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Earlier this month, we spent four days in and around New York City. The trip was much anticipated, and it came about because of Elton John.

I’ll explain…

In February 2018, my daughter and I were having a back-and-forth on Facebook messenger – discussing  Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. New dates were about to be added, including Brooklyn and Columbia, South Carolina.

Taylor lives in Brooklyn and I live in Myrtle Beach. We discussed the possibility of her coming here for the Columbia show, but she would have had to return to her work in New York quickly – which would basically give her only a couple of days here. In short order, a new plan gelled. How about we (with my girlfriend, Brenda) come up there…

That was it. The show would be more than a year later, and we figured it was doable. We could spend time together, see the City and catch Elton at Barclays Center. See my post about that show HERE.

When all was said and done, we packed a lot of living into those four days.

DAY ONE

We flew into LaGuardia via Spirit Airlines on March 8. My daughter gave us two tickets as a Christmas present. I had only been in New York once before over Memorial Day Weekend in 2017. At that time, I flew into JFK on American Airlines. Taylor met me there and we took a couple of trains into Brooklyn without any problems. I stayed with her at her place in Bedford–Stuyvesant.

Quite frankly, I heard a lot of negatives about LaGuardia – from ongoing construction issues to delayed flights and transportation snarls. Add to these the fact that we would have no clue about the lay of the land and you would be right that I didn’t think I’d want to deal with any of that.

We must have gotten lucky, because flying in and navigating the airport was fine – and Taylor opted to greet us at the airport. Strangers in a strange land, as it were – it was good to see Taylor get off the bus at the terminal. We got immersed in the MTA system immediately; first with a bus and then a train into Manhattan.

First up was a tour of Taylor’s work, SPOTCO, an entertainment advertising, marketing and branding agency in Midtown. I was taken with how genuinely nice the people were – to me and in what they had to say about Taylor. The offices were smart, inviting and no doubt conducive to productivity. What a great vibe! I am by nature a hugger, and many of her coworkers were huggers as well. For those that weren’t, I was on a roll and hugged just about everyone anyway.

At Ivanna’s Desk at SPOTCO

SPOTCO represents a dizzying array of clients, currently including “Kinky Boots,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Book of Mormon,” “Beetlejuice,” “Mean Girls” and much more. I am thrilled that my daughter is involved with such an awesome organization and so many wonderful people.

But we had places to go. Taylor and her friend, Erin, helped us over to our hotel with a couple of boxes of clothes we shipped to avoid having to check them on Spirit. That was too kind of them both – they wouldn’t let us carry them. Thanks, Ladies!

Row NYC is on 8th Avenue just off Times Square in a neighborhood called Hell’s Kitchen. It boasts 27 stories and more than 1300 rooms and opened in 1928 as the Hotel Lincoln. In its long history in good times and bad, it was also called the Manhattan Hotel, the Royal Manhattan and the Milford Plaza.

During renovations in 2013, the building was briefly named the Milford New York Hotel before it became Row NYC in 2014.

Whenever I book a hotel, I am a bit hyper-vigilant and sometimes afraid to hit the button to finalize the purchase. I looked at too many reviews of Row NYC and other properties around Times Square. To my satisfaction, the room was just what we thought it was going to be. Recently-renovated but tiny. Modern. No coffee maker. But decent city views and a comfortable bed. We were going for economy, of course – and we had no complaints.

We wanted to be in Times Square because Taylor’s work was nearby. We considered staying in Brooklyn but preferred to be right in the thick of things – ideally to have the freedom to mosey around from this centralized location. All good.

But this was just the beginning. Taylor had it all worked out: We would go eat pizza and then head to a place far from Kansas but close to “Oklahoma,” as we shall see.

Prince Street Pizza is located in the Nolita neighborhood – or “North of Little Italy” – on, well, Prince Street.   We waited quite a long time to get in – and the place was tiny – a counter up front and a small section to stand and eat if you could get a spot. We crammed in as best we could after receiving our pizza – their famous “Soho Squares” and chowed down. The pizza was gooey with scalding mozzarella, “old world” pepperoni and thick dough. Simple and delicious.

Whether or not this trumps any pizza slice I have ever eaten is certainly up for debate. When I brought that up later, Taylor got annoyed – but there it is. Photos of celebrities lined the wall where we ate, and even at close proximity, other customers were friendly enough. Nobody was rude.

We said our goodbyes to Erin, and then it was off to the West Village to a spot very near the Stonewall Inn, the epicenter of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a watershed event in the fight for LGBT rights.

