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From iBerkshires.com (Click here to go directly to the follow-up article)
Internet phenom Josh
Groban's fans descend on Berkshires for "meet & greet" bash
As a Berkshire County resident, I am a long time lover of music. As a child, I studied piano and violin. I sang in the school chorus, singing solos for our concerts and the National Anthem at varsity games. In college, I sang with the University Chorale, continued to play violin and even tried a little flute. I liked all kinds of music. I liked nearly every genre of music and had a broad taste for all sorts of influences.
Somewhere along the way, real life took over and I relegated my music in lieu of "more important" things. It's been over a decade since I graduated and music had almost slipped completely from my active consciousness. Then, during a particularly difficult illness, I found an artist named Josh Groban.
I first saw him in a guest role on Ally McBeal. Malcolm Wyatt (Josh Groban) stumbled onto the screen and caught my eye. The awkward teen bashfully wound his way through the quirky plot and finished the show by introducing me (and millions of others) to the most amazing baritone I have heard in a long time. He didn't sing anything that would generally catch my ear. It was the quality and tonality of the voice. I missed the name in the credits.
After another guest appearance on Ally, and hearing him on the radio, I finally got the name. Though ill, I got myself to the music store and purchased his debut CD, self titled, Josh Groban. Now, quite ill, I listened to this voice, the craft with which the album was assembled, and no other CD was found in my player. As is often the case I identified with one song over the others, a song called "Let Me Fall." This poetic lyric speaks of confidence and will power to surmount difficulties and over come. As I lay in bed, I wondered if I would be able to find my own courage, as the singer in this song was sure he would.
While mulling this over, I noticed a web address on the CD, www.joshgroban.com. I surfed. I came upon a website which formally introduced me to the artist behind the voice. At the age of 17, Josh was a young man who had been discovered by David Foster, an extremely well known Grammy winning producer.
Singing with Celine
David worked with Josh off and on for some time and then Josh received a call from David. David was working with Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli. Bocelli was unable to make the rehearsal. "The Prayer" could not be sung solo. Dion needed a male voice to accompany her. Josh balked, neither thinking himself ready nor suited for the opportunity. He said no. David called back, faxed the music, and Josh was in the auditorium hours later. At the age of 17, he stood on stage with Celine Dion, in front of dozens of recognized established performers, and Josh began to sing. Activity came to a halt as people craned their necks to see who was singing. Celine Dion forgot her entrance. The story was the thing of books and movies: Young baritone discovered.
The site features a player where you can stream the album, but the thing that most distinguishes this site is the community boards. I wasn't particularly familiar with internet communities. There was a vast network of topical posts or messages. Everyone was "talking" about Josh. They all had board names, inside jokes, followed one another from place to place posting, had organized to see Josh at different venues, posted pictures of themselves, Josh, and eventually llamas. It was an overwhelming place to go. I began to read, backed out, and went back the news section and the player. I was still very sick. I found myself revisiting this site - intrigued.
I discovered that this board, of mostly women, called this virtual place Grobania. They called themselves Grobanites. Josh appreciated his Grobanites. He posted, as did his management team and producer, David Foster. I learned that this site had been hastily created in answer to Josh's name being repeatedly Google searched following his Ally McBeal appearances.
The community became a virtual haunt almost immediately. His fans began to get together with events called Meet & Greets where they could make the virtual conversations real. They began to organize charitable endeavors. Money was being raised for ill children because people had found there way to Grobania by following a voice. Josh is the pied piper of Grobania. Grobania loves Josh.
Unlike the typical artist's sites, discussion moves past Josh's talent, performances and look. There are blogs, games, artistic endeavors, on-line newsletters, compendiums of Josh's performances and interviews, and thoughtful discussion on topics of all types. This site is a prototype for the music industry. Josh is known as an internet phenomenon.
I lurked here for over a year. That means that I visited and read but never registered as a user or posted along with the others. In that time, the board grew from around 500 members to 3400. I started to think I should take the next step. I had to register a board name so I could also post. Perhaps tomorrow. I lurked. During this time, I was hospitalized. Josh made stops in Canada, and Europe. Grobanites were in the audience when he appeared on US talk shows such as Rosie, Oprah, The View, Regis and many others. I listened to his CD and his voice. I read the accounts of those who had heard him and met him. I was finding my courage.
During the Fall of 2002, Josh was featured on Great Performances on PBS. This fundraising feature found Josh on a stage in Pasadena before a packed house singing to his fans whom had acquired tickets through the website and had converged from around the world to watch and hear Josh do his thing. The critical review of this performance was overwhelmingly positive. Josh had been crowned the new boy wonder. In December, Josh sang "O Holy Night" for the lighting of the tree at Rockefeller Center.
