Eurovision 2014 – Copenhagen

Right Song, Wrong Reason

Hello Dear Readers!

As you know, Dansk Melodi Grand Prix was this past weekend and for those if you who are longtime readers, you know my DMGP post starts my coverage for the new year. That post is forthcoming. But it just didn’t feel right to move forward without a post that’s been in the works for the past few months. Not because I had trouble writing it, but because I know, no matter how I phrase my argument, people will misunderstand what I am saying. So, in the name of clarity, I want to state this article’s main points here:

1. I love Rise Like a Phoenix. It was my favorite song from 2014. It’s precisely the type of music I go for. Not only that, I think it was the most complete song lyrically, musically, and in its presentation.

2. Homophobia and transphobia are real and are major issues worldwide.

3. Tom Neuwirth’s bearded-lady character, Conchita Wurst, was created to combat these issues.

4. While this mission is noble and to be commended, they are not reasons to vote for a song in a contest that prides itself on being apolitical and ideology-free.

With that in mind (and the reminder that this blog is predominantly based upon my opinion and understanding as I have experienced the world as a black, gay man), I present “Right Song, Wrong Reason.”

As Vienna prepares itself for the magnificent spectacle that is the ESC, I want to take a moment to reflect upon the reason for the Contest’s return to Austria. The indomitable Conchita Wurst presented an anthem of triumph in a James Bond-esque setting. Rise Like a Phoenix inspires hope within its listeners that, they too, can overcome heartache, setbacks, and adversity. However, would this song have won if it was performed by, say, a woman?  Or a man?  Or even, a non-bearded drag queen? I would predict not.

Right Song…

As I said, I love this song! The fact that it sounds like it fell out of a Bond movie is the primary reason for that. The composition is stunning; it builds in all the right places without ever overwhelming Wurst’s airy voice. Likewise, the staging was near perfect; if only the LED wings on the screen were a little higher so that they consistently looked like they were sprouting from Wurst’s back. But I digress.  For what it’s worth, Wurst’s voice was on par. She does not have the strongest or the biggest voice, but the song was written in such a way to maximize her strengths. The lyrics are inspiring and are broad enough to not apply to just one kind of situation. Universally-applicable lyrics + Well-staged performance + Beautifully composed music = Strong ESC Entry.

Normally, I would be excited for my favorite song to win the ESC (first time since 2007!), but, the media around this song, before and after the Contest, made it quite apparent that this song won, not because of its superiority, but due to the symbolic nature of its performer.

Some Context

Conchita Wurst is a bearded-lady character created by singer Tom Neuwirth to battle the rampant homophobia and transphobia that he witnessed in Austria and his travels. So, some context:

Homophobia = hating and discriminating against someone due to the fact that they are homosexual (this term is often used to also incorporate discrimination against people who identify as any other non-heterosexual orientation by those outside of the queer community).
Transphobia = hating and discriminating against someone because they do not identify as a gender that falls into the typical alignment with their birth sex (i.e., someone born male who does not identify as a man)
These issues are more complex than I am making them; for more information, the University of California, Davis has a great page that dives into these topics: http://lgbtqia.ucdavis.edu/lgbt-education/.

While Neuwirth does identify as a gay man, he does not (nor has he ever) identified as anything other than a man. Hence, Conchita Wurst is a drag queen, not a transwoman (unlike, the performing artist of the 1998 winning song Dana International, who is a transwoman). However, as Neuwirth has said, in and out of character, Conchita Wurst stands for acceptance for all peoples – not just those with which he identifies.

Conchita Wurst has been at the forefront of these issues within Austria. And, since her victory, across Europe and even in the Western World (I’ve encountered people here in the US who have heard of ESC simply because of Wurst’s win).

…Wrong Reason

Anyone who follows the Contest, even distantly, would have encountered articles and stories about Wurst, highlighting what she represents and, eventually, deifying the draq queen for it. This deification piqued around Eurovision Week when the press realized how sweet and funny Conchita Wurst is. The verbage around Rise Life a Phoenix was not about the staging, or the music, or the lyrics (though, a few folks did offhandedly mention the Bond-esque sound of it), but about Conchita Wurst.

While I commend the efforts that Wurst is making to end discrimination, Eurovision is supposed to be a Contest free from politics. This should go both ways. Just because the cause is good does not mean it should influence the voting, just like bad politics should not affect the voting.

