Sunday, July 22, 2018

We Do: A Chester Bennington Documentary

What happens to the millions of fans who are left behind when a rock star suddenly dies? About one year ago on July 20, 2017 Chester Bennington, who was lead singer of the internationally renowned band Linkin Park, committed suicide. 

Matthew Vinaja was one of the fans affected by Chester's death. In the intro to his documentary, We Do: A Chester Bennington Documentary, he talks about how after finding out about Chester's suicide he listened constantly to his music and drove himself crazy thinking about it. Matthew said what helped him most was talking to other fans. "An idea then came to me. I decided to make a documentary. Not about Linkin Park, or even about Chester Bennington, but about the fans." Matthew chose five of Chester's fans who were brave enough to share their stories of the effect his death has had on them. 

I have never followed Linkin Park, and could only ever name one or two of their songs, but after watching this documentary I understand their music so much better that I am now also a fan.

We Do: A Chester Bennington Documentary

The five fans featured in We Do are Andy Cool, Mary Winning, Kristine Escobedo, Phil Donney, and Adrienne McQueen, (who is also Executive Producer). In it they talk about what it was like to find out about the tragic suicide of a musician that they loved, felt close to and whose lyrics got them through some of their life's darkest times. "I screamed like I've never heard myself scream," says Adrienne, "The first thing I thought was this has to be a hoax," said Phil. "I just kept thinking the real news will come out soon," added Andy.

About the days that followed and it sunk in that Chester was gone Phil had this to say, "There's a lot of different factors that go into not only mourning a celebrity but mourning someone whose committed suicide so there's that anger and resentment to it." Adrienne added, "I felt really sick. I couldn't really speak to a lot of people, especially people who didn't really understand me." Mary couldn't really work so she browsed the internet trying to figure out how and why he could do it. Andy pissed off friends because he was all over the place emotionally. "It felt like we were all sort of thrown into this macro grieving process together," added Phil.

In We Do, the fans also talk about how it felt to listen to Linkin Park's music after losing Chester.
Grieving fans from We Do: A Chester Bennington Documentary

A variety of memorials followed Chester's death. Each of the five fans in the documentary attended at least one of them, some of them two or three. "I attended one in Berlin, my hometown." Mary said. Andy helped organize and performed at the one in L.A. and in Las Vegas. Adrienne attended three, including the one in Las Vegas at Club Tattoo, where she also performed. (I also attended the one in Las Vegas. Adrienne is a long time friend of mine, and I had never before seen her this devastated by the loss of an artist, so I showed up to support her.)

To me, the most meaningful part of We Do is when the fans talk about how much the LP Family means to them.  What started out as random Linkin Park fans turning to each other for comfort became a source for meaningful friendships and an ad hoc support group for those mourning the loss of the band's front man. "I'm very happy they're out there and I've met them and they understand, says Adrienne.  Kristine adds "Without this community I think I'd be lost. When I was down they brought me right back up." 

In the documentary the fans also share their advice for others on how to handle the loss of a favorite musician or artist, and speak about what helped them get through theirs.

Near the end of We Do, Matthew sums it up with this message, "Chester told us the one thing that can't be defeated is love. We have to make him proud by continuing supporting each other, loving each other and inspiring each other. We're all in this together."

We Do: A Chester Bennington Documentary Link below We Do: A Chester Bennington Documentary

Copyright Anna Wendt 2018  

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Michelle Johnson's Salute to the Great Singer-Songwriters

Michelle Johnson performed her "Salute to the Great Singer-Songwriters" last Friday night at Myron's Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center.

I've known Michelle for a few years now. We met when I first wrote about her as part of an ensemble cast in "Divorce Party" at Bally's. She is multi-talented and always involved in a lot of different things, but I've noticed recently she seems to have zeroed in on singing as her main focus. 

After kicking off the show and opening song, This Is It by Kenny Loggins, Michelle dealt with a wardrobe malfunction by joking about it and moving on.

She then went on to talk about some of the singer-songwriters that inspired her from a young age like James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, and Carole King. This was followed by her especially poignant version of Both Sides Now

Michelle shared that she also has written a lot of her own songs. Recently, after playing a few for Grammy Award Winning Producer Kamau Kenyatta he encouraged her to record them, and so they are now working on an album of her originals. She then sat down at the piano to play and sing one of these songs. It was a touching ballad about being "All In."

