Chris Botti

Live at The Hershey Theatre

Hershey, PA

21 November 2009

 

Following the tremendous evening at the Chris Botti concert in Harrisburg, PA on 8 April 2009, my wife and I returned to our normal lives. “Normal” is a relative term for a stay-at-home/work-from-home mother of two and a Police Detective, but you get my meaning. I returned to work and spread my infectious love for Chris’s music to my fellow co-workers while my wife raved on Facebook about our evening of musical bliss. My wife took the Boston poster which Chris had so graciously signed with both of our names and had it framed (along with our tickets from the evening) for my birthday, which was only a few weeks following the concert. At work, I was successful in convincing at least one of my co-workers to pursue an interest in all things Botti. As the months dripped slowly past, I began to find myself longing for a “repeat performance” as it were. I began scanning Botti’s official website with the hope that he would be returning to either Pennsylvania, Maryland or somewhere nearby. Soon. I found exactly what I was looking for. Chris and the gang were planning a stop in nearby Hershey, PA on 21 November 2009. Tickets were not on sale as yet, but I logged that information away and mentioned it to my wife.

“Hey, you wanna go see Chris Botti again in November?”

“Sure!”

I had another idea.

“Do you think your parents would like to come along?”

“I know they would enjoy it… I’ll ask.”

“We could even take the kids!”

Though she never said it, I know my wife was seeing dollar signs at this point…

This point must be clearly understood before you read any further, or nothing good can come of this post: For me, it is not just about enjoying the music alone. Music is meant to be enjoyed amongst friends, family,PEOPLE. Sure there are times when the solace of music works best in private. Many a drive home from work has found me raging into the ether while Nine Inch Nails screams and screeches through my speakers and my soul. It’s how I cope with a bad day. But for the most part, I desire to share the music I enjoy with as many other people as I can. I truly cherish the feeling of introducing an otherwise oblivious person to some new artist or song. Thus, after discovering Chris Botti’s eclectic array of sounds, I sent copies of his CDs to my wife’s parents. My mother-in-law and my dad’s wife are both tried and true Mark Knopfler fans for this same reason. In fact, in 2008, I took my wife’s mother and my dad’s wife to see their first ever Mark Knopfler concert at Wolftrap in Vienna, Virginia. (Of course my wife was there as well, but that was not her first Knopfler concert by any stretch.) My point is that a Chris Botti concert is such a special experience, that I wanted to share it with the ones I love. Besides that, as I mentioned in my Gig Review of the April concert, promises were made to my two young children that I would one day take them to see the man with the horn.

Calls were made and offer accepted. More time passed. My wife and I prepared to take to kids on a camping trip. Suddenly, I realized that the tickets in question would go on sale the Saturday we were scheduled to be camping.

“Well, we will just have to come home and buy the tickets that morning, then go back.”

The morning arrived. We broke camp early, raced home, jumped onto the Ticketmaster website, and…

Jammed. Frozen. No tickets available.

My wife jumped on the phone and ordered six tickets in the fourth row. No hassle, no wait. We lucked into seats ending on the far right side of the aisle, near the outer wall of the venue. This will be good for my father-in-law as he suffers from some health issues and needs to be able to stretch his legs out. The point is not missed that we could have simply ordered the tickets from the campsite since my wife used her cell phone anyway. We return to our campsite excited to have another chance to see Chris Botti in concert. For my part, I am excited to be able to share the love with family…

November could not come soon enough. And yet, there are other moments to enjoy. Mid-October sees the celebration of our tenth wedding anniversary. My wife and I travel to Montego Bay, Jamaica for a four night stay in a five star, all inclusive resort. Believe me when I tell you, on our last day in Jamaica, I would have given anything not to return stateside. Chris Botti be dammed, that place was heaven on Earth! But return we did. At least I had November to look forward to…

21 November 2009 starts quirky. My father-in-law is not feeling his best and it looks – for a few hours at least – that he may not make the show. I am sullen.

“If they have to cancel, I will be bummed.”

It isn’t the money. Far from it. No, I am despondent at the thought of my in-laws missing such a great show. Luckily, things improve. Within a few hours, our plans are back on. We force the kids to take naps and stress to them that the show will be starting at their usual bedtime. We set out early, planning a meal at one of the restaurants near the venue. Hershey Park is nestled in a mountainous region of central Pennsylvania, approximately one hour north of our home. The venue is a small theatre just outside the park proper. Once again, LIVE IN BOSTON in the CD player as we drive. The in-laws will be dining separately as they have started out ahead of us. They are coming from Maryland, so they have a longer drive by almost double. We arrive with time to spare and settle on Red Robin. Burgers for the she and I, mac & cheese and chicken nuggets for the little ones. Why is it that restaurant menus only serve mac & cheese, chicken nuggets and fish sticks for children? My oldest would much prefer grilled salmon, broccoli and/or potatoes to chicken nuggets. But I digress. Finish the meal, wash our hands, in the car and directly into…

Traffic.

