‘Being alive’: Mandy Patinkin’s State Theatre show a celebration of living, learning and loving

Mandy Patinkin – Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Over the course of his nearly 50-year career, Mandy Patinkin has established himself as one of the legends of stage and screen. His accolades include a Tony Award win for his debut performance as Che in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita,” as well as an Emmy for his role on the CBS series, “Chicago Hope.” Patinkin also spent eight seasons in the role of CIA agent Saul Berenson on Showtime’s acclaimed series, “Homeland.”

On Saturday, the self-described mailman storyteller, along with pianist Andy Ben-David, will take to the intimate stage of The State Theatre in Easton, to perform Patinkin’s latest concert experience, “Being Alive.” A show Patin

kin describes as a celebration of living, learning and loving.

I recently spoke with Mandy Patinkin about his upcoming performance and more in this exclusive new interview.

Q: How did your new concert experience, “Being Alive,” come about?

Patinkin: I had a previous concert called “Diaries” that I did before the pandemic. Times were a little dark then and, although I loved it, it was a bit of a dark concert. When we were coming out of the pandemic and deciding to get back on the road I said, “I need a concert that makes me and my audience feel happy.” So I went through 13 hours of archival material that I had in my repertoire over the years and we put together a happy, fun evening. I called it “Being Alive” because that’s the great privilege of being 70 years old and still waking up every morning. To say nothing of the fact that I get to do what I love and have fun.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Mandy Patinkin by clicking here.

A Letter To M

Dear M,

I hope this letter finds you well. I was having a bit of trouble trying to find the right words to say as I wrote it. It’s not every day you try to put into words just how much an old high school teacher means to you. Yeah, I know, it’s been more than thirty-five years since I was a student walking those hallowed halls but believe it or not, you’re still the first person who comes to mind whenever I think about my high school experience.

Back then, you had a saying you liked to use whenever someone was having a problem. Whether it was something as simple as a homework assignment, peer pressure, or even trouble at home, whenever someone was having an issue, you’d pull that person aside and say, “Talk to me.”  Those three words became your mantra, and I guess in a way that’s what I’m doing now, talking to you.

I never told you this before, but you played a huge role during the most fragile and formative years of my young life. Like so many other teenagers trying to find their place in the world, I didn’t fit in well in high school, but your choir class was the one place I could go where I felt like I completely belonged. You taught me how to sing and how to release the song from inside my soul. Most of all, you made me feel valued.

I remember the awkward feeling I had walking into your music room every morning and seeing you surrounded by a gaggle of students. All of them eagerly asking you questions about last night’s music theory assignment or trying to get your opinion on a selected piece of music they chose for their district chorus audition. You seemed like a celebrity and the class was your fanbase. Sometimes I had questions of my own to ask but was too shy to do so. It wouldn’t be until after class had ended that I’d pull you side and tell you about my interest in majoring in music at the same state college as you.

I hadn’t seen you since the night of my graduation in 1987. If I’m being honest, I also hadn’t given you much thought at all, that is until almost two decades later when someone told me about the adult choir you were directing once a week in a chapel on the far side of town. This was shortly after you’d retired from teaching, and long after I’d given up on my own dream of becoming a professional musician. 

Call it nostalgia but I had an urge, a tickle in my stomach of wanting to be part of something special. By then, I’d already had a family of my own and was long established in a busy career in information technology. Something like the prospect of singing in a choir with you seemed too good to be true, but regardless of any scheduling concerns, I needed to make time, if only for myself.

I still remember the familiar feeling of awkwardness when I walked into church that night for that first rehearsal. As usual, you were already in conversation with a few people and didn’t see me approaching. I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach. Part of me wanted to turn and run, not because I wasn’t sure of what to say, but because I’d already started second guessing myself again. It had been years since I’d sung in a choir. Would I even know what to do?

I also wondered if you’d even remember me. I was one of thousands of students you had taught over your thirty-three-year teaching career. It had been decades and the skinny, introverted, long-haired student who once sat before you in the corner of the room was now a full-blown middle-aged man. Less hair on his head and, sadly, a bit thicker in the middle. Somehow, I was able to muster up the courage and nervously tapped my hand on your shoulder. 