Michelle Johnson Myron's Cabaret Jazz photo by Ira Kuzma

During the show she also sang one of my favorite Joni Mitchell numbers Big Yellow Taxi, while weaving in a little scat here and there. I was pleased Michelle also included Tracy Chapman, who is someone I personally never hear enough of. The song was Fast Car, which we all know is not really a song about a car but about getting out of a rut and changing the direction of one's future.

One of the highlights of the show and most enjoyable renditions of a song I've ever heard was Serve Somebody by Bob Dylan. Michelle did this as a what I can only describe as a disco gospel style, and with the band and backup singers, it was the best blend of all of the onstage talent of the night!

Michelle has worked with many well known singer-songwriters over the years. Near the end of the show she talked about one time in particular when she sang Hey Jude at the Hollywood Bowl as part of an All Star fundraiser with none other than Paul McCartney. She told this story intermittently while singing the song. It all built up to a beautiful climax and the audience seemed to love it, as did I.  

Michelle Johnson's next show, "Tapestry Unraveled," which is a tribute to Carole King will be back at Myron's Cabaret Jazz on November 18, 2018

Michelle Johnson's Tribute to Singer-Songwriters
Musical Director Jeff Neiman
Singers Gret Menzies Gonzalez, 
Jassen Allen, Jolana Sampson-Adamson
Band Pablo Gadda, Walter Jones, Don Meoli


Monday, July 2, 2018

The Cocktail Cabaret Celebrates 100th Performance

I've been a fan of "The Cocktail Cabaret" since it opened last winter. The show is cabaret style with a touch of modern flair and has a start time of 6pm, which makes it the perfect kick off to an evening out in Las Vegas.

Before the 100th performance celebration of the show Friday night I was chatting with Derek and Hailey, a couple from Kansas seated at our table with us. Hailey said to me "I told Derek I wanted to do something tonight we've never done, and we've never been to a cabaret show, so I chose this."

For those like Hailey who are not familiar, a cabaret show is one usually performed by an ensemble that involves song, dance and banter in an intimate venue. When talking before the show with host and performer Eric Jordan Young I asked what he likes most about performing in "The Cocktail Cabaret" and he said, "Actually the whole show in its entirety because many people don't know what cabaret style is, that it's audience interactive, and we get to show them that."

L to R Philip Fortenberry, Daniel Emmet, Niki Scalera, Keith Thompson, Maren Wade, Eric Jordan Young  Photo credit: Ross Kyker Photo

The show starts with a rousing performance of the original song "Cocktail Cabaret." Written by Keith Thompson, the song sets the tone and brands this show as its own unique production and much more than a night of cabaret style compositions of popular hits. After that Maren Wade slinks onstage and into her slow tempo version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, followed by another original from Thompson, The Man at the Piano which is an interactive duet with Philip Fortenberry and Daniel Emmet (a current season contestant on "America's Got Talent").

The next highlight for me was the duet with Young and Emmet of Now or Never which becomes a bit competitive between the two, but don't worry it's all part of the act! By the time Niki Scalera lifts her bedazzled arm high to launch into her chilling version of Diamonds are Forever, the audience is fully engaged in this production for the remaining of the 19 songs and medleys; some even breaking into mid show spontaneous standing ovations. After one of Daniel Emmet's songs where he went back and forth between English and Italian lyrics, Hailey leaned over to me and said, "He just brought tears to my eyes."

By the time the show was nearing the end with a dynamic rendition of Raise Your Glass, our table of four was in high spirits. After exchanging contact information with our new friends, my husband and I headed out of the venue and on to the rest of the evening carrying with us the bubbly energy of "The Cocktail Cabaret."

"The Cocktail Cabaret" was created by the founders of PK Entertainment, Keith Thompson ("Jersey Boys," "The Composer's Showcase") and Philip Fortenberry, (award winning pianist with multiple Broadway credits). The band is Josh Jones, Don Meoli and Eric Tewalt. It runs about 70 minutes with no intermission in the 150 seat floating Cleopatra's Barge lounge at Caesars Palace. Wednesdays - Saturdays 6pm


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

NHL Awards and NHL Gaming World Championship 2018

The 2018 NHL Awards will air live on June 20 from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on NBCSN and Sportsnet at 5pm PT/8pm ET. Las Vegas has hosted the show several times.