Now I should interrupt my musings here to describe Josh's music. He has been (inappropriately) referred to as "opera boy." While he does sing classically inspired music, it is neither classical nor opera (and, at this point, he is no longer a boy.) It is pop and some in the industry have categorized it as "popical" - an odd made up word.
I find it extremely amusing that Josh is difficult to classify. I appreciate that fact, as it is truly a disappointment that an art form such as music gets pigeonholed into programming formulas, ultimately limiting the artist's exploration of his medium. Josh and his team have ignored the industry's pre-disposition to label and come up with a collection of music that inspires exploration. On his debut CD, Josh sings in English, Italian and Spanish. His expresses emotion through his music that few artists accomplish and he has collaborated with wonderfully talented artists such as The Coors, Lily Hayden, and Charlotte Church.
Back to my story. The Christmas of 2002 found me feeling better. My mind was clearer and my energy level was improving. I got Josh's DVD of the PBS special as a present. Additional music in the package included Josh's "O Holy Night."
I headed back to the website. It was time to take the step to join this interesting internet community proper. I registered in January and became an official member of Josh's community. There were 6,000 other users by this time. I became "Falling with Josh," a rather timid poster, still more comfortable with reading then posting. Soon after, however, Tanglewood released its summer schedule. Much to my pleasure, Josh Groban was a featured performer. Josh would be the featured vocalist for "Film Night at Tanglewood," John Williams' annual salute to film scores. Josh has a very special relationship with John Williams. Josh sang "For Always," the theme song for the soundtrack for AI (Artificial Intelligence), which Williams scored.
Since that collaboration, there has been an on-going mutual admiration between the two men that has been demonstrated in their willingness to appear together repeatedly.
Josh was supposed to perform at Tanglewood with John Williams last season. Shortly before the date came, Josh canceled. He had been battling an extremely tenacious case of tonsillitis. He was forced to bow out and take care of his health. There was disappointment among his fans, but, being the amiable bunch, many still enjoyed John Williams' show and had Yo-Yo Ma sign a get-well card for Josh.
For the 2003 season, Falling with Josh will play hostess to Josh's fans, the Grobanites, Josh's visit to the Berkshires. I posted to the boards and offered to host the party. I figured possibly 40 Grobanites would hang out on the lawn and "spread the Josh." Soon, I found out how much the Grobanites are willing to go through to see Josh. The response was overwhelming. I purchased 175 shed tickets and sold them all before general sales even began. I had a very large party on my hands.
I wanted to provide a special time for the Grobanites. I wanted to show off my hometown and give them a time they would never forget. A lawn party might not be enough. I contacted Tanglewood and reserved one of their tents for a private party. The Tanglewood M&G (Meet & Greet) was beginning to take shape.
Largest Grobanite gathering?
I have a solid background in event planning. So, the organization of this event was not all that daunting. I got down to it. Soon, what had begun as a picnic on the lawn prior to the concert became a private party fully catered complete with cash bar. The M&G would entertain Grobanites before the concert and then provide a venue afterward for continued enjoyment. The Grobanite charities became involved and organized to use the opportunity to have silent auctions and raffles.
Items such as Grobanian Night candles, Joshy-Washy soap, Joshy pop lollipops will be making there way to Tanglewood. The silliness is quite catchy! Grobanites from as far away as Norway will be making Tanglewood a destination. 300 of Josh's fans will attend the Tanglewood Meet & Greet. It will be the largest organized get-together of the Grobanites in Josh's career.
I wanted to take advantage of the fact that Josh's fans are internet based. I put up a website designed to assist those coming to Tanglewood, Josh/Tanglewood Website.
Its features include links to the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, a roommate finder and information about Tanglewood. It provides most of the information anyone would need to plan a visit to the Berkshires. It includes information on the charitable work that will take place and even offers methods to file a visitor's itineraries into a master database and a donation form for Grobanites interested in assisting with the fundraising efforts. The master database is also available on-line and Grobanite volunteers in the US and Canada have been working on it.
Small town feeling
What I have found, is that this community, based on the internet, is a small town. They help each other, support one another, bicker and squabble and all come to the same playing field in their appreciation for Josh. I haven't looked back since registering (although I still wonder about the llamas) and I look forward to seeing how this forum continues to influence Josh's career and those of other up and coming artists.
When the Grobanites come to the Berkshires the weekend of August 2, they will be treated to our hospitality and warmth. They will hear Josh. But, more then that, they will solidify friendships they have made through the internet; put faces to names and build shared memories together. This will be the largest get-together of Josh's fans to date. Josh will sing to his Grobanites and add to the rich history that is Tanglewood. I can't wait!
