Category: Good Times

Casual conversation turned into big win for ‘America’s Got Talent’ performer

By MIKE CHAIKEN EDITIONS EDITOR An interest in entertainment and a casual conversation with mom and dad laid the groundwork for a big victory for a then 12-year-old girl from Oklahoma City, Okla. Darci Lynne, now 13, was the big…

Getting into the holiday spirit with ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’

By MIKE CHAIKEN EDITIONS EDITOR What happens when Murphy’s Law—where everything that possibly could go wrong, goes wrong— settles in as the annual church pageant is pulled together? You’ll find out this weekend as a cast of adults and children…

The firepower of Trans-Siberian Orchestra

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

The great thing about a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert is that you don’t necessarily need to know every song of theirs prior to your arrival at the arena.

The stage and special effects, and the power of their singular combination of metallic prog rock holiday tunes will keep you enraptured throughout the whole night.

TSO (which performed at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Nov. 26) is at the end of the day, a show. Its orchestral rock and roll power play has a rock musical feel to it (especially when they revisited their “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve”). Think “Jesus Christ Superstar” or “Evita.” The light shows and pyrotechnics have as much in common with classic heavy metal and arena rock. Think Motley Crue or early era Styx. The projections and videos (along with the stylistic nods to classical music) gave the show a definite progressive rock feel to it, a la Yes or Pink Floyd.

Essentially, TSO is a full-blown sensory experience.

The musicianship is key to pulling off a Trans-Siberian Orchestra show. The members of TSO clearly are all superb players who can pull off the complexity of the music in their sleep—albeit a very energetic and hyper sleep. And they all know the trappings of rock and roll showmanship… from the guitar hero poses to the way the backup singers/ dancers strutted their way onto the stage.

But there are no “stars” on stage. Everyone, from string players to the vocalists– all bow down to the greater good of the TSO experience. They work together as one rather than in service to one.

Some of my favorite musical moments were “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24),” TSO’s heavy metal approach to “The Nutcracker,” “A Mad Russian’s Christmas.” and “Siberian Sleigh Ride.”

For this tour, TSO has put so much special effects power on stage, it’s like one big giant amusement ride. There are plenty of bands who use pyro—such as Slipknot or Slayer. But often the pyro is used in a spot here or a spot there. At this show, pyro had a permanent place at the table throughout the night. Thermostats in the arena probably had a night to rest with all the heat generated by the explosions and flame throwers on stage.

The lighting of the show also went above and beyond anything you’ll see at most rock shows. There were lasers, moving lighting trusses, trusses that lowered from the ceiling with video screens and spinning spots that also served as catwalks for band members to play above the floor crowd.

Then the gigantic video screens behind the band offered up three dimension effects that often transformed the stage into an entirely different world.

From the back of the auditorium, the set for “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve” looked like an old theater. But up close, it was all just a projection on a flat screen.

The TSO show is like a special effects wizard’s Christmas list. If the technology exists, TSO was using it.

Clearly, Trans-Siberian Orchestra has hit a chord with audiences. The matinee show I attended was sold out. The evening one, I was told by Mohegan Sun officials, was as well.

And given the Wow Factor I experienced, there unlikely was any member of the audience at Mohegan Sun Arena who went home disappointed.

I give Trans-Siberian Orchestra at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Nov. 26 four out of four stars.

14-year-old wiz kid on the guitar

By MIKE CHAIKEN EDITIONS EDITOR Fourteen-year-old guitarist Brandon “Taz” Niederauer has had a career in music and entertainment that exceeds what people twice his age might ever hope to achieve. He recently took the Broadway stage as Zack Mooneyham in…

Bob Seger demonstrates why he’s an American musical icon

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

When it comes to music, you can’t get more American than Bob Seger.

Seger’s iconic music pays homage to regular working folks who are just trying to make ends meet, have a good time, find love, and live a good comfortable life.

When someone talks about “meat and potatoes” rock and roll, Seger’s music should come immediately to mind.

And when Seger took to the stage at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Sept. 9, you were reminded how much good music the man has written in his career. Forget about the big hits, like “Night Moves” or “Old Time Rock and Roll,” the deeper tracks, which still strike an emotion chord, showed the power of his music. Songs such as “Like a Rock,” “We’ve Got Tonight” (which he dedicated to his mother), “Beautiful Loser,” “Rambling Gambling Man” still hit you right in the gut.

Seger, however, is more than just a great songwriter. He is a great performer.

Before he broke through in the charts, he made his name grinding it out on the road with Detroit, Mich. serving as his base of operations. And on stage, he is still at home.

Let us state emphatically, Seger’s voice is still as strong as ever. The voices of some artists fade as time goes on. But Seger still has power behind his voice and he can still hit the high notes his songs require. There seemed to be no indication that the band had to transpose the songs to a lower key for him. This made the show even more exciting. We weren’t watching a has-been, we were watching a great artist here and now.

The Silver Bullet Band also is just as tight as ever, ensuring the power of the music still carries that punch. Two of the highlights were the transcendant sax solos by long-time Silver Bullet member Alto Reed on “Mainstreet” and “Turn the Page.”

Seger is clearly still having fun on stage. He doesn’t engage in a lot of banter. But with his fist pumping and big old grin, you can tell he still loves making music.

Seger doesn’t have any new music coming out. But for the fans, the old tracks are key. And Seger mixed the set list up by pulling out tracks that haven’t been played live in years, such as “Her Strut” from “Against the Wind.

Guitarist Nancy Wilson is best known for her years in Heart with her sister Ann Wilson. But that group is on ice for the moment and she is touring with her new conglomeration, Roadcase Royale.

