STUSA17 Blog 21/22 : End of the Road

So, after seven states, 12 performances, and countless McDonalds’, we arrived in Richmond Kentucky for our final gig of the tour. We could see the university from a mile off, with its huge campus, and, when we arrived, the arts centre certainly didn’t disappoint. As had become second nature after three weeks, we piled into the venue and sought out the green room for snacks and wifi. There’s a lot to be said for the more intimate venues that we’ve played on tour, but there’s nothing quite like walking out onto the stage of a university theatre with its tiered balconies and thousands of seats for the first time. It’s moments like these that make you glad you auditioned for Semi-Toned.

We had the pleasure of being supported by Ekos (pronounced echoes, not eekoss as the group were eager to inform us), a group from the university. In our state of near exhaustion from the string of late nights and interstate travel, their enthusiasm and encouragement during our soundcheck was much appreciated, after which we had lunch with them comparing degree subjects and beatboxing techniques.

ST and Ekos

ST and Ekos

Of course, this being our last gig in the states, we wanted to make it a special one. After we’d all warmed up and donned our blazers, we got together in one of the sizeable dressing rooms for a pep talk from Duncan. Sure, we were all tired (physically, mentally, and vocally), but I know I speak for the whole group when I say that we wanted to go out with a bang. So, after a little scare from Sylvan’s faulty microphone, we hit the stage livelier than ever, ready to perform our show for the last time.

We stayed sensible for the odd song

We stayed sensible for the odd song

Of course, as a semi-professional acappella group, we always put on the best performance we can, but given that this was the last one (and, for several members, their last time performing with Semi-Toned in America) I will admit that we had a little more fun than usual. More or less every running joke of the tour made it into the set in one way or another, whether it be in the aimless running around during the Take On Me choreography, or Jillings’ mention of a sandwich machine (don’t even ask) within his seductive serenade in Bump and Grind. The show felt tight and energetic as ever, but there were countless times when we all had to stifle laughter. Of all the gigs we’ve done on tour, we all enjoyed this one the most.

All the pizza

We had three of these…

Getting to spend three weeks with these guys has easily been one of my favourite experiences of the year, and it’s going to be weird not spending 24 hours a day in each other’s company. Hell, I think I’m even going to miss Henry’s passive aggressive Whatsapp messages. After finishing the performance and heading to our hotel just outside of Cincinnati airport, we all gathered in Charlie’s room for one last pizza together. The irritable soundchecks, cancelled flights and countless cramped hours in the minibus were all forgotten as we laughed over our favourite memories from the tour. Soon though, we remembered the 4:45 AM departure time and hastily headed back to our rooms in preparation for the journey home. Now’s usually when I’d give an emotional send off, but we’re going to see each other back in Exeter next week, so I think I can put my Kleenex away.

A.D.

After the early start, which began in the usual fashion of roughly half the group being there 30 minutes late (just like rehearsals), we made our way to Cincinnati airport. Here we bade farewell to Elio, our delightful tour driver. He certainly brightened the tour for us, be it showing us his drumming videos, coming into our dressing room during the interval to say how good the show was, or just with his perhaps out-of-season but always joyous catchphrase of “Happy New Year!” He also had a long travel day ahead of him too, so set off on his own way.

Goodbye Elio! Happy New Year!

Goodbye Elio! Happy New Year!

The two hour flight took us to New York, where we had a few hours to kill. With not much time to see many of the sights, most of the group were content with exploring the various deals at Macy’s, spending the last of their dollars, or walking a short way down Broadway. Henry, obviously relaxing at the end of his Tour Manager duties, struggled to herd the group through the NYC Subways, making us jump from train to train at various stops. However, being the organisational master he is, he left plenty of time for this in the schedule.

A good diet is an essential part of staying healthy on tour. Puns too

A good diet is an essential part of staying healthy on tour. Puns too

The 6 hour flight back to Ireland was the perfect opportunity to get our body clocks re-adjusted to U.K. time by catching up on some sleep. However, some of the longer-legged members of the group struggled to get a wink in, and are definitely paying the consequences now (I needed a nap halfway through writing this sentence).

The quick stop in Ireland gave the more ravenous members of the group the chance for some proper European breakfast. It’s surprising how much one can miss baked beans. We then jumped across the Irish Sea to Heathrow, landing around 9am, which was 4am New York time. Feeling rather dazzled and after lots of hugging, we made our separate ways home across the U.K.