“Hello, M” I said, meekly. “Do you remember me?”

I will never forget the look of joy on your face when you turned around and saw me standing there. It was as if the Prodigal Son, who had been through the confusion of life and adult responsibility, had suddenly found his way back home. Here I was, once again the fragile student now stuck in an adult body, and there you were, still carrying the age and wisdom of years just like me, but with the same wit and energy I loved while sitting in your music theory classes. 

“Oh my gosh!” you exclaimed as you shook my hand, firmly. “It’s been a long time.”

You told me to call you “Ed” that night because your name was Ed Milisits and we were now both adults. I did but truthfully didn’t want to. That bond of teacher-student was still very strong. For me, and I think for most everyone who ever had the pleasure of being one of your students, you were known as a single letter of the alphabet: 

“M.”

I spent the next ten years spending Tuesday nights in the choir under your direction. One year, I mustered up the courage to suggest a piece of music to do that we performed my senior year of high school. You were excited about the possibility but let me know that it was a bit of a long-shot because approval was needed by the music committee. It took a few more years but one morning, ironically thirty years after last performing the piece in high school, I received an email from you: 

“Thought you’d be interested to know that ‘Os Justi’ is on the Winter program list! We WIN!”

When the pandemic hit in 2020 and the world shut down, the choir went on hiatus. It was also a time when I was going through a lot of personal issues and you were facing your own challenges as well. Ones that made mine look small in comparison. Although I did email quite a few times to see how you were, I always respected your need for privacy. 

It’s hard to believe that today makes a full a year that you’ve been gone. Sometimes I’ll see a post pop up in my Facebook memories and read your comments about it. That will, inevitably, get me to thinking about you and our conversations in the high school choir room or the adult choir rehearsal hall. It puts a smile on my face but I wish there was a chance to have one more conversation with you. Until then, I suppose this one-sided letter will have to do. Someday, God-willing, I’ll have the honor of sitting in your choir again.

M, just know that you are missed dearly, not just by me but by the generations of people who had the pleasure of sitting in one of your classrooms or choirs. You taught us to believe in ourselves, to laugh and, most importantly, to raise our voices in song. 

Rest Easy.

Sincerely,

James Wood (Class of 1987)

Top Five Things of 2022

It’s sometimes hard to believe that we’re at the end of another year, let alone that we’re in the third decade of the 21st century. I still remember when I got my very first laminated school identification card back in September of 1981. On the back of it was a sticker that listed the year of what would be my high school graduation – 1987.

I remember staring at that card for a long time thinking about 1987 and, even though it was only six years, how far away it seemed to be. For some perspective – this past year, 2022, I attended my 35th high school reunion.

A lot has happened over the course of these last twelve months. I’d like to spend these next few minutes giving you a list of my top five events of 2022.

#5 – The Loss of Favorite Teachers. Hey, I never said this list was going to only contain good things. Not only did 2022 mark the 25th anniversary of the death of my father, it was also the year I said goodbye to two of my favorite teachers. First was my favorite teacher in all of my schooling; my high school music theory and choir teacher, Edward Milisits, who died on January 8th. I could easily write an entire book on how Mr. M and his classes affected my life. His influence was so popular that after his retirement from 30+ years of teaching, generations of former students (now adults) signed up to sing in his choir.

Then there’s my third grade teacher, Mrs. Tanzella, who passed away in November. Although I don’t have much recollection of her after I left the halls of Porter Elementary, I’ll never forget the day my brother and I rode on a float the Cub Scouts had made during our town’s annual Halloween parade. I had told Mrs. Tanzella how nervous and scared I was about riding and waving to people. As the route began and we made our way through town, I heard a woman’s voice calling my name. I looked and saw that it was Mrs. Tanzella, briskly walking behind the float; waving to me with a huge smile on her face. Seeing her put me at ease.

These days I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night, but 45 years later, I can still remember her doing that for me.

#4 – This one actually dates back to one year ago today, December 31st, 2021. The day I adopted Merlot, or Merle as he is known in my home. He had been part of a hoarding situation and I gave him a second chance at life. It took him nearly five days into 2022 to come out from under the bed. Today, he is my buddy.