I'm working as a Stand In again this year for some of the presenters and nominees. I can't believe it was only a year ago that Las Vegas created our new team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights by way of the NHL Expansion Draft, which was televised live during the 2017 NHL Awards. It made the show especially exciting to be a part of.

Little did we know then that our new team would go all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals their first year and become the most successful expansion team in the history of professional sports!

Of the 12 NHL Awards being presented, four VGK Members are nominated. These include Players William Karlsson and Deryk Engelland, Coach Gerard Gallant and General Manager George McPhee. Let's hope all of them have an NHL Award to add to their accomplishments this past season!

Many of us here in Las Vegas will always appreciate the National Hockey League for allowing us to have our first Major League Sports Team. It's been a wonderful addition to our city and has bonded our community in ways we didn't imagine a year ago.

There's another element that's brand new to the NHL Awards this year. The Inaugural NHL Gaming World Championship which was held earlier tonight at the new 30,000 square foot Allied ESports Arena at the Luxor Hotel and Casino here in Las Vegas. 

The winner was Erik Tammenpaa from Finland who was awarded the $50,000 prize after defeating United States player David Roebuck in a best-of-3 final. For those who may not know what this event is about, it's an NHL ESports Championship where players compete against others from all over the world in hockey video gaming in front of an audience of international fans.

First ever NHL Gaming World Champion Erik Tammenpaa

Friday, June 15, 2018

Little by Little...Catching up with Rich Little

Here in Las Vegas Rich Little performs his show at the Tropicana's Laugh Factory three days a week. I checked out Rich Little Live in Las Vegas the other night, and had a chance to chat with him a bit afterwards.

Because he's been performing for over 50 years most people know him best from specials like the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts. This was the case for me and my siblings. We'd sit cross legged in our pajamas in front of the TV with our parents and watch him impersonate and mingle with celebrities and presidents while we giggled over his witty impressions, jokes and banter. The other night after his show my sister said to me "That's how I knew who so many American Presidents were, from Rich Little's impersonations. He was the only one who made politicians interesting to me as a kid!"

Rich Little, Las Vegas June 2018
When writing about a performer such as Rich Little it's tempting to share a lot of their life stories and accomplishments. But then the article can end up looking like a Wikipedia page. So I'll just concentrate on his current show. 

I like the Laugh Factory venue for him because it's a classic comedy club with an intimate stage and seating. There's no real separation between Little and the audience which makes the experience feel warm and personal.

The show starts promptly at 7pm as he is introduced by a distant voice. There's no pre-show video or warm up act. He just walks in the room like an uncle showing up for dinner with a gentle smile.

Then he proceeds to talk about his career interwoven with impressions of the comedy legends, presidents and entertainers he's worked with over the years. This includes Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dean Martin, Jimmy Stewart, Bette Davis and so many more. This is augmented with video, audio and even his own sketches of his subjects; all of which add a rich dimension to his intimate production. He doesn't brag about his career but rather amuses, entertains and enlightens. I never sensed a big ego, or if he has one he doesn't bring it to the performance. Rich Little's show is the perfect blend of impressions, jokes and storytelling.

It's surreal to experience some of these celebrities that Little does because it's more than an impersonation; that he perfected long ago. It's how he captures the essence of his subjects, which is not easy because it's not a tangible factor that can be used in studying a person and how to emulate them. In this way he's really an actor first, impersonator second, and that's what I like the most about him. 

During the show he commented on how quiet we were at times as an audience and joked if we were even awake, but it was just that we were listening intently. After all it's when the audience is restless that one should worry!

Me, Rich Little, Karen Wendt
Afterwards I asked him which president he liked impersonating the most and he said "Oh Ronald Reagan. He had the best sense of humor of them all. Ronald Reagan told me my impersonations of him were so good that one day when he dies they'll probably bury me instead!

