My New Masters Tradition

“A Tradition Unlike Any Other”

Jim Nantz

 

I have been watching The Masters on CBS ever since I can remember (and I can’t remember when I started). The first weekend in April always included the network’s coverage of the year’s first major for the men. Most years (weather permitting) those Saturdays and Sundays would start with a family round of golf at “The Shoe”, our beloved Washoe County Golf Course in Reno, Nevada. Through the years some combination of Mom, Dad, my older brother David, my younger brother Mark, and I would stride to the elevated tee on the municipal course’s first hole with varying degrees of excitement and anticipation. On many occasions the group was all five of us.

 

When I was young I played those rounds with the confidence of a kid who didn’t know any better. I whacked it around ‘The Shoe” with the absolute certainty that one day I would be playing Augusta National Golf Club on Masters Sunday. I also don’t remember the exact day that the “certainty” became far less indubitable but I do know it was before I started getting my butt whipped by Mark Lye, John Fought, and a hundred other guys in college tournaments. So my Masters experience was pretty much limited to watching the CBS coverage. And for a lot of those years I enjoyed it. When I started my professional career televising live professional tournaments at the network level, I started enjoying the CBS coverage a little less.

 

Thanks to the good folks in the green jackets at Augusta my enjoyment level returned a few years ago with the introduction of the various on-line, streaming, services the club offers. Featured Groups, Amen Corner and Holes 15 and 16 specifically. Because of that, my Apple TV, and my 60 inch SONY Smart TV, I watched very little of the 2018 Masters on CBS and didn’t miss a thing! In fact I would venture a guess that I saw more of the action live than you did if you were watching the traditional way.

 

There’s a terrific website http://www.classictvsports.com that, for the past several years has tracked the number of shots played by each golfer during the major championships. According to the data, this year CBS showed 1.39 shots per minute during the time they were on the air. That’s more than any other major since the group started watching in 2014 except last year’s Masters during which they showed 1.41 shots per minute. The Masters has a built-in advantage because of the reduced commercial time during the telecasts but, if you ask me, 1.39 shots per minute means if you watched CBS you watched an awful lot of guys NOT hitting golf shots. I speak from experience (no I never produced a Masters but I did produce a ton of live events and several majors) and I can tell you it takes anywhere from 15 to 40 seconds to show a shot. And it’s 40 if the producer gets to the shot way too early or the player “backs off” once he’s set to play. But that’s not the point of this missive. The point is I have found a new way to watch The Masters and it was a terrific, for the most part, experience.

Featured Groups- Thanks to this I got to watch a ton of Tiger, Phil, Rickie, Rory and many more. Admittedly I had to do it with the sound muted but I still got to see every shot, with NO commercials, and limited leaderboard breaks. They offered two groups in the morning and two in the afternoon and this was where I spent a lot of my time. Except when I was watching

Amen Corner- This was the most satisfying viewing experience of the week, for a few reasons. 1) Grant Boone and Billy Ray Brown. I know and have had the pleasure to work with both. Grant is among a handful (if that hand is missing a finger) of the best play-by-play guys in the business. Smart, witty, insightful and studied (even though there are still times he talks too much 🙂 ) Grant’s work lifts the tide of all the boats during his Amen Corner coverage. Billy Ray is the perfect sidekick. Funny, self-deprecating and comfortable, the former player and long-time announcer brings a perfect blend of folksy and familiar to the proceedings. During this coverage I got to see pretty much every single shot from every single player who went through those famed three holes. Appointment viewing for every golf fan. After I went back to “featured group” coverage to watch 14 I switched to

Holes 15 and 16- While not as good as “Amen Corner” because of the announcing, Luke Elvy (who has too heavy an accent for me) and Bobby Clampett did a nice job on these two, great holes. Then it was back to “featured group” coverage for the final 2 holes. Throughout these offerings other announcers including Ned Michaels and Brian Crowell jumped in to offer the Boone’s Billy Ray’s and Clampett’s a chance to eat or pee.

I even got to see Tony Finau play golf! In typical CBS fashion Finau, who nearly broke his ankle after making a hole-in-one during the par 3 contest on Wednesday but still managed to contend, got ZERO love from the network. Again, according to http://www.classictvsports.com Finau was “afforded” three televised shots on Sunday. THREE. The guy made SIX birdies in a row during one stretch on Sunday and finished TIED FOR TENTH! No matter how much of a CBS apologist you are, you can’t tell me Patrick Reed tugging on his shirt sleeves or Jordan Spieth whining to Michael Greller is more compelling than that. Thanks to my new-found, best way, to watch The Masters I got to see Finau hit 17 shots and make FOUR of his six straight birdies.

