“You are not seriously suggesting Puccini even remotely compares to Verdi?”
“Not at all,” came Ren’s rather smug reply. “What I am telling you is that he is definitely the better composer of the two, hands down.”
“What? You have got to be out of your ever-living mind!”
“That may be but...”
“No buts about it!” she immediately interrupted. “Sure, Puccini could write a nice melody but that’s about it. Verdi, on the other hand, is clearly the greatest operatic composer since Mozart.”
“Oh, come on, get real!” Rennie responded, waving his hands dismissively. “Verdi is terribly repetitive and uninspiring. At his best, he was merely the Andrew Lloyd Webber of his day, cranking out formulaic operas by the wagonload.”
His opponent, however, just about came unglued. “You have got to be joking! Andrew Lloyd Webber? Please, that’s not even...”
“Do you have any idea what they’re arguing about?”
Grant looked over at the gentleman standing next to him as the fierce debate raged on, first in English and then in what sounded to be a rather spirited Italian, and just shook his head. “Not the foggiest. You?”
“Nope,” the sheriff replied with a shake of his own head, “it’s all way over my head. To tell the truth, just about everything I know about opera – and that ain’t much – comes from Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.”
“Kill da wabbit?”
“Kill da wabbit.”
Leaving the two oblivious combatants behind, they began to make their way back to their seats.
Opera? Grant could only shake his head again and shudder. Definitely not his cup of tea by any means, but who knew Ms. Capriati was a fan? And how she and Ren got into this rather passionate discussion from their previous one, and in Italian no less, he had no idea. He and Art Frohm just looked at each other, shrugged and stepped back when the two of them began to get into it. Fortunately, the four of them had already talked through and agreed upon the basics of Sarah’s proposal before that point.
Grant really liked the idea of holding a concert – especially Sarah’s clever twist that it would not be the typical benefit affair that celebrities come together to put on after nearly every major disaster. No, this would be patterned after the shows put on by the USO for the troops overseas. It would be a free concert for all the people displaced by the tornados, as well as the hundreds of workers involved in the recovery efforts.
And he was especially glad that their presenter was calling them all back to take their seats again. He was more than willing to endure additional time in those hard steel folding chairs, if it meant getting away from a debate about opera!
That’s not to say, however, that Sarah’s presentation skills were something to be endured. Just the opposite, really. Grant was tremendously impressed with how she handled the initial walkthrough of the concept. She clearly had done her homework and did not make the fatal mistake so many rookies, not to mention veterans, make by immediately overloading their audience with facts and figures. Instead, she pitched the overall concept with poise and charm; left it only vaguely defined, and then cleverly sent off the listeners into discussion groups about how to pull it off.
Now, with everyone drawn back in – even Ren and the Lieutenant Governor were finally returning to their seats – Grant fully expected Sarah to launch into a problem-solving session. He wasn’t disappointed. In a matter of minutes, she had the basic challenges they were facing categorized into six different areas on her whiteboard. In fact, in very little time at all, she actually had resources and or solutions proposed for nearly all of them.
On the matter of venue for the concert, it quickly became apparent that the scale proposed required something outdoors. Numerous suggestions were offered but the lieutenant governor came up with the best, offering space at a nearby state park and personnel to coordinate. Frohm, for his part, nailed down the matter of security, while Marge volunteered to head up a group of restaurateurs to handle the concessions. Those, however, were all the relatively easy ones. Grant could see the next big stumbling block, and it was a huge one, was how to pay for it all. Even with a lot of volunteer help, this concert would be expensive. For example, just the cost of renting all the sound equipment – let alone the people to run it – and shipping it to and from the site would require not a small amount of cash.
So, considering his own expertise and experience in the area of corporate finance and fundraising, and the fact that he really had nothing to go home to right now anyway, Grant offered up his own services. He had no illusions on what it would require. The truth was he’d have to hit the ground running that very afternoon, as Sarah’s goal, reasonable or not, was to hold the concert the following Saturday – which was just under a week away. His own time frame, of course, would be far shorter. Thankfully he had already formulated a short list of who to quickly hit up for contributions.
As much as the extremely short time frame bothered him, however, there was something that bothered him more – namely, the lack of musical content. So far, the whiteboard was glaringly absent of viable solutions in that area. Sure, a few folks had offered a few ideas but they amounted to no more than talent show and karaoke night options. Hardly the type of event corporate sponsors would want to get behind, no matter how noble the sentiment and intention of the organizers.
Looking around at the gathered participants, he could tell that many of them shared his same concerns. They all wanted it to succeed. It would be a wonderful break and breath of fresh air for the devastated evacuees, the hardworking emergency responders, and the numerous volunteers trying to help them. But if all this group can come up with is amateur hour in the park, then the whole thing was going to fall flat on its face and fall hard.
It was at that moment, that Grant took a good long look at Sarah. She did not appear to be even remotely nervous. Unlike many presenters in similar brainstorming sessions, she was not getting agitated by the substantial blank space under the musical content column. Usually a pretty good judge of character, Grant suddenly realized he’d underestimated the sharply dressed blonde. Watching her eye movement and body gestures closely, he noted only confidence and calm.
“Why you clever, clever girl!” He laughed quietly to himself. This wasn’t about solving problems. It was a team building exercise! Why he hadn’t seen it before he wasn’t sure, but he knew a person with a well thought out plan when he saw one. He doubted there was a thing on that board that she hadn’t already planned on. And the mischievous glint in her eye – especially when she looked over at Ren and Josie – clued him in to the fact that she had more than a few pleasant surprises still waiting up her metaphorical sleeve.
