Memories of The PBS Filming at Longwood Gardens

CaptureRecently, I had the pleasure of attending the concert and taping of Jackie Evancho‘s third PBS special on location at Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania on August 21, 2014.  This will have been the seventh Jackie Evancho concert that I have attended. Of all the concerts that I have attended, as spectacular as they have all been, I would have to say this was by far the most memorable.  The experience of seeing Jackie perform live is extraordinary in itself, but when you combine that with all the ambiance of a place like Longwood Gardens. plus the excitement of watching her PBS TV special being filmed live, it is almost overwhelming!  At first when I found out about this concert I wasn’t sure if I could attend.  My wife and I had already made plans to see Jackie at Chautauqua.  The late announcement of the PBS concert filming ended up being two weeks after the concert at Chautauqua.  The drive to Longwood would only be about 7 hours, so I knew that this was about as good as it gets to witness the recording of a Jackie Evancho PBS special.  It was an opportunity that I could not pass up.  I purchased two tickets for my wife and I.  Unfortunately, a few weeks later my wife realized that she had a schedule conflict on the day of the concert and could not attend.  So, I decided to go to the concert solo even though I really wanted to have my wife go with me too.  I know she would have loved to see it.

As with any Jackie Evancho concert, the anticipation leading up to the event is almost as exciting as the actual concert itself.  However, the time leading up to this concert also presented some anxiety.  Being that this was an open-air outdoor concert, the threat of bad weather was a major concern.  The weather forecast for the day of the concert did not look good at all.  The chance of rain was very strong (80 to 90 percent).  There was a rain date schedule for August 22nd, but that day didn’t look much better.  The weather forecast for the entire week of the concert was very poor, and the actual day of the concert was looking like the worst weather day of the week.  It would be so heartbreaking if this wonderful concert was hampered by bad weather.  The only thing I could do was pray that somehow God would shield the area from the impending rain.

On the morning of August 20th,I departed on the 7 hour drive to Longwood.  I decided to leave a day before the concert so that I would not have any stress or anxiety about trying to get to the concert on time.  The morning that I departed from Ohio, the weather was very bad.  There was a heavy rain falling.  Typically Ohio weather moves eastward, so it didn’t look good for the Longwood area in eastern PA.    I was driving in rain for about an hour, when it suddenly cleared up.  I probably got ahead of the rain and it was now chasing me across PA.  I continued to pray as I drove in hopes that the weather situation would improve.  About 100 miles from Longwood, it started to rain heavily again, however once I reached my hotel the skies were sunny and there was no rain in sight.  I was really worried though that the rain was on its way.

The next day, the weather was overcast, but no rain.  Temperatures were in the 80s with very high humidity (about 80 – 90 percent).  As long as it didn’t rain, then I was OK with the humidity.  I made my way over to Longwood Gardens around 11:00 am to tour the grounds before the concert.  My hotel was about 10 miles away, so I decided to wear my concert attire there and just try my best to stay cool.  It was very hot and humid, but I wanted to tour the grounds.  I must say that it is a beautiful place.  The gardens, flowers, fountains and overall scenery are pristine.  It is an incredible location for Jackie to do her PBS special.  Very good choice by whoever made the decision to film there.  One of the most impressive areas that I saw were some of the sections of the indoor conservatory.

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Later during the day, I  heard that Jackie had a filming session in the ballroom in that area, as well as various other surrounding gardens near the conservatory.  Unfortunately, I missed a filming of Jackie that occurred just moments after I left the conservatory area.  By the time I had heard about it and started heading back there, the session was over.  Oh well, story of my life.  By mid -afternoon, many of Jackie’s fans were getting together at the Longwood Cafe for lunch and to socialize before the concert.  There were fans who came from Russia, France, Germany, and the UK as well as many fans from all over the United States.  Jackie has a very loyal fan following, and I must say they are all very nice and generous people.  Many fan-made custom Jackie buttons were given out and everyone was sharing their thoughts about Jackie and the upcoming concert.  The atmosphere was electric!

Around 4:00 pm many fans  started gathering around the blocked off entrance to the stage area.  The tickets for the concert were unreserved, so some of us die-hard fans wanted to get to the head of the line so that we could get good seats.  At 4:30, the gates would open, but not where we thought.  An usher indicated the line would form just down the path from where we were standing.  Myself and several other fans immediately headed in the direction indicated by the usher, and through some miracle, we were at the head of the line – I was about the 4th person in line.   We would still have to wait there in the sweltering humid heat for two hours before they would let us into the theater area at 6:30.  The weather forecast was still very iffy around that time.  The forecast still showed a 90% chance of rain and the weather radar on my phone showed a very large cell headed our way.  I kept saying to myself, “Please God, hold off this rain just until the concert is over!”  So far, so good!

At a little past 6:30, we were permitted to enter the theater area.  Being at the head of the line, I thought we would get very good seats.  I did not expect to get real close to the front because I suspected that some seats would be reserved.  I expected to get within at least the first 10 rows.  Unfortunately as we entered the theater, one of the ushers told us to start sitting in the back of the theater.  What’s with that?  First in line yet we are to sit in the back!?  Understandably we were a bit upset!  I didn’t want to make a scene, but it was troubling.  Suddenly I looked over and all the people who were way behind us in line were streaming to the front of the theater to get the unreserved closer seats.  I decided to do the same, but by then it was too late.  There was some confusion as to what was going on.  As it turns out, I ended up in about the 20th row and could see many people who were way back behind me in line within the first 10 rows.  I still ended up in a fairly good seat so I shouldn’t complain, but the process for handling the seating by the ushers was not one of the highlights of the day.

