Sunday, August 3, 2014

LET THERE BE ROCK: On Tour With The RockNRoll Chorus (PT.II)

On Tour With The 
RockNRoll Chorus (Pt. II)

After 35 years in the biz, 
what possibly could've 
made my recent touring 
adventure the coolest
experience of my career? 
Let's dive in and find out.


The quote and the image now have become iconic — Russell Hammond, guitarist for the fictional rock band, Stillwater, shouting from a rooftop as he leaps into a swimming pool during an infamous scene from the award-winning movie, Almost Famous. Released in 2000, the Cameron Crowe film tells the semi-fictional story of William Miller, a young starry-eyed music journalist, as he travels on tour with a world-famous rock band. As a writer myself, Almost Famous portrays a world that I know quite well — one to which I've been connected personally on many levels over the years.

A "Tiny Dancer" bus moment with The RNRC.
Most of my touring experiences have been painfully reflective of the tension-filled Almost Famous kitchen scene in which the drug-crazed Hammond grabs the naïve Miller by the shirt and screams, "How do we know you're not a cop, huh?" And given my fulfilling current role in Christian ministry, life on the road is one that I'm all too happy to have left behind.

Ben Frost and Krista Morton bringing their "A" game.
However, against my better judgment, I went back on the road recently. But this time, my experiences mirrored a strikingly different iconic scene from Almost Famous — that of the Stillwater band members, girlfriends and crew, on the bus, all singing along gleefully to Elton John's "Tiny Dancer." Yeah, I'm shocked too. And wouldn't you know it, Almost Famous actually was the featured late night entertainment on the bus last week as I traveled from the concert in Tampa, Florida to the next gig in Savannah, Georgia while on tour with The RockNRoll Chorus.

Kaeleigh Spreen of The RockNRoll Chorus.
It wasn't the gypsy-style traveling, high-energy concerts, luxury tour bus or swanky hotel accommodations that made my RNRC adventure so unique and memorable — it was the people.

Simply put, I possess an honest and pure passion for young people, and for the performing arts. And for me, this outing was all about "connection." 

I was blown away by The RockNRoll Chorus upon first seeing the group perform live in 2013. As a result, I joined the 2014 tour as a bona fide fan. However, after just a couple of days on the road, I felt that we'd now become friends. And from the inquisitive cast members who I spoke to during my morning Bible study in the hotel restaurant to the gal who was eager to hang out with me and discuss her passion for creative writing and storytelling to getting insider theater perspectives from Stage Manager, Heather Ber, as we sat together on the bus while en route to an appearance in Georgia, the opportunities in which to connect with people on this tour were both marvelous, and numerous.

On the bus with RNRC Stage Manager, Heather Ber.
I was particularly moved by the many stories that cast members shared with me (off the record) — personal stories of family and faith, as well as revealing many of their long-term dreams, goals and an array of high school-related challenges.

Sporting a striking electric blue coif, I spotted the fabulous-looking "punk rock" teen wearing a black leather Misfits vest immediately upon arriving backstage at my first stop on the tour. "Wow! That girl has the coolest hair I've ever seen," I blurted, in my typical unfiltered fashion. "Oh, that's Becca 'Blue,'" Assistant Creative Director Eric Thompson replied in short order. "We've got two 'Beccas' on this tour — Becca Hoffman and Rebecca Levin," he continued. "We needed an easy way to distinguish one from the other, so we call Rebecca Levin, Becca 'Blue.'"

A big voice and a big heart.
But Becca "Blue" wasn't the only member of the RNRC entourage to have a personalized tour nickname. Production Manager, Joe Cantaffa, was simply known as, "Cantaff," while Security Director, Rex Smith, only was referred to as "Doc." I related so well to these Almost Famous-like nicknames, that I felt compelled to offer up a few of my own. Given his leadership role, I anointed Eric Thompson, the "Den  Mother." Because of her superb vocals on Journey's "Separate Ways," I took to calling Natalie Lorenzo, "Steve Perry." And I also renamed Kristin Morosoff, "Superstar," because in my book, that's what she is.

Danielle Burg and Becca 
Hoffman performing in FL.
Although I never came up with a unique nickname for Joey Walsh, he was one of my favorites from the 2013 cast. And through offering him thrift store shopping tips and bits of random show biz advice, I enjoyed hanging out with the young singer and getting to know him better on a personal level in 2014. Heavily influenced by classic rock artists, I was impressed by Joey's pre-show, backstage stretching regimen. "I bet Jim Morrison stretched-out too," he commented, while warming up before the Orlando performance.

But Joey's level of dedication actually was indicative of the entire RNRC cast. These young performers all were consistently prompt and professional. If there was a 2:30PM bus call — BAM! — here they'd all come at 2:25, heading off the elevator and across the hotel lobby with bags packed, looking fabulous and ready to roll — singing all the way.

Krista Morton and Rebecca Levin (aka Becca "Blue")
Elizabeth Luthringer center stage in Orlando. 
One of my favorite tour memories played out one afternoon while en route from a Georgia radio station, where selected cast members had just done a pre-concert interview. As bus driver Rick McCarrick navigated the shiny silver vessel back onto the interstate, the entire cast burst into an impromptu sing-along while the sounds of Tom Cochrane's "Life is a Highway" blasted from the on-board hi-fi system. Another Almost Famous-like moment, for sure.

Vocal coach Malcolm Couden and 
RNRC founder Joe Cantaffa prep 
cast members for radio appearance.
You can be certain though that there's not a poser or a prima donna in this bunch. These young pros are all humble and hard-working — and they work together, as a team. Although many of the dates were cushy, arena-like events, others were smaller, hot and sweaty outdoor gigs. I stood and watched in drop-jawed awe as the 20+ performers displayed unwavering Warped Tour-type dedication — unloading the massive sound system from the back of the equipment truck, rolling the enormous road cases up to (and onto) the stage, then running cables and setting up mics. From start to finish, this team would completely assemble the entire production in less than 45 minutes. Everyone knew their job — and actually did it. After working with bands for 35 years, there are still many cats on my local scene who never have moved a bit of gear — including their own. These players, however, could easily keep up with the most grizzled union guys.

Becca Hoffman, leading the charge in Orlando.
"This is the most amazing fantasy
that a performer could ever have.
My eight-year-old self could
have never imagined this."
-Nicole Tamburri (RockNRoll Chorus cast member)

An absolutely dynamic performer.
Knockin' 'em dead, live onstage!
My RockNRoll Chorus experience was refreshing, positive and memorable. It was an honor to be involved with such a talented and professional group of young performers. I'm honored to have traveled with them. I'm honored to have lived with them. And I'm especially honored to have scarfed down a few sloppy burgers with them while navigating along the rock and roll super highway.

But wait — there's still LOTS more! My action-packed series conclusion is on the way — STAND BY!

-Christopher Long
(August 2014)


Check out my entire 
RockNRoll Chorus 
tour series:

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