to the iHeartRadio Theater (formerly known as the PC Richard & Sons Theater).This music venue is one of the best I’ve ever been to.It gives fans an up close experience to top artists while providing exceptional acoustics.
At approximately 7 p.m., Jonathan Clarke, an on-air personality from New York’s Q104.3 came out to warmly great the crowd and introduce Rodney.He asked the crowd if anyone was from Rodney’s home town of Knoxville and informed us that Rodney’s last single (“Take A Back Road”) was the fastest rising of his career.Rodney came out and modestly stated “This first request is for you guys.”The fiddle sounded and his band jumped right into “These Are My People”.
Rodney is not flashy at all.He was dressed simply in a trucker hat, a grey sweater, and brown cargo slacks. He was very soft spoken between his songs and really lets his music do the entertaining.He prides himself on singing about real life events that normal people can relate to.He took the time to sing the next two songs about his son, Elijah, who was actually in the crowd.He stated “this is for my little bear” and emotionally sang the smash hit “Watching You”.As the yellow and blue lights swirled and filled the theater, it was an amazing moment to see his son react to the song his father was singing.He was full of smiles and jumped up and down singing right along with him.
The next song was also about his son as Rodney jokingly explained that his son had just hit double digits (in age) and Rodney knew what he did when he was younger was going to come back haunt him.But he always wanted his son to know he loved him “and it’s unconditional.”He then sang his new song on country radio, “He’s Mine”.It sounded even better live than it did it does on the radio as extra emotion was pumped through Rodney’s vocals.He certainly has yet another hit on his hands.
Rodney took the time to introduce his band before he sang “Farmer’s Daughter” which included amazing instrumental moments from a band member playing a banjo and another on the steel guitar.It is good old country music at its finest.He introduced the next song as the first love song he has ever done.He said its “hard to find a real love song because once you are in a relationship it’s not all blue skies and no bills”.He, of course, was talking about “Cabin In The Woods”, a real stand-out song off of his newest album.
His next song was the one the crowd was obviously waiting for as the entire Theater sang “Take A Back Road” in unison with Rodney.In fact, he seemed to be getting more comfortable on stage as he was very animated and interactive during this huge hit.He followed it up by singing to a fan in the crowd who was celebrating a birthday.He performed an acoustic version of the fan’s favorite song, Garth Brooks’ classic hit “Much Too Young To Feel This Damn Old”.
Rodney finished up his set by proudly toasting all the soldiers who were serving abroad and stating “may we all be in heaven five minute before the devil knows we’re there!”He of course was eluding to arguably his biggest hit “If You’re Going Through Hell”.Rodney did not use his guitar for the first time that night as he used every inch of the stage.He was clearly most at ease singing this song and he was nothing but energy and smiles throughout.
I was able to speak to Rodney after the show and I asked him what he was most proud of with the new album.His response was “Not to be trite, but we love keeping the music real to who we are. And our album’s material has not wavered from the first album. And I love the way I can keep my music true to who I am.”He also explained to me that the album took a long time to make because he really wanted the right songs to be on the record.My friend Max who came with me to the show explained that from one father to another, he hoped he could see his son’s face during “Watching You” and “He’s Mine”, because it was a powerful reaction. Rodney as always, was very gracious and humble.For such a soft spoken guy, his music really speaks loudly and you could tell everyone at the iHeartRadio Theater that night really connected with his music.
All photos are courtesy of Jeremy Harris of iHeartRadio.All in all, it was an exceptional show in a superb venue. Thank you to CountryMusicIsLove, iHeart Radio, and Clear Channel Radio for such a great experience.
