The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
The first Super Bowl I watched on TV? That’s easy: the 1980 matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Rams were my first favorite football team, thanks in large part to it being Warren Beatty’s team in the 1978 comedy Heaven Can Wait. (The fact I was picking football teams based on movies was a strong indication where my life was going.) Unfortunately, quarterback Vince Ferragamo and the real-life Rams didn’t fare as well as Beatty’s Joe Pendleton and Co., losing to Pittsburgh, 31-19.
That, I remember.
The halftime show? Not a thing.
It was not the Bee Gees, Donna Summer or some other chart-topper from those days, as we have now. It was two groups that seem unlikely in today’s era of blockbuster, big-name Super Bowl shows: Up With People and the Grambling State University Marching Band.
Both were Super Bowls mainstays during that time. Up With People, the Denver-based educational organization with a performing arm, was the halftime act at five Super Bowls during the 1970s and ’80s.
Yes, there was a time when the Super Bowl was about the football game, and the halftime show was an afterthought, or so it seemed. Today, anticipation for the things surrounding the game — Super Bowl ads, Beyoncé’s halftime show this year — rivals anticipation of the game itself and makes the Super Bowl a certifiable pop culture phenomenon.
A few years back, when the Super Bowl was getting slagged by many for booking Jurassic rockers including the Rolling Stones and The Who for the halftime shows, it could have been worse.
If you doubt that, YouTube is here to testify.
Take, for instance, the 1977 halftime show, when the game was played in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The competitors were the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders. The show was produced by the Walt Disney Co. and featured a marching band, cheesy singers in Mickey Mouse sweaters and “the new Mouseketeers!” including a sprite named “Lisa!” whom we would later come to know as Lisa Whelchel — Blair on the long-running sitcom The Facts of Life and runner-up on the recent Survivor: Philippines. The show also was supposed to include a crowd-participation card trick, though here in the Herald-Leader’s features department, we can’t figure out what that was supposed to be.
Probably the most unwatchable clip we could find on YouTube was a two-minute snippet of Up With People playing Super Bowl V in 1971. As an NBC sportscaster announces “Up With the People,” the bright red- and yellow-clad group plays, dances and clearly lip-syncs to Someone Smiled.
(Beyoncé, if you lip-sync on Sunday, there is a precedent.)
It’s not that the Super Bowl halftime shows were devoid of stars.
In 1973, the University of Michigan Marching Band performed with guest Andy Williams warbling a version of Barbra Streisand’s People. Two years later, the Grambling State Marching Band played a tribute to Duke Ellington; his son Mercer Ellington and the Duke Ellington Band rolled into New Orleans’ Tulane Stadium on an A-Train float.
Ella Fitzgerald even made a Super Bowl halftime appearance in 1972 with Carol Channing and trumpeter Al Hirt. We could not find video of that, which might be just as well for the artists’ reputations. Channing also appeared at Super Bowl IV in 1970, and Hirt was on hand for the first Super Bowl, in 1967, along with the Grambling State and University of Arizona marching bands and the Anaheim High School drill team.
No matter how much announcers told us these were “marvelous” and “spectacular,” when you look at videos of some of these shows, it’s hard to imagine many of them kept people from heading to the refrigerator or bathroom or concession stand.
I distinctly remember watching the Cincinnati Bengals’ first Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers in 1982. But if I have a memory of the Up With People halftime show, hosted by Kentucky’s then-first lady and CBS sportscaster Phyllis George (above), I have mercifully repressed it.
For better and worse, Super Bowl halftime shows started to become memorable and engage contemporary star power in the 1990s. They were still trying to fit the performers in higher-concept ideas of halftime entertainment — see the Disney-esque appearance by New Kids on the Block in 1991 (which was actually not shown during the Super Bowl broadcast due to coverage of the Gulf War, which was just starting) and a mismatch of Olympic figure skaters and Gloria Estefan to celebrate winter in 1992 — Miami Sound Machine’s Gloria Estefan? Winter?
The first time I can recall hanging in to watch a Super Bowl halftime show was 1993 (above), also the first time the performance doubled as a rock concert, this time starring Michael Jackson in all his self-aggrandizing glory. He was still charting hits, things had not gotten too weird, and when he moonwalked across the stage, it was 1983 again.
