Elton John Surprise

Last weekend I took a quick trip to Houston, TX to see an Elton John concert. It’s a bit of a trek to see a concert from a tour that’s coming to Boston in July, but I had an ulterior motive: to bring my father.

Hatching a Plan

The whole adventure started a few years ago when Elton John announced that he was going to retire from touring by having… a giant three-year farewell tour. I’m a moderate John fan, and at the time thought it might be cool to see one of the greats in concert for what would be one of his last U.S. performances. I promptly didn’t take any action, time passed, the tour started, and a nice idea faded away.

Fast-forward to last year: the world had been interrupted by COVID, vaccines had been developed, we had learned to deal with it, and concert tours were starting up again. I don’t know what made me think of it but, on a whim, I decided to see if Elton John was touring again, under the assumption that his mega-tour probably had taken a pause at some point and I might still have a chance to see it. To my delight I found that his tour was set to resume in January with a litany of dates, including Boston in July.

I became increasingly confident that I wanted to go – I wanted to see one of the greatest artists of my life in concert before they retired, just as I had when Sally took me to see Janet Jackson in 2017. I figured that now was the time. I had two ideas that I began discussing her: a traditional one where we went to see the concert together in Boston in July, and a radical one where I bought tickets for a show in TX and brought my father with me. She thought either was fine, but bringing my father would be better because he’d enjoy it more. With that, the plan was a go.

To complicate matters, I decided to turn it into a surprise: I’d buy the tickets, hop on a plane, show up at his door, and say “Hope you don’t have any plans because we’re going to see Elton John”. I can’t underscore how out-of-character this is for me. I don’t do surprises. I don’t like planning events. But this was my dad and this was the final tour of a storied artist; some discomfort was appropriate. COVID complicated matters as well, since I didn’t want to a) pick anything up on the way and get anyone sick and b) drag my 76-year-old father into a crowded stadium with thousands of people if he wasn’t comfortable. I also needed to make sure he would actually be around. And I needed to figure that out before the remaining tickets sold out.

I texted Schawnté all of the details – was she comfortable with the whole thing, did she think my dad would be OK with it, did she think he’d enjoy it, would they even be around? Her answer was a very quick and enthusiastic “YES” to all of it. With that done I bought the tickets, in section 120, a few sections off the left side of the stage. It’s a location that Sally and I have had before at concerts and it provides a close-enough view of the stage without spending our life savings.

That said, the tickets were not what I’d call cheap and are the most expensive concert tickets I’ve ever purchased. But that didn’t matter for what it was – the surprise, the final act, and of course, my Dad is completely worth it. I’d do it again a hundred times.

Waiting to Exhale

Once the tickets were purchased and my flights were settled all I had to do was wait and hope COVID didn’t delay the concert or my ability to get to it. This was September. At the time, Delta was starting to get under control and things looked like they might settle down as long as everyone at the TSA and airlines didn’t quit over vaccine mandates. Suddenly Omicron became a thing and people were getting sick all over the place. Weather was going nuts and flights were being canceled in huge numbers, especially at Jet Blue where my flight was scheduled.

Elton John was supposed to restart the tour in Europe in September, but postponed it due to a hip injury right after I bought my tickets. He was expected to recover in time for his first American concert in New Orleans, two days before our concert in Houston. There was a thin buffer of time if he didn’t recover. It was tense.

As the holidays approached and Omicron raged I started to be much more careful, wearing KN95 masks in public and trying to stay away from unnecessary crowds. I didn’t want to get COVID and cancel my trip. Everything else was out of my control – the airlines, Elton John not recovering in time, and other people getting COVID. All I had left was to stay as safe as I could and wait.

Luckily I didn’t get COVID, Elton John recovered as expected, and my flight wasn’t disrupted that much. The flight down was delayed by 2 hours and sat on the tarmac in Houston for another 30 minutes waiting to unload, but it was more boring than horrible. I also managed to order an Uber and proceed to steal someone else’s Lyft by mistake, which turned out to be an unlikely combination of confusions across driver and passenger. A quick convo mid-ride and some cash got me to my Dad’s house unscathed.

The Taylor Surprise

Sally always gives me grief that I don’t get very excited about things, and she’s right. When she told me that she was bringing me to see Janet Jackson, one of my all-time favorite artists, in what might be one of her last or her final tour, my reaction was, let’s say, muted. I smiled, said “thanks”, and gave her a hug. There was no jumping up and down, no screaming or anything like that. It’s just how I am. I spread my excitement over a stretch of time, thinking about something and talking about it frequently. I don’t burst out all at once.

My dad is similar, or even more reserved. As I pulled up to his house I felt my nerves begin to swell. I got out of the car, paid my stolen Lyft driver, and walked up to the door to knock. I didn’t know how he’d react. I thought he might be in shock. I thought he might cry, which would make me cry. Instead, as he opened the door he exclaimed “What the hell are you doing here?!” While not what I expected, I knew he was surprised. He hugged me warmly and I told why I was there. I don’t think he was fully processing at that point.

After a little while it hit him and he was very happy about it. Similar to me, I could tell he was happy because he continued to talk about it, how it had been planned, and how Schawnté had kept it a secret from him the whole time.

Farewell Yellow Brick Road

The concert was great! Even at 74, Elton John can really put on a show! His voice is a bit more gruff than it was in the 90’s and he doesn’t wear all the crazy costumes, but he still plays piano like mad and sounds great. He played all of the hits, including some of my all time favorites Sad Songs (Say So Much) and I’m Still Standing. He also sang Cold Heart without the band during his encore, which was cool.

Instead of dancers and crazy costumes he had crazy videos behind and on stage, which were pretty entertaining. There were abstract interpretations of his songs, clips from his career, colorful cartoons, and even drag queens. The whole thing ran about two-and-a-half hours, including his encore. A really awesome concert and worth every penny, especially with my dad.

I took many videos during the concert and smoothed them together into a 41 minute montage. It certainly isn’t documentary quality, but it sounds pretty good. I also wanted to enjoy the concert a bit, so many of the songs are only partial, but anyway, it’s a memory.

The concert was great, and so was the trip. I stayed Saturday and left on Sunday. We had a good day of family time followed by card games. It was really, really nice. The flight home was fine and I was back at the house around 10 PM, ready for Monday. I don’t really have a bucket list, but if I did, I’d put seeing Elton John with my dad on it, and then I’d cross it off.

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