My Top 5 Underappreciated Bruno Mars Tracks

He’s back. Undoubtedly back.

After a 2 year hiatus (with the exception of a little song called “Uptown Funk”), Bruno Mars has returned to the music scene’s eye of the storm.  His new album”24K Magic”‘s self-titled single shot into the Top 10 on the US Billboard charts and Mars is no stranger to success. Considering that both of Mars’ previous albums are certified multi-platinum, their predecessor is highly anticipated.

I’m a huge music buff with notable ‘obsessions’ (i.e. Nick Jonas, Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt) but I don’t think people realize just how big of a Bruno Mars fan I am. I’m a self-professed hooligan in this fandom and have listened to “Doo-Wops & Hooligans” and “Unorthodox Jukebox” front-to-back several times. While those albums produced #1 after #1 like “Locked Out of Heaven,” “Grenade,” and “Treasure,” there are so many stunning tracks that I’m sure people don’t know exist. These songs show the progression that Mars has made as an artist and are crucial to his musical narrative; so that is what I’m here for. In no way am I a technical music critic, so I’m going to share what makes these tracks stand out in my own words instead of trying to defend them in actual music jargon . Here are my top 5 underappreciated Bruno Mars song that I think people should give a listen to:

Honorable Mentions: “Runaway Baby” absolutely would have made this list, but I wanted to keep it limited to songs that are more underappreciated (in my mind). While “Runaway Baby” was never technically released as a radio hit, it still managed it’s way onto Billboard’s Top 100 charts and to people know the song. Like my high school’s band performed it as part of their halftime set…point made.

“Young Girls”
Ok, so this track was actually released as a single off of “Unorthodox Jukebox” but I personally don’t think it got the recognition it deserved. It was the final single from Mars’ sophomore album and out of his 12 radio appearances, “Young Girls” is only 1 of three that have not been certified platinum. One of the things I love about Mars’ music is the contradiction he can bring out in a song because it really makes you think about its deeper meaning. The music to ‘Young Girls” goes from somber to hopeful while the lyrics are borderline creepy, which really makes me wonder who the figurative man singing this song is. The chorus is dynamic and because of that, I can’t help but belt the lyrics when I’m listening to this song.

“On Top of the World”
Out of the five songs I have listed on this countdown, “On Top of the World” is the only one that has never officially been released. I first heard this song when I went to Mars’ Hooligans in Wondaland tour back in 2011 and was so enticed that I noted down the lyrics in my phone while he was performing it so that I could YouTube it when I got home. This song channels Mars’ funky charm by being down-right infectious and you’ll literally be smiling throughout the whole song. In order to get the full experience though, you HAVE to watch the performance! Trust me, you’ll be humming the “baby baby baby baby’ interaction for days.

“The Other Side”
“The Other Side” is the first deep-cut track off of “Doo-Wops & Hooligans” that I kept on repeat. At the time of it’s release in 2010, Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You” was the song of the century, which in my eyes made his feature in the second verse pop even more. B.o.B comes in for the bridge and when you mix these 3 artists together, its pure brilliance. This track was on Mars’ EP “It’s Better If You Don’t Understand” before its appearance on his debut album and the EP’s title actually derives from the final line of this song. The details that Mars’ puts into his projects is one of my favorite things about him creatively and this song is no exception.

“Talking to the Moon’
Critics have said that the production in this song is overkill, but I love it. I think it adds to the drama of the song’s imagery of a hopeless romantic conversing with a full moon while sitting in a windowsill. While I appreciated this track while listening to “Doo-Wops and Hooligans,” it didn’t really click of how pretty of a song it actually is with me until I saw it performed live on the Hooligans in Wondaland tour. “Talking to the Moon” closed out the high-energy show with Mars on the piano and while I originally thought the juxtaposition of this song in the setlist was off-putting, I came to really love it.

“Natalie”
Hands down, this is my favorite Bruno Mars track. It is a sinister story that follows through from beginning to end (I’m a sucker for any form of effective storytelling) of a woman who conned the singer and the repercussions of his relationship with her. His quick-lipped lyrics in the opening verse set the scene for the next 3 minutes and 45 seconds and the back-beat throughout can’t help but make you bop along in your chair. Mars’ vocal range is really showcased with the beat changing at every corner and while I don’t necessarily want to be said Natalie, I really, REALLY love this song.

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Twenty One Pilots: Emotional Roadshow

Hersheypark Stadium

Photo: Lauren Hight

6 months ago, my brother opened up his present from me under our family Christmas tree and to his surprise, a pair of tickets to Twenty One Pilots’ Emotional Roadshow tour fell out of the packaging. Now after months of waiting, we finally made the 2 hour drive up to Hershey, PA for the show and wow; I was floored.

