by Mike Mettler, resident Styxologist
One With Everything: Styx and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, Styx’s seventh live album, was released by NewDoor/UMe 15 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 72nd birthday, JY!
One With Everything emerged from a truly 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 guitarist/vocalist 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 recurrent airings on PBS affiliates and AXS TV, this special concert event is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and CD. Here’s hoping the ongoing vinyl revival inspires the powers that be at UMe HQ to commission a 180-gram 2LP release somewhere down the line. (How about it, folks?)
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!” Tommy exclaims at the song’s conclusion — as well as cello co-principals David B. 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,” continued the ever-humble violinist with a chuckle. “Some of their songs are so beautiful, and that song is so amazing.”
Added David B. Ellis, seen above with his onetime CYO contemporary, Lavinia, “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.” (We do too, David!)
The amazing Everything event came about due to the sheer will of then-CYO conductor Liza Grossman, who has since become Styx’s official de facto conductor any time the band performs with an orchestra. In fact, Liza was at the podium when Styx did a pair of shows at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville in February 2015, and once again when they were at the beautiful outdoor Ascend Ampitheatre on May 21, 2016, along 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 was subsequently made available as Sing for the Day! on CD and Blu-ray on June 29, 2018), 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 continue to feel are career highlights. Your trusty Styxologist was onsite and watching from the sidestage area on Lawrence’s side during that very same Red Rocks show, and I wholeheartedly concur with that assessment.
[Your Styxologist further clarifies: After parting ways with CYO in 2020, Liza has since gone on to co-found Kaboom Collective, a stellar organization that offers in-person performances, production opportunities, and industry classes for, to quote their official site, “motivated musicians and artists ages 15-25 who want to experience multi-disciplinary education and are curious about the arts and entertainment industry and want to advance their pre-professional development.” Go here for more information about the wonderful wide world of Kaboom, and all it has to offer. Who knows — you might even find yours truly listed in the industry experts/instructors section that’s dubbed “The Collective”. . .]
“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 she was an engaging and enthusiastic person, and 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 whatever Liza does 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 then they ask me about specific players in that orchestra: ‘Where are they now? What is she doing? What is he doing?’” Liza recounted to me before she left her position with the CYO last year. (In case you’re wondering, Lavinia currently resides and works as a musician and violinist in New York City, while David B. Ellis is a freelance musician, cellist, viola da gambist, and conductor who has played with The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, among other things.)
Continued Liza, “I had been showing One With Everything to the musicians who were in [the later incarnations of] CYO. The youngest members of the orchestra were babies between the ages of 3 and 8 when we first did this, so they hadn’t seen it. I think it’s important 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 bandmembers in Styx have 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, sayeth I! Smiling ear to ear, it’s something in the atmosphere. . .