Why Make a Post About This?

So, why make a post about positive politics positively affecting the odds of my favorite song? Because I want the Contest to remain open everyone. The ESC was founded to unite all of Europe, regardless of their beliefs. The folks with the most to learn will be the first to stop watching if the Contest if becomes a platform for preaching. Think about the television show Glee. It became quite popular, used its platform to share lessons about acceptance, then descended into weekly preaching sessions, usually about lesbian/gay issues, and now has a fraction of the audience it once had. Preaching to the choir (that is, telling your supporters what they already know) is okay if you want to rally support, but to make change, you have to make sure you are using a platform that is open to everyone. It is bad enough that media is trying its hardest to pigeon-hole into a gay-man only event (which is something I have railed against previously on this blog), but the more we lift up folks with certain types of politics or messages – AND present them as nothing more than their messages (and not their songs) the more we alienate and push away those that we want to inform.

Yes, Rise Like a Phoenix was the best song at the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest. Unfortunately, it won because of what the character Conchita Wurst represents and not because of the fantastic song that she presented. Winning entries tend to start trends, hopefully, the trend for songs winning for their politics stops here.

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ESC2014 – A “Few” Weeks Later

Hello Dear Readers!

As I reflect upon this year’s Contest, several things come to mind. This was a great show! From the beautiful stage, to stunning entries, to the suspenseful voting, to the ultimate champion, I think this will be remembered as one of the best Contests in quite some time.

Speaking of the winner, I will be writing a post detailing my thoughts on Rise like a Phoenix‘s triumph. If you look at my live notes from the Final, you’ll be able to get a glimpse of what I will be writing about.

Before I get to my annual awards, I want to point out some of the historical notes from this year’s Contest.

A Year of Firsts

  • San Marino qualified for the Final for the first time and received Saturday night points for the first time, too. This was on Valentina Monetta’s third attempt (and final time for at least a while)
  • It is the first time Montenegro has made it to the Final as well as it’s first ever douze points.
  • Azerbaijan finished outside the Top Ten for the first time. With Montenegro and San Marino’s relative success and Azerbaijan’s low finish, surely now, more than ever, countries must be hopeful of their chances.
  • France achieved its first ever last place this year, narrowly avoiding nul points-land with the help of Finland and Sweden.
  • And the first time that I attended a Contest! (post to come)

A Year of Rarities
In addition to the first time events mentioned above, there are also several rare occurrences that happened this year.

  • The Netherlands not only started a qualification streak and Top Ten streak of two years running, but also finished Top Five for the first time since 1998 and with its best placing since winning in 1975.
  • Greece, which held the longest active streak for consecutive Top Ten finishes until 2012, now finds itself outside the Top Ten again just two years later. This is also among Greece’s worst placings to date.
  • Italy also hit a historic low, not only is this its first foray outside the Top Ten since returning, but is among its worst finishes historically as well.
  • For only the second time, Moldova failed to move through to the Final and finds itself in the unlucky spot of being lowest point gatherer for the semi-finalists.
  • For only the second time, all three Baltic states were shut out of the Final since Latvia completed the set in 2000, the previous being 2010.
  • Only three countries broke 200 points and only three more made it over the 100 point threshold indicating that the top point earners were adored throughout the continent and that the competition was otherwise quite close.
  • The voting sequence algorithm worked perfectly! Austria didn’t quite pull away definitively until only a few countries were remaining, making this one of the most exciting finishes in recent ESC history.

Continued Trends
Along with the new and rare occurrences, this year brought with it some of the trends we are used to seeing.

  • For the (fifth?) time since the introduction of the semi-final in 2004 have all five Nordic countries made it to the Final together and at least one made it to the Top Ten.
  • With the fall if Azerbaijan, Russia now owns the longest active streak of Top Ten finishes. It extended its success to three consecutive Contests. Russia takes the honor because Italy failed to get Top Ten this year. With two consecutive Top Tens apiece, Ukraine, Denmark, Hungary, Norway, and (surprisingly!) the Netherlands, all are following close behind.
  • The Big Five hangs tough by getting at least one of themselves in the Top Ten. Granted, it’s a far cry from 2012 when three of them made it, but it pushes the group’s streak to six. Keep in mind, this streak comes after a four year drought for the group in which they all frequented the Bottom Ten.

