(This is a log of my ELO 2001 trip to see Jeff Lynne. It is long and detailed. I hope you like it. It should give you the flavor of my experience during this wonderful event. Photo below by David Andrejcak. Enjoy, Christopher A. Landt)
Patiently he autographed item after item as the crowd yelled praise towards the man in the dark glasses. Slowly he made his way towards me. Taking items, passing them back with his mark. The never-ending sea of fans seemed to go on forever as he made his way towards the limo and me. Finally it came my turn. He reached out for something to write on only to find my empty hand. He glanced up with a funny confused look as I said, "All I want is to shake your hand." A smile instantly came to his face. As we shook hands I said "Brilliant, just brilliant, Jeff!" Then as quickly as it began it was over, but it will be captured in my mind forever more.
But this is getting ahead of my story. Let's begin a week earlier. We all knew about the VH1 Special "Storytellers" being done for ELO. Many of us had already been trying to secure tickets to the "By Private Invitation Only" event. I was skeptical about getting in, but others had high hopes. All of a sudden that changed when Rob Caiger and Lynn Hoskins, of the ELO fan club "Face The Music" and the "Showdown" email list, sent out the call for people who wanted to go. Ironically that was on Friday the 13th. From now on this day will be the luckiest of my life.
Exactly seven days later ELO would be performing live, for the first time in 17 years, and I had a slight chance to go. But could I get to New York City in seven days? At first I thought not, but that all changed and quickly. When Lynn wrote me back and said, "I need to know if you can absolutely make it or not," I had a gut feeling something wonderful was going to happen. Lynn was not about to throw my name in the hat unless I could guarantee to be there. So I made some calls, did some dealing and came up with a plan. I was able to get plane tickets but only to Baltimore. The cheap fares would not get me right into NYC. So I called my friend Rob in Baltimore and made arrangements with him. He would also try and secure a seat and we planned to go together.
The next 5 days were nerve wracking. Not knowing your fate in an event you have waited your whole life for is something I do not wish on anyone. I had a plane ticket in hand. My flight was 7 a.m. Thursday morning. I was going to get on that plane, no matter what; I was not going to miss out. Then at 10:45 p.m. on Wednesday night I got the message: "YOU WIN A STORYTELLERS TICKET!!" In a flash I was on my way.
Upon arriving in Baltimore I found out my friend Rob got a ticket as well. This could not have gotten any better. After a long night we got ready to drive the 187 miles to NYC. Rob's friend Chuck also got a ticket. We had planned on taking the train, but since there were three of us it was easier to just drive. So for the next three hours the three of us, all major ELO fans, trekked across the east coast on a mission. Good conversation, good music, and good friends made the trip seem a lot shorter.
GETTING THERE IS HALF OF THE FUN
We made it to NYC in great time. We drove right into Manhattan and proceeded to find a parking garage. Wow, this place is wild. I have only been here once before, but never like this. If it exists in the world, I bet it is for sale by one of the hundreds of street vendors. NYC is not as scary and threatening as I had thought. We found a parking garage just two blocks away from the theater and proceeded right to it. To our surprise there was another parking garage just across the street from the place. Oh well, we were already parked and moving would be too much trouble.
It was about 3 p.m., a couple of hours before the show. We decided to walk up to the place and take a look. We noticed all sorts of trucks, cables, equipment and stuff all over. This must be the place, I though to myself. We walked past the door with its security guards and stopped to rest for a second. When we turned around we noticed that a limo had pulled up behind us. It seems Jeff had snuck in the exact moment we walked past, Doohh! Then we started to hear music playing. At first we could not place it, but then the band inside started to play Showdown. "Yes, this is real, this is going to happen...Jeff is inside and he is playing Showdown right here."
Rob was standing looking into one of the windows. I though for sure we were going to get arrested or something. "There he is," Rob said. "Take a look." So I looked in really quick and wow, right there was Jeff Lynne playing that great ELO music. But wait, that guy at the keyboards looks awfully familiar. "Hey Rob, is that Richard Tandy?" I asked. Rob looked in, " I think you're right." Wow, Richard Tandy was here. This was getting better than ever.
The ELO Mail list group had planned on meeting up at a bar close by, so we decided to join them for some additional good company and a drink. I am not what you call a bar person. I like to keep more to myself. But the people here are great. You spend your life looking for the perfect conversation. Talking about ELO is rare around most places. But here, every table and every noise was dedicated to ELO. Well, except for one small conversation that took place trying to get the lady at the bar to sell us a bottle of wine with a monkey on the side. But this is a whole extra story all by itself.
Since we had already heard the rare tracks that Rob Caiger brought, we decided to get our monkey bottle back to the car and get a bite to eat before the show. After a quick bite, pizza of course, we managed to get back to the theater to find a huge crowd had gathered. We lined up and got ready to go. We were then told we needed to check in and get our tickets. The moment of truth was here... Were we really on this list? YES!
