Music, Theatre Reviews

Hamilton: In the Room Where it Happened

What’s your name, man?

 

Alexander Hamilton

My name is Alexander Hamilton

And there’s a million things I haven’t done

But just you wait, just you wait

 

These lyrics come from the song “Alexander Hamilton,” the opening number of the Broadway smash hit Hamilton: An American Musical.

So why is DJ Dave writing about Hamilton? My family and I attended a matinee performance of Hamilton on Broadway in New York on May 1st. While my daughters Amy, Stephanie and Julianne had all attended shows on Broadway in the past, this was the first opportunity for my wife Priscilla and I to attend a show in New York.

For this edition of my musical musings, I will be exploring my first ever attendance of a Broadway musical, specifically focusing on the music of Hamilton. My daughter Stephanie will also be sharing some of her thoughts on the biggest Broadway musical hit in recent memory.

The playwright, lyricist, and star of Hamilton is Lin-Manuel Miranda. He based his musical on a 2004 biography of founding father Alexander Hamilton, written by historian Ron Chernow. Miranda bought a copy of Chernow’s book and took quite a few years researching Alexander Hamilton’s life before coming up with the finished product.

In fact, as Miranda told CNBC: “It took me seven years to write this show. This is no overnight success — took me a year to write the second song in the show ‘My Shot.’ I’m in awe of people who can just write well and quickly.”

“…[I]t took me a long time to be able to write about that guy, but that was sort of what inspired me about his story,” Miranda stated in the CNBC interview.

Hamilton stage door at Richard Rodgers Theatre, 46th Street, New York. May 1st, 2019.

A tweet Miranda wrote in 2009 shows the struggle behind his genius: “Spent the entire day working on one couplet about George Washington. Hamilton’s slow-going, my friends, but I promise you it will be worth it. It’s hard converting whole swaths of history into a hot 16 bars.”

Since this message is strictly about the music and songs of Hamilton, I will not be critiquing the traditional theatre aspects of the play, or the historical accuracy of Miranda’s script. Much has been written on those features during the past four years, and you can check out those unique evaluations elsewhere by searching the Internet.

Julianne, Stephanie and Amy Woodson in front of the Schuyler Sisters silhouette, Richard Rodgers Theatre. May 1st, 2019

After seeing Hamilton on Broadway, it is evident to me that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music is the glue that holds together the story of the script. I estimate that some type of music was played at least 98 percent of the time during the play.

The show actually contains 46 songs. According to Leah Libresco from FiveThirtyEight, there are “20,500 words in the Hamilton script and an average of 144 words are-sung, rapped or spoken per minute.”

In an interview by Rembert Browne of Grantland, Miranda stated it would be impossible to tell Hamilton’s story at the traditional pace of a Broadway play.

“It would have to be 12 hours long, because the amount of words on the bars when you’re writing a typical song — that’s maybe got 10 words per line,” declared Miranda.

Hamilton clocks in at 2 hours and 23 minutes and is broken down into two acts. The pace of the play is excellent, aided by the carefully crafted songs. I consider the majority of the songs in the show to have up-tempo rhythms but there are select ballads that are normally associated with Broadway theatre.

Hamilton playbill autographed by Austin Scott, the actor who plays “Alexander Hamilton” in New York. May 1st, 2019.

The music from Hamilton is altogether different than most other musicals on Broadway. Miranda utilizes hip-hop as the unifying musical style throughout his theatre masterpiece.

However, don’t misunderstand: Hamilton is more than just a hip-hop music vehicle. The play also incorporates unique and diverse sounds from genres such as R&B, big band jazz, pop, rock, rap, and traditional show tune melodies. Miranda’s blending of multiple musical genres has proven to be a groundbreaking success in the world of Broadway musicals.

As stated above, Hamilton’s script contains over twenty thousand words. Miranda’s fusion of lyrics with various styles of music is brilliant. So what makes the blending of words and music in Hamilton come alive during this Broadway play?

Stephanie Woodson is front of Hamilton silhouette, Richard Rodgers Theatre. May 1st, 2019.

According to my daughter Stephanie Woodson, Miranda’s use of repetition is one of the keys to success with Hamilton: “As an English teacher, I cannot stress enough the importance of an author using repetition. There is something immensely satisfying about it. Hamilton’s use of repetition indeed left me satisfied. The connections within the lyrics are simply a work of genius. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a true artist.”

So you may be asking: What are the best Hamilton songs, from purely a musical standpoint? After spending my afternoon watching the play, I have fresh comprehension of Miranda’s music.

While many Broadway critics have ranked what they consider to be the “best” songs from Hamilton, I am going to refrain from this type of critique. The rest of my message will chronicle what I feel are the most significant songs from a diverse musical perspective.

Please note that as I transition to a detailed accounting of Hamilton songs, none of the songs I am listing are ranked and are all placed in a totally random order.

 

Stephanie, Amy and Julianne Woodson on Times Square, two hours prior to attending Hamilton show. May 1st, 2019.

My Shot

 

“My Shot,” the third track from Act 1, is a quintessential throwback to 90’s old school hip-hop. The song features a killer beat, is catchy and reminiscent of golden age rap.

 

The phrase, “I’m not throwing away my shot” is repeated in multiple other songs that follow and the unforgettable line is a foundation for the entire show. This is an impressive song.

 

The Room Where It Happened

 

“The Room Where It Happened” by far is one of the most musically complex songs in Hamilton. The music fuses big band/ New Orleans style jazz, new wave, pop, hip-hop and even features a banjo. “The Room Where It Happened” has a prominent backing chorus and is similar to traditional show tunes on Broadway.

 

Stephanie and Priscilla Woodson inside Richard Rodgers Theatre, just minutes prior to the start of Hamilton. May 1st, 2019.

Helpless

 

“Helpless” is song that focuses on the romance and eventual wedding of Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton. I describe the song as classic Motown/R&B/hip-hop, girl group groove. Lyrics are half-rapped, half-sung cadences and the upbeat, sing-a-long chorus help make “Helpless” one of the more memorable songs from Hamilton.

 

Wait For It

 

“Wait For It” has Aaron Burr lamenting about Alexander Hamilton’s quick rise to power and showing determination to ultimately prevail against his foe. The tender pop ballad has an excellent mix of stuttering beats and a Jamaican reggae dancehall sound. A cello played with the melody line gives the song a superb vibration.

 

Satisfied

 

“Satisfied” features a duet between Angelica Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton. Arguably the most popular song in the play, it combines R&B/hip-hop grooves with a string section and chorus line backing. The rapid-fire vocal delivery, followed closely by singing of operatic vocal runs by Angelica is absolutely amazing.

 

Priscilla and David Woodson in front of Hamilton silhouette, Richard Rodgers Theatre. May 1st, 2019.