I have seen TØP three times prior to the show in Hershey but this performance was unlike any other that I had seen. This was their largest production to date and their draw is so vast that between my brother and I, we personally knew at least 20 fans who also made the 100 mile trek from Philadelphia for the show…and I’m sure there were more.

From the end of opener MUTEMATH’s set up until TØP took the stage, an ominous hum buzzed through Hersheypark Stadium as their crew was setting the stage behind a massive white curtain. I personally loved this aesthetic touch and it really rallied up the audience for what was to come. To pass the time, the community of TØP fans got an all-inclusive wave going that circled the 30,000 capacity stadium at least a dozen times.

Roughly 10 minutes following sundown, the giant, white curtain dropped and a microphone slowly descended from the stadium rafters. It was time. Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun walked out wearing their signature ski masks with matching red suits (complete with their skeleton key logo on the sleeve) and the sold out crowd erupted into screams and fangirl tears. The eerie intro to “Fairly Local” blasted through the stadium and the crowd sang through the chorus while Joseph stood still at center stage. Dun’s drumming soon changed tempo and the song smoothly transitioned into “Heavydirtysoul,” which is where we got the first taste of Joseph’s unique vocals. From there on, Hershey was rocketed into a 2 hour spectacular of music, emotion and performance.

Tyler Joseph, Twenty One Pilots

Photo: Lauren Hight

The magic really set in during “Hometown” however as Joseph pulled a Criss Angel and turned himself into a vanishing act. He was originally sitting at his piano on stage before two crew members draped a sheet over him. While you could still see his profile sitting there, the arena went black and Joseph’s figure fell flat. In the blink of an eye, all of the attention was now shifted to the top of the stadium’s press box where…you guessed it…Joseph was standing to reprise the song. My brother and I happened to be in the section immediately in front of the press box and the only words we were able to mutter were “OMG. HOW?!”

Once “Hometown” had wrapped, Joseph sprinted through the crowd back to the main stage and plummeted into the remainder of the 22-song set, which was a satisfying mix of Blurryface, Vessel, Regional at Best and Twenty One Pilots tracks. The b-stage section in particular featured TØP’s self-released songs from Regional at Best and Twenty One Pilots and while none of the performed tracks ever hit the radio waves, the crowd still sung along to every word. Framed with one of Hershey Park’s lit-up roller coasters in the background, this section felt extremely personal and present.

Joseph and Dun are natural performers and even after the pleasant surprise of the b-stage, they kept up with the unexpected! They brought back out their openers, MUTEMATH and Chef’Special, for a medley of covers (side note: TØP mentioned that MUTEMATH is one of their favorite bands…how cool is it that your favorite band is your opener?!) and the group had a little something for everyone. At one point, Dun hopped off the drums to let MUTEMATH’s Darren King take over and then showed off his trumpet talents to the crowd. This particularly came in handy during their renditions of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” and Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself.” Yes, you read that right. Twenty One Pilots and their frens covered the Biebs and even intertwined their not-so-secret liking of the song into the lyrics.

The night began to wind down with staple TØP hits like “Stressed Out,” ‘Car Radio” and “Ride” (with Dun playing the drums on top of the crowd, of course) but it wouldn’t be complete without a giant, red hamster ball…right? As the finale for “Guns for Hands” Joseph encapsulated himself in the hamster ball and ran across the pit. GENIUS. Even though my brother and I were in the grandstand, it still felt like we were down there with them because the energy was that high.

Besides connecting lyrically, Joseph and Dun were constantly engaged with the audience (they went into the crowd a total of 7 times) and not once did their (or the crowd’s) energy drop to anything less than 11/10. They promised in the beginning that even the people in the back corner would walk away with an experience they’ll never forget and I believe that they lived up to it. A Twenty One Pilots concert is better put as an experience as opposed to a show because they allow you to connect emotionally to their performance, not just visually.

TØP themselves say “don’t trust a perfect person and don’t trust a song that’s flawless” but if you ask me, they were pretty damn close in Hershey. Bravo on a fantastic show TØP and thank you for accepting the few, the proud and the emotional.

An Ode to Idol: My Childhood Defining Show

April 7, 2016 not only marked the end of a series, but the end of an era. After 15 seasons, American Idol would crown it’s final winner. While I have not actively watched the singing competition since season 11, Idol was a staple of my childhood and some of my best memories come from watching this show.

I did not watch season 1 but quickly caught on to the fandom as Kelly Clarkson skyrocketed into fame after being crowned the show’s original winner. Her coronation song “A Moment Like This” was my grade school’s theme song for the fall of 2002 and it in turn projected me into being one of Idol’s biggest fans. I could barely contain my emotions as I sat on my living room couch watching the season 2 auditions in January 2003 and prided myself that my early favorites more often then not became a final 2 contestant.

