Thursday, September 25, 2008

Atlantic Canada Prepares for Elton


The Moncton Coliseum has played host to many world-famous entertainers over the last 30 years, but this Sunday's show by pop music legend Elton John may set a new bar for Atlantic Canada.

Elton John brings his solo piano show to Moncton this weekend with concerts at the Halifax Metro Centre Friday and Saturday, the Moncton Coliseum Sunday and Saint John's Harbour Station on Tuesday night. He will also do two nights (Oct. 1 and 2) at the Mile One Stadium in St. John's, Nfld. All of the concerts are officially sold out but many tickets could be found at elevated values on various websites this week.

In Halifax and Saint John, radio stations are planning to play all Elton John music through the weekend and fans are buying sparkly glasses and outlandish costumes to wear to the sold-out shows.

City of Moncton spokesman Ian Fowler said the city is still looking at doing something special to welcome the performer when he arrives this weekend but nothing has been finalized.

But promoters aren't saying anything about Elton's travel plans before or after the show. It is presumed the performer will arrive by private jet at the Greater Moncton International Airport sometime Saturday or Sunday, and jet away immediately following Sunday night's show.

Since this is a solo show, it will be a minimal stage setup with just enough room for Elton, his piano, sound equipment and lighting. The solo shows are a departure from the full band shows he has been doing in other parts of the country.

When Elton brought his one-man show to the relatively small market of Sudbury, Ont., in March, he received rave reviews from local fans and the media. The solo shows allow the pop icon to become intimate with the crowd and run through a set list of his biggest hits from a 40-year career. Songs like Your Song, Rocket Man, Daniel, Philadelphia Freedom, Levon, Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word, Candle in the Wind and I Guess That's Why they Call it the Blues have been part of the performance as Elton relates to the crowd, occasionally getting up from the piano and walking around the stage to speak with fans.

Officials with his publicity company would not divulge any details about where he might be staying or if he would do anything in town other than perform.

Around Metro Moncton, excitement for Elton John's arrival has been building around the many ticket giveaway contests held by local businesses, radio stations and the Times & Transcript.

Some local businesses, like Baby Images on Mountain Road, purchased tickets to give away as prizes.

Radio stations C103 and Magic 104 also gave away a number of tickets through silly contests, including an Elton John lookalike contest. Tomorrow morning, Magic 104 will stage a hula-hoop contest in front of the new Sobeys on Main Street, with the longest-lasting hula-hoop twister winning a pair of tickets.

The Times & Transcript also gave away several pairs of tickets after making a draw from the hundreds of entries sent to the newspaper.

When tickets went on sale in July, huge crowds turned out to wait in line for tickets selling for $95.50 and $149.50 plus service charges. They sold out in less than an hour. This week, many tickets were available on various websites for anywhere from $175 each to over $1,400 for a pair.

"This will be the biggest show in the 15 years of Harbour Station, and we have four cruise ships in town that day so it will be hopping," said Mike Caddell, manager of the 10,000-seat Harbour Station arena in Saint John. "Elton John is such a big star that we could have done 10 sold-out shows for this guy."

Caddell said the Elton John show will even surpass the excitement generated several years ago when country superstar Garth Brooks came to town.

In Halifax, stores in the malls are selling Elton John-style sparkly sunglasses and many fans are planning to get "garbed up" for the two sold-out shows at the 10,000-seat Metro Centre. And at least one major Halifax radio station is planning to play non-stop Elton John music through the weekend.

Barb Stegeman, communications manager for the Metro Centre, said the fact that Elton John sold out two nights in Halifax is just par for the course.

"It isn't just here, it's everywhere Elton goes. This is the reality of the level of fame of this performer," Stegeman said.

After the Atlantic Canadian swing, Elton will do a few shows in the southeastern U.S., and then settle into an extended run at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. After that, he will spend most of November and December travelling through England, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and France doing his Red Piano shows.

Over the years, the Coliseum has been used by such world-famous players as the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, David Bowie, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Rush, Supertramp, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Rod Stewart, Tim McGraw, Dire Straits and many others. When Bob Dylan played here the first time, the line of people waiting to get in stretched out to Mountain Road. Back in 1984, people camped out for days to buy tickets to see Kenny Rogers, who sold out two nights in a row.