#3Painting Holiday Watercolor Cards. As most of you know, I regularly watercolor. Most of them are 9×12 in size. For Christmas this year I was asked to paint a few 5×7 postcards to use as Christmas cards. I started out thinking I would only do a half dozen or so. Instead, I wound up doing 60 of them. I’m happy to say that, like Merle, all of the cards now have happy homes. Take a peek at them below:

#2 – Interviewing Barry Manilow. This one is surreal and sad because when I was growing up, my mother would play Barry Manilow records non-stop. There was hardly a day when I would come home from school and not hear “Mandy,” “Weekend in New England,” or “Copacabana” playing on the stereo. My mom loved Barry Manilow. And even though we’d always tell her that we believed he was gay (turns out, he was) she claimed he wasn’t and would have left my dad to be with him. In September of this year, I actually got to interview him. I placed a photograph of my mom next to me and looked at it as I spoke to Barry. I even told him the story about how much his music meant to my mom. I was sad that she wasn’t there to experience that moment with me. She would have lost her mind.

#1 Graduating from College – It was a journey that actually began after graduating high school. It was August of 1987 when I entered college thinking I’d become a music teacher. The road would lead me to Penn State, Northampton Community College and West Chester University. All fizzled out and in 1990, I reluctantly entered the work force. When Covid struck in 2020 and we couldn’t go anywhere, I decided to gather all of my transcripts and see what, if anything, I could get. I was told that if I passed five courses I would receive and Associates Degree in General Studies. The quest began, and over the next year and a half I took Environmental Science, English II, Geology, Developmental Psychology and Nature of Mathematics, In May of 2022 I passed my last final and became an honors college graduate almost 35 years to the day after graduating high school. Framing the degree and putting it on my wall was the biggest accomplishment of all for me.

So, another year is about to pass. Along the way there have been a few ups & downs. Some days to remember, and some days to forget. But there’s a New Year ahead and new dreams to collect. So, I wish you one that’s full of health, contentment and most of all….love. Here’s to 2023.

Happy New Year.

John Denver tribute concert set to honor late singer’s musical legacy with hits and holiday favorites

When singer-songwriter Ted Vigil entered a singing contest in Laughlin, Nevada in 2006, little did he know his life as an artist was about to change. With no pre-set agenda, Vigil decided to perform a John Denver song and took home first place in the competition that included contestants from more than 25 States and three other countries.

Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Denver, it wasn’t long before people who had worked with the late singer encouraged Vigil to do a tribute show, and the ball started rolling.

Today, Vigil performs more than 100 shows a year celebrating Denver’s life and musical legacy. He even spent a few years performing with Steve Weisberg, who was the late singer’s lead guitar player from the 1970′s.

This season, Vigil is including holiday songs as part of his appropriately titled, A John Denver Christmas, which will stop at The Sellersville Theater Dec. 10.

Fans of Denver’s music can celebrate the holidays with hits from Denver’s traditional and Christmas catalogs as well as a selection of holiday favorites performed by an award-winning artist who not only looks like the musical legend but continues to keep the spirit of John Denver alive more than 25 years after his untimely passing.

I spoke with Ted Vigil about his John Denver Christmas show and more.

James Wood for The Morning Call: What made you decide to do a John Denver tribute?

Ted Vigil: It really started as a result of a contest I won in Nevada. I met some people who had been friends with John, and they said that I should start thinking about doing a tribute show to John’s music. I was a rock and roll drummer at the time, but the ball started rolling, and I couldn’t stop it. I ended up touring with John’s lead guitar player, Steve Weisberg, for four and a half years, performed in 50 states and probably do around 100 shows a year as my full-time job. I’ve been doing this for about fifteen years and have loved every minute of it.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Ted Vigil by Clicking Here.

Blues guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor, playing Easton’s State Theatre, talks about rocking with Joe Bonamassa and her musical personality

Blues guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor, at age 16, was discovered by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics and over the past two decades, has proven herself as a guitarist and prolific songwriter.

She’s received praise fans and artists like Joe Bonamassa, Stevie Wonder and Annie Lennox for her distinctive style and soulful voice.