From there through season 11, I emotionally invested myself into this show and truly believe that at 8 years old, Idol introduced me to what heartbreak felt like. I was devastated when Clay Aiken was named the runner-up in season 2 and subsequently felt those emotions in season 3 when Diana DeGarmo (with whom I share my birthday with and therefore thought we should be best friends) lost to Fantasia Barrino. Adam Lambert’s loss in season 8 was a tough one for me to cope with as well and if Simon Cowell ever dared say anything negative about one of my favorite contestants, you best be betting that I screamed at the television. Oh, and don’t even get me started on when Chris Daughtry was eliminated in season 5.

My faith in humanity however was restored when Carrie Underwood was named the season 4 winner AND she denied rumors that she was dating fellow contestant Anthony Fedorov (real talk, I thought I was going to marry him…I was 11 at the time). I remember watching Underwood wear a pink shirt and cluck like a chicken during her Idol audition in 2005 and from there on out, I voted for her endlessly  week after week. She certainly played a lot into season 4 claiming it’s spot as my favorite season of the show. I still occasionally listen to The Showstoppers compilation from the season’s finalists (I still can’t resist Nikko Smith’s version of “Part-Time Lover) and this also marked the first year that I attended the show’s summer tour. Dreams were officially made that summer as I vividly remember talking to Underwood before the show through the then Wachovia Center (now Wells Fargo Center) gates in South Philadelphia.

While 2005 brought my favorite season of the show and the most successful American Idol to date with Underwood, my all-time favorite contestant has to go to season 6’s runner-up, Blake Lewis. His semi-final performances of Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” and 311’s “All Mixed Up” put him on my radar but once he threw in the beat-boxing, and I was sold. Idol brought a lot of showstopping moments over 15 years but the best in my book is still Lewis’ twisted version of Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name”. I’m convinced that half of the hits that performance has on YouTube are from 13 year-old me.

Watching the Idol series finale last night brought back so many emotions as I saw contestants who haven’t crossed my mind in years pop up on my television. Carly Smithson and Pia Toscano took my breath away with their stunning ballads and I’ll be the first to admit that I fan-girled pretty hard at Ace Young, Bucky Covington and Constantine Maroulis’ version of Hunter Hayes’ “Storm Warning”. The three divas of season 3, Fantasia Barrino, Jennifer Hudson and Latoya London, also joined forces for a stunning cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and while I thoroughly enjoyed it, my inner Idol super-fan was pretty upset that Clay Aiken didn’t reprise it. He killed his version of “Annie’s Song,” originally performed by John Denver though.

I was texting my mom throughout the finale as she was my original American Idol partner and all she wanted to see was 1 performance: William Hung’s rendition of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs”. Well as the old adage says “ask and you shall receive.” When Hung took the stage, all I could imagine was my mom throwing her arms above her head in synchronization with Hung through the chorus. I remember clear as day watching him audition in 2004’s season 3 and then buying his album at Walmart in April of the same year. So yes, I own a hard copy of Inspiration. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better though, “General” Larry Pratt interrupted Allison Iraheta’s version of Meghan Trainor’s “No” with his iconic audition song “Pants on the Ground.” (I’m aware that Pratt chronologically performed before Hung on the finale but I organized it so for emphasis.)

The 2 hour and 6 minute long finale was essentially all I could have asked for with the exception of 3 things: 1) I’m pretty bitter that Blake Lewis did not get a unique performance on the finale. Aside from him being my favorite contestant (OK…that plays a huge part in my disappointment), he was one of the most original contestants that ever crossed the American Idol stage. What doesn’t help the burn even more is that 2) season 8 & 9 judge, Kara DioGuardi, DID get a solo and nonetheless with backup support by season 6 winner Jordin Sparks and season 1 contestant Tamyra Gray. This may be just me but I was not a fan of DioGuardi when she was on the show so her having what could have been a Lewis and Sparks duet (I would have fainted) bothered me. My 3rd wish of the finale was that we would have seen the season 15 top 10 perform…this was their season finale after all! This would have been a great opportunity to showcase why they were on the show because this finale brought in so many old viewers who tuned in exclusively for the sake of it being the conclusion to the series.

All in all though, I felt so many estranged emotions watching the American Idol finale. It did feel a bit strange watching the show and not recognizing any of the recent contestants (essentially from seasons 12-15) but they too are now part of the Idol community and I fully respect them as artists. I mean, Idol constructed so much great talent in it’s run and honestly defined 11 years of my life. From attending the summer tours with my mom to rushing to the store to buy the season’s compilation album, the show for me always extended way past the traditional May finale. Even though Idol and I grew our separate ways over the last few years, I am sad to see it go but I know its legacy will continue on.

Cavaliers Are Still Dancing

Dancing had always been an important part of my life and my biggest fear going into college was that I was going to lose it.