The theater area looked like a wonderland of beauty.  The stage was adorned with a multitude of flowers and plants.  There were large camera booms, teleprompters, video cameras, and lighting systems in place.  It all looked amazing!  I felt like I was in another world.  I could hardly contain the excitement I was feeling.  Right in front of me was this magnificent stage that looked like a flowering paradise.  There were several levels to the stage and towards the back were large fountains that would spray huge plumes of water.  The lighting was incredible as it glistened off all of the plants and flowers – highlighting all the nuances of the greenery.

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The concert was scheduled to start around 7:30, but ended up starting about 15 minutes late.  The producer of the show gave the audience a few instructions on how the evening would progress.  This would not be a typical concert.  There may be some re-takes, and some audience shots by the cameras.  That was to be expected.  Personally, I couldn’t be happier to hear Jackie sing a song more than once, so bring on the re-takes!  The MC of the show was also Jackie’s duet partner for a couple of songs.  His name was Cheyenne Jackson.  He is a prominent Broadway singer and actor.  He would sing two duets with Jackie –  “Think of Me” and “Say Something.”   The following is the complete set list with a few of my comments on some of the songs.  The song list is from Jackie’s new CD titled “Awakening” that will be released this September 23rd.

Act #1:

  • Think Of Me – This was performed as a duet with Cheyenne.  I was surprised that this was a duet, since the single of Think Of Me was just released with Jackie singing it solo.  There were some whimsical lyrics that Cheyenne used that were not part of the original Phantom of the Opera song that this came from.
  • Your Love – Currently, I would have to say this was my favorite song of the night.  This song is a a beautiful vocalized version of the song from the movie “Once Upon a Time In the West”
  • Je T’aime – This song is a remake of the same song made popular by Lara Fabian.  I must say that after hearing Jackie sing it, I think Lara may have some competition.  I was not a real big fan of this song until I heard Jackie sing it.  Now it is one of my favorites of the concert.
  • Made To Dream – This is a new song that I believe was specifically written for Jackie.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember too much about this one.
  • O Mio Babinno Caro  – Jackie commented on this song and eluded to the fact that this is her signature song that she wanted to include on all her concerts.  It is the song that made her famous on her debut at America’s Got Talent.

Act #2:

  • Say Something (duet) – Jackie and Cheyenne sang this song beautifully.  The song originated from  Ian Axel
  • Ave Maria – This is the Caccini version.  I will have to say this is another one of my top favorite songs on the concert.  Jackie sang this song in such a heavenly way, all I could do was look up at the sky and reflect on the magnificence of the moment.
  • Rains of Castamere – This song has been released as a single from the TV show Game of Thrones.  We were treated to two performances of this song due to a retake.
  • Vocalise – This is the song composed by Rachmaninoff.  Probably the most difficult song for Jackie to sing.  However, she sang it effortlessly and I was amazed at how incredible she did on it.  Two ballerinas danced to this piece while Jackie sang.  It was very elegant.   Because of a slight wardrobe issue with one of the ballerinas, Jackie was asked to sing it one more time so that the TV producer could get the shot right.  I thought about how hard it must be to have to sing that song again, and yet Jackie sang it again perfectly.
  • Open Fields Of Grace – This was a very tranquil song that gave me visions of walking through Longwood Gardens and marveling at all of the marvelous scenery there.  I believe there was a segue to a part of Longwood that may be on the DVD of the concert when it is released.  I guess we will know for sure when the DVD comes out.

Act #3:

  • Take Me There – This was actually supposed to be the concluding piece on the show, but they wanted to get it in soon just in case the weather didn’t hold out and because it was getting late.  I believe this song was another original song for Jackie.  It had more of an upbeat tempo and a bit more on the pop side.  I could see this song possibly getting radio air-play.  I loved it!
  • With or Without You  – This is the song by the group U2.  I will have to say that although Jackie sang it great, it is probably not my most favorite song, but according to Jackie her Dad likes it a lot.
  • My Immortal – This is the song by Evanescence.   Jackie surprised us all by coming out and playing the piano for this while she sang the first half of the song.  I was impressed at how well she did since I have never seen her play piano before.  She did an outstanding job singing and playing.  Part way through the piece she transitioned from the piano to sing at center stage as someone took over the piano part for the remainder of the song.
  • Memories – Another beautiful song that may be an original as well.  I don’t recall ever hearing this song before.  And no, it is not the song from Cats.
  • Dormi Jesu – Another very challenging song for Jackie to sing.  Yet, it was outstanding!  Another one of my top favorite songs of the evening.

The song list was the right balance between classical and pop songs as is typical in the Classical Crossover genre that Jackie sings.  It has some reminiscence of her very successful Dream With Me CD, only that Jackie has turned it up a notch.  She is older now and much more powerful with her voice.  Yet, she still maintains the warmth and purity to her vocals that trigger tears to flow from listening to her sing.  With all that, Jackie still maintains a relaxed and whimsical demeanor on stage.  She joked around with the audience at times and was very fun to watch as she would occasionally jump and skip on stage – still preserving some of those little-girl moments as she transitions to being a young woman.  In the past 4 years I have seen Jackie progress from a very talented 10 year-old little girl to a 14 year-old superstar who is cherished and admired by many.  She continues to get better and better as the years progress.  Her new CD is going to be epic and I hope that anyone reading this blog will get a copy when it comes out on September 23rd.

Ironically, it never did rain during the concert.  The rain held off until we were exiting the theater after the concert had ended.  Just then, a soft drizzle of rain fell from the skies.  It was almost as if the angels were weeping for joy from what they had just heard too.  God did indeed answer our prayers.

You can pre-order Jackie’s new CD titled “Awakening” at the link below:

http://www.jackieevancho.com/awakening

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