Pat Clark

Tony Bennett's cool? Cool doesn't begin to cut it

I had one of those epiphanies you can have only while lying awake for no good reason at 2 a.m. The kind of epiphany that makes you wonder what the heck you'd been thinking.

This one had to do with my semi-blasé, "Oh, that's pretty cool" response to the list of grand-opening entertainers at the Gallo Center for the Arts. Chalk it up to my head being on deadline when the names were read, but it took several days — and one nasty bout with insomnia — for the reality to sink in.

Tony Bennett is performing in Modesto.

Tony.

Bennett.

Pretty cool? Uh, ya think?

So, in the midst of my insomniac stupor, I got to thinking about Tony Bennett and his grandiosity within the music industry. Really, the only people possibly bigger than Bennett are Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. Sinatra isn't performing anywhere earthbound, let alone Modesto, these days. And Streisand? Well, she's Streisand. 'Nuff said.

But Tony Bennett? He isn't just an icon, he's an icon's icon. This is a performer who shot to fame crooning a bastion of hits in the 1950s and rode his superstar status through a few more decades until rock 'n' roll finally pushed him aside.

So, what does he do at the age of 67? He blasts his way into the MTV culture, of all things.

There he was in 1993, standing next to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, of all groups, at the MTV Video Awards. And just like that, he was embraced by the MTV generation.

Next thing you know, he's back on the music channel in 1994 with an incredibly well-received concert appearance on "MTV Unplugged." And he didn't stop there. In 2006, he recorded a "Duets" album with names like Sting, Bono, Dixie Chicks, Elton John, Michael Bublé and John Legend.

Nearly everyone in America knows the name Tony Bennett — from a thirtysomething in Modesto to a ninetysomething in Bangor, Maine. The man is a legend.

So the very idea of Tony Bennett coming to Modesto is several steps above "pretty cool" on the wow-o-meter. As "gets" go, the Gallo center folks scored a major one.

So what did they do? They offered tickets as low as $50.

Fifty dollars to see Tony Bennett in a brand-spankingnew, state-of-the-art arts center. OK, now my sleepless brain was really reeling.

Sure, there are a lot of people in Modesto who can't afford to pay even that much to see anyone perform anywhere. But it still sets a shining from-the-gates example of how the Gallo center really is trying to open its doors to more than just the city's art-elite crowd.

And before anyone starts with a "what-about-the-$200-to-$1,000-Patti LuPone-tickets" diatribe, that's a dinner-dance fund-raiser. Completely different beast. Apples. Oranges. Let it go.

Oh, but wait. That Patti Lupone fund-raiser? It's going to be broadcast live, on a Jumbotron just up the street at Tenth Street Place, free to anyone who wants to come out that night to watch and help celebrate the center's grand opening.

Words like "elitist" have been tossed at the arts center since before ground even was broken. But a look at the acts and their pricing levels reveals a diversity of performers that matches the area's diversity of cultures and, yes, pocketbooks.

The Joffrey Ballet for $30. Roseanne Cash for $25. Tango Buenos Aires or Noche Flamenca for $18.

Pretty cool? Um, ya think?

One point of confusion on ticket prices stemmed from the subscription sales vs. single ticket issue. Subscriptions went on sale in July — tickets for a package of shows. Some people were incensed because they mistakenly read the prices for multiple-show packages as the cost for individual shows — they saw $95-$150 as the cost to see Hal Holbrook when, in fact, that was for three shows in the American Master series — Holbrook, Kris Kristofferson and Marvin Hamlisch.

Single tickets to see Holbrook are $35-$45. Single-ticket sales begin Saturday.

See Hal Holbrook in Modesto in his widely acclaimed Mark Twain show for $35? Pretty cool? Um, yeah, I think.

Scene editor Pat Clark can be reached at pclark@modbee.com.

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