The spot in question was Marie’s Crisis. An online reviewer summed up the place like this: ”Marie’s Crisis is a basement piano bar with cheap drinks and the opportunity to sing unlimited show tunes.”

Thomas Paine Died in this House

Marie’s Crisis is just off Christopher Street on Grove Street. I went there once before with Taylor on my previous trip. It’s tiny. With an upright piano surrounded by an enclosure and a bar to its right – folks are squished together and it is mandatory to check your coat.

But that place – that place might be the happiest place in New York – especially when the piano player starts in with the showtunes. Even the surliest, meanest looking motherfucker becomes angelic as he belts out “Corner of the Sky” or “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.” Maybe it’s a tune from “Rent” or “Wicked” that does the trick.

For me, it’s almost anything from “A Chorus Line.”

We met up with three of Taylor’s friends – Rachel, Clyde and Mary. Thank God they let us get in line with them, because the line was getting longer as we arrived.

Taylor went to the College of Charleston with Rachel and Clyde, which is amazing in itself – I mean the fact that the three of them now live and work in The City.  I am happy to also call them friends. And it was great to meet Mary, too.

We spent a couple of hours at Marie’s – singing our hearts out. Rachel and I had spoken about our affection for “A Chorus Line” many times – including when she visited us in Myrtle Beach years ago. I am not sure if it was Clyde or Rachel that put in the request for a series of songs from the show – but singing together brought me so much joy.

I blogged about a production of “A Chorus Line” that Taylor and I went to see in Charleston in 2016 – with none other than Clyde in the part of Bobby Mills. Read that post HERE.

I am happy that Brenda got a taste of all of this too. Musicals are a part of my DNA – and now, thank God, they are part of Taylor’s.

We rode the train back to our neck of the woods with Taylor and friends. They went off to her favorite Bar, Hold Fast, which I will be blogging about later.

Brenda and I got some snacks at Duane Reade near Times Square and moseyed to our hotel.

I’d say this was a good day.

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Waccamaw Getaway FestivalLast year, the Bucksport Marina in Conway, South Carolina hosted the inaugural Waccamaw Getaway Festival – a three-day event boasting more than 25 bands from near and far, including singer/songwriter Randall Bramblett, folk/blues/Americana outfit The Ben Miller Band and local “reggae jam rock” stalwarts, Treehouse!, who have been steadily gaining traction at festivals and venues across the U.S.

With the idyllic Waccamaw River as its backdrop, the event featured vendors and artists of every stripe and offered camping, boat docking, food and much more.

And it’s about to happen again over Memorial Day Weekend – May 25 through May 27.

This year’s headliner is Todd Nance and Friends. Nance was the original drummer for Widespread Panic. He left that outfit in 2016.

Scott Mann, radio personality and program director for local classic rock station WAVE 104.1 co-founded the festival with event production entrepreneur Scott Hyman of 3930 Music in Conway.

Scott-Hyman-Scott-Mann-1200x1200

Scott Hyman and Scott Mann – Photo: Myrtle Beach Life/The Sun News

I recently spoke with Mann to get the skinny for this year.

RY: How did you guys manage to snag Todd Nance and Friends for the headliner? Did you have to go through hoops?

MANN: A friend of a friend. A friend of mine is a friend of Todd’s and he came to me and said, “I think I can make this happen.” I said, “Please try to make it happen.”  So, thank you, Chris.

Q: What’s new with this year’s lineup? I see a mix of returning acts as well as some new names.

A: There are definitely some returning bands. As long as there is a [Waccamaw] Getaway Festival, there will always be a spot for Groove Fetish. We also have Dubtown Cosmonauts and Electric Soul Pandemic returning. This year, we managed to snag a lot of bands that we couldn’t get last year because we had such a short amount of time to put it together.

Q: You had three months to put something together that typically takes maybe nine months.

A: It’s something that you want to take as much time as you can to have the biggest number of bands that have the dates open. But we put the first one together in less than 90 days, so this year, one of the first things we did was go after the bands that we couldn’t get to last year because they were already booked.

Q: And you seem to still have a good mix of local, regional and national acts. Is this by design, or did the roster just come together that way?

A: Well, the first year, the roster came together the way it did because of time constraints and we got very lucky. The basic idea here is that this is a destination festival, but we would obviously like to get as many locals there as possible.  The idea of this festival is to present original music from around the country and make it a destination for people.

