Saturday, November 8, 2014

My fave holiday flicks...and then some!

Yes, it's that time of year again....
Here are some of my favorite holiday flicks to rent or stream during the season. Hint, they are not all holiday movies. Also, if this looks familiar it's a re-post of last year's list. I cannot tell a lie, this is what us busy bloggers do when we don't have time to write.....we recycle!

I left out some of the obvious classics like "It's A Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Story"....You don't need me to remind you.

Also, not all films on the list are specifically holiday movies, but are still favorites of mine this time of year and serve as a great background for writing Christmas cards, wrapping gifts, or just getting a laugh watching "on screen" families more dysfunctional than our own!

Scrooged!.....Bill Murray as the typical workaholic of the late 1980's...

A Christmas Memory....Starring Patty Duke. This is based on the poignant short story by Truman Capote, (which I also recommend).

The Santa Clause (Part 1 only)....Tim Allen attempts to fight his destiny to be the next Santa Claus.

Christmas with the Kranks....Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis. A tropical vacation instead of Christmas? Who hasn't dreamed of that!

Christmas Time in South Park...Just another reminder you can get away with anything if it's a cartoon.

12 Men of Christmas....Kristin Chenowith....Major chick flick!

These two are not for the kids and in pretty bad taste but too FUNNY to leave out!

A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas....Hard to keep up with at times there is so much going on, but in a good way. Horribly crude but in a "non offensive" way...,;)

Bad Santa....Billy Bob Thornton is perfectly cast as the worst mall Santa Claus of all time. Also, this is one of the last films of the late John Ritter and Bernie Mac who are perfectly cast as the uptight store manager and head of security.

Because sometimes we need a break from holiday season overload, these suggested below are not necessarily movies about the holidays but a good watch during the season!

Goodwill Hunting....Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck.....Blue collar Cinderella story

Last Holiday.....Queen Latifah plays a woman who finds out she has a short time to live and plans to live it up! Also stars LL Cool J and Timothy Hutton.

Rush Hour.....Jackie Chan and Chris's just funny because it's a little "off".

Bridget Jones Diary.....Renee Zellweger is a hot cute mess and Hugh Grant and Colin Firth are easy on the eyes, oh and don't forget the awesome fight scene.

Austin Powers "The Spy Who Shagged Me".....The original and best of them. Mike Myers tribute to his late father.

The Holiday....Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet trade houses and lives....

Trading Places....I put this on all of my movie pick lists. One of the five best comedies of all time! Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy are beyond compare as Louise Winthorp III and Billy Ray Valentine. Jamie Lee Curtis makes a great "hooker with a stock portfolio".

The Wedding Singer....Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. How can you not root for these two?...And who knew Billy Idol was funny!

Everyone Says I Love You....I always have to include a Woody Allen flick and this one is the kind of movie you either love or hate. If you're not sure if you will like it here's a hint, Ed Norton sings and Julie Roberts sleeps with Woody Allen. (Oh yeah and my cousin Tim plays the doctor in the hospital scene so that's a bonus.)

Groundhog's Day...Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell....reminds how much one can do with a day when not busy complaining.

Mr. Deeds (both the original with Gary Cooper and the re-make with Adam Sandler)....simple but some how not simple.

The Royal Tannenbaums....Gene Hackman, Angelica Houston, Gwyneth Paltrow and Luke and Owen Wilson....Are there actually real families like this? This movie proves that just because a couple has money does not mean they will have normal children!

Here are my picks for the worst holiday movies....(might want to skip these turkeys)!

Home For The Holidays...Jodie word, depressing.
Polar Express....I'm sorry but this movie just made me sad, not jolly, even a little creeped out.
The Santa Clause Part 2 and 3.....yawn
Surviving Christmas....Ben Affleck and James Gondolfini.....Ben Affleck's character pays some miserable family to keep him company at if!