Jackson’s stand was the performance that changed the Super Bowl halftime show forever, setting the template for what happens annually now: a performance by one of the biggest names in pop. There were missteps along the way. The next year, 1994 in Atlanta, was the first of several in which the stage was so overloaded with stars (I can only find an ad for that one) — including Kentuckians Naomi and Wynonna Judd — that it turned the event into a mishmash. That most notably happened in 2004, when Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake created the infamous wardrobe malfunction that briefly exposed Jackson’s breast to the world.
In the 21st century, the shows have been at their best when left to one brilliant artist: Prince’s showcase of his greatness in 2007 and U2’s moving post-9/11 appearance in 2002 (above). It doesn’t always work, but that it frequently does is one of the biggest reasons we keep tuning in to this game every year, even if our team is not playing.
There is a game, isn’t there?
Dec27Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Art Museum at the University of Kentucky, Arts administration, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Central Kentucky Arts News, Christmas music, Classical Music, Country music, Downtown Arts Center, Film, Horsemania, Kentucky Theatre, Laura Bell Bundy, LexArts, Lexington Art League, Lexington Children's Theatre, Lexington Opera House, Lexington Philharmonic, Lexington Singers, Music, Musicals, Norton Center for the Arts, Opera, Secretariat, Singletary Center for the Arts, UBS Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, UK, Visual arts; Tagged as: Actors Guild of Lexington, Allison Kaiser, Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Alltech Fortnight Festival, Balagula Theatre, Blake Shelton, Debra Hoskins, Eric Seale, Gustavo Dudamel, Haiti, Institute 193, John Lithgow, La Bohème, Laura Bell Bundy, Lexington Art League, Lexington Chamber Chorale, Lexington Children’s Theatre, Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Lexington Singers, Marvin Hamlisch, Ouanamithe, Phillip March Jones, ProjectSEE Theartre, Rolling Stones, Scott Terrell, Southeastern Theatre Conference, Spotlight Lexington Festival, Stephanie Pevec, Steven A. Hoffman, The Chieftains, Thoroughbred Community Theatre, Tony Bennett, Trombone Shorty, U2, UK Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Lexington’s 2010 year in arts could not have been weirder if you took the city and plopped it in the middle of Florida. Between some major changes at area arts institutions and the unprecedented wave of local and national arts activity prompted by the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, it was a year unlike any we have had or will probably see again.
■ While we did not get U2 or the Rolling Stones as WEG organizers had originally hoped, the games did fill up theaters, and in many cases, theater seats during the two weeks and three weekends of the games. Topping the bill was the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel at the Norton Center for the Arts. It was a booking that was deemed impossible by New York agents and drew national attention, all made possible by the persistence of for Norton Center assistant managing director Debra Hoskins who smoothed the road with bourbon and chocolate.
The event itself was an unforgettable evening for the audience and a great experience for area musicians and others who got to interact with one of the world’s great orchestras and shining stars.
Other great performances brought in by the Games were an evening with Marvin Hamlisch and the UK Symphony Orchestra, which had a great fortnight playing for the opening ceremonies and a production of La Boheme as well; Blake Shelton, Trombone Shorty and Laura Bell Bundy at the Spotlight Lexington Festival downtown and performances by Tony Bennett, John Lithgow and the Chieftains.
There is talk of extending both the Spotlight and Alltech Fortnight festivals, which presented the bulk of the entertainment, into the future. But we probably won’t see this level of activity again unless the games come back.
The Games also brought a number of high profile art exhibits to the area including a retrospective of the horse in American art at the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky and the Gift from the Desert look at Arabian horses at the International Museum of the Horse.
■ Scott Terrell was hired as the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra’s new music director in 2009, but this is the year we really started to see his vision for the orchestra unfold, and its reverberations in the community. Unveiling the orchestra’s 2010-11 season, he showed he was willing to break traditions and initiate new collaborations. He presented Messiah is a smaller format than years past and brought groups including local school and college choirs into the Philharmonic fold for performances that broke the orchestral concert mold. He also instituted a new style of concert preview with the Kicked Back Classics event at the Downtown Arts Center in November.
The moves have not come without some friction, which change often produces. There was unhappiness over the Lexington Singers not being part of the Messiah this year, as Terrell wanted to go with a smaller chorus and the Singers did not want to downsize. Enter the Lexington Chamber Chorale as a new collaborator and the Singers presenting their own Messiah in a holiday arts season whose calendar was largely rewritten this year. Precipitated by the changes, the Singers are asserting themselves more as an entity in their own right, un-tethered to the Philharmonic calendar.
