Sunday, July 28, 2013

CLASSIC ALBUMS LIVE: The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band " (Guest Post)

Photos courtesy of Jamie Christopher @
Ace "Guest Blogger" 
Michelle Wilson
returns with her
first post of the
summer — another
lively concert review.
And it appears that
this show truly was
a world-class event!

The Beatles' 
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely 
Hearts Club Band
King Center / Melbourne, FL (7.27.13)

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles’ iconic multi-platinum and award-winning eighth studio album, was released on June 1, 1967, one week before I was born. Considered by many to be one of the greatest rock albums of all time, it boggles the mind that a record could endure 46 years and still sound fresh and edgy, particularly when that record is being performed by Craig Martin’s Canadian-based Classic Albums Live. This über-talented troupe of musicians travels internationally and performs an array of best-selling albums, generally note for note, bringing to the stage some of the greatest music ever recorded. Past stellar performances that I eagerly have attended include Pink Floyd’s   Dark Side of the Moon (multiple times), Led Zeppelin's IIIIIIIV, and Houses of the Holy, The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, AC/DC’s Back in Black, U2’s The Joshua Tree, and the Beatles’ Rubber Soul/Revolver. Through their brilliant musical mastery as well as their playful onstage banter, CAL performers have recruited their own following apart from the monster bands to which they pay homage nightly, and deservedly so. I feel privileged to rank myself among that fan base and to appreciate the artistry and heartfelt emotion put forth during each performance. As I watched CAL perform Sgt. Pepper from my sixth row dead-center seat at the Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts, I was thrilled to see how many kids were in attendance, and again I was reminded how blessed Melbourne is to have such a venue. The mere fact that young people are interested in this music, and in live music itself in this forum, speaks volumes for the positive influence of these shows. For anyone who has never attended a CAL show, you are missing out on a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Sgt. Pepper is an intricately woven masterpiece requiring multiple instruments and vocals, and CAL pulled out all the stops for this one. Various performers sang lead, with the usual Beatles’ lineup including Rob Phillips and David Love on guitar, Mark Stewartson on bass, Marty Morin on drums and Nick Hildyard on keyboards. In addition, Michelle Jones and her Violectric ensemble (Yamilet Trujillo, Erica Honkonen, and Brandy Moulden) provided skillful strings and backing vocals, while Tom Dietz, Sam Zambito and Corey Paul comprised the tremendous horn section. Chad Berney added the necessary bongo/tambourine/maracas, and guest sitarist Jeremy Birdsall rounded out the ensemble. After all, what would a CAL Beatles show be without a sitar?

The show opened with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” featuring Hildyard on lead vocals, followed by Phillips lead on “With a Little Help From My Friends.” The blending of voices on “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “Getting Better” was noteworthy, but it was David Love on “Fixing a Hole” and “She’s Leaving Home” that was a true highlight. “She’s Leaving Home” is a complicated piece utilizing the strings and horn sections, and it was beautifully executed. Other highlights from the album included “Within You Without You” featuring Philips on vocals, Birdsall on sitar (to the amazement of many in the crowd) and lead violin courtesy of Michelle Jones, whose energy and smile resonated through the crowd along with her gifted talent for playing. Drummer Marty Morin’s playful “When I’m Sixty-Four” was a real crowd-pleaser, and the first half of the show wrapped up with the album closer and one of my top three Beatles favorites, “A Day in the Life,” featuring Stewartson and then Morin on lead vocals, with powerful strings and horns in the middle. The crowd was on its feet applauding wildly even before the well-known last extended note was over.

After a short intermission, the gang returned with some lighter, crunchier tunes, starting with “Birthday” and “Mr. Postman,” followed by the somewhat heavier “No Reply” and a truly chilling version of “Nowhere Man,” into “This Boy.” The crowd had a ball with “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” one of the most fun performances of the night, after which Birdsall and his sitar returned to the stage to accompany Stewartson on “Norwegian Wood” with vocal harmonies by Love. The crowd once again was up and clapping like crazy for Morin on “Oh! Darling,” which was followed by a show-ending triple-dose of the George Harrison-penned “Here Comes the Sun,” “Something,” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” vocals courtesy of Phillips and his breath-taking guitar work on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” No one remained seated  while the mad applause continued, and the band took a brief moment to exit and reappear with Hildyard on lead vocals for “Helter Skelter,” segueing into the final encore, “Twist and Shout,” both perfect choices to keep the crowd on its feet and wind down the show.