For the opening slot at the Bob Seger show, Wilson and crew were smart to grab some well-known Heart tracks for their setlist. The audience—in a classic rock mood–  lit up when Roadcase Royale played such tracks as “These Dreams,” “Even It Up,” and “What About Love.”

Roadcase Royale is about more than Wilson. And one of the highlights of the evening is when they jumped into the Heart classic, “Crazy on You.” Wilson was fabulous on the classical guitar-influenced intro. But the band’s singer Liv Warfield absolutely killed it in the vocals. She gave the track a good kick in the pants and really pumped up the audience in preparation for Seger.

Besides the cover versions, however, Roadcase Royale also had some great original tunes. The first single, “Get Loud” is an audience rouser. And “Not Giving Up” also fit in nicely with the Heart tunes.

The sold out crowd at the Mohegan Sun Arena clearly got their money’s worth with headliner and opener at the Bob Seger/ Roadcase Royale show.

I give the evening four out of four stars.

That old time rock and roll isn’t something you’re likely to forget.

PHOTOS by MIKE CHAIKEN

Bob Seger at the Mohegan Sun Sept. 9.

Roadcase Royale at the Mohegan Sun Sept. 9.

Nancy Wilson of Roadcase Royale at the Mohegan Sun Sept. 9.

Nancy Wilson of Roadcase Royale at the Mohegan Sun Sept. 9.

Bob Seger at the Mohegan Sun Sept. 9.

Bob Seger at the Mohegan Sun Sept. 9.

Miss Connecticut was living her dream at Miss America

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — One day into the competition to see who would be the next Miss America, Eliza Kanner—the current Miss Connecticut—was upbeat and positive what was to come at Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, N.J.

(Kanner eventually lost the crown to Miss North Dakota Cara Mund.)

“This has been such an incredible week being at Miss America,” said Kanner during a press opportunity during the contestants lunch break. “I’ve been involved in the organization for 17 years. “I started when I was 4 years old as a (Miss Connecticut) Princess than as (an Outstanding Teen, including Miss Milldale’s Outstanding Teen), now Miss Connecticut. I’m representing my home state here. So I’ve just been collecting all the little moments and putting them in my journal so I can remember for them for years to come.”

As far as the moments that loom largest about the past week (contestants had arrived a week earlier prior to the competition to make public appearances and rehearse), Kanner said, “Last night (Sept. 6), I had the opportunity to perform my talent on the Miss America stage. It was really quite incredible because I was performing my talent. I would have these little moments where I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I’m on the Miss America stage. So it was kind of weird to have these moments where you have those moments on the Miss America stage and (remember) I have to sing; I have to perform my talent. But it was incredible. Everything I wished for.”

Before she went on stage to make her first introduction at Miss America, Kanner said she was thinking, “I’m so proud. I’m so proud to be here to introduce myself to America as Miss Connecticut. It was a dream of mine for years. Now to have the opportunity to be Miss America, it doesn’t get much cooler than that.”

Before performing her talent (she sang “Memories” in Italian) before the judges, Kanner said, “I get so excited. I really don’t have too many nerves before I perform. I’m just excited to get out there. I have an adrenaline rush, Ten seconds before they announce my name, and I walk out, a moment of calmness comes right before my music starts and I’m just ready to show them, what I worked so hard for.”

The morning after her performance, Kanner said, “I’m just happy I felt the whole performance. I wasn’t thinking about I’m getting scored on the high note or did I have enough vibrato. I was proud of myself for feeling the song, feeling the music, and really giving a great performance.”

Asked about the other 50 women on stage, Kanner said, “These women are truly the most accomplished smart, funny, intelligent, mission-driven women I’ve ever met in my entire life. We’re such a great group, so supportive of one another. I’ve made some great friends. I know I’ll have them forever.”

Forty years from now, Kanner said she will tell her children and grandchildren, “It’s a dream come true. I get asked, what are you going to tell young girls as Miss Connecticut or for years to come. ‘Just follow your dreams.’ I’m a big dreamer, but I don’t believe dreams work unless you do. Break those dreams down into goals, attainable goals, that you can reach in order to achieve those dreams.”

To her friends and family in Connecticut, Kanner (who did much of her preparation for Miss America in Bristol) said, “I’m so thankful for the amount of love and support that I’ve been showered with during my time in Miss America— but also throughout my year so far competing and when I won Miss Connecicut. It’s been so awesome. So many people said that when I won Miss Connecticut they felt they were winning too because they have been part of my journey. But thank you to everybody who has sent me so much love this week. I’m so thankful for you all.”

On the first night of competition, when Kanner performed her talent, Miss Utah JessiKate Riley won talent with a solo violin performance and Miss Texas Margana Wood won lifestyle and fitness (swimsuit).

On the second night, when Kanner took part in the onstage interview, Miss Louisiana Laryssa Bonacquisti won lifestyle and fitness and Miss Minnesota Brianna Drevlow won talent.

On the third night, Miss Louisiana Laryssa Bonacquisti won the preliminary talent award with a ventriloquist vocal performance and Miss Florida Sara Zeng won lifestyle and fitness.

PHOTOS by MIKE CHAIKEN

Miss Connecticut Eliza Kanner during the evening gown preliminaries at Miss America in Atlantic City, N.J. on Sept. 8.

Miss Connecticut Eliza Kanner enters the stage of Miss America on Sept. 6.

Miss Connecticut Eliza Kanner sings ‘Memories’ at Miss America in Atlantic City on Sept. 6 during preliminary competitions.

TLC loves the live experience

By MIKE CHAIKEN EDITIONS EDITOR Although a decade plus has passed between albums for TLC, the best-selling group never lost its love for the stage. Performing live, said Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, is “like a rush or something. It’s a combination…