Concert: Reba McEntire at Tanglewood

Sometimes I struggle being from Oklahoma. Not in a literal sense, but from a moral standpoint. It’s complicated. I moved to New York around three years ago. To say the least, it’s been the best experience of my life.

Although New York offers nearly every experience under the sun, there is one thing missing: real country music. When I got word that Reba McEntire was just going to be two and a half hours north of me in Massachusets, it was a no brainer.

Courtesy of Amazon.

McEntire and her music truly mean the world to me. I’ve been a fan since I was in elementary school. Without going into great detail, my parents divorced when I was six years old. To be honest, I don’t remember all the details, but I still carry the heartache with me.

My mom knew I loved music. One day she brought home a “previously viewed” VHS from the local Blockbuster. I’m sure it was in the sale bin, that’s the only way she could have afforded it. The video was Reba: Live. I couldn’t tell you how many times I watched it. This concert became my safety blanket. My mind did not understand what it was feeling, but McEntire gave a voice and relief to those emotions.

Back to 2019. I found that McEntire was going to be the season closer for Tanglewood in the Berkshires in Lenox, MA. This was not the best financial decision, but once I found a few front row seats left I entered my credit card nearly faster than my fingers could type.

The concert, which took place on Sunday, was phenomenal. McEntire has been in the music game for 43 years. She’s a veteran, but her enthusiasm for her music and the fans has never been lost. She sinks each song like it’s brand new. She opened the concert with “Turn On The Radio,” a track from her 2010 album All The Women I Am. She quickly went into a melody of numerous number-one singles, including one of my all-time favorites “Can’t Even Get The Blues.”

Then came the song that will always pull my heartstrings “Whoever’s In New England.” It was perfection. Shortly after came her 2017 single, “Back to God.” The conviction in her voice was chilling. McEntire sings this song from wisdom and experience.

About 75% of the way through the show, she embarked on the Grammy-winning “Does He Love You.” This song was recorded with Linda Davis in 1993, but a member of McEntire’s band, Jennifer Wrinkle, accompanies McEntire on tour. To my dismay, Wrinkle does not have a solo album. She was superb.

As per McEntire tradition, she closed the show with “Fancy.” This is truly a “bow down to the queen” moment. Once she exits the stage and reemerges in that red dress, her legacy is undeniable. Yet she still meets her audience with humility. There is never a pompous moment. That’s the art of the Reba concert, you leave feeling she is your best friend.

Through all these amazing songs and stories, one moment stands above the rest. As McEntire began to introduce “The Greatest Man I Never Knew,” she told the story of her family. It’s impossible to not mention Oklahoma when talking about the McEntire’s. At that moment, in a crazy fan haze, I yelled: “I’m from Oklahoma!” She went on with her conversation. I thought nothing of it.

She then turned around and said “Where are you from in Oklahoma?” and walked straight to me.I told her I was from Lawton and she acknowledged how she knew right where that was. She went on to say that Oklahoma was “so important.” At this moment, in another crazy fan haze, I yelled: “I love you.” Then she looked at me once more and said: “I love you too.”

After the show, as I was reeling from McEntire speaking to me, I felt so much pride. Not in just where I come from, but in how far I’ve come. Although sometimes I am conflicted about my home state, it has given me an unshakeable foundation. I haven’t nearly seen the world like McEntire, but it is surreal that we could connect, even for a moment, over our shared heritage. The spirit of Oklahoma is more than OK, we’re extraordinary.

I’d like for you to take two main points from this article: 

1.) Go see Reba McEntire in concert. She’s nothing short of phenomenal.

2.) There is life out there, but Oklahoma and your heritage will always be there when you need ’em. 

CONCERT: Diana Ross, It’s Her House

When it comes to defining superstar look no further than Diana Ross. From the elegance of her smile to her ageless vocals, she is the entire package.

Recently, I saw Ms. Ross’ during her mini-residency at New York City Center. Her final night was Saturday. This was my fourth time seeing Ms. Ross in concert and although my pocket-book feels pain, I feel completely blessed.

Ms. Ross started the concert out with her iconic 1980’s anthem “I’m Coming Out.” The energy in the room was magnetic, drawing all eyes to the stage as one began to hear her fragile, yet demanding voice. The atmosphere turned electric when she stepped on stage.

