“Really Beautiful” LeAnn Rimes LIVE! at UCPAC
By Spotlight Central
Soft lights illuminate the purple velvet curtain of Rahway, NJ’s Union County Performing Arts Center stage, framing a silent grand piano and an acoustic guitar nestled within its stand this springlike Sunday April 30, 2017 evening.
Audience members quietly chat amongst themselves as they patiently await the arrival of one of the premiere female vocalists on the planet, LeAnn Rimes, due at any moment to make her entrance here in the beautiful and historic UCPAC main auditorium.
At 6pm, UCPAC executive director, Brian Remo, takes to the stage to welcome the crowd and introduce the audience to tonight’s opening act — a local musician “from Colonia, NJ” who appeared on Season Ten of The Voice, where he was “selected by Maroon 5’s Adam Levine for ‘Team Adam’” — Mike Schiavo.
Now living in LA, Schiavo smiles and admits to the Jersey crowd, it’s “good to be home.”
Thanking Remo by acknowledging he’s “honored to be here at UCPAC,” Schiavo performs a trio of numbers, notably his original composition, “Back For Me,” the percussive strumming of his guitar supporting his soulful vocal.
At the conclusion of Schiavo’s solid set, the crowd cheers and applauds for this hometown musical talent.
Remo then returns to the stage to introduce tonight’s special headline performer, LeAnn Rimes.
Born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1982, Rimes was raised in Dallas and began singing and dancing in local variety shows at the age of five. She quickly built a dedicated following in Texas where she garnered the attention of Dallas record promoter and disc jockey Bill Mack. At the tender age of eleven, LeAnn recorded her first album.
By fourteen, Rimes had signed with Curb Records and recorded Blue, which debuted at #3 on the pop charts. The album’s title song, “Blue” — originally written by Mack for country legend Patsy Cline — reached #1 on the Billboard country charts and helped earn Rimes her first two Grammy Awards.
At 15, her album, You Light Up My Life — featuring the Grammy-nominated song “How Do I Live” — became the first album in music history to simultaneously debut at #1 on the pop, country, and contemporary Christian charts.
In 2000, Rimes made her motion picture debut, acting in the film Coyote Ugly. She also recorded several tunes for the film’s soundtrack.
And, more recently, in 2016 — after producing ten albums in just thirteen years — LeAnn released her latest single, “The Story,” from her CD, Remnants. In an interview with Billboard, Rimes said she felt a strong connection to this song, revealing, “I fully embrace the journey I am on and have a deeper understanding of how every piece of my story serves a purpose in my evolution as a woman and an artist. This song is not only a love song but a song of self-acceptance and appreciation for life.”
And that is exactly what LeAnn Rimes’ concert tonight at UCPAC turns out to be — a celebration of self-acceptance and appreciation of life.
Accompanied by expert musician Greg Hagen on guitar, Ms. Rimes opens her all-acoustic evening of songs with “Love Line.” On this powerful number, she sings with emotion, “Been beaten down to an inch of my life by ignorant people/Came close to making me believe I was nothing but evil/No one has the authority to tell us who we give our life to/You have the right to be loved by everyone who’s willing to love you.”
Her dynamic performance eliciting rousing applause, Rimes happily greets the audience saying, “We’re doing a Sunday show, so we’re just going to chill with you all.”
At this point, she introduces Hagen to the crowd and the pair launches into an unplugged rendition of “Nothin’ Better to Do.” On this selection, LeAnn’s voice is full and limber as she dances around the stage, the crowd cheering and clapping along to the driving rhythm of this toe-tapping rockabilly tune.
Rimes continues to chat with the audience saying, “I’ve sung these songs since I was a little girl — some over twenty years,” before noting, “I decided to bring back some of them and revamp them.”
“This was my first #1 when I was fourteen,” Rimes acknowledges. Revealing, “The words pop out to me now — I never really heard these words until I sang it this way,” she performs her 1996 hit, “One Way Ticket (Because I Can).” Singing, “Well, I have walked through the fire/And crawled on my knees through the valley of the shadow of doubt/Then the truth came shining like a light on me and now I can see my way out,” Rimes gives it her all on this performance.
The crowd truly loves it and responds in kind, after which Rimes announces, “I recorded the original version of this next song when I was eleven. It was my first single. The record company asked me to re-record it, but then they released the original version.”Photos by Love Imagery
Going on to admit, “The older I get, the more I appreciate what these songs have done for me,” the audience goes crazy when they hear the first yodel of her classic 1996 hit, “Blue.” As Hagen expertly fingerpicks the guitar accompaniment, Rimes effortlessly sings up, down, and around the melody, her beautiful, rich, clear honey-coated tone delighting the enthusiastic crowd at every turn.