Taylor has released three albums in the past year, including “The Blues Album” (produced by Bonamassa and Josh Smith) which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart.

Her new album, “Nobody’s Fool,” is another collection of catchy hooks and riffs and includes the lead single “Just No Getting Over You (Dream Cruise)” as well as Taylor’s spin on The Eurythmics’ hit “Missionary Man.” Bonamassa also joins Taylor on the original song, “Won’t Be Fooled Again.”

Taylor brings her infectious blues prowess to Easton’s State Theatre on Nov. 12.

I spoke with Joanne Shaw Taylor about the show, her new album and more in this exclusive Morning Call interview.

James Wood for The Morning Call: Is your tour stop in Easton part of a larger run of dates you’ll be doing?

Taylor: We’re doing three weeks here in the States in November and then straight to the UK for three more weeks. We’ve got a bigger Spring run through the U.S. in March and April that’ll start in Florida and make its way out west.

What can fans expect from your upcoming performance at The State Theatre?

For people who know my stuff, it’ll be a bit of a mix. In the past year, we’ve done three albums: “The Blues Album,” “Blues From The Heart: Live,” and the new album, “Nobody’s Fool.” With COVID kind of shutting down touring for a bit, all of that material is still fresh. I say this tongue in cheek, but I’ll also play a selection of greatest hits from the older albums. It’ll be a good night of the best of my catalogue played by an explosive band.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Joanne Shaw Taylor by Clicking Here.

My Father

Where to begin?

There are so many things I remember about my dad. He was a tough guy, a south paw that everyone else in my family respected. He was a hard ass at times and someone you didn’t want to get into a scuffle with.

But beneath the exterior, dad also liked to have fun, too. Some of my best memories from childhood were of him taking our family on long camping trips with my other relatives every summer. One that particularly stands out was when we spent nine days at Knoebels Amusement Park and Campground, where it did nothing but rain day and night for three days. My brother had been given the title, chamber maid, and had to dump the contents of a large bucket outside. To do this, my mother and father dressed him up in an oversized garbage bag. A make-shift rain coat, if you will. I still have photos of him dressed in his work clothes.

I’ve heard more than one person say that having all of us crazy “Woods” in one place during the summer was a sure sign of the apocalypse. But there was no fire or brimstone raining down. Hell, all we ever did was play cards, fish, pitch quoits and burn marshmallows as we sat by the campfire.

Of all the times my father and I shared together, there are three moments I’d like to share with you today:

1. The Stop and Think Moment

2. The Drifting Apart Moment

3. The Prodigal Son Moment

The Stop and Think Moment is the one I’ll probably remember most of all. It all began, curiously enough, during a rain storm in summer.

It was late afternoon and I had just come home from playing a neighborhood game of tackle football just prior to the rain. I was upset at having gotten into a fight with one of the neighborhood kids (over what I can’t remember). Dad was sitting alone at the kitchen table, wearing his usual white, cotton t-shirt, drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette.

Our home didn’t have central air conditioning, so to keep cool during storms we’d open the windows just enough to let the breeze in while keeping the water out. We’d also use big portable fans to help vent the kitchen. The smell of the hot asphalt street outside cooling down from the steady stream of rain would often fill the room and, thankfully also allow a respite from the second-hand smoke.

It was on this particular occasion that Dad saw his dejected son and asked him what was the matter.

“So and So threw the ball at my head,” I said, or something similar to that effect. And for the next fifteen minutes Dad gave me a lecture on football, friendship and life. “Stop and Think…”, he’d say. “Did you do anything to bring on this situation?”.

Inevitably, there would have been something I had done to put at least some of the blame on myself. I’d usually start with a “but…but” and he’d always continue on. Telling me to just “Stop and Think” for a minute.

“Stop and think,” he’d say. “Do you think that person who thinks he’s so tough and treats you bad is your friend? He couldn’t fight his way out of a wet paper bag.” I still laugh to this day about that one.

On certain days now, when the weather is grey and rainy, I’ll sometimes sit at my table staring out the window and think of that day in the kitchen. I never forgot “Stop and Think.” Someday I’ll probably write a book about it and dedicate it to him.