You’ll Be Back

 

“You’ll Be Back” is an outstanding tribute to British Invasion pop/rock and American Sunshine Pop from the 60’s. I definitely heard influences of the Beatles’ songs “Penny Lane” and “Getting Better” during the play, as well as positive vibes similar to the Turtles’ song “Happy Together.” Miranda’s musical salute to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is the catchiest song in his award-winning musical.

 

Non Stop

 

“Non Stop” is the last song of Act 1 before intermission and utilizes the best of multiple musical genres. This melodic tune blends piano based synth pop, samba, reggae, funk and even record scratching as part of the mix. The diversity and blending of musical styles on this song is a masterful work of art.

 

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

 

“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” completes the Hamilton play as the last song of the show. Although it is most like traditional Broadway show-tunes, the song still fuses R&B/hip-hop/pop with a lush classical orchestra musical bed. With the entire cast singing on this selection, the song is a crown jewel as the finale of the show.

 

 

Priscilla and David Woodson at Times Square, two hours prior to attending Hamilton show. May 1st, 2019.

Obviously, there are many other excellent songs in Hamilton but I have limited my writing to just the 8 tunes listed above. For additional information on Hamilton music, please go to the official Hamilton New York online site.

Before I leave the topic of Hamilton, I must ask the question: Will the music of Hamilton appeal to all different types of theatre patrons? Especially those loving traditional old school Broadway plays?

Since some people have an aversion to any type of hip-hop music, I understand how those folks will never embrace the music of Hamilton. Even though Miranda’s story is based on the beginning history of America’s founding fathers, Hamilton’s music will never resonate with some individuals.

However, for the rest of us, Hamilton’s music is riveting, exhilarating and stimulating. Without a doubt, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical theatre achievement is one of the most engaging Broadway plays to be performed during the 21st Century

Julianne, Stephanie and Amy Woodson with Austin Scott, the actor who plays “Alexander Hamilton” at Richard Rodgers Theatre stage door. May 1st, 2019.

As I ponder back on my first ever Broadway play experience, I was definitely blessed to attend Hamilton as my first show. I told my family, “I’m not throwing away my shot” and missing the opportunity to see Hamilton in New York. Sharing this event with my family will always be a fond memory for me.

Lyrics for “The Schuyler Sisters” song summarizes my final thoughts on Hamilton:

 

Look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now!

History is happening in Manhattan and we just happen to be,

In the greatest city in the world.

 

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Artist Profiles, Music, Radio, Virginia Artists

Robin and Linda Williams: The Shenandoah Valley’s Musical Pioneers

When I want to hear quintessential Americana music, all I need to do is to travel up the Shenandoah Valley, 90 miles from Roanoke to Staunton, for the music of Robin and Linda Williams.

Known to many for their regular performances on Garrison Keillor’s live radio show “A Prairie Home Companion,” the husband and wife duo have been making music from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia since the 1970’s.

As their official website states: “For more than four decades now, Robin & Linda have made it their mission to perform the music that they love, ‘a robust blend of bluegrass, folk, old-time and acoustic country that combines wryly observant lyrics with a wide-ranging melodicism.

“Today some might call it ‘Americana,’ but these two revered music masters were living and breathing this elixir 20 years before that label was turned into a radio format.”

Robin and Linda Williams in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

Last month, I spoke with Robin and Linda via phone to find out what the couple has been doing musically over the course of their career and to check out what their plans are for 2019.

I first met Robin and Linda during my junior year attending James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia during the late 70’s. I worked at public radio station WMRA and was the producer of a daily radio program called “Country Afternoon.”

My radio program featured folk, bluegrass and old time country music. Once a month, “Country Afternoon” would have bands and performers from the Shenandoah Valley come to the station to give a live one-hour concert on the radio. Robin and Linda performed on my “Country Afternoon” radio program. Little did I know that this husband and wife duo from Augusta County would one day be nationally known for their iconic music style.

Robin and Linda met in 1971 and quickly realized that they made beautiful music together. The duo started writing their own songs and by 1975, they recorded their first album, the self-titled, “Robin and Linda Williams” on Flashlight Records in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Around the same time, the husband and wife team met Garrison Keillor in Minnesota. As Robin and Linda’s website states: “They made their first appearance on a little radio show just getting off the ground called “A Prairie Home Companion” and their rich relationship with that icon of American broadcasting has continued for four decades.”

In my joint phone interview with Robin and Linda last month, I asked the Williamses if they ever lived in Minnesota? Linda replied “No. We would fly to Minneapolis on Thursday evenings prior to a Saturday show and then stay in the land of 10,000 lakes for a total of 11 days. We would then perform on consecutive Saturdays but still live in the Shenandoah Valley.”

The Virginian couple met Garrison Keillor, “when he came to see us at a venue about 60 miles from St. Paul,” Linda explained. “After watching us for a set of songs, Keillor asked us to come play the radio show. That was in the fall of 1975 and we have worked with him ever since: On the radio, doing concerts and performing on cruise ships.”

“Concerning Garrison, he has been a friend and a mentor to us and he’s the most talented person we’ve ever been around. And we’ve been around some legends”, Linda admired.   The Shenandoah Valley couple will be working again will Keillor again next winter on a Cuban cruise.

Robin and Linda Williams

Over the years, the duo has performed thousands of concerts across the United States, Canada and Europe. Additionally, Robin and Linda are known as superb songwriters. Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kathy Mattea, Tom T. Hall, George Hamilton IV and the Seldom Scene have all covered songs written by Robin and Linda.

According to their website, “Robin and Linda have made appearances on such major programs as ‘The Grand Old Opry,’ ‘Austin City Limits,’ ‘Music City Tonight,’ ‘Mountain Stage’ and they continue to make frequent appearances on ‘A Prairie Home Companion.’   Having always sung gospel music, in the late 1980s they teamed up with their old friend and “A Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor and bluegrass songstress Kate MacKenzie to form The Hopeful Gospel Quartet.

Robin and Linda Williams

One of the things that I admire the most about Robin and Linda’s music is their focus on the place they have called home for over 40 years: The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

I asked the Williamses if they could share with me the influence that living in the Shenandoah Valley has had on their music. Here are Robin and Linda’s thoughts with their four selections:

 

  1. “Stonewall Country”

 

“[This song] got its title from a little known fact that the term was used in the early to mid-19th century as a moniker for the Shenandoah Valley. Evidently the farmers used the limestone rocks they cleared from their fields as fences and walls, thus “stone wall country.”

 

“We changed the title to “Stonewall Country” because the song was written for the musical we wrote about Stonewall Jackson for the “The Theater “at Lime Kiln in Lexington, Virginia.

 

I make my home in Stonewall Country/Down a crooked lane/Where the fields steep and rocky/Took such toil to claim/Now the plows run deep in Stonewall Country/The ground gives back good yields/And the rocks that blocked the furrows/So worrisome to wield/Stand in fences ‘round the fields.

 

I may leave the Shenandoah/But she’ll never leave my heart/ Stonewall Country, clear-eyed daughter of the stars/Stonewall Country, clear-eyed daughter of the stars.