When I transferred to Cabrini during my sophomore year, I found comfort in my friend from high school, Melissa, who was the newly named captain of the then Cabrini College Contemporary Dance Company (CCCDC). There was no convincing needed for me to join because I was immediately on board and it was just what I was looking for.

When Melissa and her other co-captain were handed the company, things were a bit in shambles due to miscommunication from the previous captains but it was nothing we couldn’t fix…right? So we didn’t have an adviser anymore, lost a lot of our performance opportunities and our budget was non-existent…ok so maybe we were in a rougher predicament than we thought. But Melissa and her co-captain were ready to work and the team was right there behind them.

We thought we were on the right track until we were thrown the curve ball that Melissa’s co-captain unexpectedly quit the company. While we didn’t let this rattle us too badly, it was still an adjustment going from two leaders to one. Melissa was doing what she could but I could tell that there was a lot more to guiding the company than what we were seeing, so I decided to step up and fill the void of the open co-captain position. As sophomore year wrapped up, the company was nowhere near where we wanted it to be and we knew that if it was going to succeed, changes had to be made.

The next year, the Cabrini College Contemporary Dance Company went under a major reconstruction phase. First we changed the name to the Cavalier Dance Company and then redesigned the entire way the program worked-from the executive board to the way practices were run. The CCCDC performed at a lot of community events but nothing on campus, so that was another change that was quickly enforced. Melissa and I were thrilled with all of the new adjustments we had come up with and where ready to put our ideas into action.

With my junior year being a year of reconstruction, we didn’t expect everything to run 100% smoothly. And it was far from it.

We were staying hopeful that we would eventually host a dance recital of our own!

Not gonna lie, the first official year as the Cavalier Dance Company was rough. Gathering and retaining members seemed to be our biggest challenge because performances were not consistently lined up, but we did what we could to get our name out there. All I wanted was to make the year a successful one for Melissa since it was her senior year and she put everything she had into making the company work. While our recital was in jeopardy up until 2 weeks before we had planned to have it (due to our space being taken from us), I was able to use my campus resources and pull together a make-shift recital so we could display all of our hard work.

Once Melissa graduated, I was terrified to run the company on my own. There were 3 girls who stuck by me since the beginning though who were willing to step up and thanks to them, the Cavalier Dance Company had a successful and smooth running year during my senior days at Cabrini! I  could not have been more proud of what we were able to do over the course of my 3 years working with the company. Through loosing a captain and all of the reconstruction, we were finally a fully functioning dance company with 12 dedicated dancers (so much better than the 5 we had through sophomore year).

The 3 girls who I worked with once Melissa graduated were a gift from the dancing gods because we shared the same determination to make the Cavalier Dance

Two of our dancers at Accepted Students Day looking new recruit new members

Two of our dancers at Accepted Students Day looking new recruit new members

Company a recognized club on campus and I knew they would take good care of the group once I graduated. And boy was I right! This year has been the most successful yet and the company continues to grow in both number and dance recognition. There are roughly 16 girls on the Cavalier Dance Company this year and they have expanded to teaching new genres that we could have only dreamed about 3 years ago. A couple of the freshmen dancers have even added me on Facebook and one wrote this touching story about how thankful she is for the group.

When I redesigned the way the company was run, I did it not for me but for all of the dancers who wanted to continue their passion through college in a laid back and fun environment. It makes my heart sing knowing that there are now dancers in the company who consider it to be a second family and that they are on their way to bigger and better things. I really can’t stop smiling when I think about this group. I’m not only proud of the 3 girls who have taken the lead this year, but also of myself that I was able to help construct such a wonderful group for Cabrini’s campus. When I graduated, I wanted to leave a legacy that would live on past my time at the college and I’m thrilled that the Cavalier Dance Company is still thriving. I can’t wait to see what is in store for their 3rd annual recital and you can bet your dollar that I will be the loudest cheerleader in the front row.

Carrie Underwood: The Storyteller Tour

Over the past week, I have been participating in a trial run of integrating country music news into Mix 106’s website by posting blogs and engaging in social media posts.

As part of my blog (well more so my words displayed on my friend’s current blog page), I really wanted to invest in the multimedia skills I gathered while studying at Cabrini and thought…what better way to do so than with a mini concert review! I was able to score tickets to Carrie Underwood’s Storyteller Tour stop in Philadelphia and aside from being totally blown away (get it?) I wanted to share with the Mix audience just how talented she is! I took video of some of my favorite performances last night (until my phone died that is) and wrapped it up with an ode to some of Carrie’s own social media posts.

You can check out the review now here.