The little road leading from the restaurant park to the theatre is jammed. We are not moving. A call from the in-laws reveals they are already in the lobby of the theatre. My tension begins. I am concerned we will be late. And guess what? I am holding all six tickets in my hand. The in-laws cannot proceed past the lobby without their tickets. Why, oh why didn’t I mail them their tickets?

We creep along for what seems like an eternity. Showtime is fast approaching. We turn a corner and see that we are almost there. What if we have to pay for parking? Shit, we forgot cash for that. My wife spots an ATM. She jumps out of the car, races to the corner, and suddenly, the traffic dissipates and I am moving past her position on the sidewalk. She looks at me as if to say: “Where do you think YOU’RE going?” I gesture for her to forget the money and she leaps back into the moving vehicle. As we cut the corner into the parking lot, we see the sign: FREE EVENT PARKING. We are home. With about five minutes to spare. Park, jump out, adjust the kids dresses, fix the makeup (my wife does this as I do not wear makeup!) and in we march.

“Make sure to hold daddy’s hand in the parking lot.”

I am being dragged by two very excited young ladies. Never underestimate the power of small children on a mission.

We enter the venue to find the in-laws chatting up some strangers and drinking mixed drinks. My father-in-law looks tired but glad to be here. Hugs all around and in line we go. The kids each hand over their tickets to be scanned and say thank you upon their return. We walk down the long aisle, passing row upon row of crisply dressed, smartly jewelled men and women of all ages. Teenagers with their parents, husbands and wives decked out for a night out on the town. I gotta tell you, these Botti fans are some sophisticated people. We filter into our seats, the oldest child with me, the other climbing all over Grandmom. I point out Mr. Billy Kilson’s gleaming drum set to my eldest as she is a fan of the drums as well, and not a bad player if I do say so. The lights dim and off we go once again.

Following a very brief introduction (which includes far less gibberish than the show in April) Chris Botti marches onstage wearing jeans, a crisp, white shirt and a navy blazer. He receives a lengthy standing ovation. There is so much adulation in fact, that Botti is forced to pause before beginning…

AVE MARIA: The horn is raised. A hush falls over the crowd. From our vantage point – me on the far left seat nearest the center aisle with several other fans to my left, then my eldest to my right, who’s seat is empty as she is resting on my lap at the moment, followed by my wife, our youngest, Grandmom and Grandpop on the far right aisle seat – we can see Botti purse his lips, inhale deeply and place them to the mouthpiece. The spotlight sparks off the golden hue of the bell of the horn and causes a momentary blindness to inject itself into the view. Botti begins to exhale into the sweet horn… and slowly, softly, the song takes form. I glance to my right to see that everyone in our party is mesmerized. Grandmom and Grandpop have heard this song on the Boston CD, but never live. Same for the kids. Only my wife and I know what is to come. The short song nears its climax. I grip my eldest tightly around the chest and whisper:

“Watch this.”

The trumpet almost floats from its position pointing toward the floor and arcs toward the ceiling. I know I am incorrect when I say this, but I swear Botti simply lets go of the damn thing at this point and lets it float there as he inhales deeply. He then grabs the horn again and forces the note through the bell and out into the world. Like a child being born, the sound that comes from within is at first soft, then louder, then something akin to a chorus of angles singing. Raining down from the heavens, the extended note penetrates into the soul of every single person in attendance, and we all rise to our feet. Like some Pavlovian response, the crowd – myself and children and family included – begins to cheer and clap and some even stomp their feet. Smiles abound as we all bask in the glory of God’s perfect note. Not to get too religious on you, but I am convinced that when the Judgment Day arrives, it will be this note and this note alone that will sound the second coming. And then the most dramatic and amazing thing occurs: When Botti played the song on the Boston CD/DVD, the note lasted for about fifteen seconds. I know. I counted. When Botti played the song in Harrisburg in April, the note lasted for about thirty seconds. I know. I counted. But on this night, in front of this crowd, Botti breaks the sound barrier. From beginning to end, THE NOTE lasts for well over one and one half minutes. Ninety seconds. And then some. So long I fact, that at about the forty-five second mark, the ovation begins in earnest. Then it quickly dies out as if the audience suddenly realizes they might be messing up the magic. Then at about the one minute mark, Mr. Billy Kilson, seated on his throne behind his shiny drums and taking it all in, sucks in a huge breath of air in the hopes of helping the great one out. This draws a laugh and a cheer from the crowd and Botti continues undaunted until he can no longer sustain the note. He drops the front of the horn once again toward the floor and hangs there, his body doubled in half and gasping for air. But there is nothing awkward about this. Nothing the least bit phony or ill mannered or false. He just hangs there for a moment, then recovers and finishes the song with another, slightly less lengthy flourish. And when the last vestiges of those gorgeous notes filter their way back to the rear of the theatre and sneak out the front doors of the venue and into the chilly November air… then and only then does the crowd erupt with unabashed approval. The longest note in the history of music – now made longer by the greatest horn player in modern times – is followed by the longest standing ovation I have ever witnessed.