The Drifting Apart moment came during the separation and eventual divorce of my parents in the mid 1980’s. By then alcohol, which has always been the Achilles heel in my family, had estranged me from my father. We spoke many times over the years on the phone and in person but rarely when beer hadn’t influenced him in some way to make conversations short.

My brother and sister would see and talk to him way more frequently then me. They were able to see past the alcohol. I couldn’t. Soon I was off to college and living on my own and the phone calls became less and less frequent. Sometimes months would go by where we didn’t speak at all and were lost to each other.

I eventually heard that he had remarried but the next time I would actually see him for any extended length of time would be at my own wedding in 1995. It was a bit awkward at first but I remember it being one of the best times of my life.

It’s not that I didn’t love him or anything like that. On the contrary, the love I had for my dad never changed. The separation was just a result of our going our separate ways and me not being able to deal with him in that condition. Especially when it got to the point where nothing was ever going to change.

Which brings me to why I decided to write about my dad.

My father died 25 years ago today, October 17th, 1997. Whenever I think of this day I inevitably think of The Prodigal Son Moment.

It was mid 1996 when I got a call from my aunt telling me my father was in the hospital. They had found a mass in his colon and were operating on it. The doctors thought they had caught it in time. They advised him to give up drinking and smoking if he wanted any chance of fully recovering and, surprisingly, he agreed to it.

The next 15 months were spent reconnecting with my dad. Ironically, the one thing I remember most is going to the bar with him and my brother for the first time (myself now also a legal drinker) and watching him play the poker machines and nurse a non-alcoholic beer.

One might assume that a bar would be the LAST place I’d want to take my father to all things considered. And truth be told I really didn’t want to go into the lion’s den either. But he was adamant about taking his sons to the bar with him. Maybe it was some kind of rite of passage that made him this way, kind of like working one a 1965 Ford Mustang in my uncle’s garage a block away. Maybe it was just to prove to me that he finally had control over his problem. Whatever the reason, and after everything he had gone through with his cancer treatment, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. So, off we went.

Sadly, his condition continued to worsen until he was finally hospitalized in August of 1997. A man who had just celebrated his 51st birthday was now lying in a hospital bed with tubes sticking out of him and morphine running through his veins.

I visited him almost every chance I could in between my full-time job and duties at home. Some nights when it was just he and I, we would have long conversations. Although I selfishly longed to have another Stop and Think session, at that point I was willing to take whatever I could get.

When October rolled around, his condition deteriorated. I remember sitting at his bedside while he was going in and out of consciousness, closing my eyes and asking God that if he was going to take him, to please not take him on my birthday. Any day but on the 5th. It was selfish but I just couldn’t bear the thought of living out the rest of my days knowing that my father died on my birthday. Looking back now, it wouldn’t have even mattered.

Yet someone on high must have heard me because I was able to spend my 28th birthday with him. The best gift I’ve ever received. And over the next ten days it seemed like he was actually coming around a bit. There was reason to hope even though the doctors had all told us he was the sickest person in the entire hospital.

October 17th, 1997 – 10PM. It was just me in the darkened hospital room. My brother and sister weren’t there. My father’s wife had stepped out of the room for a moment. The single light over his bed softly illuminated the gray beard on his thin face, and the beeps from the saline drip and morphine pumps were the only thing that stirred the silence.

Now I’m no expert on theology but I do believe souls can feel when another soul moves on. For as he began gasping for breath, something inside me told me the end was near.

At that moment, I felt the temperature dramatically drop in the room. So much so that I began to shiver. It was like being in a warm room and stepping into a freezer. And I’ll go to my own grave feeling this way but I swear, at that moment, I had this overwhelming feeling that someone was coming for him.

I told him I loved him and, although his eyes seemed to be fixated somewhere else, he was able to say that he loved me back. And that was when my father uttered the last word he’d ever speak. One that I had never heard him say anytime before.

“God”.

Silence.

Tears streamed down my face. A man who never so much as went to church and who, to my knowledge at least, never said a prayer or even read the Bible. The last word he ever spoke on this Earth was “God”.

What did he see?

The alcohol, the distance between us and everything that happened in the past was gone. All that mattered was that he was my dad, and I was there with him at the end.