Something I noticed many times during this tour, is that the group feels at its closest now than any time I can remember. Spending every waking (and sleeping) hour with the same group of people can be a real test to how well that group gets on. Not only was there not a single proper falling out, but there was several conversations where everyone in the group was contributing, and we would all be interested in what the others had to say. I am very lucky to be part of such a talented and friendly group of men.

Below are a few of the group’s favourite moments, written in their own words.

Jacob: My favourite part of tour was our free day in San Antonio, TX. The weather was amazing and it gave us the perfect chance to explore the city; specifically The Alamo! The entire day was very relaxed and I enjoyed my very first snow cone!

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Alfie: My favourite part of the tour has to be our meal in Tokyo Hibachi, a teppanyaki restaurant in Kentucky. It was a hilarious evening: not only was the food great, but we got to watch a chef juggle huge knives and set shrimp on fire as he made it. What’s not to like? In the end, we’d had a long and tiring day, but still managed to make the most of our time together on the road.

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Sylvan: Usually being stuck in an airport, only to find your flight has been cancelled, sounds like an experience you’d remember for all the wrong reasons. However our time in LAX really showed the optimistic and creative sides of everyone. Whilst we waited for our travel to be sorted there was the invention of ‘suitcase curling’, a game I hope lives on as a Semi-Toned travelling tradition (official rules are not yet available). As well as this, some members even took it upon themselves to man the information desk, helping other stranded travellers. Objectively this wasn’t the most thrilling part of our tour but I think it showed such a fantastic approach by everyone in what was a pretty awful scenario.

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Charlie: There are many things I will never forget from this tour, but my favourite bit was climbing up to the top of Red rock canyon. The view from the top was incredible!

The Red Rock Gang

Henry: Overall, just watching the months of planning for the whole tour become reality was quite incredible! But I think my favourite moment, oddly, was landing back in Heathrow because it made me suddenly appreciate how much we’ve all done on this tour, the amazing 14,000 mile journey we’ve been on and how much I love Semi-Toned. Having my best friends surround me 24/7 for three weeks was never a challenge: only ever a privilege. STUSA17 was the most complicated and challenging project we have ever taken on and I wouldn’t change it for the world!

One happy group

It has been a pleasure writing and editing the tour blogs for the third year in a row. They have been a great way of keeping track of what we have done each day, and I am sure I will re-read them in future to make me appreciate what a special opportunity this group has been for us all. But now it’s my time to sign off for the final time. I very much look forward to becoming a reader of next years blogs to see what the group continues to get up to.

D.P.

 

STUSA17 Blog 19/20: Kentucky Khaos

We rose at a relatively normal time, for once, and clambered onto the bus for a hopeful 11am departure to drive to Kentucky. Yet again, we made the mistake of giving Ed Jillings the single room available and as such he was invariably nowhere to be seen at 11 o’clock. Many people were still merry from the previous evening’s social with Count Me In. In a futile attempt to help, Alfie offered Sylvan a chocolate croissant. However this was to no avail and the stodgy pastry was swiftly spat out onto the pavement outside the bus.

We eventually settled in for what was the longest bus journey of tour so far. Departing at 11.30am, we arrived at 9.45pm at night. Kudos to Elio for driving us all that way and still keeping in high spirits! Throughout the journey there were regular stops for people relieve their bladders and buy snacks. It felt like we never moved onwards at all as we managed to stop consecutively at no less than three Casey’s General Stores during the first half of the journey. After the third, we thought we should seek out some real food and not just Pringles and Gatorade. However as we have come to learn in the last three weeks it is rare to find ‘real’ food on the road. Eventually fate forced out hand and we had to confine ourselves to Burger King and Pizza Hut – for probably the billionth time on tour. Charlie continues to yearn for ‘a fresh cucumber’ with all its nutrients and watery goodness.

Once we set off again after our luncheon, Ludo was swiftly demoted from the front seat due to his questionable DJ-ing abilities, much to his offence. Instead Rob and Alfie took the mantle of joint-aux-cable-supervisors and the bus was swiftly filled with what I can only describe as ‘sick beats’. This didn’t stop the more tired amongst us from having a snooze in the back of the bus, however…

A very sleepy back row

A very sleepy back row

We had a brief stop over in St Louis as we passed over the Mississippi River to stretch out legs and get out to have a look at the famous Gateway Arch, part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. It is the world’s tallest arch, standing at 630ft and it made us all feel rather small.