Last but not least I've been requested to add my sister Karen's favorite pick for the holidays which includes the "National Lampoon Vacation" films!... 

National Lampoon Vacation, National Lampoon European Vacation, National Lampoon Christmas Vacation and National Lampoon Vegas Vacation!....(I think she just has a crush on Clark Griswold).

Please fee free to add any of your favorite holiday films to the list by entering them as a comment!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

There's a Message in Their Song...The Las Vegas Mass Choir

The sound and presence of the Las Vegas Mass Choir powerfully enhances the many concerts, events and awards shows in which they perform. They have accompanied Stevie Wonder for his Icon Award medley at the Billboard Awards, harmonized with Wynonna Judd for a live TV telethon performance, and performed with John Legend, Neil Diamond and Josh Grobin, among many others. The Las Vegas Mass Choir also performs occasionally at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, most recently for the Nevada Sesquicentennial Celebration. They also take on specialty bookings such as a recent singing wedding proposal at the Bellagio Hotel & Casino.

Recently the Las Vegas Mass Choir has taken their act to another level as an integral part of "Georgia On My Mind: Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles," at the Venetian Theatre on the Las Vegas strip.

The story of the Las Vegas Mass Choir 
Because of the variety of events the choir had been asked to perform for several years, James R. Smith, Master Choir Director decided the time had come to make them an official act, and in 2004 the Las Vegas Mass Choir was officially formed. To celebrate they released a CD entitled Mass Appeal. This adult choir consisting of 35 vocalists has now been a special presence in Las Vegas for over a decade!

When I heard the Las Vegas Mass Choir (LVMC) was going to be performing in a several week run of  "Georgia On My Mind: Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles," I thought it was a perfect fit. Since his early years Ray Charles was known for the special and unique way he blended jazz and southern gospel.  So it's only fitting that a Ray Charles tribute would include a choir...not just any choir but a strong and experienced one, so of course, the Las Vegas Mass Choir!

I recently spoke with James R. Smith. He told me "We would like people to know that the Las Vegas Mass Choir is a Faith-based professional choir that sings music to inspire people from ALL walks of life. We choose to go to places where many people will not go and spread joy through our music. Our tag line says There's a Message In Our Song."

James is currently living in Houston and takes frequent trips to Las Vegas as LVMC's CEO. He helps give direction to major events, and teaches and directs music. James is the point person and there is a stellar Las Vegas based leadership team including a Business Manager, Publicist, Spiritual Advisor, Lead Choir Director, 4 Associate Choir Directors and a Support Staff all in place to assure the success of the Las Vegas Mass Choir.

The LVMC has been acknowledged with awards such as Choir of the Year - BMA Award 2013, Melbourne Gospel Jazz Festival Award 2007, and the Hollywood Gospel Insider Award 2005, to name a few.

James went on to say, "Our relationship with The Smith Center is growing and we are honored to participate whenever they call us. We first did Georgia On My Mind back in February as a one time show not ever thinking it would turn into a multiple week run on the Las Vegas strip. That's pretty exciting!....The Music of Ray Charles is timeless and it's rewarding to have this accomplishment on our resume. While appearing in Georgia On My Mind, we are sharing the stage with awesome and talented performers. Aside from this, some of our members have not had the experience of working five nights a week on the strip until now. Our choir has about 35 active members and the show only requires 20 of our singers each night. We rehearse the whole choir to allow for rotation and understudies as needed."
Photo by USA Today...Some of the cast of "Georgia On My Mind"

"The Las Vegas Mass Choir brings spirit to the production!".....Clint Holmes

The dimension a gospel choir brings to any performance goes beyond the energetic but soothing harmonies. It adds depth, excitement, and inspiration to every song!

The choir director for "Georgia On My Mind" and longtime member of the LVMC, Edie Aikels told me,
"It's very rewarding to see the training and preparation that I and the choir have done come to fruition every night in such a great venue at the Venetian. One of the things I enjoy is seeing and being a part of such a great group of people. Everyone that is involved in the show is truly amazing as individuals and as performers and its a great honor to share the stage with them!"

