The Kennedy Center, The Smithsonian, The Mall and Television. What a trip!
This was a big week and lots of preparation went into it beforehand in my studio in Magnolia, Texas and we have been planning for a year. It was finally here and we were excited!
I refer to myself as “we” because I have a manager, a producer, a tour manager, a stage manager, my manager has an assistant, my wife is my assistant, a full time web guy and we have just signed with a symphony agent. I am a corporation and not an island, or so it seems.
We created and performed our symphony show last spring with the amazing Houston Symphony at Jones Hall with pops conductor Michael Krajewski. We came very close to selling out three shows and were rated the number one show of the season by the subscribers in a questionnaire. Wow!
Based on that, we were able to land two shows at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra.
In order to promote the concert, we were asked to perform live on NBCTV in DC which aired twice. Twice is nice!
We were honored to be invited to perform at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Jazz Ensemble.
Finally because this is an election year ( the craziest one on record! Geez! ) I put together two more canvases and we did a commando performance near the Washington Monument to shoot video for a piece that we will release closer to the election.
So first of all, The Kennedy Center.
I was introduced to the conductor, Roger Kalia, a super nice young man with a generous smile from the Pacific Coast Symphony. We really hit it off. I introduced myself to the orchestra and spoke from my heart and told them that I played guitar by ear, that I had the utmost respect for what they did and what an honor it was to be there.
They responded by stomping their feet! That’s how an orchestra applauds. Cool! I felt like I had become a member of the club!
We finished our lighting check, placed tarps, props, ran our blocking and such after the orchestra was dismissed and then struck the stage. It was needed for other shows for the next few days.
Now it was time for a day off. We had a leisurely breakfast and then were off for site surveys at the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian Museum of American art. Everything looked like it was going to be perfect, so we toured the National Portrait Gallery which was connected to it. This took the rest of the day. By the time we got to the top floor we were brain dead from soaking in all of the amazing art. I was literally dizzy. It was like touring the Vatican. Astounding.
Tomorrow I was to perform there. I marveled at my luck. Humbled by this honor. Not bad for a kid who flunked the 9th grade because he drew spider man comics on Big Chief tablets in ball point pen in the back of math class!
We arrived at the museum for the show the following day and started setting up. We figured that the atrium would have some passers by as we performed. What we did not know was that the Jazz band had a following and did this regularly. 1,200 people packed the room. Swing dancers danced in the aisles. The place was ready to ROCK!
I performed Ray Charles and they went nuts!
We took a break and performed what we call, “Blind Lennon” where I paint John Lennon from behind the canvas and they exploded. Next I performed Ella Fitzgerald in blue which was a custom piece I had put together for this event ( it was Ella’s 99th birthday!) and they went through the roof with a standing ovation and cheers.
Afterwards, we sold paintings and took photos with the fans while the band played on.
We went to a high rise to deliver a Ray Charles that we had sold and enjoyed visiting with the sweet lady who had bought it. A retired school teacher, she loved Ray Charles. She was thrilled. I was too. I love seeing my work find good homes.
Then off to the Washington Mall for a video shoot!
We scouted the shoot the day before and found the perfect location with the sun and the Lincoln Memorial behind my canvas. The weather predicted rain so we did not bring out the canvas and decided to wait until the next day.
Of course it didn’t rain, but the next morning at 11:00 it was pouring. So we went on to the museum and set up, but once it had cleared the sun was in a different location and we couldn’t use that spot!
My assistants, James and Hunter had scouted the area in the morning looking for parking and waiting for the rain to let up. No parking. Anywhere. This is D.C. But they did attract the attention of the police and the secret service. A U-haul panel truck circling the white house and mall. Nothing suspicious, right? James was mortified, Hunter thought it was hilarious.
They got off with a warning but we were now nervous about pulling off this stunt. Even though we had secured permits to perform, it was for the wrong area and did not have parking figured out.
But Hunter had it covered. He had found a driveway we could pull in to. As we were pulling in, James said, “Oh no! When we talking to the police, they specifically said not to pull into this area!
So we did anyway, and like kids wrapping a house we unloaded and started walking across the park like we knew what we were doing. James’ wife took the truck and circled around the white house again. Because that had worked so well for them in the morning.
I painted Uncle Sam to no music and three iPhones recorded it. A crowd gathered as we set up and did a second one, which they really seemed to like! Then we struck the gear and got out of there.
This was the most fun that we had the entire trip. I want to do more stuff like this. It reminds me of my youth which was spent skateboarding in abandoned swimming pools and drainage ditches.
Then we treated our team to amazing surf and turf at the Capitol Grill and walked the streets back to the hotel.
The next day was the big day! Symphony! We had breakfast along the waterfront in Georgetown ( Crabcake eggs Benedict! ) and arrived at the hall to set up. This show was a kids show, so I performed Ray Charles, then the orchestra played while I hung out backstage. I could get used to this! Getting a break in between paintings and listening to amazing music is the dream! Next “Blind” Harry Potter which went off without a hitch, and then an audience participation bit where I give the volunteer a drawing lesson. The little girl that I picked was a pretty good artist. Very sweet.
The symphony played, so I got another break then I performed behind a piece of plexiglass set up in a diamond orientation. I painted a tiger in black light paint paint and flipped it right side up to reveal it at the last second. I painted this to the theme from Gladiator, and it went very well.
Then the Maestro, the symphony and I took our bows, and I asked the audience if they would like to see one more? They cheered and we performed Lady Liberty to a wonderful rendition of “America the Beautiful”
And the crowd went wild. I took long bows to a raucous standing ovation.
I went out to the lobby to take photos with the guests and meet and greet. Then it was time to do it again.
This time is was much smoother. We had a younger audience participation member but she was adorable and it went fine. A very cute bit.
We then did a question and answer session. The kids lined up to ask a pianist, the Maestro and myself questions and what smart little kids they were! That was just delightful!
Off to the hotel and dinner with the crew and maestro and his fiancé.
In the morning, Cindy and I checked out, rented a car and spent three glorious days doing a whole lot of nothing with her mother and brother and family in Boonsboro Maryland and dinner with my old college buddy Matt from Sam Houston State.
Now headed back for a show this weekend back in Houston. What a wonderful week. It will be good to be home.