When I joined the 501st Legion in 2014, one of the many, many reasons was the chance at the opportunity to be able to troop the “Weird Al” Yankovic show. If you don’t know, when Al performs “The Saga Begins”, he has members of the 501st on-stage with him and they dance during the song. The legion first performed on-stage with Al in 2003 during an encore performance of “The Saga Begins”. In 2007, the 501st provided on-stage support for multiple stops on the “Straight Outta Lynwood” tour. It is now a staple of his tour.
I’ve been a big fan of Al’s since 1984 when I first heard “Eat It”. My dad introduced me to him. I’ve loved his work ever since. Well, this year I was lucky enough to strike off another mark on my bucket list. In February, “Weird Al” announced the second leg of his Mandatory Fun world tour and Phoenix was on the list. I’d been bugging our commanding officer about the show as soon as I knew the date. It was going to be a long six months waiting for the sign up to open.
July 20th, 2016
Registration for the event opened July 20th and I knew a lot of the garrison were interested in going. We have almost 200 members now and only thirteen slots were open. Whilst I love my garrison, it was every man and woman for themselves. Luckily my laptop is a touch screen and I was able to have one finger on the refresh button and another where I expected the new thread to appear. At a few seconds after eight, I hit refresh one last time and the thread shows up. I frantically log in and select my Stormtrooper for the costume. Just a few seconds later, all eight Stormtrooper slots, one Darth Vader, three costume wranglers and a photographer position were filled. I was in. I did a few happy laps around the house. I was about to check off another bucket list item.
August 3rd, 2016
The big day arrived. I work two blocks away from Comerica Theater and left work a little early to scope the place out and figure out parking.
3:00 p.m. I arrive at Comerica Theater and am told to park next to Al’s tour bus. That was parking sorted out easily enough. I check in with security and am by handed my backstage pass.
3:30 p.m. The rest of the garrison arrives and we meet out the front of Al’s dressing room. We are moved to our own dressing room.
We are greeted by JW, Al’s ringleader for the VIP experience. He gives us a quick rundown of the events for the evening and we wait around for a rehearsal.
Al’s stage manager visits us and we practice the dance routine for the show. Afterwards, we go down to the stage and are given our marks that we need to hit when the performance starts. I was advised to get to the left of Vader to have the best position on stage, but I’ll get to that later.
The auditorium looks a lot smaller from the stage, but while there I am able to see the bands set up and get a really good look at the band’s setup. I knew I would never get another chance like this. As we leave the stage I see the table Al uses for “Foil” and just behind is his accordion. The holy grail of polka! I admit to being a complete fan boy at this moment. The crew didn’t bat an eyelid at me geeking out, so I doubt I was the first person to do so. They let all of us take photos and take everything in. In a few short hours, Al would be standing where I was standing and putting on a show. I doubt I’ll ever stand there again.
Our passes gave us unrestricted access to the VIP section and we were able to watch the pre-show entertainment and look at the traveling Al museum of memorabilia. It was full of costumes and items from his numerous videos. It was wonderful being able to check everything out. I’ve been to over 150 concerts over the years and have done a lot of VIP shows and I’ve never seen a VIP section quite like this. This was most definitely done for the fans and it was great being allowed to be a part of it.
7:30 p.m. Showtime
Mike Prekup, a 501st friend of mine, gave me some advice while waiting backstage for the show to start. I won’t post it publicly, but 501st members are welcome to email me to get the details to make your experience even more enjoyable. “Weird Al” begins the show with “Tacky” from outside the arena and I was able to position myself where he starts. At a few minutes after 7:30, I hear Al singing from down a hallway, seconds later he comes striding past singing “Tacky” accapella while the band is playing in the auditorium. He storms down the hallway and enters the theater to thunderous applause. The show was on.
I join up with the rest of the group who are watching the show. Apparently I was on screen when Al entered much to the delight of the group. I was able to watch him perform “Lame Claim To Fame”, “Now That’s What I Call Polka”, “Perform This Way”, “Dare To Be Stupid” and “Fat”, but then I had to go get in my armor. What I saw of the show so far looked awesome. I really wish I could have stayed. Al’s band is exceedingly underrated. For a band to seamlessly switch between rock, rap, pop, country, metal and polka is just incredible to see. The show was fantastic, but what was to come was going to hopefully be even more exciting.
After kitting up we wait backstage for our call. The hallway is covered in autographs of performers who have played at Comerica before us. I am a huge music fan and could have spent hours there looking at all the names. I spotted dozens of bands I’ve seen play there over the years. Axl Rose, Jet, Kasabian, Oasis.
autographs of performers who have played at Comerica before us. I am a huge music fan and could have spent hours there looking at all the names. I spotted dozens of bands I’ve seen play there over the years. Axl Rose, Jet, Kasabian, Oasis.
Al’s set ends and as the encore begins, we are given the sign to walk out on stage and take our places. I was pitch black and I was terrified my moment of fame was going to go down with me tripping on a cable and face planting on stage. Fortunately I make it to my mark unscathed and wait. Al enters the stage between me and Vader and starts singing “We All Have Cell Phones”. And then “The Saga Begins”… er… begins. For the next five minutes we’re pointing our blasters in synch and dancing like lunatics. It was absolutely wonderful. I was grinning from ear to ear. I could never have imagined being able to do this in 1999 when I first heard the song. As a huge fan of both Star Wars and “Weird Al’, it was a once in a lifetime experience and one I won’t soon forget.
10:00 p.m. VIP Meet and Greet
After the show, over a hundreds fans were in line to meet Al. Kids and adults alike dressed in costumes representing Al through the ages. I stood as security behind Al while he signed every autograph and treated each fan as though they were the only ones there.
11:00 p.m. 501st Meet and Greet
After a long and exciting evening, it was finally our turn to meet the man himself. He had been at it for hours and you could tell he was tired. He had been there long before we arrived and left as I was leaving the venue, but to his credit, he stayed to the very end. I had a million things to say to him, but all I had time for was “thank you”. He smiled and shook my hand. That was enough.
I handed Al my blaster for the group photo and then took my photo with him.
The experience could not have been any more enjoyable. Great company, great show, great meet and greet. This is one very big item I am crossing off my bucket list. I have done so many amazing Star Wars events, I don’t know how I can top this. Have I peaked? If so, this is one heck of a way to do it. Mr. Yankovic, I doubt you will ever read this, but if you do, thank you. Thank you for years of music that have brought a smile to my face when I didn’t feel like smiling and thank you for this opportunity to meet you. It could not have gone any better.