 

I have been fortunate to have been able to witness the last half-dozen United States Open Championships in person and this year will be no exception. I’ll watch The British Open like many of you, whenever I wake up in the morning until it’s over and my viewing of the PGA Championship will have a huge on-line influence especially if my friend Brian Anderson is working. Because the PGA of America doesn’t do anywhere near as good a job as Augusta, on the weekend I might be forced to watch network coverage. But here’s my unsolicited advice for the 2019 Masters Tournament. Get the Masters app, buy Apple TV, purchase a beautiful, big screen, Smart TV and watch that way. You can thank me later.

 

 

 

 

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Why Aren’t We More Inspired?

I get no respect.”

Rodney Dangerfield

 

One of professional golf’s best events of the year started today. No, I’m not a week early. I’m not talking about a little “toonamint” in Georgia. I’m referring to The ANA Inspiration, or what many of us still call ‘The Dinah.” The LPGA kicks off golf’s major championship calendar every year in the California desert yet when this week rolls around all many, if not most, people associated with the sport can talk about is that “The Masters is only a week away!” It’s a damn shame.

The event got its start in 1972 when entertainer Dinah Shore and retail powerhouse Colgate teamed up to bring an LPGA event to the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage (let’s just say Palm Springs) California. Jane Blalock won that year. Then over the course of the next ten tournaments the trophy was claimed by, among others, Mickey Wright, Kathy Whitworth, Judy Rankin, Donna Caponi, and Nancy Lopez. Members of the Hall of Fame all including the namesake Dinah Shore. In 1983 the powers that be decided it should be considered a major championship. These days it’s not uncommon to hear folks opine that women professionals should have their own event at Augusta National. To that I say why? We already have an LPGA equivalent to The Masters.

The first year it was a “Major” Amy Alcott won it, then Juli Inkster. In 1986 Pat Bradley was victorious and the year after that Betsy King won in a playoff. That’s four more members of the Hall of Fame, if you’re counting. In 1988 Alcott won it again and decided to celebrate by jumping into the pond that fronted the 18th green and a tradition was born. In subsequent years Inkster won it again, so did King and in 1991 Amy Alcott won the darn thing for the third time. Sounds a lot like the stretch when Arnold Palmer, jack Nicklaus and Gary Player traded green jackets. The remainder of the decade gave us Patty Sheehan, Dottie Pepper (twice) and Betsy King again before ushering in the greatness that would be Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam.

I’ll be the first to point out the LPGA has shot itself in the foot on any number of occasions when it’s come to that tour’s major championships. It too often plays fast and loose with that distinction. The du Maurier Classic isn’t, and never was, a major. Neither is the Evian Championship. You can’t have five in a calendar year or else you become the Senior Tour. Settle on the rightful designees: The Dinah (okay the ANA Inspiration), the United States Women’s Open, The Women’s British Open and The LPGA Championship. No more, no less.

But that slate, as well as each season’s major championship schedule, starts with this week’s event in Palm Springs (okay Rancho Mirage). I’ll concede it doesn’t deserve golf fan’s undivided attention but it does deserve our respect. It deserves its own, solitary space in the major championship sun. Not after we talk about next week’s Masters. Not with the qualifier of it being the “first women’s major”. Not on highlight shows following a look at a random Phil Mickelson birdie in Texas. It’s the first major. Period. Stop. I just mentioned the PGA TOUR event this week, in Houston and some pretty big names are participating (Mickelson, Spieth, Fowler and Rose) but let’s face it it’s not a major. Heck, after this year it doesn’t even have a sponsor!

“The Dinah” is golf’s top dog this week. Can we please act like it?

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The Difference Between Running and Ruining is One Letter

“Ve Git Too Soon Oldt, Und Too Late Schmart”

Pennsylvania Dutch saying

 

schmart

 

My late, wonderful, Grandmother, Helen Hirshland, had that astute Pennsylvania Dutch bit of wisdom on a trivet in her kitchen. I saw it when we visited and laughed with her when she would repeat the saying in her Pennsylvania Dutch accent. I’m reminded of that old saying today because it applies to the powers that be who are running, dare I say ruining, my favorite sports.