(With a little help from his friend Nick Hildyard)
In a final note, I would like to thank the staff at the King Center for their continued professionalism in presenting quality productions season after season. I especially want to give a shout-out to long-time front-of-house engineer, Richard Tater, for consistently providing top-notch sound quality. I realized halfway through the show that I was not, indeed, wearing my earplugs as I normally do. But I didn’t need them — well done, Richard!

-Michelle Wilson
(July 2013)

Do you have something to say, something to get off your chest or an amazing story to share? From pop culture views and reviews to political commentary to messages of faith, my blog is a great platform for writers to showcase their work. There are very limited criteria for submitting a post. Your views don't even have to be in line with mine—just create and contribute a compelling, well-written story. Interested? Send me and email.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

CONCERT REVIEW: The RockNRoll Chorus (Orlando, FL - 7.23.13)

(Photo courtesy of Joe Cantaffa)
The RockNRoll Chorus 
(Orlando, FL - 7.23.13)

High-energy music blasted over
a monstrous sound system while 
dazzling images flashed across
Hi-Def screens  just another
date on the RockNRoll Chorus
2013 summer U.S. concert tour.

"Nothing great ever started out as a reasonable idea" — final words of wisdom and encouragement offered by director and producer Joe Cantaffa as he ushered the group of 20 fabulous-looking, professional young singers from the vocal warm-up room and onto the mammoth concert stage at Orlando's state-of-the-art venue, Full Sail Live.

The brainchild of high school music teacher and entertainment biz insider, Joe Cantaffa, the New Jersey-based  RockNRoll Chorus was formed in 2007 — and in the immortal words of AC/DC, "It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll." Cantaffa recalls that in the beginning, the project merely was "a grassroots effort — hungry kids in cutoffs and T-shirts, operating with minimal resources." Furthermore, the group's first "season" offered the aspiring teenage singers only a handful of live performance opportunities. Today, their schedule has morphed into full-scale national summer concert tours.

"I wanted to create a project in a non-academic environment for high school kids who are looking to pursue a career in the performing arts," Cantaffa reflected as we stood backstage in Orlando discussing his bold vision. "But for the kids pursuing other professions, this is as close to the big leagues as they'll ever come. And they'll always remember that summer they spent on the road with The RockNRoll Chorus."

Never intended to reflect any one particular high school, the seasonal cast members represent various high schools in the New Jersey area. Cantaffa states that the project is meant to "exceed the limitations of school." Ranging in ages from 15-17, would-be members face a stringent audition process — culminating in an ensemble that boasts the best of the best.

Currently touring in support of their latest record, Listen Like This, the 2013 summer outing is taking the troupe from Baltimore to Cleveland to New York, Boston, Charleston, Savannah and beyond — including tonight's show in Orlando.

Like any other bona fide rock concert tour, the 30+ entourage that includes 20 performers and an 11-member administration and production staff, enjoy all the perks — a luxury tour bus, swanky hotel and backstage accommodations  and of course, performances at top-caliber venues throughout the country.

The group's tagline is straight and to the point — "No instruments. Just voices."  But if you think you're gonna miss anything by their super-stripped-down, "less is more" a cappella approach, you'd be dead wrong. From vocalized guitar parts (distortion effects and all) to beat box techniques to the soaring, layered voices, this was a no-holds-barred rock and roll spectacular.

Opening tonight's 75-minute onslaught with a mighty rendition of U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name," RockNRoll Chorus members hit the stage rocking. In addition to original material, the group also laid down a smorgasbord of classics — from such high-octane favorites as Journey's "Separate Ways" and "I Want You to Want Me" from Cheap Trick to Mötley Crüe's power ballad "Home Sweet Home" and the show-stopping Fleetwood Mac standard "Landslide."

These kids are living the dream — rockin' like Dokken 'til the break of dawn, for sure. I was blown away completely, not only by their impeccable musical talent, but also by their world-class professionalism. Each one of them oozed self-confidence, but without arrogance — refreshing indeed. But fear not, moms and dads — despite the fun factor, these young performers are kept under the watchful eye of equally professional adult chaperons at all times. They also remain  protected from worldly harm by my new hero, ace industry veteran, Rex "The Doc" Smith.

In sum, The RockNRoll Chorus delivered a top-notch production while prepping a bumper-crop of up-and-coming stars for their most certain futures in the "big league." Kudos to cast and crew!