The Elton John show kicks off a busy fall season for the Coliseum. Other upcoming performances include the Blue Man Group (Sept. 30), Bad Religion (Sept. 30), the Classic Rock Experience (Oct. 9), Carrie Underwood (Oct. 11), Alice Cooper (Oct. 19) and Lenny Kravitz (Oct. 20).

The Classic Rock Experience includes three tribute bands performing the songs of rock legends AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Promoters of that show say the response in Moncton is second only to Montreal in terms of ticket sales so far.

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As New Brunswick music fans prepare for the biggest concerts of the year, Pam Goold of Sussex will be arranging rock legend Elton John's most beloved blossoms.

The Sussex florist has been given the enviable task of filling the Rocket Man's dressing room and hospitality suite for his Moncton and Saint John concerts next week.

"The first thing I thought was that he would want peonies in September, which would be nearly impossible," she said at Goold's flower shop in Sussex, where she works as the fifth generation of her family to design and arrange bouquets. "I was scared to death."

Instead, John's tastes are simple, and elegant.

While much of the assortment has been left to Goold's discretion, she wanted to surround the musician with the flowers he loves most - scores of yellow roses.

John has requested a dozen green plants of varying heights for each concert. Goold has chosen palm trees and peace lilies.

His eyes will also be drawn to massive, free-flowing arrangements - two for each concert - of bulky, opulent flowers such as hydrangeas, orchids and calla lilies displayed in a tall glass vase.

Goold will also prepare four vases of yellow roses for each concert.

While John wasn't picky in his request, she learned about many of his small preferences from a book released by his personal florist.

"He just absolutely loves roses, and yellow are his favourite, so I am getting the most beautiful yellow roses I could find," she said.

She selected a new variety rose called Latina and plans to use 200 for each concert.

"He wants no foliage, no fillers, no sticks, no ribbons, none of that whatsoever, so we will be giving him clusters and clusters of solid, yellow roses," she explained. "I thought we should give him what he loves the best - we might as well try to score some points."

Just as she learned about John's fondness for flowers, she also found she should stay away from carnations, baby's breath, lilies and chrysanthemums.

It was her friend and Halifax florist Neville MacKay who suggested Goolds to John's concert co-ordinator. MacKay is preparing the flowers for the star's Halifax shows on Friday and Saturday nights.

Goold received her first contact for the job by phone on Sept. 18, and the deal was confirmed on Tuesday morning.

With such a short time span to work with, picking the perfect blossom and working with wholesalers to ensure they are here, fresh and beautiful, by Saturday morning came together remarkably well, Goold said.

The Latina roses are now en route to Sussex. They were flown to Miami from South America, where they were grown, and since Wednesday afternoon have been on a truck heading for Sussex in time for the Saturday delivery.

Goold also created the Queen's bouquet when the monarch visited Sussex in 2002, and like that occasion, the opportunity to create such special flowers is a fun conversation piece.

"It's neat in the fact that you're doing the flowers for a big celebrity," she explained, "but really, he is like everyone else who loves flowers. He has a few more dollars in his pocket, that's for sure, but there have been no challenging requests in this at all.

"It's like a wedding. I want to make sure every detail is right, but there's not a lot more to it than that," she added. "It is exciting to be able to say I did the flowers for Elton John, but really, he is getting the same roses I would pick out for anyone else, and the vases will be the same that I would use for anyone else."

Goold will arrange John's flowers the night before each concert and the next morning with a small crew, mostly family members, they will travel into the concert sites with two vehicles packed with the arrangements and plants.

Because John will be flying in and out of the Maritimes from Montreal for each of his concerts, Goold doesn't expect he will be taking any of his carefully selected flowers with him.

The plants, however, will be coming back to Sussex. Goold is only offering them as rentals and will be selling them from her home shop after the concert. She will donate one of them to an upcoming Hospice Sussex fundraiser.