 

The United States Golf Association, along with the R & A, just released some revisions to the Rules of Golf. Tweaks and changes that, proponents say, were a long time coming and will, according to the governing bodies, “bring the rules up to date and fit the needs of the game globally.” It’s the culmination of an initiative that began in 2012 and the end result is, among other things, changes to rules that involve hitting a ball out of bounds, removing the penalty for a “double hit”, how players can drop a ball when taking relief, and the ability to repair “spike marks and other imperfections” on the putting green.

 

In the announcement the word “relaxed” was used several times and the prevailing thought from many is that this attempt to “modernize” the rules of the greatest game of all is part of an effort to “make the game more attractive and accessible to newcomers’. The rest of us be damned.

 

I am a 62 year-old man and I have been playing golf for 58 of those years. I learned the game thanks to my mom and dad, who both played until mere months before they passed away. My first set of clubs were a cut down set of Louise Suggs, Wilson Staff woods and irons. My first, of many, lessons came from a kind, caring, gentleman we called “The Old Pro” named Pete Marich. I loved it from the get go and never once; as my game progressed and the shafts in my clubs went from steel to aluminum to graphite, back to steel, and now again to graphite, did I ever say I wanted, or needed, golf to be “easier”. In fact, the fact that the game was so hard was the reason I fell in love with it in the first place and one of the reasons I still love it today.

 

When something is hard, and you have a modicum of success doing it, the sense of achievement is more profound. “More accessible” I get and I’m all for finding ways to do that. Let folks play 6 holes, or 12. Have those scores count toward a handicap. Reinstitute or develop more caddy programs. Continue the efforts undertaken by the USGA, the PGA of America, and Nick Faldo to empower young people to play the game. But take your “need to make the game easier” and hit the road!

 

And that brings me to baseball. Let me start by saying this to Commissioner Rob Manfred and whichever “advisors” are bending his ear with their brilliant ideas to “improve” Americas pastime. “Cut. It. Out!”

 

I am wracking my brain trying to figure out a dumber idea than the one I heard about today. Minor League Baseball is going to experiment with an extra innings rule that allows a team to start the inning with a runner on second base. In the immortal words of Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, “WHY?!?!?!” Because it will speed up play? Because “nobody wants to see games last 15, 16, or 17 innings”? Because you can’t just leave well enough alone? How many “new eyeballs” will this bring to the sport? How many youngsters, not already interested in playing youth baseball, will this bring to the park?

 

Speed up play? In fact it might just have the opposite effect. Starting the inning with a runner on second base just might mean the skipper of the team at the plate will now have his hitter attempt to bunt that runner over to third. If that mission is accomplished the manager of the team in the field will intentionally walk the bases loaded and then it’s game on. Not to mention the sad fact that we will reward two teams who haven’t been able to gain an advantage over the course of nine innings by “gifting” them a runner in scoring position. If that isn’t a comment on today’s society, I don’t know what is. Why not take a page from soccer or hockey and have a 10 pitch home run derby if a game is tied after nine innings. Or better yet just give each team 1/2 a win and call it a night. OR, OR, OR we could just let these professional athletes JUST PLAY BASEBALL!

 

“We” need to stop trying to fix everything because “we” think things are broken, or not quick enough, or not appealing enough, or heaven forbid NOT EASY ENOUGH. Some things aren’t meant to be fast or easy. Golf and baseball are among those things. Lets just hope it’s not too late to get schmart.

 

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2018 Predictions Sure To Be Wrong

If you know me, you know this story. In 1996, when both Scott Van Pelt and I were working for The Golf Channel, I made a bet that Tiger Woods would NEVER win on the PGA TOUR. Yes, that Scott Van Pelt. Yes, that Tiger Woods. As I write this Mr Woods has 79 PGA TOUR victories. As of October, 1996 my friend Scott was 100 dollars richer.

With that story in mind I proudly offer up my 2018 sports predictions sure to be wrong…

 

The New York Yankees Will Win Fewer Games In 2018 Than They Did In 2017

The Yankees were 91-71 last year and just welcomed NL MVP and home run king Giancarlo Stanton to the Bronx Bombers. Most folks expect the Yanks to blast their way to 100+ wins and a World Series title. Not me. Somebody will get hurt. Somebody will be a bust. Some other teams will be better than you think. Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Stanton will strikeout more than 500 times.

