Jackie Gives Her All at Heinz Hall

20150213_210052[1]Recently I had the good fortune of attending another Jackie Evancho concert at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh, PA on February 13, 2015.  And, once again Jackie never ceases to impress me.

Since returning home from Jackie’s concert I have been trying to process the experience and put it into words.  Jackie’s concerts always seem to put me into a euphoric fog afterwards and it can be a bit of a challenge to adequately describe the experience, but I will give it my best shot.

This was the first time I had seen Jackie perform live in-concert since attending her Awakening PBS special recording at Longwood Gardens (See my blog post of that concert by clicking here).  The Longwood Gardens concert was a magnificent experience, but it was not a typical concert setting since it was being recorded for TV.  At Longwood there were re-takes, setup shots, producer announcements, and various other TV production necessities.  The concert at Heinz Hall would be more of a traditional concert than the PBS filming at Longwood.  At Longwood, Jackie performed with a studio pick-up orchestra and electronic audio tracks.  At Heinz Hall, Jackie would be performing with members of a major symphony orchestra – the renowned Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO).  I knew this would be a very special concert because of that.  In addition, Karin Hendrickson would be debuting as a guest conductor for the first time with the PSO.  Before I go on with my impressions of the Heinz Hall concert I just want to say that Karin did a tremendous job conducting.  I really hope that she and Jackie will work together again in the future.  Karin was very attentive in showcasing Jackie in the best possible way.  In addition, she had great interaction with the audience too.  It was a unique opportunity for Jackie to perform in such a prestigious setting with the PSO, an event that I am grateful to have been able to witness.

The tradition of fans meeting for dinner before the concert was upheld.  Many fans like myself have corresponded on-line or met at various concerts.  It is always a treat to meet up with fans to build our enthusiasm for the upcoming concert that we are about to attend.  We met at Braddock’s restaurant in the Renaissance hotel just sightly down the road from Heinz Hall.  The setting was great!  We had the entire upstairs room of the restaurant for our gathering.  There were posters and banners of Jackie on the walls, a large video screen playing the Awakening PBS broadcast, customized menus with Jackie’s name on them, buttons,  and name-tags containing pictures of Jackie on them.  It was awesome to reconnect with some fans whom I’ve met before at past concerts, as well as meet some fans whom I have only corresponded with on-line.  It is great to be among a group of people who “get it” when it comes to Jackie.  We all come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but we all have that one common thread with Jackie that binds us together.  It is a very special relationship that we all have.

Custom menu at Jackie Evancho fan gathering.  Notice the Fan Club banner at the top of the menu.

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Button passed out at the Heinz Hall fan gathering.

The weather in Pittsburgh was bitterly cold, but the skies were clear and sunny.   Thank God the concert was on that Friday, because area weather the following day was downright bad!  I only live 2 hours west of Pittsburgh and we had a big snowstorm that following day with temperatures dropping into single digits.  Thankfully we avoided all of that on Friday even though it was very cold outside.

For me, Pittsburgh concerts are extra special because the concert is at Jackie’s home-turf and many of her family and friends come to see her too.  I could see many familiar faces of family members and friends of Jackie whom I’ve seen before in videos and pictures that have been shared with fans.  There were several opportunities where I could have approached family members, but I chose to respect their privacy and let them be.  It is great that Jackie has such a supportive family.

The stage and the venue looked very elegant.  I cannot say for sure if the entire Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was there at the concert, but it appeared as though it was mostly a full orchestra – a real treat for sure!  The atmosphere of excitement throughout the concert hall was strong.

My wife and I had seats in the second row just slightly to the left of Jackie’s microphone stand.  Excellent seats for sure!  I knew this concert was going be great just by the atmosphere alone.  Soon the lights dimmed, the orchestra tuned to the concert master, and out walks the conductor – Karin Hendrickson (mentioned earlier).  The orchestra opened the concert with the Intermezzo to Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni.  It is a lovely set-up piece for Jackie and the orchestra performed it beautifully!  The orchestra would perform a total of 3 pieces without Jackie during various parts of the concert.  This also included the themes from Pirates of The Caribbean, and Jurassic Park.  Although these are hardly the demanding pieces that an orchestra of the caliber of the PSO normally plays, they did a splendid job with them and the audience was very receptive.