ONE HOUR TO GO
I had thought the theater was small, no more than 200 people. But I could swear that at least 1000 were in line. Two lines, one going each direction down the street. As I read the ticket it had printed on it "This Ticket Does Not Guarantee Access to the Show!" Oh man, we still might not make it. 6 p.m. hit and nothing. 6:15, 6:30, and nothing. The note said the doors would close at 6:30. I was getting tense. Then it started to drizzle. The wait seemed to last forever. Then the line started to move. It was our line first, six people at a time, and here we go.
As we were lead into the theater we had to step over cables, tracks, cameras, everything. This was a very small and intimate place. It seemed confusing at first, but stage people pointed us forwards. The stage lady looked at me and pointed to a small platform with chairs. "We want to fill these places, too," she explained. It was dark and way to the back. Not what I wanted, but I did not want to argue at this point. I sort of looked sad and glanced back at Rob and Chuck. "Well, guys..." I asked. The lady looked at all of us and said, "You're fans, aren't you?" with a coy smile. She turned us around and sent us down to the second row front. "Enjoy!" she said as we walked to our seats.
Shyly we just took the first seats, not walking to the center where three seats were open. The next stage manager said. "Who sent you here?" I quickly pointed to the other stage manager. He looked at us funny. For a second I thought we were getting sent back out. But he looked around once and pointed to the three seats in the very center of the row. We were there with a vengeance. The three seats were the exact center of row two. The middle seat lined up directly with the main microphone, just a few feet away. If you don't believe me, watch the show and you will see us.
EVERYONE HAS A STORY TO TELL
From this point on we sat in excitement, not really believing we were there. On the stage were many guitars, a grand piano covered in other equipment, two cool cellos, a drum set and more great-looking gizmos. Then there were lights everywhere, cameras and people doing just about anything you could imagine. As we sit I start to notice one of the lights in the very front smoking. I just sat and watched as I prayed someone would notice before it caught fire and we all had to evacuate. They did, and it was quite the spectacle watching them change some stuff out and fix it. They did it in a way that made me think they have not done this before. Surely they have set up lights for a gig before and know not to use flammable stuff around it. I guess not.
We sat for quite some time as the crew busily went about their business. Then the main stage manager came out and started the show. He explained the way things would go and that it was an audience participation type of show. Sing, clap, cheer, do whatever you feel, he told us. Then he had us cheer really hard so the recording truck could set its levels and get us ready. After that he pointed to the first row and told us we needed to come up with questions and that Jeff would be asking us if we had any. Wonderful, if things were not already exciting enough, we had to come up with questions.
What would you ask the guy whose music has shaped your life and has been a deep part of everything you have been and are today? This was my dilemma. "Here is my one chance at talking with Jeff," I thought to myself "Don't blow it!" Maybe he won't ask me, maybe I can shy away and no one will notice. Maybe I should ask him what instrument he likes to play in the tub?
As it came time for ELO to begin Richard Tandy came out to a standing ovation and crowd roar. Then the rest of the band came out as the audience yelled E-L-O-E-L-O-E-L-O over and over, clapping louder and louder. Then out pops Jeff Lynne. After 17 years since their last live performance, and over 20 years of waiting to see him in person, there he was standing right smack dab in front of me. There were some others on the stage as well, but at this moment all I could see was Jeff. He received a very nice welcome back and we could see he was happy to be here.
YOU REALLY HAD TO BE THERE
Then like a shot in the dark. From complete crowd pandemonium and within the standing ovation for ELO, Jeff looks back and nods, the drummer slams his sticks together "One, two, three," Jeff grabs his guitar pick, angles his beautiful Natural Wood Fender Telecaster towards the sky and goes into "Do Ya" with a fire like nothing else. "Doooo DoDo Dooo, WAAAAAAA, Doooo DoDo Dooo, WAAAAAA ... Dadadadadadadada... In this life I've seen everything I can see woman..."
Tears filled my face as it became impossible to hold back the emotion of this moment. Years of wanting to hear, see, to be in the same place as Jeff Lynne have finally come down to reality. My ears were filled with the sweet siren sound that can be none other than ELO. The sound was perfect, the beat felt deep into my soul. I have finally come home. This was it. I did not think it could get any better. But little did I know that in just a few short hours I would be etched into ELO history forever.
The idea of the VH1 Storytellers is to have the artists talk about the music between the songs. After the first song Jeff stood there almost shaking. I leaned to Chuck and said, "He is as nervous as we are." Just a second later in a cool laugh Jeff said, "I'm shittin' me britches up here!" or something to that tone and we all laughed. At this moment I knew that Jeff is just a normal guy with a wonderful talent.
Jeff went from song to song brilliantly. The conversation and remarks were wonderful. Things just kept getting better and better. They went from "Do Ya" to "Evil Woman" to "Showdown," all brilliant, not a bum note, no one off key in the slightest. I wish they could recreate the sound of being there when you all watch it on TV. It was just so wonderful.
Jeff talked about things, played music and after every song got a standing ovation. You could tell by the smile on his face he was very happy. A glance over at Richard Tandy, I did mention he was there too I think, but upon looking at Richard I could tell he was just as happy. They were having a blast, and we were enjoying it even more.