She quickly followed with a near chronological order of some of her biggest hits and fan favorites. She started out with the timeless tunes from her tenure with the Supremes. These songs have lost none of their splendor with Ms. Ross. It’s nearly impossible not to sing along with her with the likes of “Baby Love,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and “Stop! In The Name of Love.” I don’t think she has aged a day since The Supremes 1962 debut.

It wasn’t soon that Ms. Ross turned to her everlasting solo career with some of her top dance/disco hits, “The Boss,” “Upside Down,” and “Love Hangover.” There are no words for the energy she produced in the room. A few lucky fans were even lucky enough to be chosen by Ms. Ross to come dance alongside her during “Upside Down.”

Although Ms. Ross knows how to throw a party with a song, some of my favorite moments of the concert were when she slowed it down and simply sang. “Touch Me In The Morning” and “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going Too)” are always amongst my favorite moments from each show I have seen of hers. For this concert, my favorite moment was when she embarked on Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain.” No one will ever be able to sing a song like Holiday, but Ross also proved that no one can sing a song like her.

Then Ms. Ross began to close the show. This is a process at one of her concerts. It’s hard to come off the high of Ross. She begins with her first solo hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” This song immediately had me on my feet. And yes, she can hit all the same notes she could when the song was released.

Then comes her cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Again, it’s impossible to sit as she walks the stage in her 5th gown of the evening belting a number everybody relates too. This is her closing number, but there is always room for an encore if the audience properly requests it (I’ve been to shows where she hasn’t returned). She closed the night with another one of her early hits “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).”

With each show I see of Ms. Ross’ I have always walked away amazed, not only from her pure musical talent, but the atmosphere she creates for an audience. When the music begins and her smile comes to the stage there is immediately a feeling of acceptance. When Ms. Ross sings she immediately erases your background, race, age, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. Her music and presence bring people together. This atmosphere is created through the love she portrays for every fan. It’s seen in the halls of the auditorium and the random dance partners found all over the concert hall.

I had two thoughts as I walked away from this show. First, entertainers just aren’t constructed the same as they once were. Ms. Ross comes from a land where autotune didn’t exist and dancers were not a necessity. She is the fully rounded performer.

My last thought walking away was, “When’s the next show?” I think I could see her a dozen more times and still want to see her again. Not many artists do this for me, and I’m often a tough critic, but it’s not just the music that brings me back. It’s the memories and love that I have wrapped up in her music and celebrity and how she brings this element together amongst everybody in the room. That is what keeps me returning.

Basically, when Ms. Ross enters a room, she makes it her house.

CONCERT: Leslie Becker, More Than You Think You’ve Got

I discovered Leslie Becker‘s music last year. Initially, I became hooked on her hit “Slow Burn” and then “Confidential.” I proceeded to visit her Soundcloud and listen to her wide array of songs from pop and country to musical theater. As an added bonus, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that she had written many of these compositions.

Leslie Becker at the W Hotel in Times SquareAlthough I have listened to her songs many times over, I have never seen her live until last Monday. I thought I had a firm grasp on her as an artist and performer and understood the culture she created through her music. I was wrong.

Becker performed at the W Hotel in Times Square. It was a double-header of sorts, for she was going to do a pop-up show at 7:00 strictly with her pop material and then an acoustic set was to begin at 7:30.

The 7:00 pop show was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Becker’s performance. I was mostly familiar with these tunes (“Slow Burn” and “Confidential”). She did not disappoint as her voice permeated the Living Room at the W. It may have been in a small venue, but she performed like it was Madison Square Garden.

Any music fan would have been completely satisfied with the first set, but the second set was really where Becker pushed her music into a new dimension. She started out with some of her more upbeat country songs, “Boy Toy” and “Marlboro Man.” These were great, but when she went into the country ballad “You Blues” I swear I felt my ears move.

Leslie Becker, Live at W Hotel in Times Square
Photos by Liz Maney

“You Blues” is a beautiful country ballad that you could easily hear classic country stars like The Judds, Vince Gill, or Reba McEntire belting. This song enveloped the true essence of country music and put a lot of the new and “bro” country to shame.

Becker then went into a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons.” This was an ironic part of the show for Becker works with Joe Vulpis, the producer credited for giving Lady Gaga her start in the music industry. Her vocals commanded the lyrics in such a way I almost forgot Becker wasn’t the original artist! She performed this as a duet with Alex Ortega.

