A Wonderful Whirlwind: Katie Looks Back on the ‘Going There’ Tour

Planes, trains, automobiles, and so much fun.

Ten cities in 21 days! After a taste of life on the road, I’m not sure how touring musicians do it! Still, I wouldn’t trade the last three weeks for anything. Seeing some of the greatest American cities, and communing with people in the flesh instead of kibitzing with them virtually, was such a welcome change of pace after 18 months isolating! I began every stop with my own version of a TED Talk — recounting stories of my childhood, growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, how Mary Richards opened my eyes to the possibility of a career in TV news, and how I didn’t let the turkeys who said I’d never make it get me down. After taking a trip down memory lane, I wanted to talk to people whose stories had stayed with me all these years (“like a handprint on my heart,” as the song in Wicked goes.) Then I was “in conversation” with well-known people I deeply respect and celebrated local organizations doing critically important work in their communities. Here’s a quick road map of our trip across America:

Boston:

In classic Katie form, we went into our first show without ever having a rehearsal…but luckily, because of our crack technical team, it went off without a hitch! I met Celeste Corcoran and her sister Carmen Acabbo on my talk show in 2012 after Celeste lost both of her legs in the Boston Marathon Bombing. It was so moving to see her and how far she has come, and to hear how her sister and family have rallied together to help her adjust to her new normal. Celeste’s daughter Sydney, who was also seriously injured in the bombing, met her fiancé through her volunteer work with amputees. (He lost his leg to a shark bite while he was surfing…and soon they’ll be getting married in Hawaii!)

I’ve loved Tan France ever since I introduced the Queer Eye gang at an awards ceremony in Washington, DC. I even tried to make peanut butter cookies with him during the pandemic — if only I hadn’t used salt instead of sugar! So I asked him to join me on stage to talk about growing up as a Pakistani boy in the UK, what it’s like living in Salt Lake City as a gay Muslim man (spoiler alert: he loves it!), and his new documentary on colorism. He is the loveliest, most low-maintenance person I’ve ever met. I’m so grateful he was willing to fly to Boston for one night, especially because that meant leaving his new baby Ismail with home his husband Rob!

New York:

One of the most memorable interviews I ever did was with Lauren Manning, who was burned on over 80 percent of her body on 9/11. She is one of the gutsiest women I’ve ever met and seeing her 20 years later, still kicking ass in business and raising two great boys with her husband Greg, filled my heart with joy and inspired everyone at the Beacon Theater

On a lighter note, (as we used to say on Today) SNL’s Melissa Villaseñor and Chloe Fineman had everyone in stitches with their pitch-perfect impressions of Dolly Parton (by Melissa) and Jennifer Coolidge (from Chloe). I can’t wait to see what the future holds for these funny ladies. 

Washington, DC:

This show would’ve gone on without a hitch, too…if the New York show hadn’t been loaded in the teleprompter. But hey! I’m an experienced news professional, and I was able to vamp and stretch! Luckily my guests more than made up for it. Nikole Hannah-Jones of the 1619 Project talked about the importance of confronting the past, no matter how uncomfortable it might be. And Kara Swisher, who always has plenty to say, talked about the “Metaverse” and the virtual world that awaits us, as well as today’s screwed-up media landscape. DC is full of policy wonks and I wanted to serve up some heady fare. 

Philly:

I had to bring someone who’s like a brother to me to the city of brotherly love. Dr. Mark Pochapin, you may recognize his name if you’ve already read the book, joined me with Dr. Sophie Balzora to talk about colon cancer screenings and why the disease disproportionately affects people of color. Mark and I got emotional talking about Jay and about the fact that many more people are being diagnosed. 

Savannah Guthrie made the trek to Philadelphia to dish with me about the state of journalism, her morning routine (she wakes up at 4:15 every morning, people! Arrrggghhhh!), and how women are making strides in TV news. She’s fun and funny and has done a fantastic job holding down the fort in turbulent times…oh yeah, and we talked about that — i.e. Matt — too! 