 

Talk About One “Hell of a Night”

Back in June I made a 12 hour, 800 mile drive to Nashville, TN with 3 of my best friends to attend the 2015 CMA Music Festival. The night shows are a driving force of the festival with power headliners like Luke Bryan and Carrie Underwood singing into the Tennessee moonlight but the festival also allows up-and-coming artists to show the country music fan base what they got. One in particular that really caught my attention was Chris Lane and while I only saw about 15 minutes of his set, I was hooked.

Hell of a Night TourNearly 8 months later, my opportunity to see a full set of his had arrived! It was announced that Lane would be a supporting act on Dustin Lynch’s Hell of a Night tour along with Tyler Rich and one of their stops would be in Philadelphia! While it was clearly a great line up (to me at least), what made it even more exciting was that while I was at CMA Fest, I had really wanted to see Lynch perform but unfortunately missed all of his performances throughout the week. So along with finally being able to see Chris Lane, I now got to add Dustin Lynch to my concert-viewing resume!

Throughout the week prior to the show, I was really hyping myself up as I rarely take time to do things for myself anymore due to my work schedule. Well my level of excitement amped itself from an 8 to a 10 when I received this email from Lane’s team:

Congratulations!

You’ve been selected to be part of the Chris Lane Meet & Greet at the TLA in Philadelphia, PA.

YES! YES! YES! I couldn’t believe it! Back at CMA Fest, Lane actually held a M&G after his set and I was in line for it…but due to time I had to step out of line and watch him greet fans as I walked to my car.

So now was the time! I walked into the TLA on Friday, Feb. 12 for the sold out Hell of a Night Tour partially covered in snow thanks to the unpredictable Philadelphia weather and made my way to the designated M&G area. I was ushered into the backstage areaChris Lane and there he was! Now thanks to my awesome job with iHeartRadio, I have gotten the privilege to meet a lot of really great artists…so you would think I have this composure thing down to a science. Now this is true for the most part but there are certain artists I’ve gotten antsy around (mainly Nick Jonas…and if I ever got the chance to meet Luke Bryan or Sam Hunt) but I started getting the nerves when I was in line to meet Chris! Once I actually got up to talk to him though, I was able to let my personality come through as I told him the story of seeing him at CMA Fest and we talked about the show that was to come.

After the M&G I was able to enjoy the show and with every act, I was brought back to my memories of Nashville. Tyler Rich opened the concert with originals, Justin Bieber covers and shots of whiskey. Like 6 shots of whiskey. On stage it was just Rich and his acoustic guitar and I must say he is a fresh artist that I’m looking forward to hearing more of! Plus he is easy on the eyes and kind of looks like Sam Hunt from a distance.

Lane was next to take the stage and this was the performance I was most looking forward to! Still on the high from getting to talk to him earlier that night, I was rocking out to every word of “Broken Windshield View” and “Her Own Kind of Beautiful” before he threw the venue for a loop with his mash up cover of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball,” Bruno Mars & Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk,” The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face” and Nsync’s “Bye Bye Bye” among other popular Top 40 tracks. Lane has such an enjoyable stage presence that reminded me of why I stopped in my tracks back in June to watch him perform at the CMA Fest BMI Tailgate Stage. He closed out his nearly 40 minute set with his single “Fix” and I can not wait for everyone else to be singing along with me to that song next time he comes around.

Finally, the headliner that is Dustin Lynch took the stage. He set the TLA into a frenzy when he stepped out in his form-fitting t-shirt and trademark cowboy hat before going into an hour and a half set that would convince even non-country fans that he is the real deal. I’ll admit, I didn’t know a whole lot about Lynch prior to the show except that Dustin Lynch "That's Where It's At"“Hell of a Night” and “Cowboys and Angels” were massive radio hits but I quickly converted into a fan. “She Cranks My Tractor” has an undeniable vibe that automatically puts you into a good mood and just when I thought it couldn’t get better, Chris Lane and Tyler Rich come back out for karaoke with Lynch! The night ended with Lynch crowd surfing in a light up inner tube during “That’s Where It’s At” before going into the title of the tour, “Hell of a Night.”

All of the qualities of this show brought me back to my CMA Fest filled weekend in Tennessee and reminded me of how lucky I am to have gotten to experience so many talented performances within the country spectrum. The relationship that each artist has with the crowd and respect that the fans have for the performers shines through each show and I love being able to be a part of it all.