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Big arch, small person

After that brief and rainy interlude we swiftly reembarked to complete the last 4 hours of our mammoth journey. We eventually arrived at what we thought was our hotel… only to realise that it was actually further down the road. Having checked into our typical American Motel rooms, we headed out in search of some dinner, having not eaten any real food for several days. We swiftly came across a restaurant called ‘Tokyo Hibachi’ offering Japanese cuisine. After begging the waitress to seat us (at 10.14pm when it closed at 10.15), we managed to settle down and enjoy some quality food that was made to order and not off the shelf!

The meal was quite a spectacle, especially those who had not experienced tepanyaki before. Our chef came out and wowed us with his tricks including making huge flames, spinning eggs around, throwing knives in the air and catching bowls in his hat. The food was as impressive as the creation of it and we stayed in the restaurant long it to the night until the waitresses asked us to sing a song before leaving.

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Our wonderful chef astounding us with fire

The following morning we awoke still full of delicious tepanyaki, thankful for a balanced meal for once, and set off at once for Hopkinsville, merely an hour and a half’s drive from Paducah (child’s play compared with the marathon journey of the day before). The heavens had completely opened however, and a monsoon plagued Kentucky’s highways for the entirety of our journey. This didn’t dampen the groups spirits in any way however, as it was Sylvan’s 21st birthday! Many happy returns! Our sources can indeed confirm that he has felt a great wave of maturity come over him, what a shame that it came after our visit to Las Vegas. Sorry Sylvan! The rain had not subsided by the time we reached the Alhambra theatre, much to the group’s dismay, resulting in a mad rush for the stage door, flight cases in hand, fighting against a veritable river in the street. Thoroughly drenched, we began to set up for our penultimate show.

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The Alhambra theatre was absolutely beautiful, with Mediterranean architecture and murals surrounding the stage. On discovering that the building itself was having it’s 90th anniversary that year (Sylvan was very happy that this had occurred on his birthday), we really enthused in the space, and sound check became a much easier affair. This meant that we had a considerable amount of free time in the green room/dressing rooms to relax. However, some members of the group were not content with resting, and decided to embark upon a ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ adventure. I was a little bamboozled by the game, but the old hands (Sylvan, Duncan, Ted, Sam and Ed) quickly got the new recruits (Alfie and Greg) up to speed with the imaginary adventure and it’s manifold intricacies. Most of us also ordered Dominos, and the food coma soon set in, allowing the group to feel fully nourished (if not entirely with healthy food) and rested for our last evening performance!

The audience were fantastic, very enthusiastic and energetic, and this helped us push through any fatigue we had. The lighting was also absolutely brilliant, adjusting between each song perfectly. A particular highlight of the evening was in Bump ‘N Grind, in which our lucky female volunteer turned out to be a longstanding ST fan, having seen the group perform last year in Miami on STUSA16! She promised that she had moved to Kentucky that summer completely by chance, but we have our suspicions. After the show, it was very enjoyable to mingle and meet some of the locals, who told us more about the theatre’s history. Before setting off, we sang a hearty happy birthday to Sylvan, tucking in to the delicious carrot cake that came with it with great gusto.

We also just managed to catch the final results of the ICCA finals in New York, in which Aquapella (from Bath University), who were representing the UK, won the award for outstanding choreography. Congratulations to them! Not only that, but the finals of the Voice Festival UK was held back home in England and we’re super proud of our Exeter gals the Sweet Nothings for bringing home the respective award Outstanding Choreography! Congratulations also the Rolling Tones who won the whole evening!

The 3 hour journey to our hotel that night might have been extremely boring, if not for ‘Dungeons and Dragons’, but a 3am arrival in Somerset left the group largely zombified after an exhausting day. Only one show left!

H.E./L.G.

STUSA17 Blogs 17/18: Oops it Happened Again….

On Wednesday morning we rose early, with a complimentary breakfast of waffles and bagels at our Cedar City Hotel. Some of the boys had stayed up quite late the previous night getting less than an hour of sleep, which they would regret for reasons soon to be revealed. As Elio had to drop off our trailer and bus early in the morning but our flight was in the afternoon, we had a fair amount of time to kill in the airport. So we did what any reasonable group of young men would do. We built a fort out of our luggage, and we named it “The Air Fort”. We decided upon a feudal ruling system and divided up the land between the various vassals. Ted was a proud steward, Henry a noble count, while Jacob and Greg were lowly serfs. Others took this pause in the day to call home or catch up on those missed hours of sleep.

