Tag Archives: Merrill Auditorium

The Kingdom Choir

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Merrill Auditorium, Portland, Maine

When I saw the press invite for The Kingdom Choir show up in my email, I jumped at the chance to cover their performance at Merrill Auditorium, and I am SO GLAD I did. Like many of you, I’d never heard of Britain’s The Kingdom Choir before their show-stopping performance of “Stand By Me” at the wedding of Prince Harry of Wales and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, at Windsor Castle last May. Although the choir has been together under the capable leadership of conductor Karen Gibson since 1994, their performance at the royal wedding earned them international fame and a record deal. Their debut album, Stand By Me, came out in October of 2018 ahead of their first-ever North American tour. They closed their 30-show tour in Portland, Maine last night, and we were so lucky to be in the room to see this incredibly captivating, supremely talented group at their final show of their six week tour. 

Ahead of The Kingdom Choir’s show in Portland, show sponsor Portland Ovations put on three free community events. They hosted a Freedom Walk along Portland’s Freedom Trail to learn about Maine’s role in the Underground Railroad to Canada that over 200 people attended. The afternoon closed with a lecture about the religious and spiritual roots of gospel music from the Reverend Kenneth Lewis at the Green Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Portland. Just a couple of hours before the show, Ovations hosted a pre-performance lecture from Dr. Nicolás Alberto Dosman, the Director of Choral Studies at the University of Southern Maine School of Music titled The Trans-Atlantic British Influence on African Music. 

Dan and I grabbed dinner at Tandoor near Merrill Auditorium and made our way over to the venue so Dan could introduce me to Peter McFarland, who is the Senior Lead Event Coordinator at Portland Ovations. I’ve been writing concert reviews for whatbreesees.com for eight years, but had somehow never had a photo pass to use at a show at Merrill Auditorium before. Peter personally showed me all of the best spots to take photos from, which was incredibly kind and helpful of him. I took photos for the first couple of songs, but then I was ready to put my camera away and just soak in the wonder of The Kingdom Choir. They were a delight.

The Kingdom Choir–dressed in coordinating, bold blues, greens, and pinks–performed an Aretha Franklin medley, “Oh Happy Day,” a cover of Coldplay’s “Fix You,” “Lean on Me,” “Amazing Grace,” and, of course, “Stand By Me”–to name a handful. They sang at least one original song and two upbeat African gospel songs, during which they asked everyone to stand up and wave their hats or programs in the air in time with the music. Karen introduced many of the songs, talked a bit about the history of gospel music, and just generally brought positive energy and presence to the stage. She said that the choir is “so, so, so grateful” for the opportunities that have come their way over the last year. 

fullsizeoutput_ebdThe Kingdom Choir richly deserves the opportunities that have come their way. They were wildly talented, with rich, airy voices and insane range. Their stunning, engaging songs were choreographed and full of energy. I was lucky to be in the room for this performance and am so glad for The Kingdom Choir to be having this well deserved moment in the spotlight. I smiled from ear to ear the entire time they were on stage, and the energy they brought to us in Portland was warm and incredibly well received by an enchanted crowd. 

xo,

bree

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Bill Murray, Jan Vogler, and Friends

Monday, April 23, 2018

Merrill Auditorium, Portland, Maine

I love Bill Murray a bit more than the next person. I was sitting in the passenger seat, enjoying the sunshine and watching beautiful green hills roll by just south of Monterey, California, when I noticed on Facebook that Maine Todaywas offering a chance to win tickets to an upcoming show. But not just any show, because *the* Bill Murray was coming to perform at Merrill Auditorium the following week. Maine Today asked folks to comment with where they’d like to run into Bill Murray in Portland before his show with Jan Vogler and Friends. I commented that I’d love to share some garlic green beans with Bill at Empire Chinese Kitchen and that I had specifically visited Sullivan Island, South Carolina (where Bill lives), just hoping I’d run into him last April when I traveled to Charleston. Sadly, I didn’t have a Bill Murray sighting that day, but Maine Today must have felt for me because they “randomly” picked me to win tickets! My friend Sheila had also commented on the post, so I invited her to join me. We even saved a seat for Bill (just in case) at Empire, hoping he’d join us for dinner before the show. Maybe you ran into Bill while he was in town? I know some people were so lucky!

Sheila and I were surprised by how close our seats at Merrill Auditorium were. Thank you, Maine Today! I ran into my fellow music enthusiast and friend, Aimsel Ponti, and we got to catch up a bit before the show. We had lots of music business to discuss, including Aimsel’s “Summer of Brandi” (Carlile) and our excitement for the Newport Folk Festival, too. Here’s Aimsel’s review of the show, which you should definitely check out.

I had no idea what to expect of this show, but was confident it would be entertaining. Apparently Bill and Jan Vogler met in an airport when Bill noted Jan’s cello case and struck up a conversation. They decided to “do something together,” and created a concept, an album, and a tour. We saw them on the last night of the tour, and it was obvious that they were sad it was ending. Their album, New Worlds, features Murray on vocals and narration, Vogler on cello, Vanessa Perez on piano, and Mira Wang on violin. Bill read from American classics, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and sang songs, like Van Morrison’s “When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God?” Bill sings imperfectly but sincerely, and he was incredibly well received. Vogler on cello, Wang on violin, and Perez on piano together were absolutely stunning, too. Bill joked some with the audience, though this was definitely not a comedic show. We laughed heartily after they’d performed their first pieces when he said, “this is generally when people in the audience look at each other and shrug their shoulders and think, ‘meh.’ Trust me, it’s going to get better.” I really enjoyed the show and am so glad I happened to see Maine Today’s Facebookpost, or I wouldn’t even have known it was happening in the first place.

After many encores (why I’m so sure the quartet was sad the tour was ending), a couple of audience sing alongs (“Loch Lomond” and “El Paso” come to mind), and a plug for Karen Duffy’s book Backbone about living with chronic pain, the show came almost actually to an end. But then Bill was handed two dozen long stemmed red roses by a stagehand. He stepped off stage to the orchestra seating and started handing out roses to folks in the doting crowd. He launched one to an eager fan in the balcony, which earned raucous applause because it was no easy feat to throw it that far. Bill worked his way around the rear of the orchestra seating to the side I was on. HE MADE EYE CONTACT WITH ME, AND GAVE ME A ROSE! My friend Sheila captured the very next moment, and I think you’ll be able to tell from my crazy eyes that I was pretty ecstatic about the whole thing. It didn’t even matter when I found out the next day that Bill handed out roses on other nights of the tour and it wasn’t an impromptu thing at all, because BILL AND I HAD A MOMENT, damn it. Frankly, I’m thrilled that other people did, too. Bill has enough heart to go around, and it was a pleasure to witness it in person.I am so thankful for this unexpectedly uplifting, entertaining night.

xo,

bree

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