Q: Tell me about the late-night sets. Is this a new addition?

A: Last year we had some late-night DJ sets. That was pretty neat, but this year we also have some special late-night stuff lined up. First, we are going to have a late-night DJ set from Plenny G. And we also have – and this is so exciting for us – Tru Sol in a late-night set. Although the focus of the festival is original music, there are certain things that one does not say no to. When the opportunity to have a dance party with Tru Sol came up, we were real psyched about that.

Daniel Combs of Jahman Brahman (one of the bands we wanted for last year) has gotten together with Wade McMillan from Oracle Blue. They are going to do a late-night electronic jam kind-of-thing with whoever else is going to sit in with them. The great thing about the bands at this festival is that they are from all over the region and around the country. You’ve got bands coming in from Athens, GA and Boston. The Ben Miller Band is coming in from Joplin, MO. We’ve got bands coming in from Tennessee, and North Carolina is very well represented. A lot of these bands have been at different festivals with each other, and they have gotten to know each other. We really don’t know who will sit in with McMillan-Combs and Friends, but there will be friends.

 

 

Q: Tell us about the Artist’s Area and the Flow and Fire Area.

A: The Flow and Fire Area is once again manned this year – or should I say womanned – by our good friend Ann Virginia [Ann Winnard] of Over the Moon Productions.  Annie and all her crew are going to be there – spinning fire – spinning LEDs – and they invite people to bring their own toys and participate. You just need to sign a little waiver-thing.

We are also going to have the vendors area in a new spot this year – they will be right out there in the middle of everything – outside of the music area but also very much within earshot of the music. Everything is very close together this year, and the vendors will not be sequestered away in a separate building.

Right next to that will be the Art Tent, and a friend that we designated the Waccamaw getaway Festival’s artist superhero – Stephen Rullo – is going to make sure that the art tent is doing what it’s supposed to do, which is basically be a zone for artists who will come in and listen to the music and spend part of their day creating art live on the spot – painting and whatever. We have a limited number of art spaces – and just like we did last year, we gave them out to artists for free. Artists are an essential part of what we’re doing, and yet how many artists do you know that have any money.

Waccamaw Getaway Festival Band Lineup

Q: You must have learned what worked and what didn’t work from last year.

A: We did learn a number of things, which happens when you do something for the first time and you try to do it again. We are taking those things and putting them into action this year to make it just a better experience for everybody.

Q:  Tell me about the addition of Seth Funderburk [Sea Note Recording/Waterway Run Management] as co-organizer?

A: Seth helped out with a lot of stuff last year, and he was on the sound board quite a bit. He has a lot of experience with production, booking and promotion. He’s done everything you can do in the music business around here, and he is a great asset and a great resource. Seth and I both serve on the board of South by Southeast together, so we’ve known each other a long time.

Q: How are you guys getting the word out?

A: WAVE 104.1 is presenting the festival as the official Summer of Live kickoff. We have been giving away tickets and upgrades to three-day passes that include camping. We will do the same thing with support from 96.1 WKZQ. But WAVE is the presenting radio station, so I will be on scene the whole weekend.

We’ve done some promotion outside of town, of course. Like I said, this is a destination festival. We have done some radio and other promotions in Wilmington. We have some street-teamers in Wilmington, with posters, flyers, and the like. We also have a street-teamer in Florence, making sure the flyers and posters go where they need to go.

Oracle Blue

We have been promoting through social media, of course. We have promoted through all of the regional important jam-band websites and hooked up with the Homegrown Music Network.

Most of all, people are just spreading the word around because they are excited about it and want to share it with their friends. People are supporting it left and right. We have no big conglomerate behind us. This is a family-created festival, with bands being booked because one person knew another person.

Q: But you have sponsors. Tell me about them.

A: We’ve got New South Brewing as sponsor, and you know they are as local as you can get. We’ve got sponsorships from Tito’s Handmade Vodka. While it’s a very well-known and popular vodka brand – it’s certainly not one of the giant big dogs taking over the world. It’s some guys from Austin, TX. We hooked up with  Waccamaw Riverkeeper,  and we will give them a portion of our proceeds so that they can keep the river that makes the festival so beautiful – clean and safe– and this whole thing is just an effort by a bunch of people who just want to see us have a good music festival.

Waccamaw River

For more information, visit www.waccamawgetawayfest.com.

For ticketing, go HERE.

