| I will always be indebted to an old friend who knew of my appreciation for classical music and purchased a CD called Romanza and sent it to me for my birthday. The CD went into the player and Andrea Bocelli's voice came into my heart and I was hooked. I made a promise to myself that I would go to see him, whenever or wherever I could and as soon as I could. Little did I know that I was becoming an opera singer's groupie and my life would be changed for the better in ways I never could have imagined. Over the next two years I drove to Washington DC for Andrea's US debut and then to his concerts in Philadelphia; Chicago; Las Vegas; Anaheim California; Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Atlantic City and to see him perform in the Opera Werther at the Detroit Opera House. I waited unsuccessfully outside the gate of the National Car Rental Arena in Fort Lauderdale for ten hours in the hopes of having the Bocelli entourage see my Bocelli Bus and then even took a couple of weeks to travel to Italy to visit La Sterza, Andrea's home town where I met his brother Alberto.
As stated earlier, I had attended The Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, DC when Andrea made his debut in the US. It was one of the best weekends I ever had. Hearing this wonderful voice was an experience no one could ever forget and it was with astonishment that I read the horrible revue by one David Patrick Stearns in the USA Today. My disbelief was boiling over by the time I got back to my house and I spent the next few hours sending email to that newspaper expressing my shock and dismay for the awful article they had published. Later that night I received a telephone call from an editor of that paper and he told me that he was going to publish one of my letters in the next edition. And they did. I couldn't take back the absurd comments of Mr. Stearns, but at least I had a chance to tell the other side of the story. I thought the concert was magnificent! Stearns' ear for music is sorely lacking and commenting on anyone's disability in such an offensive manner is unacceptable. I was embarrassed as an American that Bocelli should be subjected to such words after being invited to perform at our nation's most prestigious centers for the arts. And just for the record, my own love affair with this man's music came weeks before ever knowing the first thing about him, let alone his physical makeup. (I would be remiss not to acknowledge Andrea's performance at the World Trade Center's Memorial service. It was a great gesture and again, as an American, I add my thanks for his compassion and concern.)
It was just a whim that led to putting a sign on my motor home before leaving on a trip to San Francisco to attend his concert at Davie Hall. The sign read: " Raleigh NC to San Francisco, just to see Andrea Bocelli in concert". Little did I know that the seven thousand mile round trip would be in vain because the concert was canceled, but neither did I ever expect the response that the sign generated as I drove across the country. People waved, blew their horns and more than one opened their car window to show their CD case with the familiar red and black Romanza title prominently displayed. At campsites in state after state, people saw the bus and would come up and offer their comments about their emotions when listening to the music of Bocelli. Little by little I began to feel like part of the program. I added Andrea's picture to the side of the bus, then a list of the venues where I saw him perform and of course the slogan "World's Greatest Tenor". Slowly my motor home became transformed into the Bocelli Bus and I now share my love and respect for the man with numerous others who feel the same way. Under the driver's window it says " Taking the Bus to Bocelli, Gary Raymond, Andrea's biggest fan".
I have a new bus now and it too is decorated in a similar fashion. The rear portrays a large picture of our guy and the lettering on the side reads "Sings with angels, Walks with lions and Soars with eagles, He's our guy!. Simply magnificent".
I've added to my Bocelli Adventures by seeing him in concert at Mandalay Bay in Vegas, the MCI Ctr in Washington, the Mohegen Sun Casino in Connetticut and the Continental Arena in New Jersey. Before the NJ Concert, I was interviewed by RAI (Italian TV network) and was later thrilled to see it included in an hour long TV Special broadcast on Italian Television. i also saw Andrea perform as Lt Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly in Torre Del Lago, Italy and met his mother who graciously invited us to her home. Since then I was invited to stay in Andrea's house in La Sterza and share an evening with the family at a local charity event sponsored by Andrea and held in the town square. It was wonderful. The Bocelli family are warm and friendly and gracious and I feel honored to consider them my new friends.
Am I crazy? Maybe a little, but this man has brought smiles to my lips, beauty to my ears, comfort to my soul and took me on trips I never would have taken to meet people I never would have met and to see sights I might never have seen. Crazy? Not really. I'm just happy and thankful to have Bocelli in my life.
For additional photos of my Bocelli adventures please go to http://f1.pq.photos.yahoo.com/garyraymond2