Ballads, Butterflies & Boyz II Men in Nashville

After three and a half months of anticipation, I took a three hour road trip, I-40 East from Memphis to Nashville to see the incomparable trio of 90’s R&B ballads and slow jams: Boyz II Men.

Having bought tickets back in November, I couldn't wait to see them live and backed by the Nashville Symphony, intimately from the second row on the first night of three scheduled performances. With my sister behind the wheel and me steadfast in seat shotgun the entire trip, both the adolescent and grown up Boyz II Men fan in me were ready for what would actually be my second time seeing them in concert, the first being in the early '90s. I would like to note that I volunteered to help drive on several occasions, to which disparaging remarks were expressed regarding my "sense of direction," despite the fact that I lived in Nashville for four years. Really, no matter how old you get, older siblings will always pull rank. Ah well.

Boyz II Men have always been one of my favorite groups and one of the few whose music I will buy, tracks unheard. Their voices and harmonies have always been strong, and a lot of their songs for me are classics.

If Boyz II Men slipped off your radar between 1991 when their debut album “Cooleyhighharmony” was released until now: yes, they are still together. They released their latest album “Collide” in 2014 with 10 plus albums in between, including holiday and compilation albums. They currently have a residency at The Mirage in Las Vegas. Is Mike gone? Yes. Is he coming back? Probably not. Are they officially men now? Nate's chest says yes. Google that visual and get your life. Is Motownphilly back again? It never really left.

Though I never forgot about them, my love for them reignited when I saw them on Hallmark's Home and Family program. They sang "Losing Sleep" from their new album, and participated in a cooking segment and game show. I hesitate calling grown men cute, adorable, or delicious (if the last is your nickname, please allow me to address you by your government name), but they were, and I loved the new song and found out about the album they were about to release. All the excitement and love I had for them through the years came flooding back. Somewhere between obsessive YouTubing of old videos and interviews, binge listening to BIIM songs, and creeping on the BIIM app, I found out they were coming to Nashville and had tickets before I had the vacation time approved. I was going, come hell, high water, or call in.

The concert was held at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Downtown Nashville, in a cozy and beautiful concert hall. If you ever get the opportunity to see a symphony show, I recommend it 100 percent. It’s ballad heavy and the symphony is the perfect companion for their songs.

As the room filled with attendees, the diversity among their fans became apparent, as all ages and ethnicities were present. As 7:00 approached, the symphony entered the stage and started to warm up. When the lights dimmed they began playing a medley of BIIM songs. When you hear songs that you've loved for so long being played by a symphony, you start to geek out a bit. There are stylings that a symphony can do musically that made the songs sound, well, magical. When it seemed like the medley was coming to an end, I looked anxiously back and forth between the side stage entrances, wondering through which door they would enter. And when they did, my heart jumped as Wanya Morris, Nathan Morris, and Shawn Stockman single filed onto the stage in black suits, sunglasses, and sophistication.

The mix of ballads for the night included “Four Seasons of Loneliness,” “I Will Get There,” “A Song for Mama,” “So Amazing,” “I’ll Make Love to You,” “The Girl in the Life Magazine,” “Easy,” “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” and more with a brief intermission in between.

Every song was perfection and not an off note was heard. There's no doubt that these men can sing. I mean sing.  Even though their voices have obviously matured, time hasn't affected their talent. They all sing and perform well live and did so effortlessly.

They interacted with the audience and Shawn encouraged dancing, at least from the waist up, despite the fancy setting. I’m more of a singer myself and was belting it out on every song. I apologized to the guy sitting next to me, as I remember hearing myself on video singing “Purple Rain” at a club in Memphis, and I did not hit as many in tune notes as I thought I did. However, he was nice about it, and also told me that he worked on the “Collidealbum. He said he received a call and was told they had a seat in the second row for him to come see the show. We chatted a bit about the show and how BIIM still sound incredible. Sis said I was being too chatty. I’d like to think I made a friend… whose name I didn't get and may never see again. But a friend nonetheless.

