by Mike Mettler
Ten years ago today on May 25, 2006 at the Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Styx played with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra for a magical show that was ultimately released on CD, DVD, and Blu-ray as One With Everything: Styx and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra.
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 anytime the band performs with an orchestra, just as they did for a pair of shows at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville in February 2015, as well as this past weekend in Nashville, this time at the beautiful outdoor Ascend Ampitheatre on May 21. Liza will also be at the podium this Friday, May 27, when Tommy Shaw takes a solo turn with the CYO at the Waetjen Auditorium at Cleveland State University at 8 p.m.
“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.”
How did Liza make all of this happen back in 2006? Read on...
Mike Mettler: OK, let’s go over “The Story.” You called Charlie Brusco, Styx’s manager. What compelled you to do that?
Liza Grossman: I did call Charlie, yes.I had been waiting for the right time. All of a sudden, I just fixated on it. I had a friend at a PR firm in L.A.who had previously hooked me up with Jon Anderson for our CYO show with him in 2004. I called her and said, “I need to find who the Styx manager is.” It was 4:30 on a Friday, and she said, “It’s Charlie Brusco.” This was when I first started understanding the power of the Internet. I was sitting at my desk with my first laptop, and I typed it in. She said, “Let me look for his number,” but while she was looking, it popped up and I said, “I’ve got it. I’m calling him.” By this point, it was 10 to 5 on a Friday. I called, and Charlie answered the phone. That just doesn’t even happen! (both laugh)
When he answered the phone, I said, “May I please speak with Charlie Brusco?” He said, “Speaking.” I was like, “Oh my God!” I had to jump into it. I had to give him my 30-second elevator speech. I wasn’t expecting to get him at 5 o’clock on a Friday. But the stars were lined up, and he listened. And on Monday, I was on a call with JY [Styx co-founding guitarist/vocalist James "JY" Young] and Tommy. All of a sudden, it was happening.
Mettler: Was there any doubt in your mind that you were going to get to the next stage of setting up a show with them? What was the pitch?
Grossman: I was so passionate about it. I introduced myself, and said I’m with a kick-ass youth orchestra in Cleveland, and I want to work with your band. And he said, “Tell me about it.” So I told him about CYO, that it was the only youth orchestra in the country dedicated to new music — not just new composers, but everything; everything that’s out of the box and exciting and new, and anything that you’d never expect to hear from an orchestra — that’s what we’re doing. And I believed that we were the first ones to really do this. Lately, it’s kind of sexy for bands to have an orchestra behind them. But we started doing this in 2001, and other people weren’t doing it.
Mettler: We’ve all seen a number of instances where the orchestra and the band look good together on paper, and they don’t work onstage. But it’s fair to say this collaboration worked quite well in 2006, which has to be some testament to the leader at the podium.
Grossman: I think that it’s a feeding circle.
Mettler: That’s a great way of putting it. The relationship you have with these guys is quite special. I’ve seen it firsthand.
Grossman: I love this family. Love them. And it is a family. People ask me all the time, and I only have positive things to say about the Styx family. “How was it working with Styx?” And I say that they’re inclusive and honest and real and joyful.
We'll have more exclusive talks with Liza Grossman right here on Styxworld in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!