I bought his book Little by Little: People I've Known and Been, and asked him to sign it to give to my father but ended up reading it myself too. It's both parts funny and poignant. He shares insights into show business and some legendary people that only someone with his experience and perspective can.

Rich Little Live in Las Vegas at the Tropicana

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

How Voting is Keeping Up with the Times

Did you know that now in some states you can vote while shopping or working out?

Today I voted in a state primary election and was pleased to see that my county, (Clark County, Nevada) has made it much easier to vote by installing Voting Centers everywhere!

I had over 172 choices on where to vote today and was not in any way limited to a precinct or even a section of town. Locations I could have voted included shopping malls and recreation centers in addition to the usual churches and schools.

Currently thirteen states allow jurisdiction to use these multiple voting center formats. I think this change will make a noticeable difference in the numbers who turn out to vote in ALL elections, whatever a person's political party or choices of candidates may be. 

Also, although I did not choose to vote early there were several choices for that option that were not limited to a precinct or one location. Of course you can still vote by mail if registered for that particular option, but this article is about voting in person.

I am pleased to have personally experienced this new voting process and look forward to seeing future evolution of voting procedures locally and nationwide.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Marilyn The New Musical

The late Marilyn Monroe is a legend to so many but it takes someone with both passion and courage to create a musical based on her life.  Although she died over fifty years ago she remains a Hollywood Icon and is still of interest to both men and women worldwide. Movies, books and songs have been written about her and merchandise with her likeness continues to sell in large numbers. Marilyn Monroe's style is timeless. You can't say that about many.

Tegan Summer who is the Writer, Producer, and Director of Marilyn The New Musical is a classic film and stage enthusiast who says he has always been fascinated by Marilyn Monroe. Not the star but who she was when the cameras were turned off, which fueled his desire to write this show.  Co-Producer Michael Donovan secured the fantastic cast and Gregory Nabours provided additional songs and lyrics. Choreography by Ferly Prado.

Friday night was the official premier of Marilyn The New Musical in Las Vegas at the Paris Theater. This show is a fully authorized production by Authentic Brands Group, which owns the estate of Marilyn Monroe. Although it has been previously worked on in both Vegas and L.A., the show officially debuted on the Las Vegas Strip. 

I think love and work are the only things that really happen to us. - Marilyn Monroe

It is incredibly challenging to bring an original musical to the stage. Very few are willing to take a chance on a new show because they want guaranteed formulas for hits. I'm pleased that in this case Prospect House Entertainment and Caesars Entertainment did. There's no reason Las Vegas can't originate major Broadway style productions. Anyone who says otherwise has probably never seen or met any of the high caliber talent including writers, directors and producers who live here.

There is truth and honesty to this show that touched me. Set and stage adjustments could make it more powerful but the talent, the songs and the story are all there. So was an eight piece orchestra that helped create the feeling of going back to another time and place. It all gets to the heart of who Marilyn Monroe was and what it was like during her life to be a woman on her own in show business back when men ran everything. 

The story opens with Marilyn's driver Charlie, (the talented and melodic Frank Lawson) singing how he's got The Best Job in Town but also humorously bemoaning the fact that because Marilyn is always late he is always waiting. Charlie continues as narrator throughout. Many times the household staff of famous people know them better than anyone else and in such this character provides a unique perspective.

We are then introduced to Norma Jeane at age 16, before she was Marilyn (played by Brittney Bertier). We see she is being sent away from her foster home and told she has nowhere else to go so she should marry her neighbor Jim. I would have liked the story of Norma Jeane to be a little longer and show us more of the adolescence that shaped her.

Norma Jeane continues to appear throughout the show as a shadow following Marilyn as she goes through life. This scenario works. The Norma Jeane and Marilyn combo has been used before in other productions. It's a relatable theme, as many of us adults try to shed who we were as children, with varying levels of success. 