It is at this very moment that my youngest cries out:

“Is that the last song?”

This draws much laughter from those around us, myself included. She is, of course, not ready to go home. She just doesn’t understand that concerts contain more than one song. Remember, her only exposure to Chris Botti up until this evening was by watching one song on the Boston DVD. That song was AVE MARIA. Well, the man just played AVE MARIA, so we must be done, right?

We are still standing and still laughing, still cheering, still rapturous as the band launches into…

WHEN I FALL IN LOVE: By this point in the show, and mind you we are only about three minutes in, my entire family is hooked. I have not seen such rapt attention out of a five and three year old child since Dora The Explorer made her television debut. Think about that for a moment. At this very second, my children are experiencing live music for the first time in their young lives. And the messenger is Chris Botti, not some obnoxious television cartoon. I steal a glance at Grandpop and see that he is bobbing his head and tapping his foot along with Mr. Billy Kilson’s magical rhythm. For the rest of the song, I watch my eldest as she stares wide-eyed at Kilson’s hands.

“Look how fast he plays!” I whisper.

She simply nods her agreement. It’s as if she knows not to disrespect this moment with words as I have just done. Smart kid.

As the song works its way to a close, we again rise. And once again my youngest cries out:

“Is THAT the last song?”

Not by a long shot, kid. Not by a long shot.

The rest of the show mirrors the one in April. For this I am glad. In fact, I was hoping that every single song would be repeated in the same order so that Grandmom and Grandpop could experience the show as we did. For this review, I will delve deeper into the songs that I did not detail in my April review, as on this night I was far more able to soak it all in. On this night in particular, Botti plays the following tunes, not necessarily in this order…

FLAMENCO SKETCHES: The song takes on a dimension that can only be described as surreal. Hearing the song live in a sold out theatre is akin to floating on your back in the Caribbean Sea while the midday sun toasts your chest and salty sea water splashes ever so slightly against your lips and the waves roll gently across your back. I know. I’ve done it. Botti explains the history of the song, and retells his “Miles Davis /KIND OF BLUE / hotel room in NYC / listening to the Today show when they announce that said album is the greatest album of all time” story before launching into what seems like a half hour version of four guys, few notes, stellar results jam session. Being a fan of KIND OF BLUE – though I must admit I prefer the track ALL BLUES to FLAMENCO SKETCHES - I particularly enjoy this performance. Botti makes the most of his time when his turn comes around to solo, and Mr. Billy Kilson and Billy Childs work pure magic during their turns. Another classic Botti concert moment is…

EMMANUELLE: Prior to the start of this one, my youngest informs me that she has to go potty. When did I go from saying bathroom to potty, you ask? The day my oldest daughter was born. We don’t use the bathroom in our home, nor do we use the rest room in stores. In my family, we go potty.

“I’ll take her.” I whisper to my wife.

For the past few songs, she has been struggling with our youngest, who cannot seem to find a comfortable spot to sit. The potty request solves the dilemma. I hunker down so as not to obstruct the view of patrons behind me, shift to my right, take her hand and lead her up the far right aisle. As we walk, I notice concert goers looking at us and smiling. I am proud for their acknowledgement, and proud of my little girl. We escape to the lobby and as we go, I hear Chris explaining that Lucia Micarelli will not be joining us this evening due to an injury to her hand. I hear something about a broken wine glass before I dip into the stairwell and venture below the theatre to find a potty. I use the break to ask our daughter to try her hardest to sit quietly, and she responds:

“Okay, daddy.”

Perfect angel.

I ask if she is having fun, to which she replies:

“Oh yes daddy.”

