I HATE FLYING! Not many things can get my ass into one of those oh-so-comfortable airplane seats barely big enough to comfortably seat a 12 year-old just before being launched into the stratosphere miles and miles above the Earth traveling at speeds upwards of 500 miles per hour comforted only by my own thoughts of impending DOOM! No, not for me… but one of the ONLY things that makes being hurled across the United States in a sardine can with wings a necessary risk is another installment of MELODICROCK FEST!
The brainchild of melodicrock.com founder Andrew McNiece, this year’s three+ day festival was the third of what we hope to be many, many more. Having attended the two prior, what really sets this festival apart from any other is the fact that Andrew always delivers an array of talented artists from all over the globe… most of which you would never get a chance to see anywhere else especially here in the United States. In the past, some of the artists have included Y&T, Jeff Scott Soto, PRIDE OF LIONS, DANGER DANGER, Jimi Jamison, WINGER, Joe Lynn Turner and TRIXTER just to name a few and this year’s festivities and line-up promised to be the best one yet! With new acts on the bill such as LINE OF FIRE, Gary Schutt, ADRIANGALE, Glen Burtnik, Steve Augeri, HAREM SCAREM and ECLIPSE as well as old favorites like 7TH HEAVEN, Ted Poley, Jeff Scott Soto w/ W.E.T., MECCA w/ Jimi Jamison and Eric Martin (again, just to name a few), how could it miss??? Well… we shall see so away we go!
Along with rockeyez.com CEO and creator Brian Rademacher, fellow rockeyez staffer Mark Balogh, and friend Vinny Lubrano, our plane touched down shortly before 11:00am CST. Can’t say I remember much about the flight itself because I suffer with sleep apnea and that sometimes has its advantages as I literally passed out before take-off and woke up just moments before landing thus saving myself the typical panic shrills running through my body every time we’d hit an air pocket! But we did arrive safe and sound and after picking up our rental car, we were off…
Now I just have to mention this. As we were planning this trip for months prior and since we were landing so early, Mark came across this really, really interesting place he thought we could go to lunch at called Kuma’s Corner where most of their signature burgers are all either named after heavy metal bands or have a heavy metal theme to them to go along with the place itself. Totally awesome… just had to go and believe me, Kuma’s did NOT disappoint. We started off with the “make-your-own” macaroni and cheese which we decided to add bacon and andouille sausage to… absolutely amazing! I have never had mac & cheese like this and the portion was enough for all four of us to enjoy. Then came the burgers which were absolutely HUGE! I had the “Mastodon” which included a healthy portion of bacon, sharp cheddar and frizzled onions… although I passed on the bbq sauce. Without a doubt, one of the best burgers I have ever had in my life! It’s no wonder this place is Zagat rated EXCELLENT! If you’re ever in the Chicago area, you gotta check this place out. Go to http://www.kumascorner.com/ to check out their menu… totally awesome fun and incredible food but not “quite” for the whole family… might wanna leave the kiddies and seniors at home.
After lunch it was off to the hotel to check-in. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Palatine where most of the other artists and fans were staying. The hotel itself was very nice, clean and accommodating however, I must admit, I did like the hotel everyone stayed at in Elgin for MELODICROCK FEST II a lot better as it had a HUGE open lobby and bar area where a lot of the artists and fans could hang out in. This one just had a small entry area with a couple of seats before you entered the main lobby where the front desk and check-in was. However, there was a nicely sized breakfast nook just down the hall across from the main elevators which served a free breakfast every day. Needless to say, the place was packed most mornings by both artists and fans alike so if you were lucky enough, you had breakfast with the “stars” every day.
By now it was shortly after 2:00pm. We quickly went to our rooms, freshened up a bit after the long flight, gathered our stuff together that we needed for the night and met back down in the lobby about a half hour later. Then it was back to the car and after just about a ten minute drive, we had arrived at our final destination where we would be spending most of our time over the next three days… the H.O.M.E Bar in Arlington Heights or aka HOUSE OF MUSIC & ENTERTAINMENT.