When Jackie came out on stage for the first time, she was wearing a beautiful blue dress that almost had a peacock-like appearance to it.  It had shimmers down the one side of it with various colors of blue mixed in.  Unfortunately there was no photography permitted so I wasn’t able to get any pictures of Jackie.  The opening song that Jackie performed was “Take Me There.”  At first I thought the orchestra took the tempo a little slower than what I was accustomed to hearing on the Awakening CD, but it really didn’t matter.  Jackie followed along and sang with a lot of energy.  At times I felt like the orchestra was slightly over-powering of Jackie – possibly due to some balance issues with the amplification system that was used.  In addition, Jackie admitted that she was fighting a cold, but she was determined that she was going to put this concert on for her home crowd.  In the first half of the concert it would have been impossible to tell that Jackie was even fighting a cold.  We kept saying that if she sounded that good with a cold, imagine how she would sound without it.  She was incredible!

I absolutely love the way Jackie interacts with the audience.  She treats the audience like individuals and talks as if she is speaking to each of us personally.  Her on-stage banter never seems artificial or staged.  She just rolls with the moment and shares her thoughts with the audience in such a way that you almost feel like she is carrying on a conversation like she knows us personally.  It is really quite special!

For me, in many ways each song is literally breathtaking to hear Jackie sing live.  I lose myself in her music and I can tell that she does the same by the expression on her face.  I find myself taking a big sigh after a song completes, almost as if I forgot to breath while Jackie sings.  It is easy to see that Jackie loves performing for the home crowd even though she admitted to being extra nervous because many of her family and friends were in attendance.  If Jackie was nervous it was impossible to tell.  She had no need to worry as she appeared very confident in spite of her admitted nerves.  The hometown audience was giving Jackie a lot of love back too with many gestures of encouragement.

In the second half, Jackie wore a gorgeous red dress that I hadn’t seen before that was absolutely stunning!   In the latter part of the second half of the concert it was obvious that the cold was taking a toll on Jackie.  About a third of the way into the second half Jackie sang a rousing performance of “With Or Without You” – inviting the audience to clap and dance along.  She had us all clapping along and even some people were dancing in the aisles.  The energy was high!  However, immediately after she finished singing that song, the cold illness started to strike and she let out a little cough.  Jackie would fight against coughing attacks throughout the remainder of the concert.  Yet, through it all, she kept her composure and remained steadfast in her performance and still continued to hit all of her pitches beautifully.  It was inspirational and impressive beyond belief that she could push through such adversity for the benefit of her fans.  I can add a new level of appreciation for Jackie to my list.  She has my deepest and utmost respect for pushing on like that.  Anyone else would have panicked and given up.  Instead, Jackie made light of the whole situation to put us at ease and to push onward.  The song she struggled with the most was “Music Of The Night” towards the end of the concert.  She tried her hardest to hold off the coughs, but missed a couple of entrances because of it.   The conductor (Karin) did a wonderful job with being attentive to Jackie and keeping the orchestra with her.  When Jackie reached the end of the regular program with Think of Me, she had forgotten to announce that it was the final song and the audience did not know that it was the final song.  However when she finished the song, it was so good that the audience gave her an enthusiastic standing ovation throughout the theater.  It was magical!  Jackie triumphed, and the audience knew it!  Jackie stayed out on stage and told us that she wanted to do one more song for us, but that she needed a minute to go back stage (probably to try to alleviate her cough).  When she came out, she sang an encore of “The Lord’s Prayer.”  Jackie sang this song about as beautiful as I have heard her sing it.  I must say that I was offering up prayers for Jackie while she sang this song/prayer, and deep in my heart and soul I know that God helped pull her through it.  I can’t even describe the emotions that were running through me when the concert was over.  It was heart-wrenching at times to know that Jackie had to struggle so much because of her illness and yet it was inspiring beyond belief that she handled it so amazingly!

I hope that Jackie knows how much her performance at Heinz Hall meant to so many of us.  As a fan I am tremendously proud of how Jackie handled the whole situation.  Hard to believe she is  only 14 years-old.  She is a consummate professional beyond her years.

Thank you Jackie!

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Pittsburgh concert March 12, 2013 – A great day!

It had been fifteen long months since the last time I saw Jackie Evancho in person.  Fifteen months waiting in anticipating for March 12, 2013 when Jackie would finally be performing somewhere I could attend.  Suffice it to say, this concert was well worth the wait!  I will try to paint a picture of the day with words so that you follow along as I saw it.

