Last night I went to a concert/performance/celebration/fund-raiser at the performing arts center next to the railroad station in the town where I grew up. I brought my soon to be sixteen-year-old son because the event was starring, and about, a sixteen-year-old from the next door town of Orange, where I was born many decades before there was anything around the train station as new and shiny as the performing arts center.
Avery Thompson is a songwriter-rapper-comic impersonator who only a year or so ago discovered he had leukemia. His father Joshua happens to also be a songwriter, as well as a professional guitarist and record producer. He and other musicians with all kinds of musical credentials (keyboardist Bobby Douglas played with George Clinton among many greats and has been nominated for a Grammy, saxophonist Alex Foster played with Miles among other greats and is part of the Saturday Night Live band, etc.) and they started out grooving so solidly it was already a party.
The place was sold out (a lot of family and friends obviously, but also students and fans) waving their hands in the air and grooving in their seats as I was. The host for the event was comedian Shawn Corneilus who kept the crowd revved up especially with his handling of the rowdier members of the audience. The event started with the voice of Morgan Freeman introducing it and went on with a long list of celebrities, all voiced by Avery Thompson, or A.T. to family and friends.
A lanky teenage boy with a normally reedy higher toned voice, he is capable of reaching pretty much any vocal level and impressed the crowd with the amazing array of voices he did, some hitting the mark more closely than others but all impressive given his age and normal voice. The best piece, in a show full of peaks, for me was when Thompson performed a rap mashup switching from the voices of rappers my son recognized with the first syllable of each one (I caught a perfect Eminem, Jayzee and Snoop, but the others were out of my musical familiarity) and was going crazy (making me so happy I brought him along).
Especially moving about the rap mashup was not just this sixteen-year-old's talent musically and as a vocal imitator, but his longer and lankier dad behind him in the band, spread across the wide width of the stage, mouthing the rhymes his son was rapping and here and there and emphasizing them with hand waves and finger pointing.
The younger Thompson also at one point sang a Sting song in Sting's voice, and did Sean Connery, a terrific President Obama, Bill Cliton, Arnold Shwazenneger, and too many others to even remember. At times he was backed by dancers who were terrific and the crowd loved, or joined by other singers and rappers some even younger than him.
For the ladies in the crowd the highlight seemed to occur when the R&B singer Joe came out to do a few duets with Thompson. I had told my son not to film the rap mashup because it'd been announced before the show that no photos or filming was allowed, but it seemed like every woman of a certain age pulled out their phones and not only filmed these duets but waved their arms and at times couldn't help but jump up to do it.
But what really brought the crowd to a frenzy was when during a song performed with some friends suddenly one of them took off their hat and shades to reveal it was Jamie Foxx. He added to the tribute aspect of the show by telling how young Thompson had visited the set of BATMAN and so wowed everyone there that they couldn't stop talking about him and his talent. Then said he'd deliberately not answered the young man's tweets about the show so he could surprise him, and the rest of us.
There were too many great moments to recount, suffice it to say it was one of those special moments that you only get in live shows when the unexpected can, and often does, occur. A great, groovin' event showcasing what's best about so many of our fellow humans, young and old (I don't have a full list of the rest of the band but believe me, they were all amazing).
Here's the trailer Avery Thompson made for the show just to give you a taste of his impersonator's skill, and this is not even the best of what was on display last night (but damn, just look at this young guy's photo and even though the hat makes him look older, imagine the voice on this trailer coming out of this kid).