Guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel descended on The Plaza Live for his Orlando concert, an old movie theater that has been made into a concert stage without many changes. The old rocking chairs were gone (and missed) and replaced with folding chairs. They still sold popcorn in the lobby. We had great seats about six rows back and in this intimate setting we could see every move of this great man’s fingers. He took the stage without fanfare, kind of like an old friend walking into your living room.
After the first few songs we were completely entranced in Tommy’s music, as was the entire audience. His amazing rendition of Classical Gas garnished his first of eight standing ovations and caused my guest to lean in to me and whisper “this man ain’t human!” He received his second ovation after playing a Beatles medley which included “Here Comes the Sun”, “When I’m 64”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Day Tripper”, and “Lady Madonna”. What a ride.
He then played one of his new songs “Blood Brother” which I thought was hauntingly beautiful and then an old favorite “Angelina” which he told us was written for his youngest daughter. This was the first tidbit of Tommy’s personal life that he slipped in and around his music. He also shared with us that he had to retire his old beat up guitars (one of which he had broken and had repaired 26 times) and replace them with new ones. This news brought groans from the audience many of whom were obviously guitar players. He took one of his new guitars off the pedestal and said he called it “Lieutenant Dan” because you never know what you are gonna get. What we got was a beautiful rendition of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” after which he received another standing ovation.
He also shared how he got his first guitar at the age of four and learned chords from his mother who played the Hawaiian steel guitar. But he loved music from birth and would stand by his mother’s old washing machine and dance, hence his sometimes strange movements on stage while he played which he called his washing machine dance. He also showed us his “geezer tuner” which only had two lights, green if he was in tune and red if he wasn’t. But later in the show he mistrusted that green light and tuned his new guitar even though the tuner light was green.
Another standing ovation was given for “Guitar Boogie” and he dedicated an unbelievable rendition of Amazing grace to a woman in the audience who was celebrating her 85th birthday. He also dedicated a song to Chet Atkins, his longtime friend who passed away 12 years ago from brain cancer. He played “Smoky Mountain Lullaby” which he said they recorded in one take with Chet on the day that he was taken to the hospital for brain surgery.
One of my favorites of the evening was a song called “The Trail” which was about Native Americans and reminded me of a Pow Wow that I had been to in Wyoming once. It was one of his many numbers that made you think there must have been more guitar players on stage and several percussionists. He even joked about this phenomenon saying, “We don’t need no stinking band, We are the stinking band!”
He tried to explain and show us how he could play rhythm and bass at the same time and thought he was making it look easy. It made me dizzy watching his fingers fly. After opening act Pam Rose joined him for James Taylor’s “Shower the People” and another standing ovation, Tommy left the stage only to return for his encore of the song my husband (and apparently many others) were waiting to hear, “Half Way Home” . When he left the stage after his final ovation I felt drained. As he said about himself “I don’t gear myself up for a show, I have to gear myself down!”
I knew I had been in the presence of musical genius and yet his warm, down to earth personality made me feel like I had just made a new friend. His Australian charm, his wicked sense of humor, and his quirky washing machine moves had truly won me over. If you have never seen this man perform in person or heard any of his songs look him up now. He truly is amazing.