Myrtle Beach-area locals can save money by picking up LOCAL’S ADVANTAGE three-day day passes at New South Brewing – 1109 CAMPBELL STREET, MYRTLE BEACH, SC 29577  (843) 916-2337   Info@NewSouthBrewing.com.  Hours: Tuesday-Friday from 4pm-7pm and Saturday from 1pm-5pm.

 

 

 

Rog - Liberty

I realize that the term blogfade has not yet made it into a proper dictionary – and I am not altogether sure what the term means to me.

For a few years, I have been staying true to my intention here by writing about the random and the relevant. But I am horrified – well, maybe just a bit troubled – that my last blog post was in October of last year. That was more than six months ago.

I appreciate the fact that a few of my friends have taken the time to read some of these posts, and I want to be sure to correct course by posting regularly.

I need to treat this blog like I do my writing assignments – and I can benefit from an editorial calendar and a little discipline.

I’ll be back.

Don’t let my blogfade fuel your schadenfreude.

Here’s a clip from a recent House of Blues show with my brother… a song called “It’s Not Love,” written when I had no real idea about love…

 

 

 

ICI Exterior

International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach

Over the years, I have frequently read about the value of saying yes to opportunities that expand our horizons and take us out of our comfort zones.

Even though I have been performing music professionally for years, work in a public-facing job at a high-end cigar shop and have interviewed hundreds of people for my newspaper features, I still consider myself a bit shy.

Many of my friends might scoff at this because I enjoy friendship and camaraderie, but at the same time I still experience a bit of social awkwardness in new settings.

Which is exactly why I said yes last month to take on two wildly different roles – as a judge in a culinary competition and as a wedding officiant.

The following is part one of my week of saying yes.

My friend, Joe Bonaparte, is executive chef at the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach. I have profiled him a couple of times – once for The Sun News and once for the now-defunct Weekly Surge, an alt weekly that was under the umbrella of The Sun News and its parent company, McClatchy Newspapers.

When Joe asked me to participate as a judge, this was on the heels of a story I had just finished about a pitmaster named Phil Wingo of an outfit called #porkmafia, who visited the Institute for a barbecue intensive.

Naturally, I thought I was judging a barbecue competition.

Nope.

I was nervous enough about saying yes to this because I felt like I didn’t know enough about barbecue to be of any real value – but Joe assured me I would be fine.

But what I didn’t know was that this competition was a bit more, shall we say, complicated – than barbecue.

Judges' Table

The event for which I was to participate as one of three judges was the National Pork Board’s “Be Inspired” cooking competition for foodservice educators, part of the 13th annual leadership conference for CAFÉ – The Center for the Advancement of Foodservice Education – a 3-day program chock-full of culinary events, breakout classes and presentations.

CAFÉ is headed up by executive director Mary Petersen, who founded the organization in 2002, but brings more than 20 years of experience to the table, promoting the professional development of foodservice educators.

Marilou Tate

Chef Marylou Tate

The International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach, with Bonaparte at the helm, played host to this ambitious conference.

The cooking competition was put together by Chef Paul Sorgule of Harvest America Ventures, LLC, which according to its website is “a network of seasoned food service professionals who collectively have the ability to provide any service that an up and coming restaurateur may need.  This network covers all typical issues faced by a chef/owner as they set the stage for a successful restaurant venture.”

I was overtaken by the sheer awesomeness of the institute’s brand-spanking new, $15 million facility – gleaming in all of its glory. And folks – foodies, teachers, visiting chefs, culinary students – were swarming the place.

I felt outclassed and definitely out of my element.

But after I met a few people and said hello to Joe – I and relaxed a bit, realizing that the event, while earning the chef-contestants continuing education points, was meant to be fun.

Thankfully, I was able to get a few pointers from a fellow judge, Chef David Bottagaro of the National Pork Board as well as from Sorgule – the upshot being to enjoy the process while tasting some wonderful food from three outstanding chef-instructors – judging on categories like effective use of protein, taste and flavor, plate composition, plate presentation, and texture and temperature.

Sorgule, Bottagaro

Chef Paul Sorgule, Chef David Bottagaro

The other judge was Don Odiorne of the Idaho Potato Commission.

My only regret is that I didn’t have anything meaningful to say afterward when the chefs were called in for individual critiques.

Sorgule was gracious when he told me that all I really had to do was think about whether or not I enjoyed the individual dishes and whether or not I would have ordered these in a restaurant. Thanks, Chef Sorgule.

