Friday, February 10, 2017

The Meet & Greet -- Not Really What You Think

With The Tempations on 26 January 2017 at Kalamazoo State Theatre
The Meet & Greet

Ever since I started buying concert tickets, I have noticed that there is a special category that exists for some shows called the Meet & Greet or the VIP Meet & Greet.  The only concert last year that I toyed with the idea of paying the extra fee to attend a Meet & Greet was The Steve Miller Band concert (), but there was no such category of ticket.  I did buy VIP seats to the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert last July, but we all know how that concert turned out.

This year, I opted to buy Meet & Greets for two shows, The Temptations at Kalamazoo State Theatre and the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert at 20 Monroe Live!   

Otis Williams
My choice of those two particular shows was easy, The Temptations are legends and of American music an Lynyrd Skynyrd has been my favorite band -- forever.  Using those for the basis of how Meet & Greets are conducted, because there was so much in common with both experiences, I thought I would share with you what I thought was good and bad about it.  Bottom line up front:  The Meet & Greet is not what you think; it is a brief drive-by which includes a photo op and may or may not include a handshake.  Do not expect any real interaction or discussion.  You will never get a chance to ask that question you had about that one lyric from your favorite song.

In the case of The Temptations, the Meet & Greet was held for about two dozen people 30 minutes prior to the show starting -- from what I can tell this is pretty much standard. However, all this allows is 50 seconds per person with the artist. Whereas you might call this a Meet it definitely isn't a Greet.  All of the participants are lined up, and then shoved through one at a time to have a picture taken with the artist. In the case of The Temptations, someone from the theater operated your camera to catch a picture of you with the group.  The Good: You didn't have to worry about taking the picture because someone else was taking care of that for you, The Bad: You have no idea if the once in a lifetime picture is good or bad until much later – – a bad picture and you're stuck with it having paid for it in advance.  Luckily, the person who used my camera took three pictures. As a result, when I was looking at the pictures the next day I was able to use Photoshop to come out with one good image – – because in each one of the three pictures at least one of the band members had their eyes closed, or a strange expression on their face.  

I went last in the line of people, and as a result I was able to get an autograph of everyone in the group. This was a big plus in my book, and made the extra charge worthwhile, but this is far from the norm. I was also able to have a brief discussion with a few of the group members (Larry Braggs and Otis Williams) as I walked with them from the Meet & Greet room to the stage, that also made the extra fee worthwhile because I shared a brief moment with some music legends.   

With Lynyrd Skynyrd on 3 February 2017 at 20 Monroe Live!
For the Lynyrd Skynyrd Meet & Greet, I had brought a brand-new guitar with me to have them sign. I did contact the band’s agent and the venue to get permission for this prior to the show.  Getting the guitar into the venue was no problem, getting it into the room for the Meet & Greet was impossible.  This time there were 21 people lined up for the Meet & Greet to have one of their Road Managers take the photo of you with the band. The Good: I did not even have to take out my phone and the camera being used was on a tripod with extra lighting.  The Bad:  The photo was horrible, because it looked like Johnny Van Zant was about to sneeze. This time, since I only had one photo with me in it, I ended up downloading several different photos that were taken that night in order to Photoshop a decent image together. Again, for what I paid I would've been really pissed off if I had not been able to get that image fixed.

Johnny Van Zant Out Take
The purpose of Road Managers is to be the Asshole for the band.  No band or celebrity would ever turn down a fan request for an autograph, it would make them look like jerks if they wouldn't take a minute to sign their name for a fan. However, there is a Road Manager who has no problem telling you No; that is his job and that is what he is supposed to do in order to have some control over the band’s time. My issue with this system, is that the Asshole Road Manager is disconnected from the fans and therefore has no appreciation what one goes through or pays just to get that opportunity for an autograph. 

I will not go into detail as to what happened between myself and the Road Manager or how I eventually got my guitar signed by the three members of the group whose autographs I sought (Johnny Van Zant, Gary Rossington and Mickey Medlocke).  I will say you can’t asshole a Road Manager, but being firm and reasonable does help.  What matters to me is that in the end, I walked away with the most prized piece of memorabilia in my entire

My Favorite Souvenir - Ever
I am very happy with it and feel the price paid was worthwhile because I was able to get it signed. I am not sure how I would've felt about paying as much as I did for a bad picture and no autograph -- but I guarantee you I would've been a total asshole about it.  For what it's worth I do understand their need to safeguard the autograph because it does have value and many people seek autographs just to resell them. I would gladly have signed an affidavit that I would never sell the autograph that I obtained.

In Summary

Meet & Greet opportunities are great for those groups that you truly count as your favorite, if the performer is not --- it is simply setting fire to money. Most of the Meet & Greet opportunities I have seen include a special T-shirt, a limited-edition lithograph, exclusive merchandise, or a poster -- so there are some concrete things you end up with after the show; but for the true fan those items are really no big deal. What most fans want is that opportunity to actually shake hands with somebody they greatly admire and perhaps get an autograph or a quick question answered. Unfortunately, there is always a Road Manager who standing there shaking his head and they will do it without concern for the fan. You are almost much better off standing outside the theater and waiting for the band to come in prior to the performance or leave at the end of the night in order to get an autograph.

