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Stay tuned for dates on Máiréad's performances in the USA!
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Author Topic: The American Christmas Carol at Carnegie Hall – November 30, 2012  (Read 822 times)
Tipperary's best fiddler
Posts: 3024

Albuquerque 2009. Forever on my mind.

« on: December 02, 2012, 06:29:34 PM »

Birthdays come and birthdays go.  I've had so many of them that I hardly even notice anymore.  Recently, though, I've had two extraordinary ones.  Last year, of course, was my excellent Swedish adventure with Henny and Alex.  A few months ago I was alerted to a benefit concert that would include, among others, Hayley Westenra and Andrea Corr.  Those of you who know me know that I was and still am a big fan of the Corrs and I was fortunate to see them while they were on their last American tour in 2004.  At the first of those four concerts I lucked out and got a front row near dead-center seat, the first of many since.  Prior to those concerts I had probably seen less than 5 live concerts in my entire life.  I credit those shows, the Corrs, and especially Andrea, with being the first baby steps in what has become wonderful journey.  I never got to meet Andrea, though, and even if the opportunity had presented itself back then I probably would have been too shy to act on it.  As the Corrs started families and the group stopped touring, I didn't think I would ever see Andrea perform again, much less meet her.

So you can imagine my excitement when this concert was announced.  I was online the instant the tickets went on sale and got 4 tickets in the second row, near center.  My plan was to treat my adopted family (my best friend Brad, his wife Sue and daughter Beth) to the show as an early Christmas gift; the birthday connection hadn't really sunk in.  Early in November I learned (thanks, Andy) that VIP passes were on sale which included an after-show reception and a meeting with the artists.  When I purchased my tickets I didn't even know such a thing was available but based on the discounted price the original cost would have been out of my range anyway.  Now, though, it was within reach and I was positively giddy as I upgraded my ticket.  Despite it technically being the day before my actual birthday, this was now turning out be another great one.

Plans were made to take the train from Harrisburg to New York City Friday morning for the show and spend the day Saturday sightseeing and shopping with a late evening return.  Amtrak tickets were purchased, hotel reservations were made, and all that was left was to wait.  Meanwhile, Andy (from Georgia) already had his ticket and Coren (from California) decided to come, too.  I already knew Steven (from New Jersey) was coming so the seeds were planted for a small coast-to-coast forum gathering before the show.  All three of them upgraded to the VIP package as well.

Finally the day arrived and after an uneventful train ride we arrived in the Big Apple around 1pm.  Andy and Coren were already in the city and Steve would be hooking up with us at dinner.  I gave Coren a crash course on the New York subway system while my friends visited the famous Macy's next door to our hotel.  We all met outside Carnegie Hall around 4:30 and after picking up our VIP passes at the box office we had a great dinner at the Brooklyn Diner.  The name is a little misleading because, even though it masquerades as a diner, a Maitre d' in a tuxedo seats you and both the service and food are way above diner standards.  I had intentionally planned an early dinner to avoid any potential time issues so we arrived at Carnegie Hall well before the theater doors opened.  They were allowing people inside, though, and inviting them to visit the museum and gift shop on the second floor.  The museum was very interesting with lots of pictures and memorabilia, including old programs and vinyl record covers of albums recorded at the Hall.

Once the doors opened we headed for our seats.  Andy was front row center, my four tickets were in the second row right behind him, Coren had upgraded his original 15th row ticket to third row, and Steven disappeared to his front row balcony seat.  Despite the tickets stating in no uncertain terms that photography was not allowed and that the mere possession of a camera was grounds for arrest, people were snapping away so I took a few shots of the glorious Stern Auditorium.  I expected to not use the camera during the show but that policy, too, seemed to be ignored by everyone else so I joined in and got some great photos.

I'll start the actual review by saying that this concert was not at all what I was expecting; it was much, much more.  Based on the title, I was anticipating an evening fill with, what else, Christmas carols.  While there were a few Christmas songs in the show, it was mostly the artists performing there own material.  Why, you ask?  The event was the brainchild of Tim Janis as a benefit for the Golden Hat Foundation, an organization dedicated to changing the way people with Autism are perceived.  The organization was founded by Margaret Ericsdotter and Kate Winslet when Kate did the narration for Margaret's story about her autistic son.  The artists donated their time and all of the proceeds from the concert went to the Foundation.

The “headliners” of the show were Loreena McKennitt, Sarah McLachlan, Hayley Westenra, and Andrea Corr.  Other artists performing included Amy Petty, Jana Mashonee, Dawn Kenney, the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys, and a nearly 200-voice choir from the Philadelphia area.  The 79-piece orchestra was conducted by Benjamin Vickers.

After three Tim Janis instrumental compositions, with him on piano, Loreena came on stage with her harp.  She has a similar style to Orla in that she sings traditional Irish songs while playing the harp and it was a lovely way to start the show.  Following Loreena was Andrea and she sang three songs from her post-Corrs solo albums.  It was so great to see her perform again and despite being married with a young baby she was the same effervescent, flirtatious young singer that I remembered so well.