The entire day was a whirlwind of activity.  My wife and I departed for Pittsburgh slightly after 12:30 pm, arriving in the city around 2:45 pm.  The traffic was heavy for the first 15 minutes of the trip.  After that, the drive went very well.  The weather was cool (around 40 deg.) and overcast.  There were only a few sprinkles of rain here and there along the way, but for the most part the weather cooperated.  As soon as we arrived in Pittsburgh, I could feel the excitement starting to mount.  This was going to be a great day!  We found a nice place to park the car in a parking deck just down the street from the arts district in Pittsburgh.  The first thing we did was to walk to Heinz Hall to check out the venue.  It didn’t take long to find it at all.  Surprisingly, there was no marquee with Jackie’s name outside the concert hall.  We walked around the hall looking for posters, or some kind of hint that Jackie was performing there that day.  We didn’t find any sign of Jackie’s concert at first.  Later on, there would be posters of Jackie put up by the venue.

After checking out Heinz Hall, we proceeded to Six Penn Kitchen restaurant where a Jackie fan gathering / dinner before the concert would be taking place.  My wife and I were the first fans to arrive.  We were an hour early.  The fan gathering wasn’t until 4:00 pm, but we sat down in the bar area to wait for and welcome the arriving fans.  I had volunteered to make arrangements for the fans to have dinner and I was a bit worried as to whether there would be enough space for everyone.  It was going to be a very large group.  Reservations were for 26, but I think more than that eventually showed up.  Thankfully, Six Penn restaurant set aside an upstairs room for us to gather.  I think that the fan turnout overwhelmed the restaurant staff, but they did a great job in accommodating us.  I can’t thank the manager and staff at Six Penn enough for everything.  I was told that we ballooned to around 36 fans who actually showed up – one of the biggest turnouts ever for a fan gathering.  The fan gathering was charged full of excitement.   There were people handing out Jackie buttons galore, in addition to posters, banners, cards, and everything imaginable for all of us to sign and wish Jackie the best.  So many fans generously gave to other fans out of the goodness of their heart.  It is one of the many great qualities of Jackie’s fans.

Time started to fly.  Before we knew it, the time was approaching 6:00 pm – the magic hour when those of us who were fortunate enough to attend M&G were to report to Heinz Hall.  Once we arrived at Heinz Hall, the outer lobby was packed full of people.  It was hard to believe that all of these people were attending M&G.  I think some were just arriving early for the concert to take in the experience.  Soon we would get our M&G passes and those of us who received them were escorted into the hall.  We were taken down a stairway to a lower level where the area was roped off for the fans to form a line to see Jackie. It wasn’t long before Jackie, her family, staff, and security were in the room adjacent from the line of fans.  I could see them all just ahead.  Soon, the line started to move.  At this time, I will admit that the butterflies start to take over and nerves set it.  How is it that Jackie’s presence in a room can suddenly raise the emotional levels up so high?  I was feeling giddy with excitement!  Soon, there was only one more person to go in before me.  I frantically tried to remember what I wanted to say to Jackie.  Here we go…. I am next.  I walked up, handed my camera to Jackie’s manager, and then greeted Jackie.  My mind suddenly went blank.  What did I want to say?  All I could get out was, “Hi Jackie!  Nice to see you again!  I haven’t seen you in a long time since the last time you were in Pittsburgh.”  Jackie was a bit soft-spoken.  I think she said, “Thanks for coming.”  Honestly, in the excitement of the moment I am not sure what she said.  Soon, the picture was snapped, and I knew my time was over.  Before I walked away I think I said, “You’re the greatest Jackie!”  I think she said, “Thanks!”  Oh… I wanted to say so much more!  I forgot to tell her my name (not that it matters).  I wanted to tell her how much I admired her for her voice, her kindness, and most of all her faith in God.  I wanted to tell her that I believed she was making a difference in the world.  But, before I knew it, I was out of there.  The time with Jackie may have been only several seconds, but the memories will last forever.

