Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 6, 2020

Throw caution to the wind

A few weeks ago, husband Art and I had an extended weekend with our Wisconsin friend Jo. The reason was a concert in Chicago.

The day before we left Kansas, the temperature was hovering right around freezing. Snow made the roads slushy during the day. The temperatures plummeted into the single digits that night and slush turned to ice.

But we weren't deterred from making the 10-hour trip. Everything was normal through Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska, but on I-80 in Iowa, we saw evidence that the day before had been bad. Icing had caused many vehicles to veer off the road. In one spot, three semis were tangled together in the median. The tractor of one was completely missing above the engine - a sobering sight.

All through the trip, the temperature ranged between 0 and 9 degrees. The snow we had received in Kansas the day before seemed like nothing compared to the drifts in northeast Iowa and Wisconsin.

During the journey, I texted our daughters Mariya and Katie and my siblings Dave and Gaila to let them know of our progress. At one point, Dave said, "You guys are gluttons for punishment. Drive that far for a concert in the middle of winter is plain nuts!"

I had to smile. It WAS somewhat crazy. Still, the roads were clear by the time we traveled them. That may have been luck, but Art had carefully visited Internet travel sites for each state we passed through before we left.

We arrived at Jo's a little after 7 p.m. Our day concluded with a nice dinner she had prepared of steak with wine.

Friday - Valentine's Day - was low key. We relaxed, talked and had dinner at a nearby restaurant. This was to make sure we were all ready for Saturday.

The next day was sunny with blue skies. We began the approximately five-hour drive to Chicago at 11. Our immediate destination was Hotel Julian, located in the very heart of the Windy City. It was only two blocks from the iconic Chicago Theatre, where "Il Volo" was scheduled to perform at 8 p.m.

We had seen Il Volo - which, in Italian, means "the flight" - in March 2017 when they were in Minneapolis. The trio of baritone Gianluca Ginoble and tenors Piero Barone and Ignazio Boschetto some equate to a younger version of the Three Tenors. I wrote about that concert tour - "Notte Magica" (Magic Night) - which was a tribute to Luciano Pavarotti, Pl�cido Domingo and Jos� Carreras. Il Volo's singers are now in their mid-to-late 20s and are celebrating 10 years together with the 2020 tour.

We arrived about 3:30, which gave us time to freshen up and eat at ALK - About Last Knife - the lobby restaurant. None of it - the sleek hotel, the crab cakes, lobster roll sliders, burgers, fries and Brussels sprouts, all topped off with wine - was cheap. But, as Jo put it, every now and then you just have to "throw caution to the wind."

The concert was to begin at 8, but we left about 6:30, partly to avoid long lines at the sold-out performance and partly because we were excited. When we arrived, people were already huddled together near the doors to protect themselves from the sharp cold north wind blowing off Lake Michigan. A guard informed us that we should have our cell phones, keys and other metal objects handy to make going through security a bit faster.

We got to our seats a little after 7 and spent the next hour checking out the venue and observing people. Built in 1921 and renovated several times since, the theater has a seating capacity of 3,600. I was fascinated by the wall and ceiling murals, chandeliers, balcony and gilded decorations. Some people took photos next to statues. I opted to have Art take a selfie of the three of us in our plush red seats.

I was surprised - and more than a little annoyed - that people were still arriving after the scheduled start time.

But all that faded when the house lights dimmed, the "IL VOLO" marquee above the stage began to glow, strobe lights flashed into the audience, and the three young men walked down the steps set up in the middle of the stage and began singing. Their rich voices, accompanied by a full orchestra, filled the theater and I was immediately transfixed.

At the beginning, the instruments overpowered their voices a bit, but that was soon corrected. The trio calls their repertoire "popera" because they interweave opera and popular tunes. They sang classical songs, such as "Nessun Dorma," "O Sole Mio" and "Granada," as well as pop and Italian love songs, including "Delilah," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "I Did It My Way," "Arrivederci, Roma" and "Maria." They left the stage to thundering applause and reappeared to sing "Grande Amore."

I would have preferred less emphasis on the lights and more on just the handsome young men with their beautiful voices, but it was still a wonderful experience. It was amusing seeing women, young and old, jumping to their feet at the conclusion of each song. It was interesting to hear how the trio's voices had matured in the past three years, and I wondered what their future might hold. Will they continue as a group? That's probably unreasonable to expect with such talent. If they go off on their own, will they get together occasionally to perform?

Whatever they do, their two-and-a-half-hour performance was well worth the 20-hour trip to and from Wisconsin and the approximately 10-hour round-trip journey between Wisconsin and Chicago.

On our way back to Kansas, Dave texted: "Amazing - all that way for a couple-hour concert. Glad you enjoyed it ..."

Indeed. As Jo said, sometimes you do have to just throw caution to the wind.

Top, left-to-right: The snowy fields on the trip to Wisconsin; The reason for the journey - the three men of Il Volo; Gloria and Jo relaxing in the hotel restaurant on the afternoon of the show; Marquee of the Chicago Theatre. Bottom, left-to-right: Ornate ceiling of the theater; Gloria and Jo in their seats just after the doors opened; during the performance; audience standing in appreciation of the show. (Three men photo from www.msg.com)

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