Saturday, June 7, 2014

Back to Louisiana--The Hot and Humid Tour

And, yes, it was! 

August in Mississippi and Louisiana, we should have known.  We did, because the journey to see Taylor Hicks in concert was so-named before we ever got there. 

It was the summer of 2007. It was the summer of Taylor Hicks’ first solo national tour after winning American Idol Season 5! It was the summer of fun, friends, travel, and life-change!

Except for the 122-degree day in Phoenix, AZ, it was the hottest day I can ever remember flying into New Orleans August 1, 2007.  The humidity and heat literally took my breath away as I stepped out of the airport.  I quickly knew why the shuttle bus to car rentals had a bucket filled with ice and bottles of water.   It was the wettest and coldest bottle of water I can ever remember. 

Then it rained on the way to Vicksburg and steam rose from the pavement.  I was rushing through rush-hour traffic to get to the first concert that night and I spotted my first Taylor Hicks billboard!  Could I take a picture while driving?  No, I didn’t.   

At this point, I had seen six concerts in Alabama, Georgia, Arizona, and Las Vegas.  I thought I knew what to expect from Taylor Hicks in concert.  In Vicksburg, he showed everyone that “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”  He was sick, but no one would  have known that from his performance.  The tour would not be slowed by germs.    

 History is my field and passion.  Vicksburg was a historical treasure for the best and the worst reasons, the site of a long and destructive siege during the Civil War.  I was very fortunate to meet a new friend with a similar interest for the historical and our first full day in Vicksburg was filled with sites of the old Southern town and thoughtful exploration of the Battle of Vicksburg.  

 The second concert in Vicksburg was even better than the first.  Germs had not gotten the best of this American Idol and it was said around the soul patrol that the sicker, the better the concert!  Now in our youngsters slang “sick” does means “the best!”  I added another piece of  Taylor Hicks’ memorabilia to the collection which  I fondly call it the “germomonica.”   

Traveling though Mississippi the next day to Biloxi was a nostalgic sojourn for me.  My older brother was stationed at Keesler AFB in the 1950s and we took a family summer vacation to see him, though I don’t remember that it was in August! 

We drove through Gulfport, Mississippi, a very small town then and along the Gulf Coast to Biloxi.  It was the first time I had been to the beach and the first time my conservative father had worn a pair of Bermuda shorts.  We told him he could not go on the beach otherwise!  

In 2007, it was also a trip through the South with childhood memories flooding back of growing up in Kentucky.  There is so much that is “the South” no matter where you are like the truck selling watermelons by the side of the road.  

And although the Gulf Coast had been torn apart by Hurricane Katrina, it could not destroy the beauty. 

I stopped for this marquee.

The Mississippi Coast Coliseum was close to home for Taylor, and the “home folks” turned out including Taylor’s beautiful grandmother, Miss Joni, who passed away in 2013.  It was a huge crowd that welcomed Taylor and his tour band.  If you saw any of the 2007 concerts, you know that the band was about as good as it gets.  Simply, they rocked!

Taylor and lead guitarist Josh Smith showed what good music and a good show is all about. 

Simply, phenomenal!

I was still getting the hang of a camera trying to take pictures of a moving object—a musician that would not stay still for a second.  

Then it was back to Louisiana, although I had never been to Louisiana except when I had flown into New Orleans a few days before. 

 New Orleans is an amazing city--colorful, loud, and alive 24/7!  It is a fascinating mix of the foreign flavor of different cultures and the truly American flair with which it all comes together--the feeling that you "fit" here, no matter where you come from.  

Simply, I found it the most interesting city I have ever visited, even in the short time I was there.  I ate it up, along with the ‘gator sausage I tasted for the first time.  It’s not like chicken.

 It rained in the afternoon as I explored the French Quarter, and I immediately thought about Katrina and that this is where Taylor Hicks had searched in the middle of the night for a cab to flee the imperiled city just hours before the devastation.  It was a gift that much of the French Quarter was spared the worst of Katrina. 

 That night, the House of Blues was one of the most crowded venues I have ever experienced, barely room to stand.  I am quite sure that it was beyond “sold out.”  

On the narrow, crowded street outside, the tour buses dwarfed the surroundings. 