As the audience cheers, Rimes waves, soaking in the adoration from the fans in this very intimate setting.
Moving on to one of her biggest hits — a song that spent more than six months on the 2000 Billboard Hot 100 charts — Rimes’ rich voice fills the theater with soul on “I Need You.”
Not afraid to express herself, she makes an emotional connection with the crowd. Switching up to her floating head voice with ease, she makes her fans understand that she really does need them just as much as they need her. Her voice crying at times, it soars effortlessly as she sings with her eyes closed, her hands placed delicately on her heart.
As the crowd cheers and whistles, one excited audience member shouts, “We love you,” to which Rimes softly replies, “I love you.”
In a speaking voice which truly sounds musical, Rimes reveals to her fans, “I am standing up for love. It’s human to be human. I’m dumbfounded that many haven’t realized that we’re all connected and we’re all the same underneath.”
Talking about resonating with the social media hashtag #loveislove, Rimes says, “that really caught on with me — it’s the happiest, most carefree thing to sing.” As a result, “on this Sunday Soul Day,” LeAnn performs a song she calls “one of my favorites” entitled “Love Is Love.”
Singing directly from the heart, her arms wide open, Rimes performs flawlessly, her entire body dancing freely on the UCPAC stage.
Smiling as she sings, “Oh, let’s start a revolution/Oh, love is love is love is love is love,” the audience receives Rimes’ message loud and clear and, like a giant mirror, reflects it right back to her.
As Hagen sets down his guitar and makes his way over to the grand piano, Rimes announces, “I have these epiphanies about how amazing music is! I’m almost crying with these emotional songs — and they’re especially deep when you’ve written them.”
“You were meant to sing these songs!” shouts a passionate fan in the audience.
“Aw…you weren’t supposed to say that” responds Rimes, now tearing up. “Thank you. You’re very sweet.”
Relating a story about how Mother’s Day is right around the corner, Rimes declares, “My mom lost me to the world when I was thirteen. I was apathetic to her feelings. And when I wrote this song, I was having a horrible day. I was really angry at my mom. I thought, ‘I’ll never get there.’”
“Two weeks later,” she continues, “I ‘got it,’ and I said I was sorry. I saw my mother as a woman and what she had given me. So a lot of healing happened with this record.”
Here, Rimes starts to weep, and says, “I’m just gonna shut up now and sing.”
Taking a towel from the stage, Rimes wipes her face, composes herself, and then performs a stunning rendition of “Mother.”
Ever the consummate vocalist, despite her obvious emotional state, Rimes shows her true professionalism. She electrifies each listener as she is supported by Hagen’s beautiful piano accompaniment, singing, “And though our eyes may look alike/But they don’t see the same thing/Hurt made a great divide/I added to the pain/My way to survive was shutting you out.” She moves on to the song’s powerful chorus, “Mother/You did the best you could, the best you can,” before finally concluding, “Forgive me now/Oh, I understand.”
Following a heartfelt eruption of applause from the crowd, Rimes performs her biggest hit — #4 on Billboard’s all time Top 100 list — “How Do I Live.” Her voice sounding even more rich and resonant than on the original recording, this gifted singer makes her audience want to cry with her soulful performance, letting it all out, the natural gift of her full three-octave range on display for all to hear, feel, and enjoy.
Moving on to yet another emotional number, Rimes passionately performs “Commitment.” More like praying than singing, Rimes intones, “What I’m lookin’ for/Is a love that’s forever/Someone who can capture my soul in a heartbeat/And stay for all time.”
As the crowd cheers, Rimes acknowledges with a bit of a gleam in her eye, “We have a set list, but about half way through, I usually start doing whatever I want.”
At this point in the program, LeAnn introduces a song she and Hagen had not planned to perform tonight — a number which not only turns out to be one of the standout performances of the evening but, perhaps, of this entire concert season, when she delivers the definitive rendition of Willie Nelson’s composition for Patsy Cline, “Crazy.”
Singing not only for the audience, but for herself and for the ages, Rimes proves that she is obviously crazy about music, about singing, and about expressing herself in a way that only musicians at the top of their game can do. It is here in this rarified space, where artists can forget about the various mechanical aspects of performing — pitch, intonation, tone quality, etc.— they can just put forth raw emotion. As such, they can communicate on a different plane with those lucky enough to be a part of such an extraordinary in-the-moment concert experience.
Following powerful applause, Rimes thanks the audience before introducing her latest single, “The Story,” stating, “We’re all part of this one collective story right now.”