Welcome, Welcome to 2016

As day 1 of the New Year wraps up, I didn’t necessarily want to hop on the bandwagon of “new year, new me” or “new year, same me” posts on Facebook and Instagram…BUT I still wanted to share my thoughts coming into this fresh period of time. Instead of just typing however, I chose to write down my post on a piece of paper first and share the transcription of it. I did this because I wanted to share exactly what was going on in my mind at that exact moment and how one trail of thoughts evolved into another. If I were to just type it, I would be here for hours thinking of the perfect way to phrase this (this intro for example has already gone through numerous backspaces and revisions) or pondering if a comma does indeed go there or not. But when I physically write, none of that matters and my hand translates my raw thinking into something tangible. There is no delete bar with pen and paper so once the ink hits the notepad, those thoughts are permanently out there. To some, posting an unedited version of their writing can be scary (which I’ll admit, it is) but I want to be more open about myself in the new year and this is a baby step to accomplishing that. So that is the theory behind this particular post and while I will interject minimal things that are not included in my original writing, I hope you enjoy my personal greeting to 2016.

January 1, 2016

Welcome. Welcome to 2016.

As a new year rolls around, the previous glimmers in our memories. While some are willing to drop it and move forward, I’ll forever remember 2015 as one of arguably one of the most memorable and proud of my 22 years celebrated. I graduated from college, road tripped to Nashville (which conceptually was years in the making,) started working for the radio station that marked my high school years & my favorite professional sports team and even saw his holiness, Pope Francis. While all of these events managed to document themselves on my Instagram [account], it is the journey and dedication I put into each one that I will remember most.

Now while all of these picturesque moments were available for all to see, it was the beauty behind the scenes of every other day that I bring to be my proudest takeaways of 2015. Indulging myself in learning, listening to people’s stories, remaining open-minded and being able to say “I lived in that moment” are all qualities that I’m not only entering 2016 with, but are all things I want to expand on. Those 4 traits were constant reminders to me that I’m living my best life over the past year and I’m ecstatic to see where they guide me over the next 365 days.

As far as resolutions go, I have a few on my radar:

  • Stay in touch with people that I’ve constructed relationships with
  • Actually use my gym membership
  • Listen to more Keith Urban
  • Continue to be [generally] aware and be aware [particularly] of [how] my surroundings [impact my] intake
  • [Blog more]

These are points I want to make conscious efforts towards and develop milestones for so I can document my progress.

All I can hope for is that 2016 brings just as much happiness as 2015 did and that I will [gracefully] accept the changes with stride. Thank you to everyone who made last year all it was and I can’t wait to continue writing through page 366 of this story

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One Of My Best Kept Secrets Revealed

At this time last year, I discovered a newly released album by an up and coming country artist that hit me in all the right places. I was infatuated by the cleverness of the lyrics (“Sky is dropping Jupiter around us like some old Train.”) and had such a deep appreciation for the story that was told through each, individual track. It was the home to my favorite song that was on country radio at the time and the master behind the music was pretty easy on the eyes. Sam Hunt‘s “Montevallo” album personally dominated the fall semester of my senior year of college and was the soundtrack to my late nights in the graphic design lab.

After exhausting my Spotify account with “Montevallo,” I came across songs by Hunt on YouTube with barely 10,000 views (nothing compared to the official “Leave the Night On” music video which was easily in the millions). These acoustic songs were released earlier in the year on an EP titled “Between the Pines” and man, were they brilliant. Just when I thought I couldn’t love Hunt’s music more than I did, I would catch myself rattling off the quick lipped bridge of “Saturday Night” or humming the melody of the line “Girl I guess I should’ve known/you looked like a little hoodlum with my hoodie on” from “Vandalizer.” Also included in this set of songs were hit Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney and Billy Currington singles; all written by Hunt.

It got to the point where I converted my roommate into having just as strong of an obsession as I did and we had 11×17 posters of Hunt all throughout our apartment. Everyone who stepped through our doors said the exact same thing; “I have no clue who is that but hello handsome.”

Fast forward to February 2015 and Hunt was dominating air waves with his sultry and sweet hit single, “Take Your Time.” Soon before long, people were connecting that Hunt was also the musical talent behind “Leave the Night On” and he was the new ‘it’ boy of country music. Obviously I was excited for him and his success but I knew that if he ever came to do a club tour that it would sell out in a hot second.

Well don’t you know…Hunt announces the Lipstick Graffiti club tour and trying to score tickets was like trying to get in to the Superbowl. Gone in seconds and the scalped tickets were astronomical prices. His instant success was mind blowing to me. Unable to score tickets, I dreamt of the day I’d be able to see him live. I also wondered how many of the people in attendance knew where the term lipstick graffiti came from  because it is not on “Montevallo”…it is the opening lyric of the non-record released “Vandalizer.”

“Between the Pines” was one of those internet finds that I claimed to be one of my best kept hidden secrets; strictly online, the only way I could play it was if I kept my playlist of the songs on loop and the YouTube tab open on my computer. And if I was talking about Hunt to anyone, no one knew about any of those tracks because they only identified with his ultra popular radio hits. It felt like I had some weird, special connection with this album.