-Christopher Long
(July 2013)



C'MON! -

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

HAIRSPRAY: The King Center - Melbourne, FL (7.21.13)

The King Center / Melbourne, FL

As the "Show Biz Guru," maintain
a well-worn path from my front door
to the King Center. And although
I've experienced many memorable 
events at the venue over the years,
recently witnessed perhaps their
most fabulous production!

The Summer Musical Theatre Project presents aspiring Space Coast actors and actresses (ages ranging from 15 to 18) with an incredible opportunity to learn the ropes by working with experienced professionals in a theatrical environment. And for the second consecutive year, Melbourne, Florida's  Maxwell C. King Center recently partnered with The Historic Cocoa Village Playhouse to recreate a Broadway classic — with an all-youth cast.

Hannah Bachman as Tracy Turnblad.
*All photos courtesy of Johnathon Goforth / 
Goforth Photography
This past spring, I attended the national touring company performance of Dreamgirls at The King Center. To say the least, it was a spectacular presentation. However, under the direction of  Dr. Anastacia Hawkins-Smith and Associate Director Karen Wilson, the talented and professional young people involved with the 2013 summer Hairspray production just may have shown up the "big boys!"

Set in Baltimore during the racially-charged early 1960s, Hairspray offers a hilarious, high-energy romp back to a simpler time when kids were cool, rock and roll was king, and EVERYBODY'S hair was sky-high!

Hannah Bachman delivered a stellar performance (reprising Ricki Lake's role from the original 1988 movie version) as Tracy Turnblad — the "pleasantly plump" high school teen who endeavors to become a dancer on the televised local afternoon Corny Collins Show. Along the way, we're introduced to a cast of quirky characters as Tracy comes of age — discovering love and achieving her dreams. 

Michael Tornatta was simply superb, skillfully channeling Divine (also from the original movie version), as Tracy's over-protective mother Edna Turnblad.

Michael Tornatta as Edna Turnblad: 
If I was just half as talented as this kid, 
I'd be jumping for joy too!
Other noteworthy performances from this impressive cast included John Dudley as the cocky, aspiring pop heartthrob Link Larkin, Danny Deruelle as TV dance show host Corny Collins, Sunny Gay as the spoiled-rotten teenager Amber Von Tussle and Michaela Vine as the scheming TV producer Velma Von Tussle.

I also was pleased to recognize Tyreek Greene as Seaweed and Jonathon Adler as Fender — alumni from last year's production of OKLAHOMA! They're now both two for two!

It truly was an ensemble effort, one filled with countless star performances. However, it was Bayley Ellenburg as Tracy's quirky best friend, Penny Pingleton who had me laughing so hard, I fought tears and snot bubbles throughout the three-hour event.

Bayley Ellenburg (L) as Penny Pingleton: 
She could recite the phone book and
likely have me rolling in the aisles!
Despite the fun story and powerful underlying message, the true star of Hairspray is the music. And mad props are certainly in order for Music Director Jean Black, Conductor William H. Yoh  Jr. and the entire orchestra.

There were so many wonderful musical moments that it's difficult to bullet point a select few. I would, however, definitely describe "(You're) Timeless to Me" — the duet between Tornatta and Logan Ayala as Tracy's father Wilbur Turnblad as a show-stopper. But it was Brittany McHellon's vocal performance as DJ Motormouth Maybelle on "I Know Where I've Been" that was THE musical highlight — literally bringing the entire audience of 2,000 to their feet. 

The cast of Hairspray.
These talented young people not only acted and sang — they danced. And I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the amazing contribution of Choreographer Natalie McKnight.

As I sat back taking it all in, I was overwhelmed by the hard work and dedication required to pull off a production of this caliber — and I extend the most heartfelt kudos to the entire team — including Executive Producer Steve Janicki, Marketing Director Nance Burroughs and the incredible King Center production staff. In sum, I'm already psyched for next year!

-Christopher Long
(July 2013)



C'MON! -

Friday, July 19, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "Revival Devotional" by Corey Goolsby

Revival Devotional
-Corey Goolsby-

Even the most faithful
of believers can benefit 
from relevant reinforcement 
friendly encouragement 
to help stay the course. And 
with his debut devotional, 
Corey Goolsby delivers 
a doozie!

