The Utica Auditorium, designed and built by architect Gilbert Seltzer, and has been heralded as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2011. Recognizing its innovative cable suspended roof which allowed an unobstructed 360 degree view for all, this model became a cutting edge example for others as a design of excellence. After its construction in 1959, arenas such as Madison Square Garden quickly followed suit emulating its style and design.
During its hey day, the Auditorium hosted professional hockey (Utica Devils, AHL farm team for New Jersey Devils), national musicians such as Kenny Rogers, The Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, ZZ Top, Phish, Godsmack, Disturbed, and Avenged Sevenfold; and set the stage as the background in movies such as SlapShot, starring Paul Newman.
Over the years though, musical acts began to dwindle and they were replaced with more family friendly events such as the Shriners Circus, Harlem Globestrotters, Ice Shows, World Wrestling Federation shows, as well as local college and high school sports and graduation ceremonies. In 1993 the Utica Devils franchise sadly moved to the Albany area, and although they were replaced during the 1993-94 season with The Utica Bulldogs, the low attendance only allowed them the opportunity to stay for the year. For the next ten years, the Aud remained relatively quiet. Too quiet.
In 2013, however the momentum picked back up when the AHL’s Vancouver Canucks were looking to relocate their farm team. Utica, NY was chosen as its new location. Hungry to welcome back a hockey team, the Mohawk Valley residents welcomed the Utica Comets with open arms and continue to keep the arena filled at each and every game during their last two seasons.
When the announcement was made in August that the Dierks Bentley’s Riser Tour would make a stop in Utica at the Aud, it only took a matter of a few hours to sell out the arena, once again welcoming back music to the Aud. For the first time in years, music other than Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and Gary Glitter’s “Rock & Roll” anthem would play for the crowds. Utica, NY was ready to get the party started once again, and who better to kick it off than Dierks Bentley, country musics superstar.
Dierks Bentley’s Riser Tour made its way to Utica, right before the holidays, and Dierks was joined on stage by Randy Houser and Eric Paslay to perform to the sold out standing room only crowd. Utica was ready to rise to the occasion and take it up a few notches to get the party started once again at the Aud.
As Eric Paslay took the stage, this crowd was ready to begin. I had the opportunity to talk with Eric earlier this year, and I can’t tell you how impressive this new artist is. His business sense, his songwriting skills, and his musicality is top-notch and promises a longevity in the country music field for years to come. He began to incite an already rowdy crowd as he played current hits and new music from his newly released album Eric Paslay. The crowd sang along to his recent hits “Friday Night” and “Song About A Girl”, but to me “She Don’t Love You” was the jewel in his setlist. I believe that this particular song, written by Eric and Jennifer Wayne, showcases his amazing talent in both songwriting and vocally. To me, it was one of the best songs of 2014, and Rolling Stone concurs as they named this song number 19 in their list of Top 25 Country songs of the year.
Next up was Randy Houser. This would be my third time covering Randy Houser and I can honestly say each time I see him, his show gets better. The first time I covered his show was at Taste of Country Music Festival this past June. He and keyboardist, John Henry Trinko, made their way through the mountains to play one of the best acoustic sets I’ve ever heard, while the rest of the crew sat by the broken down bus. His ability to overcome and give the fans an outstanding performance couldn’t possibly be topped, right? Wrong! Then came the Great NY State Fair in which together with Brad Paisley on the Country Nation World Tour, he continued to astonish me with a full band behind him knocking it once again out of the park. So could he get better again? That he did!
The one thing that continues to amaze me about Randy is his sheer talent. He’s most certainly loved by all his fans, both men and women, because he’s not pretentious. He epitomizes what a country superstar should be. He’s down to earth, he’s got a strong country voice, he writes music that touches the soul, he can strum a guitar like a pro, and he puts on a show like no other. As he played crowd favorites “Running Out of Moonlight,” “How Country Feels,” and “Goodnight Kiss” – it was his song “Like A Cowboy” that truly showcases his musical talents and persona. For those of you who haven’t seen the video (long version’s best), it’s as though you are living out the song through Randy’s depiction of a cowboy. The opening scene takes you back to the opening scene of Gunsmoke, could it possibly be the same set? Yep, Randy’s definitely the poster perfect example of what a cowboy is; rugged, handsome, and tough as nails. To me, this song (and video) was another best of 2014, and once again Rolling Stone concurred with me as they placed it at number 11. Great minds think alike here!
As if the night couldn’t get better, it most certainly did. Out came the country music superstar, Dierks Bentley. Dierks Bentley, is synonymous in Nashville as one of those one named legends. There are several of those, for example, Garth, Dolly, Hank, George, Willie, Loretta, etc. See? Dierks is simply a legend and doesn’t need a middle or last name because his fans, especially the ones in Utica, NY, knew that they were in the presence of greatness that evening. This would be the second show of the Riser Tour that I had the opportunity to cover and folks, this time he brought it and left it right there on stage. There is no way that performance could be topped. Most definitely NO WAY. This performer plays, sings, and entertains and loves every minute of it. His stage presence is contagious. I could literally see the audience reacting and coming unglued as he performed hit after hit. His ability to interact with the crowd is amazing. I truly believe if was safe enough to do it, he would bring the whole crowd on stage to dance along as he performed. He feeds off the audience and the audience feeds off of him. That my friends is the sign of a true performer that loves what he does.
Like the prior acts of the evening, Dierks has the ability to reach his audiences because he’s “real”. He gives you a piece of him, his history, his passions, his life in each and every song he writes and performs. Although Rolling Stone listed him in their Top 25 artists for his song “Say You Do”, it’s “I Hold On” that truly gives you insight into Dierks and his passion of music. The beautiful thing about Dierks’ music, is that as serious as he can be with one song, he can be just as silly and outlandish in the next. A perfect example of this is “Drunk on A Plane”. “Drunk on A Plane” incited more attendees to dress up to participate in the show than The Rocky Horror Picture Show this past year.
Whether it’s “Drunk on A Plane,” “Every Mile’s A Memory,” “What Was I Thinkin” or “Settle For A Slow Down” this award-winning Grand Ole Opry Member is a superstar in our books, and was the perfect person to kick off shows once again at the Utica Aud.
Before I close, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention as well the production crew and bands for each artists. These guys (and you all know who you are – too many names to mention here) work tirelessly behind the scenes, and behind the singers, to bring you performances of the highest caliber. Surrounding themselves with the best of the best in the business, Eric Pasley, Randy Houser, and Dierks Bentley rose to the occasion and brought the party to Utica, solidifying and making the Riser Tour a part of history here in Central New York.