  1. “Buena Vista”

 

“Another song that comes to mind our song “Buena Vista,” a tale that mentions not only the Rockbridge County town but also some landmarks like the Maury River.”

 

So you beat a path to Rockbridge Baths/ ’cause blood kin won’t quit ya/

Or try to dry you out like they do in Buena Vista/

It’s a long walk from your front porch to the Maury River’s edge/

But it’s longer when you’re drunk and hauling back a broken leg/

So here’s to the sawbones who pinned you up and fixed ya/

But you’re out of action lying in traction down in Buena Vista

 

  1. “These Old Dark Hills”

 

“Linda got the title of the song “These Old Dark Hills” after a late afternoon winter walk around our property and looking over to the Allegheny Mountains. Seeing those mountains every day for over forty years, they almost seem like friends,” said Robin.

These Old Dark Hills/On which sore eyes can rest/These Old Dark Hills/Ridge after ridge to the west          

  1. “October Light”

 

“[This] is a song that comes quickly to mind. It’s about the beauty of fall in the Shenandoah Valley.”

Each day we walk up on the hill/And watch the setting sun/Play on the trees and fields until/It falls and day is done/Yellow, orange, blue and rose/The colors neon bright/The evening sky is all aglow/With this October Light.

 

Robin and Linda Williams

Obviously, the Shenandoah Valley is a special place for Robin and Linda. However, their songs cover a wide variety of topics and are respected by fellow songwriters all across many genres of music.

So I asked the Williams couple if they could share with me their top 5 essential songs. These would be the songs they would like for a person to hear, if they were checking out the Virginia duo’s music for the first time. Here are Robin and Linda’s thoughts on each song:

 

  1. “Old Plank Road”

 

“On the last day of filming ‘A Prairie Home Companion,’ director Robert Altman’s last movie, we were asked to perform one of our songs to use for the movie soundtrack. ‘Old Plank Road,’ is a song about a music party in Batesville, VA, and Altman used seven or eight minutes of the film cutting away from us singing it to other scenes that helped develop the story line.”

Charlie you’re a good old boy Charlie you’re all right/Charlie open up the store, we’re coming down tonight/Out where you can see the stars and the living’s slow/We’ll eat potluck and pull guitars down on Old Plank Road.

  1. “Rolling and Rambling (the Death of Hank Williams)”

 

[This song] has never left our repertoire (probably the only one) and which Emmylou Harris recorded.”

Rolling and Rambling, the women loved him half to death/He sang with whiskey on his breath/His heart broke like a child/Rolling and Rambling, the sun has set out on the trail/The hobo’s drifted up the rail/He’s taken his last ride.

 

  1. “Don’t Let Me Come Home A Stranger”

 

“[This song] was in the “Stonewall Country” musical and has made it into the repertoires and recordings of several American and British Isles singers.”

Will there come a time when the memories fade/And pass on with the long, dark years/When the ties no longer bind. Lord save me from this darkest fear/Don’t Let Me Come Home A Stranger/I couldn’t stand to be a stranger

  1. “Across The Blue Mountains”

 

“[This is] a local, traditional, a cappella song that we found on a party tape with Paul Clayton singing it. We’ve sung it for over 35 years and it’s the vehicle that opened the door to our friendship with the legendary Dave Van Ronk.”

One morning, one morning, one morning in May/I heard a married man to a young girl say/Go dress you up pretty Katy and come go with me/Across the Blue Mountains to the Allegheny

 

  1. “Famous In Missouri”

 

“We’re proud of it because it was sung and released as a single by Tom T. Hall, a member of the Country Music and Songwriters Halls of Fame. He was so successful and had such respect as a songwriter that folks labeled him “The Story Teller.” His recording of our song helped us garner respect as songwriters ourselves.”

I was famous in Missouri/Everybody knew my name/Kansas City to old St. Louis/They knew how well I played my game/Now it sure feels strange /To be in South Dakota, out on the range

Robin and Linda Williams in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

Being part of the Shenandoah Valley music community has always been extremely important for the Williams couple. Linda states, “We have a network of local musician friends – some professional, some not – some old, some new – and via this musical community we’ve been able make contributions to the area.

“Robin and I started a concert series at the Lime Kiln Theater during the mid-80s. We have also helped start a couple of festivals: The Oak Grove Folk Music Festival in Verona (now in its 36th year) and the Fortune-Williams Festival with Jimmy Fortune, the Country Music Hall Of Famer, which ran for 10 years.”

Clearly, Robin and Linda have been an integral part of the Shenandoah Valley music scene for over 40 years and the duo continues to work on and develop new musical projects here in 2019.

Robin and Linda Williams

One proposed project is for a new musical TV show on Virginian music called ‘Road Trip: Virginia Live.’ Robin explains, “The idea is to go to historic venues in Virginia and present a half hour music show based not only on the musical acts but also the venues.”

The other project for the Williamses this year is the production of a new album, which will be recorded at their home in Staunton. “We called our friend Kevin McNoldy, who showed up with portable recording gear and two Townsend microphones in April and we recorded six songs,” said Linda.

“Our house in Staunton is old and has high ceilings and the room sounds wonderful, better than some studios we’ve recorded in the past,” she said. “We sat in our living room with those Townsend mics and got some really good stuff. Robin and I have recorded six CDs with Kevin in the past and it’s been fun re-connecting with him. We’ll continue recording in June and July.”

Robin and Linda Williams in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

Touring has always been an important part in the musical career of Robin and Linda, and the couple will have concerts scheduled between now and October. Their next show will be at The Harvester in Rocky Mount, Virginia. The Williamses’ friend, Scott Miller will be opening up for the duo at this concert venue. I am looking forward attending this concert, along with my wife Priscilla. For more information on upcoming concerts and to purchase music, please go to the official Robin and Linda website.

What will be the legacy of Robin and Linda? They are leaders in the Shenandoah Valley music scene and their fingerprints are throughout the musical landscape of Virginia. Without a doubt, Robin and Linda Williams are the quintessential duo of Americana music in America!

 

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Artist Profiles, Music

Sara Niemietz: Born for the Stage

Bruce Springsteen claims he was “Born to Run” while John Kay of Steppenwolf singings he was “Born to be Wild.” Musician and singer-songwriter Sara Niemietz, meanwhile, was born for the stage.

Niemietz started her career as a child actress, performing in theatre productions, television shows, film roles and multiple musical performances. Now as an adult, Niemietz is focused on being a musician, singing and writing music. Her new album, “Get Right” was just released on March 22nd.

Most children absolutely have no idea what they want to be when they grow up. Not so for Niemietz. She found out early in her life that she wanted to be on a stage: Singing, playing and performing for an audience. “Music is my first language. I grew up in the arms of melody and harmony,” Niemietz explains. “My mom and dad are tremendous musicians in their own right. Dad sang in rock bands in Chicago and Mom sang in church and played accordion.”