The show was going along great when the stage manager stopped things and whispered to Jeff. "They gotta fix the light, eh," Jeff said. As the band patiently stood waiting, the stagehands feverishly went to work on that light that almost caught fire earlier. As they worked, Jeff looked impatient and made some funny faces. "You got that light yet?" He asked. Then they dove into a happy little musical jamboree. I think it was Beatles Forever! Probably not.
The first set of audience questions came up. I had not gotten anything in mind so I did not raise my hand. As questions were asked and answered you could tell that Jeff was very good at making you feel good even if your question was not so good and he made you feel even better when you had a great question. Then it was back to the music, ovations and excitement.
IT NEVER SOUNDS LIKE YOU MEANT IT TO
Then it came to the second set of audience questions. I beat my self up for not asking a question in the first set. This time I was going to take a chance even though I really did not know what to ask. Three questions go by and nothing even close to my area. Then Jeff looks up towards me, I raise my hand, Jeff nods, and the stage manager placed the microphone right above me. In my excitement to grab it I stumbled, just a bit, but got it and started my question.
I said something at first I cannot remember. Maybe I thanked him and the band for a great show. But I could have just been muttering nonsense for all I know. Then I asked, "I see a lot of old faces as well as new. Can you introduce us to the rest of the band?" Jeff smiled and proceeded to do just that. I guess that part did come out right. He seemed to know what I asked.
Then as quickly as it started it was over. The stagehand came out and reported that everything went perfectly. One take was all they would need. But they re-did only the last song, "Moment in paradise." This one was funny. As Jeff introduced it he said it was one of the hardest songs to do because of the extreme high notes. "If I get it wrong, you'll notice." Jeff said. I don't think he did.
Here is the set list we heard that night:
State Of Mind
Mr. Blue Sky
Can't Get It Out Of My Head
Don't Bring Me Down
Moment In Paradise
Encore: Ma-Ma-Ma Belle
The fans stayed on their feet, clapping louder and louder. And to our delight ELO came back to play an encore. I don't think this is normal for this show, but cool. Jeff slid back on his guitar, smiled at everyone, looked up and said, "Welcome to Storytellers" as they started in on Ma-Ma-Ma Belle. It was just wonderful. Then the song ended and the band left the stage for the last time. The stage director nicely stated, "That's it, folks, this is really the end of the show."
We all got up and walked around, smiling with the pleasure of actually getting the chance to witness what had just happened. There was a feeling of euphoria in the air. Not a person in the place could keep back the huge smile we had been given. We walked and talked, took pictures, look around. Jeff's guitar was just sitting there all by itself. I walked quietly up to it and simply touched it on the top of the neck. Just one small touch of appreciation, one chance to feel the energy of a great instrument from a great man.
AFTER THE SHOW
We did not know what would happen, but we hoped for the best. Quite a few fans gathered in the front of the building, hoping for a chance to see Jeff once more. Fans had brought a wild array of items in hopes for an autograph. Albums, CDs, pictures, even the body of a Stratocaster guitar made the trip. I had thought hard and long about what I would bring and do if the moment had arrived. No item I had, not one album, nothing would be able to even begin to be the perfect thing. Then it hit me like a rock. I already have quite a few of Jeff's autographs. What I want is something closer to my soul. I just want to shake his hand.
Then the door opened and out he came. Which brings us back to the first part of this story. Patiently he autographed item after item as the crowd yelled praise towards the man in the dark glasses. Slowly he made his way towards me. Taking items, passing them back with his mark. The never-ending sea of fans seemed to go on forever as he made his way towards the limo and me. Finally it came my turn. He reached out for something to write on only to find my empty hand. He glanced up with a funny confused look as I said, "All I want is to shake your hand." A smile instantly came to his face. As we shook hands I said "Brilliant, just brilliant, Jeff!" Then as quickly as it began it was over.
Jeff soon climbed into his limo and drove off into the night. My dreams fulfilled, my life to that point complete. Now the only thing to do is get some pizza. We all headed back to the original bar where we met earlier. It was crowded and noisy so we all left and ended up a one of those pizza places in Manhattan. Good conversation, great friends, and wild stories were passed on that night. Some true, some exaggerated a bit, but everyone understood the point. Just a few short hours after it all began, exactly 7 days after we found out we might get a chance to go, we had been to the pinnacle of our dreams and will always remember the moment.
The rest of my story is quite dull in comparison. Rob, Chuck, and I climbed into our car and started the 3-hour trek back to Baltimore. Even though it was very late and we were very tired the conversation was lively and the company perfect. I was able to get some needed rest before the long eight-hour flight back to Las Cruces, New Mexico. I had time to reflect and time to think. I now have a major problem in my life. Now that I have finally seen my idol in person, I have met all of my life's goals. I have done everything I set out to do. There is nothing left. I guess I need to come up with some more. Hmmm, how about becoming a member of ELO? "Hey Jeff, need a tambourine player?"