These Are My People
Cabin In the Woods
Take A Back Road
Much Too Young To Feel This Damn Old (Garth Brooks Cover)
Watch the Throne Jay-Z & Kanye West Madison Square Garden, NYC November 8, 2011
The stars were out in New York City at Tuesday Night’s “Watch The Throne” concert at the world famous Madison Square Garden. As I took my seat in Section 107, Row 8, I could see the likes of Beyonce, Neo, Serena Williams, Fat Joe, and more. In fact, Alexandria Ambrosio and three other Victoria’s Secrets models sat down in the seats right next to me! About five minutes before the lights went out, Carmelo Anthony walked onto the floor and got a New York City home crowd standing ovation accompanied with chants of “Melo”. For all of the big names in the Garden that night, no one shined more than the true stars of the show.
The lights went dark at about 9:30 p.m. and it was on. Kanye appeared on a platform on the right of the arena and Jay-Z came out a few seconds later on a platform to the left. They were facing each other as they ripped into the egotistical “H.A.M.”, a bonus track off of the “Watch The Throne” album. Jay-Z was immediately in showman form as he kept yelling to the crowd “What’s Up?”. After the initial song, the platforms rose into cubes thirty feet off of the ground and transformed into giant shark tanks as they rapped “Who Gon Stop Me”.
This was one of the highlights of the show and the shark stages are getting a lot of buzz in the world of twitter and facebook. It really was a sight to behold. The back and forth interaction across the arena between “Hova” and “Ye” while standing atop these giant cubes was memorable and the two rappers seemed larger than life.
The cubes descended back into the floor and the two superstars vanished for a few minutes as they made their way to the main stage. For the next two and half hours the fans were treated to a sing along catalog of Jay-Z’s solo hits, Kanye’s solo hits, the duo’s collaborations over the years, and of course a heavy dose of Throne songs. The stage set up was unique and featured a plethera of pyrotechnics, giant images on the big screens of the two, as well as a laser light show that was breath-taking.
As you know from my previous post on this blog, I attended the same concert two nights earlier in New Jersey. While that show was incredible and had a distinct “wow” factor, this night was extra special. I have never, in all of the 200 plus concerts I have attended, been part of a crowd that was so energetic.
The entire crowd danced, rapped, sang, jumped, swayed, and bounced along with Jay-Z and Kanye West. And the two of them responded in due fashion. Kanye was acting like a maniac running sprints, dancing wildly, and giving it his all. Meanwhile, Jay-Z was as cool as ever, delivering his lyrics clearly and smoothly, and his interaction with the crowd was really what made MSG shake.
“Empire State of Mind” and “Encore” never sounded so good to me. It was like Jay-Z thought of those lyrics while standing on stage at the Garden. He was smiling throughout the show and geniunely looked like he was having the time of his life. I took a lot of time to just study his facial expressions as well as to look around the arena at all of the people going crazy. There was a special, special feeling in the air that night and everyone was a part of it.
Kanye’s wardrobe was as bizarre as ever. He changed his clothes at least five times that night and made his way through a collection of Bill Cosby-like sweaters. All throughout he wore a leather skirt and leather tights. But he gave extra that night into his performance and for once, I even saw him smile a few times. He and his big brother clearly have a lot of admiration for each other and that was evident that night as their on stage interaction was flawless and real.
The setlist was a bit different from the show I saw at the Izod Center as Kanye, to my delight, added in his first single “Through the Wire” and the two sang “Made in America”. During the latter, they dedicated the song to Heavy D, who had died that same day. They had everyone take out either a lighter or their cell phone and the entire arena became a spectacle of lights.
A funny moment was after Jay-Z performed the smash hit, “Big Pimpin”, Kanye stated to the crowd “Jay-Z was my hero growing up and I always wanted to be like him. But every time I would try to live Big Pimpin, I couldn’t because ….” and the speakers broke right into the Jamie Foxx chorus of “Gold Digger”: “she take my money”. You can see the video below of this humorous scripted moment.