The most touching part of the evening was Becker’s homage to her late mother. She explained how her mom had passed away last year unexpectedly. Although her mother passed, she still gave her one more gift. This gift was the song “Love and Such,” a balladesque song with an iron bite.

She closed out the show with more of her country compositions that were reminiscent of true country music and the foundations of rockabilly. She sang a duet with Catherine Porter entitled, “I Cried.” This song was just another that proves Becker just “gets” music.

That evening she also introduced her new single “More Than All You’ve Got.” This song is dance worthy and has a “clapable” beat, but it also gave me a thought on what seeing Becker live is to music listeners. For to truly grasp the artistry of Becker, you must see her live. Becker radiates on recordings, but she dominates the stage. Recordings and video do not give her justice. I’m not discounting her records, they are fashioned to perfection, but they only show one facade of this performer.

As a music fan, she is more than you think you’ve got.

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CONCERT: Cher, Dressed to Kill: There Is no “If,” It’s When

I made a mistake last Tuesday. I’m a sucker for concerts, especially of legends. I also like to take my mom to concerts of artists that were from her young days. She can tell me when she used to watch them on television from first-hand experience! This also serves as a good veil of deception when I just want to go to a concert.

So I got on Stubhub (a terrible, terrible website, don’t go there, you will be out money). I found 2 tickets, cheaply priced for Cher’s current Dressed to Kill Tour. I used to be a Cher fan, but I hadn’t listened to her for a while. I knew my mom and I would enjoy it together. And, did I mention that they were 3rd-row center?

Anyways, I had to have them. I had seen footage of many Cher shows and knew she put on a large production and I mean, come on, she’s Cher! So after finagling money out of this account and that credit card, the tickets were mine.

Saying the concert was spectacular is an understatement. I have always considered Cher the Goddess of Pop and she confirmed my accusations.

The concert began with her most recent dance hit, “Woman’s World.” She came down offphoto (3) a large pedestal adorned with a headdress colored in peacock colors. As she descended, she proceeded to take off her outer covering, exposing what a flamboyant Egyptian queen would wear. She was the audience’s Cleopatra and we were willing to do anything under her rule. She then immediately went into Strong Enough.” This song took on a vibe of its own as her dancers came out with gladiator shields showing that this immaculate diva could take you down and that she had the army to do it.

One of my favorite sequences was when Cher returned back to her musical foundation. She recreated “I Got You Babe” with Sonny projected on a screen directly behind her. They sang the song together as if it were 1965 once again. It was a time to reminisce for even those that weren’t alive during that generation. It was a musical time warp.

photo (2)From there, Cher went into her 3 number 1’s from the early 1970’s, “Gypsys, Tramps, and Thieves,” “Dark Lady,” and “Half Breed.” The stage turned into a traveling Circus troupe with three main rings and dancers to fill them all. Cher, dressed in what only an ostentatious gypsy could pull off, proceeded into her first two songs declaring how all the men would come around and lay their money down (despite calling them tramps during the day) and how a dark lady stole her man. She then disappeared behind the center ring’s curtain. Seconds later, after what seemed to be a semi Native American pow wow performed by her dancers, she reappeared in one of her signature looks, an Indian headdress with a matching crop top, a flowing loincloth, and that jet black, hip-length, black hair.

She then went into a homage to her most recent movie Burlesque. I am sure this photo (4)was to please her younger fans. She did an awe-inspiring rendition of “You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me.” This was the vocal highlight of the show. As one who has sung and taken lessons, this song is just plain hard. Cher has also been quoted as saying she has never been accepted into the singing group or acting group amidst her qualifications. This song shows that she is a vocal powerhouse; better yet, a vocal mansion.

Then came what  I call the “down-low” stage of the concert. She stripped it down for three of her more acoustic songs “Walking in Memphis,” “Just Like Jesse James,” and “Heart of Stone.” Her vocals were perfection.

photo (6)

Then came what I think any moderate Cher fan was looking forward to. It was time for the leotard. You know that one that barely covers the “bathing suit” areas? You know that one with the thigh-high boots and 100’s of strategically placed rhinestones? Yeah, that one. She proceeded into “I Found Someone” and “If I Could Turn Back Time.” Everybody in the arena was groveling at her feet and every woman was trying to figure out why they couldn’t pull that outfit off at their age (including the youngsters).

