Official Road Report, Rocklahoma, Pryor OK May 24, 2014 
Saturday, May 31, 2014, 05:54 PM
Posted by Administrator
For my short-attention spanned members of the press: here is your 30-second synopsis—while Twisted Sister did not hold the headliner slot last Saturday night at Rocklahoma, they certainly held the title at the top, in Dee’s own words--turning Rocklahoma into “I Wanna Rocklahoma!” More than 60,000 at this year’s Rocklahoma in Pryor, Oklahoma gave Twisted Sister some respect as they were blown away by the greatest heavy metal live band, while the other acts had their proverbial rock n’ roll bums handed to them on a BBQ. (or as you may be more familiar, asses on a platter.)

Ah, my babies, please forgive the tardiness of this report but I assure you that *this* report will be one unlike any other. I have just orally inhaled a snickers bar, downed 20 ml of my finest stock of diet Dr. Pepper and I’m now prepared to bring you the details from the road in a way that can only be described as “Wanking the Words”….yes, the exercise in literary masturbation we have come to know and love (or hate)…the one…the only…Armadillo Road Report: Crew Edition! The Official Twisted Sister Tour Blog and concert review, brimming with all the hard to find details the die-hard fans are hardly dying to know (and plenty you wish you didn’t!) Dateline: May 24, 2014, Pryor, Oklahoma.

THE TRIP
Your faithful Road Reporter began this trek as he began all the others—entertaining my obsessive-compulsive disorder by packing and re-packing three times the night before, only to spend no less than 3 hours looking for something unessential but somehow remarkably necessary such that I refuse to sleep until I locate it. It’s a bizarre and neurotic ritual but one that I’ve come to perform. It’s harmless, albeit very annoying, and it almost always results in just a few hours sleep before my trip to the airport. With just two hours of pillow time, I awoke at 3:00 a.m. and headed out to catch the consecutive flights to Tulsa.

After a mid-air cat-nap and a nice landing in the very large Houston airport, I decided to bypass the restrooms and taco stands (two things that I will almost NEVER go past without visiting one or the other) and went straight to the gate to see if I could make the standby list for the next flight. I figured that even in the worse case scenario, I wouldn’t get a seat and could spend two hours conducting a taco taste test in the food court. I made it across the expansive facility to the gate where the next puddle-jumper to Tulsa was about to board—they cautioned me that boarding would be just minutes away, so I shouldn’t stray to far. I heeded their advice, and as I was leaving the restroom, I heard a commotion—and there, before my eyes, a passenger collapsed and went into cardiac arrest.

My babies, I’ve been an EMT with the fire service for almost 18 years now, and I’ve worked plenty of cardiac arrests. This one definitely did not look good, and I immediately began CPR along with another passenger (a physician)-- I ordered the pilot to retrieve the defibrillator. Remarkably, within 3 minutes, the patient experienced a phenomenon called “ROSC”—Return of Spontaneous Circulation. Highly rare—less than 5% of cardiac arrests see a patient survival, nevermind what we saw there that day. The longer story shortened here—by the time the Houston paramedics were on scene, the patient shook our hands and said “Thank you.” As we handed the patient over to the paramedics, the physician (Dr. Andersen, an endocrinologist out of Tulsa) and I were then called to fly standby, and moments later, we were in the air on our way to Tulsa. (Unfortunately for me, there were some bodily fluids involved, and so I spent an hour on a plane in pants soaked in someone else’s urine. Better than my own, I suppose. A small price to pay for an extraordinary moment. I’ll take a Code Blue over a Code Brown any day of the week.)

And so that’s how it began.

I landed in the quite quaint Tulsa airport—there’s something very Beatle-esque about coming down the stairs of a plane right onto the tarmac. I was impressed by the “Welcome Rocklahoma Fans!” floor adornments and banners, and met some delightful and helpful folks from the Pryor Chamber of Commerce who were there to greet Rocklahoma fans and get them the information they needed to head to the grounds. As for me, I hopped on a shuttle to the (where else?) Hard Rock Hotel, Casino & Resort in Tulsa, and planned for a long, restful afternoon lounging poolside with a tall Shirley Temple, extra maraschino.

