Wow, folks. Just wow.
Monday morning, and as a friend of mine says, "I'm wore slam out." Somehow, I got the kids to K's, and I got to work. We didn't get back home from Milwaukee and Bio-Mom's until 1:30-2:00am -- but, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Our big Tim and Faith extravaganza started around 11:00am Sunday morning. Erika met us at our house, then she, Punkin and I went to lunch. We joked with the waitress at Applebee's that we just found Punkin on the side of the road and thought she was cute, so we took her with us. Then, we told Punkin she'd better not try to order any alcohol because "they I.D.", and Punkin is just a tad under 21 years of age. I also warned Punkin during lunch, "Erika and I might get a bit silly today," and that it was ok if she did, too -- as long as she listened when asked her to reign it in, and stuck close to us. (The first audio blog was sent not long after that)
It occurs to me (after LadyBug's question) that you all might not know who Erika and A.J. are.
Erika is "Our Erika", a nickname we gave her when we had the kids "fighting" about who's Erika she was. "No, she's MY Erika..." it morphed into "She's OUR Erika". Erika is a very good family friend.
A.J. is technically my "half-sister" (Bio-Mom's other daughter)
Once at Bio-Mom's, we made the signs for A.J. "A.J. Rocks" and "We (heart) A.J.". That was fun. We laughed and joked and planned what we were gonna do/say if we got a chance to meet "The Dynamic Duo" that is Tim and Faith. Then, we packed snacks and beverages and we were on our way -- more talking and laughing and giggling was going on the entire way up to Milwaukee. It's at this point that you have to admire Grandpa Choo-Choo for being the only male in the car and on this adventure.
We finally arrived at our destination and called A.J. on her cell phone. "We're here! Were are you?" and we walked around the Bradley Centre trying to find her. (Literally AROUND the OUTSIDE of the Bradley Centre - and people, it was hot as HELL yesterday!) At one point, we started across a parking lot, only to be met by security and given the bum's rush because we didn't have clearance to be in that area. We turned around and tried a different route and finally found A.J. waiting for us in the shade. After hugs and 'instructions', we were all given orange wristbands that said "Working -- Tim and Faith, Soul 2 Soul II" on them. We were SO very excited! Erika, Punkin and I were doing our best to contain our excitement. I think the big ol' grins on our faces were giving us away, though.
Our little group began walking back towards the buses, and past a lone "Dancehall Doctor" (just right there! Walking on the street! Like a NORMAL person! He said "Hi!" to us!) After a short walk, we were right back at the section of parking lot we were so summarily ushered out of not long ago. Revenge is sweet, mah friends. Those little orange wristbands, accompanied by A.J. were our golden ticket. Security started again with "Look, we told you before..." when they saw us coming. A.J. just kept walking and said "They're with me" and we all just walked on in. Man, I don't think there was a one of us not smirking at that moment.
Firstly, A.J. took us to the bus that the lighting crew travels on. It was air-conditioned and we loved it (cause did I mention it was hot as HELL outside?!). After a few moments, though, it was difficult to imagine LIVING on this bus. We saw her "bunk" and as she stood in one spot, she showed us around. "This is where we sleep, and this is the lounge, and this is the TV, and this is where the driver sits..." We all sat in the bus chatting for a bit, meeting a couple of her bus mates. Ron and Chuck, I believe. Ron's Mom was there, and, upon realizing that Bio-Mom was also the "cookie lady", Ron shook her hand with reverence and sincere appreciation of her mad baking skills. Soon after that, we were on our way to the auditorium for the rest of our tour.
We walked past a couple of big semis, went through a steel door and took three steps up to enter another world -- a very busy one! With three and a half hours to go before the concert started, there were people setting up and fixing and testing equipment all over the place. The catering people, the sound people, the lighting people, the wardrobe people... A.J. introduced us to so many people! A guy named Rain was fixing a light (and I'm sure they have a technical term for it, but I can't think of it right now). He had the light all taken apart and showed us the 'modules' inside that do all the work. Each person we met took the time to tell us a bit about what they do and/or what they were working on. A.J. was very knowledgable about the show (who designed the set and the lights made especially for this tour, and the LED panel runways, etc.) and was an excellent tour guide. We made our way out on to the concert floor and she told us about the cameras we saw in the 'audience' and the "floating" camera on the boom, operated by a guy named Tracy who (we were told) liked to play "knock the hat off the audience member" sometimes.