The Air Fort

The Air Fort

Inside the Fort

Inside the Fort

Soon came the time to break down the walls and catch our first flight. We laughed as we walked through the Vegas airport, as in the city’s style, there was slot machines aplenty. Charlie made the remark that, “If I could bet on flights, I would put all my money on our second flight being delayed then cancelled.” Charlie would be a very rich man if he had done that….

Vegas Baby

Vegas Baby

Our first flight went as smooth as possible, and we safely landed in Dallas, Texas. We made our way to the gate for our connecting flight and set up camp for what we thought would be a short wait. Our resident Irish man, Greg, was schooled in the ways of Irish Snap. The countdown till boarding dropped.

Irish snap and the laptop crew

Irish snap and the laptop crew

10 minutes until boarding

6 minutes until boarding

4 minutes until boarding

The first announcement came over the tannoy, telling us of “mechanical issues” with the plane that needed to be examined before boarding could take place. Jacob’s face blanched. This announcement was made over the tannoy several times. Afternoon became evening. Evening became midnight. After examining the noticeboard a final time, we saw that our flight had been delayed once more… to 6am.

Greg tried drastic measures to try and get on a plane out of the airport

Greg tried drastic measures to get on a plane out of the airport

After some crafty negotiation on the part of Sylvan, we secured some meal vouchers and a hotel room for a short three hour nap before heading back to the airport for the flight. Luckily this flight went off without a hitch, leaving us some time on the other side to wait for the delivery of our next bus and trailer by the lovely Kevin.

We reached our hotel and greatly welcomed the chance to shower and change out of the clothes we had been wearing for two days straight. Another quick set of naps followed, before we needed to head over to the venue. Luckily we arrived in plenty of time, as Will needed to reassemble our flight cases that the TSA had so kindly partially dismantled without properly rebuilding. No problem for handy man Will.

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The rest of the group took this chance to explore our giant 2700 seat venue. Ted made the same examination that he makes in every place we go, comparing the surroundings to somewhere in Norfolk. Today’s comparison to that of the concrete buildings of the University of East Anglia to those of Iowa State University. A stressless soundcheck in the venue introduced us to its beautiful acoustic and we were ready to perform.

First was a short Q&A with a local school group, who asked the finest questions yet, varying from asking why we do A cappella, to which is our favourite Doctor Who incarnation. We then headed downstairs to the aptly named “Celebrity Cafe” where Henry made an eloquent speech, with complimentary powerpoint presentation, about the history of Semi-Toned and what it’s like to be in the group.

Name up in plastic

Name up in plastic

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Spurred on by his inspiring words, we readied ourselves backstage while listening to our opening act of the evening, “Count Me In” an all female A cappella group from ISU. As the curtains rose, we were completely blown away to be performing to such a large and energetic crowd of around 1000 smiling faces. Special mention goes to Edward, an Exeter Student on his year abroad at ISU who happened to be driving past the venue earlier in the week, saw that Semi-Toned were performing and booked a front row ticket. He made his more than welcome presence known by wearing all the Exeter branded clothes he owned and by whooping every time the UK was mentioned in a speech between songs.

We even had time for an stage selfie

We even had time for an stage selfie

The other side of the selfie

The other side of the selfie

After getting an average of probably 4 hours sleep between us, I am very proud of how the group performed. Easily one of our best shows, the enthusiasm of the audience definitely helped us push on through the tiredness. After signing a plethora of tickets, programmes and t-shirts, we headed back to the Celebrity Cafe, where we stayed for a few hours chatting to some of the locals. Conversation dipped between craft ales, trips to the UK and even some questions about the group.

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Semi-Toned and Count Me In

Semi-Toned and Count Me In

After a quick stop at the hotel to clean and change, we headed back out to socialise with Count Me In and celebrate the successful evening of music.

Today we head off for Kentucky, on a roughly 10 hour bus trip.

D.P.

STUSA17 Blog 16: Back to Business

‘Twas gone first light when I, through fitful slumber, saw the sharp Utah rays drench the Rey Inn’s courtyard and pierce my folded curtains. I rose quickly on account of my companion Robert, whose blunt request to silence my iPhone alarm saw that I rolled out of bed to cross the room. This I performed in a manner akin to that of a sow turfed out of warm hay (that is to say, sluggish and disgruntled, grumbling meagre curses).