The Raelettes with Clint Holmes...Photo from Clint Holmes FB Page

The first song the choir performs in and for me the moment when the show really kicks into full force  is "I Can't Stop Loving You." Originally recorded by Don Gibson and also Kitty Wells, it was Ray Charles' 1962 version that reached number 1 on the billboard Hot 100 and R & B charts. For "Hit the Road Jack" three members of the LVMC serve as the Raelettes and it's a sizzling rendition with Clint Holmes and the three ladies!

Also included of course is what many would say is Ray Charles' signature song, "Georgia On My Mind." Written in 1930  by Hoagy Carmichael, it was the 1960 version by Ray that made it a major hit.  Many artists have recorded or sampled the song since. The extravaganza ends with a real showstopper, "America the Beautiful." It's only fitting the choir should be a part of the performance of this song as the music was originally composed in the 1800's by church organist and choirmaster Samuel A. Ward. Ray recorded his version in 1976 during America's Bicentennial celebration year.

Following "Georgia On My Mind: Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles," the choir will be preparing for their 2nd Annual Home for the Holidays Christmas Party. The date is December 13th this year and will be held at the Larry Hart Mansion. The charity will be the Ronald McDonald House

Other projects include new music to be recorded with a possible February release date and a reunion concert in May of 2015 to celebrate the success of ten years as the Las Vegas Mass Choir!

Las Vegas Mass Choir....702-334-8444....Email

Publicist, Lillian McMorris, 888-812-5455,

LVMC Single ..."Hold On" available on iTunes link below...!/id368333981

"Georgia On My Mind: Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles" Venetian Theater Las Vegas, Musical Director David Loeb
Clint Holmes, Nnena Freelon, Kirk Whalum,Take 6, Las Vegas All Star Big Band & the Las Vegas Mass Choir!

LVMC Cast...James R. Smith, Choir Master Director, Edie Aikels,Choir Director
Veronica Morton - Raelette, Wilma Roberts - Raelette, Urian Booze - Raelette,Vee Vee Prejean, Teresa Bolden, Judy Mitchell, Stephanie Stewart, Edith Newsome, Dawn Haley, Lucy Baines, Michelle Bender, Henrietta Scott, Beverly Reese, Anthony Bolden, Deven Chase, Wallace Broadnax, Reida Solis, Sonya Aikels - Curry, Jason Manapaz, Andre Crockette, Robert Parker

Copyright Anna Wendt 2014

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Sound of an Era - Forever Motor City

One of the most amazing things music can do is capture the feeling and energy of an era, through sound.

Motown, more than any other record company is known for doing just that. Founded in 1959 in Detroit Michigan by Barry Gordy and his sisters, Motown like many businesses has changed hands several times in the 55 years since. It is now a sublabel under Universal Music Group..

The Motown sound lives on through its original recordings, influences in today's music, and in the interpretations of performers keeping it alive on stage. Forever Motor City captures the Motown sound every night at The Riviera Hotel here in Las Vegas.

"There has never been an explosion of music and energy like the days of Motown".....Early Clover

The era of Motown was part of a time of great change in our country including the civil rights and women's liberation movement, and of course the sexual revolution. There was a whole lot going on and it flew in the face of what was considered "acceptable" at the time. Some would say society needed a little shaking up and others would disagree but in the end the music of the Motown era reflects the energy, angst, spirit and excitement of this chapter in America.

Unlike the Doo Wop era before it, female singers and groups played a visible role in the music and top hits of Motown. Diana Ross and The Supremes, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Mary Wells, The Marvelettes, Kiki Dee, and more, were and are as much a part of the Motown sound as The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye.