The encore was completely different from Sunday night’s show and was a true fan’s delight. “***** In Paris” was played for the third time and, of course, they did “Encore”. The whole crowd was chanting “Hova, Hova, Hova” and Jay made sure the crowd also gave love to Kanye. Then Jay-Z went off script and asked a fan in the crowd what time it was and said “no really, what time is it? Like the real time”. He then said that they had fifteen minutes to run through some more hits. The two broke into some old classics like “Guess Who’s Back”, “Dead Presidents”, “All Falls Down”, “Get Em High”, “Jigga My *****”, and more. They just kept turning back to the DJ behind him and called out a song that seemed to come off the top of their head.
Like I said, there was a special feeling in the air on that night. The two music powerhouses combined at the World’s Greatest Arena to put on one of the best shows I have ever seen. It was an amazing 50 song setlist, performed flawlessly and with great pride, swagger, and passion. I have been absolutely blown away by the Watch The Throne Tour and this night was, perhaps, the best of them all.
Watch The Throne Jay-Z & Kanye West Izod Center, East Rutherford, NJ November 6, 2011
Wow. I attended the Watch The Throne Tour stop in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Sunday Night expecting to see a great concert. Instead, what I witnessed was a magical moment where two performers took their music to heights where no Hip-Hop artist had every taken it. The show literally made me say “wow” out loud multiple times.
The show did not begin until approximately 9:15 p.m. and there was no opening act. As the crowd sat in their seats with the lights on you saw a stage with raised platforms in an almost maze-like manner, with two other platforms shaped like squares, and at least six men on a hanging trapeze fixture with gigantic lights and cameras. Yet, no one knew exactly what was going to come next. As the lights went dim, the “Throne” instrumental music that is heard between each of the tracks on the actual Watch The Throne album could be heard. And you could see Kanye West walk to the squared platform on the right and Jay-Z to the one on the left. Surpringsly, the first song of the night was “H.A.M”, a bonus track on the new album. No one seemed to mind as all of a sudden, the two squared platforms started to rise and within a minute the two superstars were on cubes thirty feet in the air trading verses filled with bravado and swagger.
The astounding 40 song setlist was perfectly planned. It was a constant and entertaining trade off between Jay-Z and Kanye. They performed songs together and then separately, each with an even amount of stage time. Jay-Z clearly got more love from the crowd, most likely because the show was so close to where he grew up. That’s not to say Kanye did not get love because the crowd was cheering and dancing right along with him as well.
The two stars traded verses on the raised cubes to “H.A.M.”, “Who Gon Stop Me”, and “Welcome To the Jungle”. At one point the cubes pictured both pitbulls barking and then transformed into giant fish tanks with great white sharks swimming in them. It was truly amazing to witness these effects. Once they finished these three songs, the cubes came back down to their starting level and the lights went dark. For the next three minutes, “Try A Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding played over the speakers and a huge American Flag was spread along the main stage. The two came out and ripped into “Otis” and the crowd went wild.
What I really loved about the show was the interaction between the two. They genuinely looked like they were having a great time. They were smiling and even traded lyrics on each other’s singles. For instance, Kanye sang the lyrics as the police officer in the second verse of “99 Problems” and Jay-Z helped Kanye out on “Gold Digger”.
In fact, after Jay-Z did “Big Pimpin”, Kanye stated to the crowd “Jay-Z was my hero growing up and I always wanted to be like him. But every time I would try to live Big Pimpin, I couldn’t because ….” and the speakers broke right into the Jamie Foxx chorus of “Gold Digger”: “she take my money”. The two shared what looked like a lot of good laughs to their obviously rehearsed song set ups.
Jay-Z was the most interactive with the crowd that I have ever seen him. He strolled around the stage in his typical coolness and got the crowd to put their hands in the air and make the “Roc Diamond” in the sky multiple times throughout. Kanye had a lot less interaction, but really showed a lot of emotion during his songs dancing like a maniac and giving it his all.
All throughout the show, large amounts of pyrotechnics were used and the dual stages were utilized. Kanye used the large platform on the left of the arena for a three song set highlighted by the effectious “Stronger”. Most people seemed to take a bathroom break during the autotuned “Heartless”. I could have done without that fairly lackluster tune.
