Neil Diamond fans are forever
By JOHN CLAYTON of the Manchester Union Leader
In the City

IF YOU KNOW your geography, you know that Diamond Head is in Hawaii.

However, if you are up to speed on a certain musical, cultural and sociological phenomenon, you should know that over the next seven days, Manchester will become a haven for thousands of Diamond Heads.

Diamond Heads are Neil Diamond fans.


JOANNE KILEY and her daughter Melissa illustrate the multi-generational appeal of Neil Diamond, an appeal that is bringing fans to Manchester from every point of the compass this week. (David Lane/Union Leader)

Even as you read this, they are gravitating this way.

Sue Hill is coming from Tucson. Bev Lawrence is coming from St. Louis. Eydie Ruth is coming from Louisville. Scott Neal is coming from Salt Lake City, Iris Gerhardt is coming from Independence, Mo. and, like Linda Pollard from Nashua and Rev. Bob Washer from Belmont, they are coming here to pay tribute to the 61-year-old singer-songwriter — he wrote the Monkees’ hit “I’m a Believer” — who has made believers of them all.

“It’s his music,” said Joanne Kiley. “It just touches your soul.”

And people have been touching base with Joanne ever since it was announced that Neil Diamond would perform here in her hometown on Sept. 23. At the time, the local booking (at the Verizon Wireless Arena) was to be the last date on his U.S. tour, and that coincidence made Manchester a Mecca.

“That’s because real fans have to be there for the first show of the tour and the last show of the tour,” Linda Pollard explained. “Real, real fans,” she added, “will go to anything else in between.”

She should know. When we spoke last week, Linda had been to 91 Neil Diamond concerts. As of today, she’s up to 94. That’s becauseshe caught his show at Mohegan Sun on Thursday and back-to-back shows at the Worcester Centrum over the weekend. She’ll see him again this Friday in Portland, Maine, and on Saturday in Albany, N.Y., so by the time he takes to the stage a week from tonight, she’ll be primed for #97.

Why so many?

“People always say, ‘Why so many? Aren’t they all the same?’ and I just say, ‘If you buy a CD, do you listen to it once and throw it away?’ A CD is always the same, but when you do this, the city is always different, the venue is always different, the audience is always different and so is the way he plays off them.

“When they’re up, he’s up,” she added. “That’s what makes it so great.”

A great deal of time and effort goes into this Diamond Head thing.

For instance, knowing that so many Neil Diamond fans are en route to the Queen City for Monday’s show, a cadre of die-hard followers has developed a prelim — an undercard, if you will — before the main event.

On Sunday evening, an eight-piece Neil Diamond tribute band called the “Diamond Collection” will perform at The Yard restaurant, thereby providing a much-needed night-before outlet for those who are making the pilgrimage.

“This is probably going to be one of the most passionate audiences we’ve ever played in front of,” said Diamond Collection lead singer Kenny Labelle. “These people are coming from all over the country and because they’re such hard-core Neil Diamond fans, we know we can play deep cuts — songs that never showed up on the radio — and they’ll be singing along by the third or fourth note.”

How quickly does word spread among real-Neil devotees?

“I think it was two hours after I finished booking the band,” said Yard manager Tim Frenette. “I got a call from people in Scottsdale, Arizona. They’re following Neil Diamond around for something like five shows, and when they found out the Diamond Collection was coming here, they booked a room with us.”

To paraphrase Neil Diamond, holy “Holly Holy!”

With that kind of instant feedback, Tim immediately established a special room rate at the adjacent Executive Court Inn (627-2525) for folks who are coming for the Sunday show at The Yard, and mindful of the potential demand for tickets, he’s offering reserved seats for those who book tickets (623-3545) in advance.

Incidentally, tickets for the Diamond Collection show are $10 apiece, which is a lot less — and I mean a whole lot less — than some folks are paying for the real deal on Monday. The last time I checked, 14-karat, Section 3 seats for the real Neil concert were going for 200 bucks a pop on E-Bay.

Clearly, the man who recorded “Solitary Man” knows how to draw a crowd and Iris Gerhardt — she’s one independent lady from Independence — has been a part of that crowd more than 250 times.

“It’s a social thing as much as anything,” she explained. “We know people from all over the country — all over the world, actually — and getting together with them is a big part of it.”

Now that she’s retired from her teaching post, Iris has become part of Neil Diamond’s global village. She caught 20 of his shows during his 1996 Australian tour and she was back Down Under for 16 more in 1999. She spent most of this past July in Great Britain on a 14-show sojourn — including two in Manchester, England — but Monday’s show will mark her first visit to this here Manchester.

“That was my main motive in going,” she said. “It’s a part of the country I’ve never seen before.”

The scene next weekend promises to be one that civic center supporters dreamed about for so many years. Visitors from all over the country will come to the Queen City to eat, drink and sing “Cherry, Cherry” at the top of their lungs.

“When you get into the first five rows,” Joanne Kiley explained, “you’re really a part of the show. He gets the audience right into it and it reaches the point where you forget there’s anyone in the arena but you, Neil and the band.”

And you can almost understand how the Rev. Bob Washer — he’s a 68-year-old retired American Baptist pastor from Belmont — might view a Neil Diamond concert as something akin to a religious experience.

“All my career, when I’ve been at the pulpit, I’ve been able to pull things from his music, things I can use in my sermons for illustration,” he said. “His lyrics are thick. After listening to his music for 35 years, you can peel away layers and find all kinds of meaning, yet when he’s on stage, he has this magnificent ability to let everyone in the audience think he’s singing to him or her alone.”

They won’t be alone this week.

Not with Diamond Heads like Patti Brennan coming up from Boston. Not with Joan Nurczyk coming from Lombard, Ill. Not with Darla Golden coming from Council Bluffs, Iowa. Not with Jeffrey Pelletier coming from Southington, Conn. Not with Brenda Skinner coming from. . .

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