Slowly but surely though “Between the Pines” slowly began to reveal itself into the main line of media. “I Met a Girl” which was originally on the EP and written by Hunt had made its way to 92.5 XTU as the Razz Recommended song during early October 2015. This caught me off guard as I was driving home because I instantly recognized the lyrics but instead of Hunt singing, the voice of William Michael Morgan was coming through my speakers with a much different melody than the original. Then within weeks, Hunt re-released “Between the Pines” in it’s entirety on the 1 year anniversary of “Montevallo” and everyone who follows him on social media has been exposed to beauty of his raw voice.

No lie, I was a bit bummed. I no longer am going to be the only person singing along to “Goodbye” and “Vacation” at his shows (while I didn’t get to Lipstick Graffiti, I did get to see him at CMA Fest 2015 and as an opener for Lady Antebellum’s “Wheels Up” tour) and this cluster of originals was no longer my little secret. But I am ecstatic for him however that he is getting the recognition he deserves as an artist and writer. Sam Hunt has a jam packed career ahead of him and I am proud to say that I’ve been a supporter of his since the start. Now here is to hoping he brings out some of “Between the Pines” when he opens for the legendary Kenny Chesney during summer 2016 and hey…a “Come Over” duet would be pretty ideal too!

The Papal Visit to Philadelphia

For months, the City of Brotherly Love had been preparing for a historical weekend and the time had finally come. Pope Francis had arrived in Philadelphia.

I am a born and raised Catholic and while I may not go to mass every Sunday, the thought of the Holy Father coming to my city gave me chills. I have religiously (no pun intended) sported a dark blue WWJD bracelet around my right wrist for the past 5 years from my high school Kairos retreat and led two SEARCH retreats through college. Ultimately my faith is very important to me and being able to see the pope in person is something I never would have imagined being possible.

The honor of hosting the World Meeting of Families is what presented Philly and inhabitants of the 215 and surrounding zip codes  with the opportunity to see Pope Francis in person. At first, it was hard to wrap my head around this concept because of all the places this festival could have been held, the previous Pope Benedict had selected our city as it’s 2015 home.

In the weeks before Pope Francis was set to arrive, the city had made the community aware that 2 major highways would be closed and that Center City would essentially be shut down for the event. Public transportation seemed to be the only logistical way of getting in to see the pope if you didn’t already live inside of Philly and even that had severe restrictions. I’ve lived in the suburbs my entire life and have been driving since the day I turned 16, so public transit is comparable to a foreign language to me. As awful as it is, I’m clueless when it comes to reading a time schedule or map. With this strike against me, I felt like my chance of seeing the pope took a dip.

It was the day of his arrival, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2015. I was working a 6-10 am shift and Googling stories of Pope Francis’ previous days spent in New York City and Washington D.C. In addition to immersing myself in online content surrounding his visit, I was watching the live stream of the airport waiting for his plane to land. I had zero way of getting into the city to see him due to the massive amounts of people and not purchasing a Pope train pass in the days prior (in which I would have had to teach myself how to take public transit). All changed however when my mom called to say she would drop her boyfriend, Dave, and I off at Penns Landing between her shifts at work so we would be able to experience the World Meeting of Families.

As soon as she got home, we packed in the car and headed for exit 20 on I-95 (the only major highway that remained open). As we were walking from the riverfront to Center City, we were baffled and mildly creeped out by the abandoned roads that are typically buzzing on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Soldiers were posted at nearly every corner and police vehicles blocked off every street.

As we got closer to the festivities however, you could sense the eerie spirit vanish and  feelings of joy replace them. On 2nd and Market there was a man playing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on his violin and instead of people ignoring him, crowds were surrounding the musician to admire his talent. The street vendors who you typically try to veer around must have brought in an impressive revenue and throughout all the madness, it was calm.

A representative from the National Air and Space Museum in D.C walked around with a portrait of Pope Francis  and encouraged individuals (myself included) to sign it in honor of his visit.

A representative from the National Air and Space Museum in D.C walked around with a portrait of Pope Francis and encouraged individuals (myself included) to sign it in honor of his visit.

After putting some distance on our walking shoes, we made a pit stop at Franklin Square where we encountered the first of what seemed like hundreds of screens projecting the pope’s procession through the city. After a brief breather and reminder of what we were trekking after, we continued on to our destination. Once we arrived at the general admission checkpoint, we stood in line (for thankfully not too long) and were investigated by the TSA. Bag searching, metal detectors and all.

After we were cleared, we ended up at the corner of City Hall and Love Park and this is where we decided to mark our territory. We were now standing along the parade route that Pope Francis would be passing through later that night and were only 4 rows of people deep; much lighter than we were expecting.