Nate’s voice is crazy deep and hearing it in person: have mercy. He attempted playing “Easy” on the piano and when that didn't work, he said he would try again the next night, but even his attempts were entertaining. And I’m pretty sure Wanya stopped for a second so that I could take a picture of him on stage at one point. He also has the most infectious smile and is still a vocal powerhouse.

My one disappointment with the show would be that I didn't get a rose during “I’ll Make Love to You,” and I really did want one. Really fellas?  Really…? Wanya? Shawn? Nate? What the hell?! Shawn I know you saw me. Wanya, you came to my side of the stage too. And Nate, couldn't you have wandered over to our side as well? What.  The.  Hell. And then I see allll these jokers on Instagram with two or three roses? Was I supposed to elbow somebody in the throat to get one? Then I had to go back to my seat all dejected and empty handed.*dramatically shakes fist in the air* Not cool fellas. So not cool.  But, it’s cool. No stress. Next time. *sigh* Yep.

They also didn't do any tracks from their new album, even though the title track “Collide would have been beautiful with the symphony accompaniment. 

When what we thought was the end of the show, everybody stood for the ovation, but the lights were still dimmed and they came back with faux surprise that we were still there and sang” End of the Road” to end the show. I really didn't want the show to end and could have stayed for another two, three, or four hours and just have them run through songs from all of their albums. Sure, they would have been tired, but I would have been fine (smile). But they certainly came and did the damn thing and it was overall amazing performances by all three members. 

But the night didn't end there. I also had plans to attend the meet & greet if they were having one, and they did indeed. I have never attended a meet & greet with them, or any artist for that matter, so I didn't know what to expect. Would they be signing autographs? Answering questions? Taking pictures? I didn't know. I just knew I wanted that to be a part of our BIIM concert experience.

We bought our orange M&G wristbands before the show and then, along with the rest of the M&G attendees, wandered around aimlessly after the show. No one told any of us where the M&G was going to be held and even the ushers didn't know. One usher finally took us to a line outside a room upstairs, and as we moved closer, I started to get the vapors (that means I was nervous, but I’m from the South, so I wanted it to sound fancy and ladylike).  

When we made it to the door, a serious looking man cut off our wristbands, gave us an official autographed meet and greet badge and pointed us toward the sitting area of a lengthy banquet type room. I think at that point I had gathered that we were at least taking pictures, and I told my sister I wanted us to go together (with my vapors and all, I didn't want to pass out without family around).

We reached the sitting area and there they were. I hugged Nate and wanted to hug Shawn and Wanya, but they were obviously trying to move us through somewhat quickly, and the things that I wanted to say never moved from my mind to my mouth.  Not even quickly and breathlessly like Ralphie yelling his Christmas list to Santa while being pushed down the Santa's Village exit slide, being too nervous to say anything while on his lap in the movie "A Christmas Story."

So it was a bit of blur due to me mentally blacking out and having butterflies. We posed and Nate’s brother (who is handsome as well…I’ll tell you about them Morris boys) took pictures of us with my sister’s phone. It was quick but I still got a little up close and personal time with the fellas and proof that it happened. Next time, I’ll be ready, hopefully.

I found out later that a lady in the front row attended all three concerts and meet and greets. To which I questioned my life choices and why time, funds, and life in general wouldn't allow me to do the same. Could I have done some things differently up to that point in my life where I, too, could have attended all three concerts and had a second and third opportunity to redeem myself after one somewhat awkward meet and greet? So yes, you can get existential at a Boyz II Men concert, in case you were wondering.

I've already mentioned to my sister that we need to make our way to Las Vegas for one of their shows at The Mirage. She declined driving for that trip and said we’d have to fly, as it is a days drive from Memphis. Fair enough. And I’ll definitely be throwing bows for a rose, or three. But you know what they say: what happens in Vegas…could potentially end up on the 5:00 news and get you banned from all future Boyz II Men concerts. It's a chance I'm willing to take.  

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Maira Gall