As we pulled up, the first thing we thought was kind of odd was the place actually seemed to be located in what can only be compared to a “strip-mall” looking area. To the left of the main entrance was a small, outside deck area with tables, chairs and (of course) ash trays to accommodate all the “evil” smokers such as myself. Then as you entered the venue itself, it was HUGE and actually split into two separate areas. The front area leading in from the main entrance was actually a restaurant which doubled as a night club later in the evening. There were flat screen TV’s adorning all the walls and to the right, a nicely sized dining area with bar tables and booths WITH THEIR OWN BEER TAP! How fucking cool is that? So you don’t have to keep pestering your waitress ever two minutes for a refill… the tap kept its own record on an LED screen of how much was dispensed and it wasn’t just one kind of beer, you actually had your choice as well as a few select liquors if you felt like having a shot or 12… nice! Then to the left was a HUGE bar and another small seating area with more bar tables and even a few video games along the back wall. Looks like it would be a really cool place to hang out on Sundays to watch football! Very cool place so far… but we haven’t even gotten to the concert area yet!
Walking straight ahead from the main entrance and through the restaurant/ club area, you came to two huge red doors which opened up into the concert hall. This place was amply sized… easily able to accommodate upwards of a thousand people. To your immediate right was a rounded bar centered in front of some seating areas spread out across the walls. For this particular event, Colorado music store and MR3 sponsor IMPULSE MUSIC had a HUGE area set up in front of the seating area along the right wall where they were selling CD’s, DVD’s and other memorabilia all weekend long. In front of the right/back seating area was a display of the various guitars as well as sports memorabilia which was to be raffled off throughout the weekend. There was also a non-working hot-tub set up next to the IMPULSE MUSIC area by another sponsor of the event… kinda strange for a music fest but hey, I am sure Andrew wasn’t complaining when he accepted their check! And finally along the right/front was an artists’ “gear” area where they would keep the performers cases and whatnot while they were on stage and also store the needed equipment for the next act to keep the shop running quickly and smoothly. This area lead into an open walkway to the artists’ “green room” and dressing rooms.
To the left, the room opened up into the main concert floor. The stage itself was a lot bigger than I expected standing about three and a half feet high and stretching across a majority of the front wall… the virtual tour on the H.O.M.E. Bar website doesn’t really do it justice to just how big it is. The left/ back, side and front wall next to the stage was again, adorned with more seating areas and private booths encircling yet another huge bar. There were various, small stands scattered about selling beer, alcohol and food and along the front/left next to the stage there were artists’ booths selling merchandise of the various performers in attendance throughout the weekend. But the coup de grâce
was against the far left wall where Andrew had the melodicrock.com booth set up where you could pick up a T-shirt, event book, posters or various other event-themed merchandise… Andrew REALLY out did himself this time offering up the fans some real, quality memorabilia this time around. This was not to be out done by the large Kivel Records booth right alongside featuring almost the entire Kivel Records back catalog as well as new releases by NO LOVE LOST, MAXX EXPLOSION featuring members of HOUSE OF LORDS and the highly anticipated return of ADRIANGALE!
VERY cool place overall… wish they had something like this here in JERSEY! But ok, ok… enough about the venue and the food and the merchandise and the hotel… on with the show!!!
We arrived just in time for the very first band of the weekend… another “Aussie-import” in addition to Andrew himself, a new band called THE RADIO SUN. Lead vocalist Jason Old was joined by fellow band mates Steve Janevski on guitar, bassist Robbie Erdmanis and percussionist Ben Wignall for their acoustic set and took the stage a little after 3:00pm. The crowd was still a bit sparse at this point being so early so Brian and I had no problem getting right up on the stage to squeeze off a few pictures but for those fans who didn’t make it in time, you really missed an impressive set.
I can’t say I was all that familiar with their music as their first album isn’t due to be released until later this year but I really enjoyed their strong hooks and harmonies which came off very well even acoustically. And since all four members can actually sing, it adds so much to the melodies giving the chorus’ that rich, fat sound. I was really digging songs like “World’s Crazy Now,” “Summer Girl,” “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” and what’s sure to be this bands’ mantra, their set closer “Wrong Things Right.” If these guys sound this good acoustically, I really look forward to hearing their CD and what they sound like fully plugged! It’s no wonder that these guys sparked the interest of ex-DANGER DANGER, DARK HORSE and solo-artist Paul Laine who is actually producing their debut release. Looking forward to hearing more of these guys in the future.
