Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Woodstock turns 50 at Bethel Woods

Site of original 1969 festival celebrates golden anniversary

“By the time we got to Woodstock, we were a half a million strong, and everywhere was a song and celebration” – “Woodstock,” Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.


Despite what you may have seen in the headlines this summer, Woodstock’s 50th anniversary celebration was not cancelled. It went on as planned last week, for several days, on the anniversary of the milestone event. Several acts that were on the historic musical bill in August of 1969 – Santana, John Fogerty, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Edgar Winter and Arlo Guthrie – also performed in August of 2019, as did Ringo Starr, the former Beatle who has made “Peace and Love” his personal motto. And it happened in Bethel, New York, at essentially the exact same site where Woodstock took place 50 years ago.

The four-day celebration, which happened at the Bethel Woods Center for The Arts, was planned long ago and most of the acts that performed were announced earlier this year. And it all went off without a hitch, which is why every time I saw a headline this summer saying that “Woodstock 50” was postponed, or had been moved, or was cancelled, I had to laugh.

For those that may be confused, here’s what happened: Michael Lang, one of the producers of the original Woodstock event in 1969 – and who had also produced Woodstock  ‘94 and Woodstock ‘99 – had hoped to do another large scale event for the 50th anniversary. And though he apparently has a nice relationship with the Bethel Woods Center for The Arts and has made appearances there in the past, he felt the original location, even with its gorgeous amphitheater, had become too developed and was now too small to host Woodstock 50. And so he made plans elsewhere. And those plans fell through. And thus all of the “Woodstock is canceled” headlines.

Thankfully, none of it had anything to do with what was happening in Bethel. And it was a fabulous anniversary weekend.

Woodstock - Bethel, New York, 1969 
The Bethel Woods Center for The Arts is one of the finest amphitheaters in the United States. On its historic grounds you will also find a wonderful Woodstock museum and the actual Yasgur’s Farm field where the original Woodstock event took place in 1969. A large “peace” symbol is cut into the grass of its slopping fields, which are nestled amid the rolling Catskills. An historical marker is also in place. It is the place where Woodstock actually happened, and thus where else would you rather be on its 50th anniversary?

Apparently, for about 60,000 people over the course of four days, that place was Bethel Woods. And I was one of them. I took a drive up on Friday and, in my own way, I tried to celebrate all-things Woodstock. Though the original event took place when I was only two years old, I’ve always felt a connection to it. At the time that I arrived on this Earth, America was changing, the war in Vietnam was raging, and thus, in some ways, I am a product of those times. In the photographs from my third birthday party, the balloons are decorated with “peace” symbols, and I grew up listening to most of the bands on the Woodstock bill, especially The Who. And though I’d been to a few shows in Bethel before, I was feeling a strong pull to go back for the 50th, and so off I went …

Historical marker at the original site of Woodstock 

The night prior, on the night they were showing the original Woodstock film at Bethel Woods, I was watching it at home. In one segment, Lang was talking about how when the promoters, after being displaced from two prior possible locations, were looking for a site to hold the event, they found themselves driving all throughout the hills and along backroads of the Catskills, looking for the right place. And when they came across Yasgur’s Farm, they knew they’d found it. When I drove there on Friday, my GPS, for some reason, took me on a different route from the way I’d gone there before, and I found myself on lots of little backroads, riding throughout the hills of the Catskills. And I loved it. I imagined those guys travelling those same roads 50 years earlier, and all of the young people jammed up in traffic trying to find this remote place without the use of anything like GPS. I imaged all of the hitchhikers and Volkswagen vans, and in an effort to try to harness some of that energy, I rolled down my windows, turned off the air conditioner in the car and breathed in the spirit of ‘69.  It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Though I’d been there before, I also visited the Woodstock monument, and for the 50th anniversary, you were permitted to walk around on the historic field of the concert. I strolled over to where the original stage was located, and of course I thought of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who, Crosby, Stills & Nash and all of the others. At sundown, I caught a glimpse of a beautiful golden sunset over the Catskills. It was perfect.

Ringo Starr, Bethel Woods, 2019
Ringo Starr & His All-Star Band, which performed on Friday night, were fabulous. Not only did Starr sing his best Beatles and solo songs, but he also played drums throughout most of the show. Any night that you can see a Beatle playing Beatles’ songs is a good might, but I also really enjoyed just watching him drum. At 79, he played with sheer joy. He’s got to be the most youthful man on the planet.

One of the members of Starr’s All-Star band is Gregg Rolie of Santana, who actually performed at Woodstock in 1969. He talked about playing at the big how “right over the hill” 50 years prior and sang songs such as “Black Magic Woman,” “Evil Ways” and “Oye Como Va.” It was incredibly fitting for the vibe, and Starr closed the night with “With A Little Help From My Friends” – which Joe Cocker had covered so beautifully at Woodstock - and then segued into a few verses of John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance.” Given how much the weight of the Vietnam War had hovered over the original festival, it was most appropriate.

