Tampa Bay Times: Sting gets personal in St. Petersburg with the Florida Orchestra...

May 11, 2024

The English rock star played two benefit shows at the Mahaffey Theater this week.

Sting offered his blessing right after his second tune: Yes, we could rock out in front of the Florida Orchestra.

"I know we're in a classical space, and you're not supposed to clap in the middle of a song," the singer told the crowd at the Mahaffey Theater on Friday night. "You can tonight, OK?"

Then he launched into "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." The crowd gave in, clapping and singing along with "eees" and "ooohs."

Sting was in Tampa this February for a sold-out Raymond James Stadium gig alongside Billy Joel. But he's a lover of the arts, and he knows Tampa Bay is obsessed with him, so he returned to star in two fundraiser concerts with the Florida Orchestra on Thursday and Friday. The orchestra's star-studded gala concerts drive major funds each year; past guest performers have included Josh Groban, Seal, Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma.

The shows marked Sting's second time performing with the Florida Orchestra during their annual fundraiser. In 2017, he came for the nonprofit's 50th anniversary. Tickets this time ranged from $100 to $1,500 for a spot in the front row. On both nights, all 2,012 seats sold out.


The concert on Friday - featuring 18 songs, an intermission and an encore - was equal parts intimate and indulgent.

Sting and members of his touring band sat onstage with the Florida Orchestra, playing special arrangements of his lush pop and rock tracks. Before just about every song, Englishman #1 (Sting) walked the crowd through his lyrics, offering behind-the-scenes commentary on his characters. Then Englishman #2 (musical director Michael Francis) conducted the Florida Orchestra as it fleshed out a rich soundtrack.

If you closed your eyes during "Fields of Gold" and let your imagination take over, it was easy to picture the endless barley outside Sting's Wiltshire manor. The orchestra's delicate violin section and soft patter of drums called to mind foxes scampering through a forest in "End of the Game." You could practically taste the spray of saltwater off a dock during the songs from Sting's nautical musical "The Last Ship" or hear the clip-clop of a horse in "I Hung My Head".

For most of the show, Sting planted his leather-clad butt on a stool and crooned. At 72, his voice still mesmerized, even if he had to skip or rasp through some of the high notes.

The high-dollar event allotted ample time for both solo material and hits from his band The Police (sadly, sans "Message in a Bottle.") Ahead of "Roxanne," Sting rehashed the fateful night when his fledgling band stayed in a hotel filled with ladies of the night. He posed the question: Is "Every Breath You Take" an appropriate wedding song or a stalker anthem? In a cowboy hat, Sting gushed over Hank Williams and confessed to a lifelong cowboy fascination. Before "I Hung My Head," he surveyed his audience to see if they felt the same.

"I was obsessed by TV westerns, and I'll be able to figure out the median age of the audience if I say ‘Rawhide,'" he said to a roar of cheers.


More cheers.

"My favorite — ‘Bonanza'!?"

Throughout the show, the orchestra took Sting's already emotional songs to new heights. They brought the drama with shimmering percussion and strings during "Desert Rose," then let a booming brass section shine during "King of Pain."

The mood grew tender during an encore of "Fragile" as Sting strummed a special guitar made of wood from pieces of a migrant boat. A group of Italian prisoners gave him the handmade instrument.

"You know, an instrument is like a human being. They respond to love and care," he explained. "Eventually after seven hours of playing, this thing started to tell a story."

A fitting end for a night of stories.

(c) Tampa Bay Times by Gabrielle Calise


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