May 24, 2012

Concert Review: Steve Winwood at the Beacon Theater (New York City)

Steve Winwood began his career as a teenager at Great Barr School where he became part of the Birmingham blues scene. He backed people like Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley & Chuck Berry before joining the Spencer Davis Group (1963-1967) at age 14. Winwood co wrote the Spencer Davis hits Gimmie Some Lovin & I'm A Man playing organ & singing on the records.

In 1967 he formed the great band Traffic (1967-1974 / 1994) with Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason & Chris Wood. Winwood' Traffic classic works include the songs Feelin' Alright, Paper Sun, Freedom Writer, Empty Pages, the instrumental Glad & the ultimate classics Dear Mr. Fantasy & The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. In 1968 he also played organ on Jimi Hendrix classic Voo Doo Chile as well as some other tracks on Electric Ladyland.

In 1969 if this wasn't enough Winwood formed the super group Blind Faith with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker & Rich Grech. This classic album included Winwood's Can't Find My Way Home & Had To Cry Today. In the late seventies he began a successful solo career that produced two number one U.S. songs (Higher Love & Roll With It) & six top ten U.S. hits (While You See a Chance, Valerie, The Finer Things, Don't You Know What the Night Can Do). 

His solo career also has produced three top ten albums Back In the High Life (1986), Arc of a Diver (1981) & the number one Roll With It (1988).

Winwood reunited with Traffic to play Woodstock 94 & toured with a new album. He later reunited with Eric Clapton in 2008 playing an incredible three sold out nights at Madison Square Garden in New York City. An album & DVD was also released. The two collaborated on a new song- Dirty City, from Winwood's Nine Lives album in 2009.

In 2007 his solo album Nine Lives was released & reached #12 on the billboard charts. Winwood has also produced & done session work with countless people (George Harrison, David Gilmour, Billy Joel, the Grateful Dead, Christine McVie, Lou Reed, Marianne Faithful & Rober Palmer to name a few.

Last night Winwood put on an incredible performance at New York's Beacon Theater, one of his four NY/NJ area shows this week. The multi instrumentalist played his electric organ for most of the night, stepping out front to play guitar on the Blind Faith classic Can't Find My Way Home & Dirty City in the early part of the show.

For the most part Winwood played older vintage songs from his early days, while just covering solo songs from his last two albums with the exception of Higher Love which closed out the show prior to the encores. His band consisted of a four musicians including Guitarist José Neto and multi-instrumentalist Paul Booth, a drummer & percussionist rounded out the band. The songs were mostly extended versions of the originals with lots of solos & Winwood allowing the musicians to expand their instrumental parts.

Winwood's vocals sounded great & his versatility as a musician phenomenal. He soared on his organ with some great arrangements on the old Spencer Davis & Traffic tunes. He did some great guitar work on Dirty City & Dear Mr. Fantasy showing how good of a guitar player he is, which is often overlooked.

To me Dear Mr. Fantasy & Low Spark are worth the price of admission alone, & tonight they certainly did not disappoint. I also want to point out how much I enjoyed the psychedelic part of the Traffic song Pearly Queen. All we needed was a light show, it was very sixties.

I thought that the extended version of Light Up Or Leave Me Alone went on a bit too long & wished there was more time for more of his solo songs from the eighties. Winwood kept the stage simple, no bass player, no piano & no female back up singers which took a bit away from some of the great arrangements on the songs we are familiar with All in all it was a great show that ended too quickly, especially when you anticipate so much from Winwoods incredible library of great songs.

May 23rd 2012- Steve Winwood Set List
I'm A Man (Spencer Davis Group)
We're All Looking
Cant Find My Way Home (Blind Faith)
Dirty City
Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys (Traffic)
Empty Pages (Traffic)
Pearly Queen (Traffic)
Light Up Or Leave Me Alone (Traffic)
Higher Love

encores: Dear Mr. Fantasy (Traffic)
Gimmie Some Lovin' (Spencer Davis Group)

May 22, 2012

centerfieldmaz Visits the New Marlins Park in Miami Florida

On Monday night 5/20/12 centerfieldmaz attended a game at the new Marlins Park located in the Little Havana section of Miami, Florida. The ball park is home to the newly named Miami Marlins, this night they hosted the Colorado Rockies.

I was quite impressed with this new ballpark, it was a lot better than I expected. It was pretty easy to get to coming South down I-95 from Fort Lauderdale. Although there are not many signs directing you there, the large white domed building stands out in the low rise neighborhood. It almost looks like a giant space ship  landed in the middle of a quiet town. It reminds me of the setting of the old parks like Wrigley Field & Fenway Park.

There are four parking garages that surround the building and when you leave your car your right at the entrance to the ballpark. I am sure if there are capacity crowds for big events the area can get congested, we all know the hassle of leaving a four level parking garage when full. Also the streets surrounding the area are not big & will get tied up pretty fast. We got there way early & leaving wasn't that bad as we left just as the game was about to end.