Ruby Lewis as Marilyn Monroe
We then meet Ruby Lewis, our Marilyn Monroe. A lot of actresses think they can portray her but that is only true if they understand Marilyn on a deep level, and also have that X factor that Marilyn possessed. A women who plays her has to internalize her history of having been sexually abused and neglected with lifetime problems of anxiety, insomnia, and addiction. Yet also being someone who continued to strive to succeed. Ruby embodies this. She's a real talent and although at times she sang like Marilyn and other times much better than Marilyn ever did, it worked and the audience was quick to applause even at times shouting out their enthusiasm after a number. Especially in songs such as The Time of My Life, Someone Else Ago, and Don't Wanna Be Me. Ruby is in better shape than Marilyn was and she'd be best served not to get any thinner in this role so as to not lose the Marilyn-esque curves that define her physical persona.

As I once wrote in an article about Marilyn she was not only sexy but was funny as hell. Anyone who has seen "Some Like It Hot" would not dispute that. Little of this side of her is shown in the production but is an element I would have liked to have seen more of because it truly helped set her apart.

This show highlights some of her dealings with men such as the tyrannical studio head Darryl Zanuck, (played by the ever potent Randal Keith), and her first shoot with photographer Milton Greene who would later become a partner in her production company, (portrayed by gifted vocalist Travis Cloer).

It also sheds light on some of her most meaningful relationships such as her first love Bill Pursel (Chris Fore), a man who wanted to save her, but also wanted her out of the spotlight, as many men after him would; and her ill fated marriages to Joe Di Maggio (Christopher Showerman), and Arthur Miller (Matthew Tyler). 

There was also a lovely performance of I Ain't Stoppin', by Chanel Edwards-Frederick as Ella Fitzgerald in a little known story about her and Marilyn performing at the same venue. 

Was Marilyn Monroe's life a success or a tragedy? It think it was both, like many people's.  Monroe has been quoted as saying Hollywood is a place that will pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul. She was right. It's a beautiful and ugly business at the same time and you've got to have backbone to survive it intact. In Marilyn's case perhaps if she'd had lasting love and been able to have a child, which she very much wanted, she would have had the long life of some of her contemporaries like Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren. But that was not to be. 

I was pleased the show didn't end on the death scene. She was so much more than the moment she slipped away. "Legacy of A Bombshell"

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Why Las Vegas has Golden Knights Fever

Las Vegas waited so long for a major league sports team that the Las Vegas Golden Knights would have had plenty of fans here no matter how their first season went.  I don't think any of us locals imagined that our new team would blow away the competition and end up in the Stanley Cup Finals their first year, so we're eating up every bit of their success!

Last June, as in previous years I worked as a stand in on the NHL Awards, this time for NHL correspondent Kathryn Tappen. I participated in the rehearsal of the NHL Expansion Draft in her place. The Draft was to be televised live during the awards show. Here were all these draft picks from other NHL teams coming up on the board. All of these guys were about to be part of something completely new, a team, OUR team, named the Las Vegas Golden Knights. I wondered how these players felt, were they excited or wary of this new chapter in their careers?  Of course I didn't wonder for long as now they're having the season of a lifetime!

Me with Cathy, Beth, & Samantha, three generations of Knights fans!

One of the things I noticed early on was the way the Golden Knights embedded themselves in our community. And I don't just mean after the Route 91 tragedy. Even before that they were having open practices at their practice facility City National Arena, and holding some fan and season ticket holder events around town. The owners of the team must have known that the people of Las Vegas needed to feel like a part of this team and the players needed our support in return for the team to thrive. 

Yesterday morning, the day of the first Stanley Cup Finals, the Golden Knights tweeted as they sometimes do, a surprise open practice for up to 600 people.  My husband and I jumped in the car and checked it out as we live close by. The place was full of fans, a DJ playing fun beats and the Arsenal (the VGK apparel shop) was packed with people suiting up for the finals. I chatted with fans like Cathy, Beth and Samantha, a Grandmother, Mother and Daughter representing three generations enjoying the morning together, bonding all season over their love of the Golden Knights.  

Last September we also attended an open practice. Back then there was a feeling of excitement but also a bit of uncertainty. Las Vegas had wanted major league sports for so long, but how would it all work out? Well now we know. We know the feeling that other cities have had for decades. The excitement that a pro sports team can bring to a town and the good times and friendships its presence helps create. Whatever happens in the rest of the Stanley Cup Finals, Las Vegas is forever changed for the better.