"I love to write about the finished work of Jesus," declares Corey Goolsby, author of the newly released, Revival Devotional. A second year student at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, Goolsby currently resides in Redding, California with his wife and four kids. Goolsby is a rising name in Christian ministry, and his 30-day guide is jam-packed with words of hope, encouragement and relevant scriptures.

"My drive in life is to 
demonstrate the goodness 
of God and to see His 
presence manifested 
throughout the earth."
-Corey Goolsby

Author Corey Goolsby w/ wife Adrienne.
DAY 1 – You’re Anointed
Think about this…You have the same anointing as Jesus. You are wall-to-wall Holy Ghost, power-packed and equipped to destroy the kingdom of darkness today. The light of the world has been placed on the inside of you, and you are to release that light into your home, your workplace, or whatever environment you find yourself in.

DAY 12 – Practice the Presence
You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalms 16:11

Today, take the focus off of your prayers, your works, or your service. Place your focus on the One who lives in you. It is ALL of God in and through ALL of you that will change the world around you.

DAY 29 – The Kingdom
For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:17

There is a religious spirit in the world that preaches self-righteousness. The goal of this religious spirit is to have people running around in the name of God producing dead fruit. We are to walk in the righteousness of God and produce low-hanging sweet fruit that people can eat from.

"I live to see Heaven invade 
earth, people saved — 
healed — delivered, and
the love of God shared 
with the world." 
-Corey Goolsby

This truly is a powerful and effective tool — one that certainly will assist ALL believers in their daily spiritual walk. Goolsby's devotional is well-written and easy to understand. And I'm personally enjoying implementing his guide into my own life.

-Christopher Long
(July 2013)

Corey Goolsby's 
get it NOW on Amazon.



C'MON! -

Sunday, July 14, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "Fear Has a Name" by Creston Mapes

- Creston Mapes -
(David C. Cook Publishing) 

There's a perfectly good
reason why Atlanta-based
author Creston Mapes is
currently hot as a pistol
he's an amazing writer!

After an extended hiatus, Creston Mapes (finally) returns to the "New Release" racks this summer with the first installment in his all-new "Crittendon Files" trilogy.

Ohio's Trenton City Dispatch ace reporter, Jack Crittendon, has a nose for news. And his super sleuth instincts are put to the test in FEAR HAS A NAME as he relentlessly pursues the psychopath who has turned his life upside down — the "creep" who invaded the Crittendon home and threatens to destroy their family. But not only is Crittendon consumed by his own personal crisis, he's also set on cracking the Missing Person / alleged suicide case of local pastor Evan McDaniel.

I recall a mentor of mine once offering me a tremendous piece of writing advice. "When you’re at a turning point in a story," he said, "think up five to seven options of what could happen, and then choose the most flabbergasting one!" And that is precisely (part of) what makes FEAR so compelling. One minute, the story would have me literally glued to my Starbucks' barstool, (Grande, Bold w/ Iced Lemon Pound Cake, please) and the next minute, I'd be airborne, exclaiming "NO WAY!"

I could easily offer up all of the typical book review clichés — "riveting," "roller coaster," "edge-of-your-seat" or my personal favorite, "engaging pager-turner." But the fact is, I connect with Mapes' work because I connect with his characters. He paints vivid portraits of people (particularly in the case of FEAR) who captivate me. I may not like all of them, but I care about them — even church secretary Barbara Cooley, who "has a mouthful of what smelled like tuna."

Mapes' non-stop suspense bait — whodunnit, will they catch 'em, and how, hooked me from Page One. But what kept me reeled in was the characters' personal stories. They each face  their own  demons — depression, anger, poor hygiene and of course, fear. Greater still are Mapes' two biggest and most powerful hot buttons — faith and forgiveness.

In sum, FEAR HAS A NAME is a sensational read — a book that I literally could not put down — a confession that has nothing to do with the cover of my personal copy now being coated with sticky layers of Lemon Pound Cake icing. And I'm delighted that this is only the first installment in the "Crittendon Files" trilogy, as Mapes has much gas left in the tank and despite a broken sternum, Jack Crittendon has legs to carry on for volumes to come!

-Christopher Long
(July 2013)

Creston Mapes

Rock Star Chronicles Series:
Dark Star - May 2005
Full Tilt - March 2006

Nobody - September 2007

The Crittendon Files Series:
Fear Has a Name - June 2013
Poison Town - February 2014
Sky Zone - June 2014



C'MON! -