Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Tommy at CMAC, Canandaigua, NY – June 30, 2018

CMAC, Canandaigua NY

June 30, 2018

Back again – Canandaigua is not a major city. It’s up in Northern New York state, not far from Rochester and then Buffalo. Beautiful wooded areas and a large set of lakes called the Finger Lakes, for obvious reasons.

We’ve been here before, to the CMAC amphitheater, a little over a year ago with The Who. Same place, same vibe. It’s a wooded area, and the city itself is about two blocks of buildings from the 1800s that have been nicely restored and kept up. Our feeling is that this is largely a summer resort area, with gorgeous houses and close enough to NYC that the wealthy can get away to a second home here.

Our big surprise here was – the orchestra! After the debacle at the last show (Nashville) we weren’t expecting much out among the trees, at least 35 minutes away from a major city. Wrong!

In fact, though it may not have been the most precise of the orchestras, this crew came in and set up with good enthusiasm and smiles. They were chatty and started working on their individual parts – always a good sign.

I neglected to mention the key factor here; HEAT. It’s really hot, sweltering actually. Since we came in about 9.30am it has been blazing, part of a heatwave hitting these Eastern states this coming week. Everyone is soaked and our only respite is the meal breaks inside where the AC is cranked. Yet this orchestra also puts up with the heat and turns in a spirited rehearsal. We’re off to a better start.

The show is slightly different as we’ve changed our mixing-man. Usually Robert Collins is at the board, as he has done for years and years. But he’s got a summer tour with Eric Clapton, a longtime employer as well. So Robert’s gone off and will hand over the reins to ‘Chopper’ who works with Robert daily, handling the overall sound system. Sometimes this happens, key personnel have to leave for other concerns, but that hard part is done; figuring out the show, getting it ready and stable. Once it’s on the road, one simply needs to continue. It’s not as creative, but it’s less-stressful once you’re started and rolling.

Speaking of pinball . . . We were in Chicago, then down to Nashville, now back up to near the Canadian border! That’s a wild tour map. And the Northern location means the sun will stay out longer for us – well past 9.00pm it seems, a bit like playing in the daytime. We were hoping the setting sun would return us to some cooler weather – not really. Still hot and sticky for everyone.

The show starts well, and this orchestra came alive. They really were getting into it, something we’ve only seen one or two orchestral members show usually. In this case, whole sections (First and second violins, you know who you are!) were rocking out together, heads bobbing and feet tapping. Both when resting and when playing. That’s tricky to do, actually, which is why ‘serious’ orchestras usually sit quite still – to worry about control and reading the sheet music. It seems to be a newer trend that orchestral musicians (usually young ones) start to show movement while playing. (Check YouTube for England’s excellent Britten Sinfonia group; they will show you what an active orchestra looks like!)

This group was more fun, more excited by the music, and simply a joy to work with. Not a normal symphonic group (as attached to a certain concert hall or conductor) who play together, I’m told this is more a group of hand-picked freelancers. Age seemed not to matter, as one young cellist was rocking shoulder to shoulder with one from an older generation.

Roger ended as he has done each show – with the beautiful song ‘Always Heading Home’. Everyone has left the stage, except Loren on piano and Jon on string bass. It’s poignant and moving, much like ‘Tea and Theater’ that used to end the Endless Wire Tour shows. We’ve had a lot of rocking music, beautiful and powerful, but this is a gentle ending to a night of powerful stuff.

Roger really thanked the orchestra for their efforts, shaking the hand of their concertmaster/first violin and telling the bowing orchestra to ‘soak it up’ as they had been through the hot rehearsal and a full show. They did seem to enjoy it.

I recognized contractor Steve Trudell from last year’s Classic Quadrophenia orchestral tour. The contractor hires either a specific orchestra or puts one together from players known to them. Steve works with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Josh Groban, Rod Stewart, Robert Plant, Elton, Billy Joel, Cage the Elephant, Thirty Seconds to Mars, and Evanescence, among many . . .

This group Steve calls ‘The Festival Orchestra’ as they are his custom project given for each show – and we wish we could take them on tour with us . . . In this case, these are hired guns brought in for the occasion. Steve told me he really doesn’t want to bring boring orchestras, he likes this kind of animated, interesting musician, searching the continents for various players of skill and strong approach. His choices certainly made a difference here and last summer. We like that approach – thank you all . . .

Onward!

Video by Johnson Rodd

SET LIST

Overture
It’s a Boy
1921
Amazing Journey
Sparks
Eyesight to the Blind
Christmas
Cousin Kevin
The Acid Queen
Do You Think It’s Alright?
Fiddle About
Pinball Wizard
There’s a Doctor
Go to the Mirror!
Tommy Can You Hear Me?
Smash the Mirror
Underture
I’m Free
Miracle Cure
Sensation
Sally Simpson
Welcome
Tommy’s Holiday Camp
We’re Not Gonna Take It
See Me, Feel Me

Who Are You
Baba O’Riley
Always Heading Home