Margaret then came onstage and talked about the Golden Hat Foundation, which is named for a poem her son wrote.  She talked about her son and how Kate Winslet got involved and told some very heartwarming stories.  Then Kate herself came to the podium and talked for a few minutes.  Next up were the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys and they got quite a reception.  They are all quite young, the banjo player is probably only about 6, but they are talented well beyond their years.  They performed three spirited numbers and the applause got louder with each one.  Dawn Kenney then sang a country/gospel song accompanied by a few members of her own band followed by Amy singing a beautiful arrangement of Ave Maria.

Hayley then sang two songs from her solo repertoire and Sarah did the same.  Jana then sang her first solo as part of a rousing, foot-stomping gospel number featuring the huge choir who had just spent several minutes filing onto the stage.  Besides Andrea, the last three songs were highlights for me.  Hayley sang Amazing Grace with the full orchestra and the full choir.  It was, quite simply, amazing.  Being a solo rather a group number it's not really fair to compare it to CW's version; Hayley's stands on its own quite nicely.  Sarah then sang a beautifully gentle rendition of Silent Night, also with the choir.  The finale had all of the soloists returning to the stage together to sing O Holy Night.  It was a fabulous way to end the show and yielded a well-deserved standing ovation.

After that it was time for the reception and even though I've been to many meet and greets this one was different.  That nervousness from the first time I met Máiréad at the CD signing in Connecticut was back.  Coren and Andy were both a bit nervous themselves and we leaned on each other a little for support.  There were probably around 50 people who had purchased tickets for the reception and the room was reasonably large so there was plenty of room to move around.  Champagne, sparkling water and wine were being served, as well as small desserts of various types.

The artists first posed for formal pictures in an adjacent room with a Golden Hat Foundation banner in the background, just like they do after the Oscars, and they were then “released into the wild”.  Smiley  The artists mingled freely with the guests and happily posed for pictures and signed autographs.  Sarah and Hayley seemed to draw the biggest crowds and even though I wanted to meet them both I wanted to meet Andrea more so I stayed loose until she finished her photo shoot.  I watched as she chatted with a few others while I worked up the courage to approach her.  Not being used to bringing my own pen, I borrowed Coren's and handed Andy my camera to document the event for posterity.  I figured the worst that would happen would be him catching me fainting.  Finally she was free and I steeled myself and said hello.  All my fears were, of course, unfounded as she was just as nice as every other Irish lass I've ever met but I was still nervous.  I told her that I had been to the Cleveland concert in 2004 and her face lit up as she remembered that show.  I congratulated her on her marriage and new baby and she smiled and said that it was her “best work ever.”  I'm not 100% sure what else we talked about but it was one of those moments where every word doesn't need to be remembered for it to be special.  I asked if she would pose for a picture with me and she readily agreed.  I didn't realize at the time that Andy had taken a few pictures of us while chatting, as well.  Thank you for that, Andy.  After retrieving my camera I realized that I was still holding my program and Coren's pen; I had completely forgotten to ask Andrea for her autograph.  That faux pas was quickly remedied and all was right with the world again.

As I waited for some semblance of normalcy to return, I realized that I had missed both Sarah and Hayley.  Loreena was still surrounded by people so I struck up conversations with Amy and Jana.  Both are fabulous singers, were lovely to char with and they both signed my program.  I was hoping to say a few words to Tim Janis and thank him for the event but as I was heading in his direction he went out the door.  So, in the end I only got to meet three of the artists, but it was OK; I was very happy.

Steven headed south to the ferry terminal for his trip home and Andy went back to his hotel so Coren joined me and my friends for a late-night snack at a local Irish pub called P. J. Carney's.  As I stared at the pictures in my camera and thought back on what had just transpired I felt like I had taken another step forward in my life, knocking a little more wind of that shyness reflex.

My friends and I spent Saturday visiting Rockefeller Center and Times Square during which the girls managed to squeeze in more than a little shopping time.  By evening we were all dead tired so we had dinner at Friday's in Penn Station while we waited for our 8pm train back to Harrisburg.  I worked on the first draft of this review while the rest slept.  We were greeted by thick fog and the trip home from the station took longer than expected but we were all safely in our beds by 1am.

If this concert had been scheduled differently I would likely have gone to Foxwoods to celebrate my birthday with Máiréad, Chloë, Lisa and Susan but it turned out to be an awesome birthday weekend shared with good friends.  I wouldn't change a thing about it, other than to remember to bring my own Sharpie.  My phone was buzzing all day Saturday with birthday wishes on both Facebook and Twitter and I was a little overwhelmed.  Thanks to all of you for that.  Maybe birthdays aren't so bad after all.

Carnegie Hall, facing the stage and the rear:

Loreena and Andrea:

Margaret and Kate:

The Steely Man Banjo Boys and Dawn:

Amy and Jana:

Hayley and Sarah:

Andrea and me:

The steps up from Penn Station and Rockefeller Center:

Brad and Beth in front of Chase Bank and an original mosaic in the subway:


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