by Mike Mettler, resident Styxologist
One With Everything: Styx and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, Styx’s seventh live album, was released by NewDoor/UMe 13 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 70th birthday, JY! (This year, many Styx fans will be able to celebrate this hallowed occasion together with the man himself during Styx’s show tonight at Casino Rama in Rama, Ontario.)
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 Tommy Shaw’s “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 is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and CD. (Here’s hoping the current vinyl revival inspires the powers that be to commission an LP release somewhere down the line, hopefully sooner than later!)
Orchestral highlights of this epic performance 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 trading licks quite furiously together during the intro to “Fooling Yourself.”
“Oh man — that was the highlight of my 17-year-old self!” Lavinia told me about how it felt playing “It Don’t Make Sense” onstage with Styx. “The solo was a written part, but JY is such an awesome musical communicator. He made me look good. It was all him!” the ever-humble violinist added with a chuckle. “Some of their songs are so beautiful, and that song is so amazing.”
Added David, “That concert is one of the favorite ones I’ve ever done, and I especially loved the massive dueling cello thing between me and my friend Eric Tannenbaum.”
The amazing Everything 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 again at the beautiful outdoor Ascend Ampitheatre on May 21, 2016 with the Nashville Symphony.
Liza also helmed Tommy Shaw’s solo turn with the CYO at the Waetjen Auditorium at Cleveland State University on May 27, 2016 (which, as of June 29, 2018, has been made available as Sing for the Day! on CD and Blu-ray), and she subsequently conducted Styx and the world-class Colorado Symphony at the historic Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Morrison, Colorado on August 29, 2016, an evening both Liza and Styx feel were career highlights. (Your Styxologist was there, and I very much concur with that assessment.)
“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.”
Could there be a better-named project than One With Everything? Time for everyone to commence a Styx & CYO refresher course right now, I’d say! Smiling ear to ear, it’s something in the atmosphere. . .