I enjoyed meeting Tonja Foster, Gwendolyn Forsyth and Leanna Carter
After checking out Forever Motor City recently I spoke with Tonja Foster, one of the female leads and an experienced performer of the Motown sound. She told me, "The music of Motown continues to influence music today. Often when classic Motown tunes are sampled and covered in current songs and hits, many younger people don't know that it's not a new song or melody!"

To Tonja's point, just a few examples are RUN DMC, who samples Papa Was a Rolling Stone on their single Papa Crazy and Sean Kingston sampling Stand By Me in his song Beautiful Girls, as well as Miley Cyrus and Future's hit My Darlin' which is a fractured and haunting sample/cover of Stand By Me. Ain't No Mountain High Enough was reworked by Amy Winehouse in Tears Dry On Their Own.

A couple of Tonja's favorite songs to perform are You're All I Need to Get By, which she sings with Jerome Jackson and Ain't No Mountain High Enough with the entire cast. When asked what song she would record herself today if given the opportunity she told me it would be Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing Baby.

"My favorite part of the show is the meet and greet after, as many times I see
 tears through smiles and people tell me how touched they are by these songs." 
 ....Tonja Foster, Performer in Forever Motor City

She also said, "I love performing in Las Vegas because in a way it's like Broadway. We have audiences here every night from all over the world."

I can't say enough good things about the Forever Motor City production and performers. They were even better than expected (just like with Forever Doo Wop). Far from rote, the cast's interpretation and talent really make an impact! Not just with well known hits such as Heard It Through the Grapevine, My Guy, Stop In The Name of Love, and more, but also songs such as Pride and Joy and Just My Imagination.

Some of the cast of Forever Motor City, Riviera Hotel & Casino
The host of Forever Motor City, the Riviera Hotel & Casino will celebrate its 60th anniversary next year. The casino opened in the spring of 1955. It has gone through many changes, but has endured as a landmark of the past and current...just like the sound of Motown has.

Forever Motor City cast includes members of the musical groups The Spinners, Main Ingredient, and The Jones. 

Ensemble Cast:
Early Clover, Jerome Jackson, Willie Green, Tom Ross, Terry Forsythe, Tonja Foster, Gwendolyn Forsyth,
Serena Henry, Greg Carter, E.J. Welch, Lawrence Jones, Leanna Carter, Tyneisha Lewis, Farah Melanson, Denita Asbury, Erica Bower, Jill Rock Jones, Paige Siggal

Music by Broadway Legend Gary Kupper, Stage Direction Misty Singer
Assistant Production Operations Manager, Early Clover

Nightly 9 pm Riviera Hotel & Casino

30 Seconds of Forever Motor City... 


Anna Wendt Copyright 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

The music of a heartbeat...Forever Doo Wop

In the still of the night I held you, held you tight.....
Earth Angel, earth angel will you be mine?......
If for no other reason than the lyrics, most would agree that Doo Wop was the music of falling in love.

For example, one of the most popular songs of the genre, The Great Pretender, describes a man who deals with his heartbreak by denying it. The Platters wrote the lyrics in the washroom of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Did you know Doo Wop groups often practiced in washrooms because of the acoustics?....Well they did, at least according to

Doo Wop originated from rhythm and blues and unlike big band and jazz genres that preceded it, with Doo Wop it's the vocal harmonies that are the focus and not the instrumentals.

Living in Las Vegas is a blogger's dream, and when I check out a show or act to write about, I know  I'll find some of the best performers right here in town no matter the genre. Such was the case with Doo Wop. 