The ballpark is the third smallest baseball venue, seating 37,000 fans. It is the sixth park with a retractable roof, which takes 15 minutes to open or close.

Florida Palm trees line the walkway into the park and a very courteous staff is more than happy to help you with any questions you may have. The roof was closed on this night making it a comfortable air conditioned environment. I am not big on domes but I can certainly understand the value of one in South Florida between the heat & the thunderstorms.

You can walk around the whole stadium from the main concourse on the Promenade level. There are plenty of eating options, from hot dogs, burgers & fries to Pizza, a Kosher Deli & excellent South Florida Cuban fare. In the left field area we ate at the Taste Of Miami, enjoying some awesome Pork sandwiches, classic Cuban Sandwiches, tamales & a side of plantain chips. The food was great.

This was the only area of the ballpark where you were actually able to stand up & eat. There was a long counter approx. 40 feet long underneath the huge 60 foot tall windows which overlook downtown Miami. The view is beautiful & the sunset over the city was spectacular.

As you walk around the outfield you pass the back of the large Fish Fountain. This is a mechanized sculpture that illuminates with Marlin fish leaping out of the water, along with sea gulls flapping their wings under rotating suns when a Marlin player hits a HR. The fountain also shoots water into the air, all representing a celebration of the beaches of South Florida.

We were lucky enough to see it in action when Gian Carlo Stanton hit a dramatic Grand Slam HR off the Colorado Rockies Jamie Moyer. The HR was a mammoth 440 foot shot that knocked out some panels of the Lefty field scoreboard.

Other features of the Marlins Ballpark include a huge fish tank with live tropical fish located located behind the home plate backstop area. The classic Bobble Head Museum which features bobble heads from all MLB teams throughout the years, including reserved spots for ones being distributed this year.

A swimming pool in the Clevelander (a South Beach nightclub) section of the outfield, complete with a bar, dancing girls & a private seating area right behind the left fielder next to the bullpen.

There is a small tribute to the old Orange Bowl which was once located on this very site. The Orange Bowl was home to many great Miami Dolphin teams including the 1972 undefeated team, as well as Super Bowls & classic College Bowl games.

There is also dancing & acrobatic entertainment by the Mermaids, Manatees & Billy the Marlin in between innings.

The blue seats seem to all have pretty good views especially down in the lower section where we sat. There is a huge scoreboard in right center field that shows clear video replay & focuses on the fans in between innings. During play it is quite busy with stats & player information. There is another board high up in left field as well.

All in all it is an exciting time in Miami for baseball. There are friends, families, people of all ages enjoying the sights & atmosphere of this great new ballpark. I had been to games before at the old ballpark & never seen the excitement surrounding the team like now.

The fans have become well knowledged & dedicated to their team. The fact that Miami is a big vacation spot also makes it likely the visiting team will have always have a few fans on hand as well. I have been there for Mets games & they draw very well. I was surprised to see a decent amount of Rockies fans there on Monday night.  This is a friendly place & a great baseball experience from what I have witnessed. 

As a Mets fan I must say it was weird watching Jose Reyes in a different home uniform in a different ballpark. He is already one of the most popular Marlins players as Reyes #7 Jerseys are everywhere. And yes the "Jose Jose Jose" theme song is alive & well in Miami.

May 9, 2012

Italian / American Television Star & Baseball Player: John Berardino

Giovanni Berardino was born May 1, 1917 in Los Angeles California. He was a child actor that appeared in some of the classic Our Gang episodes but no credits are mentioned on any existing films. He eventually turned to baseball and played on the USC baseball team in the 1930s.

He was signed by the St. Louis Brown as a middle infielder making his debut in the 1939 season. He would play for the Browns for six seasons, coming in last place five times. In 1940 he had his best season with a career high 16 HRs & drove in 85 runs (2nd best on the team). He followed that up with a career high 89 RBIs in 1941 and a .271 batting average. In each of those two seasons he also hit over 30 doubles and struck out very rarely.

In 1942 he went off to the military serving in World War II & returning to baseball four years later. 1946 was his last full season & his last with the Browns, as he hit .265 with 5 HRs & 68 RBIs. He was traded to Cleveland in 1948 & although he only batted .190 in 66 games he went from last place to a World Series championship with the ’48 Indians. He injured his leg and his playing days were over by 1952 after 11 seasons. In an eleven season playing career he batted .249 lifetime with 755 hits 167 doubles 36 HRs & 387 RBIs in 912 games played.

After baseball he became a successful actor starting out in a guest role in “The Adventures of Superman” & as a state trooper in Frank Sinatra’s 1954 thriller Suddenly. That movie also starred Sterling Hayden, Officer McClusky in the Godfather. After appearing in dozens of B movies, he got the role of Dr. Steve Hardy in a new soap Opera called General Hospital in 1963. He would play the part for 36 years until his passing in 1996 of pancreatic cancer.

Honors: Berardino has a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame & is a member of the USC Athletic Hall of Fame. He is the only player to have a star on Hollywood Blvd. & win a World Series. His image on the opening of General Hospital remained on the show’s opening clip until 2004.