Lighting Up the Stage For a Cause

By Bill Beggs Jr.

It was the late afternoon of July 18, a few hours before showtime at the Branson Convention Center, and the head of Midwest Concerts and Events had a cell phone at each ear. Gary Bartlett was tying up loose ends for the John Tesh concert at 7 that evening.

Bartlett handed one phone to its owner, finished his conversation on the other and took a few minutes to talk about his business. Meanwhile, activity bustled all around—a crew lining up thousands of chairs in the performance space, connections being checked and double-checked, the state-of-the-art auditorium lights being tested.

From seeing that nobody trips over wires to making sure that everything in a performer’s contract rider is taken care of, Gary Bartlett is the engine that keeps things running smoothly behind the scenes. Many audience members have no idea how much effort goes into making sure everything they see and hear looks and sounds exactly right.

To spend any time with Bartlett is to realize that he’s much like a juggler—while he may have many balls in the air, the ones he has in hand at the moment demand the most attention and care.

Bartlett began his career in the entertainment business in 1989 as a production staff member for magician David Copperfield. He went on to work for 15 years in Las Vegas, where he’s still active, and has been producing events in Branson for the last four years.

Relatively speaking, Bartlett’s experience with Tesh was stress-free.

“He’s one of the easiest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with,” Bartlett says.


Some people get what John Tesh does, but some may not. Those who reluctantly accompany someone to a concert expecting Tesh to nod toward the crowd, crack his knuckles and sit down at the piano for a few hours have no idea what’s in store for them.

In his spectacular show at the stunning new convention center, the one-time “Entertainment Tonight” co-host sprinkled his powerful message with an ensemble that was just as moving. Tesh and his band played a one-night benefit for disadvantaged children in and around southwestern Missouri. It was called “Christmas in July,” thus the inclusion of an enchanting version of “Silent Night” that the band was working on for Tesh’s new Christmas album.


Tesh’s philosophy is summed up by the practical approach he takes on the radio and throughout his Web site (—“Music and Intelligence For Your Life.” Volunteerism and a daily approach to helping others are the keys.

While vacationing in Florida earlier this year, a member of the Tennessee Bankers Association (TBA) heard Tesh on the radio and suggested him as the after-dinner performer for the TBA annual meeting at the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs.

The group was captivated by Tesh’s music and message.

“The show appeared to be enjoyed by all — and that’s not easy in a diverse group,” observed Brad Barrett, president of the association.

Another member of the association says: “Given his frankness in professing his Christianity, it could have been a tough choice in our politically correct world. I was impressed with the manner Mr. Tesh was able to get his message through without being preachy.”

Tesh is a very approachable guy, as is every member of his group. Before the benefit in Branson, he showed up at the pre-show VIP dinner in a short-sleeve knit shirt and jeans for a meet-and-greet. He didn’t seem rushed, taking his time to chat with everyone, pose for photos and autograph CDs, posters and books.


During rehearsal, the group ran through several of the songs on the play list for the evening, but they also had a lot of fun goofing around during the warm-up. During the show, the spectacular lighting and virtuoso performance probably converted rock ’n’ rollers in the audience who expected to hear serene “New Age” music. A hip-hop dancer, Breeze Lee, even appeared onstage to interpret a few songs in athletic motion.

It’s important to the band not to have to play from a sheet of music. “Solos are absolutely improvised,” Tesh says. “These guys could play in any band, and I’m very careful to let them open up.”

“Spanish Steps,” the set closer, allowed each player to step out from the ebullient melody.


Tesh could have satisfied the Branson crowd all night with his comedy. His vignettes, drawn from real life, made the audience howl, as anyone could identify with stories about his gawky teen years.

But Tesh, who acknowledged an admiration for Howie Mandel and British comic Eddie Izzard, never has to worry about getting anything bleeped on the air. He isn’t a fan of “shock jocks”—his shtick is family-friendly, and more to the point, it’s motivational.

“We try to do the shows as a combination of music and speaking; we walk both sides of that tightrope,” says Scotty Meyers, Tesh’s executive producer.

Both Meyers and Tesh emphasized their hope that at least one person leaves the performance feeling changed and motivated to do something for someone else. In Branson, the smiling faces everywhere when the lights came up indicated that dozens of people had been moved.

“We encourage people to look for ways to find the deepest areas of their hearts,” Tesh says.

For more information regarding Midwest Concerts and Events: • [email protected]

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