She was just a young child when an event happened that changed her life: “When I was four, my parents took me to my first concert: BJ Thomas,” Niemietz said. “I’d learned his oeuvre, thanks to many car rides singing along with my family. I’m a big fan. He saw me sitting in the front row at his concert singing along, and pulled me up on stage to sing ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ with him. It was even captured on film. That’s when I knew – this (whatever this is!) – this live performance thing – is what I needed to spend my time doing.”

By age 11, Niemietz was singing regularly on stage. If you go to the Sara Niemietz Youtube page, you can she a video of Sara at age 11, singing the Carole King/Gerry Goffin song, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at the Cat Club on Sunset Strip. Even at this young age, Sara’s vocal range was strong and she was confident with her delivery on the song made famous by Aretha Franklin.

Sara was involved with music, theatre, TV and film productions during her childhood and as a young adult. (To read more about Sara’s many non-musical accomplishments, please go to her official website.

In 2012, Niemietz reunited with B. J. Thomas on the Grand Ole Opry stage and once again sang, “Hooked on a Feeling” with the pop and country singer. She has also worked with Richard Marx and Melissa Manchester with various projects.

Sara Niemietz: Photo by Joerg Preger

During the past few years, Niemietz has collaborated with W.G. Snuffy Walden, who is a musician and a composer. Walden has written hundreds of film and television soundtracks over the years. He has accompanied Niemietz on various music projects. Some are cover versions of songs, while other tunes are original compositions.

Social media is also a huge focus for Niemietz. According to her website, “Sara’s heartfelt songs and highly interactive approach to social media have garnered over nineteen million views and over a hundred fourteen thousand followers and subscribers across various new media platforms.”

The other big activity for Niemietz is being involved with Scott Bradlee’s, Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) group. PMJ is known for taking popular 21st century contemporary songs and rearranging those songs into a different genre of musical style. Many of the PMJ songs are performed in 1920’s jazz or swing format.

Niemietz’s musical taste is diverse. She enjoys, jazz, blues, swing, pop and rock. When I first communicated with Sara about the possibility of writing her musical story, I shared with Niemietz my blog message, “This is It: Yacht Rock” from last summer. After reading the post, she responded, “I myself am a massive Yacht Rock fan and Steely Dan is my favorite band.”

Obviously, Niemietz is an excellent singer. However, she is much more than just an exceptional voice talent. The 26-year old singer is also an outstanding musician. A quote from her website states: “Sara enjoys playing guitar, bass, and piano, and is often engaged in both singing and writing sessions. She can be frequently found in her natural habitat: live shows.”

W.G. Snuffy Walden and Sara Niemietz performing music. Photo by Danuta Lehmann

As I reflect on Sara’s passion for performing as a musician and singer, I am reminded of 1975 Seals the Crofts song, “I’ll Play For You”:

 

Tonight while the lights are shinin’ and the microphone is on, I’ll play for you.

So many will be the blessings and so short will the time, I’ll stay with you.

 

I’ve practiced many years and I have come a long, long way just to play for you.

My life is but a song that I have written in many ways, just to say to you.

 

And these few moments we’ll share together, and I’ll play for you.

 

The album cover for “Get Right” Sara Niemietz

Last month, Niemietz released a new album, “Get Right,” which she and W.G. Snuffy Walden produced together. Ten songs are on the new album. Nine-songs were written by Niemietz, along with various co-writers. The tenth tune is a cover of “Crying,” a song first made popular by Roy Orbison during 1961.

Here are some of Niemietz’s thoughts from the “Get Right” liner notes: “This album is musical journey that traces the arc of the last year. From magical highs to heartbreaking lows, last year brought love, loss, adventure, confusion, and wonder. Through it all, music helped me to make sense of life. It was a lens through which the picture became a bit more clear. When I’m at a loss trying to wrap my head around my day, myself, the world around, on even simple liner notes (Wink, Wink), music captures what I can’t say. It translates my deepest feelings into something definable and hopefully hummable. In fact, there is a friendly fragment of a melody swirling around my head while I type this. What a good feeling.”

The music on “Get Right” is pop-focused according to Niemietz, but it does incorporate other musical genres. As I listen to the album, I hear some jazz, blues, country and even a little gospel influence as part of the music mix.

The album opens up with, “Waiting on the Day,” which is a perfect tune that sets the tone for Niemietz’s top-notch vocal delivery. Up-tempo songs like, “Feet Don’t Touch the Floor,” “Don’t Leave Me Hanging,” and the title track, “Get Right” are all catchy and pleasing to the ears.

Niemietz showcases her exceptional vocal range on some of the ballads with the new album. “Made to Last,” “Shine,” “Hear Me Now,” and “Crying” all bring out superb and outstanding emotional outpouring when she is singing. To purchase the “Get Right” album, please to go the official Sara Niemietz website.

Currently, Niemietz is in the midst of her “Spring 2019 Tour,” playing in the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Touring with Niemietz is W.G. Snuffy Walden and Jonathan Richards. They will play in Europe through the end of April. Sara also plans to tour in the United States during the summer of 2019.

Being an independent artist without a recording contract, Niemietz has to wear many hats. For her latest, “Get Right” album, she was a producer, musician, singer and the chief promoter for this new project. Niemietz even personally mailed pre-ordered copies of the new album to fans that purchased “Get Right” prior to the March 22nd released date.

Sara Niemietz: Photo by Julien Garros

For Niemietz, one of the positive things about being an independent artist is the freedom to set her own schedule for musical activities. She enjoys interacting with her fans on social media sites as well as performing her songs in concert settings. To view any of her videos online, please go to the Sara Niemietz youtube channel.

Ever since she was four years old, Niemietz knew that she wanted to be on a stage in some type of capacity. The small seed planted at that time has now blossomed into a radiant flower for the world to enjoy. Without a doubt, Sara Niemietz was born for the stage.

 

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Artist Profiles, Music

Annie Lawrence: I Will Survive

Singer-songwriter Annie Lawrence is a survivor. A quote from her website says it all: “Roanoke raised, Nashville girl, has lived through ovarian cancer, a broken back, broken romance and being a preacher’s kid.”

With the life experiences described above, one would think that Lawrence would be an excellent writer of country music songs. However, Annie doesn’t limit herself with a single genre of music as she flows through multiple musical categories with her compositions.

Annie’s own description of her music is “Kitchen sink pop.” She blends an indie-singer vibe with rock, country, contemporary folk, alternative pop and a little bluegrass, for a refreshing musical style. Lawrence has been told by Nashville music producers that her vocal and musical style is somewhere in between Kacey Mugraves and Taylor Swift.

Annie Lawrence promotional photo for “If I’m Being Honest” album.

After I spoke with Annie via phone earlier this month, I couldn’t help but think of Gloria Gaynor’s classic disco hit from the 70’s, “I Will Survive” when thinking about her life story.