More fun with numbers here: escinsider.

Now, on to the awards!
Best Lyrics Award

NorwayWinner: Norway Silent Storm

“And there’s a silent storm inside me
Looking for a home
I hope that someone’s gonna find me
And say that I belong”

A haunting, poignant song written by Epsen’s cousin specifically about him. This personal connection contributed to Carl Epsen’s ability to utterly crush his performance. In fact, each time he has performed this song, he has done it better and better.

Honorable Mention: Austria, Moldova, and Sweden

The “Huh?” Award: Given to the country the most questionable, lazy, or just plain nonsensical lyrics.

DenmarkWinner: Denmark Cliché Love Song

“Scooba-dooba-dap-dap-di-di-die
Scooba-dooba-dap-dap-di-di-die
I love you
Another cliché baby”

1. There’s nothing cliché about loving someone
2. Even if it was, there’s nothing wrong with being cliché
3. Even f there was, why would you sing a song about it?

Honorable Mention: Estonia, United Kingdom, Georgia

Best Dressed Award

Photographer Andres Putting/Eurovision

Credit Andres Putting/EBU

With Ilse DeLange in a pretty white dress and Waylon in a nice black suit and his trademark hat, the Common Linnets’ not only look demure, but are perfectly dressed to fit the style and sound of their song The Calm After the Storm.

Honorable Mention: Montenegro, Ukraine, Spain, and Russia

Most in Need of a Costume Change Award

Winner: The United Kingdom

UK.c.AndresPutting

Credit Andres Putting/EBU

What. The. Heck!!  Bright gold, form-fitting, short dress?  Feathers?! Have we learned nothing from Joan Franka? Feathers are never a good idea, particularly in that vast amount of numbers. This entry was predicted to contend for the crown. The outfit was one of various reasons why it did it.

Honorable Mention: Macedonia, France, and Georgia

Best Staging Award

Winners: Ukraine & Sweden

I couldn’t decide between these two. Ukraine’s hamster wheel and clock imagery fit the song perfectly. It allowed Marija Yaremchuk to move around, without being distracting or getting out of breathe.  Meanwhile, Sweden had an tasteful, toned down performance with Sanna in her cage of light. Again, the use of the lights reflected the song, particularly mirroring the melodic growth throughout.

Honorable Mentions: Switzerland (all the fun of the music video), Montenegro (the figure skater was an amazing addition), and Austria (being alone on stage allowed the power of the song to shine through)

Worst Staging Award

Winners: Italy

Despite an amazing music video that captures the attitude and edge of this song, the staging came off as immature and disorganized.  There are many directions that they could have taken this to bring that same intensity to the stage in Copenhagen, even using that awful outfit she had, and they utilized none of them.

Honorable Mentions: France (a hot mess), Armenia (would have been much improved with the addition of dancers/actors), and Ireland (the dancers were distracting and unnecessary)

“This is DC Calling” Award: Given to the most American sounding entry

NetherlandsWinner: The Netherlands

No real surprise here.  The song was intentionally written in the tradition of American folk music so there is little wonder that I think that this is the most “American” sounding song for this year.

Honorable Mention: Spain (nice, big American sounding ballad), Denmark (generic pop music!), Ukraine (strong female-driven pop tune), and Estonia (dance number with big notes)

“The Pond Leaper” Award: While I think each song would find a niche here in the USA, I think these songs would be the most popular

Winner: UkraineUkraine

The pop diva will always rule the American airwaves. Add to that the current increase in American sympathies for Ukraine and I think that Tik Tok would be a huge hit in the US. Not to mention it’s so catchy! And who doesn’t like a cute guy in a hamster wheel?

Honorable Mention: Norway (heartfelt, genuine ballad, much like Sam Smith or Mary Lambert), The Netherlands (see above), Ireland (great dance beat)

The “Spirit of ABBA” Award: Given to the most stereotypical and/or traditional ESC entry

Winner: Belarus

BelarusCatchy pop tune with questionable lyrics: Check
Slick dance moves: Check
Surprisingly popular amongst the fans and juries: Check!
Cheesecake is a fun song that is not only infectious but also innocuous. While we can debate over the content of the music video, we can agree that lyrics are from the perspective of a guy worn out in his relationship, not a voice we get to hear very often. Also, it’s worth noting that this is the second straight year that Belarus has won this award. Will it go for three in a row in 2015?