 I had seen and done so many things in that short week, it was hard to take it all in as I flew out of New Orleans on Sunday morning.  Of all the new places I’ve been in following Taylor, including New York City, my favorite place to return to would be New Orleans and the Gulf Coast

Simply, they are magical! 

It’s always a dilemma whether to take pictures to share and enjoy later or to lose yourself in the moment and enjoy the show.  Often, I chose the later, since I was not that good with the camera anyway.

But it’s really about the moment!  How do you really capture moments that bring sheer joy, abandonment, and that feeling of “stop the world right here.” 

We are fortunate creatures to have that part of our minds and our hearts where we can store and treasure our memories. 

The Hot and Humid Tour was memorable.    

Here’s to new summer memories—magical places, fun and friends and never-ending music! 

To all those seeing Taylor Hicks on the Gulf Coast this weekend at his sold-out show in Gulfport, MS

Simply, ENJOY!


Notes:  I believe it was the Editor of the Soul Connection, Connie Leinicke who gave us the “Hot and Humid” name.  To all those who made it magical, thanks for the memories!  You know who you are!

All photos by San.     

If you are really interested in reading more about The Hot and Humid Tour, below are my posts (minus the photos, some of which are shown above) shortly after the trip on an early Taylor fan site, The Whomp Swamp.

August, 2007 

 Yes, August is hot and humid in the South!  The Soul Patrol gathered from all over the country to follow Taylor and the summer tour band from the Ameristar in Vicksburg to the House of Blues in New Orleans

This is a special Bus Stop OPEN topic where we can share our thoughts....
If you were on this special roadtrip...please add yours! 

 Vicksburg was another bus stop for Taylor and the tour band.  But for the Soul Patrol it was a gathering! 

Cell phone messages and emails excitedly sent the word there was a Taylor billboard between Jackson and Vicksburg, and those who got the message in time captured the familiar Taylor pose. 

I had no warning and I opted NOT to try to stop, turn around or any crazy such thing when suddenly there was Taylor roadside!  I did grab my cell phone (okay, that was crazy at 80 MPH in heavy traffic) and tell people who were behind me. 

The Ameristar on the mighty Mississippi promised to be the small friendly venue of which Taylor is fond.  The affable casino entertainment manager had assured us that every seat was a good seat when NO fans were able to come by tickets in the front section.  That left the Soul Patrol in the back closest to the bar.  Okay, they weren't bad seats. 

As Taylor opened with Soul Thing, I remembered he opened in Jacksonville with Soul Thing...the very first song on his solo tour.   I also remembered why I had again flown across the country to see Taylor live!  I knew immediately, "Oh yes was worth the trip!" 

But the best was yet to come!

Night two in Vicksburg was one to remember! 

Vicksburg Day Two
 The Soul Patrol enjoyed a non-travel day in this charming Southern City on the banks of the Mississippi River

Some visited the Civil War battlefield, the site of the siege of Vicksburg where monuments from many states reminded us that, then as now, war is hell. 

With most everyone staying at the Ameristar Hotel, it was no secret that a doctor had made a bus call.  The Soul Patrol hoped Taylor would feel well enough to perform. 

And perform he did! 

The front VIP section which had some empty seats the first night, was packed …including, it was rumored, dignitaries from Ameristar Corporation.    The Soul Patrol, was again seated close to the bar,

Then a smiling, “I can do this because I’ve done it before” Taylor took the stage and all was very well.    He confirmed shortly into the show that he did in fact have strep throat and bronchitis.  “Someone told me ‘Taylor, if you get into the music business, you get into the germ business.’”

Well, the music business and the germ business in Vicksburg rocked this little riverboat casino and the Soul Patrol could only say, “The sicker he is, the better the concert.”  Okay, makes no sense! 

"Heaven Knows" words are difficult to get out even when you know them!  Well, Taylor flubbing the first verse only left everyone laughing  (yes, we remembered forgetting words had happened before)…finally, the words came,  “You took my heart, baby.”   Say them over and over...”You took my heart...”

Taylor talked to the crowd… announcing as he took a drink that “It’s tap water.”  With the stage lighting he told the Soul Patrol he could hear them but couldn’t see them.  And the Soul Patrol made their voices heard. 

The Beatles tune, "Don’t Let Me Down," was a personal favorite, as it had been since the AI tour with that red guitar.  