 

At first I was afraid, I was petrified,

And I spent, oh, so many nights just feeling sorry for myself

I used to cry but now I hold my head up high

Did you think I’d crumble?

Did you think I’d lay down and die?

 

Oh, no, not I

I will survive

Oh, as long as I know how to love I know I’ll stay alive

I’ve got all my life to live

I’ve got all my love to give

And I’ll survive

I will survive

 

Although “I Will Survive” is not a perfect song to describe Lawrence’s current status, it does reflect the mindset and lifestyle that Annie is now utilizing in her life. You can also understand Annie’s life by listening to her new album, “If I’m Being Honest,” that was just released on March 15.

Born in Roanoke, Virginia, Annie attended Hidden Valley High School and graduated in 2008. Lawrence was a good athlete in high school as she played both volleyball and softball at Hidden Valley.

During Annie’s teen years, she picked up a love for bluegrass from her father Quigg Lawrence, and her biggest influences musically came from Allison Krauss and the Dixie Chicks. She also played piano and sang during worship services at Church of the Holy Spirit, an Anglican parish in Roanoke. The first seeds of a music career were developed at that time.

Annie Lawrence promotional photo

Annie’s love for music grew during her days attending James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she graduated in 2012. She first started playing guitar during her sophomore year at JMU and performed at various music events on campus.

Lawrence credits many college courses at JMU with helping her to decide on a music career. One JMU class in particular, a song-writing course, gave Annie the desire and courage to pursue music as a lifetime goal.

Another positive influence for Annie during her JMU days was being part of Alethia Church in Harrisonburg. Lawrence played guitar and sang with the worship team. This experience was another reason she went on to pursue a music profession.

Ellie Holcomb with Annie Lawrence

The summer between her junior and senior years at JMU, Annie traveled to Nashville, Tennessee and recorded an EP called, “Light is Stronger.” Lawrence had the opportunity to work with the husband/wife team of Drew & Ellie Holcomb on the album. With this experience, Annie’s goal of a music career was already in gear.

Graduating from JMU with a “Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication” major and a “Music Industry” minor, Annie then set her sights on Nashville and moved there after graduation.

Annie Lawrence performing in Roanoke concert, 3/24/19. Photo by Quigg Lawrence.

Breaking into the music industry is never easy. The Lovin’ Spoonful’s 1967 hit, “Nashville Cats” accurately describes the country music capitol of America:

 

Well, there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two

Guitar pickers in Nashville

And they can pick more notes than the number of ants

On a Tennessee ant hill

 

Yeah, there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two

Guitar cases in Nashville

And any one unpacks his guitar

Can play twice better than I will

 

Annie Lawrence

With thousands of wannabe artists moving to Nashville on a yearly basis, making a living as a music artist is hard. Annie’s story is no different. And to make things even worst, she was diagnosed with cancer in November 2013. “I look back, and it’s all kind of a blur,” Lawrence said. Obviously, this totally rearranged priorities in Annie’s life.

Thankfully, doctors successfully removed the cancer from Annie’s body with surgery and she has been in remission for the past five years. It hasn’t been easy being a cancer survivor as Annie has struggled with various other health issues. Through these struggles, Annie has learned to be strong in spite of her difficulties.

During 2015, Annie recorded and released her first album, “Everything Changes.” Lawrence played mandolin for the first time on the album and singer-songwriter Natalie Grant is featured on the title track. Lawrence’s song writing showed maturity during this time period.

Annie Lawrence with Lauren Daigle

Over the past few years, Annie has toured or collaborated with Jenny & Tyler, Ellie Holcomb, Lauren Daigle, Kayla Woodson and Leslie Jordan of All Sons & Daughters. She also performed on the Grand Ole Opry stage with Natalie Grant five years ago.

Forward to 2019: Annie is extremely happy that her new album, “If I’m Being Honest” is now available for the world to hear. Lawrence’s new full-length album has 11-tracks, with Thomas Doeve and Adam Agin as the producers of this new music.

The album liner describes Lawrence’s new music as: “Inspired by a number of meaningful experiences, Annie draws inspiration from these memories as well as from songwriters including Nicole Galyon, Luke Laird, Shane McAnally.”

“If I’m Being Honest” Annie Lawrence album cover.

Two main themes of Annie’s new album are: understanding that she has been given a second chance in life as a cancer survivor and the overcoming of three broken relationships.

Annie explains, “This project is so much more than a bunch of breakup songs: it’s anxiety, it’s illness, it’s questioning faith, it’s losing people you love, it’s losing yourself, and slowly but surely finding it again, it’s overcoming, it’s triumph, it’s the heart of me, If I’m Being Honest.”

“These are the 11 songs that make up my last 3+ years and there are 5 million things I could say about each one of them. So many feelings, so many memories, so many emotions wrapped into each song.”

“I think you will find that Annie Lawrence is not who you thought she was. That in every situation there’s a lot more then meets the eye. That maybe I’ve never gotten the chance to truly be honest, until now.”

Annie Lawrence

Here are the 11 songs on the “If I Am Being Honest” album.

  1.  Fallin’
  2.  Over Thinkin’
  3.  Ashes & Smoke
  4.  Good Luck
  5.  New York or Me
  6.  Dead To Me
  7.  Losing You
  8.  3 Years
  9.  Out of My Head
  10.  Follow Through
  11.  Last Goodbye

Annie Lawrence and band practicing for “If I’m Being Honest” tour. Photo by Quigg Lawrence.

My favorite song from Annie’s new album is “Good Luck.”

The lyrics begin by mentioning Lafayette, Indiana and it reminds me of a song by the 1970 “one hit wonder” R. Dean Taylor and his number 1 tune, “Indiana Wants Me.”

 

“Indiana wants me

Lord, I can’t go back there

Indiana wants me

Lord, I can’t go back there

I wish I had you to talk to”

 

Annie now has an answer follow up song to “Indiana Wants Me” with her “Good Luck” tune, as she sings during the chorus: “Nothing you can do can bring me back to Indiana, good luck to YOU.” A clever song, indeed!

Annie Lawrence with her guitar

You can purchase Annie’s new album, “If I’m Being Honest” at Annie Lawrence Music.

Lawrence is now touring with a band in support of her new album. Stops include New York City, and four Virginia cities: Vienna, Harrisonburg, Richmond and Roanoke.

Annie’s story is unique to her.   Her life experiences continue to mold and shape who she is and where she is headed in the future. “If I’m Being Honest” is a direct outcome of Annie’s struggles, understanding and acceptance of daily life realities.

When I interviewed Annie, I came away with the following: No matter what trial or tribulation Lawrence faces in life, she is determined to make lemonade out of lemons. “If I’m Being Honest” is a reflection of that mentality. Her honesty in exploring hard topics is refreshing. Without a doubt, Annie Lawrence is a survivor!

 

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Music, Music Countdowns, Radio

Billboard Hot 100: Comparing Ariana Grande with the Beatles?