Up next was a band I was a little more familiar with… LINE OF FIRE. Lead vocalist Shawn Paleta can sing his ass off with an incredible vocal range and just a hint of that Steve Perry raspiness. Obviously toned down a bit for “acoustic night” and being backed by only LOF guitarist Nikki Dimage and newcomer percussionist and all-around musician extraordinaire Brent Enman, Shawn and the boys still delivered the goods performing a variety of tracks from the bands’ first two releases including “Live And Let Go,” “Faith In Fire,” “Paradise” and “Obsession.” But what really kicked their performance up a notch was their surprise rendition of DOKKEN’s “Breaking The Chains” which they actually performed better than even Don Dokken himself could nowadays! And it was just all up-hill from there as the band rounded off their set with fan favorites “Morning Light” and “I’ll Be The One Tonight.” Great, GREAT performance from one of the best new melodic rock acts around and now with the addition of Enman, I simply cannot wait for the band’s next release.
Now speaking of “musician-extraordinaires,” a short time after LINE OF FIRE it was time for Gary Schutt to take the stage. Now here’s another guy that I wasn’t all that familiar with that simply blew me away. Yeah, I had heard of him through his work with Jeff Scott Soto, Eric Martin and Joe Lynn Turner, but holy shit! Those guys are just the tip of the ice berg as Schutt’s bio and the artists he’s performed with reads almost like a shopping list of “who’s who” of the industry and after seeing him perform; now I certainly know why.
Armed with just a guitar and an ipod for backing music tracks, Schutt took the stage and simply OWNED IT cranking out killer tracks like “Animal Man,” “Down,” “Million Miles An Hour” and “Loss For Words.” I knew this guy was gonna be something special just a few moments into his set opener “Gonna Die Young” and his set was anything but “acoustic” as he plugged in and simply just let her rip for the next 60 minutes. What a stellar, stellar guitar player whose magnificent chords, solos and licks became even more prolific on instrumental tracks like “The Pants Party,” “Siberian Sunburn” and “Black Cloud”… absolutely LOVED this one as there we subtle hints of that old Joe Satriani style reminding me a bit of something that may have come off of his “Flying In A Blue Dream” release and my favorite Satriani album. And not only is Schutt a virtuoso on the guitar, but he can sing as well jumping back behind the mic again for his set enders, the potent, multi-layered “Love Me For Me” and the more melodic “Moving Parts” which features a rhythm, melody and chorus that just gets inside your head for days that you’ll find yourself humming to simply walking down the street. Thick, rich melodies, solid arrangements, aggressive hooks and tight licks… these are the trademarks of Gary Schutt! What an incredible, incredible performance by this all around, multi-talented performer… still can’t believe this guy has flown under my radar for so long but this night certainly made a lifelong fan out of me.
Now as I mentioned, this was “supposed” to be “acoustic night” but as you can see after Gary Schutt’s set, the rules were “bent” a little bit from time to time but in the case of this next band, they were thrown out the window all together as our old friend Marco Ferreira and his band FERREIRAtook the stage with his whole band for a fully “plugged” performance. Marco is no stranger to these MELODICROCK FESTS having performed at both I and II with his old band GOODBYE THRILL and since his new band FERREIRA is one of the latest additions to the MELODICROCK RECORDS roster, it was no surprise to see him performing again… and an absolute pleasure as always.
Marco and his band (composed of talented guitar player Gus Monsanto, his brother Alex behind the skins and thundering bass player Dario Seixas whom you may remember from his time in bands like FIREHOUSE, GREAT WHITE and CROWN OF THORNS) hit the stage and treated the crowd to another impressive performance playing songs like GOODDBYE THRILL’s “Scumbag,” “Pay With Pain” from one of Marco’s solo releases “Are you In?” and even a cover of DEF LEPPARD’s “Armageddon It” which found Dario taking over vocal duties on this one. But what was a nice surprise was the addition of some of the new songs the band has been working on for their upcoming release on Andrew’sMELODICROCK RECORDS label. I really loved tracks like their set opener “Night To Remember” or “No Friend of Mine” but it was “Heaven Is Her Name” which really showcased Marco’s song-writing prowess and gave his incredible voice a chance to shine. Then their set finally came to a close with two GOODBYE THRILL favorites “Rainy Days” and “Let Me Sleep (w/ special guest and co-song writer Jason Pawlack). Was so great to hear those songs again… and the new stuff as well. All in all, another great performance by a truly gifted, young musician and just a great bunch of guys… thanks for everything and I cannot WAIT to hear the new CD!!!