Stay tuned – I will have more about Chef Bonaparte and the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach in future blog posts.

Culinary Contestants

Chef-Contestants

 

 

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I’m so stoked to be a part of Jeff Yalden’s creative team.

Here’s a recent blog post from Jeff’s site.

In tandem with the release of his Amazon bestseller, BOOM! One Word to Instantly Inspire Action, Deliver Rewards, and Positively Affect Your Life Every Day, author and speaker Jeff Yalden has launched his BOOM Podcast – the perfect companion to bring the BOOM into your life, reinforcing the principles laid out in his life-changing book and digs even deeper, featuring people who have implemented the BOOM in their lives as well.

BOOM Cover Hal Elrod Endorsement

A leading youth motivational and mental health speaker for more than two decades, Yalden has addressed more than 4000 teen audiences in all 50 states, every province in Canada and 49 countries including Singapore and Vietnam.

His message has always been hard-hitting, bringing a world of actionable principles to the table and inspiring his audiences to take personal responsibility in all areas of their lives.

And now he has taken these principles and given them life in his book and in his podcast.

In this inaugural episode, Jeff explains with astonishing honesty and self-reflection where the BOOM comes from, what it means to him and why he decided to write the book.

“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “In this first episode, I want to come clean and give you guys a sense of where I have come from to where I am now, and how the BOOM really impacts everything I do.”

As he talked about in the book, coming to his BOOM moment involved a series of major setbacks that could have stopped him in his tracks, or worse.

About four years ago, Jeff went through a divorce which ended a 14-year marriage. Instead of placing the blame on anybody else, he went straight to the mirror and asked himself tough questions, coming to the realization that his mental health issues were much more severe than he thought them to be at the time.

Jeff was pre-diabetic and putting on weight. He said he knew what to do and what to eat, but was basically ignoring the warning signs.

“All of a sudden I was a full-fledged diabetic, but I still didn’t pay attention,” he said.

He vividly recalls the time he went to his parents’ house, physically exhausted and mentally drained and with his diabetes flaring up.

“I told them I felt like I was going to die and I didn’t want to die alone. They gave me some orange juice and something to eat, and I went home a few hours later.”

But his parents intervened that night. Jeff’s dad came to his house, woke him up, and called an ambulance for him. Jeff was a mess. His triglycerides were a jaw-dropping 2784, his blood sugar over 500 and his A1C level was 15.5.

“My endocrinologist said to me that at any moment something catastrophic was going to happen,” he said, adding that even despite these serious warning signs, he still didn’t make the necessary changes, citing his grueling speaking and travel schedule as a deterrent to a healthy lifestyle.

And that’s not all by any means. He endured a spinal cord fusion because of a CrossFit injury and was immobilized for six weeks.

“I couldn’t speak for almost four months and I ended up having a mental breakdown. My diabetes was flaring up and my depression got worse. I wanted to give up, and I did,” he said.

He quit speaking and got a 9-to-5 job, thinking at the time that he just wanted to have what he calls a normal job.

He packed up his office – his life – into cardboard boxes: Computer, fax machine, mementos, awards – even his varsity letters and photos – essentially getting rid of everything near and dear.Yalden Pic2

But something awesome began to happen when he started going back to counseling once a week.

“When I walked in there, I was emotionally broken. I was not the Jeff Yalden that many of you know. We started at the beginning and built a toolbox, and I began rewarding myself for small victories.”

As a result of building this toolbox, Jeff eventually made the decision to go home and restore his office and get back to doing what he loves.

This was his first BOOM moment.

Jeff also started taking care of himself – including a gastric sleeve surgery that might well have saved his life.

“That was something I needed to do for me, and when I did do it – it was like – BOOM! That was the reward. I don’t have to let my weight be something that monopolizes my every waking thought anymore. I am down 80 pounds. I am free of diabetes. I brought the BOOM into my life. I celebrate with the BOOM every single day.”

Jeff Yalden has come back stronger than ever, reestablishing his place among the best of the best.

“The BOOM is about you taking responsibility. The BOOM is about you saying, ‘I can do this.’ And the BOOM is about rewarding yourself for your accomplishments and little victories. Remember: Nothing changes if nothing changes.”

To listen to the BOOM Podcast, click HERE.

The BOOM will change your life. Grab this Amazon bestseller now by clicking HERE.

Join the BOOM Facebook community HERE.

When I first met Jeff Yalden, he was the GM of a business called Title Boxing Club here in Myrtle Beach, which had just opened. I was there to cover the business for a fitness slot in The Sun News.