 

Tiger Woods Will Win A PGA TOUR Event AND Finish In The Top 5 In The Masters, The British Open or Both

You don’t think I’m ever going to bet against Tiger again, do you? It, of course, all depends on whether or not he’s healthy and as I write this he sure looks healthy to me. Physically and Mentally. He’ll win somewhere and he’ll contend at Augusta and in the British. In fact he’ll be a factor in one of those two majors for the next 10-15 years.

 

While They’re Both In Games As Pitchers Madison Bumgarner Will Hit More Home Runs Than Shohei Otani

I get it, Otani is otherworldly, amazing, the greatest thing since sushi but when he’s pitching as well as hitting he won’t hit more home runs than MadBum. Bumgarner has hit 17 home runs in his five-year career. 11 of those have come at AT&T Park (a well-known pitcher’s ball park) and 5 of them (almost a third) were off of Clayton Kershaw (2), Zack Greinke (2) and Jacob DeGrom (1). Three of the game’s best pitchers.

In a 5 year Japanese League career Otani has blasted 48 homers, 32 of those coming in two years (10 in 2014, 22 in 2016). He’s also playing in smaller ball yards against non-major league pitching. He may be the next big thing but he’s not hitting more dingers than Bumgarner when both are toeing the rubber.

 

Lindsey Vonn Will Not Medal In Pyeongchang

She just won’t.

 

Neither The Golden State Warriors Nor The Cleveland Cavaliers Will Win The NBA Title

Lord please make this come true. I am admittedly a minimal (at most) NBA fan but as a fan of nearly every sport I can’t think of anything less interesting than the same two teams meeting for a world championship for four years in a row. One of these teams may make it there but even if they do that team won’t win it all. Currently (11:00 AM on Wednesday) the Celtics and the Rockets have a better record than the Cavaliers and only the Celtics have a better mark than Golden State. Houston, San Antonio, Boston and Toronto are good enough to hoist the trophy and I think one of those teams will.

 

Europe Will Win The Ryder Cup

It’s in France. Everyone on this side of the Atlantic is predicting a U.S. massacre. The Europeans are good at this.

 

Regardless Of The Latest Rules Of Golf Messaging Both Lexi Thompson And Jon Rahm Will Be Involved In Another Ruling Kerfuffle

Tigers don’t change their stripes.

 

 

 

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The 30% Solution

Words, empty as the wind, are best left unsaid.”

Homer

 

I watch a ton of sports on television. It used to be my job, it’s always been a passion. Lately it’s a chore. Oh, I still love the sports. I still look forward to the events. But, more often than not, for me the folks charged with providing the play-by-play and analysis make watching the contests less and less enjoyable. I am a firm believer in the statement made by the great Don Ohlmeyer when he said, “nobody tunes in to a sporting event on television because of the man or woman who is announcing” (although I must admit I have turned on random Milwaukee Brewers games to hear my pals Brian Anderson and Bill “Rock” Schroeder). One further review my guess is I would’ve flipped to those games anyway.

I’ve worked with hundreds of announcers, many of them I convinced to become broadcasters and trained. Some have gone on to fabulous careers while others weren’t so fortunate. All of them would be better on the air if they said less. This is a drum I have beaten in this forum before but today’s missive is not so much about the number of words uttered by announcers at ball games and golf tournaments all over the world but the words they choose to utter. As we are so often reminded, in today’s politically correct world, words matter.

For reasons unbeknownst to me, many, if not most, professional announcers and analysts have stopped making sense. Simple ways of describing the most common actions have given way to a word salad bar fit for any of the country’s best buffets and restaurants. For some reason the folks in charge of describing the action to us fans on couches all over America have decided instead to show us they all own a copy of the Sports Phrase Thesaurus. For different reasons, again unbeknownst to me, the producers responsible for providing oversight during these telecasts have allowed this abomination of the English language to occur. Allow me to offer some examples from sports broadcasts I watched some or all of this weekend:

Football

“He put the ball on the ground.” In other, fewer, more exact words, “he fumbled”.

“He can really elevate.” Just say “jump” it’s two fewer syllables.

he is so good in space” and “he operates in space”. Minimal syllables I’ll admit for but this phraseology makes absolutely no sense.  I am pretty sure the analyst means the player is good at “getting open” and once he’s there, he’s good too. These folks are athletes, not astronauts.

“He has the ability to run downhill”. Does this mean he doesn’t have the ability to run uphill? Does this replace the other worn out phrase, “he knows how to run North and South”? Aren’t college and professional football fields flat?

