July 11, 2010

Usher in Manila: My Friends' Front Act Experience

My K24/7 bandmates Paolo Banaga and Ian Fajarito had the time of their lives last Friday night, opening for Usher here in Manila.  Paolo was called to do back-up vocals with South Border, while Ian played keyboards for Nina.

Here are a few photos from Paolo.  For more pics, check out his Facebook photos, here and here.

Aaron Spears' DW/Zildjian set-up.

Paolo checking out Aaron Spears' kit.

Soundcheck.  South Border + Nina.

  Two drumming phenoms meet. Aaron Spears & Benjie Mendez.

K24/7's Ian Fajarito with the man Aaron Spears.
 Ian with Usher's band.

Again, with Usher's band. Dylan & Jay Durias, Paolo & Ian.

"I can't explain how lucky we are and how proud I am being a Filipino... 'coz these cats (Usher's band) were jumpin' and screamin' at the side of the stage when we were playin'... and they were the ones who were shoutin' 'more!!!'  I'm gonna miss these fellas... They're very humble and blessed..."

--- Paolo Banaga, via Facebook

Pao and Ian arrived at our Off The Grill gig after the Usher concert, in time for our second set.  Later, South Border superdrummer Benjie "Bagets" Mendez and superbassist Marlowe Mata, plus birthday boy Duncan Ramos also arrived from the concert.

Pao and Bagets had plenty of stories to tell, for they just had the most awesome musical experience.  They were able to meet and hang out with Usher's world-class tour band.  Included in that band is current drumming superstar Aaron Spears, who became a major buzz in the drumming world after his "Caught Up / Sex Machine" 2005 Grammy Awards performance with Usher and James Brown.

The magic began during soundcheck.
  South Border was burning during rehearsal.  They were playing so well, Usher's band went running towards the side of the stage to watch and listen.  You know that typical musician's behavior when we musicians shout, jump, or go nuts whenever we see or hear another fellow musician do something breathtaking and spectacular and feels oh-so-good?  Usher's band was blown away!  And this was just soundcheck.

Pao was so starstruck when he saw Aaron Spears, he ran to him to greet him, and Pao was like, "Wow, it's really you!  I only see you in YouTube!"  Aaron Spears is so super nice; him and the rest of the band are very friendly and very humble.  They were complimenting South Border, saying something like "It's great to see artists here who play TRUE music."

Bagets had the time of his life, hugging Aaron Spears when the two met.  Aaron said Bagets was awesome!  And Aaron was giving so much props to Bagets, complimenting his tone quality and asking him how he does it.  They also had a great time talking about drums and Stevie Wonder, among many things.  Even Aaron's drum tech approached Bagets to show his appreciation.  Even a musician of Bagets' stature can't believe everything that just happened; he was close to crying.

Nina and South Border's front act performance went very well.  Bagets' performance was stellar.  All that positive vibe was rubbed on to him, and he was absolutely in his element.

Later, when it was time for THE main act, it was my friends' turn to cheer.  Aaron was incredible that night.  Paolo and Bagets were screaming everytime Aaron did something spectacular on the drumkit.  Todo daw talaga!  Aaron also handed Pao and Bagets a pair each of his used Vic Firth signature drumsticks as remembrance.

Paolo said that when all these were happening, he's so proud to be a Filipino, and he's so proud to represent K24/7.  In those moments, race or nationality did not matter.  There was no discrimination.  Everybody's bonded through music.  There's so much love and mutual respect.  It was beautiful and inspiring, and oh how I wish I was there.

Man, I missed a golden opportunity.  A week ago, Pao & Ian asked permission regarding their big opening gig.  From there, I was thinking all week about having our regular Friday night gig cancelled so that the rest of my band and I can watch the concert, and perhaps have the chance to go backstage and meet the band.  And even if we're able to get good sessionists whenever my bandmates aren't available, it's quite hard to go through our gigs when one (or in this case, two) of my bandmates are not around.  I should have requested for a night off.  This should be one of my worst non-decisions. Geez, I still can't get over it...

It's always great to see Usher perform, but from the very start I was after his band.  And it's not everyday that I get a chance to meet a talented and world-class drummer like Aaron Spears.  When I was viewing Pao's concert photos & hearing their stories, I was close to crying.  As a consolation, Paolo gave me one of Aaron Spears' drumsticks.  I totally appreciate it, and it now holds a special place in my collection of musical memorabilia.

Paolo, Ian, the guys from South Border, Kris Lawrence, Vince Alaras, Dylan Durias & Nina are so privileged.  Like what Duncan told me that night, I'll get my chance someday.  Great job, mga kapatid!  I am so proud of Pao & Ian, as much as I feel so envious. :)

 "Incredible concert in Manila! Amazing audience!" - Usher, via Twitter (and yes, Paolo and the gang were that close to Usher).

"Thank you Manila!!!!! http://yfrog.com/j2lmeej" - Aaron Spears, via Twitter.

*All photos courtesy of Paolo Banaga.