Yalden greeted me with a firm handshake.  A big, tattooed guy –  6’1” and 320 pounds at that time [he has since lost more than 80 pounds] with 20-inch arms – my first thought was biker or weightlifter.  Little did I know then that I had just met North America’s number one youth motivational speaker.

Yalden Pic1

Photo Courtesy Jeff Yalden

Yalden has enjoyed an incredible 25-year career as a public speaker, addressing more than 4000 audiences in all 50 states, every province in Canada and 49 countries including Singapore and Vietnam.

During that first meeting with him, he showed me his website and talked about just having returned from a trip to Indiana, where teen suicides were running rampant – and I got the vibe that this was a man who cared deeply. I never forgot that meeting.

I was supposed to talk to Jeff again the following week, but when I got to the facility, I was told that he no longer worked there. I found that odd, but completed my fitness story without him.

Meanwhile, I had become friends with Yalden on Facebook – and I saw that his stint at Title Boxing came during a period when he was seriously considering giving up public speaking. In fact, he had been going through health issues, including a spinal cord fusion – and so much as announced that he was retiring from speaking.

But something changed, and I saw that Yalden was about to head to Vietnam to speak to 65 teenagers there as part of a youth team-building program. Intrigued, I looked him up again and found out that he had also appeared on MTV’s “Made,” appearing as a teen life coach.

Yalden’s retirement from speaking didn’t last long, and from where I’m sitting, that’s excellent. His message is too strong.

Jeff Doing His Thing in Texas

Since personal profiles are my specialty, I approached Jeff after his return from Vietnam about a Sun News feature, and he graciously accepted. That story ran last August, and I’m including it below.

The following is a testament to opportunities coming “out of the blue.” In late January, Jeff asked me if I would be willing to do some blogging for him. Remembering that initial meeting, the story that followed, and the fact that I am totally down with his message – of course I took the opportunity immediately.

In the ensuing months, I have been working with Jeff – blogging on both of his sites, www.jeffyalden.com and www.jeffyaldenblog.com. I enjoy the work – but not a post goes by where I haven’t learned something about life.

Something about the man struck a chord, and one of the standout things is that he served as a Marine. I think that anchor was awesome, because when we first spoke, my son had just enlisted and was at Parris Island, beginning his own journey as a Marine at the time.

Life can sometimes surprise a person by opening doors, and a quote attributed to Seneca sums this up best: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

I’m thrilled to be working with Jeff. More to come.

Here’s my Sun News Story about Jeff from last August:

Local Man Imparts Core Values, Life Skills to Youth Across the Globe

Jeff Yalden recently returned from Vietnam, traveling far afield from his home base in Myrtle Beach last month to participate in youth leadership training in Ho Chi Minh City.

It’s all in a day’s work for Yalden, 45, who has been a sought-after youth motivational and mental health speaker for more than two decades.  He has addressed more than 4000 teen audiences in all 50 states, every province in Canada and 49 countries including Singapore and now Vietnam.

Over the three-day engagement, he spoke to 65 teenagers.

“I was honored to go. My dad served in Vietnam, and suffers from the work that he had to do. I felt it was a good opportunity to go serve with a different purpose and in a different way,” he said.

While in Vietnam, Yalden worked closely with a translator.

“It was a challenge because you can’t really get into passion and emotion because you have to stop every couple of sentences so that it can be translated.”

Anyone who has ever seen Yalden speak can vouch for his passion. His style is hard-hitting and heartfelt – made more memorable by the fact that his message is emanating from a 6’1”, 320-pound tattooed frame with 20-inch arms and eliciting emotional responses running the gamut from laughter to tears.

He said he has been invited back for two more dates in Vietnam, and his father was invited as well to give him a better memory of the country.

“The kids were amazing. They are very disciplined and smart,” he said, adding that many of them are keeping in touch with him through Facebook.

Yalden Vietnam

Yalden in Vietnam – Courtesy Jeff Yalden

Yalden, who grew up on Long Island, NY, said his work is a good fit for him because his troubles started when he was 16.

“We moved to New Hampshire and I was a junior in high school. I never really opened my eyes to the possibilities of life after high school – and therefore I think my attitude needed to be adjusted.”

He had a learning disability, a facial tic and a stutter – and his self-esteem suffered tremendously.