After a short break, it was time for one of the first “true” acoustic performances of the evening, singer/ song-writer Robert Tepper.
Having owned his debut CD entitled “No Easy Way Out” (appropriately named after the title track made famous for being on the ROCKY IV soundtrack) for many, MANY years now I was really looking forward to his set and he did not disappoint. Sure, he was a little older now and his voice wasn’t exactly what it used to be but that in no way took away from his performance as he performed tracks like “Soul Survivor” from the “No Easy Way Out” release, “Ain’t No Rules For A Pretty Girl,” a new track called “Torn Down Inside” from his latest release “New Life Story” and a cover of a Benny Mardones track he co-wrote called (I believe) “Love Of Their Life” (but don’t quote me on that!). And speaking of Benny Mardones, that was not the first time those two collaborated as they combined for the 1980 radio hit “Into The Night” which gained even more success when it was re-released in 1989. Of course, his acoustic performance of “Into The Night” was one of the highlights of his set on this particular evening as was “Angel of the City” which he recorded for the COBRA soundtrack and, naturally, “No Easy Way Out.” He rounded off the set by inviting up on stage another of his old writing buddies Jeff Paris and after a short delay in trying to get an acoustic guitar set up for Jeff, they went on to perform what can only be described as an old, bluesy sounding song I can only guess may have been titled “If I Can’t Have You for Myself, I Don’t Want Nobody Else”… maybe? Can I get a little help here? But anyway, it was just another great set on a night filled with great music and performances but I don’t think ANYONE in the crowd was prepared for what was to happen next!
Being a New Jersey native myself, I had obviously heard of local hero Glen Burtnik
and was quite familiar with his time in STYX, Dennis DeYoung’s solo project and the countless numbers of musical legends he has collaborated or performed with over the years but I never in a million years would have guessed that I was about to witness a true living legend in any sense of the word about to perform. He opened his set with a song called “All That’s Yet To Come” from his 2004 “Welcome To Hollywood” release and like Tepper just moments before, it was just him, an acoustic guitar and a microphone… but that’s all he needed as by the ending of his second song “Follow You,” there were jaws dropping all around and the crowd grew more and more silent as I believe even they began to realize they were about to witness something special.
What made this performance just so brilliant and unique was made very apparent as he began playing “Little Red House.” Unlike most performers who simply strum along to the main melodies and chords of their songs when asked to play acoustically, Burtnik’s mastery of the instrument and arrangements allowed him to not only perform the songs but actually transform them making them sound like that was the way they were meant to be and breathing new, fresh life into them even if you had heard a song played a hundred times before. Take the title track to “Edge of the Century” or “All in a Day’sWork” off of the same STYX release with Burtnik, these are songs I have heard and loved many, many times in the past but the way he performed them that night was just so refulgent it made you feel like you were hearing them for the very first time.
Other highlights of Burtnik’s set (of which EVERY song was a “HIGHLIGHT”) included the bluesy, almost Tom Petty-esque sounding “Bam!,” in addition to his awe-inspiring rendition of “Little Red House,” three more tracks from his 1986 “Talking In Code” release including “Crank It Up,” “Perfect World” and the title track, and an outtake from his “Heroes & Zeros” release called “Palm Of My Hand” which became a sort-of underground hit synonymous to Glen’s live sets. And finally rounding-off this incredible performance was the mega-hit duet recorded by Patty Smyth and Don Henley “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” which he penned with Smyth for her 1992 self-titled release and spent upwards of 20 weeks on the BILLBOARD TOP 40 charts reaching as high as #2 and spending 4 weeks at #1 on the US BILLBOARD ADULT CONTEMPORARY chart and another gem from his “Welcome To Hollywood” release, the up-tempo “Kiss Your Ass Goodbye” to bring his session to a close. What an absolutely amazing, amazing performance by this musical genius and not only one of the best performances at MELODICROCK FEST 3 but one of the most amazing displays of artistry, musicianship and professionalism I have EVER witnessed. As Andrew himself so eloquently put it to me shortly before he entered the stage after Glen’s performance, that certainly was a “bucket-list” performance if there ever was one.