Lastly, she performed her number one smash “Believe.” It was indeed amazing, although I felt it was her encore that solidified her as the goddess she truly is. As the lights went low and the audience yelling, a platform floated from the back of the arena and landed center stage. Once it landed, Cher emerged from the starry darkness. She had on a flowing dress and upon her head was what only a Diva Pop Goddess crown would look like (I didn’t know until then what one looked like). She was then lifted over the whole audience while singing “I Hope You Find It” from her latest album Closer to The Truth.

This was an especially emotional and moving time of the concert. Cher had said this

From Cherworld.com/ Phoenix show
From Cherworld.com/ Phoenix show

was definitely her last tour (with a wink, wink), but I think she may be serious. While she was singing the song, I felt like Cher was expressing contentment. She is accepted by people more important than the Oscar and Grammy elitist. She is accepted by thousands of fans that have adored her for 5 decades. She has finally done what we all hope to do, find it.

In the end, I walked away from the concert completely stunned. How a 67-year-old lady can perform and sing to that degree is astounding. She puts new performers to shame. For the longest time, one of my favorite Cher songs was “If I Could Turn Back Time.” Well, there was no question after the show. It was not “if she could turn back time,” it was when. The concert was about Cher, as a vocal, acting, and pop culture phenomenon without an expiration date.

photo (7)After reflection, I realized the concert sent a different message as well. She proved happiness is immortal, that acceptance is fleeting, and contentment was priceless. Only a performer of her caliber could prove this.

So, as a seasoned concert fanatic, I feel she best summed it up in her first “Farewell Tour.” She said  to all her younger contemporaries “follow this, you bitches.”

But let’s be honest…they can’t even find her footprint.

CONCERT: Lionel Richie, Runnin’ All Night Long

I truly experienced an amazing concert. I’ve never felt so easy watching a show. Although, there was a lot of dancing, some were ballerinas, while others were just up on the ceiling. The artist was stuck on you, as if you were the only one in the whole arena. It was worth every penny.

Just in case you were wondering, on Saturday evening, Tulsa Oklahoma’s Hard Rock Casino hosted the show Lionel Richie: All the Hits, All Night Long tour. I had IMG_5040purchased VIP tickets so that my mom and I would be able to meet him and get a picture. She’s been a fan longer then I’ve been alive, and I couldn’t pass it up either. I let him know that I had been a fan since the womb.

It was a full brick house. It was a completely sold out event. Mr. Richie opened the concert with “Just for You” and then immediately headed into his hits with “Penny Lover.” He covered every spectrum of his musical career, from his early Commodore days to “Hello” and beyond.

I have never felt so much energy in a concert hall. From the moment Lionel set foot on stage everybody was up. Even during his slow songs you would stand and belt them out. He moves just as if he was still a Commodore. Throughout the concert he made a point to share stories, talk with the audience, and even play a prank.

And boy was it a mean one for me.

IMG_5080Right before he went into “Endless Love (one of my favorite songs for many reasons),” he said that he had called his friend, Diana. You know, Ms. Ross? Well, he had supposedly asked her to come join him at this concert. I had seen Ross early this year in the Hard rock, so to my logic, that made perfect sense. After I finished screaming and yelling shut up, he ended the joke by telling us all she had said…no. I would pay money just to see that song live. That prank played heavily with my emotions.

My favorite song of the night was “Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady.” He said he wrote this song for his mom. One day his dad came home and wanted to toast his mom. He said three beautiful things about her and a song was born. Richie said his dad was always trying to get the royalties off of that song. Since I was with my mom, I found the moment particularly touching.

Ok, sorry, no more mushy gushy stuff.

I have been to many concerts of older performers and newer, but this concert will stick outIMG_5137 as one of the best. There was no disappointment in the show. The band was fun and interactive, the videos and set were spectacular, and then Lionel himself was pretty much flawless. I don’t think that his voice has aged at all.

In the end, I could have stayed all night long. He closed the show with an encore of “We Are the World,” of which he dedicated to his late friend Michael Jackson. This placed everybody in the arena on the same page, and it was chilling hearing that many people sing this legendary song.

You know you’ve been to a good concert when your body feels completely worn out as you walk out of the auditorium. Mr. Richie was able to connect with his audience and when you walked out that door, you actually felt you knew him personally. That is the true essences of a good concert. That is the essence of a good performer.

IMG_5142He also broke a few no autographs rules for me and signed my album cover. As I sail on I will always have this reminder of a great concert.