Earlier this year a group of seasoned Doo Wop performers joined together to form a show which now is one of the resident shows at the Riviera. Forever Doo Wop is a celebration of Doo Wop music and its influence during its peak. When was the last time you heard perfect harmony? Singers blending their voices in one singular pitch into a form of audio heaven. I couldn't remember when I had until I experienced this production last weekend. I liked this show even more than I expected, and was taken aback by the talent I saw that night. It was mesmerizing.
"Most of us in the show having been performing together for many years in Las Vegas and around the country. We are truly a family and it shines through in our performances."  - Early Clover 
Some of cast of Forever Doo Wop... Willie, Terry, Gwendolyn, Serena, Tonja, Early & Greg
Forever Doo Wop counts down top Doo Wop songs in addition to many other popular hits of the genre. Like many productions these days they rotate an ensemble cast made up of seasoned pros, so the show can perform every single evening with no nights dark. 

After the performance I spoke with Early Clover, one of the leads of Forever Doo Wop who has performed in Las Vegas for years, in addition to touring with well known musical acts. 

"Teenager in Love is one of my favorite songs to perform because it reminds everyone of a vulnerable time, when everything was new, not only love, but life in general. I would also say the same about Still of the Night, because who, from when they were young, doesn't remember that feeling of first love....and hoping that midnight didn't come too soon!"....Early Clover

I asked him what would you say to someone who isn't familiar with Doo Wop music about your show? Early said if you are from the era, then the songs will help you relive that part of your life again if even just for that hour or so....and if not, the lyrics and vocal harmonies have timeless appeal to anyone who enjoys music. The Penguins, The Platters, The Silhouettes....many recognize the songs of the era and the artists too because the songs have survived long past the time frame they were most popular.
The influence of Doo Wop lives on and the songs of the genre have been recorded as well known cover hits by other artists.  Stay, originally by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, then later recorded and released by Frankie Vallie & The Four Seasons was later covered again by Jackson Browne. Another one is The Great Pretender originally by The Platters, and later covered by  Freddie Mercury of Queen.

Several films have featured Doo Wop with beautiful results like "Do You Love Me" by The Contours in Dirty Dancing, and "Book of Love" by the Monotones in American Graffiti. The music is as much a part of the films as the actors and the story lines.

Mary & Gordy Wendt, 1963

For me, although Doo Wop was before my time it was very much a part of the soundtrack of my childhood. This is because my parents met, fell in love and married listening to Doo Wop. As many do with the music of their youth, they continued to listen to "their music" in the decades after.

Before we could afford our own, my sisters and I listened to our parents' records in the basement. Whether it was from my dad's records or his singing and guitar playing to Buddy Holly, The Drifters and others, I recognize so many songs from that time because they are floating around in my subconscious. My dad recently told me, "At 16 I had three goals in life...get me a job, get me a car, then get me a girl." And he did, my mother!

Ensemble  Cast of Forever Doo Wop, Le Bistro Lounge, Riviera Hotel & Casino Las Vegas...Early Clover, Jerome Jackson, Willie Green, Tom Ross, Terry Forsythe, Tonja Foster, Gwendolyn Forsythe, Serena Henry, Greg Carter, E.J. Welch, Lawrence Jones, Leanna Carter, Tyneisha Lewis, Farah Melanson, Denita Asbury, Erica Bowers, Jill Rock Jones, Paige Sigga. DJ is Ryan Flanigan or Rick Antonio

Starring an all-star, eight-person ensemble of lead singers from some of America's most influential musical groups.  Forever Doo Wop takes audiences on an unforgettable journey through the exciting history of Doo Wop music. Paying homage to one of America's most persuasive art forms, Forever Doo Wop is comprised of a series of vignettes and mini concerts, spanning all genres of Doo Wop....Excerpt from Forever Doo

Music by Gary Kupper, Stage Direction Misty Singer
Assistant Production Operations Manager, Early Clover
Red Mercury Entertainment

Forever Doo Wop 30 second video clip


Anna Wendt Copyright 2014

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fight For My Soul

Although the phrase "fight for my soul" makes a good mantra it's actually the name of the most recent album by Jonny Lang, which hit number one on the Billboard Blues chart this past winter.