25 years later I lament about so many things. Mostly of all the things I missed out on with him.

Cancer has done horrible things to my family. Things I hope no one ever has to go through. But in some odd way, with all the pain and suffering that it brings, there’s one thing I have to actually be grateful to it for.

Without cancer, I probably never would have gotten my father back.

Birthday Reflections at 53

October 5th, 2022 – my 53rd birthday.

This is my twelfth entry in this series of birthday posts. Something I started shortly after I began my writing journey in the fall of 2011. 

To be honest, and especially with everything that’s happened over the course of the last few years, I didn’t feel like posting anything at all, but instead of rehashing all the gloom and doom about viruses, failed leadership and elections, I’ll try to remain upbeat. After all, it IS the greatest day of the year:

Birthdays are the one day where we, collectively, celebrate the individual, and by that I mean we don’t use the day as a reason to inundate social media with over the hill jokes, pay for lavish lunches, or give someone a number of spankings equivalent to their new age, plus an extra one to grow on. Although I do remember that was the best part about attending birthday parties as a kid in the 1970s, so long as you weren’t the one on the receiving end.

No, the real reason people blow out candles, consume large quantities of cake, receive greeting cards (hopefully, with a few greenbacks in them) and open whimsical presents is to commemorate the day you arrived on Earth.

You’re alive, and that’s reason enough to celebrate.

For me, it seems like it was only yesterday that I was a youthful teenager; driving me and my buddies around in a beat-up, 1972 Toyota Corona (honest, there really was a car named “Corona”). Going to the mall on Friday nights after school, pouring my hard-earned, summer lawn mowing earnings into video game cabinets and drinking gallons of Orange Julius and wishing I could somehow muster up the courage to go over and talk to the cute girl who was standing with her friends outside of the Listening Booth record store. Ah, youth.

Wasn’t I the one who was able to go to rock concerts and stay up til the wee hours of the morning? Sitting in some dingy diner; smoking cigarettes, eating cheese fries and drinking gallons of coffee while talking to friends about what would happen when we took on the world and made all of our dreams came true? Now, I’m lucky if I can stay up til 10 p.m. most nights.

There’s an odd sense of immortality you have when you’re young that makes you believe time will always stand still, and that you’ll never be as old young as your parents. But then, one day, you take a nap and wake up in their role. To give you some perspective, my father died at the age of 51 (twenty-five years ago this month). As of today, I’ve outlived him by two years.

I promised I would keep things upbeat for this post so I won’t continue to rehash the past. Instead, I’ll talk about the future. In addition to continuing to do interviews for The Morning Call newspaper and Guitar World magazine, I’m also still in the writing process of several books. Something that has been put off for quite a while but something I am extremely excited about. I am thinking perhaps a collection of short stories — perhaps two novellas in one. Five years is long enough. It’s time to make it happen. More on that in the months ahead.

I’m also still dabbling a lot in watercolor painting. Not only has it been a great stress reliever but it’s something you can do that doesn’t cost a lot of money and where you can literally see your progress every day:

I called this one “The Road Beyond 50.” If you visualize yourself in it, the painting is a metaphor for life. You can’t see where you’ve been (the past) or the scars that you carry. All you can see is where you’re standing now and the road to what lies ahead of you. As in life, there is beauty all around us and a brave new world just waiting to be explored. I plan on doing a lot of exploring in the days, weeks and months ahead.

I hope my next trip around the sun, and walk down this path, brings all of us a sense of hope, peace and most of all, love. 

Easton State Theatre concert preview: The Orchestra is set to play ELO’s greatest hits

With a pedigree dating back to the early days of the Electric Light Orchestra, members of The Orchestra continue to tour and perform the music of ELO to generations of fans.

All six group members were once part of ELO II, which formed shortly after the original group disbanded.

On Oct. 7, The Orchestra will bring ELO’s catalog of classic and symphonic rock hits to Easton’s State Theatre for an intimate performance.

Mik Kaminski (violin) is the longest-term member of the group, having not only worked with ELO II and The Orchestra but has also recorded many of ELO’s biggest hits and toured the world with Jeff Lynne and the original lineup from 1973 through the early eighties.