A.J. took us around the auditorium and showed us where the sound people sit and do their thing -- both the sound people who are responsible for the "backstage" sound and the ones who are responsible for the on stage sound, and showed us where our seats would be. Our seats were VERY good. The stage was like a big "x" with the completely LED-paneled "limbs" reaching very near to the audience. We were not far, maybe 40 feet, from one of those spots.
The stage with the LED panels all lit up
Oh! And the stage! Very cool! A.J. took us (two at a time) under that stage! There were people under there -- sort of like the floats in the Rose Bowl parade. We were told that behind a curtain marked "private" was a toilet, and that there was actually a HOT DOG VENDOR under there! We saw it! They had to limit the "Dog In The Hole" operations to certain times during the show because it was so popular. A.J. introduced us to the people under there and showed us the cables and we learned that the stage actually went up and down (and saw that during the show!). We walked passed all the guitars and instruments that are played during the show, and saw how the band members got up on stage from under there. One worker under the stage gave Punkin a couple of guitar picks from the show! She was SO excited about that! Oh! AND, we have pictures of Punkin and A.J. sitting ON THE STAGE! (Our little girl! Up on the big stage!) It was around that time that we realized the memory card was full on the digital camera that Erika borrowed. We had only taken two pictures! We didn't think to check to make sure the card was empty before borrowing the camera. D'oh!
Punkin and A.J. by the stage
Back on the concert floor, A.J. pointed up at the ceiling and showed us all the different light fixtures -- some 'candlelabras' and lots of other descriptions I can't recall right now and told us a bit about the staging and lighting changes that we would see during the show. It was all so much to take in, and none of it was boring. A.J. was an excellent 'tour guide'. I've said it before, and I mean it.
Somewhere along the way, A.J. said three little words to us that made Erika, Punkin and I tremble with excitement and anticipation, as if what we were seeing already wasn't enough!
Oooooo.... I was struck dumb (not a stretch, really) by the implication of those three words.
A.J. had set us up with some Pre-Show passes people! We were going to be in the same room with Tim and Faith - a MUCH smaller room with fewer people and the opportunity to actually INTERACT with Tim and Faith! To say we were elated at this prospect was an understatement. Perhaps "far past giddy and swiftly approaching Dorkville" would be a more accurate description. (Long before we arrived at the Bradley Centre, I warned Bio-Mom, Grandpa Choo-Choo, Punkin and Erika (as if they didn't know already) that I could go from semi-intelligent to STUPID in milliseconds flat if we actually did get a chance to meet and talk to Tim and Faith. I warned A.J. of this as well when we saw her.)
We had some time before the pre-show, and were lucky enough to be able to have dinner with A.J. across the street from the Bradley Centre. All of us, chatting about what we'd seen, asking A.J. questions about her life 'on the road'. It was so great to be able to see her, and "in her element" at that!
After dinner, A.J. parked us outside the door to the "pre-show room" and came to check on us a time or two before we were ushered inside. We took out our concert programs and the 'jackets' for the CD's I had purchased, and A.J. supplied us with Sharpies in case we were able to get autographs. (and the second audio blog was sent around this time)
A group of about 20 or so people were ushered into the room, each of them sporting Hershey's bags (Did I mention the tour is sponsored by Hershey's? It was difficult to decide which I was more stoked over, Tim and Faith or Hershey's!) When it was our turn, we ambled on into the pre-show room, taking it all in. At the front of the room was a small stage with a few chairs on it, a large "Soul 2 Soul II" sign behind it. Off to the left and right were two smaller stages with a chair on each, together, the three stages formed a "U" shape. The stages were covered with those 'runner rugs' on them, a few microphones, and each had small canister lights in the corners for ambience. The three small stages were, of course, roped off. We stood directly in front of the left/right stage that was inside the door (you know, AFTER we helped ourselves to some chilled water and Hershey's snacks). More people piled in. We still waited. More people piled in, then more people. The small room (did I mention it was a SMALL room?) was getting warmer and warmer and more and more crowded. Still, we held our places, as well as the programs and CD jackets and Sharpies and cameras.
