2019 has been another banner year for shows, large, medium and small. Stadiums, arenas, and theaters have been seeing audiences in record numbers going to see their favorite artists perform live.
The changes in the music business have made live shows the sought after commodity. That does, unfortunately, drive ticket prices up particularly with verified resales and official platinum tickets. It is not a cheap night out on the town, but that discussion is for another time and another article. I am here to tell you music aficionados what some of the best shows were that I worked this year for The Sarasota Post. So many shows, so little time! I try to hit the best ones that I can get approved for and that you, the readers, are interested in. I started doing this because I love music, concerts and so many of these artists! These are some of my favorite national acts that came to the Suncoast area and beyond!
The year started out with two music icons! First, Billy Joel at Orlando’s Amway Center! Billy usually does a couple of Florida dates early in the year before he starts his residency at Madison Square Garden and his summer tour of baseball stadiums! I was invited to take photos of Billy backstage receiving a cake from the Amway Center. Exciting and fun, but work, you are not hanging out chatting. You take your photos and move out! Billy does a great show! The second icon was the incredible Cher! She opened her “Here We Go Again” tour in Estero at the Hertz Arena and then onto Orlando’s Amway Center. Great costumes, classic songs, a tribute to Sonny, what more is there to say, she is Cher!
Gladys Knight and Michael Bolton both performed at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota! Gladys gave a great show of her hits and more, then heading out to Atlanta to sing the National Anthem at Super Bowl 53! Bolton literally brought a symphony with him for his newest release “A Symphony of Hits” with his soulful voice sounding smooth. Van Wezel also hosted “The Lords of 52nd Street” who are Billy Joel’s original band with Liberty DeVitto, Richie Cannata and Russell Javors! These guys started out with Billy and are a part of the original music recorded. If you are a Joel fan, you should definitely see The Lords! Another great act that came to Van Wezel was Seal with an amazing show. “A Kiss from A Rose” and “I Put a Spell on You” were showstoppers.
Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall hosted the “Experience Hendrix” show with guitar greats honoring the master Jimi Hendrix! Dave Mustaine from Megadeth, Dweezil Zappa, Ana Popovic and Zakk Wilde were just some of the guitarists in this incredible show of axe talent along with drummer extraordinaire Kenny Aronoff. John Mellencamp brought his storytelling mid-western ditties to the Ruthie this year. Whitesnake’s “Flesh & Blood” tour made a stop in Clearwater to rock the house! British icon Tom Jones made the women swoon with his hit “It’s Not Unusual” Still lookin’ and sounding good, Mr. Jones shared this photographer’s photo on his Instagram! An honor to photo Sir Tom! The King of Shock Rock, Alice Cooper brought his “Ol’ Black Eyes is Back” tour in time to premiere the glistening, newly-renovated Ruth Eckerd Hall. My favorite show was the “Tribute to the Beatles White Album” with Micky Dolenz, Christopher Cross, Todd Rundgren, Jason Scheff, Christopher Cross and Joey Molland. Not only did they play the Beatles but they did their own hits! From the Monkees to Chicago, this was a fun, exciting show!
The Mid-Florida Amphitheatre at the Florida State Fairgrounds is the spot for outdoor summer tours! There were several tours with bands doing double bills including the Goo Goo Dolls & Train! Heart showed girl power with their tour pairing with rocker Joan Jett and whose opening act in Tampa was Elle King! ZZ Top celebrated 50 years in the music biz with one of my fav bands Cheap Trick whose lead singer Robin Zander is a Pinellas County neighbor. Many tours touch down at the Amp during summer and fall months!
The Mahaffey Theater in St. Pete was the spot for two of my personal favorites! Todd Rundgren’s “Individualist Tour” slayed the Toddheads in the audience. A fan of Todd’s since 1972, he is a master and continues to evolve with the changing times of music and technology. Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty performed new songs, Matchbox songs, solo hits and covers at Mahaffey. I have been a fan of Rob’s since the beginning of Matchbox. He celebrated 20 years of “Smooth” his hit with Carlos Santana and does a great tribute to Bowie with “Let’s Dance”.
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in both Tampa and Hollywood underwent major renovations and shiny new buildings. In Tampa, they opened a new hotel and event center. Country superstar Keith Urban gave 1,800 fans a great intimate show. In Hollywood, they opened the new Guitar Hotel and Hard Rock Live that seats 7,000! Alicia Keys gave a charity performance for the Shawn Carter Foundation in the new state-of-the-art venue.
Now getting to some of the big arena tours this year at the Amalie Arena in Tampa. These are also some of the largest grossing tours of the year! KISS blew in for their “End of the Road” tour with Gene Simmons and company bringing make-up, fire, blood and rock & roll to a sold-out show in Tampa. Lionel Richie brought some R&B pop to dance to with his parade of hits. Queen with Adam Lambert’s “Rhapsody Tour” was another sold-out gig at Amalie Arena after the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” exploded. Lambert does a great job at honoring Freddie’s legacy with Brian May and Roger Taylor! Phil Collins’ proved he was “Still Not Dead Yet” on his tour by walking onstage with a cane and sitting for most of show, but he sounded just like Phil Collins and his “In the Air Tonight” was amazing! The Who came into town with an orchestra! “Eminence Front” & “Baba O’ Reilly” were on the setlist, for a killer show. Thanks Pete & Roger for coming to Tampa!
Over at the Amway Center in March, Elton John came back for a make-up show from November 2018 on his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour, when he fell ill with an ear infection. All was forgotten as soon as he walked out and the first piano note to Bennie & the Jets filled the air. He played over 2 1⁄2 hours for one of the best shows of the year! It was all about the music. Thank you Sir Elton! In July, Jennifer Lopez came to Orlando to celebrate her 50th birthday on her “It’s My Party” tour. Jen danced her ass off, sang her hits, did a duet with her daughter and just had a big party! That’s the way to do a birthday!
Occasionally I get to do some out of town shows when I am on vacation and see some of my favorite bands and musicians. This year I checked out the Aerosmith “Deuces Are Wild” residency in Vegas! I have seen many Aerosmith’s shows over the years but this is on another level! An intimate venue of 5,200, it is Aerosmith on steroids! The sound and lighting are stellar and not a bad seat in the house. You can even stand on the stage if you want to pony up the cash! Tyler & Company give it their all! My second favorite after Elton!
I went out to L.A. to catch John Mayer at The Forum! One of my all-time favorite musicians, I was fortunate to photograph Mr. Mayer from the pit at one of the most iconic venues in the country. A great experience as a photographer and a fan! Carrie Underwood was in L.A. at the same time, so I caught her “Cry Pretty 360” tour at the Staples Center. A great stage set up and costume changes galore, Carrie has amazing pipes and loves the fans. She has proven herself to be a great female voice of country music. One day she will join the ranks of queens like Dolly and Reba!
For stadium tours this year, it was The Rolling Stones times two. From one end of Florida to the other, Jacksonville to Miami! In Jacksonville, the Revivalists from New Orleans opened the show. The request song in Jacksonville was “Monkey Man” voted on by fans and in Miami it was “Under My Thumb”. The Miami show was moved up a day due to Hurricane Dorian, had no opener and the rain started to pour right at the encore. Jagger, Richards, Wood and Watts were pros taking it in stride and are still bringing it after over 50 years! 2 hour shows and Mick was moving like Jagger after having a heart procedure that postponed the tour for several months. There is really nothing like a Stones show. The energy, music and fans, it is an experience! I am glad to have experienced them back in the big 80’s in 1981 in Orlando & in 2019! Not that much has really changed except we are all getting older, except for Keith Richards! ha! They are still the world’s greatest rock & roll band- The Rolling Stones!
Photos by Vicky Sullivan / The Sarasota Post