So with a light chuckle, Grant simply relaxed in his folding chair, draped his left arm over the neighboring one, and contented himself to wait for the coming revelations in amused anticipation.
He didn’t have to wait long.
Sarah could tell she had reached a critical moment.
It was clear everyone in the backyard, unlike her immediate boss back in Nashville, had embraced her big idea of a USO style concert. And though she’d been a bit nervous, pretty much all the folks she had been counting on stepping up to help had done just that. But concerts are about more than details and dollars, they are about music. And she could tell, just by their faces, that nearly everyone’s attention had begun to shift to the fact that they didn’t have anything or anyone substantial listed for that ... yet.
Now, to finally lay that issue to rest and bring everyone on board.
“Mr. Thomas?” Sarah turned abruptly to face her only surprise of the afternoon. She’d actually expected the financial assistance to come from another direction but this was good, too. “What would you say,” she began with a twinkle in her eye, “if I were to tell you that, as of an hour ago, we have been promised all the sound, lighting and video equipment we need, plus the people to run it, free of charge?”
His eyes widened just a bit at the news and his eyebrows elevated slightly. The movements were almost imperceptible. Almost. She’d impressed him. Sarah couldn’t help but smile.
“Well, then I’d say you’ve cut my job almost in half,” he responded, tipping his head in her direction. “And I suppose next, you’ll be telling us all about the ones who will be using it?” he tossed in slyly.
“Why, yes, Mr. Thomas. Yes I am.” Sarah could almost feel the sense of relief radiating off the crowd. Looking around, she couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
“And what if I were to tell you that we had so many folks wanting to perform, that a simple evening concert wouldn’t be enough?”
“So what exactly are you proposing then?”
The cheerful blonde’s smile faded a bit, not so much by the question, which she was expecting, but by the lieutenant governor’s rather serious and business-like demeanor.
“Something more along the lines of a music festival,” she answered, feeling somewhat chastised, “starting either late morning or early afternoon and going into the evening.”
Sarah watched as the statuesque older woman quickly conferred with several of her staff. After what seemed like minutes, she turned back. “I think that’s more than doable, given that Foster State Park was relatively unaffected by the recent storms,” she advised with a nod, “but six days will not be enough to prepare for something of that scale.”
“I agree,” Sarah responded, “so we’ll add another week to bring everything together.” She had been holding that necessary change in the schedule for later, in order to help bolster the group’s confidence in being able to pull this off. But she could live with it coming out here.
“Transportation to and from, however, will also be an issue. Talk to me afterwards and I’ll set you up with who you’ll need to talk to.”
Nodding in relief, Sarah was thankful that at least Ms. Capriati or someone who worked for her thought to bring up the matter of getting people out to the concert site and back. She didn’t have time to mentally kick herself for missing that one, however, as someone else quickly had a question. Fortunately, it was one she was prepared to answer.
“What kind of lineup do you have in mind?
“The idea to make use of local talent was a good one.” Sarah glanced over at both Megan and Ren, who nodded back to her. “They just won’t be the focus.”
“Instead, we have three...” She paused when she saw Josie, now standing off to the side, vigorously shake her head. With cell phone to her ear, she gestured holding up four fingers. “Excuse me,” Sarah continued. “Evidently, we now have four different touring bands committed to coming and more in the pipeline.”
“What do they play?”
“Are they any good?”
Those two questions, along with a few others she didn’t catch, were all asked at the same time. Sarah chuckled loudly and waved them off.
“Let’s see, I know two of them are country acts and the third is a 70’s & 80’s retro group. What’s the fourth one, Josie?”
She watched as her friend held up her index finger as she chatted further on the phone. After a few additional moments, Josie turned the cell away from her mouth. “Rowdy says they play mostly acoustic rock,” she finally answered, “with a bit of pop and country thrown in.”
“Are they any good?” someone shouted again.
She put the phone back up to her mouth. “Rowdy, they want to know if you’re any good.”
After a moment, she looked back over at Sarah and nodded, an amused smirk on her face. “Rowdy says yes.”
The quick exchange garnered a few laughs and even more smiles. Scribbling down the names of the acts on the whiteboard, Sarah looked back out over the group and was pleased with the happier expressions. What really tickled her, though, was that she hadn’t even told them the best part yet. Evidently it showed on her face.
“There’s more, isn’t there?” The low level chatter that had enveloped the crowd after the earlier revelations suddenly hushed when Grant spoke up.
Unable to contain her mirth, an enormous grin stretched across Sarah’s face as she nodded her head. “Oh, most definitely!” She exclaimed as everyone’s attention returned to her.
“To top everything off, we have not one but two very notable names in the music industry currently offering to perform as well.” Sarah glanced momentarily over at Ren before continuing. He flashed her an apprehensive smile but gave her a firm nod. “One is an award winning songwriter, and the other is one of the top performing acts in Country Music today.”
“Well, are you going to name names or are you just going to leave us in suspense?”
Sarah had paused for dramatic effect, but evidently Ms. Capriati thought she had paused long enough. The mixture of curiosity, anticipation and irritation clearly seen on her face, warmed Sarah’s heart. Everyone was now on board.
In response to the Lieutenant Governor, however, she shook her head. “Unfortunately, the top country act I mentioned will have to remain nameless for the time being.”
The unified crowd began to loudly express their disappointment, but Sarah raised her hands to quiet them.
“I know, I know. I would love to tell you but it’s best I don’t right now,” she asserted. “Seriously, just telling you that someone of this caliber and reputation is coming is a big enough risk. If we actually publicized his name this early, I honestly don’t know if we could get enough security in time. Let alone the fact that our free little music festival – which is just supposed to be for evacuees, relief workers and their families – would be totally swamped by hordes of screaming fans.”