The pair of us joined the rest of our rag-tag bunch in the dining hall, though this perhaps gives an air of grandeur to the pokey side room that could be deemed by those present as a little over-generous. Over our breakfast of Fruit Loops and DIY waffles, we conversed on the subject that, having come to light that very morning, had been troubled each of our independent crania, this being the prospect of a snap general election by that bastion of democracy, figurehead of the western world, wielder of the electoral gauntlet, Prime Minister Theresa May. This reporter is proud to convey that much guffawing, debating, and masticating (the latter pertaining to the Fruit Loops) ensued over the future of our sovereign isle – one must understand, you see, that, politics, akin to our dear lady A cappella, is a gentleman’s game, and as such must be discussed with the utmost respect (as anyone who has seen our performance of Macarena and I’ll Make a Man Out of You will recognise).

After our spirited debate and a brisk exploration of our immediate -if humble- surroundings, Exeter’s burgundy triodecad, full of maple syrup and pre-performance vigour, boarded our chariot for a six minute journey to the Heritage Centre Theatre. Jacob Storey managed to fill this void of time by substituting each vowel sound of the tenor 1 line of Michael Buble’s Everything with Greg’s name. Needless to say, such horseplay is, and remains grating from its outset.

Upon arrival, the inexorable soundcheck reared its ugly head, but it proved brief, and was conquered with amiable grace. Unbeknownst to Henry, our community outreach show had been billed as an “A cappella masterclass” with “Cambridge University’s Semi-Toned”, which prompted some slap-dash last minute adjustments to our usual extravaganza. These were bestowed upon the audience in the form of elongated, educational speeches interspersing our usual tomfoolery (with the addition of a rare beatboxing workshop from seasoned veterans Sam Harper and Duncan Payne). Following this landmark success, we ventured out onto the wild plains of Cedar City to hunt the illustrious chicken teriyaki, which basks in the shadows of the white mountains that loom, ever present, over the American southwest.

Following our lavish evening performance, we dined like kings upon complementary gateau provided by our magnanimous hosts. Moreover, I feel it due to offer my sincerest apologies to the young lady whose name we sadly botched during an overly-zealous rendition of happy birthday at our merchandise kiosk (whose moniker, for reasons adumbrated, I have no choice but to omit). When the sun had set over the hills, we welcomed a lively bunch of SUU Music students to our dwellings, who, bearing plentiful helpings of crème soda and chips, joined us for a joyous social gathering. They stayed round the hearth late into the night, bellowing out Downtown by Macklemore and, oxymoronically, It’s Oh So Quiet by Bjork. I am ashamed to admit that I, weary from the day’s activity, retired to my bedchamber early, swapping rooms with Ludo so that the party could keep on rocking.

Thus I replace my quill in my breast pocket, and conclude today’s entry in favour of a good night’s rest. Yet do not fear: we shall speak again on the morrow.

A.D.

P.S. Duncan here. While editing this, I understood roughly 50% of the text, so I will presume Alfie, as an English student, is correct in his musings. We’re now on our way to Iowa!

STUSA17 Blog 15: We Came to See da City

Our last day in Las Vegas appeared all too soon, and we prolonged our stay in the hotel until 4pm to have a last wander around (and/or lie-in some cases). Some of the group went to have lunch with Jon Primrose, a member of Exeter University’s Drama Department, who happened to be on the West Coast at the same time as us, in Denny’s, the typical American diner (We can confirm that bacon-cheddar tots are absolutely delicious), whilst others took a last lounge at the pool.

Unfortunately, the time to depart arrived, and we waved goodbye to the Strip, the Plaza hotel, and all the neon madness that the ‘City of Sin’ had held for us over the last few days. And so we drove towards Utah, across more of the stunning desert, framed by gigantic canyons on both sides, feeling the heat of the sun, even in the late afternoon. Most of us had quite a few hours of sleep to catch up on, and the sleepy, idyllic landscape was the perfect environment for a nap in the bus.

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Hopefully they were dreaming of something slightly less terrifying than Ed's face

Hopefully they were dreaming of something slightly less terrifying than Ed’s face

Cedar City could not be more different from Las Vegas (but then again, can you really compare Vegas to anywhere else?). We unpacked, then set off to explore the town in the fading light of evening. We decided to dine at the ‘Centro’ woodfire pizza restaurant, a nice change indeed from the snacking that Vegas had leant itself to. Rob even managed to get a free pizza due to the complexity of his order! The food was delicious, and we left thoroughly contented (if a little bloated). After a few rounds of poker (Vegas has changed us!), we very happily hit the hay.

