Sarah Brightman — coming to Bethlehem — talks about her Christmas show, Andrew Lloyd Weber, and holiday traditions

Photo by Oliver Sommers

Known for pioneering the classical-crossover music movement and for amassing an arsenal of album sales — including 40 million from The Phantom of The Opera soundtrack alone — Sarah Brightman has wowed audiences with her incredible three-octave vocal range and charismatic beauty.

Last year, while the world was in lockdown, Brightman put together and streamed her first-ever Christmas concert, “Sarah Brightman: A Christmas Symphony.” The worldwide response was so overwhelming that this year she is bringing her Christmas Symphony Tour to America.

Perhaps there is no more fitting place for her to kick off her holiday tour than The Christmas City’s Wind Creek Event Center on Friday, November 26.

Accompanied by orchestra, choir and a dazzling light show, Brightman’s show will feature renditions of classics from the Christmas canon, holiday favorites, and a selection of her greatest hits.

I recently spoke with Brightman about her upcoming performance in Bethlehem and much more in this exclusive interview:

James Wood for The Morning Call: How did your seasonal Christmas Symphony show come about?

Brightman: When we were in lockdown last Christmas it was a fairly miserable time for everyone worldwide. I decided to stream a seasonal Christmas show for any fans who cared to watch and listen. So, I employed some musicians who needed the work and we put it all together. There was an overwhelming response which is why, when things started moving again, I decided to turn it into a proper seasonal show for the theater. It’s something I’ve never done before in America.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Sarah Brightman by Clicking Here!

SteelStacks concert preview: Gin Blossoms guitarist Jesse Valenzuela talks about the band’s start, the hits, and what’s next

Photo: Shervin Lainez

American alt-rock band Gin Blossoms first broke into the mainstream with their infectious 1992 album, New Miserable Experience. Songs from that album, which eventually went on to sell four million copies, included the jangle-pop and radio friendly “Hey Jealousy,” “Until I Fall Away,” “Found Out About You,” and “Allison Road.” These cemented the band as one of the early 90s best-selling acts.

The band abruptly broke up in 1997 only to reform five years later and have continued to record and perform as many as 120 shows a year. Their 2010 release No Chocolate Cake shot up to #1 on Amazon and reached #14 on the Billboard Indie Chart. The band’s 2018 follow-up Mixed Reality, is reminiscent of the group’s earlier days. Vocalist Robin Wilson called it a companion to New Miserable Experience and an album the band would’ve wanted to make in 1990.

Fans of the Gin Blossoms — featuring Wilson, Jesse Valenzuela (vocals and guitar), Scott Johnson (guitar), Scott Hessel (drums), and Bill Leen (bass) — can relive the magic of the 90s when the group performs at SteelStacks’ Musikfest Café at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9.

I spoke with Gin Blossoms guitarist Jesse Valenzuela about the band’s Bethlehem show and more in this exclusive new interview.

James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from the Gin Blossoms upcoming performance in Bethlehem?

Jesse Valenzuela: We may have had a lot of time off and not touring as much as we used to but fans can expect to hear every song they want to hear. All of our hits will be represented. Then we’ll play some of the other material from our thirty-five years together. There’s a lot to choose from. It’s going to be a great time.

How did the band get started?

It wasn’t something that happened overnight. It took some starts and stops before we actually became a band. We all had grown up in the same college town working in different bands. We all knew about each other and eventually just started playing together. 

Read the rest of my

Interview with Jesse Valenzuela by Clicking Here.

Wind Creek Bethlehem comedy preview: Bill Maher gets real with Dave Chappelle, free speech, Trump, honesty, and Hillary Clinton

Photo: John Russo

Comedian Bill Maher has set the boundaries for humor and political talk.

First on the widely popular “Politically Incorrect,” which ran on ABC from 1993-2002, and for the last 19 years as host of his acclaimed HBO series, “Real Time” — where his combination of honesty and laughter has garnered more than 40 Emmy nominations.

On the show, Maher interviews some of the world’s most influential people while taking swings at both republicans and democrats alike. His criticism of people like Donald Trump is nearly equivalent to his concern about the over-extension of wokeism.

While taking a break from “Real Time,” Maher is currently out on the road performing stand-up. The comedian will make a stop at the Wind Creek Event Center, in Bethlehem on Sunday, Oct. 24.

I recently spoke with Maher about his upcoming Lehigh Valley performance and more.

James Wood: What can fans expect from your show at the Wind Creek Event Center?

Bill Maher: They can expect to laugh their ass off. That’s what stand-up comedy is supposed to be. If they’re people who watch “Real Time” then they’re familiar with the general things I’m interested in, which are not the trivialities of life.

