When Alice’s 2017 tour was announced in January, one of the dates announced for the first leg of the tour was at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville on May 14, 2017. I quickly checked in with a couple of friends and lucked into third row tickets as the tickets went on sale, even though most of the first several rows were reserved for the high-priced VIP tickets. May 14 also happened to be Mother’s Day, so I had to tell my mother and my wife that I wouldn’t be around on Mother’s Day.
About a month before the show, I received a message from Dennis Dunaway, the original bass player for the Alice Cooper group, via Facebook. He asked if I was going to attend Alice’s show in Nashville. Yes. And the event the next night? Uh, what event?
Dennis told me that the Music Biz Association was holding a benefit concert, and that he, Michael Bruce, and Neal Smith would receive a Lifetime Achievement Award and perform at the benefit. And since it was the night after Alice’s show, they were also going to be at Alice’s show. He couldn’t spell everything out, but it was clear that Dennis, Michael, and Neal would perform on at least one song during Alice’s show. As Alice didn’t have a show the following night, it was also pretty clear to me that Alice would also be attending and performing at the benefit with them. I quickly bought a ticket for the benefit and started making plans for the two shows.
About a week later, Alice’s management formally announced that Alice’s Nashville show would include a “mini-set reunion” with the original Alice Cooper group members. All of a sudden, a bunch of people who weren’t going to the show were buying tickets. The show never did sell out, but Alice fans flew in from all over the world, including Canada, France, and Australia. By that time, most of the tickets for the floor seats had been sold, which made me appreciate my third-row seats even more.
I emailed Toby to see if he was going to be attending the Nashville show, as he has not attended most of the shows for the past three years. He told me that he was going to attend, and that he was also supposed to receive a Music Biz Association Lifetime Achievement Award the next night. He said he tried to turn it down, but they wouldn’t let him. The award really had nothing to do with the Alice Cooper awards, as it was for Toby’s entire career.
Toby said he’d leave a couple of after-show passes for me.
The day of the show, Shayne, Dave, and I met Lee Davey and his family and Tony Thomas for dinner at Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant down the road from TPAC. After dinner, we made our way to TPAC, and found the lobby full of excited Alice Cooper fans. I made my way to the Will Call to pick up the passes Toby left. When the TPAC employees saw I had VIP passes, they told me that we were supposed to gather outside the Polk Theater after the show. TPAC has two theaters, Andrew Jackson Hall and James Polk Theater. The concert was in Andrew Jackson Hall. Normally, VIP Meet & Greet passholders gather on one side of the stage after the show and are eventually taken backstage. Being told to go to the Polk Theater was unusual.
I met a couple of old-timer SickThings subscribers in the lobby, and we saw Toby and Damon Johnson when they arrived. We made our way into the Hall and found our seats: third row, right in front of Nita and Tommy. After reaching my seat, I found and met George Orlay and his wife. George was an early ST subscriber, but I’d never met him in person.
When the concert started, it was a normal Alice Cooper show, except that a couple of classic AC songs normally included in the set weren’t played. After the guillotine, a curtain was dropped, and when the curtain was raised a couple of minutes later, Dennis, Michael, Neal, and Ryan Roxie were on stage. They started playing “I’m Eighteen,” and Alice joined them. After that, they played “Billion Dollar Babies,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” and “Muscle Of Love.” At that point, Alice’s current band returned to the stage, and both bands played “School’s Out.” It was great to see Chuck and Dennis both playing bass, but with Chuck leaving the signature bass lines to Dennis. Same with Neal and Glen on drums, and Michael, Ryan, Nita, and Tommy on guitars. At the end of the song, they all took a bow, and the show was over.
I didn’t discover Alice until 1978, so I never saw the original group perform. I’ve never been able to attend any of their previous reunions, so I was very glad I could attend this one. Despite practicing mostly on their own before the show, the original band sounded great and tight.
During the show, Nita threw a pick that landed on the floor in front of me, so I bent my fat ass down and picked it up (not that easy, as my back was hurting from having been standing for several hours by then). During “School’s Out,” I was taking a photo when I felt something hit my neck. I thought it was one of the feathers or a streamer, but I reached up and found that it was one of Tommy’s picks that had hit me and stuck to my neck.