Ariana Grande has an excellent singing voice. Her four-octave vocal range makes her one of the best pure singers over the past ten years.

February 19th, 2019 was a historic day for Grande. She became only the second artist ever to achieve the top three positions on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, matching the feat first accomplished by the Beatles in 1964.

(Now it must be noted that the Beatles actually held all five of the top spots on the Billboard Hot 100 for one week during April 1964, at the height of Beatlemania in America. Obviously, the Beatles holding all 5 songs at the Top of the Hot 100 is still the overall record with the Billboard chart).

 

Still, it is impressive that Grande held down the top three spots with these songs for the Billboard Hot 100 survey dated 2/23/19:

  1. 7 Rings
  2. Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored
  3. Thank U, Next

 

 

Even more impressive are the Beatles and their overall record, with the Top 5 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending April 4th, 1964:

1: Can’t Buy Me Love

2: Twist And Shout

3: She Loves You

4: I Want To Hold Your Hand

5: Please Please Me

 

 

While I admire and respect the accomplishment of Ariana Grande, I am wondering how can we accurately rank Grande’s historic position in relation to the Beatles holding down the top 5 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 during 1964?

For over 60 years, Billboard Magazine has tracked the top songs in America with their Billboard Hot 100 chart. Since 1958, Billboard has tracked song popularity by using various metrics.

During the early days of the Billboard Hot 100, the chart was calculated based on:

  • Record Sales
  • Radio Airplay
  • Radio Stations Top Hits Surveys
  • Jukebox Plays

 

The first number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 was “Poor Little Fool” by Ricky Nelson, on August 4, 1958.

 

 

During the golden age of Top 40 radio, major market radio stations played a key role in songs becoming hits. If either Cousin Brucie on WABC New York or Larry Lujack on WLS Chicago played your song on their radio stations, the song generally reached the top 10 and quite possibly the number 1 position on the Billboard Hot 100.

 

 

Over the years, the way people bought and listened to music changed and so did the policy of criteria used by Billboard to calculate the Hot 100.

When record and singles sales dropped during the 90’s, Billboard switched the Hot 100 from a singles chart to a songs chart. Album cuts were also considered for the first time during this time period.

Last decade, Billboard introduced digital downloads and online audio streaming to the Hot 100 process and earlier in this decade added video streaming from YouTube and other sources to the Hot 100 mix.

Today the Hot 100 tracks radio airplay by audience impressions as measured by Nielsen BDS, sales data compiled by Nielsen Soundscan, both at retail and digitally, and streaming activity provided by online music sources, according to Billboard.

 

 

As you can tell, the criteria that Billboard uses here in 2019 is completely different than what they utilized in 1964 when the Beatles held the top 5 spots on the Billboard Hot 100.

My question that I pose for you: How can we compare the Billboard Hot 100 chart success of Ariana Grande (or any other artist today) with the historic Beatles music feat of 55 years ago? Isn’t this comparing apples to oranges?

The only constant thing for over 60 years is that Billboard has created a weekly Hot 100 chart. Everything else about the chart: How the songs are measured, are completely different now compared to Hot 100 calculations in 1964.

Should we even compare rote facts and figures associated with the Hot 100 from 1958 with the music of 2019? Is it fair to place a song like, “Can’t Buy Me Love” next to, “Thank U, Next?”

 

 

I’ve asked a couple of my friends to speak on this topic. Al Weed, General Surgeon for the Veterans Medical Center in Salem, Virginia, stated to me, “It is like comparing sports records from different eras” but Grande’s historic achievement is “still an impressive feat.”

Dave Delaney, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for Lutheran Churches in Virginia, also agreed that Grande’s topping of the Hot 100 “is an impressive achievement.” Delaney went on to say, “regardless of what you think of Grande’s music, she has prevailed over an extremely large field of gifted performers.”

I am in agreement with both Al Weed and Dave Delaney with their assessment of Grande and her recent historic success. However, I still wonder how to accurately rank the music feat of the Beatles: Which happened 55 years ago, to the chart topping Billboard Hot 100 record, just set by Grande?

Can I reconcile the totally different set of criteria used by Billboard in 1964, compared to the music measurements used by the Hot 100 in 2019? Quite frankly, I do not consider there is a fair and accurate way to evaluate extreme differences of Hot 100 benchmarks between the 1960’s and today.

Ranking music over a 60-year period of time can be subjective. My thoughts could be totally different from what you think on this subject. Reasonable minds can agree to disagree when it comes to opinions on music.

I find it extremely hard to properly rank and place music, compiled over 6-decades, when the metrics and categories of measurements have radically changed over the course of time.

Billboard will probably continue to crank out their Hot 100 chart, as long as there is recorded music on a national level. Many will debate music history as it relates to the current music scene. More than likely, people will have dialogue on the Billboard Hot 100 for years to come.

 

What are your thoughts on Ariana Grande and her recent Billboard Hot 100 music performance? Is it equal to the Beatles 1964 Hot 100 achievement? Better? Not as good? Different?   Ariana or the Fab 4? Which do you choose?

Obviously, there are no definitive answers on this topic. The only sure thing that I can come up with is from the song, “Spinning Wheel” by Blood Sweat and Tears:

“What goes up, must come down, spinning wheel, got to go ‘round.”

 

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Artist Profiles, Concert Reviews, Music

Oshima Brothers: A Maine Treasure

The state of Maine is known for its rocky coastline, lighthouses, lobster, moose, blueberries, Acadia National Park and LL Bean.

Rarely does anyone outside of the Pine Tree State ever think about Maine’s music scene. I predict that will be changing when those outside of New England learn about the Oshima Brothers.

The Oshima Brothers are a musical duo composed of two siblings, older brother Sean, 24, and Jaime, 21. The brothers were born and raised in a rural area near the Maine state capital of Augusta, and now call the mid-coast town of Belfast, Maine their home.

Sean and Jamie have been playing music together as siblings since they were young boys. Their parents are also musicians.

Mom Toki and Dad John regularly played music during contra dances across the state of Maine and gave their sons an appreciation for music by playing multiple instruments. Music has always been the focus for the entire Oshima family.

So you may be wondering: What type of music do the brothers Oshima play? Here is a quote from the Oshima Brothers official website:

“…[T]he brothers have honed a harmony-rich blend of contemporary folk and acoustic pop. On stage, Sean and Jamie create a surprisingly full sound with dynamic vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, octave bass, loops, and percussion.”

Brothers Jamie and Sean both have distinct roles within their band and harmoniously blend individual strengths together to create the unique sound of their musical partnership.

Sean Oshima

Sean is the chief songwriter, business manager, and public relations director and handles all communications for the duo. He plays rhythm guitar, harmonica, and cajón at shows, along with vocal duties. Sean has an exceptional falsetto vocal range.