How all of this will settle remains to be seen. But it is clear this will be a new Philharmonic under Terrell’s baton.
The orchestra also got a new executive director as Allison Kaiser came over from the same post at the Lexington Art League and Stephanie Pevec took over that post.
■ This was the year without Actors Guild of Lexington. Long regarded as Lexington’s flagship theater for adult audiences, financial troubles and management departures in 2009 all but shuttered the company this year except for one production, a concert version of The Who’s Tommy at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom and the new Moondance at Midnight Pass amphitheater. That said, theater thrived in the area with first rate productions by the Lexington Children’s Theatre and area college and community groups and emergence of some new organizations such as ProjectSEE Theartre and productions out of the Thoroughbred Community Theatre in Midway. And there were successes such as Balagula Theatre’s strong showing in the Southeastern Theatre Conference Convention here in Lexington. Actors Guild has announced a lineup of shows for 2011 under the guidance of new artistic director Eric Seale, but the group will be joining an active theater scene.
Some other big stories of the year that is now almost done were:
■ Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts tapped Steven A. Hoffman as its new director, following the departure of longtime director George Foreman to the University of Georgia. With this month’s departure of assistant managing director Debra Hoskins, there has been a complete turnover in management at the Norton Center. This will be a story to watch in 2011.
■ Alltech launched a project sending University of Kentucky voice students to Ouanamithe, Haiti, to launch a music program and form a children’s choir. The choir came to Central Kentucky and made several appearances during the World Equestrian Games.
■ The Southeastern Theatre Conference, the nation’s largest regional theater convention, came to Lexington for the first time in more than 20 years, and by all accounts, it went wonderfully.
■ Secretariat brought some Hollywood glamour back to the Bluegrass, including a gala premier at the Kentucky Theatre attended by star Diane Lane and many others.
■ Lexington native Laura Bell Bundy launched a country music career with her Mercury Nashville debut Achin’ and Shakin’.
■ Horse Mania returned to the streets of Lexington, 10 years after the original edition in 2000.
■ Michael Tick was named the new dean of the University of Kentucky’s College of Fine Arts.
■ The Pioneer Playhouse in Danville suffered massive flooding during rainstorms in early May, but recovered and went on to a successful season thanks to an army of volunteers.
■ Phillip March Jones’ Institute 193 emerged as a major force in creating and presenting visual arts in Central Kentucky.
■ Among world premiers in Lexington this year were Aleks Merilo’s Blur in the Rear View and Bringing It Home: Voices of Student Veterans, by UK Theatre, Beth Kander’s See Jane Quit by Bluegrass Community and Technical College Theatre, Roger Zare’s Geometries by the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, Frank X Walker’s I Dedicate This Ride at Lexington Children’s Theatre, and the regional premier of Brian Hampton’s The Jungle Fun Room by Studio Players.
Aug1Filed under: American Idol, Music, Rupp Arena, Television; Tagged as: American Idol, American Idols Live, Andrew Garcia, Carrie Underwood, Casey James, Crystal Bowersox, Daughtry, Didi Benami, Gwen Steffani, Janis Joplin, Justin Timberlake, Kate Bush, Katie Stevens, Kelly Clarkson, Lee DeWyze, Leonard Cohen, Michael Lynche, No Doubt, Paula Abdul, Rolling Stones, Rupp Arena, Siobhan Magnus, The Black Keys, U2
The central conceit of American Idols Live is that you can take 10 singers who were begging to be heard last summer and have them command an arena concert tour this summer.
More than the American Idol TV competion, this event could really tell us who is ready for the big time.
After all, the American Idol series is as artificial an environment as any reality/competition show. Singers deliver a song a week – maybe a handful if they make it deep into the competition – and usually it’s not even the entire song. Everything is tailored for TV, and the singers are immediately judged to their faces.
On Idols Live, the Top 10 contestants play to a live audience, which is essentially what they will have to do if they are to have successful musical careers. The audience passes judgement by getting on its feet and singing along to every word and by buying your albums and T-shirts. Or not.
Saturday night, before an estimated crowd of 4,000 at Rupp Arena, some artists seemed right at home and some should probably savor this tour while it lasts.
Like the TV show, the concert counted down the Top 10 from No. 10 Didi Benami to American Idol winner Lee DeWyze.
