On a side note, I don’t want to let too much time go by before chronicling this great experience from tonight. As it happens for all of us, procrastination convinces us we can do something later on and then we forget what happened in the thing we were going to talk about. Or at least that’s me.
So tonight at the PRPD conference, I was privileged to get to experience Cyndi Lauper in concert while viewing a live taping of the public radio program E-Town Live. I admit that I haven’t followed her career extensively, but she is a music/rock icon and I did want her to win on Celebrity Apprentice last season. I had not really recognized her ability as a performer to captivate the audience. That changed tonight.
Her latest musical endeavor has been in the realm of blues. But she spent some time sharing with the audience that blues has always been a driving force for her in music, how it was an early influence in her writing and performing and how the stories that shape blues music are all of our stories.
She has composed a groundbreaking album that is #1 on the blues charts for 15 weeks now called Memphis Blues. I admit that the first time I listened to it after her management sent it to me, I was really surprised at its sound in a way that I thought, “That’s not Cyndi Lauper.” I was wrong. The concert experience for me altered what I thought of her endeavor and created a different way to approach her music. She is an incredible performer. Her attire was all black with thick black heels (that she used to kick into the stage to start the rhythm of each song), with bold red hair that seemed to spring all over the place. It was very dynamic. The first 2 songs performed were from her album and then she did an interview with E-Town host Nick Forster.
After having just been through an extensive workshop that dealt with how to interview people in the best way, I sat with a member of my session group and both of us kept saying, “This guy is doing it all wrong.” He would talk over her, not followup with questions to go deeper into her subjects and it seemed like he kept trying to upstage her. But Cyndi was so beyond him that even in his efforts to be the top dog on stage, she showed him up time and time again. It was something perhaps only the public radio programming people picked up, but real all the same.
Cyndi has such incredible vocal range which she exhibited in her first 2 songs, but really showed off in the third song which was a cover of the blues legendary track “The Crossroads,” from Robert Johnson. Wow, was her voice something. The whole song was phenomenal.
I felt like I had gotten my money’s worth with Cyndi alone but decided to stick around anyways. I’m glad I did. Performing with her onstage was Charlie Musslewhite, a legendary blues performer and harmonica icon. He came on stage alone to perform with Forster some of his original tunes. One of these was a new song called “The Well.” Charlie told the story of how he’d been drinking heavily from a young age because everyone in their circle did. He didn’t know another way. But going to a gig one night, he heard this story on the radio of one little girl who had been trapped in a well and broke her arm in the process. While officials tried to figure out how to get her out, she was singing nursery rhymes to herself to stay focused. Charlie told himself, “If this little girl can have the courage to stay alive and keep going while in a well, I can give up alcohol until they dig her out.” So three days later she came out of the well and he came out of addiction to alcoholism. What a powerful story! So he performed this song and it was incredible. I’m going to download it on i-Tunes asap.
The third act was an African drum group called Mohammed Alidu and the Bizung Family. The style was very reggae, but the musicians were so awesome. The trap drummer had some incredible chops and even pulled off this Latin-style while performing African-based rhythms. I was very impressed. The percussionist held back his immense talent until later on and ripped out this ridiculous fill that made me say “Holy Crap!” out loud. Their whole band was really something and I’m glad I stuck around to experience it.
The show concluded with every musician coming on stage and playing some instrument (thought the Alidu bassist had to play air guitar) and all performing a part in an awesome cover of Jimmy Buffet’s “I’ll Take You There.” This also showed the class and depth of Lauper, who orchestrated the solo times for each musician to show off their prowess and make the song something more than a Cyndi Lauper performance. She really put the spotlight on the band and it was really something to experience. In a crowd of several public radio bosses and other members of the community, a whole section rushed the stage and danced the last song through. This was a very cool thing to watch from the balcony where I sat. The whole experience was amazing and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to take it all in.