Not exactly.

THE PRE-SHOW
I stopped to admire the original, Elvis white rhinestone jumpsuit, rotating behind glass by the elevators—and checked out my accommodations (after I picked my jaw up off the floor—this was a room worthy of rock n’ roll royalty!) The hotel has rock music continuously playing, both in the guest rooms and over the hotel sound system. There was something magical about hearing “I Wanna Rock” playing in my room as I hung up my clothes. I grabbed a quick breakfast in the diner, only to find our own Mark “Animal” Mendoza having a bite. Animal has a handshake that could crush coal into a diamond!

A call from the Twisted tour manager made me quickly realize that I was going to be doing a lot more than simply blogging and running for water this weekend. My first order of business was to retrieve the key to our own Snide one’s room, and make sure that he had a clear, unobstructed pathway to his room. I tell you this, my S.M.F. friends so that you have a glimpse into this behind-the-scene world—and so that all my babies understand the importance of giving the band space at certain times.

Imagine you’ve gotten up at an ungodly early hour, had a long drive to the airport, had multiple flights next to crying babies and drunken businessmen—when you get to your destination, you just want a few moments of peace and quiet to freshen up and decompress. (and probably take a nap.) So if you wanted an autograph at the exact moment when our boys in black and pink just stepped off the shuttle, I hope you can understand why that just wasn’t possible. They love their fans very much—but it’s all about personal space and timing.

The remainder of band and crew finally arrived later in the evening, and we shared a table at the casino diner, complete with stories, plenty of laughs and some business chat for the next day. I was presented by Mr. Mendoza, with the highly-coveted Twisted Sister road crew t-shirt, with the almost ominous instructions—“Now you have to go earn the right to wear it!” Gulp.

Usually, I travel over to the venue with the crew and A.J., who likes to do soundcheck, first thing in the a.m. My plan this time around, was to get more familiar with the stage layouts, the cables, microphone placements and other logistics. But after meeting the crew in the lobby at 6:30 a.m. to load the guitars and other equipment, it was soon apparent that I was going to be a busy critter. Today was the day that I was going to have to place faith in my power of observation. For the past 3 years, I have silently noticed all of the various nuances of our Twisted five. Things like: what time they eat before a show, what food they order, how are they loaded onto transport, what items do they usually need to have on hand—in a strange moment of synchronicity, it seemed as if there was now a cosmic reason as to why I had taken such an interest in even the most mundane of details about Twisted Sister.

This was my first time to earn my shirt.

My new role: handle all of the logistics for the band (and in a few cases, crew) from this moment forward until the moment they were all back on the planes at the airport. Fortunately for me, my career is in Emergency Planning & Logistics—I figure if I can coordinate 150 people performing 10,000 vaccinations, I can handle getting five guys fed and put on a shuttle, right? Wrong. Ever seen “The Devil Wears Prada?” This was sort of like that, only there was no Prada but five Meryl Streeps.

There were calls down to the head of kitchen catering to ensure that the special menu was prepared accordingly, and delivered to the various rooms at very specific times. Security details had to be arranged. Shuttle drivers had to be given special instructions—going to one location to load some baggage, and a second location to load band members. There was a missing bag to be retrieved from the Tulsa airport, special items to be acquired, toiletries left behind that needed replacing, return arrangements to be made.

Between my room phone and cell, at one point, I had a phone on each ear, plus call-waiting…plus texts coming in. And before I had time to breathe, a call came in to move up the entire time frame—it seems that a band the previous night learned a hard lesson—the 40-minute ride from the hotel to the venue took them almost 2 hours in festival traffic the day before. So that, of course, meant re-doing all of the plans, re-contacting the shuttle drivers, the security details, the catering and the guy picking up the lost luggage at the airport.

I ran from floor to floor, room to room, ensuring that everyone had dinner delivered on time and correctly—and made sure that any last minute needs were addressed. The driver was staged, security details were in place, and now, the most difficult part of the operation: getting everyone simultaneously downstairs and loaded. My pedometer clocked a total of more than 20,000 steps--that's 10 miles--no wonder my dogs were screaming the next day.
I kid you not, “Long Way to the Top” came over the hotel speakers as I began to head up to the rooms to bring everyone down—I could actually feel my adrenalin kicking in. That song is forever imprinted into my memory to be equated with: “It’s GO-Time!”