The energy, charisma, and “I can’t phone it in” magic that is Taylor at his very best transported this audience to a night to remember.  The VIP audience in the front was drawn into the spirit and dead on performance of Taylor Hicks on his game.  They gave a standing ovation to this amazing entertainer who refused to let the germ business get the best of the music business! 

Taylor on the Gulf Coast

Driving to the Gulf Coast down Highway 47 South was a sojourn I had taken before…when I was 13 years old.  My brother had been stationed at Keesler AFB in the 50s and my family had taken a vacation to Biloxi.  We spent a day on Ship Island and there was nothing along the Coast then except beautiful Southern homes. 

Some things don’t change…trucks filled with watermelons going to some roadside market brought back the same childhood memory…of course, green and white striped watermelons!  My father never would have bought a solid green watermelon!   Again, returning to the South, I felt like I was coming home.

It was a homecoming of sorts for Taylor as well.   Home folks drove in from Alabama…I met a couple in the parking lot from Mobile who spoke so fondly of Taylor and Miss Jonie.  And Taylor’s grandmother was on the center aisle.  Fans related that she was transfixed on her Taylor with the adoring look of a very proud grandmother.  

Taylor wowed the huge arena crowd with his electric energy and whompin’ soul music.  It was a long way from the first time he sang “Try A Little Tenderness” for his grandmother, and she gave him “one of my first good reviews, and maybe the most important, because that was probably the first time I thought of myself as a singer.”  (Heart Full of Soul, Taylor Hicks)

From that first thought of being a singer to center stage in front of the screaming, rocking crowd in the Coast Coliseum, Taylor had made an incredible journey.

I am sure that she gave him another good review! 

New Orleans and Gator

New Orleans was new territory for me.  I didn’t know what to expect, especially after the devastation of Katrina.  I can honestly say there was only one thing I didn’t like…water, water everywhere…well, at least a lot of it to drive over, of which I was definitely not fond. 

Okay…make that just two things…I have lived in Michigan and I thought I knew humidity.   Even the lake areas of Michigan did not prepare me for the hot muggy, I-can’t-breathe air in the Big Easy as I stepped out of the airport on Wednesday.  It was better on Saturday—concert day. 

My first mission in New Orleans was to have beignets, the fried French donuts, at the world famous Café du Monde.   That was my plan for Saturday breakfast in the French Quarter, but I found they are just as good for a late lunch.  I thought they could not be surpassed…until I added frozen café latte…a to-die-for after concert treat at the Café. 

As I sat in the Café du Monde a strong wind and dark clouds blew in from the South.  I must admit I was a little uncomfortable.  It was only a cooling afternoon rain shower.  It didn’t dampen the holiday spirit in the Quarter or the gift shopping next door at Aunt Sally’s Pralines. 

The French Quarter was a delightful mix of old world charm and Southern hospitality.  I was very unsure about having gator and beans for lunch (especially after the beignets), so an accommodating young street vendor gave me a taste of the gator sausage.  It doesn’t taste like chicken!  I passed on that lunch. 

I walked back to the hotel along Bourbon Street past the open doorways from which came the sounds of New Orleans…jazz, Delta blues, rock and funk.  This is a music town.

And after all, the music was why I was here—blue-eyed soul music! 

In the very narrow streets of the Quarter, there was barely room for Taylor’s two shiny buses to park and traffic to go around.  There was no problem finding the House of Blues.  If the venue was not sold out before, it must have concert night.  There was barely standing room in the small Blues stage/bar. 
This was a special place for Taylor and he let everyone know that he loved New Orleans.  That amazing journey had begun here with Katrina bearing down.  He was clearly very happy to be back here, seeming to choke up several times. 

He held the crowd and the moment in the palm of his hand as he sat on a stool for his first encore and sang “Louisiana.”   Then he led a chant “New Orleans is back…New Orleans is back…” and the people went wild! 

It is times like this that words fail us…to describe such “special” times.  They cannot.  It was one of those times when you had to be there…see it, hear it, feel it.  It certainly does not do his performance justice to say that it was all the usual words we use…or to say it was SPECIAL. 

But when words are all we have, they must say what we felt...

This was one of the times in our lives that are not just memorable, but it is what keeps life from being boring and keeps us searching for the next moment like this very special one!  After all, it is the special times when we enjoy life that makes it all worthwhile!

New Orleans was one of those times!  

If you're counting....ten concerts, one harmonica!