I’ve always been interested in the big subjects going on in the world like politics, but I also like talking about my personal life too. Something that’s consequential and has nutrition in it. The bottom line though is people are hungry to laugh again and to laugh hard. That’s what I’m going to make them do.

How are you able to separate the format of “Real Time” from your stand-up comedy?

The great thing about stand-up is that it’s free form. What I’ve seen recently is an encouraging embrace of the point of view I’ve been putting across on my show. The greatest threat right now is from the right. We’re playing with fire with the Republican Party where they don’t believe elections are real. That’s a dangerous place to be and that has to be called out. But I also talk about what I think are the excesses of the woke and how wokeism is not really liberalism.

You may not agree with everything I say but most people can appreciate that I’m trying to be an honest broker and that’s a hard thing to do these days in America.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Bill Maher by Clicking Here.

SteelStacks comedy preview: Heather Land brings laughs and ‘Age Gap Tour’ to Bethlehem

Heather Land

Heather Land’s smart-alecky wit and her filter-faced “I Ain’t Doin It” videos have become a worldwide sensation, garnering more than 300 million views. That was enough to make the one-time administrative professional and worship leader change roles and dive headfirst into comedy. 

Land now performs shows across the country, regaling audiences with her humor on such real-world topics as failed diets, raising teenagers and holidays — as well as referencing her “I Ain’t Doin’ It” videos. Her specialty is finding the funny in the frustrating and reminding everyone that it’s ok to laugh at themselves.

Land is currently on the road with her “Age Gap Tour,” which makes a stop in Bethlehem at ArtsQuest’s Musikfest Cafe at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct 17.

I recently spoke with Land about her upcoming performance and more.

James Wood for The Morning Call: How would you describe your brand of comedy?

Land: I’m definitely a storyteller. True stories I elaborate on along with a lot of self-depreciation. If we can’t laugh at ourselves then good grief, what are we even doing?

What else can fans look forward to with your performance in Bethlehem?

Most know me from “I Ain’t Doin It,” so there will be obvious references to that. People often ask how I can do it without the filter face but I’m there to make them laugh. A lot of times I’ll do music at my shows as well. It’s great to be back out and seeing people again.

Comedy wasn’t your original career goal, was it?

My original career goal was leading worship in church. I went to bible college and that’s where I landed for a long time. I thought that would be it but then I went through a divorce after a long marriage and had to switch gears. I started doing administrative work and making videos. All of a sudden, the videos started going viral and I suddenly found myself becoming a comedian. 

Comedy wasn’t something I set out to do but I’m really glad I took the risk.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Heather Land by Clicking Here.

Lisa Loeb concert preview: Grammy-winning singer-songwriter discusses ‘strangely creative time’ and return to Sellersville Theater

Lisa Loeb (Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty)

Emotional, ethereal, poignant, poetic. These words best describe singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb’s music.

From her platinum-selling #1 song “Stay (I Missed You)” from the “Reality Bites” soundtrack to her Grammy-winning children’s album Feel What U Feel, Loeb has a knack for writing songs that are as ubiquitous as they are vulnerable.

Loeb will bring her arsenal of music and storytelling to an intimate performance at The Sellersville Theater on Oct. 16.

In addition to performing her signature song, fans can expect to hear songs like “Do You Sleep,” “I Do” and “Let’s Forget About It.” Loeb will also be showcasing material from her most recent album, “A Simple Trick To Happiness.” Produced by her and writer/producer Rich Jacques, the album examines Loeb’s life as a mother, wife, artist, and businesswoman seeking to find a balance between personal fulfillment and purpose.

I recently spoke with Loeb about her upcoming performance at The Sellersville Theater and more.

James Wood for The Morning Call: As an artist, what’s it been like for you during the last eighteen months of the pandemic?

Lisa Loeb: It’s been a strangely creative time during the lockdown. I set up shop in my guest bedroom and was able to work on new songs and even start a new album. I also did a lot of livestreaming shows as well as events and fundraisers over Zoom. It was an interesting time getting to connect with fans from all over the world.

Have you performed at The Sellersville Theater before?

Many times. Joe Quigley, the bass player from my band, Nine Stories, has a brother who was one of the original owners when they started having live musical acts. We had a personal connection with the theater and have seen it grow over the years. As a singer-songwriter it’s a perfect theater. It’s intimate but formal at the same time. I love being able to go there and play.

What can fans expect from your performance?

I love to play songs that people want to hear. So, I’ll play songs like “Stay” and a handful of others that have been on the radio. I’ll definitely play songs from my new album, “A Simple Trick to Happiness,” because they’re new and seem to resonate during this time. I’ll also play songs from my entire career as well as requests and maybe even some songs from my children’s album. I also like to talk, so there will be a lot of stories.