Lisa S. McCabe plans to write an additional piece covering the activities of Josh and his fans the day of his concert, August 2, 2003, with John Williams.
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"Lisa? Where are you?" Kay asked from the cell phone I held to my ear. "I'm in the Glass House at Tanglewood!" I responded with enthusiasm. "I've taken care of the ticket snafu and I wanted to make sure they have enough of Josh's CDs on hand in the gift shop! They are piled high!" I continued humorously but honestly, "Where are you?" I asked. "I'm in the tent, Lisa. This thing is huge! We have a lot of work to do "
Kay wasn't far off the mark. We did have a ton of work to do. We were in the throws of pulling off the biggest get together in the history of Grobania - that's the name of the community of devoted and enthusiastic fans of vocalist Josh Groban. Josh's August 2 performance with John Williams and the Boston Pops at Tanglewood inspired me to organize a meet-and-greet of Grobanites, which snowballed into a gathering of 300 loyal fans. After months of planning, the party was finally here.
I purchased a child's size 4 t-shirt
my daughter wanted "to wear for Joshie." Then I hustled over
to the unmarked gate though which the Hawthorne Tent can be accessed.
It was a sweltering day, and in just under 2 ½ hours, 300 of Josh
Groban's fans, hailing from all over the country, would convene here.
We were joined by around thirty of them (Grobanites) in the set-up effort.
Brie and her parents hung her banner. Carla recruited several to work
on balloon bouquet centerpieces. Tami and Kay collated Goodie Bags. Donna,
Val, and Paula worked to set up silent auctions and raffles. Alice perched
precariously on a folding chair documenting the event on roll after roll
of 35mm film. Catering staff flitted about busying themselves with preparation.
I played interference with the parking lot attendant who seemed about
to take military action due to our wanton lack of proper parking tags.
A mere breach of parking lot etiquette would not stop us from our festivities
on this day.
Word came from the Hickory lot at around 5:30 p.m. that the Grobanites could no longer be held at bay. They were allowed on the grounds and were headed to the tent. A cloud of people appeared over the rise and through the humid haze. "(Wo)man the registration table! The Grobanites are here!" A flurry of activity marked the beginning of the Tanglewood Meet & Greet. Set-up people shifted quickly to registration. Each guest was given a nametag depicting the theme of the event, "Starry, Starry Night over Tanglewood," with their name, board name, city, state and country. They also received a Josh/Tanglewood 2003 t-shirt and a goodie bag packed with donated Josh items ranging from mouse pads, temporary tattoos and pencils to promotional album flats, lyric books and chocolates. If there had been a calm before the storm, perhaps we would have been able to survey our work. The tent had been transformed. This once vacant and echoing space seemed almost intimate now. The balloons helped it take on an ethereal quality as they floated in shades of blue and white, highlighted by images of Josh. The tables were dressed in navy and white which made the otherwise stark décor comfortable.
"Hi! I'm Tami
.I mean 'TOMoose'
from the board!"
This scene played itself out over and over throughout the evening. As an internet-based community, Grobania revels in its opportunities to put face to board name. Roommates who had been IMing (Instant messaging) for months met each other for the first time upon arrival. It is an odd contradiction in our traditional patterns of familiarity that Grobanites often know much more about our Internet acquaintances (and soon fast friends) then we know about our own next-door neighbors. Such was the case on this day, as hugs and kisses were exchanged, exclamations made and much film put in the can.
It was during one such interaction
that my cell rang. I excused myself from the tent to take the call. As
I wandered aimlessly over the lawn, I spoke with Brian, Josh's manager.
He seemed a pleasant and intelligent man who addressed me casually and
unhurriedly. Brian wanted me to know that Josh was planning on dropping
by the tent after the performance, that everyone was very appreciative
and impressed by the show of support the Grobanites had demonstrated,
and that he hoped we would enjoy the concert. This brought me out of my
revelry. I was aware that Josh had planned on attending but somehow this
call spotlighted my efforts. I was not only going to be listening to this
talented vocalist, I would be playing hostess to him. I returned to the
tent at the close of the call and looked out among my guests. I smiled
inwardly, looking forward to the expressions on their faces when Josh
would be standing where I was. Kay caught my eye and smiled. Without words,
she knew to whom I had been speaking.