With Hagen deftly accompanying her on the guitar, LeAnn vocalizes as if she’s personally communicating with each member of the crowd at UCPAC, singing, “All of these lines across my face/Tell you the story of who I am/So many stories of where I’ve been/And how I got to where I am/Oh, but these stories don’t mean anything/When you’ve got no one to tell them to/It’s true/I was made for you.”
As she performs, she entrances the members of this audience who palpably feel the power of her song and of her story.
Inviting the eager crowd to clap along, Rimes and Hagen launch into an energetic rendition of her 2002 R&B collaboration with Desmond Child, “Life Goes On,” rockin’ the UCPAC audience with their great vocal harmonies and energy. With an enormous grin on her face, LeAnn says, “Hey, New Jersey — you wanna sing with me?” and soon gets the audience participating on the song’s infectious “Na, na-na-na” coda, to which she cheers, “That was awesome!”
Going on to disclose to the crowd, “When I was seventeen, I was dancing on bars, and my mom was so happy that it was just in a movie!” With Hagen’s impressive guitar performance solidly backing her up, Rimes dances to the music while performing an electrifying rendition of her 2000 Top 20 song from Coyote Ugly, “Can’t Fight the Moonlight.”
As the audience rewards her with a well-deserved standing ovation, Rimes and Hagen smile, bow, and walk offstage. Rimes acknowledges, “I love you, New Jersey,” before stopping to sign an autograph for a devoted fan in the front row.
Not accepting the possibility that the show could be over, the audience cheers and claps — nonstop — until Hagen returns by himself to the stage.
“One more?” he inquires.
With the audience overwhelmingly shouting its approval, Rimes joins Hagen on stage, saying, “Thank you for being so kind, so attentive, and so sweet.”
Then, she and Hagen launch into an exquisite rendition of Leonard Cohen’s masterpiece, “Hallelujah.” Hagen’s brilliant guitar work is on display for all to enjoy, and Rimes’ voice sounds as if she’s lived the song — her world-class vocals filling this beautiful theater with stunning sound and feeling. The audience silently takes it all in… before erupting in yet another round of applause, whistles, and cheers!
Filled with emotion after seeing this most impressive performance, the audience begins to file out of the UCPAC auditorium. As they make their way over to the lobby, we take a moment to chat with several members of the crowd regarding the performance we’ve all just communally experienced.
Cheryl from Rahway exclaims, “It was amazing!” and her friend Fran from Lakewood heartily agrees, adding, “The song she sang about her mother made me cry,” going on to further note, “I also liked that the entire performance was acoustic — it was just beautiful.”
Arriving in the lobby, we meet Linda and Matt from Wanaque, where Matt tells us, “We were in the front row and LeAnn signed a CD for me. She’s so nice! When I asked her if she’d sign, I told her it was going to be my 50th birthday, and she even said ‘Happy Birthday’ to me.”
Matt goes on to reveal that he’s seen Rimes “five or six times,” calling her voice “incredible,” and admitting he’s been a fan “since she first started, recording ‘Blue.’” And even after just recently seeing Rimes perform backed by a full orchestra, Matt contends, “This performance was her best — just her voice and a single musician.”
Matt’s wife, Linda, agrees with her husband, adding, “You can’t fake talent like that. LeAnn sings like an angel — her voice is pure and beautiful. And the way she expressed herself so emotionally tonight? I was going to give her my tissues,” before concluding, “she’s just so beautiful; we didn’t want the night to end.”
We also take a moment to chat with musician Greg Hagen, who also admits that tonight’s show was special, saying, “There were a lot of emotional moments onstage tonight. I’m not sure if it was the venue, the audience, the mood — or maybe all of those things combined.”
Going on to confess, “When I was sitting at the piano, LeAnn started tearing up, and she turned to me and she said, ‘Help me, Greg.”
Continuing, Hagen discloses, “And so I just said to her, ‘LeAnn, you have the songs — the words, the music — they’re all here.”
At this point, Greg pauses for a moment — apparently thinking about what he wants to say next — and then reveals, “LeAnn realizes her songs mean so many things to so many people — and so, tonight, we went to an emotional, raw place,” before earnestly concluding, “and when LeAnn does that, it’s really beautiful.”
To learn more about LeAnn Rimes, please go to leannrimesworld.com. For further information on great upcoming performances at UCPAC — including Swinging with Sinatra and the Rat Pack on June 3, The Springsteen Experience: A Tribute to the Boss on July 8, and John Popper of Blues Traveler on September 30 — please click on www.ucpac.org.
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originally published: 2017-05-14 00:00:00
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