Chicago:

The Windy City was a special stop because I got to stay with my in-laws, Paula and Herb! The Chicago Theater was so cool and so full of history. Lady Gaga, Frank Sinatra — everybody who was anybody has played there. In 2016 I produced a documentary called Under The Gun and reconnected with two of the people I interviewed, Tom and Pamela Bosley, whose son Terrell was shot and killed in a church parking lot. They are two of my heroes and are doing incredible work to combat gun violence through their organization, Purpose over Pain. Meanwhile, Chance the Rapper is doing his own share of good for the city of Chicago. He’s so thoughtful and philanthropic, I want him to run for office. So far he’s non-committal, but give him some time, he’s only 28!

Atlanta:

I lived in Atlanta in the 1980s and it was fun to be back on my old stomping grounds! Especially after the Braves won the World Series. (I came out with a pennant and pearls in honor of Joc Pederson.) Aimee Copeland is another incredible woman I’ve met along the way. She lost all of her limbs to a flesh-eating bacteria and now runs a foundation to ensure differently-abled people can enjoy national and state parks. Then Ina Garten wowed the crowd with her trademark warmth and wit — and gave some Thanksgiving tips! Number one? Plan ahead, and stay on schedule!

LA:

Tarana Burke was one of my favorite guests on the tour: The victim of sexual assault at just seven years old, she talked about finding her voice through her work with young black women in Selma, Alabama, themselves victims of sexual violence. She wrote her own memoir, Unbound, that came out this past September and I couldn’t recommend it more!

Then Jennifer Garner, my favorite Instagram follow, joined me to talk about her newest project, 13 Going on 30, Save the Children, and Once Upon a Farm. We ended our conversation with a rapid-fire round of questions. What she’s bingeing: Seinfeld. What I’m bingeing: Sex and the City. Her guilty pleasure: red wine and dark chocolate. Mine: Tate’s chocolate chip cookies (frozen). What she’d be doing if she wasn’t an actor: A minister or school librarian. I’d be a cabaret singer — if I could sing! 

San Francisco:

San Fran was the show that almost didn’t happen. That pesky Bay Area fog kept a few key players grounded in LA from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. But, thank God, they made it just in the nick of time, and pulled together an awesome show — starting with Oral Lee Brown, a woman from Oakland who has personally financed the college education of 122 students from the Oakland area. I first interviewed Oral Lee on the Today show in 1999, and have thought about her and the incredible work she’s doing ever since. More than 20 years later, we reunited with one of the students she saved, who said, “I would have been dead or behind bars if it weren’t for Ms. Oral Lee.”

We wrapped up the night with one of the happiest and funniest people on the planet, Mr. Leslie Allen Jordan. If you don’t follow him on social media already, you’re missing out. He had us in stitches from the moment he danced on stage. 

Nashville:

If you’re a fan of country music, you probably know about the historic Ryman Auditorium, aka the Mother Church of Country Music. It’s where Johnny Cash met June Carter, and Elvis, Emmylou Harris, Dolly, and pretty much every other country icon have graced the stage. 

I have no doubt that my first guest, Allison Russell, will one day be one of the greats. She’s one of the women changing the face of country music, she has an incredible life story, is unbelievably kind, thoughtful, eloquent…and damn, she can sing. 

And my final two guests on the tour were the wonderful Kimberly Williams Paisley and Brad Paisley. They’re both so talented, but I was most excited to talk with them about their philanthropic work in Nashville with The Store — a free grocery store that allows people to shop for their basic needs with dignity. They’re both so funny and were the perfect duo to close out the (official) tour. 

Memphis:

This was a special post-tour show: For those of you who have read my memoir, you may have heard that my mom comes from a line of southern Jews. (My grandparents even met at a Jewbilee!) So when our friends Laurie and Jeff Meskin asked if we could make one final stop in Memphis to raise money for Temple Israel, we decided to tack a couple more days onto our road trip. (Of course, we had to indulge at the renowned Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous in downtown Memphis. Pulled pork, ribs, chicken, beef…the photos don’t do it justice.) 

Molner came on stage to put me in the hot seat, and he did a pretty good job! Laurie thought of everything and it was so great meeting their friends…but wow, am I happy to be home.

And now: Zzzzzzzz