Jamie Oshima

Jamie is the music maestro, producer, recording/audio engineer and filmmaker for the band. He plays multiple instruments including the electric guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, mandolin, banjo, and fiddle while also recording songs and videos at the Oshima Brothers home studio. Jamie also shares vocal responsibilities with his brother.

I first came to be familiar with the Oshima Brothers band the day before they came to Roanoke, Virginia for a concert. My sister, Kathryn Larson, who lives in New Gloucester, Maine, has actually known Jamie and Sean since they were young boys.

Kathryn is a contra dance caller throughout the state of Maine and the Oshima Brothers, along with their parents John and Toki, have played at many contra dances over the years where Kathryn is the caller.

With Kathryn’s connection, I met Sean and Jamie three hours before their concert at The Spot on Kirk in downtown Roanoke on Monday January 14th. The Oshima Brothers were the opening band for singer-songwriter Caitlin Canty, as both were part of a 13-stop tour that was sponsored by the Americana Music Association.

During my interview with Jamie and Sean, I found out that they formed their band in 2015 and released the self-titled, “Oshima Brothers” album during 2016. They also have a 5-song EP called, “Under the Same Stars” that is currently not released to buy online but was available for purchase for those who attended their concert in Roanoke that evening.

Sean and Jamie Oshima

To get to know the Oshima Brothers better, here are some of the questions I asked Sean and Jaime about their band:

What artists influenced you when you were growing up?

Sean: We have been obsessed with The Beatles forever. We also listened to Jackson 5, Gillian Welch, Jack Johnson. Funk, reggae, traditional fiddle tunes, old country duets.

What type of artists do you listen to in 2019?

Sean: We love all types of music from groovy pop to smooth jazz. We listen to Ray Charles, John Mayer, Tom Misch, The Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver and on and on and on forever.

What is the one thing you most admire about your brother?

Sean: His clear focus. He’s obsessed with all things music. I admire the eagerness with which he dives into musical projects, new recordings, new videos. Jamie’s patience and relentlessness is amazing.

Jamie: I admire Sean’s ability to match his sock color to the occasion, mood, and atmosphere of an event, and his outfit. I don’t know, but he might have 100 pairs of socks. I also like his poetry. It’s pretty good.

Describe the type of music you play?

Sean: It’s sort of like indie-folk-pop. A little mix of everything. It can be groovy and dreamy and smooth and chill and acoustic and electric all at the same time. Rich with harmonies and bass and big drums then stark and sweet with acoustic guitar.

Oshima Brothers equipment

For their Roanoke concert, the Oshima Brothers performed 8 songs. Here is the setlist:

Nine Mile Kite

Ellie

Letter

Hearts As Full As The Moon

Broken

How Deep Is Your Love

These Cold Nights

Calling Your Name

Before Sean and Jamie opened their show, I gave each brother a bottle of Poland Spring water as a welcome to Roanoke and to help them have a pleasant reminder of their beloved home state of Maine.

The opening selection of “Nine Mile Kite” started out with Jaime and Sean wonderfully singing a capella before finishing their song with playing of instruments. An excellent tune to begin their show.

Wonderful harmonies were part of every Oshima Brothers song that was played at the Roanoke show. The concert was a good mix of up-tempo tunes and pleasing slow ballad grooves.

One of the highlights of the evening was the performance of a brand new single, “Ellie” which Sean said that Portland Maine Triple A radio station, WCLZ 98.9 FM is now playing and how it was thrilling hearing their song receiving air play in their home state. With the right radio exposure, I believe “Ellie” could become a hit with a wider audience.

Halfway through the set, Jamie broke out his fiddle for the toe-tapping song, “Broken” which was a crowd favorite. Two other songs that were highlights for the band were “These Cold Nights” and “Hearts as Full as the Moon.” There is a freshness with the Oshima Brothers’ music, with no two songs sounding alike.

Seven of the eight songs performed that evening were original tunes by the brothers. The one cover song they played, “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bees Gees was superb. The falsetto vocal range and harmony of Sean and Jamie equally matched the singing by the Brothers Gibbs on their number 1 song from 1977.

Jamie and Sean’s songs are well crafted. Their harmonies are smooth and flow together beautifully, no matter which song they are performing. I especially enjoy the chord progressions on many of the tunes played by the brothers.

After the Oshima Brothers performed, Caitlin Canty took the stage with her acoustic guitar, laying down excellent tunes with folk, country and introspective storytelling. Accompanying Canty at this concert was Miss Tess, who did an outstanding job playing her upright bass.

Caitlin Canty and Miss Tess. Photo by Jamie Oshima

Since Caitlin toured with the Oshima Brothers on this 13-day January journey, I asked her if she could share some comments about the brothers and their music. Here are Caitlin’s thoughts to me via email at Caitlin Canty’s official website:

“The post-show chatter from the audience was always positive about OB [Oshima Brothers] – my favorite eavesdropped comment was, ‘they are a breath of fresh air.’ They are sweet and hardworking people and I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more good music from them in the years to come.”

Sean and Jamie Oshima

I absolutely agree with Caitlin’s assessment on the Oshima Brothers: I am confident that Sean and Jamie’s music will become popular to a wider audience and we will be blessed to hear much more new music from the brothers in the future. The Oshima Brothers are a Maine Treasure!

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Music, Retro Rock

Gayle Deel: Mega Beatles Fan Explores England and Iceland

 

The Beatles Story Museum exhibit in Liverpool. Photo by Gayle Deel

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world…

 

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will live as one

Imagine if you were inside the childhood house of Paul McCartney in Liverpool and a tour guide invites someone on the tour of the home to play a song on Paul’s piano? It may sound like a dream but it actually became reality for Beatles fan and Roanoke, Virginia native Gayle Deel.

While on tour at McCartney’s home, Gayle played John Lennon’s signature song, “Imagine” on the same piano that Paul himself played and sang “When I’m 64”, along with James Corden, on a June 2018 Carpool Karaoke episode of The Late Late Show. It was truly one of the highlights of Gayle’s trip to England to visit multiple Beatles sites during September of last year.

I first came in contact with Gayle shortly after I published Dave & Steve Delaney: Beatles Pilgrimage to England on my blog last October. Through our mutual friend Bruce Bias, Gayle and I communicated about me possibly sharing her Beatles experience after she enjoyed reading about the Delaney Brothers Fab Four trip.

Earlier this month, I interviewed Gayle about her trip to England and a secondary visit to Iceland to visit a John Lennon memorial, The Imagine Peace Tower. Gayle’s passion and knowledge of the Beatles was evident as she reminisced about various things associated with the band that got their start in Liverpool.

As a retirement gift to herself, Gayle Deel planned a trip of a lifetime: Touring Beatles sites in London and Liverpool, England. Gayle retired from the Veterans Administration Hospital in Salem, Virginia where she worked in the Radiology department for many years.

Exhibit at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, England. Photo by Gayle Deel.