How does the new album, “A Simple Trick to Happiness,” compare to some of your previous work?

For me, it’s a lot more personal. I wanted to write songs that people [when they hear them] can take with them throughout their day. There are songs about appreciating your life and respectfully walking away from situations that aren’t right. The title of the album is a little tongue-in-cheek. You can’t snap your fingers and find happiness but there are things you can keep in mind to make your life better.

Read the rest of my

With Lisa Loeb by Clicking Here.

Birthday Reflections at 52

October 5th, 2021: My 52nd Birthday

This is my tenth 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 eighteen months, 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 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 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. As of today, I’ve outlived him.

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 heavily 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 more of a collection of short stories — perhaps two novellas in one. More on that in the months ahead.

I’ve also been 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. 

Penn’s Peak concert preview: Female tribute band The Iron Maidens discuss impact of original English rockers and guest appearance of Eddie

The Iron Maidens

Since their formation in 2001, The Iron Maidens have garnered international acclaim as one of the most popular Iron Maiden tribute bands. 

The all-female quintet, consisting of Kirsten Rosenberg (vocals), Wanda Ortiz (bass), Linda McDonald (drums), Courtney Cox (guitars), and Nikki Stringfield (guitars), are all consummate professionals, with diverse artistic backgrounds ranging from orchestral and musical theater to blues, rock, and metal.

Boasting both beauty and musicianship, The Iron Maidens cover note for note Iron Maiden material from all eras of the band’s more than four-decade career — including their biggest hits and seminal fan favorites. Their high energy stage show also includes appearances by Maiden’s iconic mascot, Eddie, the grim reaper, and more.

Fans of Iron Maiden’s music won’t want to miss The Iron Maidens when they perform at 8 p.m. Sept. 10 at Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe.

I recently spoke to them about their upcoming show and more.

James Wood for The Morning Call: How did The Iron Maidens tribute project come about?

Linda McDonald: “I was playing in an original band with another guitar player, and we were looking for a bass player. We wound up getting a call from a mixed-gender Iron Maiden tribute band that wanted us to come down and check them out. When we got there they told us they wanted to go and form an all-female version of that band and were looking for a drummer and guitar player … so the two of us ended up joining them. It was perfect because Iron Maiden is the band that got me started playing drums.”

What was it about Iron Maiden’s music that appealed to you?

McDonald: “When I was in high school, I got sent home for a few days because I wasn’t being a very good girl [laughs]. I went into my brother’s record collection and found the album, Maiden in Japan. I was floored with just how tight the band sounded. It was pure and honest and the energy captured just blew me away. That was the moment I decided I wanted to play drums with that same kind of energy and drive.”

Wanda Ortiz: “I’m a bass player, so I’m drawn to music that has interesting and challenging bass lines. Steve Harris’ bass lines and how all the songs are written around them are what really drew me in.”

Read the rest of my

Interview with The Iron Maidens by Clicking Here.

SteelStacks concert preview: 90s hitmakers Collective Soul set to ‘Shine’ again with chemistry back

Collective Soul – Photo by John Fulton

Collective Soul first rose to fame in 1993 when a DJ in Orlando, Florida decided to start playing their rock anthem, “Shine.” 

The resulting enthusiasm and request for continued plays propelled the group from their humble Georgia-based roots to international acclaim.

Over the course of their career, the quintet has sold more than twenty million records and amassed an arsenal of hits, like “December” and “The World I Know,” that helped define alternative rock. The band’s most recent studio album, 2019′s Blood, also received praise for its indelible consistency of combining all the different styles of music the band has accumulated over the years.

Having recently wrapped their first-ever joint tour with Styx, Collective Soul will headline a performance with fellow nineties veteran bands Better Than Ezra and Tonic at 7 p.m. September 9th at Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks in Bethlehem as part of ArtsQuest’s Summer Concert Series.

I recently spoke with Collective Soul guitarist Dean Roland about the band’s upcoming Lehigh Valley show and more.

James Wood for The Morning Call: What’s it like being back performing live shows again after such an extended period of time away during lockdown?

Dean Roland: “This has been the longest break in our career. It’s great to getting the chemistry back together and seeing people having fun and celebrating music again.”

What can fans expect from your upcoming performance in Bethlehem with Better Than Ezra and Tonic?

“A lot of good songs that they know and enjoy and can sing along to. We’ve known the guys from Better Than Ezra and Tonic for years and have done many tours and festivals together. We all live in different cities now but it’ll be fun to get out there and share our passion for music with the audience.”

