E Center Show Was the Start of Something Big for Josh Groban
Salt Lake Tribune
August 25, 2007
By Michael N. Westley
Singer, now a veteran of arena shows, plays before a
capacity crowd on Tuesday at EnergySolutions Arena
They say you never forget your first.
When Josh Groban performs Tuesday night in Salt Lake City, he'll be returning to the place where he played his first large arena show just two years ago.
"I was really nervous," the 26-year-old Los Angeles native admitted during a telephone interview. "But the fans didn't care. It was such an amazing night and it showed us the possibilities for the future."
Having only played theaters and smaller venues similar to Salt Lake City's intimate Kingsbury Hall, the E Center felt cold, with a definite "sense of separation" between him and the audience, said Groban, whose opera-influenced pop, sung in a rich baritone, was nominated for a Grammy in 2004.
"It was kind of like an abyss," Groban said of the E Center. But the chill was quickly banished by his audience's reaction, which Groban described as an "overwhelming sense of warmth and love."
Today, with more than 200 large-venue performances tucked neatly under his belt, Groban is looking forward to returning to Utah - this time to the EnergySolutions Arena - where he plans to show his Beehive State fans what he has learned.
"I've actually grown to really love the arena shows. I love the idea of coming into a neutral, cold space and making it our house every night," Groban said.
The 12,000-plus tickets for Tuesday's performance sold out in two days, according to Justin Durfey, director of ticket operations for EnergySolutions Arena.
"This has been a pretty high-demand show," he said.
Fans lucky enough to score a seat will be treated to a stage and lighting spectacular, Groban said.
"I want things to be fun, a two-hour escape," he said.
The show will feature several songs from his recently released third album, "Awake," as well as some older favorites.
"The show is very high-energy and very powerful," Groban said. "The songs from the new album work very well live."
Despite his early commercial success - his self-titled first album released in 2001 went double platinum - music critics have been less effusive than Groban's fans. A 2002 review of Groban's first CD by Barry Waters for Rolling Stone described the pop star as "a cherub with alterna-rock curls and a baritone trained to belt Bach and Brahms (minus the usual belly or beard). . . . Groban's croon is serviceably dramatic, but this is a man destined to sing over the credits of future Disney hits."
But Groban talks like a man who is critic-proof and grounded.
"I really feel so blessed, like I have the best of both worlds in fame and recognizability. It happened very quickly. But at the same time, I feel like it happened for the right reasons," Groban said.
He attributes his success to the connection fans feel to him through his music. He said it is not unusual for strangers to approach him on the street and thank him for a song that got them through a hard time, he said.
And the purity of that connection - plus his love for music - has held the trappings of fame at bay and kept him focused on his work.
"You're not going to see me on the cover of magazines being famous for doing nothing," he said.
Groban attended the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts as a theater major and graduated in 1999, then studied drama at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
As a high-school student and later in Pittsburgh, Groban was often in the theater watching some play or musical. He said it was easy to tell when performers onstage were on autopilot and when they were really giving their best.
"I said to myself, sitting the audience, man, if I could do that for someone else, be that vessel, that would be it."
Groban calls music his truest form of expression.
"There is that side of me that has to come out. If it's not [able to], I think I would go crazy," he said.
Show is sold out
* JOSH GROBAN performs Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at EnergySolutions Arena in downtown Salt Lake City. Angelique Kidjo opens. The show is sold out.