|This year’s tour was different.
At most venues, Jim, Tracy and I shared the stage as a trio this time, which we enjoyed immensely. At some stops along the way, however, we added a new twist, showcasing local talent. There were the best young hopefuls revealed by Jim’s “In the Spotlight” contest, several bright vocal ensembles, and a brilliant young pianist, who shared their holiday spirit and added their enthusiasm to ours, sharing a couple of Brickman favorites that they had polished to a high sheen. It felt fresh and our audiences seemed to enjoy the new mix.
For me, the biggest difference came with a five-day “Christmas parentheses”, getting me home the 22nd (and not on the 24th), enabling me to relax and truly enjoy the holiday and everyone dear to me. I had logged all my tour dates as they occurred to get a head start on my diary entry, and was even able to organize a Christmas Eve buffet at our house after the Children’s Mass, for the first time in years. As I said, this tour was different.
All the Cleveland family (minus my eldest son, who joined us a bit later), plus my nephew and niece from Denver and their adorable toddler, gathered close that evening for a light supper. It was a happy moment that I will cherish forever.
Because little did we know that this would be a last Christmas Eve for my brother Geoff. Without warning, he experienced cardiac arrest, only minutes after arriving home later that evening. He was rushed to critical care and we hoped and prayed that he would come through—I even resumed the tour the 26th in Minneapolis, only to learn the same day that he wasn’t going to make it. Jim sent me right back home and released me from our remaining concert dates.
We lost our dear Geoff on the 27th of December, with Mom, my sister and me, our spouses and children gathered close. It was all so sudden and we are all so, so sad. He was brilliant and handsome, but also funny and loving, and a true gentleman. We miss him so much.
Over the following week, with the welcome addition of my eldest son and his gal, in from Los Angeles, and her mother, visiting from New Jersey, the family gathered and shared stories and memories of Geoff. My sister in France and my brother from North Carolina were sorely missed, but connected by phone and email. We will all be together soon to celebrate Geoff and all he meant to us with a Memorial Mass.
The holiday went by in a fog after Christmas Eve. But my notes up to the 22nd were ready. And I am glad to be able to share this year’s holiday tour with you as I have always done.
December 1st marked the fourth date of this year’s "On A Winter's Night Tour”, this time at the SFSC Performing Arts Center in Avon Park, FL. That morning we caught the 7:30 am flight to Orlando, touched down, picked up a rental car and drove on to our final destination.
Pulling into the parking lot in Avon Park, we were thrilled to spot our beautiful tour bus and our dear driver, Curly, who had expertly steered us across the country—and through all kinds of weather—two years ago. Our “home on the road”, with its snug bunks and summer camp-style camaraderie, the bus takes a lot of the stress out of touring.
But back to the tour! After checking into our hotel for the afternoon, I was driven to sound check. This was our first show at Avon Park’s beautiful performing arts center and we hope to return there soon—the audience was exceptional!
By 11 that night, we were all on board for departure to our next destination. Curly made good time, getting us to Columbia, SC, eight and one-half hours later. He conveniently parked in front of the WTCB 106.7 Radio Station, where Jim and I were to be guests on Brent Johnson and Jodi Paige's Morning Show.
We had a ball! We spent about 75 minutes with gracious Brent and Jodi, singing, chatting and listening to several cuts from Jim's new holiday CD, including our duet: “I Wish It Was Christmas All Year”.
From there I was ready to check into my hotel for a nap and a workout before sound check for the evening’s performance. We would be welcoming Jim’s “In the Spotlight” contest runner-up, Clay Johnson to the stage. A preacher from Savannah, GA, with a wonderful voice, Clay did a beautiful job with “Love of My Life” and added extra power to “Peace” that night. And it didn’t hurt that the audience was fabulous: it's always fun performing at The Kroger Center!
By midnight we were on our way to Knoxville, Tennessee.