Honorable Mention: Sweden (a traditional, schlager-ballad), Portugal (fun, Iberian dance tune), Denmark (complete with gibberish lyrics to enhance catchability of the tune)

Coming up
Normally, this is where my final thoughts would appear, but further debriefing is required for this year’s historic finish. Check back soon for my article on Austria’s victory.


ESC2014 – Grand Final Live Notes

Hello dear readers!

As I lack understanding of how these things work, I am not at the arena tonight.  But that means I can be here with you!

It’s 9:05 and the show is starting! The opening act is stunning and now we have a return of the parade of nations!

Ukraine starts us off with a bang (and a few bum notes)! A nice performance, but not as strong as her others.

Belarus was okay. It definitely got better as it went along and this was his strongest performance thus far. But still, no danger of history being made with a winner from the second position.

Azerbaijan – definitely not as strong as it should have been, especially with that bum note.  Still enough for a top ten.

Iceland was Iceland. Exciting but juvenile.

Norway very strong performance but will it be memorable enough to make a lasting impression on televoters?  Probably not.

Romania had a lot of off notes. I already didn’t think that they would be Top Ten, but now I think that they will contend for bottom five.

Armenia – more bum notes! Was there some kind after party last night? I still maintain that Aram needed backing dancers to support the song. They could act out the story from the video it would have been great! #missedopportunities

Montenegro more botched notes, but overall very strong! I really think that it will do really well!

Poland – this is, by far, Cleo’s best performance! Will it be enough to overcome its so-so jury performance? Probably enough for a mid-table finish.

Greece is letting their age show. They sound out of breath and seem to care more about pumping up the crowd and less about connecting with the TV audience .

Austria was stunning, as usual. It will to see how it scores and from where the points come from.

Germany – I see that they fixed the streamer issue from last night. I also think that they do a good job of making the large stage seem small so that they didn’t get lost on the large stage.

Sweden – AMAZING!!!!!! Sanna is not going to let herself be outdone by Austria or anyone else. Did we just see a winning performance? Perhaps!

France is definitely much stronger tonight and should have a lot of televotes. Though, it really isn’t the kind of song that the juries go for.

Russia gave another fantastic performance of their average song; talk about making lemonade from lemons. In a normal year, it would be an easy Top Ten. It will be interesting to see how the voting is affected .

Italy – definitely a better performance than last night, but not all that great, still. Lowest Italian placing since their return.

Another strong performance for Slovenia. I just don’t think that it will be memorable squeezed between the hot mess of Italy and the laser light show of Finland, speaking of which…

Finland gave a strong performance that washed out Slovenia. Resetting us for the rest of show that contains some of the stronger artistic entries.

Just when you though Ruth Lorenzo reached her peak, she steps it up another level for the Grand Final. She unleashed her full voice and Spain should go roaring into the Top Ten.

I wished I had included Switzerland in my dark horses video. I always liked this song and thought it would do better than most would. I think it will surprise folks with how well it does tonight in the voting. Still not Top Ten, but definitely top fifteen.

Hungary has a truly deep song that leaves me conflicted. In love the message of the lyrics, giving hope to the victims of abuse, but I wonder if it will be lost on most folks and those that do understand it may not like that it is I’m ESC. Regardless, I think it will do well, maybe another tenth place for Hungary, but no better than that.

A rather convincing performance from Malta. Won’t finish last, but I think all the country and folk votes will be absorbed by the Netherlands. Cheers to you Malta for having a great song with a great performance that is just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Denmark – despite Basim’s whiny voice and the obnoxious lyrics, this song gets stuck in your head. There’s no way that this song will not do well performing this late in the running order.

Why us the host popping up after the postcard? Something must be going wrong with the setup for the Netherlands (probably not) or the tear down for Denmark (more likely).

The Netherlands have another great performance and I can definitely see why they have jumped up so dramatically in the betting odds. They will surely do well!

Go San Marino!! By far Valentina’s best performance, not just this year, but across her three entries. A fantastic swan song and performance for a singer who will be forever treasured in ESC history. I hope and pray for a top fifteen finish.