On to the concert.  We still had about 45 minutes before the concert would start at 7:30 pm.  My wife arrived at Heinz Hall to meet me since she did not get to go to M&G.   We hung out in the lobby talking with fans, taking pictures, and soaking in the atmosphere.  We soon went to our seats in the front row center section.  The seats were incredible!  We were about 4 feet from the stage.   Jackie would eventually be singing probably about 8 feet from where we were sitting.  Soon, the lights started to dim, the concert master tuned the orchestra, and we were underway.  At that moment, I wanted the time to slow down so that I could savor every minute of this experience.  The entire Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) was there to play for Jackie.  They started out with 2 music intermezzos from the opera Carmen (Entr’acte – Act 4, and Act 3 respectively).  I absolutely love these selections as a concert opener for Jackie.  It sets the mood perfectly,  and the PSO played them beautifully.  It gave me goosebumps, and Jackie hasn’t even come out yet.  Once the orchestra completed the selections from Carmen to a rousing applause  the orchestra suddenly starts into the haunting introduction of “Pure Imagination.”  At this time, I could feel the rush of emotion take me over, as I knew Jackie would soon be coming out.  Suddenly, out she comes in a beautiful turquoise dress  that I have seen photos of but never seen in person.  She looked spectacular with the lights shimmering off her dress.  The introduction of the song finishes, and then Jackie starts into “Pure Imagination.”  Her voice is as pure and wonderful as I have ever heard it. The orchestra and Jackie were now one, and the music was like listening to her Songs From the Silver Screen CD, only better!  One by one, Jackie sang through the songs on her set list and all I could do was pray that somehow time would just slow down to a halt because I didn’t want the moment to end.  I was in a state of bliss!  There she was,  just 8 feet away and sometimes even closer when she would walk to our side of the stage.   Jackie’s family sat about 8 rows back from where we sat and it was obvious that Jackie was giving them extra attention.  You could tell that she was very happy to have her family there in the audience and it showed.  She made it a point to wave to as many audience members as she could between songs during all the many cheers that came her way.  One special treat that we got as a bonus for being in the front row is that during intermission, Jackie’s family came in and out of the concert hall through the front row aisle just inches from where we were standing.  It was great to see Jackie’s siblings, her grandparents, and several other family members and/or friends whom I did not recognize, walk by our seats.  They kept to themselves and tried to be inconspicuous, moving through our area rapidly.  It was really great to see this wonderful family!  Jackie’s mother and father (Mike and Lisa) were not in the audience.  I am assuming they were backstage.  Lisa did come out at intermission (rapidly) to remove the set-list for the first half from the stage floor.  At intermission, my wife and I remained in our seating area.  I had several people come up to us because they thought WE were family.  This happened to us at the last concert we attended at Pittsburgh too.  It must be the Jackie buttons we wore, or the Jackie M&G pass that I was wearing that may lead people to think this.  It is sort of flattering, but I have to tell them that we are just fans of Jackie.  Many wanted to know where we got the buttons.  Several people who were patrons of the PSO talked with us too.  Some had never heard Jackie and were floored at how well she sang.  Soon the intermission was over and we were on to the second half (oh nooo!  concert is going by way too fast!).   The orchestra starts into Pirates of the Caribbean as a lead-in for the second half (I was hoping they would do something a little higher up to their level, but that is the standard set-list for her concerts on this tour).  Soon, Jackie would be coming out for the second half wearing a spectacular dress that may fans have been raving about.  It is absolutely spectacular as it explodes with shimmers of light!  I now know that pictures cannot do it justice, you have to see it for real as others have said as well.  Jackie then sings the second half with various songs from her CDs (Songs From the Silver Screen, and Dream With Me).   There is no doubt in this fan’s mind that Jackie still has plenty of fire-power in that gorgeous voice of hers.  Jumaane Smith (a talented guest trumpeter who tours with Jackie) also performed his solos brilliantly as well as his duet with Jackie on The Summer Knows.  Jackie poured herself into her songs to give everything she had for the home crowd.  She finished to a roaring applause and came out for 3 curtain calls and two encores.  Maybe on other concerts she would have only done one encore, but I am guessing she wanted to give her all to the home crowd.  Everyone generously showed their appreciation with roaring applause and standing Os.  We didn’t want to let her go!

After the concert was over we didn’t want to leave until the ushers told us we had to go.  I talked to some fans afterwards outside Heinz Hall.  Some of the fans whom I had talked with were people I hadn’t seen at the dinner, but had recognized from the last time I was in Pittsburgh to see Jackie back in December of 2011.  One fan I remember in particular had his young 8 year-old daughter with him.  They were both beaming from the concert.  It was great to see young kids at the concert too.  Jackie certainly does transcend to all age groups.

Thank you to Jackie and her family for making all of this possible.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am for getting to experience the joy of meeting Jackie again and attending this concert!  It was fabulous!

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