Best Bets: James Taylor, Jackson Browne music set for Smyrna Opera House

By Craig Horleman
Posted 9/3/21

It will be an evening of nostalgia as fresh as today’s music scene Sept. 11 when Greg Pitts and his Fire and Rain Band pay tribute to singer-songwriters James Taylor and Jackson Browne at the …

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Best Bets: James Taylor, Jackson Browne music set for Smyrna Opera House

Posted

It will be an evening of nostalgia as fresh as today’s music scene Sept. 11 when Greg Pitts and his Fire and Rain Band pay tribute to singer-songwriters James Taylor and Jackson Browne at the Smyrna Opera House.

“A couple of years ago, pre-COVID, James Taylor and Jackson Browne announced that they would be touring together. We have been doing James Taylor for the better part of 10 years and so we decided it would be cool, since they’re going to be playing a show together, if we added a set of Jackson Browne to our repertoire,” said Mr. Pitts.

The shows had to be canceled then, but the two have performed shows together across the country in the last few months.

“Folks like the variety and it’s a nice approximation and a tribute to the show that James Taylor is doing now with Jackson Browne. We’re staying true to that and the music blends very well together with two great singer-songwriters,” Mr. Pitts said.

The Smyrna show will start off with a set of James Taylor music and return, after a break, with Jackson Browne songs.

“That’s typically how we do it because the look and feel of the shows are different. ... We’ve got some really great rockin’ songs and some really beautiful ballads and it’s a fun, fun night of music,” Mr. Pitts said.

A longtime musician, he has been performing The James Taylor Experience show since 2011.

“I was playing in an Eagles tribute band and I was having a blast with it.
And we did a James Taylor song as part of an encore. And everybody just went nuts and the guys in the band were like, ‘Wow, that was fun. We should do more James Taylor.’ And so basically the same band that was doing The Eagles became The James Taylor Experience,” Mr. Pitts explained.

“So I just did all the acoustic work and one of the lead guitar players became a bass player and the drummer became the drummer and the keyboard player became the keyboard player. And so we did it like that for several years and then they both got to be so popular, we had to make a decision because we were getting conflicting scheduling and dates.

“So I left that band and changed it to The James Taylor Experience and brought a couple of the guys with me and the rest stayed in The Eagles band. We were still friends and we would still play together. But that’s when it became the band as it is now, which, by the way I have to say, this is no offense to those guys, this is the best group of musicians that I’ve ever played with.”

Mr. Pitts said seeing Mr. Taylor perform many years ago influenced the way he plays today.

“I was actually attending West Point in New York and he came to play a show there in 1981 and I met him backstage briefly. But it was the first time I’d ever seen a guitarist play the finger-picking style that he does,” he said.

“I never understood from listening to the records because I was a young guitar player just kind of learning my way through. Watching him up there, I was mesmerized. I mean the way he uses his thumb like the bass note of a piano, and the rest of his fingers, to play the chords and notes. He was transforming for me. I left that concert and I started working on my finger technique right then and there and I’ve been doing his music ever since.”

Mr. Pitts said the people who come out to enjoy Mr. Taylor’s music and see Mr. Pitts perform are a special breed.

“Our band doesn’t do band merchandise anymore. Several years ago, we got exposed to a charity called the Village of Hope Uganda. A couple of orphanages were in northern Uganda where there was a horrible civil war and a militia that ran through the countryside, destroying villages. There are all these kids that were left with no parents, no aunts and uncles. Most of them were child soldiers or sex slaves and this organization established orphanages where they are housed, fed, clothed. They are provided with primary school education. And so we sponsor six of the kids ourselves and what we do is we go over every year and we bring supplies, as much as we can carry on the plane, and then they make like baskets and bags and things and we bring all that back with us, and we sell it as merchandise at our shows,” Mr. Pitts said.

“We usually explain to folks from the stage what it’s about. And the response we get is overwhelming. They are all are so sweet and gentle and generous. We’ve done it at other shows that I’ve been a part of over the years and it worked OK. But in James Taylor shows, the response has been overwhelming. People buy us out of merchandise. And what’s great is we literally take 100% of that money and it just goes right over to the village from the giver to the needy.”

Despite 13 top-10 albums and 100 million records sold, recent hits have been hard to come by. But Mr. Taylor still sells out arenas and stadiums everywhere he performs.

Mr. Pitts thinks he knows why.

“I think it’s just the songs, the material and his personality. He’s never been one of those guys that says, ‘I’m going to play my latest stuff or what I want to play. I’m not going to give you the hits. You can go listen to them on a CD.’ He’s always said, and even written songs about it, ‘People come out in droves to the shows and they want to sing “Fire and Rain” and God bless you. That’s why I’m here.’ He wrote a song called ‘That’s Why I’m Here,’” Mr. Pitts said.

