Monday, September 16, 2013

Smaller Fish So Huge The Ocean: A Grunge Road Trip Story by Alex Dillard

One of Xanaland's most loyal friends has graced us with a grunge story.  Alex Dillard is one of the coolest yet most grounded people I have ever known and I am honored that he took the time to write this and let us re share it. Enjoy and keep writing everyone!  

There are times in life where we have experiences when the words with which to recount those experiences simply don’t exist. In short, the human language often fails to capture the human experience. This is one such failing recollection of a triumph, a joy, a multitude of dreams transcending into matters of reality. It occurred in one evening, and only a mere slice of said evening. But, miracles have no time. in Norfolk, Virginia last night and during that lull, I was forever changed.

It all began back in March, when I managed to score some coveted (and very sold-out) tickets to see Alice in Chains perform a concert at the Norva Theatre in Norfolk, Virginia on Sunday May the 5th 2013. Ebay was my supplier. Ebay changed my life. I got a pair of tickets to see Alice in Chains, one for myself, the other for my best friend without whom I dared not attend the show. Or so I tell myself. 

Our driving music:

The morning after I’d scored said tickets and had been so overwhelmed with joy at my good fortune, good fortune to have enough in the bank for once to actually buy tickets, more concert news rolled in. Carolina Rebellion 2013 announced its lineup. It was a massive weekend-long rock festival that would be headline by BOTH Alice in Chains AND Soundgarden. As luck would have it, the festival was the weekend of the 5th. Soundgarden was going on the same time as Alice would in Norfolk. 

Rebellion, as it is often known, is held a mere two hours from my hometown. And for once in all of my existence, my two favorite bands of all time were playing together at one festival and within very reasonable driving distance. However, I had already purchased tickets for AIC’s Norfolk show, pricy tickets, and the deal was sealed.
For months I had cursed this fate, missing Soundgarden, but, it may have been the best thing that ever happened to me. 

The weekend of the 5th came, my best friend arrived from Wilkesboro and we were off to Norfolk on a cloudy Sunday afternoon. For several days, and even still as of this writing, a shroud of low gray clouds had covered our state. Along with this came light rains and steady breezes. It has seemed that even nature knew musical holiness was near and was kindly teasing us with the weather of the great Pacific Northwest.

We sat out for Norfolk. After a three hour drive (a three hour driiiive) my wagon rolled into the city of Norfolk. I was struck by the beauty of the community, never having visited the place before. And low, with its modern and historical buildings all nestled on the Chesapeake Bay, festooned with its ports, tunnels, and bridges; it did indeed seem like the East Coast answer to the great Seattle. Coincidence? I don’t believe in that notion anymore. 

I wheeled my car through the narrowing streets right into a parking garage that loomed over the Norva Theater. Ninety minutes until the doors opened, and we were in line waiting. After briefly baring the chilly elements and being pawed by the Norva bouncers, the doors were opened. I dashed into the theater, leaving my friend behind. Straight to the right-front of the stage where I knew that Alice founder Jerry Cantrell would be taking his usual spot. So close, I could reach across the small iron barrier and touch the planks of the stage. I also had a great view of the magnificent drum kit that the mighty Sean Kinney would be helming for the evening. At the moment, it was a mere black silhouette beneath its coverings. Cantrell’s guitars gleamed from their rack at the rear of the stage. Shadows moved, curtains fluttered and behind me a steady sea of cheerful Alice fans rolled in like the tide. 

The first band went on. MonstrO, as I came to know, is a metal group from out of Atlanta. They were enjoyable, but I truly wanted them to leave. During one song William DuVall, new lead singer for Alice, suddenly appeared from backstage and sang a harmony with the opening group. The first of many screams was emitted. 

MonstrO made their exit, amidst a flurry of stage hands removing their equipment and readying the stage for mighty Alice. After much waiting, nerves on trip-wires, not sure just how I was going to react to being in the same living space with people who had impacted my life so much, yet, I had never known – they appeared. Jerry Fulton Cantrell Jr., complete with his newly butchered hair, appeared on the far side of the stage as a blue-purple figure and emerged into a flourish of multi-colored spot lights. He was followed by figures that quickly turned into Mike Inez and William DuVall. Sean Kinney mounted the drum riser. The screams swelled to the point that the world would shatter. My mind was awash in surrealism, pure disbelief, yet a firm base in the moment. Every clock in Norfolk ground to a halt. 