I can now cross this item off my bucket list—but I escorted our very own Mr. Snider from his hotel room to the shuttle. It included a subtle but rather hilarious moment. The elevator arrives and yours truly, our security detail, and Dee board the elevator—however a lovely elderly Midwestern couple remained on board to go into the casino for a night of slots. Dee is decked out in his denim best—the famous Twisted Sister denim colors—his hair fully down—shades on….toothpick in mouth. I had a total 1984 flashback, and took a moment to appreciate what an intimidating image he struck. Dee normally has a strong presence—but when you add in 4” heel boots to his 6”1” frame and all of his Twisted regalia, it was downright BADASS.

This sweet little elderly couple, who I swear, came up to his belt buckle, looked up at Dee and said, “Did you know? There’s a big concert today… Rocklahoma, is it? Are you going to go hear some rock n’ roll music?”

Dee turned to them, and gently said back, “Yeah. I heard about that. You know, I think we might.” He looked over at me, and gave me that famous Snider smirk. One of those perfect moments.

I realized, of course, that the band went entirely too easy on me—knowing how nervous I was to have it all go smoothly as planned, the band was downstairs in seconds flat and everyone was on the road in no time at all. What a special and thoughtful gift—thank you Gentlemen! (and for those of you who play the stock market, I highly recommend purchasing some shares of Tums Antacids. I’m going to probably need a lot more of them in the future, I suspect.)

THE VENUE
Once we arrived at Rocklahoma, it certainly became a lot more familiar. The crew had already begun tuning guitars, preparing cables and marking the stage. Tonight’s adventure was what we refer to as a “throw-and-go,” meaning the changeover times between bands was only 30 minutes. It gives the crew just the minimum amount of time to set up the equipment, tape everything down, and a rapid, bare-bones sound check before show-time. While they certainly make it look easy, throw-and-go scenarios are extremely challenging, especially since you have local crews handling monitors and other stage issues. These same crews have been working all day in the sun for the past two days, and they have to handle set ups for more than 20 bands.

The venue was what we’ve come to expect from Rocklahoma. It boasts an impressively large field with a permanent concrete slab upon which the stage is built. A second, smaller stage is off about 100 yards, stage right. A comfortable array of trailer dressing rooms, VIP tents, catering and other amenities fill the backstage area, complete with an army of tour buses, venue ATVs & golf carts and plenty of friendly staff. Two jumbotron screens--stage right and left--and a very odd configuration in the crowd: in the middle of the crowd was a concrete entry ramp (almost like a tunnel) surround by chain-link, and a swing gate in the middle. Fans entered up one side of this enormous cattle chute--security swung open the gate, allowing about 30 fans a view in the front (well, sort of front--it was behind the VIP section) and then after 5 minutes, they herded them down the second ramp, re-opened the gate, and allowed 30 more fans another 5 minutes. It was combination cattle chute/heavy metal meat grinder. Never quite seen anything like it.

I usually venture out into the crowd to check out the merch (lots of great merch at this show) and the local gastronomy—one of our extended Twisted family found what could possibly be the most bizarre festival food ever: the Moink-balls. Meatballs, wrapped in bacon, grilled or smoked, served on a stick. Second only to…. Armadillo Eggs! Jalapeno peppers (de-seeded and split open), stuffed with cheese and then wrapped in sausage. Hot damn.

I had a few quick errands to run to ensure the dressing rooms were satisfactory, and then the band went into what we call “Lockdown.” Lockdown is a critical period for our Twisted ones. During lockdown, the band gets dressed in their stage clothes, do some last minute rehearsing and get mentally prepared. Each band member has their own rituals that they perform—as many of you have read in Dee’s memoirs, he performs vocalizing (throat exercises to warm up the voice), physical warm-up/exercises and he goes into isolation to prepare himself mentally. My orders were simple: No one goes into the dressing room during lockdown—not even crew.