By this time it was almost 10:00pm, upwards of 15 hours since our journey from New Jersey to Chicago to lunch to the Hotel and to the show had begun. Needless to say we were tired, hungry and just drained after witnessing the first 5 acts and Burtnik’s magnificent performance… it was time to take a break. Thus came our first “casualty” of the weekend. We knew with a festival of this magnitude that we simply just could never catch every second of every band so, unfortunately, the performer who had to take the hit on this particular evening was Kelly Keeling. We could “hear” a majority of his set as it was “miked-in” over the venue’s intercom as we sat down to dinner and he sounded great and the fans seemed to really enjoy it as one of us would “peek their head in” every once in a while, but not being all that familiar his material other than the work he had done with BATON ROUGE, HEAVEN & EARTH and John Norum and not being able to get a true sense of the experience and set, it would be unfair for me to try and talk about it. So all I can say is, sorry we missed it Kelly. From where and what we heard you sounded great but we owe you one!
Now even MORE tired than we were before after our huge late-night feast at the H.O.M.E. Bar restaurant, we stuck it out and hauled our asses back inside for “original” headliner Eric Martin. I absolutely LOVE this guy and his one-of-a-kind voice, always a pleasure to see him perform… especially acoustic as it really showcases his voice even more so than when he is playing fully plugged or with MR. BIG.
What a thrill as after a few short words and introduction by Andrew, Eric hit the stage strumming his acoustic right into “Where Do I Fit In?” I’ve always been a big fan of this song ever since I heard it on “Hey Man” by MR.BIG but it’s always come off as so much better acoustically than in the original recording, at least to me. Then his set continued on with an upbeat number called “Kansas,” “Goin’ Where the Wind Blows” and the MR. BIG hit “Wild World” when Martin was joined on stage for the first time by what he dubbed the “Jeff Scott Soto Singers” composed of Glen Burtnik, Kelly Keeling, Joe Retta from HEAVEN & EARTH, David Reece from TANGO DOWN and, of course, Jeff Scott Soto. What an awesome rendition and with the addition of the “Jeff Scott Soto Singers,” it sounded fuller and fatter than ever before!
Martin continued on with his set playing such treasured tunes as “Voodoo Kiss,” the bluesier-sounding “Water Over The Bridge,” “Electrified” and an absolutely show-stopping version of the MR. BIG anthem “Shine.” But it wasn’t over yet as Martin once again invited up to the stage an abbreviated version of the “Jeff Scott Soto Singers” which again included Jeff, Glen and Kelly but traded Reece and Retta for the scintillating vocals of guitarist and ECLIPSE front man Erik Martensson… a guy whose name Eric eagerly pointed out was just a “little too close” to his own. Together they tore through the MR. BIG hit “To Be With You”
in true triumphant fashion. Well what else would you expect them to do??? And finally, his set ended exactly as it began with just Eric, an acoustic guitar and his microphone performing “Don’t Stop” and a cover of the Robert Johnson classic made famous by Eric Clapton “Crossroads.:” Just another phenomenal performance by one of the most unique and recognizable voices in rock and roll today or any other time.
By now it was after 1:00am (or actually 2:00am for us east coasters!) and initially the night was slated to end here. But a last minute addition of Seattle-based rockers BONRUD playing fully plugged was to extend the night even further into the morning. Come on Andrew! We’re old fucking men now! It’s not like 20 years ago when we could go all night and still have the energy to put in a full day’s work the next day! Nowadays we’re in bed by 10 and still have to get up three or four times a night to take a piss! And having been long time fans and supporters of Rockeyez, this was a band we really wanted to see and we tried… BELIEVE ME we tried but after just two songs into their set that opened with an aggressive rocker called “Bullet In The Back” followed by the more melodic “Torn Apart” both from their “Save Tomorrow” release, we were ready to drop and had to call it a night. After talking to the fans the next day, it really seems we missed a HELL of a set as these edgy, melodic-rockers cranked it out into the wee hours of the morning. Sorry we had to miss it but let me reiterate two words… OLD MEN! Or in the immortal words of Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon… “We’re getting too old for this shit!”
So that’s it for day one. All in all an incredible day of music filled with TONS of “HIGHS” and fortunately not too many “LOWS.” All the artists on the bill performed exceptionally in their own right. Yes, some were better than others, there were lots of pleasant surprises and unique performances but in the end it was Burtnik who ruled the night for me.
Check back in a few days as our coverage continues with day 2!