UK – a much improved performance compared to last night. I don’t think she will win, but I think that the UK will be back in the Top Ten this year.

So many wonderful songs – who will win?

My favorite ten tonight
1. Sweden
2. San Marino
3. The Netherlands
4. Austria
5. Switzerland
6. Armenia
7. Norway
8. Germany
9. Malta
10. Hungary

Who I think will be Top Ten
1. Sweden – I still think that Sanna will win tonight. Her performance was flawless and the song is stunning.
2. The Netherlands – I really think they will absorb a lot of the votes from those who want something different. Not to mention how successful country was last time the Contest was in Denmark.
3. Spain – stunning, absolutely stunning
4. Hungary – the highest quality, up tempo song this year
5. Austria – lots of hype, lots of people voting purely due to the message, definitely will translate to success
6. Denmark – catchy and late I’m the running order, plus the host country bump will surely help
7. UK – the jury performance will deflate its final placing
8. Armenia – unique, contemporary, and interesting
9. Montenegro – the best foreign language entry, will suffer from the lack of votes coming from the nonparticipating former Yugoslav countries, but will probably get twelves from Macedonia and Slovenia, as well as nearby friend, Albania.
10. Azerbaijan – a strong jury performance, but a weak televote performance. It’s impossible to not think that Azerbaijan will be somewhere in the Top Ten.

The voting entertainment and the interval act are not noteworthy. So…no comment.

It’s time to find our winner!!

AZR – first ever points for San Marino!!! And Azerbaijan gave a point to Austria, interestingly enough. Our first twelve points go to he Azerbaijani’s best friend after Turkey: Russia.

GRC – surprise points for Russia! And a big twelve to Austria!

POL – a surprise twelve to the Netherlands from an atypical source

ALB – twelve to Spain!!

SM – unexpected twelve to AZR and none for Italy?

DEN – only six for Norway and an unexpected twelve to Sweden

MNG – I missed MNG’s first ever final points :-/ expected points to Slovenia. Points for Hungary!

ROM – 12 to Sweden. Already one of the most exciting voting sequences thus far

RUS – twelve points to their pet Belarus, seven form the Ukraine

NET – some big points for Norway, more points for Austria.

Ten countries have voted and still no clear winner. Good stuff!!
Poor France, though, still no points

MAL – unsurprising points to Italy

FRA – Armenia gets France’s twelve

UK – Netherlands picks up some more points, Malta gets its first big score, Austria gets its third twelve pointer

LAT – gives a surprise twelve points to the Netherlands

ARM – no surprise with the points to Russia or the tasteless boos. Surprise points to Montenegro, their first ever douze points

ICE – Netherlands!!!! Not Sweden. Whoa!!

MAC – umsurprising twelve to Montenegro

SWE – France is saved from null points land! Norway only got three, Austria gets the twelve.

Bela – unsurprising twelve to Russia

GER – Austria only gets seven. Netherlands staying in this!!

Austria maintains a ten point lead over the Netherlands, with Armenia and Sweden not too far behind.

ISR – technical issues prevail for Israel! Is this the beginning of an unreachable gap for Austria?

POR – first time Spain didn’t get points from Portugal, I think. Surprise points to Austria. I am calling this for Conchita Wurst.

NOR – keeping things interesting with points go the Netherlands.

EST – keeping the race from getting out of hand with the twelve to the Netherlands.

HUN – you would have thought the votes would went the other way around, there. The Dutch are creeping up

MOL – blanks the Dutch, helps Austria extend the lead

IRE – handy points to the UK, ten to Netherlands, twelve to Austria

Netherlands are still within two countries of catching up

FIN – well, the Dutch will need a third country…strike that. Austria just crossed 200!

LIT – more of the same Austria and Netherlands

AUS – keeps their rival under two hundred, unexpected points to Armenia

SPA – NET gets seven, technical difficulties for Spain? Netherlands got dangerously close and Austria jumps farther ahead

BLG – really thought the Netherlands would get that twelve

ITA – mathematically, Netherlands is still in it

UKR – and now the Netherlands are eliminated

I really hate when they announce the winner before the votes are done

SUI – nothing interesting

GEO – proof that votes are not political, Georgia and Russia hate each other!

SLV – I thought that Montenegro would get their twelve.

And, officially, Austria is the winner!