Go Knights Go!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Las Vegas Aces host their First Home Game

Tonight was the first ever regular season home game for the new WNBA Team, the Las Vegas Aces!

MGM Resorts International bought the San Antonio Stars last year and now they are our basketball team, the Las Vegas Aces.  The Aces play at the recently refurbished Mandalay Bay Events Center which spent $10 million dollars for a fresh update for our new WNBA team. The WNBA season runs from May through September, opposite of the NBA. 

The pre game tonight started with a welcome from fan correspondents Big D and CJ Simpson. You might recognize the name Big D as he's also the In Arena Host for the Vegas Golden Knights. Then the National Anthem was performed harmoniously by Boys II Men, followed by energetic dancing from the Aces' dance team, the Wild Card Crew. 
BUCKET$ and Me at half time
The Aces tried to generate some heat early on but their attempts fell short and the Seattle Storm quickly secured a lead of over 10 points that sometimes stretched to close to 20. At half time the Jabbawockeez performed a short routine and the Aces' new mascot BUCKET$ entertained the crowd.

The second half the Aces were able to close the point gap to 7 but in the end the Seattle Storm outplayed us and they won the game 105 to 98.

Boys II Men performed the National Anthem
The Las Vegas Aces are now 0-3 in their inaugural season. However the season just started and once they get that first win I have the feeling they'll ride the wave to a lot more. After all, this is a team that under their previous incarnations made it to the playoffs almost 50% of the time.

I'm excited to have another major league sports team here in Las Vegas, and don't forget...everyone loves Aces! 

Las Vegas Aces Inaugural Season roster includes Lindsay Allen, Kelsey Bone, Nia Coffey, Dearica Hamby, Isabelle Harrison, Moriah Jefferson, Kayla McBride, Jaime Nared, JiSu Park, Kelsey Plum, Carolyn Swords, A'ja Wilson, Tamera Young. Head coach is Bill Laimbeer.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Comedy Cellar Las Vegas

Over the past 36 years the Comedy Cellar, located in the basement of a restaurant in New York has become known for having some of the best comics on stage.

The careers of many successful comedians were launched at the Cellar such as Colin Quinn, Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer and Chris Rock to name a few. Whether or not their specific sets get many laughs on any given night, if they have talent they're given a time slot and the mic at the CC.

The Comedy Cellar is also known as a place where up and comers along with legendary comics drop by regularly to do a set and work on their act. On any given night you might see Dave Chappelle, Dave Attell, Leslie Jones or Tracy Morgan try out fresh material.

The Comedy Cellar recently opened a spot in Las Vegas on Flamingo Blvd at the Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino. The atmosphere has been designed to match much of the original Comedy Cellar, an intimate room with a small stage and a brick wall behind it just like it's namesake. Although unlike the original it's not actually in a cellar.

The show format the Comedy Cellar uses most often is to have several comedians a night that go on for about 20 minutes each, sort of like a comedy relay team.

Last night my sister Karen and I caught a show at our new desert Comedy Cellar. It started off with a host, in this case Mark Cohen who reminded me of Mark Linn-Baker in his Perfect Strangers days. Mark did a lot of audience banter starting with my sister and I, (that's what we get for sitting in the front row).

After Mark was Mia Jackson who is six feet tall even in flat black leather sneakers and successfully contrasted her statuesque physical presence with a soft spoken delivery. I enjoyed her stories about adventures in eating.

Next up was Brian Moses, who started off seeming to have almost nothing to say as if he was surprised to be on stage. We laughed though when he called Karen and I The Real Housewives of Reno. Brian did an intense set using the name LeBron James a lot. I'll leave it at that. The energy lightened up a bit with Jason Scoop who amused the house as he extolled the virtues of being ethnically ambiguous.

Following Jason was Des Bishop, who looked like a cross between a Ken Doll and GQ model and was as hilarious as he was, (to use a vintage word), dashing. Matteo Lane finished us off with his take on the ridiculous intensity of cooking shows and his love/hate relationship with Starbucks. 

Here's hoping the Comedy Cellar has found a long term home here in Las Vegas. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

An Afternoon with Billy Joel

I love a Sunday Matinee and I enjoyed this show.  It shared the story of Billy Joel's life and musical journey through stories, photos and of course, songs! This type of tribute performance is special because it's more than just a performer singing hit songs of an artist. It explores the life of the legend and provides a better understanding of them as a performer and as a person.

