Notes From The Other Road
Just a few words as we end the first leg of this Neil Diamond 50th Anniversary Tour. This particular outing was longest for drummer Ron Tutt, his wife Donna, my son Nick and I as we live in Nashville and have been gone since early February, rehearsing for two months in L.A. then beginning this first month of the tour… nearly a 90-day run for us. From here out the schedule is less demanding for the remainder, out for a month then home for two or three weeks. The pace of the tour while we are on the road is a breeze as well, never two consecutive shows in a row, the day off between used for travel and often another day off following that.
The shows have been tremendously well received and I’ve always admired how Neil can make an arena filled with 18-20,000 people feel intimate. It was that way all those years ago that we worked and remains so today. Every show improves as we’ve progressed from our first in Fresno, California.
There’s been lots of camaraderie, laughs and a few remarkable evenings of food and revellry. Omaha, Nebraska noted here for it’s Old Town district and an excellent steak dinner. While in Louisville, Kentucky most of the band had a memorable field trip to nearby New Albany, Indiana for dinner and to hear legendary jazz musician and educator Jamey Abersold at his monthly gig at River City Winery. Jamey is an old college friend of our keyboard player Tom Hensley. He’s an outstanding alto sax player and since the mid-1960’s has established a world renowned reputation as a jazz educator having published hundreds of books for all instruments as well as his series of ‘play-along’ records, tapes and CDs. Jamey had a top drawer trio of string bass, piano and drums with him and we all were wowed by how great they were. Another high point was Padrino’s Cuban Restaurant in Hallandale Beach, Florida. I devoured a plateful of Pollo a la Jardinra, chicken sauteed in green and red peppers, onions and garlic. Sweet plantain, rice and black beans (moro), a Cuban sandwich that was shared by the table and what had to be the best flan ever. Sheer gluttony. Padrino’s has four locations and comes highly recommended: Hallandale Beach, Plantation, Boca Raton and Ft. Lauderdale, all in Florida. While we were in Tampa, my son and I hooked up for dinner and visit with our good friend Gene Ford from Nashville who now lives in Tampa. Gene is a great guitar player and teacher who taught my son Nick to play. I’d known Gene for many years and produced two albums for The Nashville Mandolin Ensemble that he was a member of. He was pleased to see his former student up on stage with ND and we were so pleased to visit with him again.
We spent a very relaxing few days on the water in Hollywood Beach, Florida just outside Ft. Lauderdale. The Atlantic was surprisingly warm for late April and wonderfully clear. I didn’t realise we’d be staying at the beach until we arrived. It took exactly 10-minutes for me to shed my jeans and long sleeved shirt in favour of swim trunks, t-shirt and sandals then make my way down to the sand. A couple of very refreshing tequila, orange juice and lime bracers followed, then on to the above mentioned feast at Padrino’s. An unexpected vacation.
I’ll up-date this again as we get started on the second phase of the tour, end of May… early June. Below is a re-print of a short column for the PBI and appears courtesy of that publication.
Bennett’s Best Of
It’s here already, the end of the first leg of the tour, a good time for reflecting on some high points. In no particular order, here are a few Best Of’s and one Worst:
BEST HOTEL: The Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis. This grand hotel was built in the 1920’s and has been restored and maintained beautifully. In the tradition of old hotels, the rooms were suites and well appointed. The lobby sported several restaurants and bars, all inviting and old school.
BEST GYM: Has to go to the Hilton City Centre in Charlotte, NC. One doesn’t expect much from a hotel gym but this hotel had a walk-across lobby bridge that tied into the Charlotte YMCA. Top drawer equipment, loads of it and all in good working order. A close runner up was the facility at the above mentioned Chase Park. The entire basement of the hotel has been turned into a serious wellness centre.
BEST DINNER: Tough call and it’s a tie: Valter’s (Continental Italian) in Salt Lake City and Padrino’s (Cuban) in Hallandale, Florida. I must note that on show days our catering chefs consistently serve up tables full of the finest entrees, vegetables, salads and desserts anyone could dream of. Honestly, it’s 5-Star cuisine. So this really is a three-way win.
BEST EVENING OUT: Hand’s down winner was our visit to New Albany, Indiana a short ride from Louisville, KY to see Jamey Abersold’s Quartet. An old college mate of Tom Hensley’s, Jamey & Co. swing smart and hard. A remarkable night of jazz.
BEST SHOW: Fresno, California because it is always best to get that first one away and under your belt. With a 2 month run-up to that gig, it was crackling with excitement and a fair amount of nervous energy. Beyond that, the best show is always the next one.
BEST CITY: I don’t think there will be any quibbling here, Hollywood Beach, Florida. A picture perfect beach with the warm, crystal clear Atlantic waters lapping gently at the sand, we lounged and loafed for a well needed two days off by the seaside. Most everyone got down to the water exposing yards of white flesh to the Florida sunshine. This seaside city still has a mid-century vibe and architecture, wonderfully funky and not too dolled up.
BEST BAR: Antoine’s Restaurant, New Orleans. A comfortable, dark, mahogany walled bar off the main dining area. A civilised place for a quiet drink on St. Louis St. when you’ve had your fill of the crush on Bourbon Street.
WORST NAMED ARENA: KFC YUM! CENTER, Louisville, KY. Really?!? YUM! With an exclamation mark? Millions are spent in naming rights, board rooms full of suits agonise over the name. Really?? How did this happen? You couldn’t have done worse.
Right…now everyone goes home for a couple of weeks. I’ll be in the studio for part of that time recording an album with Tom Rush back in Nashville. I’m looking forward to spending some time with my family prior to getting back together with ND & Co. at the end of May to begin Leg Two of this 50th Anniversary Tour.