What a show

This blog is a tad overdue. Hard to believe it’s already been three weeks since the 13th annual Concert for Life in Gurnee, Ill. I’ve been wanting to write about the concert ever since it ended, but life has been a little busy. What little free time I’ve found myself with has selfishly been used to just sit on a couch and watch TV (most of it college basketball — go Marquette!!).

The good news about the delayed blog is it allows me a chance to share an updated total from the concert.¬†We announced $33,000 at the show and that number has since grown to over $34,000 (and continues to climb as we get last-minute donations in). That puts us at over $350,000 for the Gurnee CFL since it started in 2001 and over $390,000 when you factor in all other CFL locations. As I said at the concert, we can now move from saying “over a quarter-million dollars” to “nearly a half-million dollars” raised for the American Cancer Society. Wow!!

This year’s concert featured quite a bit of new songs from “It’s Time.” I debuted “Wherever You Go,” “Place of Mine,” “Doolin,” “Eternity” and “Prayer of St. Francis.” It was interesting to hear all five come together. Prior to our group rehearsal on the Saturday night before the show, I had never heard the songs performed live with all of the instruments. As I’ve said before, I recorded “It’s Time” in bits and pieces throughout 2012 and I slowly layered in tracks for each song. So while these were new songs to the audience, they were kind of new songs to me, since I had never heard them live before.

We also closed the first half with a cover of “I Will Wait” by Mumford and Sons. It’s a song that Katie and I have grown to love and I thought its message, folksy nature and relative popularity would make for a good fit. People seemed to really enjoy it and I know we had a ton of fun playing it. (I’ll post the audio soon.)

In addition to the new songs, we peppered in the usual favorites that are done almost every year. I also threw in a couple of old school pieces from my first album — “Thirteenth Emerald” and “Everlasting Love.” I actually had to re-teach myself “Thirteenth Emerald” since I haven’t played that in probably over 10 years.

We welcomed three new musicians to the stage this year — my brother-in-law Joe Erato (he’s married to Katie’s sister), my good friend Laura Mays and my younger brother, Ben. Joe is a phenomenal self-taught guitarist with a great voice and it was fun to have him up there with us for a few tunes, especially “I Will Wait.” Joe also played with Chad, my regular guitarist, on “Prayer of St. Francis,” which I sang while standing up. There’s no piano on that song and I thought it would be weird to sit at the piano and sing while not playing, but it was just as weird to be facing the audience while singing. The only other time I did that was a couple of years ago when we did an a cappella version of “Falling In Love.”

Laura has been a friend ever since we met at church about 10 years ago. She’s a terrific flute player and volunteered to fill in for Molly, my regular flautist, who was away on vacation. Thanks to Laura we were able to play “Kate’s Song” with the flute and violin — the way it was meant to be played!

Ben technically wasn’t new this year since he once performed at a CFL years ago and played an instrumental song he wrote. This year he played the keyboard on a number of songs to give us that nice organ feel that my buddy Mike usually provides (Mike had another music commitment in Chicago so he couldn’t be at the show). Ben was the perfect addition to the show and really gave extra ‘oomph’ to the songs. And because of the way the stage was set up, with my piano to the left and his keyboard to the right, I’ve heard from some that it looked like a mirror image at times. Not only do we look somewhat similar, but apparently our playing styles are similar, too.

I couldn’t have been happier with how the music turned out (checkout the playlist here). It was fun, energetic, emotional and — dare I say — easy! For not having played with this group since the last CFL, everything came together beautifully. Sure, part of that comes with years of playing together, but it’s also a testament to how talented of a group I have to work with. I’m very proud of my musicians and consider myself very blessed to have them in my life. So thanks again to Chris, Rob, Chad, Joe, Ben, Laura, Kelly, Emily, Amy and Beth!

The biggest thank you this year from me has to go to Larry, my sound guy. Larry has been providing the sound for the CFL since day one. He’s expanded that role to include all of the other CFLs we do, as well as some of my other non-ACS shows. On top of all that, he’s been the recording engineer for most of my albums. He was particularly helpful during the recording of “It’s Time” not only for in-person sessions, but for overseas counsel (thanks to technology) as I attempted to mix stuff on my own while living in Germany. For this year’s show, he put a ton of time into the prep work to make sure that we’d be able to pull of an earlier start time (3:30 p.m. instead of 4:00 p.m.) given that Masses don’t end at St. Paul’s until 1:30 p.m. Thanks to his hard work (and Brian and Al who help him out), we were set up and ready to go by 2:45 p.m. We almost didn’t know what to do with ourselves — we had so much time! It was fantastic.

Finally, I have to thank the students of Warren FBLA. To Chris, Kelly and Emily (faculty advisers), Ryan, Kimberly, Carolyn and Tom (the student leaders) and the dozens of students who worked on this for months, I want to say thanks for putting together another outstanding show and for dedicating your time and talents to something so meaningful. I hope you never forget how wonderful it feels to hear that dollar amount announced — to know that you were a part of something that changed the world for the better.

Thanks again to all who came out to help us support the mission of the ACS and the lives of those who are affected by cancer. We couldn’t do any of this without the people that fill the pews. Thank you for your generosity year after year.

Check back soon for audio samples. I should have one for sure by the end of the weekend. And I’m hoping to get more audio as the weeks go on. I also plan to post some pictures of this year’s show once I have them in hand. And if you haven’t already, be sure to check out my newest album, “It’s Time.” : )

13th annual Concert for Life this Sunday

Five days until the 13th annual Concert for Life!

I spent tonight putting some final touches on some of the songs for this year’s show. I have a few rehearsals this week and a big group practice on Saturday night. Things are coming together and it promises to be an exciting afternoon. I have several new songs on the playlist and some old tunes that will take you all the way back to 1998!

I’m so grateful to once again have an outstanding cast of musicians to help me entertain those in the audience. Some familiar faces from past year — Chris, Chad, Rob, Amy, Beth, Emily and Kelly — and some new faces — Ben, Joe and Laura. We also have the St. Paul the Apostle choir joining us for two songs. They always do such a great job.

I was with the Warren FBLA students a couple of weeks ago as they busied themselves with all things CFL-related, including ticket sales, raffle and silent auction phone calls, other concert logistics, signage, etc. They’ve spent the past few months working hard to put together another amazing show.

If you are free on Sunday afternoon, please consider joining us. We’ve raised $356,000 for the American Cancer Society since 2001. With your help, we can inch ever closer to $400,000. I hope to see you there!