A song is more meaningful when you hear the story behind it. For example one of Billy Joel's most well known hits, Piano Man was written and inspired during the time he was waiting out the end of a record contract with a label he no longer wanted to be a part of. He performed during that period at a bar using the fake name Bill Martin. Uptown Girl and Tell Her About It were inspired in part by his beautiful ex wife Christie Brinkley and  Lullaby (Goodnight My Angel) came to him while reading bedtime stories to his daughter. 

Frank LaSpina and CB Goodheart

This stage biography was put on by Frank LaSpina and CB Goodheart.  CB did a beautiful job with Billy Joel's songs as lead vocalist and Frank was a spirited narrator of some of the highlights of Joel's life.

The next upcoming artist tribute will be held at Myron's Cabaret Jazz in Las Vegas on June 10, featuring Ray Charles: The Musical Stage Biography, performed by Dru Young. Additional shows this year will be July 1, August 5, September 9, October 7, November 4, and December 2.

Frank LaSpina is the founder of the Musical Arts Scholarship Program. This foundation provides singing and music lessons to talented children and young adults. For more info or to get involved email Frank at

Friday, May 4, 2018

Getting Back on the Horse

When I was very young we moved into a new house in rural Minnesota that my father and grandfather helped build. Even though it was out in the boondocks it was a step up for us. Our family of six had been squeezed into a small place in a neighborhood outside of Minneapolis that was not the best place to raise children. My mother had another baby on the way and my parents did well by getting us out of there. 

Our new house in the country was on a spacious two acres, and although it had no farm we were surrounded by them. For me, the best part of all this were the horses! As a child, seeing horses every day became something I was used to.  Whether on the school bus or walking down our dirt roads our neighborhood was like my own personal zoo with horses behind every neighbor’s fence. Sometimes out of nowhere a horse would wander into our front yard or behind our garage to nibble on the grass. We’d tell mom and she’d start calling around to find out who was missing one of their herd. Awhile later someone would show up with reins and a bit and off they'd go. Local motorists had to be careful for horseback riders who shared our roads. These weren’t cowboys, just people exercising their animals.

One of my chores was to hang the wet laundry on the line in the backyard. The neighbor’s horses would walk up to the edge of their fence and stick their noses over the wooden rail, just watching.  I’d talk to them to help pass the time. They were good listeners. Sometimes I’d put some sugar on my hand and they’d lick it off.  We weren’t supposed to do that but I couldn’t resist as I was confident the horses wouldn’t bite me.

I was a happy kid when on a horse
People often wonder why girls like horses so much. I think it's because they're so strong but also very gentle. There's no such thing as a mean horse, a wild one maybe, but not mean.  

Occasionally my sisters and I would get a chance to ride one of our neighbor’s horses. Jennifer, who had a few somewhat wild steeds provided us access anytime we wanted as long as she was with us. We’d take them on long rides into the woods. It was fun but the hairs on the back of my neck would be standing up the whole  time because we rode bareback a lot. I couldn't show my fear though as Jennifer warned me the horse gets nervous and can sense when the rider is afraid. 

My other friend Sherry had well trained horses and she’d let me ride on the back of her horse with her sometimes. Sherry was an accomplished young rider and I felt safe with safe as one can feel on a giant animal, that is. The last time I ever rode with Sherry was on her pony and it got stung by a bee and took off running in a full gallop like it was shot out of a cannon! She remained calm and got control again and then dropped me off the pony at the end of my gravel driveway so she could get it home and give it first aid. I was just glad I hadn't gone flying off the back!

When I finished high school and left my parent’s home, horses and farms were suddenly no longer a part of my life.  I never went back to the rural life but  when I visit my dad at that same house I always look out the car window for the neighbors horses behind those fences.

Recently I went hiking with my husband at Red Springs which is near our house in Las Vegas. We drove by a horse stable and when that familiar smell of leather and hay hit me I said “I’m going to ride a horse again. It’s time.”  Horses are one of the happier memories of my childhood, and riding one again is a gift I’m going to give myself.