With the rest of the crew off to grab dinner at catering during this last quiet hour before the show, I exited the dressing room and sat on a picnic bench outside the dressing room door, enjoying a warm Dr. Pepper. A very soft-spoken and polite fellow walked up—I swear to you, folks, he looked like your typical Oklahoman in blue jeans, tee shirt, baseball cap and belt with big buckle. He asked me if could stop in to say hello to Dee. I very politely explained that the band is on lockdown—no one is allowed inside. He told me was a personal friend—that Dee wouldn’t mind—and so I asked him his name: Aaron Lewis. I quickly checked with management to see if the band was still on lockdown—which they were—and apologized, “I’m sorry, Mr. Lewis. The band is on lockdown—I can’t allow anyone inside at this time.”

Little did I know…. Mr. Lewis….Aaron Lewis…the polite man I had just turned away…is the lead singer of Staind! The headlining act! OH THE HUMANITY! Next time, I assure you that I will not only learn the names of all of the headlining artists, but I’ll be sure to check out their photos as well! The crew tormented me for a good, solid hour about this, including informing me that we’ll be having our after-show meal at…THE DINER! [The Diner is Twisted code for….”you’re sacked!”]

And as if we didn’t have enough excitement for one day, one of our favorite road crew members, Duane, dropped a heavy piece of equipment on his foot and had to taken by ambulance to the closest hospital. {OUCH!} Now we were down a road crew member and about to hit the stage, so we had to huddle fast and divvy up the responsibilities to everyone. Turns out, he broke a toe or two, but devoted as always, he was back on stage in a boot-cast an hour later, to help make sure the show went on.

The band all assembled for a quick meet n’ greet, photo sessions with the lucky fans and VIP pass holders, and then came the words that makes my heart beat faster: “Roll tape!” My cue to bring the band over to the stage just in time for “Long Way to the Top” to begin playing.

Watching Twisted Sister in the moments just before they take the stage is truly a special time for me. It’s a rare glimpse into their psyche—I often feel as though I’m witnessing Olympians about to enter the arena…athlete’s about to dash out of the tunnel…gladiators ready for battle. Dee’s prepares himself like a prize fighter—my only job is to stay out of his way, and make sure that no crew or guests backstage unknowingly step into this path as he paces back and forth, shadow boxing and getting himself ready to rock. I illuminate his path—mindful of anything that could be a trip hazard, and I feel a surge of emotion as he blasts onto the stage as the opening chords of “Stay Hungry” fill the field.

THE SHOW
For the first time in eleven years, my babies. I have no notes. Not one note scrawled down. I did so much running back and forth between the stage and the dressing room during this show that I didn’t have time to take notes, and barely had time to catch a song in it’s entirety. In fact, I’ve spent the bulk of this week reviewing footage of Rocklahoma to get a feel for the show from the fan perspective.

One thing I will note—the crews and staff of Rocklahoma were wonderful! With only one exception. The monitor guy. The local crew has someone assigned to monitors—also called “wedges”—these are those small, angled cabinets you see on the stage right in front, and often the bigger wedge-like speakers hanging above, pointed at the stage. These devices allow the band, on stage, to hear a special mix. While you, the fans, get to hear the mixed version as skillfully delivered and mastered by our sound engineer, positioned back at the sound board, the band members often need or request a certain mix so they can hear how they sound with a dose of other components.

The monitor guy had problems. Not just with Twisted Sister, mind you, I saw a LOT of other bands the next night, complaining about the monitor problems onstage. It’s very hard to play a solo when you can barely hear yourself over the other instruments. So I can’t really say how Twisted Sister sounded—the reviews I read and YouTube videos all indicated that it sounded great out in the crowds, and that’s what really counts. When you can see fans all the way at the back fence putting their fists in the air, you know that the music is getting across.

It was a short setlist but the fans absolutely loved it—a very loud and appreciative crowd from the first notes. They opened with a rocking “Stay Hungry,” in tribute to the 30th Anniversary of the album of the same name—and delivered a blistering setlist, with songs from the first four albums. “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was sung loud and proud—of course, every time I hear cowbell in this context, I look around to see if any bovine fans come moo-ing on over.