Even with five full songs near the end of the concert, it was still hard to see what propelled DeWyze to the championship. He’s certainly a good performer and seems like an amiable fellow. But basically he boiled a bunch of established hits like U2′s Beautiful Day and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah into mid-tempo country-pop tunes. Of course, there are numerous artists touring the country selling pretty much the same thing. It will be interesting to hear what DeWyze has to offer when he puts out his own album.
But several artists seized the opportunity to make good second impressions, particularly third place finisher Casey James. On the show, James always seemed to be a little lost trying to make the judges happy. But taking the stage playing The Black Keys’ I Got Mine, he quickly established himself as a Texas bluesman who had a Stratocaster and wasn’t afraid to use it.
Apr10Filed under: album review, Central Kentucky Arts News, dance, Film, Music, rc talk - Christian pop culture, Uncategorized; Tagged as: B.B. King, David Carr, Jars of Clay, Jon Foreman, Liquid, Live Revelations, Mac Powell, Mark Lee, Revelation, review, Robert Randolph, Switchfoot, Tai Anderson, Thief, Third Day, U2
There is probably more video footage of Third Day out on the market than any other band in Christian rock.
The guys popped out one of the first really noteworthy Christian concert DVDs back in 2001 with Third Day Live: The Offerings Experience, and the band has offered numerous DVDs since, including the video accompaniments to the their 2007 two-disc greatest hits package. If this were just a bunch of concert videos, it could get a bit stale. What has made the band’s videos fresh is they are not “just concert videos,” and we don’t get the same things twice.
That is true on the band’s latest DVD Live Revelations, which comes packaged with a concise live CD, including several concert versions of songs from last year’s Revelation album and a cover of U2 and B.B. King’s When Love Comes to Town, performed by Third Day, Jars of Clay, Switchfoot and Robert Randolph.
The footage for the DVD was shot during a Southeastern swing of the Music Builds tour with that mind-blowing quartet of acts, though the focus is squarely on the quartet of musicians who make up Third Day.
Yes, there is concert footage, and if you set this DVD next to that 2001 effort, you’d say, they’ve come a long way, baby. That first disc was great, but it was a few fairly static cameras, including one set behind David Carr’s drumkit that kind of bounced to the beat. This footage is sharp, sweeping and up-close, like an early shot from the foot of the stage of guitarist Mark Lee and bassist Tai Anderson jamming. It’s great concert videography.
But the two things you will remember about Live Revelations are the trip home to the band’s home in Atlanta and the trip to Houston after the devastation of Hurricane Ike, last Fall. The Atlanta footage is striking in how its takes the guys out of the spotlight and really puts them at home with their families. Driving from the tour bus to see his family, Carr talks to his wife in a disjointed cell phone call trying to figure out if he should head home or to his kid’s soccer game. We see Lee at the park with his children and feeding his eight-week-old daughter a bottle.
They are scenes any overworked mom or dad who’s come home from work not to a hug but an equally overworked spouse holding out the baby and saying, “take this,” could appreciate. And you appreciate that these wives are left at home alone for days and weeks at a time while their rock-star husbands are on the road. It takes a little effort to feel sorry for rock stars, but Jonathan and Andrew Erwin’s homecoming footage definitely stirs up some empathy.
The Erwin Brothers also capture some of the intent of the tour, and the fact the band considers its work a ministry, following the musicians as well as their tour mates to a Habitat for Humanity build in Nashville and then through the struggle to figure out how to handle that theme in devastated Houston. We see a conversation between Carr and Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman as they discuss how its hard to tell someone who just lost their home they need to go build homes for other people. That story comes back into the arena as the concert is dubbed Music Rebuilds, with all proceeds going to rebuilding efforts, and frontman Mac Powell sings the Hurricane Katrina anthem Cry Out to Jesus for America’s latest natural disaster victims.
It’s all a lot more extra-musical emotion than you’d ever expect from a concert video, and there are also insights into a band struggling to figure out how to present its newest music on tour.
Yes, there is also some levity and great music, so don’t avoid this thinking it’s a video of lamentations. But it is also an insightful documentary. When The Offerings Experience came out, Third Day was still a band on the rise, not yet established at the upper echelon of Christian rock. Now, they are there, and Live Revelations unveils the artistry, skill and sacrifices it took to get there.
Note: This being Good Friday, I should mention there is a wonderful rendition of Thief, the band’s great account of the crucifixion of Jesus told from the point of view of the thief who declared faith in Christ while dying next to him, on the DVD. I also always think of Jars of Clay’s Liquid as a great Easter-time Christian rock song.