For the next 2 hours we stood there. No one knew when Pope Francis would be coming by and the night crept on us just as the wind did through my leggings. My inner promotions assistant began to came out as we were standing among hundreds of other people hoping to see the pope so Dave and I began talking to those around us. The college students in front of us came down from Temple University and the man to our left had been out and about since 7 that morning making every effort he could to see the Pope. We talked about our journeys that led us to this spot and watched a group of nuns across the street blissfully dance to “We are Family.” Ultimately, we ended up working together to find out when the pontiff would be coming our way. I was Twitter stalking #PopeInPhilly, the one TU student’s sister worked for ABC and the other student was getting updates from his sister watching at home. The latter ended up being the most useful and before we knew it, we had word he was driving by St. Peter and Paul Basilica .

Minutes later an intense motorcade of countless red and blue flashing lights came parading down JFK Blvd followed by police cars on police cars. Then there it was. The little white Popemobile was approaching our corner holding none other than the Holy Father, Pope Francis.

“We all have the duty to do good.” – Pope Francis ⛪️ #PopeInPhilly

A video posted by Lauren Hight (@laurenhight) on Sep 26, 2015 at 6:31pm PDT

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With my two jobs at iHeartMedia and the Philadelphia Eagles, I’ve witnessed a lot of impressive people. But none compares to that of Pope Francis. He buzzed down the street waving to the opposite side before looping around city hall and back down my side of the road. In just the mere glimpses people had of him, Philadelphia had settled into a happier place.

After the papal parade, the city was once again bustling as people of all walks of life were interacting with each other speaking of their experience. I personally met a collection of nuns from Wisconsin and a family who had traveled to our city from North Carolina. It boggled my mind that one individual could transform a world that days before was filled with negative news into an atmosphere of glimmering joy. Thank you, Pope Francis, for restoring hope in this country and for uniting families of the all cultures to remind us of the true beauty of life.

Our Unofficial Start to CMA Fest

If you know me, you know that I am not a morning person. So waking up at 4:00 a.m just to be in a car for 12+ hours isn’t necessarily an ideal of mine.

When planning our trip down to Nashville, my three friends and I way-fared between ideas of what the best/most affordable way to get down to Tennessee was. I have always been a fan of flying but seeing as we were all paying for this trip ourselves with a budget that was normally spent on Ramen and Dunkin Donuts, maybe flying wasn’t the best option. Therefore we opted with the decision to drive down to the Volunteer State.

At promptly 4:45 a.m., Alicia arrived at my house and after saying bye to my mom, who I’m pretty sure was sleepwalking, we were off to pick up Britt and Danielle. For being girls who normally contemplate ev.ery.thing. due to a lack of decisiveness and in return are a half hour late to everything, we were crossing the Delaware state border at just about 6:00 a.m. which miraculously was right on schedule.

State Signs

Part of what made the drive fun was competitively seeing who could take the best picture of the state welcome signs.

The trip from Philadelphia to Nashville was estimated to take about 12 hours (if we drove straight through) and while I was excited, I was slightly nervous as well because 1) the longest car ride I had ever done prior was about 6 hours up to Buffalo, NY and 2) what if something goes wrong and we end up hating each other for the rest of the trip? I understand the latter is a bit more exaggerated but hey, you never know.

Everything was going really well but the energy was certainly low. With my natural instinct as a promotions assistant kicking in, I tried everything to get my friends as hype as I was until one of them brought up the point that it almost didn’t seem real yet and the energy was yet to come. Hmm, I never even thought of that since I had ate, slept and breathed the planning of this trip but as soon as that was said; I totally understood. It was like as much as I pinched myself, it was hard to grasp that everything was actually happening since all we had been doing was stare at the mountainous landscape of 81 for hours on end.

It wasn’t until after we refreshed ourselves with lunch in Christansen, VA that the second wind we all needed had arrived. Hunter Hayes is our favorite performer and while we were super bummed that he wasn’t on the big lineup to perform at the nightly LP Field show, it was announced that along with being Friday’s Artist of the Day, he would be putting on a secret show! Now I love me a good puzzle to figure out and within minutes of the first clue being released, I was Googling the possibilities of when and where this show would be. Hunter released audio hints daily through Spotify so needless to say, that app became my best friend. This announcement got the entire car buzzing with excitement for the week to come and it seemed like time started to fly after it.

After learning countless fun facts about each other (such as I have an irrational fear of cemeteries, Alicia won’t sit in the seat behind the passenger’s, Danielle loves battlefields and Britt has this crazy desire to visit a large tree house), driving through a time zone change and viciously trying to take pictures of every state welcome sign we passed, WE HAD ARRIVED!

Since it was only 6:30 p.m., we ventured to the nearby Opry Mills Mall and wow, I never thought a mall would impress me as much as this one did. I mean, it had an aquarium in it. Need I say more?

I barely slept that night knowing what was in store for us and boy, was the best truly yet to come.