FINALLY, the band came in and sat up on the little stage at the front of the room. The backup singers and The Dancehall Doctors (including the one that walked passed us out on the street! Just like a normal person!) They sang a couple of songs they were "working on", then sang "Take It Easy" by the Eagles -- always promising that Tim and Faith would be arriving "...in a minute, really."
And, then they did! Tim McGraw and Faith Hill were THERE! In the same (small, hot) room with us! As it turns out, the stage we were standing a mere rope's width away from was the one where Faith Hill sat. There she was, less than five feet from us. Punkin was in directly in front, holding on to the rope, wearing Bio-Mom's old cowboy hat. Faith looked right at her, smiled real big and said "Hi" and waved. That made Punkin's day.
Do you *see* how close we were?!
I was snapping pictures of Faith (and trying to get some "over everyone's head" pictures of Tim McGraw who was on the other side of the room) when I ran out of film. No problem. I had another roll in my pocket. I popped the used roll out, the new roll in, and set about performing 'the trick' we have to do with our old camera. In order for a new roll of film to get "set", we have to pop the camera battery out and then pop it back in. For some reason, this gets the camera to advance to the first picture on a new roll of film. If you don't do this, it doesn't think there is a roll of film in the camera. I've done this little manuever hundreds of times before, without a problem. I was juggling the programs and the Sharpies and the CD jackets and the camera and before I could stop it, the camera battery flew out of my hand, bounced on the carpet at Punkin's feet and disappeared underneath the stage Faith Hill was sitting on. After I recovered from the shock and dismay over the sheer "brilliance" of that stupid move, I asked Punkin to see if she could see the battery under the stage. She crouched down and peeked, but the battery was too far under the stage to reach it without breaching the sacred "rope". I told her not to worry about it then, and attempted to resign myself to the fact that we were now down to only one camera. I spent the next few minutes listening to Tim sing a bit of a song, then the whole group answered a couple of questions, then Faith sang a bit of a song. I just stood there and watched them. This woman, who is a mom, a wife, a performer and on the radio is just "not real" to me in so many ways. Yet, there she was, less than five feet in front of me, looking and acting very much like a 'real' person. And then *POOF*, just like that, they were gone. The famous people just disappeared behind the black curtains. There was no chance to get an autograph, but we were *thisclose* to Faith Hill! I breathed the same air as Tim McGraw for a few minutes!
This is the only "over the head" picture that I was able to get of Tim
Shortly after that, all the 'normal' people started to leave. Our group stood aside to let them leave, (because we're anything but normal) and I crouched down to peer under the stage, looking for my camera battery. I wasn't prepared to let it go. A very nice Security guy asked me what I was doing, and when I told him, he was kind enough to retrieve the battery for me. Thanks to him, I was able to take pictures at the concert! Thanks, Security Guy!
After that, we floated on a cloud to our seats and prepared to take in the concert. We whipped out our signs for A.J., and just waited for the opportunity to show them off. It wasn't long before we saw the "remote camera on the boom" swing around and point in our direction. Punkin and I held up our signs and waggled them in front of the camera and just grinned and giggled. We could see Tracy the camera guy as he operated the camera. First, he read the signs, and then just laughed. He kept the camera on the signs for a steady few seconds. A.J. says they record every show, but they don't necessarily keep what they record. I doubt very much that our signs will ever be on a DVD or anything, but knowing that they were seen tickled us.
Not too long after that, the 'piped in' music started and got louder and louder until we heard Black Betty and the crowd began to stand in anticipation.
The lights went out. The crowd got louder.