“So it starts with the quality of the writing and the music and his performance is second to none. In fact, he’s made almost as many hits out of other people’s songs, as he has his own. His cover of ‘Up On The Roof’ done by The Drifters is amazing. ‘How Sweet It Is’ is a Marvin Gaye tune that he turned into a James Taylor classic with his phrasing and his intonation and his guitar work. Those are classics and they made a ton of money for the original songwriter. So I think that all adds up to the timelessness of James Taylor’s music that will be around long after we’re all gone. It will still be around and still be popular.”

The James Taylor Experience and The Pretender: A Tribute to Jackson Browne begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Smyrna Opera House, 7 W. South St. General admission tickets, at $25, can be ordered at SmyrnaOperaHouse.org, the box office or by calling 653-4236.

Vaccination policy

Speaking of venerable theaters, The Grand Opera House, operator of three theaters on Wilmington’s Market Street arts corridor, announced this week that it will, for the time being, require proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test within 72 hours of the event for entry into its theaters.

In addition, patrons, volunteers and staff will be required to wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status, unless they are actively eating or drinking.

The first performance hosted at The Grand with the policy in place will be comedian Brian Regan on Sept. 26.

More information can be found here.

Convention center reopens

After 18 months, the Rehoboth Convention Center is officially reopening this weekend, kicking things off with a CAMP Rehoboth event that will feature the original Dreamgirl Jennifer Holliday. The convention center closed due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 12, 2020. CAMP Rehoboth’s weeklong Sun Festival celebration will be highlighted by performances at the convention center today and Saturday.

Several community events, including pageants, balls, a jazz festival, an Oktoberfest event, a blood drive and flu shot clinic, are on the convention center calendar for the remainder of this year.

Due to ongoing public health concerns related to the delta variant-fueled surge in coronavirus cases, the city of Rehoboth Beach currently requires that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask in city facilities; this includes at events in the convention center.

Also due to lingering concerns related to COVID-19, CAMP Rehoboth changed up the format this year for its largest annual fundraising event, replacing its Sundance party with a duo of Broadway-at-the-beach performances at the convention center.

Ms. Holliday will perform Saturday, Sept. 4. The performance tonight brings The Skivvies, featuring Diana Huey and Randy Harrison, who offer “stripped down” arrangements of popular songs and original tunes, to the stage. Both performances start at 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit here.

The Rehoboth Convention Center is available for private meetings, conventions, celebrations, performances and more. For amenities, rates and other information, visit here.

SSP announces season

Second Street Players has announced its 2022 season and is calling for potential directors to submit applications.

Individuals interested in directing a show in the 2022 season should submit an application by Sept. 12 to thebus1968@yahoo.com. Applications can be found online.

Directors for “Oliver!” and Children’s Theater shows “Bedtime Stories” and “The Big Bad Musical” have already been selected as these shows were moved from previous seasons.

Show descriptions, their publishers and performance dates are listed below.

SSP’s 2022 Main Stage Shows:

• “Bermuda Avenue Triangle” (Jan. 28, 29, 30 and Feb. 4, 5, 6). This comedy concerns the adventures of a Jewish widow and an Irish widow whose successful daughters move them to Las Vegas, where they share a retirement village condo.

• “Murder on the Orient Express” (April 15, 16, 17 and 22, 23, 24). Just after midnight, a snowdrift stops the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train is surprisingly full for the time of the year, but by the morning it is one passenger fewer. An American tycoon lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. Isolated and with a killer in their midst, the passengers rely on detective Hercule Poirot to identify the murderer.

• “Oliver!” (July 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17 and 22, 23, 24). The streets of Victorian England will come to life as Oliver, a malnourished orphan in a workhouse, becomes the neglected apprentice of an undertaker. The boy escapes to London and finds temporary acceptance with a group of petty thieves and pickpockets led by the elderly but sinister Fagin.

• “Peter and the Starcatcher” (Sept. 9, 10, 11 and 16, 17, 18). This Tony-winning play upends the century-old story of how a miserable orphan comes to be The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up (aka Peter Pan).

• “The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge” (Nov. 25, 26, 27 and Dec. 2, 3, 4). A year after his miraculous transformation, Ebenezer Scrooge is back to his old ways and is suing Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future for breaking and entering, kidnapping, slander, pain and suffering, attempted murder and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

SSP’s 2022 Children’s Theater Shows:

• “Bedtime Stories (As Told by Our Dad) (Who Messed Them Up)” (Feb. 25, 26, 27). It’s Dad’s turn to tell his three rambunctious kids their bedtime stories, but when he gets fuzzy on the details, the classics get creative.

• “Sally Cotter and the Quest We Follow” (May 13, 14, 15). In this third and final installment, Sally has just bought a copy of the last book in her favorite series of novels. But if she finishes reading it, will the magic all be … over?

• “The Big Bad Musical” (Oct. 7, 8, 9).The notorious Big Bad Wolf is being slapped with a class-action lawsuit by storybooks of quirky characters who want to get even: Little Red Riding Hood, her Grandmother, the Three Little Pigs and the Shepherd in charge of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.

The Riverfront Theater is located at 2 S. Walnut St. on the south bank of the Mispillion River in Milford.

Now showing

New this weekend in theaters is Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings.”