As for me, the only other band that I would seriously consider paying to attend a Meet & Greet opportunity for is one that doesn't even exist anymore:  The Beatles.

Post Script: As I mentioned above, I walked into the venue with the guitar in a backpack case to have it ready for the Meet & Greet.  I had seen people do this many times before, once actually presenting guitar to the artist in the middle of a song to have them sign it from the stage. As you can imagine, I did get questions from a lot of different people as to why I was walking around with guitar on my back  Here are a few of the answers I gave, with an absolutely straight face:  "I am the opening act" (actually said this while the opening act was on stage), "I play back up rhythm guitar for Skynyrd" (was asked for an autograph), "I am the luthier for the band, working on a new guitar for Rossington" (begged to see it), and "What guitar?  Are you making fun of my guitar shaped mole?" (the girl apologized for asking).  When I was getting a drink, a gentleman (that I found out later was the owner of the property) asked me if I was aware I was being attacked by a guitar. Apparently, I am not the only one with an offbeat sense of humor.


Friday, February 3, 2017

At Last --- Lynyrd Skynyrd!

Laith Al-Saadi

Photo by Anthony Norkus Photography
A few weeks prior to the concert, I happened to catch an interview with Laith on NPR. He was talking about how not winning on The Voice but as a result got a lot of publicity and attention that he never would've gotten if he had. During that interview, they played a lot of the music that Laith had performed during the season he was on The Voice – – just snippets here and there and all of it covers. Tonight, I had a chance to hear some of his original work instead of just covers.

Laith is one of the best bluesman I've ever heard live. He has dark flowing hair and a large beard, and a name that doesn't match anything that you would expect of a bluesman but he is outstanding to listen to. His voice is clear and strong adding so much to every single song because his backing lead guitar is so on point. Not a single wasted note, and every note played for effect.

I hated that I had to miss part of his performance to go to the Meet & Greet with the headliner, but I took a few moments the next day to locate several of his albums and download them from various vendors. I can't wait to hear more of his music, both covers and originals, and I have added him to my search routine for performers that are performing locally. Would love to see him as the headliner.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

My attendance at this concert was almost 40 years in the making.  I related my story of prior attempts to go to see Lynyrd Skynyrd in my entry about My Summer of Live Rock & Roll.  As part of my plans for last summer, I bought VIP seats for July’s Lynyrd Skynyrd concert at DTE, but as a result of Gary Rossington requiring emergency heart surgery that concert was canceled.  The only reason that I even found out about this concert was a small blurb on line about a new venue opening in Grand Rapids (more on that later).  Lynyrd Skynyrd was the official Grand Opening concert for the 20 Monroe Live!

Details about my experience for the Meet & Greet is covered in another entry, so I will talk about their performance only here -- and it was awesome. Someone had told me last year that the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert they saw was all done with the band seated, just playing their songs.  If that was true, things changed after Gary's recent heart surgery. These guys were all over the stage, giving a great performance with great music and vocals.

For a Skynyrd fan such as myself, the performance was a gold mine of the greatest hits of the band. They did not bother with stuff off their last album or things from the period of time when they were the Rossington-Collins Band -- everything was pure classic Lynyrd Skynyrd.

They opened with Workin' for the MCA and then went right into What's Your Name and You Got That Right.  The audience was totally fired up, on their feet, and singing along. I once heard Ronnie Van Zant explain the lyrics of That Smell in an interview and I have to say that it is undoubtedly the best song about the downside of drug addiction I have ever heard.  

The band did a great shout-out in honor of veterans, those on active duty, and those related to folks currently serving in the military and then performed Simple Man as a tribute to them. Excellent. Among the other favorites of mine they played were Gimme Back My Bullets, Tuesday's Gone, and Call Me the Breeze.  The band was having a good time, the audience was right there with them.

During the entire concert, Gary Rossington ended almost every song by playing the distinctive first three or four notes of Sweet Home Alabama right as the applause trailed off.  It felt like he was teasing the audience with it, because a natural assumption was that it was going to be the next song played. You could almost hear everyone in the audience hold their breath when those notes were played, waiting for the next bit of song to confirm that it was indeed the one that they thought it was.  It was not until the last song of the concert set list that they actually played a dynamite take on Sweet Home Alabama.

I have never been to a single concert ever were at least once someone didn’t yell “Free Bird!” at the band until tonight. I am sure that everyone in the crowd knew that Free Bird was going to be the encore so no one bothered to call it out. Sure enough, after several minutes of applause that followed their last song, a single spotlight appeared and shone upon a full-sized grand piano that had Lynyrd Skynyrd murals painted on it.  A large silver eagle was sitting on top of the piano having mysteriously appeared after the band left the stage. After a few more minutes of applause Peter Keys came out and sat down and started playing those familiar notes.  Awesome way to end the show.

I really enjoyed the band's performance, and this is one of those groups where substitute musicians have taken the place of some of the primaries over the years without affecting the spirit of the band.

Lynyrd Skynyrd lives!

The Venue

As I mentioned before, this was the first official concert at 20 Monroe Live! in Grand Rapids; as such, there was some confusion by employees as they were dealing with the first crowd but I have to say that they didn't excellent job. Everybody who worked there was friendly, polite, and helpful.

The venue is a horseshoe shape with multiple levels. The bottom level was standing room only Electric Light Orchestra in Frankfurt, Germany. The problem then, as now, is that if you want to see well you have to get there early and stand directly in front of the stage while people behind push you forward into the barriers. If you are further back than 5 or 6 folks, you cannot see over the top of people's heads. It is kind of a frustrating setup if the reason why your attending is to actually see the band.
directly in front of the stage. The last time I went to a concert that was laid out like that was in the 1980s; when I saw the
Ringing the upper floors was a walkway where you could stand and watch the band, as well as several rows of seats on one side and the back of the house. Those seats in the back of the house were probably the best in the house as they had a direct view of the stage and were above the crowd below. Also, the seats were tiered like stadium seats so you didn't have to worry about someone in front of you blocking your view, and less they stood up.

The sound, hit a few rough spots during the first number but then smoothed out and delivered for the rest of the performance. Likewise, the lights  at 20 Monroe Live! were well handled and you could see everything perfectly.  There were bars on both the upper and lower levels, as well as a VIP room on the upper level. There were adequate bathrooms, which were well maintained during the show. As far as getting the crowd in and out, I don't recall seeing any issues there, and even though the doors opened a bit after the scheduled time there was no issue getting everybody in before the music started.

Will I be back at 20 Monroe Live! again? Maybe, if the band is a good one as the venue is closer than the ones in Detroit. However, there was a lot of confusion about the tickets that people had bought.  My package was labeled as VIP Meet & Greet tickets; to me this meant I should've had seats somewhere near the front but instead I was told that they were General Admission and I could stand anywhere that it was okay to stand. For the price paid, I should've gotten a damn seat; especially when the seats on the upper deck along the back wall were mostly empty until people started seat jumping into them after the main act began.

I am sure they will eventually work those issues out, but I just hope that unlike many shows that are booked through Ticketmaster you will have some control over where your seat actually is rather than the random lottery system that seems to place you all over the theater rather than where you actually want to sit.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

I Am I Said

Any regular reader of my blog is probably wondering if the it has been undergoing some kind of identity crisis over the past two months.  When started, the blog was written under the author name Traveler from 2009 to January 2017, then under the name Sheldon Charles from then until now.  Now it is under my name, but perhaps an explanation is in order.

When I started writing this missive, I was also starting to relearn how to ride a motorcycle.  As a result of that event and my 50th birthday, I decided it was time to start writing down things I was thinking and events that were happening to me – so I started the blog and used the single name Traveler, my riding nickname. 

For several years, I wrote about my love of riding and the various adventures I was having.  Then my job took me to Kuwait.  So, the focus of the blog shifted, from riding to the day to day experiences I was having living and traveling through the Middle East.  I also started a more disciplined approach to writing by making an entry every week versus my prior when I feel like it schedule. The author name remained the same because for operations security reasons tying it to my real identity might jeopardize my safety.   It was during this time I wrote and published my first novella (Three Paperclips & A Grey Scarf ); also released under the name Traveler. 

Life went on and I returned to the United States with many stories still flying around my brain.  When the time came to transition from my service to America to something I wanted to do, I spoke to several people about my future as a writer.  One piece of advice I got was:  Unless I was already famous and using a single name as a nom de plume (i.e. Cher, Sting, etc.) or unless I was planning on writing low end erotic fiction – I needed to use a two-name pen name.  Since Lemony Snickett was already taken, Sheldon B. Charles was born.

At the time, I thought it made sense to use that name for everything I was writing, including this blog, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that was not really what I trying to do by using a pen name.   I thought about an author who I deeply admired and who also used a nom de plume – Samuel Langhorne Clemons.  When he wrote books, he did so under the moniker Mark Twain but when he wrote opinion pieces or for the newspaper he wrote under his own name.  Ben Franklin was another who used a pen name for some writing (in fact he used several); but when he was expressing his own thoughts he wrote under the name Benjamin Franklin.  While I would never compare myself to either man as an author, I do know how to follow a good example when I see one.

Starting today I am changing the author name and link to this blog ( to my own; as my blog is about me – my thoughts, remembrances, experiences, random ramblings, and images.   However, Sheldon Charles is my story teller/raconteur alter ego and he creates characters, writes dialog and creates a fictional world of adventure.  Since the two of us do get along well, you may see the occasional cross post or link from one to the other.