WOW! That sums up the day about as well as anything. I drove from Pennsylvania to Statesville, NC, on Friday so I would have time to do my normal reconnaissance Saturday morning. The trip was uneventful and Saturday dawned cloudy will snow flurries. The weather would play a small part in the day's events. The first order of business was to locate the venue, the Mac Gray Auditorium on the campus of Statesville High School. Next up was to locate potential places for dinner and finally head for Charlotte to locate the Borders. Everything was quickly accomplished. I arrived at Borders just before 10am to see where Órla would be and how things would work. A quick chat with store personnel revealed that they would be clearing “half the store” to make room and she would be there with her harp. I wasn't expecting a performance so a great day was already getting better. The Borders is part of the Northlake Mall so I walked around for a little while and then went for lunch at my favorite place, Steak and Shake. Pennsylvania doesn't have any, so it's a treat when I get to visit one. I returned just after 12 and they were starting to get organized. I sat in the cafe on the second floor and watched until they setup the chairs, at which point I staked my claim to front row, right in front of the spot where Órla's harp would be. There was a total of 24 seats, in 6 rows of 4, and they filled up quickly. About 1:45 Denny Young appeared and checked out the small sound system and brought out the harp. A little after 2:00 Órla appeared in a lovely black outfit and stiletto heels. She saw me and waved and then looked over the seated people, broke out in a huge smile, and said “Some people know how to keep secrets!” I turned around and who should I see but Kelli and Zee standing in the rear. They had planned another surprise visit and managed to keep it a complete secret.
After a brief introduction, Órla arranged her sheet music, corrected Denny's harp setup (
), and played three songs: Silent Night, The First Noel,
and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.
I recorded the set and will post the video at some point; it is in HD and is beautiful. This was by far the closest I had ever been to Órla while she was playing and watching her fingers dance across the harp strings was fascinating. After the set she chatted with fans and signed autographs. There were several families with small children and Órla was all over them with hugs and smiles. Two very young girls had brought drawings that they gave to her. When Kelli and Zee got to the head of the line they had a grand reunion. I had brought lots of stuff for her to sign, but just had her sign some pictures I had printed for myself and Brad. She remarked that she loved my facebook posts, so if you comment on her facebook page rest assured that she will
read it. While the rest of the line went through, I chatted with Kelli, Zee, Philip, Susan, and Heather. It was over shortly before 3:00 and we all went our separate ways until the evening. On the way out I talked the store manager into giving me the lovely store poster for the event.
Regarding the weather, while we were waiting for Órla someone noted that it was sleeting outside but it didn't amount to anything and things were just a little wet when I left. Things were somewhat different for John (starman), though. He had called me around 1:00 and told me he was moving about 10mph in sleet with a dead GPS. I had him give me a mile marker and sadly informed him that he was 2 hours away at normal speed and obviously much longer if the weather didn't improve. He asked me to tell Órla that he was sorry he couldn't be there and I totally bummed him out when I told him he would miss her performing. The best laid plans...
John finally arrived in Statesville just after 3:00 and we made arrangements to meet for dinner at 4:30. Since the show was general admission, like Nashville, we wanted to get there early. We had a nice dinner at Appleby's (thanks for dinner, John) and got to the venue around 5:40 for the 7:30 show. There were only 2 other cars on the parking lot and we went inside and were 5th and 6th in line. Later Kelli and Zee arrived and we had them join us in line. Once in the theater we discovered that Denny had made arrangements for the first two rows to be reserved for “special fans.” We would have been in the front row anyway because of our spot in line but it allowed other forum members, fans, and friends to be up front even though the weren't there early. Very classy and thank you, Denny! We were just right of center with the stage just about eye level. The stage had been extended out over the pit area and Órla was not permitted beyond where the real stage ended, so she was back from the edge a bit but still plenty close. The back curtain was washed in blue light and there were several lighted Christmas trees along the back of the stage. Dan has a much bigger keyboard than he used before and Mary's position was right behind Órla. The venue seats around 800 and was probably 80% full. Other than Nashville, I think it was probably her biggest audience to date. We got introductions from both venue personnel and the Mayor of Statesville.
Finally it was time. Órla came out in a lovely black dress, different than the one she wore in the afternoon and sturdier heels. The shoes didn't stay on long, though, and after the second song she kicked them off saying that she had been rehearsing earlier while barefoot and it was so much more comfortable. She did remark that her harp was little high without heels. The biggest surprise was that Mary was not the violinist. A new girl named Amberly Rosen did the honors, and quite well I might add. She hails from Oregon and had just learned the mandolin 4 days earlier!
There was a nice insert in the venue program which included a setlist. The list was noticeably longer than her previous shows: 15 songs. It was so long, in fact, that there was a real intermission. More Órla is a good thing! The set included 7 Christmas songs so it will obviously be different for the spring tour. The non-Christmas songs were similar arrangements to previous shows with one exception. In Maryland in the spring she had mentioned that the song Two Sisters
had some extra verses which she thought were a little too strong for children so she left them out. We got to hear them tonight and they included the miller stealing the gold ring from the younger sister and throwing her over the dam, him being hanged, and the older sister being boiled in lead. Yikes! I wouldn't want to be in that family. She also encouraged several sing-alongs, coaching us before each one. As usual, it was a very intimate performance.
The Christmas songs were mostly the same ones as on her new DVD but without the backing orchestra and percussion they had a very different sound; much lighter and more personal. I liked it very much. I should also mention that Amberly dances while playing the fiddle during The Wassailing Song
; not like Máiréad but still pretty impressive. Órla received several standing ovations, most from the front row but a few from the entire audience. She did two encores and then adjourned to the lobby to sign CD's and DVD's. She told us to wait for her, though. During the wait we all chatted and got acquainted with Amberly and Dan, who also happily signed autographs and posed for pictures. After about 45 minutes Órla returned and chatted with us for quite a while. She signed things, posed for pictures and we had the obligatory group photo taken.
It was a truly wonderful day and evening. Órla loves her fans and loves to show it. During the show she dedicated Simple Love
to Zee and at the end she dedicated the entire show to Kelli. Both were very touching moments.
After a few days at my company's Virginia facility, not coincidentally scheduled this week (
), I'll be heading for Boston on Thursday to do it all again.
Here are some pictures, before, during, and after the show. Enjoy!
The Northlake Mall goes all out for Christmas with this Narnia
display in the center court!
Here's the table setup for Órla, the event sign (not the poster I got), and Órla setting up.
Some pictures during the performance.
A closeup of Amberly and the group picture.Edit: @#$%^&* typos. Gotta stop doing reviews at 1:30am!