by Mike Mettler
One With Everything: Styx and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, was released by NewDoor/UMe 10 years ago today on November 14, 2006. It also shares a birthday with the Godfather of Styx, co-founding guitarist/vocalist James “JY” Young, who was born on November 14, 1949. Happy birthday, JY!
One With Everything emerged from the magical show Styx played with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra at the Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, on May 25, 2006. From the opening rush of “Blue Collar Man” to the majesty of the JY-led cover of Willie Dixon’s “It Don't Make Sense (You Can’t Make Peace)” to keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan’s ever-haunting “A Criminal Mind” to the uplifting all-in “Renegade” finale, One With Everything has, well, just about everything a Styx fan could want. (In addition to semi-regular airings on PBS affiliates and AXS TV, this concert event has also since been released on Blu-ray and DVD.)
Orchestral highlights include violinist extraordinaire Lavinia Pavlish joyously trading licks with JY on “It Don’t Make Sense” — “Give Lavinia some love!” guitarist/vocalist Tommy Shaw exclaimed at the song’s conclusion — as well as cello co-principals David Ellis and Eric Tannenbaum dueling quite furiously together during the intro to “Fooling Yourself.”
Back in May, Lavinia recalled for me how it felt playing “It Don’t Make Sense” onstage with Styx. “That song is so amazing. Some of their songs are so beautiful,” she noted with a smile. “Oh man — that was the highlight of my 17-year-old self! The solo was a written part, but JY is such an awesome musical communicator. He made me look good. It was all him!" Lavinia added with a chuckle.
This amazing event came about due to the sheer will of CYO conductor Liza Grossman, who has since become Styx’s official go-to conductor any time the band performs with an orchestra. Liza was at the podium when Styx did a pair of shows at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville in February 2015 and at the beautiful outdoor Ascend Ampitheatre on May 21, 2016 with the Nashville Symphony. Liza also helmed Tommy Shaw’s recent solo turn with the CYO at the Waetjen Auditorium at Cleveland State University back on May 27, and she most recently conducted Styx and the world-class Colorado Symphony at the historic Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Morrison, Colorado this past August 29, an evening both Liza and Styx feel were career highlights.
“She just shined,” Tommy recalls about rehearsing and playing with Liza and the CYO in 2006. “She was a rock star from the way she took the stage and presented herself, and the respect she got from her kids. It was just a treat working with her. It was clear from the beginning that she was an engaging and enthusiastic person, and that the Contemporary Youth Orchestra was her creation, her idea, and her dream. She put it all together. We just love her, and we’ve continued to support the Contemporary Youth Orchestra because it’s such an awesome thing.”
Liza herself looks back on One With Everything with much personal and professional joy. “I still get, to this day, emails from fans who love that DVD and love that show, and they ask me about specific players in that orchestra: ‘Where are they now? What is she doing? What is he doing?’” she recounts. “I’ve been showing One With Everything to the musicians who are in CYO now. The youngest members of the orchestra were babies between the ages of 3 and 8 when we first did this, so they haven’t seen it. I think it’s important that they understand it and see there’s a history to it. It gives them a chance to see how relationships can develop with musicians who are already at a certain level in their careers. I think it’s going to be really effective for them. Since then, the orchestra has evolved immensely, and hopefully, I have as an educator and a conductor as well. I certainly know the band has evolved as musicians.”
My own personal Crystal Ball tells me Liza Grossman and Styx will likely be doing more live events together sometime in the not-so-distant future, so stay tuned...