MJ tribute lights up the night

By Heather Hayes

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, July 16 2012 3:18 p.m. MDT

PARK CITY — Only the king of pop can draw a crowd as diverse as the one at Deer Valley on Saturday night.

The wine-and-cheese set, hipsters, families with youngsters and MJ impersonators all sprang to their feet with fevered enthusiasm during the tribute concert to the man they miss.

“The Music of Michael Jackson” kicked off Deer Valley Music Festival’s ninth season, featuring the Utah Symphony, guest conductor Brent Havens and front man James Delisco. Even the rain clouds parted just in time for the sold-out concert to begin.

Delisco, who took home the grand prize during E! network’s reality competition “The Entertainer” in 2005, struck the delicate balance between artist and impersonator. Although he didn’t try to look or sound exactly like MJ, he was generous with his Michael-moves, signature sounds and iconic style choices (the sequined glove, the white socks, the red leather jacket during “Beat It”).

Delisco is a mega-fan himself, sharing with the audience his childhood memories watching Jackson perform.

“I got emotional over a song for the first time in my life when he sang ‘Human Nature’,” Delisco said. “After seeing what he did and how he inspired people when he performed, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to do that someday.'”

It wasn’t the only time Delisco and backup vocalists Felicia Barton and Kelli Reisen had audience members eating out of their hands. Even those determined to keep their seats found it a challenge during “ABC,” “Billy Jean,” “Man in the Mirror” and “Thriller.”

One such audience member, 59-year-old Stafford Smith of Idaho Falls, drew his own cheering, phone-filming crowd halfway up the hillside during “Bad.” Surrounded by his grown children, the gentlemanly looking fan leaped to his feet, sporting dance moves of the no-holds-barred variety. Smith may well be on his way to YouTube fame.

Adding breadth and depth to Delisco and his band, the Utah Symphony displayed its versatility. Under the direction of Havens, whose symphonic-rock arrangements are becoming well known to festival audiences, the orchestra was beautifully polished and unwavering.

In an earlier interview, Havens confessed that arranging Jackson’s music for orchestral accompaniment wasn’t much of a stretch, since many of his original versions utilized strings and brass especially. Still, something transformative occurred from such a full-bodied sound, and audiences were delighted by it.

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