When Neil first announced his tour, my daughter-in-law, Tracy, asked me to let her know if Neil came anywhere close to Louisville because one of her employees, a woman from Louisville, hadn’t seen Neil in over 20 years, and she’d love the opportunity to see him again. Betsy works as a Supervisor in a facility that provides day care for brain-injured adults. She has a tough job. It’s hard for her to get away.
I told Tracy that Neil was coming to Columbus (a three-hour drive from home). Tracy in turn told Betsy, who asked if there was any way she could go with me to the show. I welcomed the company. She was so excited at a chance to see him again. She’s turning 50 this year, and her staff pitched in and gave her the money it would take for her to go to Columbus. They even bought her a new outfit to wear.
The day of the show finally arrived on August 25. We left early so we would have plenty of time to check into our hotel before all the planned festivities began. We arrived around noon. The hotel was very comfortable, and we unpacked and had time to do a little shopping before getting ready for the show.
Later in the afternoon, we noticed a big bus so thought this might be for Neil’s lobby call. And it turned out that it was for Neil’s band. They came one by one, headed by King Errisson, followed by Julia, Maxine, Doug, Ron, Tom, Linda and Reine, Hadley, and finally Art. Waving good bye to the bus, we then waited to catch a glimpe of Neil. He waved at the small crowd of fans that had gathered, but didn’t stop to talk. He seemed to be in a bit of a hurry to get to the arena, having left well after the band’s bus.
It was getting late, and we had a pre-planned dinner date near the arena with other fans. So, we had very little time to get ready. We rushed about to change and freshen up, and off we went to the OSU campus, where the arena is located.
Kirk and Becky were the only ones there when we arrived, even though we were 1/2 hour late. Betsy was excited to meet and greet other Neil Diamond fans. She was having a ball. I’m so glad she came along. As each guest arrived, the celebration grew greater. Rick, from Cincinnati, brought photos he had taken of Neil in concert all the way back to the 80’s, and had brought ticket stubs to share from the 70’s! I think one of the tickets had a face value of $12.50. (Those were the days!!) When Tim and Charlene arrived, Charlene immediately called her son, David, who had attended the last Diamond concert in Columbus but who has since grown up and is now away at college. Although it would have been really nice to see David again, it was really cool to speak with him on the phone on his first day of classes at the University of Akron. We had a light dinner (can’t eat heavy on Neil night), and then it was off to the arena, for the main attraction!!!
Remember that feeling you get when you haven’t seen Neil for a while? Think how you’d feel if it had been twenty years! This is how Betsy was feeling as we entered the arena and Betsy saw the stage. Making our way to our seats, she couldn’t believe our tickets were not in the nosebleeds. She had never before sat this close to the stage. She was on cloud nine!! When the announcement came that the start of the show was mere moments away, I thought she was going to cry. But just in time, as promised, the lights dimmed abruptly, the crowd cheered and the band took their places on stage.
Center stage, rear, the flood light—as suddenly as the lights had previously dimmed—beamed down on our Neil…
All the prior activities of the day…driving up to Columbus…bus call…dinner…it was all history…
The crowd went totally wild just at the SIGHT of him…
He came stomping down that stage playing that guitar like it was nobody’s business…
Briefly stopping half-way down so the crowd could yell even more loudly…..
Then the rest of the way down…..
To the microphone…..
The first note of Holly Holy (call the sun in the dead of the night)…
I knew something was wrong.
Moreso than one would expect.
Every single song produced the same gravel. No amount of water, no amount of praying, no amount of trying to clear my own throat in sympathy, was helping. He struggled through the first half of the set. He skipped “Street Life,” “Thank the Lord for the Night Time,” “Kentucky Woman,” and “Done Too Soon.” Where he could, Neil simply told the story of the song, half singing, half talking through it….with the music playing in the background. It was obvious that there was going to be very little, if any, singing from those sweet vocal chords tonight.
Then something miraculous happened….
Neil gave a signal to the band. “Cracklin Rosie.” Out of order… OK!!! Audience on your feet!!! The entire audience was up for the entire song, and they sang along, as though helping Neil through it. Immediately after Cracklin’ Rosie, Neil and the band went right into Forever in Bluejeans. Another audience participation number! The band did its part to back up their leader. I hope they all got bonuses that night, because they all deserved it. They worked their patooties off!!! I only wish Doug had had a microphone so he could have done some backup vocals as well.
Following Bluejeans was “I’m A Believer,” The energy built with each song …. and then …. the audience participation song to end all audience participation songs —- “Sweet Caroline.” The crowd didn’t slow down for this one. During Sweet Caroline, well, Neil didn’t even have to open his mouth. “Rest those vocal chords, darling, we’ll take it from here!” And the audience delivered!!! And they even demanded an encore from themselves! Yes, we did it TWICE!!!
And for the rest of the evening, the audience sang every single song along with Neil. I know this because every time I stopped singing myself, I could hear the audience singing up from the arena. Even when no music could be found coming from Neil’s throat, there must have been music in his heart, because this beautiful man, who has enjoyed a lifetime of devoted fans, from Solitary Man to Hell Yeah, once again, had his audience in the palm of his hand. I don’t think there’s a singer ANYWHERE ON EARTH who can make even a remotely similar claim.
After Brother Love, sermon and all, Neil took his final bows with all the smiles and joy that a man of peace, a man of faith, a man of love, yes, a man of God could possibly want to have. I hope he knows he did NOT let his fans down that night. He gave them the unique opportunity to show him, at a moment’s notice, how much they truly love him.