I’ll just add—that it was incredibly hot, dusty and humid. There were times where I could barely see out of either eye because of the dusty conditions—and the humid rivaled anything I’ve encountered in Baltimore or the deep south. Eddie told me later that it was so humid, his fingers were sticking to the strings! WOW. That’s humid. And yet, they managed to all deliver the rock and roll that fans were screaming for.

Dee expressed his feelings about heavy metal and acoustic sets in only the way that Dee can—and it involved the complete destruction of an acoustic guitar! Good thing there aren’t any acoustic sets out there using a tuba! Although I’d be willing to bet, if anyone could destroy a tuba, it would be Twisted Sister.

“I Wanna Rock” was delivered with absolute ferocity—kicked off with a Dee-ism, of course….he took a quick dig that Twisted Sister was playing as a special guest, and not a headliner, this year which elicited some audible boo-ing—truth is, it sucks for anyone who has to play after Twisted—but even with a shortened set, the fans were clearly enjoying every minute of it.

We had some excitement in the roadie world—Dee took off stage left.—and knocked down the stand, tossing the mic into the audience, who kindly returned it. The bass technician got tangled in the wires and almost took a header. I’m serious, folks—you think it’s easy—but even the simplest of things on stage are remarkably challenging and can be dangerous! Truth be told, I was just glad it wasn’t me falling over the monitors. After the whole Aaron Lewis debaucle….well…you know…..

Twisted Sister ended the show with a very moving tribute to Lemmy Kilmeister from Motorhead. Motorhead was supposed to be on the bill this year, but due to some health issues, they had to cancel. Twisted Sister performed an INCREDIBLE version of “Born To Raise Hell” in his honor, and taped it so that Lemmy will see and hear just how many of us are thinking of him and wishing him well.

It seemed like the entire set was played at lightning speed (which fits with the atmosphere—we certainly had a lot of lightning around us) and before long, I was loading the band into the transport and heading back to the hotel. We did, actually, have our post-show meal at the diner. But I wasn’t fired—overall, given the circumstances, I didn’t too bad a job at all.

POST-SHOW
The second day, I made sure that our crew and band were back on their way home, gear loaded and en route to the airport. I had a very special moment with our own Dee Snider, who indulged me in conversation as he packed his bags. The conversation is private—between us—but it was one of those extraordinary moments for me. Dee can be remarkably humble, prolific, caring and insightful. Ten minutes of my life that I will remember and treasure for a lifetime. I breathed a sigh of relief once he was safety aboard his transport, and thought I would be able to get a full hour of uninterrupted sleep. Wrong again. The phone rang once more—it was Twisted Sister’s tour manager, Danny Stanton. He gave me the opportunity to shadow him for the day, learning the in’s and out’s of tour management. It’s a fascinating, fast-paced world—one in which you don’t sleep obviously—and I could not have possibly been more impressed! Thank you Danny—pleasure to watch you work…and work…and work….. and work some more!

I did get a chance to check out Tom Keifer (formerly of Cinderella) GREAT set and fantastic chops! There were plenty of other bands on the bill—including Black Label Society—but the monitors were SO BAD, and I mean it—REALLY AWFUL—that when backstage, you couldn’t hear music or vocals. All you could hear was distorted bass kick drum and bass. It was actually painful and annoying. I caught about 4 songs from the Kid Rock set—very entertaining and he looks great. I must confess I was jealous of his transport vehicles, tricked out with strobe lights and blackout windows.

Many thanks to all of the folks at AEG Live and the producers, promoters, staff and volunteers at Rocklahoma! The good people at The Hard Rock in Tulsa (especially big hugs to Nikki for helping me locate the lost luggage) our drivers and the security officers. You made my job a lot easier.

Above the Hard Rock Hotel entrance are the words “For Those About to Rock, We Salute You!” We salute you, Oklahoma.

Twisted Sister kicked some serious ass at Rocklahoma—we hope that y’all come back real soon, y’hear?

With that, my babies, I nibble on the last of my little chocolate guitars that they left on my pillow, and I prepare myself for the kickoff of the 2014 European Tour .

This is Armadillo….trotting off to wash my crew shirt and pack for the next round. See you on the road, babies!

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