Curly awoke me at 4:00 am and escorted me to my hotel. It took me a little while to get back to sleep, but I managed to tuck in another four hours before rising at 8:30. It was time to start warming up my voice in preparation for my noon TV appearance with Jim, at WBIR!
Once Jim and I sound-checked at the TV studio, we had over an hour to kill before going live. So...we treated the studio like a playground: I did a little interview with the weatherman, Matt Sanderson, taped a kitchen segment and sat at the news desk, as the star of “Anne Cochran’s (silly) News Hour”. It was so much fun!! Check out the videos posted on my Facebook, as well as on Jim Brickman Music, if you would like to see.
At around 12:30, after our (real) interview with Mary Scott, Jim and I closed the show with “The Gift”, before heading back to the hotel. That evening, our show at The Tennessee Theatre met with another fantastic audience! But it had been a very long day and after the show, I dissolved in my bunk for about seven hours.
Before we knew it, it was 6:30 am and we had arrived in Birmingham, AL, where we had an on-air, 90-minute date with Rob at Magic 96.5. We had the best time! Singing that early in the morning is quite a challenge, but hey, we did it once again!
From there, I went to my hotel, showered, and gave my voice a thorough warm-up, before being picked up by Peggy from Children's Hospital. She drove Jim, Tracy and me to sound check for a mini-concert for the young patients, their families, devoted physicians and nurses in the lobby of Children's Hospital.
The audience was so appreciative! It makes one realize of how much this kind of event means to the children, getting them out of their rooms for non-medical purposes, and reconnecting them with the outside world to share in the holiday spirit, just like other kids. It was a very moving experience.
I was back at the hotel by 1:30 pm. I checked in with the home front and after a micro-nap, I was picked up for sound check at The Alabama Theatre.
That evening we were accompanied by the 50-member Homewood High School Show Choir, on “The Gift” and “Fa, La, La, La La”. The kids delivered and the audience was fabulous that night. The energy was off the charts and it had been quite a day!
Next stop: Springfield, MO. I checked into my John Q Hammons Hotel, named after our tour sponsor. After a short rest, I was picked up by the venue's runner and taken to Juanita K Hammons Hall. At sound check we were introduced to another Spotlight winner, beautiful Kylie Wright, who sang “Sending You A Little Christmas”. Her voice was beautiful, too! She did a fantastic job that evening, also joining us for “Peace”, at the end of the 1st Act.
By 11 pm we were on our way to Nashville Airport for the next morning’s flight to Jacksonville, FL. A car accident on the way delayed us two hours, but Curly got us to the airport by 7:45 and we made our 9:00 am flight!
Upon arrival, we were whisked off to The Jacoby Symphony Hall, where we rehearsed with Jacksonville’s outstanding symphony. The Hall was stunning, with acoustics to match. After rehearsal, I walked across the street to my hotel, where I had a quick dinner, showered and headed back to the venue, for the 8 pm concert.
That evening was magical! We dedicated "Sending You A Little Christmas" to USS Alaska’s Navy wives. With husbands somewhere below sea level, these families had not been in touch for almost two months. Jim's song about sending "Christmas" to absent loved ones was made to order and the wives we saw after the show were very touched. The whole audience was fabulous, in fact, and we all had a wonderful time!
Back on the bus by 12:30 am, we were headed to Clearwater, FL. I arrived at my hotel around 6:30 am and went back to sleep until 12:15...whoops! I awoke to many phone texts, one of which told me to be ready to be picked up at 1:00 by our friends Rachel and Peter, who were to take Jim and me to lunch. On reading that, I shot out of bed, gulped downed some coffee, showered and was downstairs in the lobby by 1:05!
We had a very fun brunch at Angie's Diner with our friends and I was back at my hotel by 2:30, just in time to be picked up for sound check. The Capitol Theatre seats 1,500 and there were about 1,000 in the audience, including a couple of friends, Toby and John, from Cleveland. It’s a charming theatre with a cozy stage.
Again, we had a fabulous audience that night, but after 10 shows in a row, we were all ready for a day off. The next morning, Tracy and I flew to Nashville. We rented a car, dropped Tracy at his home and I checked into my hotel.
I never left the room, except to fill my ice bucket. Ahhhhhh, what a luxury to just stay put and give my voice and body a rest. I even ordered room service!
After a 9-hour sleep, I awoke, made some phone calls to friends in Nashville, worked on my music, practiced a little yoga and then taxied to Schermerhorn Symphony Center. That trip took quite a bit of time because President Obama was also visiting that day. Traffic was at a standstill on the freeway…and I was stuck.
But it all worked out in the end—I was even able to make it to a hair appointment and to sound check with another Spotlight winner, Eric Burgett, Eric has a pure country sound and great style. By the way, although we were performing in a symphony hall, there was no symphony that night.
And it was just as well. When I walked out on stage, to sing "Never Alone" my mic was not on! I exited stage left after voicing a good old "Take 2" for the benefit of the audience. A technician fixed it in time for me to walk out after Jim started the song again and all was well once more. Otherwise, the sound was fantastic and both Eric and the audience were just great!
After the meet & greet session, where Tracy and I go out to the lobby to sign CD's, I was just getting into my "bus clothes” when I learned that Cumulus executive and friend, Mike McVay, had stopped by the theatre to say hello. He was in town on business, and Jim and I visited with him at the theatre for about 20 minutes, before taking off for our nine-hour bus ride to Charlottesville, VA.
Curly parked the bus around 10:00 am the next morning and after a two-hour stop at my hotel, I met Jim back at the theatre, from where we would walk to his aunt and uncle's home for lunch.
And what a lunch! Bob and Susan Brickman live in a beautiful century-old home that breathes history, natural beauty and charm. And they are the loveliest people! They prepared a gourmet meal for us, composed of scallops, turbot and butternut squash in a lemon broth, accompanied by asparagus and rice. It was absolutely superb, and so was our short time spent with them.
Sooner than later, we were walking back to The Paramount Theatre for sound check with The Monticello Treble Jazz Choir, a wonderful group of 20 high school girl singers. They were darling and it was fun having them join us on “Fa La La La La” and “The Gift”.
Charlotte’s Paramount is one of my favorite venues, by the way. It’s beautiful, intimate and the acoustics are perfect. This was probably our fourth or fifth time playing there. The audience was grand and Bob and Susan loved the show. I got to give them both another hug and to thank them again for their lovely lunch and gracious hospitality.
That evening we were in for another long bus ride to Troy, New York. This trip took a little over 10 hours, even longer than expected. The winds were ferocious after we set off from Charlottesville, and then we hit snow in PA. Curly had to drive at 25 mph on the interstate! But he is an incredibly wise and seasoned driver; we know we are in very good hands. It was of course too bad that we had to miss out on our 8 am radio date that morning, but better late than sorry, right?
I checked into my hotel at around 10:30 am, worked on my music, exercised, and was picked up by a runner in time to make our 4 pm sound check at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, where we had already preformed in the past.
A working bank from 1875 up until a few years ago, it is a unique venue, complete with its impressive vault and original concert hall on the top floor. Although the old stage's hardwood floors slant a bit downstage, they didn't cause any problems for me in my high heels, thank goodness! The house was packed and the audience was terrific. And I spotted friends who are always fun to sing to in the front rows, which made for a very pleasant surprise.
After the concert, we had a short two-hour drive to Turning Stone Casino in Verona, NY. Upon arrival, we all checked into our rooms and I slept for eight glorious hours…
Before I knew it, I was down in the dressing rooms, taping another segment for Jim's radio show, "This Is Your Weekend”. I've been a guest on his show several times from the road and I always enjoy it. I still hadn’t finished this particular segment and while I was at it, I also recorded a new opening announcement that runs at the top of his show every night. Yes, I wear many hats in the Brickman organization!
Following our sound check, Jim and I met his cousin, Bob, and friend, Kimberly, for a fabulous dinner in the Casino's steakhouse. But instead of steak, Jim and I had an exceptional salmon. We then returned to the backstage area and got ready for the show. The audience was fantastic, in spite of The Fall of the Chandelier Earring.
Near the end of the night, during a sing-a-long, my chandelier earring fell to the stage. A nimble audience member, seated right in front, not only sang along, but held it for me till end of the song! The tiny earring back miraculously stayed in place all the while...never a dull moment, eh?
After our meet & greet, we boarded the bus and arrived in New Haven, CT, home of Yale University, four hours later. After spending the day in the hotel, working on my music and taking advantage of the fitness facility there, I was met by Cassie, our Production Manager, who walked me over to the century-old Shubert Theater, across the street.
Alan Camp, of WRCH Radio in Hartford, warmly introduced the show that evening. It is always wonderful seeing Alan. He and Joe Hann have been so supportive of Jim and my music—we think of them as family!
From the start, the audience was terrific. Maybe that was what distracted Jim, who skipped his next song with Tracy and introduced me one number ahead of program? Alerted, I grabbed the elevator up to the stage, but by then they had decided to do their song, after all... Gotta love live!
By midnight, we were on our way to Erie, PA. Nine hours later, I checked into my hotel, overlooking Lake Erie.
Wendy Leonard drove in from Cleveland (along with Brickman staff, Claire, Pierre and Ellen) and picked me up to take me to The Warner Theatre, for sound check. Our guest artists that day were the 50-member Youth Chorus of Erie. They accompanied us on “Fa La La La La” and “The Gift”. Ranging in age from five years to young adults, they were very good and very well received!
The Warner is a beautiful venue. It is, however, in dire need of TLC backstage: hot water would be nice, as would light bulbs in the dressing rooms and a working elevator to take us to our dressing rooms four flights up! In heels (or not) those stairs are a challenge.
I do realize it takes a lot of money to maintain a 2,200-seat, 1929 theatre. And, of course, I would rather see it stay open, with the theatre and the lobby well-maintained, which is apparently the case. But a little crowdfunding could go a long way for backstage...
By 11 pm we were on our way to Grand Rapids, MI. Curly drove the eight-hour stretch smoothly and dropped me at my hotel on arrival. I worked out, did a little Christmas shopping and was later picked up by the runner and taken to Forest Hills Fine Arts Center. This was to be our first performance at this sold-out venue of 1,200. And we were showcasing the Grand Prize Winner of Jim's "In The Spotlight" Contest, Clayton Zimmerman that night.
Clay is an 18-year-old college freshman with a beautiful voice. He sang "Beautiful" and "Peace" with us and his performance was rewarded with a standing ovation! He is a really nice guy and poised beyond his years. I think you'll be hearing about him in the future.
Curly pulled out of Grand Rapids at 11:30 that night and we arrived in St. Charles, MO at around 9 am. Since we didn't have a show that evening, we spent the day in our Hammons Hotel, where I worked on my music, worked out, and tucked in a bit of online Christmas shopping. Our soundman, Trevor, tour manager, Brynne, merchandise manager, Allison, and I went to Cracker Barrel for dinner that night. And the entire team boarded the bus at 11:00 pm for another long, overnight trip, this time to Wichita, KS.
We arrived in Wichita at around 6:00 am. I was dropped at my hotel for my usual daytime routine: a few more hours of sleep, working on my music, lots of phone calls, then off to the theatre at 3 pm.
We have played the historic Orpheum Theatre before, but I don’t ever remember a house ghost making herself known! Her antics began with Jim tripping up the stairs, both stage left and stage right§ Next, his bench and microphone had changed places when he sat down to play in the First Act, and again in the Second.
But the most damning evidence occurred near the end of the show. My skirt, which had never misbehaved before, started slipping down, with the zipper mysteriously unzipped. To add insult to injury, my ear pack was sliding down with my skirt and exposing my left thigh! Whoops! Jim jumped up from the piano bench to escort take me off stage so I could be put back together again.
Tracy came off stage too and Brynne and Cassie came running back to help. We were all a bit spooked! Once I re-assembled myself, I returned to the stage and finished our last two songs, a bit rattled, interjecting things like, “Just call me Janet Jackson” (with a nod to her infamous wardrobe malfunction on camera during the halftime show at a Super Bowl Game a few years ago,) or, before I knew that it was a female ghost, "nobody told me the theatre had a dirty old ghost”!
After the show, some people said they didn’t even notice from their side of the stage. But those who did told me they wanted to climb up on stage and help me out. I hate to even think about it now. I don’t know if I can make another claim for “live theatre moments” here, as we were dealing with a phantom…
But all was in earthly order once more when the bus pulled out at 10:30 pm. Stopping at the airport along the way, we picked up Fred, our relief driver, who would be sharing the 14-hour drive to Louisville, KY, with Curly.
Yes, the longest drive! It was a case of “One man sleeps while the other man drives”, like in Lawson’s “Big-O” commercial in the 70’s. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7r6A6YQdtI. We didn’t pulled into Louisville until 1:45 pm! the next afternoon! Our crew, with the help of the Brown Theatre’s crew, had to load in and work quickly since their projected 10 am arrival had been so delayed. They moved fast and had almost everything ready by 4:30, for our sound check. We met radio contest winner, Amy Cuanka, who was to sing “Valentine” that evening, and who sound checked along with us.
Right before the show, my niece, Jennifer and her beau, Aaron, visited with me backstage. Jen is a talented actress and singer/songwriter and Aaron is a pianist and songwriter in his own right. They visited for a bit after the show too, and told me how much they loved it. It was great seeing them.
Tom and Dennis, two of my brother-in-law’s brothers, along with Tom’s wife and daughter, also attended the show. They stopped by the meet & greet table to chat. As you can see, I had quite the Louisville contingency in the audience! It’s such a treat to see family, friends and familiar faces in the course of our travels… It truly sweetens our time away from home.
our next stop, only a six-hour drive away, was Columbus, OH, where I was to see more family and friends. My husband drove down from Cleveland to meet our friends, Suzanne, Thad, Sophia, Sarah, etc, for dinner. He brought them all backstage at The Southern Theatre before the show. It was great seeing Ed—it had been three whole weeks since I had last laid eyes on him!
I got to see everyone again, after the show in the lobby, along with dear friends Kristy and Ron Dugas and their beautiful daughter Kim and her beau. As they have done countless times in the past, the Dugas brought yummy homemade goodies for the cast and crew: we all felt supremely spoiled!
I loved hearing too how much everyone loved the show—this audience was one of our best! After the show we were also greeted by fans and friends, Kristin Tuttle, her mom, Nancy, and granddaughter, Lyla, as well as old and new fans who have followed us over the years. It was an amazing night! I bid farewell to my Ed, knowing that I would see him at home, two days later.
So it was with a light heart that I boarded the bus for Buffalo, but I was glad to arrive at my hotel five hours later. At 3:45, I was picked up by the director of The Performing Arts Center at Buffalo State, who drove me to the venue. As he enthralled me with stories of the city, I tried to imagine it buried in seven feet of snow, as it had been a month earlier.
I was greeted at the theatre by Wendy Leonard, who would drive me back home the following morning. That evening we had another "In The Spotlight" winner, 17-year-old pianist, Carly Hand.
Carly is beautiful and played Jim’s “Angel Eyes” like an angel. This high school senior has even released her own solo piano CD, which she signed alongside us after the show! It was a fun night and we left Buffalo with a wonderful review by Geraud MacTaggart in “The Buffalo News”.
The following morning, Wendy and I drove the three hours home to Cleveland. Once I walked through my front door, I hit the ground running with unpacking, laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping…
And you know the rest.
Jim’s last show of the tour was on New Year’s Eve at the Canton Palace.
Geoff would have come to this show, and I felt strong enough to do it. Surrounded and supported by my family and friends, it was very cathartic for me.