Alice in Chains torn into a killer set. Them Bones gave way to Dam That River gave way to Rain When I Die, and for a blissful and thunderous period it seemed that the entire Dirt album would unwind before us. The talent was overwhelming, but certainly not surprising. Cantrell’s hands kneaded his guitars with the precision of a master swordsman. Sean Kinney, a.k.a. Adopted Father, played like a finely-tuned machine. In his movements you could see him counting perfectly the tempo of every classic track. Upon his pounding bass drum was branded in neon “LSMS.” This was a tribute to the late great Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley, and the dearly departed original bassist Mike Starr. Jerry even took a moment to give the missing brothers a sound out during a pause between numbers. 

The set careened through a pleasant mixture of AIC classic and newer hits. From Facelift: We Die Young, It Ain’t Like That, and (of course) Man in the Box was played – to mammoth effect. From Dirt: Them Bones, Dam That River, Rain When I Die, Down in a Hole, Would? and (of course) Rooster were performed. From the EPs – Nutshell, Got Me Wrong, and No Excuses were played, all of which warranted a multitude of waving cigarette lighters. The more recent tunes were Again, Check My Brain, Your Decision, Hollow, and Stone. It was a finely-balanced set. 

All of this occurred ten feet from me. My woes of not attending Rebellion were long gone and quickly to be forgotten as Jerry Cantrell himself reached down during a break and shook my extended hand. The hand that had picked the tunes of my youth met with my own. No one else in the audience received this greeting. Rebellion wasn’t even a blip upon the world. 

Through 100 minutes of screaming, singing aloud, jumping, occasional dancing, and near-constant rock horns the group played on with only a brief break. Then, a back-to-back finale that left me floored as I have never been before. Jerry threw out a pick and it was caught between my own hands. Next, Sean dismounted the drum riser, bowing and grinning in tiki-fashion. Naturally, he approached the microphone. The crowd roared and Sean raises and lowers his arms as if controlling the volume of the noise. “You people will do anything” he chuckled. Then, he went for two pairs of battered Vater drum sticks that he’d played the set with. 

Ok, I had already assumed that my luck at the concert had certainly peaked. As I had screamed at my friend earlier, getting to shake Jerry’s hand was better than any guitar pick. Then, low, a Cantrell signature pick landed in my hands. So, the idea that I might actually catch and proudly own a drum stick used by the great Kinney during an Alice show seemed like wishing for too much. 

Signature ear-to-ear grin in place, Sean threw out the sticks. One sailed right at me. I made a swan dive and snatched it. A beautifully battered stick of wood from my favorite drummer that just played a blazing concert in my favorite band. I gripped the stick in both hands, then concealed it under my t-shirt, an AIC shirt, naturally.
Alice in Chains, good-natured, powerful, with
ura of divinity, albeit goofy divinity, said their goodbyes and left the stage.

I stood there for a long time.
Most of the crowd was scattering to the windy Norfolk streets as I left the Norva Theatre. I quickly discovered that I had screamed and yelled so much during the concert that my voice was completely hoarse, barely a gravely wheeze. This did lend itself to singing Skin Yard songs on the way home, but that’s another conversation. 

Bliss. I was completely reeling from the entire experience. Sean Kinney’s Vater drum stick clasped in my hands, Jerry’s pick in my pocket, the memories of the show quickly being filed away under NEVER FORGET in my brain. I’ve been to many concerts. I’ve seen many of my favorite bands perform live and each experience a blessing. But, there was never a show that topped this perfect night. Not by a long shot. 

P.S. I will now be buried with a pick and a drumstick. I might want to jam in the afterlife.

Thank you so much Alex, and all apologies everyone for the text size changes throughout the story, blogger is acting squirrely today!