In addition to being a keyboardist and vocalist for The Orchestra, Eric Troyer has contributed his talent as a session artist on monster hits for John Lennon, Billy Joel, Bonnie Tyler and more.

The Orchestra includes Kaminski (violin), Troyer (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Parthenon Huxley (guitar, vocals), Gordon Townsend (drums, vocals), Glen Burtnik (bass, vocals) and Louis Clark (orchestral keyboard, cello, guitar).

I spoke with Mik Kaminski and Eric Troyer about the upcoming State Theatre show, the music of ELO, and more.

James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from The Orchestra’s performance at the State Theatre?

Mik Kaminski: They can expect to hear all of the ELO hits that I’ve been playing for nearly 50 years. I still get great fun out of playing songs like “Mr. Blue Sky,” “Living Thing” and all the other favorites. As long as the audience is with us we’ll be doing it as long as we can.

Eric Troyer: We’ve been touring all around the world playing the songs the way they were written and recorded by Electric Light Orchestra. Mik was in the original ELO lineup and I’ve been doing it since the ELO II days that started in 1988. It’s an engaging and exciting show to watch. We really enjoy playing this music.

What do you think makes the music of ELO so timeless and special?

Troyer: It’s classic rock, a high point of the rock and roll era that speaks to everybody. These songs are still used in movies and many other things. It carries the torch and becomes familiar to other generations. We have a lot of young people coming out to see us.

Kaminski: Every time you walk into a supermarket there’s an ELO tune playing. It’s embedded in people’s heads. Jeff Lynne’s writing was, and still is, brilliant. He’s a very talented guy.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Mik Kaminski and Eric Troyer by Clicking Here.

Barry Manilow, set to play Allentown, reveals secrets behind the songs and personal triumphs

Ranked by Billboard as the #1 Adult Contemporary Artist of all-time, Barry Manilow’s unparalleled career is made up of virtually every facet of music, including performing, recording, arranging, and producing.

With more than 85 million albums sold, Manilow is also ranked as one of the world’s all-time best-selling artists, with songs that include such timeless classics as “Mandy,” “I Write The Songs,” “Could it Be Magic,” Looks Like We Made It,” “Weekend In New England,” and “Copacabana (At The Copa).”

On Friday, August 12, Manilow will bring his musical legacy and arsenal of hits to PPL Center in Allentown, PA as part of his “Manilow: Hits 2022 Tour.”

Every stop on Manilow’s current East Coast jaunt will also bestow a Manilow Music Project’s Music Teacher Award, where a winning teacher from each city, based on voting, will receive a five-thousand-dollar cash award and another five thousand in “Manilow bucks” to purchase instruments for their school’s music program.

I recently spoke with Barry Manilow about his new tour, music, and some of the most memorable moments of his career in this exclusive new interview.

What can fans expect from your performance at PPLCenter in Allentown?

Barry Manilow: There were years that I was out doing shows with medleys of big band songs and show tunes and album cuts. These days, I know what people want. They want to hear the songs they know and I’m happy to give it to them. I’m very lucky that I’ve got ninety minutes of hit records that I can go to. Every song is familiar to audiences. They sometimes sing even louder than I do at these shows and we all have a great time together. With the world the way that it is being an entertainer is a big responsibility. So, the lights will go down, the doors will close, and I’ll get to take them into a place that feels safe, joyful, and full of music. That’s my job and I love doing it.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Barry Manilow by Clicking Here!

Young As I Want To Be

Some may say that I’ve crossed over. That the torch had finally been passed along to me from my father, much the same way as his father and his father before him had passed it down to their sons. Yesterday, much like the way that guy in the comic books becomes The Incredible Hulk, I came very close to metamorphosizing into that dreaded three-letter word—old.

The truth is, I’ve never thought of myself as that three-letter word that I will no longer mention to describe me. That word is reserved for people who are much more advanced in age then I am. Those are the people who grew up having their milk delivered to them by a man in a horse drawn carriage, or someone who once wore saddle shoes while playing hopscotch with her friends. The same people who listened to Buddy Holly or Peter, Paul, and Mary on the radio and were forced to watch Lawrence Welk on Sunday evenings at their grandmother’s house. The same poor souls who claimed to walk two miles to school barefoot in ten feet of snow and had parents who gave them enemas at the slightest inclination of a stomachache. That word is reserved for them, not one for someone as cool, and young, as me.