Not quite the same views as this in Cedar City

Not quite the same views as this in Cedar City

We can’t wait to sing again today, as our last show seems years ago! I can’t believe how fast everything is going!

LG

STUSA17 Blog 14: Climbing Canyons, Counting Chips

The day began, unsurprisingly, with people lying in bed and generally not doing much. This is, you may have noticed, a running theme in Semi-Toned. Nonetheless, once we were all up and awake, a hardcore team of sightseers swiftly gathered by our minivan and together with Elio we drove half an hour out of Las Vegas to visit Red Rock Canyon. This feat of nature was incredible to witness: the different layers of rock, to the mountain animals and the sheer elevation of the cliffs. Driving around the scenic route did not prove to satisfy the group enough, and a few brave souls decided to climb 100m to reach the top of one of the huge rock faces. This proved to be an excellent opportunity for people to boast on their Snapchat stories about how ‘ my Vegas Easter Sunday is better than yours’ or ‘look how far up I can climb’, or in Ludo Graham’s case ‘look at my supple topless body’. Photographs were in abundance, especially as the tour photographer-extraordinaire, Greg, accompanied us up to the top. Watch out for a plethora of new cover photos coming your way soon…

Climbing the Red Rock mountains was an awesome experience – we got to see some incredible views and some of us finally got some exercise in to burn off all of the calories we’ve been piling on here in the US! However a few people chose to stay in their hotel rooms and do some actual degree work, which is very sensible of them.

On our return to the hotel around 5pm we all disbanded and had a brief nap whilst people decided what to do for the evening. Some wanted to continue hitting the casinos on the main strip, whilst others preferred to remain in the hotel or explore the local Fremont downtown area. In the end, Duncan had a last-minute idea for us to go and see a show. Half an hour later, six of us had acquired some sought-after tickets to go and see Cirque du Soleil’s show Kà at the MGM Grand.

Prior to our theatre trip, the Cirque team (or should I say troupe?) went out for dinner at a pub that was very aptly named ‘Pub’. The other half of the group, who didn’t think the theatre was their thing, eventually chose to explore the Fremont Experience and ate at a restaurant called ‘Nacho Daddy’ before wandering around the bright party strip.

But back to the exciting stuff. Having never seen Cirque before, but knowing a lot about them, I thought I knew what to expect. But then it turns out that nothing can ever prepare you for the spectacle of Cirque, and especially not of Kà. Their set was incredible and the automation was next level! And that’s not to mention the mind-blowing acrobatics and stunts that we saw, including Wheel of Death, Aerial Silks, Trapeze, Stunt Fighting and Clowning. It was an insane experience. The funniest part, however, was Ludo’s nonsensical ramblings afterwards. He was still going at breakfast.

Grand Finale of Kà

Grand Finale of Kà

Once we had come out of the show, we spent some more time exploring the southern end of Las Vegas Blvd. By now you would have thought we would be able to navigate the Strip quite well, but we were still unable to do so: wanting to see the main sights, we actually ended up walking through casino after casino and never quite being able to get where we wanted. However eventually we managed to see the Luxor Pyramid, New York New York and the castle at Excalibur.

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Once we had sufficiently seen the sights on the main strip we made our way back to our hotel in order to gamble some more, where the minimum bets were lower and we had begun to befriend some of the dealers. Ed managed to get his hands on a coveted $100 black chip, and then proceeded to lose it on the floor. One of the more amusing sights of our time in Vegas is probably 3 Semi-Toned boys crawling around the floor of a casino looking for the lost chip. Fear not, though, a kind passer by found it in the end and returned it to its rightful owner. Ted doubled his money on Blackjack, whilst some of the others made more losses. Overall, Semi-Toned as a group has probably only made a small loss, which I guess is good for our first time in Vegas and most people’s first time gambling!

We all stayed up for a more few hours for a few extra hands of Blackjack, and the bolder amongst us even threw some money onto Roulette – but to no avail. Eventually everyone retired, satisfied with the busy day we’d had.