I really enjoyed their rendition of “Diamonds From Sierra Leon” and “Monster”, two songs from Kanye’s past solo albums. The two have a natural showmanship and do things so differently, yet the combination at the same time is an amazing transformation. Kanye is self absorbed rapper, dressed in a leather kilt; Jay-Z is the crowd pleaser dressed simply in his trademark Yankee hat, black shirt and jeans. They are so different, but somehow when they blend their styles, sure genuis is the result.
Another great moment was when the two slowed things down and sat next to each other on the stage. They rapped to “New Day” and “Hard Knock Life” while sitting down as if they were just old friends sharing a moment. It came across as genuine and really showcased the real love they have for each other.
Three of the last four songs played was their latest #1 on the Billboard Charts, “****** In Paris”. When the clip of Will Ferrel from his movie “Blades of Glory” came on, the energy in the building amplified to a ridiculous level. The two blasted into the song and the crowd responded by jumping up and down. The entire building was shaking, it was truly a sight to behold. They finished the song once and Jay-Z stated “**** it, let’s do again” and they went right back to it.
The two left the stage for a brief minute and came back out for an encore. They went right back to “Paris” and no one in the building seemed to mind. They finished their masterpiece with Jay-Z’s “Encore” and the crowd was heard chanting “Hova, Hova Hova …” on repeat in honor of the superstar. They finished up with Jay-Z thanking the crowd and walked off together into the dark.
While most of the concert was absolutely brilliant, there were a few minor things that were a bit strange. First, was Kanye’s choice of clothing. At first he was wearing a t-shirt with his face on it, a leather kilt, leather tights, and basketball sneakers. He then changed halfway through into an atrocious sweater, yet decided to keep the kilt on. Also, there were images on the two giant HD screens that were confusing. At one point there was a police chase where police cars were getting blown up and crashed into. Then duing “No Church In the Wild”, there were images of the Klu Klux Klan – quite disturbing.
But all in all, out of the 200 plus concerts that I have attending in my lifetime, this one ranks up there in the top few. The stage design, the pyrotechnics, the setlist, and special effects all lived up to the hype that “Watch The Throne” has been receiving. I cannot wait until I see their show at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night. All I can say is wow.
Huckabee Fox Studios, New York City Guest Star Toby Keith on the Mike Huckabee Show October 28, 2011
I had the great privilege of attending the private taping of Huckabee on October 28, 2011, which is, of course, Governor Mike Huckabee’s show on Fox News. As any reader of this blog already knows, I am a huge supporter of Toby Keith. I caught word that Toby was going to be a guest star on the show that day and I quickly scooped up a ticket. I had never been to a live television taping so I had no idea what to expect. After a long wait, the 50 or so people who scored tickets were brought into a small studio. At first we were greeted by a comedian who did his best to keep us attentive until the stars came out. When Governor Huckabee did come out he had a few jokes for the crowd and was very hospitable.
You can see the video clips of the Governor with Toby Keith that were aired on television below. The most impressive moment of my experience was something that went unaired. During a ten minute sound check, Toby actually taught Governor Huckabee his new song “Clancy’s Tavern” on the fly. They played through the song twice and Toby commented where he wanted the Governor to change notes. It was a great moment as a fan to see my musical hero teach an accomplished politician and TV personality a song, which I consider the best on his new album, in such a short amount of time. As you can see by the video, they played it to perfection. Toby’s last comment, off camera, to Huckabee was “I will be your Huckleberry Huckabee”.
What was not seen on television yet was an additional segment in which they taped that same day for an upcoming Christmas Special that Huckabee will be airing on Fox News. The two spoke about an early Christmas memory that Toby had (I will not spoil it for anyone) and again did a sound check for a version of “The Little Drummer Boy”. After trying out several different approaches to the song, they settled on a faster paced version of the song with a drummer named Bob banging on the drums at a rapid pace. Fans of both Governor Huckabee and Toby Keith will be very pleased with the result. Keep your eye out for when that airs on Fox News.