Read the rest of my

Interview with Dean Roland by Clicking Here

Musikfest Concert Preview: Colin Hay talks about his Men At Work days and being ready to entertain live again

Photo: Paul Mobley

With hits like the ubiquitous “Down Under,” “Who Can It Be Now,” “Be Good Johnny” and “Overkill,” Colin Hay has amassed an arsenal of radio hits and fan favorites. But it was during the recent lockdown when touring was impossible that Hay found himself alone in his studio with nothing to do. It was during this time that he decided to revisit some of the songs that impacted his life as a young fellow. Thus was born Hay’s appropriately titled covers album, “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.”

The album features Hay’s take songs like “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying” (Gerry and the Pacemakers), “Ooh La La” (Faces), “Can’t Find My Way Home” (Blind Faith), “Wichita Lineman” (Glen Campbell), as well as the title track, originally performed by Dusty Springfield.

Now that he’s back on the road, fans of Hay’s work as a solo artist and with Men At Work will have the opportunity to hear these songs and more when the Colin Hay Band performs at Musikfest’s Wind Creek Steel Stage 7 p.m. August 11.

Speaking of Men At Work, this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Australian band’s monumental debut, “Business As Usual.” The album spent weeks at #1 on the Billboard album chart and earned Hay and his mates a Grammy for Best New Artist.

In addition to his “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” album and tour highlighting it, Hay is also finishing work on a new collection of original songs that will be released sometime in the new year.

I recently spoke with Colin Hay about his upcoming Musikfest performance, his new album and more:

James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from your upcoming Musikfest performance?

Hay: “They can expect to be entertained. I’m going to play a mix of songs from my new covers record as well as some new material people haven’t heard before. I’ll also do some old Men At Work songs and songs off the solo records. It’s going to be a long set so people coming should prepare to settle in for a while.”

What inspired your new covers album, “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”?

“I had already finished recording an album of new songs that will be released early in the new year and wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to go out on the road. Gerry Marsden (Gerry And The Pacemakers) had recently died and I was playing ‘Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying’ in my studio. I decided to record it and sent it to my friend and producer, Chad Fischer. He orchestrated it and sent it back and said, ‘Ok, send me another.’ So, I just kept going until we had 10. These are songs I loved growing up and formed me or inspired me in some way. I love the choices and the way they hang together. I really love the way it turned out.”

Read the rest of my

Interview with Colin Hay by Clicking Here.

Shinedown’s Brent Smith Previews Musikfest Performance, New Smith & Myers Single, “Bad At Love”

Photo: Sanjay Parikh

What began as a happy accident six years ago, Smith & Myers, a music project featuring Shinedown’s Brent Smith and Zach Myers, has quickly become one of music’s most ubiquitous duos. The pair’s latest single, “Bad At Love” continues that trend with a vulnerable and personal perspective detailing the difficulties of staying in a romantic relationship while realizing the breakup doesn’t always have to be a negative.

While the infectious new Smith & Myers single churns the Shinedown machine is gearing up for a round of touring following last year’s cancellations due to Covid-19. On deck is the band’s rescheduled performance at Musikfest in Bethlehem, PA on Monday, August 9th.

Shinedown is also set to release the long-awaited film, “Attention Attention,” which brings to life the story of the band’s acclaimed 2018 album of the same name. A visual and auditory experience, the film takes the viewer on a psychological and emotional journey from life’s lowest lows to the highest of highs. “Attention Attention” will be released on September 3rd.

I recently spoke with Shinedown’s Brent Smith, who previewed the band’s show in Bethlehem as well as the new Smith & Myers single, “Bad At Love.” We also discussed Shinedown’s upcoming film and more in this exclusive new interview.

What can fans expect from Shinedown’s upcoming Musikfest performance?

Smith: We’re back to doing large shows which is overwhelmingly emotional. This tour was ten months in the making, with everyone working to make sure we do this with extra effort into everyone’s safety. We’re bringing out the big guns on this one. All the bells and whistles and what the audience wants to hear.

Let’s discuss the new Smith & Myers single, “Bad at Love.” How did this project begin and what can you tell me about the single?

Smith: That first time we did an album as Smith & Myers was back in 2014. It was an all-covers album that the fans picked. This time we decided to do a double album; ten covers in the way that we do them and ten original songs that Zach and I wrote together. “Bad At Love” was the very first song that we wrote. In the song, being bad at love is not primarily a negative. What I mean by that is that traditional stories of romance are love is found, love doesn’t last, and love is lost. It’s a sad ending but it doesn’t have to be that way. I can count on one hand how many real relationships I’ve been in in my life. All of these women I’ve been with were heavy relationships and sometimes it just didn’t work out. Sure, we may not be together but we’re still friends. This song is about understanding that it’s ok. You don’t have to believe that love is always a dramatic sad ending if it doesn’t work out.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Brent Smith by Clicking Here