Review: Bluetree, God of This City
The rest of this story will not come from Paul Harvey, the Irish band in question is not U2, and you know the song, but it is not Sunday, Bloody Sunday.
God of This City became a Christian worship anthem last year through a compelling performance by Chris Tomlin on the 2008 Passion CD named after the tune and later on his Hello Love album. It became a logical chorus for churches seeking change the world around them:
Greater things have yet to come
Great things are still to be done
In this city
But learning the story of the song’s authors illuminates the lyrics. These were not just writers hoping to transform towns that struggle with crime, poverty and other problems. The song was inspired by the home of Irish worship leaders Bluetree: Belfast, a city used to almost casual violence in its ongoing civil strife. It was also inspired by and mostly written in Pattaya, Thailand, a notorious city with a flourishing prostitution industry. It was inspired by dark, dark places.
Writing the song brought Bluetree to the attention of Tomlin, and brought the band a recording contract that culminates with the release of the Bluetree’s U.S. debut today. God of This City doesn’t contain anything else quite as instantly catchy as the title song, but it is an extremely well thought out album from the opening about God’s voice breaking through the noise of our world, and the album grows on you with songs such as Each Day and Your Love.
Bluetree were clearly ready for their moment of discovery, and hearing the group for the first time, it sounds like it may be positioned to take up the mantle for Delirious as the longtime British worship leaders prepare to disband. Like those guys, and another band from Ireland that releases an album today, Bluetree is inspired and inspiring.
About that other Irish quartet: As always, though for the first time in blog format, I’ll weigh in on the faith side of U2′s new album soon. But for now, I commend Walter Tunis’ review of No Line on the Horizon to you.
Winter Jam: Watch later this week for a feature on Winter Jam headliner Tobymac and then Sunday for some photo-heavy coverage of the event at Rupp.
So, what if they had an awards ceremony and didn’t hand out any awards?
OK, the Grammy Awards didn’t go quite that far. But there were vast expanses of airtime last night in which we did not see any little victrolas handed out. This is not necessarily a complaint.
For years, the Grammy Awards have been known for great performances and interesting pairings of artists. This year, in particular, it seemed like the recording academy decided to throw a concert and, when the show stopped to take a breath, hand out occasional awards.
If only the Oscars were honoring people who specialized in live performances, that might solve some of the Academy Awards’ ratings woes.
Like the Oscars, the Grammys have also been leaning more toward critically as opposed to popularly acclaimed fare to honor. The big winner last night was Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand, big with the adult rock crowd, but not so much with the Top 40 audience. There were live awards given to Coldplay and Lil’ Wayne too, so it’s not like this was a bust for hitmakers.
But regardless of who won, the selling point of the Grammys is the show, and this was a pretty hot one starting with U2 playing Get on Your Boots, the first single from the Irish quartet’s forthcoming album. Then, we got an unexpectedly sweet pairing of Justin Timberlake and Rev. Al Green, doing, among other things, Let’s Stay Together. Other standouts included Sugarland showing the power of one voice and one guitar, Jennifer Hudson triumphant for the second Sunday in a row, Radiohead and the USC Marching Band and Sir Paul McCartney showing the amazing longevity of that little pop song, I Saw Her Standing There.
Yes, there were misses: The set for Katy Perry’s I Kissed a Girl was as bright as Vegas, but her voice was as flat as the desert. And I am still waiting for Chris Martin to deliver a competent performance of Viva la Vida on TV. And the energy did seem to evaporate from the show in the last hour or so.
But this year’s Grammys emphasized the show in awards show, and that made it a pretty good night of television.
For not even being at the show, Chris Brown created plenty of drama.
Watching U2′s performance of Pride (In the Name of Love) at the inaugural celebration Sunday afternoon, I was reminded that while the powerful anthem was the band’s huge hit, they also penned the gorgeous MLK. It’s a simple tribute:
Sleep, sleep tonight
And may your dreams be realized
It may be stretching it a bit to say “The Dream” is being realized by the events of the next few days. But certainly the vision of the man we celebrate today will take a huge step toward reality with the inauguration we will witness tomorrow.
Highly recommended: Performance Today has its annual broadcast of the King Memorial Concert in Atlanta, featuring the Atlanta Symphony. It’s always a stirring performance. Locally, it airs at noon and 8 p.m. on WEKU FM-88.9.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich