After 20 years at the University of Oregon, I have retired. So, I will begin posting about my new experiences here and hope you find them interesting.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Time traveling with tribute singers

In September 2009, I had the wonderful experience of attending a performance of Beatlemania, a Beatles tribute band, at the Three Rivers Casino in Florence.  Since then, I have kept an eye out for any similar concerts that might be equally enjoyable and just before Christmas I saw an advertisement for a concert by Elvis impersonator, Justin Shandor, also at Three Rivers, scheduled for January.

The concert announcement said the performance would be split up into three nights by decade with the 60s music performed on a Friday.  Although I spent most of the 60s listening to Beatles music along with a little Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, the Byrds and Herman's Hermits, I did remember some of Elvis' songs that I enjoyed as well.  So, I went online and purchased two tickets for the 60s concert and hoped my husband and I could also enjoy another great seafood buffet at the casino since the performance was scheduled on a Friday night.

Although Florence, Oregon is only about one and a half hours away from our home in Springfield and the concert wasn't going to begin until 8 p.m., we always get a little antsy and headed over to the coast in the morning, arriving in Florence about 11 o'clock.  First, we located our motel that I had found on the web, the Old Town Inn. I selected it because it was reasonably priced, within walking distance of the riverfront area with its restaurants and shops, and allowed small pets. Their pet fee is also really reasonable - only charging us $15 for our two doxies. They also have both a microwave and small refrigerator in your room for snacks and offer rolls, fruit and coffee for an "on the run" style of continental breakfast in the office after 7:30 a.m..  It's right off Highway 101 on the left heading south just before you cross the bridge so its was easy to find.

Then, we made the rounds of the local antique stores.  Although I've gotten to the point that I don't have any more display space available, I still enjoy browsing the stores for the possibility that I might find that special something.  Joe spotted a great buy on a grandfather clock but I couldn't imagine where we would put it so we didn't make an offer on it.  One shop right on Highway 101 had incorporated a pastry shop into their antique displays and their pastries looked very mouth watering but it was too close to lunch to indulge.  It reminded me of one of my favorite lunch spots here in Springfield called Ruthie B's that used to serve great salads and sandwiches as well as a totally decadent bread pudding made with light flaky croissants and fresh bananas topped with mounds of whipped cream.  Unfortunately, Ruthie retired at the end of December 2010 and closed up shop.  Now my sister Jane and I will have to find some other place to enjoy on one of our sisters' days out.  Maybe we'll be in Florence together sometime and can try out the place I found there.

A sailboat on the Siuslaw River.Image via Wikipedia
A sailboat on the Siuslaw River, Florence, Oregon.
When it was almost noon we drove down to "Old Town", along the Siuslaw river frontage to my husband's favorite "fish and chips" place, "Mo's".  I pointed out to him that there were a lot of other interesting looking restaurants we could sample but he's a creature of habit and insisted on Mo's. I must admit Mo's did a good job on my combo order of bay scallops, clam strips and cod fillets and I enjoy looking out over the river, although there weren't any fishing boats going out fishing in the winter.

The carnivorous Darlingtonia
Californica.  Image courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons.
After lunch we drove north of town because I wanted to see the carnivorous plants that proliferate in a small wayside just off the highway. The little botanical garden is named Darlingtonia because the scientific name of the plants in it is Darlingtonia Californica.  The little wayside has a nice elevated walking platform and, although the day was cool, it was a pleasant stroll and my two dachshunds enjoyed the break from riding in the car.

On the way back to town we turned and drove around the "beach loop" to the North Jetty since I can't drive all the way to the coast and not spend a little time gazing at the ocean.

It was finally time to check in to our room so we did and enjoyed a bit of a rest before dinner.  Finally, we headed on over to the casino and picked up our concert tickets along with $10 in gambling credits that were part of the ticket package.  Neither of us is much into gambling but I didn't want to waste the gambling credits.  However, I couldn't remember how to use the player's club card so had to get a little instruction first.  After a briefing by one of the floor managers, I managed to win enough cash to convert the $10 club card into cash.  Joe said we needed to kill a little more time, though, so he wanted me to keep going.  I tried to caution him that the slots were computerized to pay out only so much so the odds against winning get greater and greater the longer you play. But Joe said it was only $10 so I kept going.  As I predicted the machine almost immediately began paying less and less.  I managed to kill another hour before we needed to go eat and still had $4 left so I guess that was okay as far as just wasting time was concerned.

Shark reef eels5 at Mandalay BayImage by mharrsch via Flickr
Colorful eels at the Shark Reef aquarium in
the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.
When I used to attend Comdex, a huge technology trade show, in Las Vegas, I used to hear the casino personnel complain about all of us Comdex attendees because so few of us were interested in gambling.  As most of us had training in computer programming and understood the basics of how the slots were programmed to guarantee a profit for the casinos, most of us didn't want to throw our money away like that.  I always enjoy attending shows in Las Vegas, though, and visiting some of the attractions like Madame Tussaud's, Star Trek the Experience (sadly, now closed), and the Shark Reef aquarium.  I've navigated the canals in a gondola at the Venetian and eaten a delicious French lunch at the Paris Hotel (and I had just visited the real Paris a few months before so I did have a frame of reference!)  So, I've always managed to enjoy myself there, even though in four visits I have never gambled a nickel!

The buffet at Three Rivers did not have the variety of dishes that the buffet at The Mill casino down in Coos Bay, Oregon did, but the food was tasty, especially the Mongolian grill.  Of course I also liked the desserts, particularly the small chocolate eclairs made with cream puff pastry and filled with vanilla pudding.  The key lime pie was not too shabby either!

At last it was time for the concert.  We didn't realize they allowed people to be seated more than 1/2 hour before the performance was scheduled to start so we didn't get quite as good of a seat as we did for the Beatlemania show.  Unfortunately, this meant that Joe couldn't understand the words since his hearing aids could not distinguish the singing  from the surrounding crowd noise.  Next time we'll need to get in line much sooner.

I was a little confused when the announcer introduced one of the best John Denver tribute artists in the world.  I thought he was joking since our tickets did not mention anything about a John Denver tribute artist. But sure enough a young man named Ted Vigil in jeans, a brown felt cowboy hat and brown jacket, looking a lot like John Denver, strode out onto the stage and launched into "Take Me Home, Country Roads".

"Country Road" is one of my favorite country songs so soon I was singing along.  I continued singing along with the next songs he sang, "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" (video clip), "Sunshine on My Shoulders" and even "Calypso", a great salute to Jacques Cousteau's famous flagship (for those of you who are too young to have watched Jacques Cousteau on Sunday nights) that includes some really high pitched yodeling that Ted hit just right:

Here's the original John Denver singing "Calypso". Ted came pretty close don't you think?

When I was looking for video clips up on YouTube to include with this blog post, I also noticed a clip of Ted Vigil singing "Leaving on a Jet Plane", another of John Denver's original compositions:

Although Ted did not sing this song at the concert, I couldn't help but include the clip because this song always catches at my heart. This song, written by John Denver in 1966, was still being played a lot on the radio in 1968, the summer I was engaged to be married, but had been awarded a scholarship to attend the University of Chicago. Although I was very much in love with my future husband, I didn't want to let my folks down, so I flew down to the Marine Corps base in 29 Palms where Joe was stationed after returning from Vietnam to spend a few days with him before I had to leave for Chicago. Finally, the dreaded departure date arrived and Joe took me to the small airport there. They called my flight and just like in the song Joe kissed me and told me to smile for him.  I asked him if he'd wait for me and held him (like I'd never let him go!) one last time. Also, just like in the song I didn't know when I'd be back again as I had only a one way ticket in my pocket. The gate attendant finally came over to me and said I had to go as everyone else was on the plane. So with tears streaming, I turned and was on my way with that song repeating in my head over and over.

But, back to the present. With a big smile and a wave of his cowboy hat, Ted Vigil bounded off the stage and the announcer let us know that we were now going to be transported from the Rockies to Memphis and introduced Justin Shandor.

Dressed in a tight black leather jacket and pants resembling the outfit Elvis wore in his 1968 "Comeback Special", Justin Shandor began belting out a medley of Elvis hits. I had never seen Elvis in person but I thought Justin looked very much like the Elvis I remembered from the movies in the 60s and he certainly sounded like him.

When I found a clip of Elvis performing "Blue Suede Shoes" at a concert in 1970 (the second song in the following clip), I thought it was interesting that when he began singing the song, he first referred to the color of his real shoes before switching to "blue suede" in the next stanza of the song. If you notice in Justin Shandor's clip above, he does the same thing and makes it all seem so spontaneous and natural.

Justin sang a mixture of songs from rock and roll to gospel. My favorite was "Memories" another song from Elvis' 1968 "Comeback Special". I was hoping to hear "Suspicious Minds" and "In the Ghetto" but those songs require female backup singers and there weren't any on stage with Justin at this performance. I would have also liked to have had Justin change costume as the decade of the 60s progressed, much like the Beatlemania band members did in their performance. I would have liked to have seen Elvis dressed in his Army uniform and singing "G.I. Blues" and "Wooden Heart", a nice little song Elvis sang in the movie to a German puppet.

I did notice that Shandor does this sometimes in his concerts and at the Elvis Museum in Las Vegas. Here Shandor sings "G.I. Blues" in uniform in a concert in Australia:

Although I didn't know all of the songs Shandor's Elvis sang (remember I was mostly a Beatles fan during the 60s), I still enjoyed myself immensely. I know some people scoff at tribute singers but I have found them to be a pleasant way to travel back to an earlier time, and once more infuse lost artists with youth and vitality so we can enjoy their musical gifts one more time.  I know we have recordings and videos of performers that have passed away but there is a magic generated between a performer and his/her audience at a live concert that just can't be captured by any existing form of media.   When a tribute singer (or band) is really talented, they can regenerate that magic of a shared human experience.   I doubt if technology will ever be able to replicate it.

I noticed a poster for another Beatlemania performance at Three Rivers (back by popular demand) scheduled for April 1 and 2, 2011. I hope I'll be able to indulge myself again - Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!!!

Elvis: '68 Comeback   Elvis on Tour   Elvis 75th Anniversary DVD Collection (17 Films including Elvis on Tour / Jailhouse Rock / Viva Las Vegas / It Happened at the World's Fair and This Is Elvis)   Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii
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