Monday, May 21, 2018
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Double shifts meant flat shows

Imagine going through a typical workday and just as you're finishing up, daydreaming about your plans for the evening, you remember that, oh shucks, you've agreed to work another, identical shift that night.

Sure, you're going to appreciate the paycheck when it arrives but for now, it is going to be one looooong night. And it might not be possible to give it your usual 100 per cent effort the second time around.

Reading between the lines, that is the feeling I got at a recent concert by Don McLean, Janis Ian, and Livingston Taylor at the Valentine Theatre.

We had tickets for the 9:30 show and by the time we arrived at the elegant downtown concert hall, McLean, Ian, and Taylor were just wrapping up their 7 p.m. concert.

Taylor, younger brother of the famous James Taylor, started things off with a wonderfully amusing set that included masterful acoustic-guitar picking and a quirky sense of humor.

He played a medley on banjo, for example, featuring "songs that should never be played" on that instrument, including "Evita" and "Celebration." He also sang a tune in which the main character refused to obey the songwriter's lyrics.

But after Liv left, it was all downhill.

There was no spark or energy when Ian and McLean took their turns onstage.

McLean, 54, and Ian, 48, appeared to be bored and tired. I'm no mind reader but it seemed as though they were going through the motions, fulfilling their contractual obligations. They weren't rude or short-tempered but their shows were as flat as a watered-down pancake.

In their defense, the lengthy ballad "American Pie" would be tough enough to sing once a night for the 28 1/2 years since McLean made it a No. 1 hit. And Ian has been singing "At Seventeen" for 25 years now.

The real problem was not McLean or Ian, who moved on to another city the next night.

The problem is the size of the Valentine Theatre. It's a magnificent venue. But with only 900 seats, the Valentine is limited in how much revenue it can produce from ticket sales. If they want to pay the fees required for big-name artists, it helps to have two shows to double the "capacity" to 1,800.

Tickets for the McLean-Ian-Taylor concert, for example, were priced from $30 to $50. If those three artists only signed for one set, the tickets would have been vastly higher, perhaps even double. Not too many people would have been willing to pay $95 for that lineup.

One possible way around the Valentine's limitation would be to book artists for two shows, but schedule them on two consecutive nights. Instead of playing at 7 and 9:30 on a Friday night, for example, they could play at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

It works in other cities, according to concert industry professionals I've talked to. Although the production costs for staging concerts on two separate nights is somewhat higher, the fee for booking the star for a two-day engagement is reduced enough to offset the bulk of those costs.

If not, the options are to book less-expensive (and less desirable) shows, charge outrageous ticket prices, or get outside funding.

Toledo trumpet king Jimmy Cook celebrated his 70th birthday last Sunday with a concert at Rusty's Jazz Café.

The usually jovial jazz musician and raconteur has been through a difficult year following the murder of his sister and brother-in-law at their home in Flint, Mich., last summer. Jimmy has been making the round-trip drive all too often to take care of the legal and criminal proceedings.

He cut back on his public performances but recently "turned the corner" and is getting back to his old self, according to his wife, Jan, and his multitude of friends.

David Yonke is The Blade's pop music writer. He can be reached by e-mail at

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