Only someone who is a blues legend in the making at the ripe young age of 33 can write songs like he does about his journey through life in the music business and sound like a wise older guide but with a youthful and optimistic slant. Fight For My Soul addresses some of the darkness in his past with a clarity that one can only have looking back on it much later. He spent years in his teens and twenties in the throes of the wild (and sometimes dangerous) party life on the road but came out of it on the other side almost a decade ago, stronger and better than ever. They say one of the hardest industries to maintain your integrity and sense of self in is the music business. Must have been especially hard for someone who entered it at age 14, certainly not a man, barely a teen. But as I said he has long since earned the title of survivor.
“Music is one of the greatest conveyers of ideas and emotions, and in a sense that doesn’t have as much to do with the individual performing, but the power of the connection...And if Fight For My Soul can help somebody by making them feel better or that they’re not alone, that’s my idea of success for this album.” - Jonny Lang

There's no artist I like to hear, see perform, or write about more than Jonny Lang. I caught him last month, as I always do now when he's in town, this time at The Railhead.  As usual he seemed to stop time with his 90 minutes of no intermission musical immersion, powerful voice, energy and phenomenal guitar. Jonny always makes such a casual and humble entrance, then proceeds to  instantly exceed expectations only a few seconds into his opening number, which this time was "Blew Up the House."  I would love to know what he does to prepare for a show because I'm sure it starts longggg before showtime.  His voice and energy take his audience somewhere special without ever leaving the room! Few musical artists can do this. Beyond talent it requires tremendous physical and spiritual energy. Many performers could work their whole life and never have this kind of effect on an audience, but Jonny has had it from the very beginning and it has only grown since.

Jonny Lang...2014...Photo by Evil Robb

“The inspiration for the songs on the record vary widely.  Some are about personal struggles, some are focused on injustices I have seen. ...... I’ve wanted to make this album for a long time.  Creatively, I think there is a lot more going on inside of me than I’ve been sharing on recordings.” 

Now that he is a 20 year music industry veteran, here is a little background on his amazing career so far. Lang started taking guitar lessons at age 13 from blues guitar player Ted Larson and shortly after was not only asked to join his band but it was renamed Kid Jonny Lang and The Big Bang...He took off into the music business and another life from his small town upbringing in North Dakota, moving first to Minneapolis. There he released his first album Smokin'. Then at age 16 when most of us are just learning to drive, he was on to his second and first major studio album with Lie to Me, in 1997 which went multi platinum. I know I listened to mine so much I wore it out and ended up buying another copy.

Then at the age of 17 when most of us are just graduating high school came the Grammy nominated Wander This World in 1998. It was a 5 year stretch until his next album Long Time Coming in 2003. Finally, after overcoming serious personal and addiction issues came the much deserved Grammy Award for Turn Around in 2006. Shortly after this he decided to become an independent artist and left the major label life, with less security but more freedom, a career defining decision and a big one for a 27 year old. In 2009  he released Live at the Ryman. Then he and his wife started a large family, and now Fight for my Soul in 2013 working with producer Tommy Sims. With this album Jonny has said he is entering a chapter where he has found his true voice.

"I would say all of those voices steering you away from questionable decisions, 
listen to them, they are right." - Jonny Lang 

Five to download...these are my top five fave Jonny Lang singles

Breakin In
Fight For My Soul
Red Light
Quitter Never Wins
That Great Day

Jonny and Jimi Hendrix.....In addition to the international solo tours with his band Jonny Lang has toured with the Experience Hendrix Tour now for several years. Next American tour starts on Sept. 19th and goes through Oct 18....24 performances in 30 days! Some of the most legendary guitar players to ever jam onstage are all in one place and many of the venues are outdoor.

Experience Hendrix Tour, September 19 - October 18, 24 cities nationwide in 30 days..............

Jonny Lang Band...Barry Alexander, James Anton, Akil Thompson, Dwan Hill, Missi Hale vocalist

My two past articles about Jonny Lang...


Anna Wendt Copyright 2014