Accompanying Deel on the trip were her brother Douglas Nauman of High Point, North Carolina and her boyfriend Douglas Rhodes of Roanoke, Virginia. The three embarked to England on September 11, 2018 and spent 7 days viewing various Beatles sites in Liverpool and London.

Gayle’s love for the Beatles began on February 7th, 1964 when she watched the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite with her father. As Gayle stated to me, “I fell in love. My dad just shook his head.”

Deel went on to say, “That’s when I became a Beatle devotee for life and I anxiously awaited any magazine that was published just to own a piece of them in print. My only prized possession at that time was a 45 rpm “I Want to Hold Your Hand” –played repeatedly on a portable turntable.”

After getting off the airplane at England’s Heathrow Airport, Gayle and her traveling companions boarded a train in London bound for Liverpool. Gayle mused on that initial train ride: “I just knew it was going to look like the same train: I hear “A Hard Day’s Night” (from the 1964 movie where the Fab Four ride on a train from Liverpool to London).

The first location the trio visited in Liverpool was the Cavern Club. The Beatles played many concerts there during their early days as a band but the original building was closed in 1973 due to construction on a new underground rail loop. A new building for the Cavern Club came in 1984 and this site is now one of the most visited tourist sites in England.

Gayle Deel at the Cavern Club Liverpool, England.

Gayle accounts her experience at the historic music site in Liverpool: “The first stop was the Cavern Club, taking the steps down into the cellar with music flowing, signatures of thousands across the ceiling and “The Stage” where my heroes began their journey. All I could hear was “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Twist and Shout” in that hallowed cellar.”

Every Beatles fan has a favorite Beatle, and Gayle has been a John Lennon fan since the days that the Fab Four performed on the Ed Sullivan show during February 1964. She shared with me that visiting Lennon’s Liverpool childhood home was her favorite event on the Beatles pilgrimage.

Gayle Deel at John Lennon exhibit in Liverpool, England

Here is Gayle describing her tour of the Lennon home: “It was emotional to walk into the back yard and enter the kitchen knowing John had been through that door many times with friends such as Pete Shotton, Ivan Vaughan and sometimes Paul McCartney. The most chilling was being in the small bedroom where John spent young years and teenage years reading about other musicians, listening to American artists and beginning to craft his own musical talents.”

Paul McCartney childhood home in Liverpool, England. Photo by Gayle Deel.

Gayle’s second favorite visit on the trip was her visit to Paul McCartney’s home on 20 Forthlin Road in Liverpool. Gayle also shares her thoughts on this memorable happening:

“On to Paul’s home – the second thrill of my trip, because it was here that I played, in his living room, the very same piano that THE Paul McCartney had played. Actually the song that rolled off my fingers was “Imagine” by John Lennon, not a McCartney song. But I found it applicable as I had imagined many times the reuniting of these two brilliant musicians. Another young Beatle fan joined me and we played “Let It Be”. He with the melody and me on the chords. I’ll never forget it!”

The other tourist stops on the trip to Liverpool are too numerous to name. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Penny Lane
  • Strawberry Field
  • St Peter’s Parish
  • Eleanor Rigby’s grave

The Beatles Story Museum in Liverpool, England. Photo by Gayle Deel.

After spending a few days in Liverpool, it was then time to take what Electric Light Orchestra sang about in 1979, the “Last Train to London.” The next day, Gayle’s touring group hit various Beatles sites in and around London.

The first memorable site Gayle visited was 3 Savile Row, which was the location of the Beatles last live performance ever: The Rooftop Concert. This mini concert became the climax of the 1970 documentary film “Let It Be.”

Visiting 3 Savile Row was a surreal experience for Gayle as she shared with me,

“The Beatles’ rooftop concert with Billy Preston, was the last time the group ever played together as a band. The Apple building was once owned by all four Beatles and each had an office in that structure. I went in and experienced being in the former beautiful wooden offices, now lined with clothing to purchase. What a shame this building is not a museum. I hear, “Get Back.”

The other highlight for Gayle in London was visiting Abbey Road. The iconic street is known around the world as John, Paul, George and Ringo were photographed walking across thoroughfare and the Beatles made it the front cover of the “Abbey Road” album. In Gayle’s words, “The walk across “Abbey Road” in London: no words can explain and then to turn and see Abbey Road Studios. I hear “Come Together.”

Gayle Deel walking across Abbey Road in London, England.

As trips go, Gayle, her brother and boyfriend all enjoyed their Beatles trip to England. However, Gayle wasn’t finished visiting sites associated with the Beatles.

On December 4th of last year, Deel and her boyfriend Douglas Rhodes went to Iceland to view the Imagine Peace Tower.

The memorial to John Lennon by his widow Yoko Ono, is dedicated to peace, and the tower’s name comes from Lennon’s signature 1971 solo hit song, “Imagine.”

Gayle had a wonderful experience visiting Iceland and the Peace Tower. Here are some of her thoughts as she recalls visiting the Nordic island country in the North Atlantic.

Iceland town. Photo by Gayle Deel.

“Iceland is a beautiful country. The air is clean and crisp and it is a quiet, peaceful country. It looks like a scene from Santa’s workshop.”

“The Peace Tower is located on Viday Island and a boat ride is required to get that location. We went at night. It was cold, windy and there were several inches of snow on the ground. We made the trek up the hill to the beautiful monument that shone a blue light into the heavens. Engraved on its’ sides is “Imagine Peace” in 24 languages. It is inspiring and moving. Yoko has also placed a stone that says: “I dedicate this light tower to John Lennon. My love for you is forever – Yoko Ono October 9, 2007.”

Whale watching boat, Atlantic Ocean, along the coast in Iceland. Photo by Gayle Deel.

“Yoko chose Iceland with the blessings of the Icelandic people to build the monument there because it is between Liverpool, England, the land of John’s birth and New York City, the city he loved as it reminded him of Liverpool. Iceland is also considered the most peaceful country in the world – thus The Peace Tower.”

“The light is visible for many miles and the blue hue of the light just exudes a peaceful feeling and a yearning for self and world peace. The sole purpose of this trip was to experience that peace. And it happened: I hear ”Give Peace a Chance.”

As you can tell from Gayle’s writing above, she was deeply moved by her time in Iceland visiting the Imagine Peace Tower. She told me during our interview that she would like to revisit Iceland again in the future.

Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland. Photo by Gayle Deel.

Next up on Gayle’s bucket list is visiting Bermuda. This was the location where John Lennon wrote the songs for his last album, “Double Fantasy” which was released just prior to his assassination on December 8th, 1980. Gayle would love to listen to Lennon’s song, “Watching the Wheels” while visiting the Caribbean Island.

Now that Gayle is retired, she has taken up photography. You can view some of Gayle’s photography work on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/gaylendeelphotography/

Thanks to Gayle for sharing her pilgrimage to England and Iceland. After hearing and writing about her experiences, this Beatles fan is ready to travel in England and beyond to visit Fab Four sites.

These are Gayle Deel’s words to live by:

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will live as one

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