Baseball (heard every night and almost every inning during this year’s postseason)

He has to expand the strike zone”. I’m pretty that means the pitcher wants the hitter to swing at balls as well as strikes. So just say that! I mean the strike zone isn’t actually be expanded regardless of what the pitcher wants. And of course conversely:

“The hitter can’t expand the strike zone.” Got it, don’t swing at bad pitches. And as was said of one Los Angeles Dodger batter…

“He can really manipulate the ball”. I’m no genius but I’m going out on a limb to say this particular announcer means the guy can “hit”.

 

When you talk a lot on television I understand the need to find different ways to same the same thing. But I offer up a better solution (when I say better I mean better for me!). Just. Don’t. Talk. So. Much. There, I said it. It was easy. Sports events on television are at least 3 hours long (counting halftime, game breaks, injury time outs, and, in baseball, endless visits to the pitcher’s mound to discuss strategy and change arms). Some of them are even longer. I used to tell all my announcers, “that means there is more than enough time for everyone on the team to say more than enough words.” But still most, if not all, find it necessary to say something, anything after every play, every shot, every pitch. And for goodness sake stop stating the obvious. It’s a visual medium, we can see what you see. It’s all simply not necessary and, in fact, it is bad television.

If you’re an announcer. If you’re reading this. Please, as a courtesy to the millions of people who watch sports on television… Speak 30% less. And when you do speak, use words and phrases that actually mean what you are trying to say. Here’s another idea: record your work. After you record it actually watch it and then tell me, in all honesty, if you were able to sit through even a half, a quarter, or a few innings, without hitting the mute button.

Follow these simple suggestions and you’ll be a better broadcaster. And a more popular one too. You’re welcome.

 

 

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He Shoots, He Scores

“You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”

Yogi Berra

 

No matter how you slice it Golden State Warriors’ guard and two-time NBA MVP, Steph Curry, will not make the cut this week at the Web.com Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic. Don’t get me wrong he’s a really good player, as Gary Koch would remind us over and over again, “Better than Most!” but, pardon the pun, this week he is way out of his league.

I salute the tournament director for extending the invitation and I applaud Curry for accepting. This tournament used to be included in the Golf Channel’s broadcast schedule; it’s not any longer. Any attempt to generate interest in the event, any reason to get folks out to Hayward and the TPC Stonebrae, is welcome. Asking a really good player, and by all accounts an even better guy to play in your event can’t ever be a bad thing. Include the fact that the same guy just might be the most popular athlete within in a thousand miles of the event and you have the ultimate no-brainer. But all those fans, all those young golfers, better get out there today, tomorrow or Friday because Steph won’t be around for the weekend.

I was at this event in 2010 when NFL Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice did what future NBA Hall of Fame guard Stephen Curry is doing this week, playing in a PGA TOUR sanctioned event for the first time. Rice shot 83-76 and beat one guy, Brendon Todd. I should note that his first round 83 was 2 shots better than PGA TOUR veteran Brian Bateman who subsequently, because of injury or shame, withdrew. My point is Jerry Rice was a good player, not as good as he thought he was or anywhere near as good as Curry but good. He just wasn’t anywhere near good enough to compete (and by that I mean make the cut) on this stage. Neither is Steph.

Another obstacle facing Curry is the venue, the TPC Stonebrae. Designed by David McLay Kidd, it’s better suited for a billy-goat than the guy who may ended up being the GOAT of NBA guards. It plays almost 7,200 yards from the “Tour” tees and offers its fair share of uphill, downhill and side hill lies (often times on the same hole). It’s got five par 5’s and Steph is going to have to birdie at least three of them each day if he has any chance of shooting a good score. Curry has plied his trade on basketball courts all over the world but no matter where he is, the court is the same size and the hoop is 10 feet off the floor. Golf is different, professional golf is different from that. Playing with your pals, at your home course, during an off day in a playoff series is one thing. So is playing a practice round the day before a tournament. But when the figurative gun goes off and every putt matters, every stroke counts, on a golf course with teeing grounds and hole locations set up to test the game’s best? That brings it to a whole new level.