You could detect some movement on stage. The crowd got louder, and started frantically taking pictures in/of the darkness.
The first few notes of the song started, and Faith just rose up out of the LED panel in the stage. When it was his turn in the song to sing, Tim appeared on the opposite end of the stage in the same fashion.
Rising up out of the stage
That's all it took. I was hooked -- sucked into the whole experience with every fiber of my being. Hooked on Faith and the strength and clarity of her voice. Hooked on Tim McGraw, his black hat and his stage prescence. I was hootin' and hollerin' with everyone else in the auditorium. Even Punkin hooted and hollered!
I don't remember the exact play list, but I can tell you Tim and Faith sang "Like We Never Loved at All", then Faith took over and did her 'set.' She started with "Missippi Girl". I remember her also singing "Fireflies", "Sunshine and Summertime", "I Want You", "The Lucky One", and "Breathe".
Tim came out to sing two slower duets with Faith -- I don't remember the songs right now. (Erika, do you remember the titles?) Then, Tim did his set -- A few from his recent album, "Reflected" - "Real Good Man", "Live Like You Were Dying", "My Little Girl", "Don't Take The Girl", "When the Stars Go Blue", "Watch the Wind Blow By", "I've Got Friends That Do" and "The Cowboy In Me". During "I Like It, I Love It", he was walking around 'hand-slapping' people by the stage and he stopped singing to let the audience finish out the verse. I remember thinking, "You know, a lot of people PAID for this concert and now THEY have to sing? That just doesn't seem right to me..." (and I was kidding, of course.)
During Tim's set, one of the backup singers appeared in the audience a little ways down from us. She wasn't supposed to be seen, and we believe her family was there. One lady handed a little girl over one of the shorter railings, and the backup singer just pulled this little girl into her lap and held her. The look on her face was so peaceful and loving... I took a picture of the scene to remember it.
One of the funny by-products of A.J.'s fun and informative tour was that we spent a lot of time "noticing" the lighting (in addition to all of our hootin' and hollerin'). Wow, people. Seriously.
Punkin started pooping out on us towards the end of the concert. She was tired and had gotten a bit bored, but she was a trouper through it all.
Tim's set seemed a lot shorter than Faith's, and at the end of it, Faith came out again for two more duets. One playful song, and one song that held everyone's attention completely. I really think you could have heard a pin drop in that audience with the last song.
And then, *POOF* the famous people were gone again, having been escorted out of the building faster than you can blink an eye.
And even faster than that, the house lights came on and the lighting crew filed in. We spotted A.J., and once again, waved our signs and hollered like the avid A.J. groupies we are. She smiled really big and gave us a thumbs up and got right to work. In a matter of moments, the stage was disappearing before our eyes, there were people climbing on the lights in the "sky"... and stuff was just being pulled apart EVERYWHERE. (Almost like the little clowns in our living room right after I get all the toys put away) It was a sight to see.
We watched the dismantling progress for a bit, then straggled out to the car to begin our journey home. All of us worn out in a "wow, that was some adventure" kind of way -- talking about the lights and Tim and Faith and the songs and our special tour, and the other audience members.
It took a half an hour before we could back the car out of our parking spot and a few more minutes after that just to get out of the parking garage. We made it home to Bio-Mom's around 1:00am or so, then it was another 30 minutes or so to get to our house. Erika had another 30 minutes to go after that, and we were all in bed (Punkin still in her clothes) by 2:00am.
Erika and Punkin and I are still sort of "glowing" about the experience. Punkin wouldn't let me cut off her orange wristband, and wore her lanyard with the preshow pass to K's today -- Erika and I were tempted to wear our lanyards to work, but didn't -- and wished we had. We are so very appreciative of A.J. for the opportunity she gave to us, without asking for anything in return. (A.J., you realize of course that any other concert Punkin ever goes to will pale in comparison, don't you?)
A.J., seriously, hon. If there is ANYTHING we can ever do for you, please let us know. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
- - - - - - - - - -
Soul 2 Soul II Tour