Our business done, we return to the lobby to find that Chris is still talking. He introduces a female who’s name I don’t quite catch and into EMMANUELLE they escape. Rather than disturb anyone, we stand at the top of the seating area and watch the song unfold. A kind usher glances over at us and smiles. I smile in return as my youngest stands quietly by my side. This is what life is all about. Potty breaks and good kids. When the song is over, we sneak back to our seats for the rest of the show. And from that moment on, my youngest is a pillar of discipline. One song leads to the next with frequent stories from Chris in between. I have heard them all before, but it is truly fun to watch the reactions of the newcomers. Especially Grandmom and Grandpop. Sy Smith makes an appearance for…

THE LOOK OF LOVE: I haven’t said enough about how great this song is live. Sy Smith, looking radiant as always, brings such sexiness and power to it that one can easily forget that she is (not yet at least) a superstar. Her interplay with her cousin and guitarist Mark Whitfield is exciting to watch. The song starts slow and builds into a frenzied pace of jazz, rock and be-bop. And speaking of not having said enough… Mark Whitfield. The bald, earring wearing, always grinning, open shirted and faded jeans sporting sideman always seems to have something quick witted to say… or play. His beaming candy apple red guitar reflects the stage lights in all directions… which is how and where this cat plays. Sticking to the stage left side, and never straying too far in front of Mr. Billy Kilson, Whitfield nevertheless manages to project his presence throughout the entire theatre. Beholding him, we are forever changed. Even when he stands back and lets Botti take center stage for…

CINEMA PARIDISO: One word: Haunting. And Botti don’t need Yo-Yo Ma to make it that way. The violinist from EMMANUELLE more than holds her own on this one as well. I say it again: Haunting. The songs and stories and ovations and cheers continue until we reach…

INDIAN SUMMER: It is during this song on this night that Mr. Billy Kilson finally shows that he is, in fact, human. While working his way through the frenetic up and down back handed slap fest with the high-hats, Kilson misses just once. It is enough to elicit a groaning “Uuuuuggggghhhh!” from the frustrated drummer. Never one to miss a beat, he collects himself and continues on. Someone in the crowd hollers: “Don’t worry son!” Must be the guy from Harrisburg. The flub behind him, Kilson channels all of his rage into the remainder of the solo and finishes stronger and more violently than ever. Botti joins the crowd in mutual appreciation for a job well done, then grabs the mic for his customary request to “cut the mics.” He bounds off the stage and begins…

ONE FOR MY BABY, ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD: As Botti begins the soulful tune, everyone in my party begins to filter out. I stay as does my eldest. She is tired but awake. I know my wife won’t leave without me. Hell, I have the keys to the car! But I worry that they will miss the end. Oh well. I ain't moving. My eldestand I watch as Botti works his magic, face to face with a young trumpet player in the audience with whom he had been interacting throughout the show. The song finishes beautifully and Botti offers up his usual “We’ll be in the lobby” speech. I turn to my eldest and ask:

“Well, did you have fun?”

The answer is a resounding “YES!”

We make our way out to the lobby to find my wife and youngest are third in line to meet the man with the horn. Grandmom and Grandpop have left for home – long drive and all – but I learn that they witnessed the final song from the top of the theatre. They stood exactly where my youngest and I stood when we watched EMMANUELLE. A few minutes pass and out walks Chris. I have come prepared this time with my booklet from the WHEN I FALL IN LOVE CD. When our turn arrives, I remind Chris of our previous meeting in April. He signs the CD "Chris Botti 2009" and smiles at the kids.

“Did you enjoy the show?” he asks, and I believe he honestly cares about the answer.

Unfortunately, both kids are spent, so I make an effort to speak for them. I wind up sounding like a jackass as I say:

“They are just tired.”

Botti looks directly at me, and with a flat tone, says:

“We’re ALL tired.”

I leave feeling rather stupid for opening my mouth, but I know he will no sooner remember this exchange than he will remember what he ate for dinner last week. The guy is one busy man.

On the ride home – which is not marred by any of the traffic problems we encountered pre-show – my wife confides in me that her father told her that tonight’s performance was the best concert he has ever seen in his life. I am beaming. It is a compliment that he will repeat to me several times in the months that follow.

EPILOGUE:

On 8 February 2010, my wife’s father, my father-in-law, my kid’s Grandpop, died. He was only sixty-seven years of age. The Chris Botti concert at the Hershey Theatre on 21 November 2009 was not only his best concert, it was his last. At his viewing, my wife played a slide show of pictures of her dad throughout his life. The song that played in the background as the images flashed slowly by, chosen by her own hand… was Chris Botti's AVE MARIA.

He will be missed.

The framed signed CD cover along with our concert tickets: