Monday, April 13, 2009

Taking Lemons and Making Lemonade

Howe Squire and White
of Yes
Aladdin Theater
Portland, OR
Saturday, February 14, 2009
General Admission - Early Entry

Howe Squire and White
of Yes
Commodore Ballroom
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Sunday, February 15, 2009
General Admission - Early Entry
$202 (Canadian)

Portland Jazz Festival
Terence Blanchard
opening act: Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Schnitzer Concert Hall
Portland, OR
Friday, February 13, 2009
Section Mezz C, Row H, Seat 7

My heroes are getting old. I've known my favorite musicians were getting older - we all are - but it never seemed to slow them down before. Lately, however, Rick Wakeman cut down how much touring he would do each year. Jon Anderson was seriously ill last year, which forced the cancellation of a Yes tour.

Roy and I had this in mind when Chris Squire, Alan White, and Steve Howe announced a second leg of their tour, hitting the west coast. After seeing them three times last year, I wanted to go to more shows. We decided on Portland and Vancouver; they were cities we wanted to visit. Roy and I talked about what would happen if this tour didn't take place. We wanted to go anyway. So we booked a non-refundable flight and non-refundable cheaper hotel rooms.

I had big plans for this trip. Both shows were general admission, and I paid extra for early entry seats. We'd get in line early and be in the front row for both shows. Seeing our favorites together on Valentine's Day would be the best way to celebrate ever. Maybe we'd even be on the same flight as the band from Portland to Vancouver.

The first night of the tour took place. The second show was cancelled suddenly. Chris Squire had been rushed to the hospital. The official Yes website states that Chris had surgery on his leg and he is on his way to a full recovery. At the time, we didn't know anything: if just one or two shows would be cancelled, the whole tour, or what.

It seems callous to worry about our own plans when Chris' health was in question. But in reality, we were flying to unfamiliar cities in a couple days and needed some back-up plans. Portland had a lot of stuff going on - the Portland Jazz Festival and a film festival going on. We found out a day before we left that the next week of shows would be cancelled. Later on, it was announced that the whole tour would be cancelled.

I was dreading the flight to Portland, but it turned out well. There were no direct flights and Roy did not want to leave too early in the morning. So we had a flight going from St. Louis to Dallas, a three hour layover in Dallas, and then Dallas to Portland. The flight south to Dallas flew right over my neighborhood - I could even identify my street from the airplane. Coldplay tickets were going on pre-sale that day, and we arrived at our layover in time to find internet access and buy tickets. We still had time for a sit-down lunch. The whole trip was long, but relaxing. We arrived in Portland in mid-afternoon.

Roy and I checked into the hotel and rested for a little while, but I did not fall asleep. As usual, I didn't sleep on the plane either. This was the opening night of the Portland Jazz Festival, and we decided to see Terence Blanchard, a trumpet player and native of New Orleans. This had the makings of a very special performance - the live debut of his score of the Hurricane Katrina documentary "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts", complete with a orchestra accompaniment.

I was concerned about the timing of some of the performances. Portland is two hours behind St. Louis. Some of the performances were starting at 9:30pm - that's 11:30pm my time. I woke up even earlier than usual that day because of the flight. I thought we were okay, because the Blanchard show started at 7:30. From the performance schedule, it looked like events were starting every 2 hours, so I thought each of the performances would last that long. I didn't realize there was an opening act who'd get to play for an hour and a half. The opener didn't thrill me, and I had been awake for almost 20 hours straight by the time the headliner went on stage. Roy told me to get up and walk around during the intermission. It was so crowded though, I did better perking myself up by reading the program. Roy offered to walk me back to the hotel so I could go to sleep, but I wanted to see the main event too.

I wanted to enjoy this more than I did. The music was beautiful and well-performed, all the musicians looked excited to be there. It felt special. It gave me enough energy to really enjoy the first half hour or so. Then, the tiredness got to me. I sat there for another half hour, unable to sleep and unable to focus. I told Roy I wanted us to leave. Neither of us were happy about this. He was so enjoying the show. Roy suggested I walk back to the hotel myself - I didn't feel comfortable doing that in a strange city and being so tired. Thinking back, I should have gotten out of the dark auditorium and read in the lobby. Then Roy could have seen the whole performance. Blanchard is coming to St. Louis in May, but this one was a once-in-a-lifetime performance.

That's the only concert we attended on the trip. The next day, we explored Portland, going to Voodoo Donuts, Powell's bookstore, Everyday Music, other shops along Burnside, took a street car, and went to the art museum. We had a bit of a problem with food - Roy and I expected to spend Valentine's Day in line to see Yes, so we had no dinner reservations and no idea where to go. The hotel suggested a pizza place nearby. We ate there, and someone commented on Roy's Yes t-shirt, so we talked music with some other people there. Then Yes came on the radio!

I've always been more of a daytime city person than a fan of nightlife. We just went back to the hotel after dinner. It sounds like a letdown to watch a movie in the hotel on a Saturday night, but we enjoyed it.

I think I was most impressed with the people in Portland - everyone was so friendly and helpful. I got a feeling of forced over-the-top cheerfulness from one woman at the airport, but it seemed natural from everyone else. The city is a real experiment in public funding - there was a good public transportation system and a lot of environmentally friendly infrastructure in place. People just seemed proud of their city and wanting to make sure we enjoying it.

When I visit different cities, I imagine what it would be like to live there. I never got a good feeling of how people actually lived in Portland - we didn't see any houses walking around downtown, just a few newer looking condo or apartment buildings. The moderate tempuratures, artsy atmosphere, and outdoor lifestyle would be nice. But would I really want to live in a place where three members of Yes couldn't sell out a 600 seat venue?

The second part of our trip was flying to Vancouver, British Columbia. Beautiful city. It was definitely the off-season for tourism there, many of tours and events at Stanley Park weren't taking place this time of year. But we were able to get a cheap rate at the Hotel Vancouver - a really nice hotel. We walked along Robson Street, saw the beach, went to Granville Island, and walked along the sea wall from Stanley Park back towards the hotel.

One of the highlights of the trip was walking across the Granville Street Bridge. We did it as a last minute decision - we're on Granville, we want to go to Granville Island, let's walk. Once we were on the bridge we had to stop a few times just to look at the gorgeous city, the water, the buildings downtown, Granville Island, the blue sky. If we had taken a cab or the ferry across, we would have missed this experience. For a moment, I wish I had brought a camera along, but the pictures could not possibly turn out as spectacular as what we saw.

Quite the concert took place while we were there, but we didn't know about it at the time! We did the same thing in Vancouver as Portland - explored the city during the day and had low-key evenings. If we had known what was taking place in our very hotel...

Diana Krall held a fund-raising concert at the Hotel Vancouver, with guests Elvis Costello, Elton John, James Taylor, Sarah McLachlan. Roy and I saw people all dressed up in the hotel lobby, and we saw a sign for the concert. I thought this was a dinner or an award or appreciation type of event. No, we found out later that all of these people I listed above were playing live in our hotel while we were there. We wouldn't have been able to attend, but I probably would have stayed in the lobby longer to people-watch.

The Vancouver Sun
The Vancouver Sun - Background on the charity
News 1130
24 Hours Vancouver

Aside from the late night and fatigue from the first night of our trip, everything was relaxing. We didn't get to see our band, but it gave us more time to explore these fascinating cities. I think we made the best of it.

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