Category: Music

‘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.

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!

Sherman Theater concert preview: Kiss’ Ace Frehley talks about crazy memories and possible band reunion

As an original member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band Kiss, Ace Frehley and his Spaceman image inspired legions of fans to pick up a guitar to try and imitate his musical wizardry. 

Ace Frehley – Photo by Jay Gilbert

His 1978 release was the highest selling of the four Kiss solo albums. His reunion with the band in the mid-late 90′s helped return the group to sold-out stadium performances. In 2011, Frehley’s autobiography, “No Regrets,” also turned the artist into a bona fide New York Times bestselling author.

As he celebrates nearly 50 years as an artist, Frehley is set to bring an arsenal of Kiss and solo hits to a performance 8 p.m. Friday at Stroudsburg’s Sherman Theater.

I recently spoke with Frehley about his local show, his tenure with Kiss, memorable moments, and even asked him the elusive question of whether he’ll be joining his former bandmates one last time in this exclusive new interview.

James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from your performance at The Sherman Theater?

Ace Frehley: We talk with fans often and they pretty much tell us which songs are their favorites, so we’ll be performing a variety of Ace and Kiss hits. Songs like “Cold Gin,” “Rip It Out,” “Detroit Rock City,” and “Deuce.” I’ll also be doing my light and smoking guitar effect.

You mentioned the song “Cold Gin,” which appeared on Kiss’ debut album. Can you tell me the origin of that track?

I actually wrote that song while I was on a subway going to rehearsal. I came up with the guitar riff and then the lyrics came. But I don’t have any set formula for how I write. Sometimes I’ll write the lyrics first and the music will come second. There’s no set way of writing songs.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Ace Frehley by Clicking Here.

Ann Wilson on enlisting Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Warren Haynes and Tom Bukovac for new solo album Fierce Bliss

Photo: Scott Dudelson/WireImage

Ann Wilson is one of the premier hard-rock vocalists of all time. Smashing boundaries with longstanding Seattle outfit Heart, she’s enjoyed a decades-long career resulting in more than 35 million albums sold and an induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Wilson recorded much of her new solo album, Fierce Bliss, at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama, and enlisted the company of a trio of guitar powerhouses for good measure: co-producer Tom Bukovac, Warren Haynes and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.

Haynes, who last worked with Wilson on her Immortal solo release, returns for Fierce Bliss, bringing along Gov’t Mule for a pair of original songs: Gladiator and Angel’s Blues

Shepherd accompanies Wilson on two covers: a monstrous version of the Robin Trower classic, Bridge of Sighs, and an ambitious take on the Eurythmics’ hit, Missionary Man, the latter of which has Wilson backed by a 40-person gospel choir. 

An ethereal duet version of Queen classic Love of My Life with Vince Gill is also featured on the album, as well as fantasy art by Roger Dean, renowned for his work designing Yes’s sleeve artwork.

We spoke with Ann Wilson about Fierce Bliss, working with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Warren Haynes and her favorite memories of Heart.

Was it your desire to create a guitar-driven album?

“Yeah, that’s what I’m comfortable with and what speaks to me. I was blessed to get into the company of Tom Bukovac, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Warren Haynes. They’re great players who are also great humans. After we got vaccinated, we all put on masks and went to Muscle Shoals, where Tom had put together this band with Tony Lucido on bass and Sean Lane on drums.”

Read the rest of my

Interview with Ann Wilson by Clicking Here!

ArtsQuest concert preview: 10,000 Maniacs’ Mary Ramsey talks about her start on MTV’s Unplugged and 40th-anniversary tour

10000 Maniacs: Photo by Jeff Fasano

The band 10,000 Maniacs has covered a lot of ground during its 40 years together. From small niche market to international stardom, their current status is among the cornerstones of alternative music.

The band’s live show celebrates their musical legacy by embracing songs spanning its entire catalog and features a lineup still anchored by four of the six original members.

Viola player and backing vocalist Mary Ramsey began touring and recording with the Maniacs more than 30 years ago. She assumed the role of lead vocalist shortly after the departure of Natalie Merchant. Ramsey’s first album fronting the band was 1997′s Love Among The Ruins. The album featured the group’s ethereal take on the Roxy Music hit, “More Than This.”

The band will play will perform selections from their vast collection of hits at 7 p.m. April 26 at ArtsQuest’s Musikfest Cafe. Listeners can expect a few surprises during an intimate performance.

Fans can enjoy songs like the aforementioned “More Than This” as well as “These Are Days,” “My Mother The War,” “Rainy Day,” and “Because The Night,” the Patti Smith classic that became a monster hit for the band during its MTV Unplugged special.

10,000 Maniacs is Mary Ramsey (vocals, viola), Steven Gustafson (bass), Dennis Drew (keyboards), John Lombardo (guitar, vocals), Jeff Erickson (lead guitar) and Jerome Augustyniak (drums)

I recently spoke with vocalist/viola player Ramsey about the show and more in this exclusive new interview.

James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from the 10,000 Maniacs’ performance at SteelStacks?

Mary Ramsey: We have a variety of tunes from the Maniacs catalog over the years to choose from. We’ll be playing the hits as well as a few surprise covers. There’s a song John Lombardo will sing called “My Mother The War,” which goes way back. I have an electric five-string Zeta viola I play so we’ll do some Celtic tunes here and there as well. It’s an interesting blend of different sounds that work nicely together.

The band has been celebrating its 40th anniversary and you’ve been with them for more than 25 years. Can you give me some of the backstory on how you came to join the group?

I suppose it was all fate, John Lombardo had left the group for a while in the 80s and the two of us met and started a duo called John and Mary and were signed to Ryko Records. In 1990, 10,000 Maniacs released the Hope Chest CD. Some of John’s contributions to that CD were a few of the first songs the band had written, and they asked us to open for them. That was when Natalie [Merchant] asked if I’d like to sing background vocals and add strings to their set. That’s how I got on the MTV Unplugged performance. It was a thrill.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Mary Ramsey by Clicking Here.