"I think a lot of people would enjoy having a plant in their home that was in Elton John's dressing room," Goold said. "It is pretty exciting."

While Goold is a big Elton John fan, she doesn't have concert tickets. Unless he is on-site when Goold and her crew are setting up the floral displays around noon on Sunday in Moncton and next Tuesday in Saint John, she will never lay eyes on him.

As for pricing, not even the Rocket Man has to pay more for his flowers.

"The only difference between this job and any other is that I am charging delivery to travel into Moncton and Saint John," she said.

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THE LIFE-SIZED plaster bust of Elton John, wearing a bow tie as big as two large fists, isn’t even the most eye-catching part of Terry Roddick’s collection.

Roddick’s spectacular waterfront home in Ostrea Lake contains Elton John pillows, both plush and inflatable, original artwork from a Playboy piece on the rock icon, hundreds of 45s (remember those?) from around the world, every album ever issued plus some bootlegs from Russia, bins full of magazines and posters and, in the basement, the piece de resistance.

"The holy grail of Elton John collecting, in my opinion, (is) the pinball machine," Roddick said as he fired it up. "I was in South Royalton, Vermont, visiting friends and as we pulled into this antique shop, there was this pinball machine in the doorway. I said to myself ‘Wouldn’t it be great if that was the 1976 Captain Fantastic pinball machine?’ And when I walked in, it was. I almost had a heart attack."

Roddick, a Halifax longshoreman, knew of the pinball machines. His collection includes a magazine ad showing Elton John wearing a Team Canada hockey jersey with the pinball machine. But he had never seen one.

The asking price was $2,000.

"And at the time, our dollar was terrible. I think I got it for US$1,500, which brought it up to two grand for me," said Roddick. "We dismantled it, and like a coffin, put it into my Hyundai that was already full of camping gear, bubble wrapped it, and brought it across the border without incident."

The Captain Fantastic machine, named for a John album, was made in 1976 and intended for use in bars. A year later, a home model was manufactured. Roddick also owns one of those, having driven to Baltimore to collect it after purchasing it on EBay. The larger machine works like it’s brand new, but the home model hasn’t binged or bonged since he bought it, despite the best efforts of several experts.

Growing up in rural Pictou County, Roddick, now 46, and his sister provided the music for local dances. At that time, in the early- to mid-70s, Elton John dominated the charts.

"I started collecting stuff in ’73 and that was pretty much his heyday," said Roddick. "I bought my first album at Zellers, Rock of the Westies. I got that first album, and I wore it out, and I got every album after that. I guess I have the hoarding and collecting gene."

Magazines with Elton John on the cover include Rock Scene, Hit Parade, People, Creem, Circus, Hello, Rolling Stone, Modern Screen and a 1987 issue of the Newfoundland Herald.

"I’ve got the, I think it was in ’76, he did the interview in Rolling Stone where he came out of the closet and then they burned a bunch of his albums down south," Roddick said, picking up a framed caricature of the singer sitting at the keyboard, wearing oversize glasses with soccer balls for lenses.

He can’t remember how much he paid for this piece.

"It didn’t matter. If I wanted it, I had it."

He’s bought items for his collection everywhere he’s gone, haunting second-hand record stores in Chicago, San Francisco and Florida, finding posters, tour T-shirts, books, DVDs and sculptures.

Over the years, he’s seen Elton John in concert three times, none as memorable as the show at Jarry Park in Montreal, where festival seating meant a front-row experience.

"That was the last year he dressed up in the outlandish outfits, and that was the first time I saw him," remembered Roddick. "It was outrageously exciting. I was just underneath the stage. There was the stage, then a bouncer, then me, right below where he was."

Roddick has lower bowl tickets for John’s show Friday night in Halifax, opposite the stage. The seats remind him of the last Elton John show he attended, at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds in Toronto.

"That time, we were quite far away from the stage, and we paid $30 a ticket or something," he said.

"But they were walking around the CNE, giving away tickets. When I think that here in Halifax, tickets are going for $800-plus, and they were walking around there, going ‘Do you want to see Elton John?’ just giving out tickets."

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