After the show, we said our goodbyes to our friends, and Dave and I headed to the Polk Theater. Before getting there, I saw Toby, and I walked over to say hello to him. As he saw me, he said hi, then said, “Did I leave passes for you? Oh, good, because I meant to!” We chatted for just a minute, and he said, “Go on in and get yourself some barbecue.”
We went into the theater and found that there were about a dozen long tables set up on the stage. It was an actual VIP party, with catered BBQ and about 70 or so people milling around and sitting and eating. I was looking around to see if I saw anybody I knew, when I spotted Shep getting some BBQ. I made a note of where he was going, because I wanted to be sure to speak to him, as last year, he left the room Alice was in about the same time I entered the room, so I didn’t get to talk to him.
I watched Shep carry his plate to a table, and as he sat down, I looked across the table and discovered…Lynda Carter! I couldn’t believe it. I started to hyperventilate, and I turned to Dave and said, with my voice cracking, “Lynda Carter is here!!” Of all the people I might have expected at the aftershow, she wasn’t one of them. I knew that I had to try to get a photo with her, but she was eating and talking with Shep, and I did not want to interrupt. So Dave and I milled around a little, and without stalking (no, really) I kept an eye on when might be a good time to approach Lynda.
A few minutes later, Damon Johnson and his wife, also named Lynda, stopped to talk with Lynda. As they walked away, I figured the time was right, and I walked up to the table. Lynda turned to me with a smile, and I think I said, “Hi. Sorry to bother you, but could I get a photo with you?” She said, “Of course!” (I think) and stood up. I handed Dave my phone, and he took a few photos of Lynda and me. I don’t think Dave was going to try to get a photo, but Lynda waved to him and said, “Come on! Your turn!” So I took a few photos of Dave with Lynda, and we thanked her and walked away stunned. I didn’t see her leave, but she was gone not more than five minutes later, so I’m glad I approached her when I did.
As my breathing finally started to return to normal, I walked over to Shep and said hello to him. He told me that he had been glad to see that my name was on the list, which meant a lot to me. Since I first met Shep in 2009, he has always treated me as someone who matters, and it blows my mind that he does. When I email him about anything, he always replies, usually within minutes of my sending it. As busy as he is, and as many people as he knows, the fact that he bothers with me just amazes me.
About that time, I saw Dennis Dunaway and Michael Bruce join the party. Though Dennis and I have corresponded for years, I’d never met him in person, so I went over to him and introduced myself. He was as nice as could be, and he said he thought for sure that we’d met before. We hadn’t, but he said he felt like he had. We talked for a bit about the performance and how nicely the timing of it all worked out. I asked him for a photo, and he obliged. Then other people came up to talk to him, and I waited around, holding Dennis’s bottle of water while he signed things for people.
Dennis introduced us to Steve Conte, who played with the New York Dolls, among other bands. He also introduced us to Nick Didkovsky, who is the guitarist who formed Pretties For You NYC, who has performed the Pretties for You album in its entirety a few times.
Michael had come over to where to we were by then, so I introduced myself to him, and Dave and I got photos with him, too. Michael was also nice, but it was clear that he had no idea who I was (which was fine, and what I expected).
Dennis asked if I’d met Cindy and his daughters. I hadn’t, so he pointed out where they were and told me to go introduce myself. So I did. I introduced myself to Cindy and Renee, but Cheryl was elsewhere, and I never did get to meet her. Right after that, Neal sat down at the same table where we were standing, so I decided I might as well ask him for a photo, too. He obliged, but it was clear that he really didn’t want to. I think he’d have liked to have charged me for the photo (he did spell his name “$mith” back in the day). Right after that, Alice and Kyler showed up. Kyler took a few photos of Alice with a couple of people (one of whom was the daughter of Bobby Goldsboro), and I chatted with Toby for a minute. I had decided that they weren’t going to do the normal taking of photos that they usually do, so I took advantage of my proximity to ask Kyler to take a photo of Alice and me, which he did.
After that, Kyler was suggesting that they go find a place to take some photos, and they walked toward the front of the stage. Kyler gathered Alice, Neal, Dennis, and Michael for some group photos, and there were at least a dozen other people standing around Kyler taking photos. I found myself standing next to Shep watching this, so I took the opportunity to ask Shep for a photo, since I’ve never gotten one with him before.