He took the SATs twice, receiving very low scores – but he applied to 19 colleges and was accepted by three of them. Still, he was too afraid to attend because of a crushing sense of inadequacy. Instead, he joined the Marine Corps, which instilled in him core values like teamwork and self-reliance, as well as confidence and structure – just the tools he needed to start turning things around.

But he spiraled into depression after a relationship went bad and was hospitalized, displaying suicidal tendencies.

When he was honorably discharged from the Marines, Yalden had an epiphany of sorts, realizing once for all that he was solely responsible for his destiny – and he began to make transformative changes that ultimately led to his public speaking.

Yalden is still in therapy, having recently been diagnosed with major depression, bipolar II disorder and PTSD, but thankfully none of this impacts his speaking programs.

“I think I am most healthy when I am with my audience,” he said, adding that the reason he likes working with youth is because he is able to answer the commonly asked questions from high school students – and he still relates to them.

“I think I still go through it,” he said. “I often say that speakers speak about what they most need to learn.”

His work is often a journey of discovery on a very personal level, and Yalden puts it all out there, bringing a very definite authenticity to his messages – and he said he comes from a clinical approach when he is speaking.

Yalden - Merrimack Assembly

Assembly, Merrimack, NH – Courtesy Jeff Yalden

“It’s about not reacting, but responding – so you teach people that when something triggers an emotion, you want to give them the tools to be able to respond. Reacting can get them into trouble.”

And this helps him to deal with his bipolar II disorder as well, because he says certain triggers will want to set him off periodically.

“I have to work on that too, and I’m kind of like ‘OK, remember what you talked about. That’s what you’ve got to do.’”

This can be likened to a physician who benefits from his own medicine.

Yalden is also a certified suicide prevention trainer and has authored several books: Your Life Matters, They Call Me Coach, Keep It Simple, 20 Ways to Keep It Simple and Traits of a Leader.

Although he said he does not consider teen suicide to be an epidemic, he thinks it’s greater now than it has ever been and for a number of reasons including bullying and cyber-bullying. But sometimes parents tend to make things way too easy for their children. He calls them “lawnmower parents.”

“These parents want to go and cushion everything for the kids to make them feel like maybe they can live their lives over through their kids,” he said. “They don’t want the kids to suffer and they want to be able to give them what the parents never had – or do everything for them. I think these parents are telling their kids, ‘You can do anything in life. Life is not that hard and I will protect you.”

This perhaps sets up false expectations about adult life, which is loaded with challenges, adversity and many red herrings along the way.

“I also think the expectations are great and that teenage life is not what it is all cracked up to be. There is a lot of pressure and a lot of expectations – all of these test scores and trying to get acceptance and fit in – so it’s a combination of everything.”

Add the fact that kids are now “on” 24/7 – with a dizzying array of online options, apps and social media – keeping them under the scrutiny of their peers – and many young people have adopted an entitlement mentality.

“When something hard comes along, a lot of kids don’t have coping or problem-solving skills,” he said.

His advice to parents is to allow their children to struggle and find the courage within themselves to find their way through.

“It’s going to be OK, but this if life: Paying your rent, paying your mortgage. Losing a job, finding a job. Life is hard. When you get knocked down seven times, you get up eight.”

If there are mental health issues at play, Yalden encourages young people to open up.

“Never be afraid to ask for help,” he said.

Yalden appeared as a teen life coach on the MTV reality show, “Made,” in a season 12 episode called “The Comedian.”

“I spent six weeks in Minneapolis, Minnesota with an amazing young lady [Alyssa Williams] that we had to help graduate from high school and find purpose and direction in her life – and we are still friends today.”

Williams’ episode was about her attempts to break into comedy.

“MTV was probably the biggest impact on my career,” he said.

The fact that Yalden overcame a stutter and became a public speaker speaks volumes about his tenacity – and this should embolden other stutterers to take heart.

“In public speaking, I think you learn to annunciate your words better,” he said. “You are also telling a story – and sometimes when you are telling stories, you put yourself in another character – and I think that helps.”

Yalden is currently recovering from a CrossFit injury that required a spinal cord fusion.

“This year has been the hardest year of my life,” he said. “I am just getting back to feeling healthy again with my body – and I think I am a completely different person today than I have ever been. I am more present as a speaker, more present as a person – and I think I am operating less on ego and more on what my heart is really telling me I love to do.”

This is not lost on his clients, including John Trombetta, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week/Foundation for Free Enterprise Education.