Easter Sunday was our last full day in Vegas and we’ve had an absolute blast. We have another half-day on Monday before we travel to Cedar City to continue our tour. And we’ll actually have to go back to singing again, which feels like we haven’t in a very long time! Vegas has been absolutely mind blowing and there has even been an agreement made for someone’s stag party to come back here… Who the lucky stag will be remains to be decided. Las Vegas, it’s been great. Thanks for stealing all our money but giving us a pretty awesome Easter weekend in the process!

H.E.

STUSA17 Blog 13: Hitting the Strip

Our first full day in Vegas started nice and leisurely, with a few of the group having done some gambling into the early hours the night before. Some stayed in the hotel for breakfast while others made the bold decision to find a 7/11 store off the downtown strip, which was somehow more terrifying in the light of day. Most of the group spent the morning relaxing by the pool (a common theme for this tour) which was on the fifth floor of our hotel, alongside 6 tennis courts and a terrace view towards the centre of Vegas. The views here are quite stunning as just beyond the massive hotels, open desert sprawls as far as the eye can see.

Heading to the Mall

Heading to the Mall

A small group of us made a short trip to a nearby Mall to do some shopping and grab some lunch. We concluded that lots of the indie shops were selling what we deemed “Alfie Clothes”, very fashionable, often stripy but things most of us are not bold enough to wear.  Some came back to the hotel with some stylish new chino and shirt combos, others with a not so healthy sun burn.

Charlie modelling our new outdoor performance jacket

Charlie modelling our new outdoor performance jacket

The Plaza Hotel, where we are staying, is easily the nicest downtown hotel, so myself and Jillings then decided to try our luck, quite literally, at some gambling. As this was my first experience of any sort of gambling where money is at stake, I was concentrating furiously as we sat down at the low stakes blackjack table. Hands trembling, sweat pouring, I turned away the waitress offering free drinks. I have no idea how much time passed. In the windowless depths of the Casino, you have no sense of the outside world. As Jacob said later, you could very easily get jet-lag from such a place. Whenever we came down for breakfast, we would often see the same people at exactly the same slot machines they were on the night before. However, time did pass, and rousing from my Sherlock like Mind Palace, I saw that I had made a small $35 profit at the table. This was when I decided to leave the table, quitting while I was ahead. After a few futile spins on the roulette wheel, with a 0 net change in winnings, I decided that would be the end of my betting career.

After satisfying our appetite in the hotel’s Mexican restaurant with some burritos the size of my forearm, we headed up to one of our rooms to get some practice games of poker in before we headed to the main strip. Later we came to the decision that this was much more fun and less scary, sitting at a table with your friends and chatting away, rather than with some Vegas hardened veterans, who could easily bully you out of a game with the extra cash they had. I came out of my brief retirement to join in the fun, making a tasty $3. We then caught taxis from the hotel to the Las Vegas Strip, about a 15 minute drive into town.

We made it to Paris! Or maybe Blackpool?

We made it to Paris! Or maybe Blackpool?

13 men walking around Vegas was a challenge in itself, as seen my when we arrived, we spent 30 minutes walking in circles round each other, each group looking for the other. We decided to split of into smaller groups, and most of us, realising that at peak time on a Saturday, the minimum betting stakes will be at their highest, decided to explore the various Casinos, rather than sit at a table and lose all our money.

Jacob found someone even more hairy than himself

Jacob found someone even more hairy than himself

Starting at the Flamingo, a Casino we had read about that supposedly was quite nice for new players (even with Rob’s questionable theories about roulette probabilities), we made our way over the boulevard to the gargantuan Caesars Palaces. It is very difficult to fairly describe this giant structure built in the middle of the desert. Both interior and exterior designed in the style of the late Roman Empire (which came under scrutiny from our resident Classicist, Ed Jillings), we explored the lavish Casino Floor. The stakes were much higher than at our hotel so we quickly made our way along the strip towards the Bellagio.

Which way to Rome?

Which way to Rome?

Again, no expense had been spared in this giant statement to unnecessary wealth, and just made us think how much profit the Casinos must be making to run such a place. As our feet began to tire, we noticed at each Casino that the only available seats were those at the gambling tables or bars, another sneaky tactic to trick players into emptying their pockets.

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Having just missed the last of the famous fountain shows, which stop at midnight, we then headed back to the Flamingo to regroup with the others and regale each other with the adventures we had been on. Throughout our exploration, a common theme had been being asked by relatively well dressed men if we were interested in going to a strip club. With lots of the group being in healthy relationships, we politely declined. We became slightly less polite after the 18th inquisition (believe me, I kept a tally).