8:30 p.m. found Josh's Grobanites in the shed and on the lawn awaiting their favorite baritone. This concert, "Film Night at Tanglewood" with John Williams conducting was the second fastest selling of the Tanglewood season, after James Taylor's sold out concert in June. Shed tickets for "Film Night at Tanglewood" sold out two hours after box office opened at the beginning of the season. Official box office counts put the crowd at 18,000 on this evening but my educated Tanglewood eye places it closer to 24,000.
Now, I had an idea why this concert was so popular as I am a longstanding fan of Josh Groban's. He is an amazing talent. At the age of 17, the young baritone became a protégé of Grammy award winning producer David Foster. Now 22, Groban attracts audiences across the globe. Among his admirers is John Williams himself. Their partnership began with the soundtrack to Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). Williams recruited Groban to sing the main theme for the movie and the haunting melody became a staple in the iconography of Williams' repertoire. The two men have collaborated on many occasions since and their mutual affinity seems only to have grown.
John Williams, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and the Boston Pops took the stage for the first half of the show. They regaled the audience with Williams' work for screen. Each piece was emotionally moving, evoking nationalism, excitement, loss and fantasy.
During the intermission, I mingled with the Grobanites for whom I had arranged seating in the Shed. Josh's manager, Brian, and pianist, Zach, had come out for a visit. They are always very generous with their time and appreciative of the enthusiasm of the fans. The surrounding audience found this spectacle of some interest. Whispering and pointing became the favored mode of communication and soon much of the audience became engaged in the activities of our assembly. Grobania's own MIConnie was pegged as a VIP by an audience member. I simply described her as a queen Grobanite, winked at her and allowed the man to take our photo. We took lots of pictures, shared stories, and "spread the Josh!" Needless to say, those unfamiliar with Josh Groban got Josh 101 before the shed bell sounded, signaling the second half of the concert. Many a novice Josh listener went home with buttons, bags, shirts and other novelties with Josh's likeness and, no doubt, the web address.
John Williams convened the second half of the show as the audience settled back into their seats. His offering included a humorously portrayed, yet technically difficult, Baton Bunny. I couldn't help but giggle and laugh as Bugs wrestled with his ever-elusive shirt cuffs as both he and Mr. Williams gestured in unison to their respective orchestras with their batons! With the execution of ET complete with bicycles taking flight and glowing alien finger, the anticipation of Josh Groban grew.
I was positioned apart from Josh's
fans during the concert. Those around me seemed to be comprised of the
usual Tanglewood visitors. They had been politely enjoying the concert
to this moment. But, I noticed something more as John Williams began his
introduction of our own Josh Groban. To an individual, each person in
the section near me first straightened in his or her chair. When Josh's
name was spoken, they collectively leaned forward in expectation. As Josh
took the stage, many quietly gestured and nodded to their company. It
was plainly obvious why they had come to "Film Night at Tanglewood."
I have to admit that pride grew in my breast for Josh. You would have
thought I had had something to do with where he found himself at this
Joined by Josh's band, John Williams and the Pops began to play. They opened Josh's set with Alla luce del sole. Josh's voice was warm and resonant. As he glanced out across the audience in my direction, I fancied that he saw me and drew strength from my pro-offered support. His eyes flashed as he continued to sing. He followed this song with Vincent (Starry, starry Night). This song means a lot to Josh as it does me, and he prefers to sing it while seated and such was the case on Saturday. Befitting the theme of the evening, he then sang Cinema Paradiso (Se). He held the audience in rapt attention and their response to him was overwhelming and positive. In part due to the wet weather, there seemed to be sound problems, and this was especially evident during the final song in his planned set, Gira con me. But, ever the professional, Josh finished his set to a standing ovation.
An encore was in the offing. I had heard that we were in for a special treat and I was not to be disappointed. Josh and John had been in rehearsal planning a special song. The others I have mentioned are all on Josh's album. The first of the two offered as encore is not. The orchestra did not play. John Williams accompanied Josh on the piano. They played An Affair to Remember. This is a sentimental favorite of John Williams' as he has a long history with the Newman family; Lionel Newman having conducted on the soundtrack for the 1954 movie of the same title. The song suited Josh's voice beautifully as he floated from refrain to refrain. The audience was captivated. Finally, Josh sang Alejate. This song was stunningly rendered. Josh and John embraced and accepted the pleasure of the audience.
The entire crowd was transfixed by the performance they witnessed. The Glass House sold out of Josh's CDs. The Grobanites were lost among the rest as everyone casually left the shed.