I headed up the production team that broadcast this event in 2010 (the first year Rice played), the winner was Kevin Chappell who went on to win on the PGA TOUR for the first time this year. Other TOUR winners, Tony Finau (2016 Puerto Rico Open) and Si Woo Kim (2016 Wyndham Championship, 2017 The PLAYERS) have won this tournament . Last year’s champion, Stephen Jaeger, has not won on the PGA TOUR, may never. He’ll get that chance again next year but for now he is back in Northern California defending his title and that’s another problem for Stephen Curry.

In a rare, if not unprecedented, move the Web.com Tour has inserted Sponsor Exemption Steph Curry into the group that includes Jaeger and another winner this year, Sam Ryder. Normally players are assigned tee times for the first two rounds of an event by categories. The “A” category includes, among other criteria, Tour winners. The “B” category is composed of a level of competitors just below the “A” guys. And then there is the “C” group which normally includes Monday qualifiers and sponsor’s exemptions like Steph. The “A” guys get the best tee times, “B” next, and the “C” group goes either first of last off each day. I can only surmise that the Tournament Director, with or without the urging of the title sponsor, went to the PGA TOUR official responsible for running the event and asked for the favorable grouping for Curry (even though I contend it’s not all that favorable for Steph). The TOUR acquiesced after (I am hopeful this is the case) asking both Jaeger and Ryder if it was okay with them. So now, instead of going off in relative anonymity as part of one of the first three groups on either Thursday or Friday (he’d be in one of the last three groupings the other day), Stephen Curry has to play in the heart of the draw BOTH days with two of the Web.com Tour’s best players. As if he needed that added pressure.

I’ve read Curry plays to a +.7 handicap. That’s amazing. That’s really, really good. But it’s chump change compared to Jaeger, Ryder (currently ranked 3rd and 2nd on that Tour’s $ list) or even Justin Shin who’s ranked 202nd after making just $3,254 in 15 events this year. My point is not to belittle Curry’s golf accomplishments but to highlight the great play of the best players in the world, including Justin Shin. Stephan Curry, I bet, was nervous at some point during every single one of the games he played during all of his NBA Finals appearances but those nerves will pale in comparison to the one’s he’ll feel on the tenth tee at around 9 AM PT on Thursday (his tee time is 8:55 AM but he’s slated to tee of third in the group).

Stephen Curry won’t break 80 on Thursday, My bet is he does on Friday but he’ll miss the cut by a mile; probably finish last among the players that complete 36 holes. But that won’t change the fact that, as an NBA superstar, he’s a really good golfer. And it won’t, at least in my eyes, diminish the positive impact he has made on both this tournament and that tour. He should hold his head high as he deposits his clubs into, and gently closes the trunk of, his car late Friday afternoon. I just hope he’s signed every autograph request and showered his fans with smiles on the way to the parking lot.

 

Thanks for reading my blog. If you liked this, and are interested, please check out my two books. Cover Me Boys, I’m Going In (Tales of the Tube from a Broadcast Brat) is a memoir about my career in broadcasting that includes stories from my time at both ESPN and The Golf Channel. Big Flies, is a mystery that incorporates  four real-life, still unsolved, robberies to tell the story of a father and a son. Both are available at Amazon.

 

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An Evening With Chris Stapleton

“I love music, any kind of music”

The O’Jays

 

I don’t know about you but I sing in the shower, I sing in the car, in fact part of my brain is singing right now. I love music. It’s been my experience that there are two types of music lovers; the one who listens to the lyrics, another who enjoys the melody. Personally I am a lyrics guy. The songs that mean the most to me personally are the ones with great words. It might be for this reason that I enjoy listening to my favorite artists on the radio, from my playlist, or spinning on my turntable as much, or more, than live on stage. That doesn’t mean I don’t like concerts, I do, and I have been to my fair share.

My earliest memories of live performances is jumping in the car and heading to Reno, Nevada casino showrooms with my Dad, Mom and two brothers to see Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis, Jr. We sat in cushy booths, ate and drank (Roy Rogers for the three boys) then watched Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis, Jr. We were entertained by Jimmy Durante, Red Skelton and Alan Sherman (Hello Mudder, Hello Fadder) always preceded by “The Performing Pachyderms Bertha and Tina!”. At the time I couldn’t have realized how lucky we all had it.