“Jeff and I have known each other for approximately 10 years,” he said. “When another speaker of ours could not make a date he was scheduled for, Jeff very kindly altered his vacation route to Tennessee and stood in for him.”

He said Yalden was so impressed with the students and the week-long intensive summer program, which teaches young people about the American free enterprise system, that he has continues to speak there each summer, free of charge.

“He believes so much in our mission and, of course, has dedicated his life to young people,” said Trombetta, adding that his organization is blessed to have many speakers who connect extremely well with young people, but Yalden has a unique ability to forge a very special connection with his audience.

“Many youth motivational speakers use entertainment and humor to connect with their audiences and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Jeff himself uses an edgy humor occasionally but it is his ability to communicate how much he genuinely cares about each of their lives individually that I think gives him a unique ability to connect one-on-one with students in an audience of thousands. He is captivating rather than being simply entertaining.”

He added that Yalden’s heart is as big as the man himself.

“His devotion to youth is not just about collecting a fee, it is about changing lives and he lives it, not only when he is doing his professional gigs, but also in the quiet moments of his personal life. He is continually reflecting on how he can better serve young people. That is rare.”

Trombetta also cited the fact that Yalden is open about what he called his emotional scars and traumas.

“Rather than allow those to cripple him in any way, he has used and harnessed them to develop a message and style specifically to prevent young people from experiencing some of the things he has. His love for young people and caring about them individually is simply inspiring.”

He watches Yalden after every talk.

“He will sit for literally hours, spending as much time with each young person individually as necessary to hear their story and offer them his advice and often his shoulder. I’ve never seen any other speaker of the hundreds that I have known so willing to personally invest himself or herself in each and every life they encounter.”

Kevin Gentilcore, supervisor of Pupil Services at Bucks County Technical High School in Pennsylvania said that his school has invited Yalden to speak to its seniors for the past four or five years.

“He’s been outstanding,” he said. “Jeff combines straight talk, personal experience, a great sense of humor and excellent storytelling skills. He speaks to the kids in their own language and they really relate to him. In the students’ parlance, he ‘keeps it real.’”

Gentilcore said that what he likes best about Yalden is that he is an authentically caring human being.“We had a few tragedies at our school in the past few years and Jeff took it upon himself to reach out to the students involved through [social media], which he didn’t have to do. He has a good heart, and that comes across in his presentation.”

He added that he and his colleagues like to have Yalden speak to their seniors early in the year.

“He motivated them to give their all in the final year and to make good decisions asthey prepare for their future after high school.”

Yale Brothers by Buzz Berry

[Above photo: Buzz Berry]

Thursday marked the final performance of The Yale Brothers‘ winter engagement at House of Blues Myrtle Beach – in all, 22 shows from 5:30-8 p.m in an intimate setting on the stage inside the restaurant.

After committing to the gig as a solo act, my brother Chris agreed to join me on these. I couldn’t have been happier, figuring this as a good way to hone our craft weekly in the same room, and cultivating our audience as we went along.

[Above performance photos: Rob Grindstaff]

Chris still gives me a hard time about the fact that the marketing promos and menus were printed with my name only – but deadlines are deadlines – and hopefully all was forgiven when he saw that The Yale Brothers appeared on the electronic marquee out on U.S. 17.

Yale Brothers HOB Sign

The cool thing about this gig was that we were able to deliver a combination of thoughtful covers as well as originals. This is always ideal, so in addition to great stuff by Faces, Elton John, Tom Petty, Radiohead and Johnny Cash, for instance, we enjoyed introducing our material – songs like Chris’ “Famous Last Words,” “Roll Away the Stone” and “Castaway” to my twisted ballad, “It’s Not Love” and Stax/Volt soul-inspired “Is That What It Is.”


Here’s our cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” [Video: Brendan Wright Images]

Many of our friends came out to see us – some more than once, and for that we are grateful. That was above and beyond. We also made the rounds of the tables and introduced ourselves to people who just happened to be in there for a meal or a drink – and made new friends.

The vibe at House of Blues is unmatched, and the kindness and camaraderie we enjoyed with staffers was astonishing. Thank you all for making us a part of the family.

[Above: Chris with Show Marketing Manager Megan Ramhoff / Brand Marketing Manager Dawn Temples Knopf kicking off a Hopped Up Tap Takeover]

Moving forward, The Yale Brothers plan on writing and recording, playing select shows – and finally getting our podcast up and running.

Stay tuned for details about next winter.

Yale Brothers HOB Water Tower