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From the Pit to the Crowd: Stevie Nicks with The Pretenders

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Tuesday, March 21st, I was both nervous and excited all day long. I had been approved to photograph and review Stevie Nicks with The Pretenders at Amway Center. This was a shoot from the soundboard so I had rented a longer lens than I normally use plus an extender to get more close up shots. I ensured I arrived early as the venue stated late arrivals may not be guaranteed entry. I was the first one there and waited by the VIP entrance for the venue managers to let us in. Soon enough there were 8 other photographers there including the house photographer for Amway Center. Around 6:45 PM the venue managers let us in and handed out our photo credentials and tickets for anyone who was approved to review the show.

We were led to a media room used for interviews for the Orlando Magic, our NBA team, to wait until The Pretenders were ready to go on stage. Around 7 PM we were led from the media room to the arena floor and over to the soundboard. The arena was packed to a nearly sold out show and no one appeared to want to miss the opening act. The venue managers gave us our area we could stand around so I picked a spot and unfolded my foot stool. The venue approved us to bring in small foot stools to stand on so we would be taller than the people on the floor in seats. At 7:15 PM, The Pretenders walked out on stage to a huge roar from the crowd.

The Pretenders who consist of Chrissie Hynde (vocals, rhythm guitars), James Walbourne (lead guitar), Nick Wilkinson (bass), Martin Chambers (drums), and Eric Heywood (pedal steel). They opened up with “Alone” the single from their 2016 album of the same name. The Pretenders came out the gate firing fast. They were in a groove right away and the crowd was loving it. The followed up with “Gotta Wait” also from the Alone album. The song starts off with Martin banging away at the drums setting the beat before Chrissie brings in her vocals. It’s a song you feel like dancing along and beating your head while it plays.

Right before the third song started, all of us were getting our cameras at the ready (we were only approved to photograph the third song) and right as they started “Message of Love” from the Pretenders II album, we raised our cameras and started photographing. They had a well lit stage towards the center with Martin sitting behind a plexiglass semi-circle. James was on the right and Nick was on the left but in dimly lit areas. Eric was also on the left in some better lighting. I snapped off as many pictures as I could during the song. The best was at the end of the song when Martin stood up and banged away at the drums with such ferocity. At the end of the song the crowd cheered loudly while the photographers gathered up their stools and gear and headed back to the media room.

Since I had a ticket to the show, I was allowed to store my gear in the media room and then head back out to my seat to watch the show. Once I found my seat I settled in for the rest of their performance. They followed up with “Private Life” and “Down the Wrong Way”, which was from Chrissie Hydne’s solo album Stockholm. Throughout the performance James had some stellar guitar playing, truly getting into his riffs and losing himself in the moment on stage. Nick was doing the same strumming away on the bass. Eric was playing away smiling through the set also enjoying himself.

The band continued on with well known hits of “Back On the Chain Gang”, “Don’t Get Me Wrong”, and “I’ll Stand By You.” During this time Chrissie said she thought she sounded flat and was having trouble hitting the high notes. I strongly disagree. Chrissie sounded just as good as ever and the crowd was definitely enjoying their performance that evening. They performed The Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing” and followed up with “My City Was Gone”.

Right after I saw something amazing. A fan on the floor was holding a small sign that Chrissie said she couldn’t read. The fan, about 5 rows from the stage, called out something and Chrissie confirmed that the fan wanted a guitar pick. It was interesting because it was then I realized I hadn’t seen any of the guitarists throw out any picks to the fans. Chrissie pulled out out of her microphone stand, handed it to someone in the front row, and said “Please pass this to the back of the class.” The fan was very grateful.

They continued on with “Mystery Achievement” where Nick got to play a great bass solo, something you don’t hear enough of these days. After that was “Middle of the Road” where Martin got to play a fabulous drum solo. And then closed their set with one of their most popular songs “Brass in Pocket”. Right at the start of the song, a fan in the front row waved a picture to Chrissie gesturing if she would autograph it. Chrissie gestured for him to give it to her. He placed it on the stage, she bent down and started to sing “Brass in Pocket”, autographed the picture, and then handed it back to him. Amazing. Once they were done, the crowd exploded in cheers and The Pretenders walked off stage waving goodbye to the crowd.