It was interesting to contemplate this web-based community converging on the 65 year-old institution that is Tanglewood. This is what I did as I hustled back to the Hawthorne tent. Grobanites take pride in their internet activity. Grobania is located in only two places, www.joshgroban.com and the heart. Grobanites from 13 - 85+ understand the internet lingo that instructs them to follow hyperlinks, post images, read media and insert .html. They navigate cyberspace in search of a commonality found among them all, a love of music. Love of music is, of course, what brings people to Tanglewood each summer as well. When the grounds on West Street in Lenox were first opened as a summer performance venue, there were obstacles to overcome for the lover of music. Those, whose hearts came here in the 1930's dealt with the Great Depression, performed under a tent and braved thunderstorms that nearly carried their cover from above their heads mid-concert. Yet, the idea of "music under the stars" sustained them. The Koussevitsky Shed was opened on August 4, 1938 and the music has gone on regardless of the weather since.
I hadn't been back at the tent for long when I got word that Josh was on the way. I made my way to the podium and made the announcement just as he dramatically arrived on a golf cart. The excitement was palpable and I found his entrance exceedingly humorous.
He made his way through the crowd and approached the stage where I awaited him. I welcomed him with a hug and kiss on the cheek and politely ushered him to the podium. The flashes that went off were blinding. Everyone wanted this moment for their albums and Josh took it all in stride. He joked pleasantly and allowed everyone to settle down. He said that he was touched by the outpouring of support he felt from our ranks and that the party we were throwing was amazing. He noted the balloons and the tattoos and his suspicion that "there is probably more then just water flowing in the tent this evening!"
Then he became just a tad more serious (totally serious was not going to happen) and he mentioned a certain article he had read on iBerkshires.com. Josh commented that it had been beautifully written. Several motioned toward me as I smiled broadly at his notice and he said, "Yeah, I know who I'm huggin''!" at which point everyone laughed.
The visit soon turned into an informal Q & A as Josh casually answered questions tossed to him by his Grobanites. I watched from the sidelines as he bantered with his fans. His manager, Brian, and voice coach, David, also had some time at the microphone. Each was gracious and took a second to thank us for having them. David was interested in garnering support from the fans to convince Josh to record An Affair to Remember. I must say, I don't think Josh was convinced. During the time the two men took the podium, Josh stood just off to the side near me while my mother sat in the front row of the audience with my youngest daughter, Robyn.
Robyn had been talking of only one thing the whole summer: What she wanted to do when she met Joshie. My mother was aware of Robyn's plans and took this opportunity to encourage her. "Go ahead, Robyn, he's right up there next to mommy." Robyn slid from her grandmother's lap and cautiously made her way to me. When I saw her approach, I assumed her purpose and redirected her to Josh. She wrapped herself around his left leg and clung to it with affection. She calls this "the leg hug" and she saves it for her most treasured people. Josh was being honored by my daughter. Josh was surprised to have this little imp clinging to his leg but surprise was soon replaced with delight as he realized what was happening.
I also had the good fortune to watch my other children interact with Josh. Robyn's big sister, Casey, has a lovely voice and sings with the Blafield Children's Chorus. She needed to share this knowledge with Josh who was very impressed to hear that she had been singing for as long as she could remember as he could only remember to about 13. Kay took advantage of the opportunity to let Josh know that Casey was my daughter and encouraged him to pose for a few pictures, which he did willingly. While standing there with Casey, however, he became the victim of my puckish twin boys, Terry and Brian. They snuck in behind him and held their hands up behind his head giving him "bunny ears" to the crowd's amusement. Josh, too, found the situation comical and upon realizing what was happening ducked his six foot frame lower so the boys could truly achieve their intent.
Needless to say, Josh's visit made his Grobanite's evening. I had the enormous pleasure of having over 8 months of planning come to fruition as I watched him interact with his fans. Standing there in introspection, I looked out across the sea of faces engaged with Josh. Smiling and happy countenances met my gaze. I had brought 300 people to the Berkshires. They congregated, partied, raised money for charities, sampled the wonderful offerings of the Berkshires and experienced the amazing talents of baritone Josh Groban. My satisfaction is unmatched by description.
Josh Groban has many projects on his horizon. He has been in the studio throughout the year in preparation for his sophomore offering and next CD, due to be released in November. He has mentioned that he is working with a French band, Deep Forest, to satisfy his interest both in electronically enhanced and world music, and will present covers of Linkin Park's "My December" and Michael Jackson's "She's Out of My Life." He does not plan to cry at the end. He will take on the role of Anatoly in the Broadway production of Chess, for a one night show to benefit the Actor's Fund in September. He is planning a worldwide tour beginning next year. It is my sincere wish that he consider his own show at Tanglewood next season.
Lisa McCabe is a local resident of Berkshire County. Private correspondence can be directed to LisaM65@berkshire.rr.com.
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