Sunday, July 3, 2011

Meeting the Demon

Anyone who was in my bedroom from about 1975 to 1982 will recall disturbing images lining the walls, posters featuring the characters from the world’s biggest rock band, KISS. The Demon (Gene Simmons), with his devilish make-up, long tongue and blood-seeping teeth, watched over us at night along with the Star Child (Paul Stanley), Space Ace (Ace Frehley) and Catman (Peter Criss).

Ace and Peter have gone off on their own, replaced by Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, but Gene and Paul remain, leading the band that has defined ‘rock and roll spectacle’ for almost 40 years.

Dylan and I were given the rare opportunity by Claude to meet the band last night just prior to their performance in Fort McMurray for 11,000 guests. As we waited our turn, we sat visiting with Mayor Blake and Jim Cressman.

Jim (above to my right), now the President of the Cressman Sakamoto Agency, was a fledgling broadcaster when he lived in the basement of my house in Drumheller back in about 1994. He’s come a long way and now negotiates multi-million dollar deals with some of the biggest artists in the world. He helped secure this show for Fort McMurray as part of a tour that included Spokane, Abbottsford, Kamloops, and Dawson Creek. Ours was the only outdoor engagement, and the largest. He also helped sign Reba for a show at SummersEND in September.

We were invited behind the curtain and introduced to the band, all decked out in their make-up and costumes, Gene Simmons towering above with Eric Singer standing on a little box to even things out a little. They were incredibly welcoming, familiar, friendly. It was an encounter that lasted on the south side of 45 seconds, captured for all time by their staff photographer and Jim, standing off to the side with his BlackBerry.

The concert itself was a spectacle unlike anything seen before in Fort McMurray. The evening was perfect with no bugs, a clear sky and a temperature that could not have been better. Dylan and Ben were entranced by the experience, enjoying the pyrotechnics, loud music and the biggest crowd in our history as a community. I’m grateful that we were given access to the VIP seats, as it provided the boys (and us) a safe and secure spot to watch the fun.

In the middle of the show, their photographer took a shot of the band and the audience from the perspective of the drum riser. This shot captures the magic of what was an incredible night.

As we left our location in the VIP section to get to our car before the inevitable rush that would occur at the end of the encore, the final chords were fading from the band’s performance of “Beth”, their highest charting single from 1976 and ironically, one of their only ballads. Turning the corner from MacDonald Island on to Franklin Avenue they launched into “Rock and Roll All Night”.

“That’s the song I really wanted to hear,” complained Ben from the backseat.

“Just wait,” I said. “Let me roll down the window.”

It was an amazing night and, according to Claude, “the scariest thing” he’d ever done. The scope and scale of the event was unfathomable, even to me with almost 15 years of event planning experience. The staff and volunteers did such an awesome job in my view and provided one of the most unforgettable evenings ever. Our family was deeply grateful for the chance to be there, and to share our story about THE HOTTEST SHOW ON EARTH.

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