I walked back to the media room to gather my camera gear. The photographers waited patiently for Stevie Nicks to get ready to hit the stage. Around 8:30 PM the venue managers walked us out of the room quickly and to the arena floor. As we started to walk onto the floor we noticed all the lights were dim and we could hear singing. It suddenly dawned on us that Stevie Nicks took the stage sooner than expected. The venue managers got us into position, I unfolded my stool, quickly got on and then started photographing.

Stevie opened up with “Gold and Braid” from her solo album Bella Donna. Stevie sounded absolutely amazing. Supporting her was a full band and more. She had two female backup singers along with a guitarist, bassist, drummer, keyboardist, and a pianist. After she finished she addressed the crowd to give them an overview of what to expect that evening. She explained how she wanted this tour to be different by performing some songs she kept in her Gothic Trunk of Lost Songs. Songs that she normally didn’t play on tour along with the well known songs. The fans cheered at this and she continued on with “If Anyone Falls” from The Wild Heart album.

Since we were shooting from the soundboard Stevie was dead center from us. The lighting on stage was bright for Stevie and depending on the situation dim for her band. For the next song she brought up special guest Chrissy Hynde from The Pretenders to sing “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”. The two of them singing together seemed so natural and they both appeared to be having a good time. The fans were enjoying the performance by standing up and dancing and the photographers were still snapping pics.

We were fortunate that we were given 4 songs to photograph. “Belle Fleur” from 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault. Knowing it was the last song I photographed as many pics as I could of each individual band member and the backup singers. I then photographed Stevie and tried to catch her at different angles and positions. She finished her fourth song and all the photographers packed up their gear and headed towards the media exit. I was granted a ticket with my photo credentials. So I returned my gear to my car and then came back through the media entrance where one of the venue managers was waiting to let me back in. He got me to the floor for my section and I went off to get my seat. When I found it a woman was sitting in it, but she moved realizing she was in the wrong seat. I settled in to watch the rest of the show.

It was intriguing to hear the stories behind some of the songs that she performed. “New Orleans” she wrote when Hurricane Katrina hit the city. “Starshine” she recorded with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. She had always wanted to work with them and had Tom listen to the song, which he liked. She asked if they could record it together and they did. But, she didn’t have an album being put together so it was stored in the Gothic Trunk of Lost Songs. “Moonlight” was written for Edward and Bella from the “Twilight” series.

The story that surprised me the most was before she performed “Stand Back”. Stevie explained how she was listening to another song and started coming up with her own lyrics to sing over it. The song she was listening to was “Little Red Corvette” by Prince. She said she had met him years before and found him to be very shy. When she came up with “Stand Back” she wanted to talk to Prince first before recording it. She was in Los Angeles at the time and asked her friends and staff to see if they could get his number. Someone was able to come up with a number so she called, he answered, she asked if he was in L.A. and to her surprise he was. Stevie asked if he would come to the studio to listen to a song she wrote and he said he would be right there. Stevie laughed and smiled when she explained how Prince walked in wearing all purple looking fancier than anyone else in the room. When she played it for him explaining how she came up with the song he said he liked it. She asked if he would help record it and he agreed playing the synthesizer. Afterwards he got up and left the studio. Stevie walked him out and to her recollection he got into a purple Camaro and sped off. She said the two of them became very close friends over time and ensured they would see each other as often as they could. It made the song so much more touching when she sang it for the crowd.

She also performed “Gold Dust Woman” off the Fleetwood Mac Rumors album. It is my favorite song from the band. Stevie explained it is also one song since it was written that she always performs at every show. She also did “Edge of Seventeen”. While she sang it, images of Prince appeared on the screens behind her and off to the sides of the stage. Stevie finished off the with an encore of “Rhiannon”, another song she explained she sings at every performance, and the first single that started Fleetwood Mac’s career, “Landslide”. When she was done, she thanked the audience for being such gracious friends and she promised she would be back to Orlando soon.

Of course the crowd erupted in applause and cheers and she walked off stage. The show was an amazing experience and the opportunity to photography and watch two legendary artists is something I will not forget any time soon.