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Heading back to the Plaza hotel, we managed to squeeze in a few more friendly rounds of poker before calling it a night.

Tomorrow we head off to Red Rock Canyon and the Mobster Museum!

D.P.

 

STUSA17 Blog 12: Viva Las Vegas

Before today, I thought that tumbleweeds were a myth. I was wrong. The drive from Lancaster to Las Vegas took us on a single, endless road through Southern California and into Nevada, bordered all around by enormous mountains as far as we could see. For most, the drive was spent listening to and critiquing Kendrick Lamar’s new album DAMN., but our resident photographer Greg was busy with other pursuits. We’d been given the privilege of looking after the official City of Las Vegas Instagram account for the day, so we started off our posts with a classic group huddle around a particularly becoming shrub (check out @cityoflasvegas for our takeover).

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Soon enough the city of sin came looming into view, and we were driving parallel to the famous strip, marvelling at hotels like Caesar’s Palace and the Bellagio, and billboards advertising appearances from the likes of Celine Dion and Elton John (if anyone knows the latter, by the way, I’m sure we could fit a guest performance of Candle in the Wind into our tight schedule). Our driver, Elio, also pointed out the rides on top of the Stratosphere, a building that towers above the city and allows the more mentally unstable of thrill-seekers the chance to be strapped into a ride that spins off the edge of the building. I mean, it sounds like fun I guess… but Henry and I preferred the look of the aquarium.

We arrived at the Historic Fifth Street School and unloaded our things. The venue was just off Fremont Street, hailed the ‘mini-strip’ of Las Vegas (but more on that later). After soundcheck and dinner we started our preparations for the night post-gig with a deck of cards and makeshift poker chips. The less experienced of us huddled around the table as Ed Jillings showed us how one might try and minimise their losses at a Vegas table (because as we know, the house always wins). However, what we didn’t know was that Jacob Storey is an unlikely poker fiend. I won’t be sitting across the table from him anytime soon, let me tell you that.

 

Pre-show relaxation

Pre-show relaxation

Not so relaxing playing against a Tusken Raider

Not so relaxing playing against a Tusken Raider

Fuelled by excitement, the gig was a big success, though apparently the women here are shier than the movies had led us to believe, as Duncan Payne almost had to offer himself as tribute for Ed’s fabled audience-participation spectacle Bump and Grind. Soon we were up in Ted and Sylvan’s room as the 21 year olds among us practiced blackjack and indulged in Four Loko, a mythical American delicacy with the potency of wine and the taste of rocket fuel. After seeing off a couple of them, we ventured out onto Fremont Street.

One happy group

One happy group

You can hear it from the hotel lobby: the noise of late-night tribute bands and spectators hooting over the sound of the city. Bright, beaming leagues of lightbulbs and neon hold you in on either side, and high above arches the world’s largest TV screen, with a zipline running the entire length of the strip. We’d all seen Las Vegas on TV and in the movies, but it’s different when it’s all in front of you. It’s hard to say how long we were there: we walked right the way down Fremont Street huddled together in wonder, near speechless at everything that was going on around us. When we finally reached the end and came to our sense a little, we decided to take stock with a slice of Piccadilly Circus pizza (a nice touch of home comfort). And whilst half the group opted to go to a bar, Rob Akerele-Miles wanted a tattoo.

Sylvan's face says it all

Sylvan’s face says it all

How did it end up like this

How did it end up like this

Upon hearing this, myself, Greg, Ludo, Henry and Duncan dashed to the tattoo parlour in fear of missing this momentous moment. It was a little place just off Fremont with dazzling white lights and locals who couldn’t believe our accents. We were sure he was going to bottle it. I mean, who really gets a tattoo at 2:30 AM on their first night in Vegas? But, as Ted, Sam, Charlie and Ed ran in to join the gang, he lay down on the table like an ancient warrior about to receive tribal decoration. In all fairness to him, he took the pain like champ, claiming that it “just tickled” as we stood around him, struck by the hilarity and unorthodoxy of having Psalm 100:3 tattooed on his ribcage. I think it’s safe to say it’ll be a night to remember, even if we did talk him out of getting the septum piercing. After that, those of age amongst us managed to win a cool $5 in the Plaza hotel casino, and called it a night. Tomorrow, the Las Vegas strip calls.

A.D.