I’d like to think that Austria won because the song is freaking amazing! Unfortunately, I think her victory was the result of what the character of Conchita Wurst represents, not due to the song. It is an unfair asterisk that will hang over her, Austria, and this Contest for all of history. This is my favorite song this year and I hate that its greatness will be doubted for all of time. More than that, this victory will be used as key evidence that politics dictate the results of the Contest. And that, above all else, is the biggest issue. More on that to come. For now, let’s just celebrate that the best song won despite potential opportunity for it being derailed by its message. Congratulations to Austria on your second victory!!

Final Top Ten
1. Austria
2. The Netherlands
3. Sweden
4. Armenia
5. Hungary
6. Ukraine
7. Russia
8. Norway
9. Spain
10. Denmark


ESC2014 – Final Predictions and Notes

Hello Dear Readers!

Finally, after much struggle and anguish and many hours, I have finally resolved enough of my technical woes to finally be able to post my notes for y’all!

Eurovision 2014 Write-ups

2014 Country Profiles

 

Reactions from the Jury Final

Last night was the jury final and I can safely say that only one country had a bad enough performance to hurt themselves.  Though, Italy had, by far, the worse performance.  It was pretty flat.  This will definitely be Italy’s worse finish since returning.  Even if Emma has a mind-blowing performance tonight, I see little reason to believe that she will score any higher than 15 based on the jury performance alone.

The UK also had some minor issues when a backing singer tried to end the song a few seconds early.  I am sure that will not happen again tonight. Poland also seemed to suffer from some timing issues that affected the performance.

A few countries also helped their case.  Azerbaijan, a song that was already jury fodder, will likely score very highly for the performance she gave last night.  Likewise, Austria, Sweden, and Switzerland also gave exhilerating performances that are sure to go over well with the juries.  I won’t go into more detail because they were minor improvements to their semi-final performances.  Spain gave a good performance as well.  Valentina Monetta from San Marino was the most improved from her semi-final performance and has secured that she will at least be spared the embarassment of a null points.

Final Predictions

Well, I think (and really, really hope) that this will be the closest Contest in quite some time.  The odds favorite is now Austria, with Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the UK right behind.  After that, the odds begin to drop.  After much back and forth and consultation with my new friends waiting in line for the shows, I truly think that Sweden will take the crown.  Denmark’s song and staging is weak.  The Netherlands will benefit from being so close to the end and so different from everything else, but at the end of the day, country has never placed higher than second at ESC and I do not think that will change this year.  I do not think the juries will be as enamored with the UK entry as the fans are.  Even though the Austrian entry is my favorite this year, I do not think it will be a winner.  Aside from Conchita Wurst’s look, songs in this style – big, dramatic, ballads that sound like they should be on a James Bond soundtrack – do not have as much mass appeal as one would think.  Especially, not compared to more traditional pop ballads such as the one Sweden has.  Sweden has a simple staging that emphasizing the song; its subtly and power seperate it from the other entries, the juries traditionally like these kinds of songs, and the drama is just enough to captivate audiences without scaring them off.  Undo has the perfect combination of factors to carry the trophy, and the Contest, back across the Øresund for the sixtieth edition in 2015

After Sweden, I think the remaining Top Ten will be:

  • Austria
  • UK
  • The Netherlands
  • Azerbaijan
  • Spain
  • Montenegro
  • Greece
  • Ukraine
  • Hungary

As far as the Bottom Five, I would predict Italy, Belarus, Iceland, Slovenia, and Finland.  These five lack a combination of adequate public appeal, public interest, and stagning.

Final Thoughts Ahead of the Grand Final

Let’s try to keep the politics out of ESC!  This goes both ways.  As far as Russia is concerned, booing Russia does not help anything and only encourages the true villains more.  What happens when you boo the Tomaschevy Twins is that you are booing 17 girls who are Junior Eurovision champions – that’s all.  The best way to handle the situation is to sit quietly; lack of reaction is much more impactful.  Additionally, with Austria.  What the character of Conchita Wurst represents is great, but that is no reason to vote.  Give Austria points because Rise Like a Pheonix is an amazing song, not because you want the drag queen to win.

And with that, enjoy the show!!  It promises to be fantastic!  I will be keeping live notes the best I can from the ESC party that I am attending.  See you this evening!