After that, a few people started jumping into the group photo, and I decided that I needed to get one of those, too! I waited my turn, and after they took photos with Dennis’s family, they started to all walk away. It was a night of asserting myself in ways I never do, so I didn’t stop there. I hurried over to Dennis and asked if we could do one more photo. Michael had been sitting on a chair and was halfway up when Dennis said, “Sit down, Michael! We have to get a photo with Hunter!” So Alice and Neal also turned back around. I was standing between Dennis and Alice, and Dave got into the photo to Neal’s left. I heard another friend say, “I need to be in Hunter’s photo!” and Tommy Starr jumped in next to Dennis. Kyler snapped a few photos, and then it was pretty much over. They stopped taking photos, and the guys started milling around to talk with others.
Dave and I hung around for just a little longer, and we decided to leave, as our friend Shayne was waiting outside for us, and I felt guilty about how long he’d had to wait. I said goodbye to and thanked Toby, Kyler, and Dennis.
As we were leaving, I saw Chuck Garric, and I decided to say something to him. I introduced myself to him and told him how much I enjoyed the Beasto Blanco CDs and, especially, the show in January. He thanked me, and told me they were working on their third album. He also said that they’re doing another Beasto show at the Basement East in January again. He was super nice, and I was glad I had stopped.
After that, Dave and I made our way out of the theater, and as we were walking through the lobby, Dave handed me a flyer for the show that had been signed by all four Alice Cooper group members. I hadn’t even noticed that he’d been getting everyone to sign two of the flyers each time we talked to one of them. So even though I didn’t take anything to get signed, I still ended up with all four signatures.
The next morning, Lee and his family stopped in Bowling Green on their way home, and Dana and I met them for breakfast at Cracker Barrel.
Dave and I were attending the Music Biz Association Industry Jam 2 that night, but we decided not to go back to Nashville until late afternoon. We arrived at the venue, the Renaissance Hotel, around 6 PM. Outside the ballroom, which was to open at 8, we found a few Alice fans whom I’d known but never met: Andrew Clark, George Orlay, Steve McLennan, and a few others. We stood around talking, and around 7:30, the hotel staff roped off the entrance to the hallway for the ballroom. But we were already outside the ballroom, and when they opened the doors at 8, we just walked in. We hadn’t gotten our wristbands, and no one checked for tickets. They were doing that at the roped-off entrance, but we weren’t there, so….
Having been standing for a couple of hours, Dave and I picked out a table when we got inside. We sacrificed being right up front for Alice Cooper’s performance so that we could sit for the next couple of hours. It was worth it. The Industry Jam kicked off with a performance by Carl Palmer. There was a gospel group from a local university who performed, and there was a tribute to Glen Campbell that included a few songs by his kids. After that, they announced Toby’s award and presented it to him, Immediately after that, Bob Ezrin took the podium and told about how he first discovered Alice Cooper. He then announced them, and Dennis, Neal, Michael, and Alice all walked out on stage. Alice’s appearance had been assumed by most people, but they’d never formally announced he’d be there, so it was a surprise to a lot of the people in attendance. (I had known he’d be there because Toby had told me so when I emailed a few weeks before.) Apparently, they couldn’t announce Alice’s appearance because of a “no-compete clause” with TPAC, or something similar.
After Bob presented them with their awards and they posed for photos, they picked up their instruments and kicked off a six-song set: “I’m Eighteen,” “Under My Wheels,” “Billion Dollar Babies,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” “Muscle Of Love,” and “School’s Out.” As good as they sounded the night before, they sounded even better that night.
After their set, the stage was reset for an “All-Star Jam” (which didn’t include the AC guys), so Dave and I decided to go on and head home. As we were walking out, we saw that Robin Zander from Cheap Trick was there. I didn’t try to say anything to Dennis or anyone, as they were bombarded by others, and I’d already had my experiences the night before.
It was a great two days, and I felt honored that I got to be a part of it all. Every time I think one of my Alice experiences can’t be topped, there’s another one that does. It’s really hard to see how this one could be topped, though, what with third row seats, two performances from the original group, meeting Dennis, Michael, and Neal, seeing Alice again, and meeting Lynda.
As of now, I have no plans to attend another Alice show this year. The next closest show is Cincinnati in September, which I would normally plan to do, but it’s one of the shows with Deep Purple. The tickets are higher-priced, and the set will be shorter, and I just don’t have enough interest. But I’m already going through Alice withdrawals, and I’ve reserved the right to change my mind about the Cincinnati show.