Sure, I may have grown-up but I still do most of the same things I did as a child: I still play guitar, not very well but enough to amuse myself. I still enjoy reading the box while relishing bowls of Lucky Charms and Cap’n Crunch cereal. I still play video games, though not as often as I’d like, and am still a big fan of superhero and Godzilla movies. I even continue to do chores like mowing the grass and taking out the garbage. I’m still fourteen years old if you really want to know. All that’s missing is a little more hair on my head and the loss of the forty or so pounds I’ve gained over the years.

Ok, unlike when I was a child, I’m forced to do my own laundry and make my own meals. I have to go to work every day but I make my bed without being told and fix things around the house when they break instead of leaving it for someone else to do. I do all the things a grown-up should do, but that shouldn’t put me in the same league as those three-letter-word people, should it?

And I confess, when I look in the mirror, I do see a little bit of gray in the beard, but no one has ever said a word about it to me. Besides, I’ve done a pretty good job at covering it up. Just for Men is working just fine, thank you very much.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, the crossover to becoming that three-letter word. 

It happened yesterday when I was at my ten-year-old daughter’s softball league end of season celebration. It was a chance for a team of girls who had played hard all season to experience one final round of camaraderie together, along with some swimming and several slices of pizza. After dinner, the girls were even treated to a make your own ice cream stand supplied by their manager for a sugar rush farewell.

I’ve been conscious of watching what I eat, so I passed on the ice cream and sat down at one of the empty tables while my daughter and the others stood in line. I enjoyed watching the girls giggling with each other as trickles of soft vanilla ice cream from their waffle cones ran down their arms.

At one point, I recognized a woman who was standing in line for ice cream with her daughter. Someone I hadn’t seen in a very long time. It was a girl I’d gone to high school with, and I decided to go over to say hello.

It was a lot of fun catching up with my former classmate. We had a good time discussing what all of our classmates might be doing now, and the lives they all were leading. 

“Wasn’t it just yesterday that we all were in Mr. Kasperkowski’s science class?” I asked. 

“Oh, I didn’t have him,” she answered. “I had Mr. Opitz for science. I do remember both of us being in Mr. Siddons’ history class.” 

“That’s right!” I said, feeling a bit ashamed for confusing science with history. Then I asked if she could believe that next year was going to be our 25th class reunion. Looking back now, I think that might have been the precursor to what happened next, because once our conversation was over and I sat back down at the table, my daughter made a public service announcement to all in attendance. 

“All softball team members sit at this table,” she announced, pointing to the table where both she and I were sitting. A moment later, a stampede of ten-year old girls with half-eaten ice cream cones started sitting down at the table with us. It felt great to be enjoying a moment with my baby girl and her teammates. 

Unfortunately, one of the girls who joined us at the table thought something was a little out-of-place. The little whipper snapper pointed to another table where all of the parents were sitting. She measured me with her beady eyes.

“This table is for the girls,” she proclaimed. “THAT table over there is for the OLD people.” 

I quickly tried to think of something to say. You know, some sort of a witty comeback. Sadly, all I could muster was, “Hey, I’m not old, YOU’RE old!” But all that did was invite the rest of the girls on a sugar high to come to her defense. You’ve got to love the way teammates stick up for each other.

Realizing I was outmatched I finally conceded and slowly rose from the table to join the other men and women who were closer to my own height. But don’t think for a minute that me leaving their table is an admission that I actually am that three-letter-word, because I’m not. The truth is, I could have battled those girls all night with my grown-up rhetoric if I had more time. I just didn’t want to make them look bad in front of their parents. In my mind, I’m as young as I want to be, no matter what any ten-year-old girl thinks.

Later, on the drive home and while she was mindlessly looking out the window, I stuck the tip of my index finger into my mouth, moistened it with my tongue and then reached over and gently poked it into my daughter’s left ear. 

“DAD!! KNOCK IT OFF!” she screamed, as I manically laughed out loud.

There I go again, being childish.