The concert I remember as my first was when I was in junior high school. The Chicago Transit Authority was coming to the Centennial Coliseum and I was going to go. I had purchased their recently released, self-titled, debut double album and had memorized the words to Beginnings, Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is? and 25 or 6 to 4. Over the course of the next decade or so I saw Yes, Deep Purple, Renaissance, Jefferson Starship, Steely Dan, Loggins and Messina, Dan Fogelberg and Bruce Springsteen (for the first of 5 times). I never saw The Beatles live but I was fortunate to see The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney. Thanks to work, I’ve been both backstage and in the audience for Elvis Presley, Diana Ross, America and Paul Revere and the Raiders. I was lucky enough to become friends with The Mission Mountain Wood Band who would become The Montana Band and Texas singing/songwriting legend Pat Green.

More recently I have seen Billy Joel, The Eagles (luckily before Glenn Frey passed away), Kenny Chesney, Mat Kearney and Train. My second-to-last live music experience was an intensely personal one as my wife and I went in to New York City and saw our son perform at the Bowery Ballroom with his band, Post Animal. Don’t get me wrong, I am not positioning myself as a “Master Concert Goer”. While I’ve seen some amazing acts, the number of shows I’ve attended pales in comparison to millions of people. I know folks who have seen one band as many, or more, times than I have seen all of my concerts. More power to them.

Last night, for her birthday, I took my wife to the PNC Bank Arts Center to see Chris Stapleton. We were joined by more than 10,000 other folks, including my in-laws, hungry for an entertaining evening out and Stapleton did not disappoint. The venue was built in the late 1960’s and opened in 1968. It’s an amphitheater with open sides and a roof that covers about 7,000 seats. An uncovered grassy area has room for about 10,000 more butts. I’m sure when pianist Van Cliburn opened the joint on June 12 and Judy Garland sang Over the Rainbow there two weeks later in 1968, it was an amazing place. It’s still a nice venue, if a little beat. We were happy for the covered roof when a thunderstorm ripped through the area, turning the grassy area into one huge wet t-shirt contest, minutes before Chris Stapleton took the stage. When he did come on stage he was accompanied by a drummer, a bassist, and his wife (who joined him on most vocals and  occasionally struck a tambourine). That was it, four of them, it was more than enough.

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Like a lot of folks we became acquainted with the Kentuckian’s music thanks to the 2015 breakout hit, Tennessee Whisky. We learned that he had been a successful songwriter for years penning number one hits for Kenney Chesney, George Straight, and Darius Rucker. He was responsible for more than 150 songs that appeared on records released by Tim McGraw, Adele, Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley and others. He was a household name in Nashville long before Tennessee Whiskey made him a name in our, and maybe your, household. So we knew going in that he knew how to write a great song, we learned he plays a mean guitar.

The first half of the show featured songs from his hit record Traveler as Stapleton crooned and growled into the microphone and railed on one of his well-worn Fender six strings. He never played the same guitar two songs in a row until he sent the band off for a “smoke break” and he commanded the stage alone playing an acoustic guitar. He serenaded us with the first song from his new record, Broken Halos, and backed that up with Whiskey and You, a song he wrote for McGraw. We knew almost all of the songs but hardly any of the words and if I had one criticism of the show it would be that if you didn’t know the words you weren’t going to get them from this concert. At times the artist was incomprehensible, but man could he play and sing.

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Finally he played and sang the title track from Traveler and then struck the first few notes of Fire Away. Before he could go any further the New Jersey crowd erupted into thunderous applause. The bearded troubadour on stage stopped, taken completely by surprise, and announced his appreciation to the assembled masses. That was one of the beautiful things about this show. You watched an artist who, though famous in a relatively small circle because of his songwriting, was still finding his footing as a performer. And we appreciated him all the more because of it. It was genuine appreciation for us as we were showering him with praise through our applause. Fire Away was the highlight of the night. But Chris Stapleton wasn’t finished.

The first chords of Tennessee Whisky sang from his guitar strings and he introduced us to his fellow musicians, singing about each one, to the melody of his most famous song. And then he sang it for us, and we sang right along with him. The band left the stage, with Stapleton this time, returning after a few minutes, to play and sing Either Way as an encore. It was a great concert experience and I strongly recommend seeing Chris Stapleton if he makes an appearance on a concert stage near you. I have a colleague, who’s a friend, that proclaims artists, athletes, and others as “Big Time” when they meet with his approval. Chris Stapleton is “Big Time”.

 

 

Thanks for reading my blog. If you liked this please check out other entries here. You can also get information about my two books, Cover Me Boys, I’m Going In (Tales of the Tube from a Broadcast Brat) a memoir about my nearly four decades in broadcast television and Big Flies, my new mystery.

 

 

 

 

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