About halfway through Starr’s set, a bright, beautiful moon rose from behind the amphitheater. It too seemed fitting, almost cosmically, on anniversary weekend. And just as the band was playing the final notes of its very last song, a dark cloud briefly moved in front of the moon and hid its light. The spirit of Woodstock had spoken. Day #2 of the celebration was over.

Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, 1969

At one point, shortly after dusk, I walked from the amphitheater back over to the original concert field and pretty much had it all to myself. I thought of the more than 400,000 people that had gathered there 50 years prior, and how that moment in time has stayed with this country in so many ways for the past five decades. I also realized that a good portion of those young people that we see in those video clips may have since passed on. Woodstock, 50 years later, also reminded us of our mortality, but not in a somber way. It reminded us of how important it is to live life to the fullest and to appreciate the vibrancy of youth.

The Bethel Woods 50th anniversary celebration of Woodstock didn’t try to recreate anything. Traffic was managed perfectly and there was plenty of parking, food and restrooms. Nobody overdosed or slid down the hills in the mud. There were plenty of young people there, but a good portion of them were of the Woodstock generation or, like me, the following generation that also grew up with the music. And at this point in our lives, we prefer a clean restroom and plenty of choices of good food. Bethel Woods has all of that, as well as a great gift shop. Trying to recreate Woodstock would have felt forced, but celebrating it in a very 2019 way did not.

While walking in the concert field, however, I did feel a sense that, like in 1969, we are once again a nation divided. This time, it’s not over a war happening overseas, but rather one happening right here in America. I found myself - at a place synonymous with peace and love - thinking about gun control. And I was pleased to learn that Michael Lang himself showed up in Bethel over the weekend to talk about that issue. I'm glad he hasn't changed.
Woodstock’s 50th anniversary celebration was not canceled. It went on, in Bethel, as planned. And, more than anything, it was fun. And perhaps that was the best way to honor it. I recently watched the new PBS documentary, “Woodstock: Three Days That Defined A Generation.” At one point during the festival, Max Yasgur, the owner of the farm, can be seen on stage addressing the enormous crowd. He was 49 years old at the time and was viewed as an old-school conservative, or in those days, as one of the “establishment.” Yet it was he who allowed Woodstock to take place on his land. And by all accounts, Max was a pretty cool guy. When the event ran out of food, he sent food from his farm. He said “we’ve got to feed those kids.” When the event ran out of water, he sent water. And though he was surely no hippie, he looked at them all – all 400,000 of them - as a bunch of nice kids having a good time. And he was happy to have them there.

Sunset in Bethel on the 50th anniversary of Woodstock
“I’m a farmer,” he said on stage that day, 50 years ago. “I don’t know how to speak to 20 people at one time, let alone a crowd like this. But I think that you people have proven something to the world. Not only to the town of Bethel and Sullivan County and New York State … you’re proving something to the world. This is the largest group of people ever assembled in one place. We had no idea there would be this size group, and because of that, you’ve had quite a few inconveniences … but the one thing that you’ve proven to the world is that a half a million kids – and I call you kids because I have children older than you are – a half a million young people can get together, and have three days of fun and music, and have nothing but fun and music. And God bless you for it.”


Three days of peace, love, music and fun. There is still an aura there. You can feel it.

Happy 50th Woodstock. And well done, Bethel Woods.

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on The River. Reach him at musiconthemenu@comcast.net)  

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Frehley’s guitar blasts Kirby

Photo courtesy of JA Donnelly

Backed by a polished and energetic band, former KISS guitarist delivers   


WILKES-BARRE – Ace Frehley must like Northeastern Pennsylvania. On Saturday night, the former KISS guitarist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer performed in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market for the sixth time as a solo artist, dating back to 1985. This time, he was back at the F.M Kirby Center, where he had also played in 2016. And, like last time, he rocked the joint pretty good.

Frehley took the stage to the sound of “Fractured Mirror” – an instrumental piece which closes his 1978 solo album - filling the theater. He then opened the show with “Rip It Out,” the opening track from that same album. “Parasite,” from KISS’ second LP, “Hotter Than Hell,” followed, and chances are it probably wasn’t the first time Frehley performed the song on that same stage, as KISS had played the former Paramount Theater twice in 1974.

 “How ya doing Wilkes-Barre?” said Frehley after the second number. “You ready to rock?

The answer was ,”Yes,” and Frehley then tore into 1979’s “Hard Times,” a KISS gem that deals with Frehley’s teen years and the tough street life of the Bronx. Frehley offered an extended solo during the number, aptly displaying his lead guitar skills which have not diminished over the past 40 years.

One of the highlights of the show was Frehley’s new backing band, most of which he discovered last year while doing some shows with former bandmate Gene Simmons. Three members of the unit - guitarist/vocalists Ryan Cook and Jeremy Asbrock and bassist/vocalist Philip Shouse - had previously backed Simmons at some of his solo concerts. Frehley was impressed and hired them. The three additions, along with longtime drummer Matt Starr, give Frehley one of the best bands he’s ever toured with. The triple-guitar attack bolstered his sound and the harmonies were spot-on. Frehley was also generous to the musicians, allowing them take lead vocals on some numbers and solo. That, and their own charisma, made the concert experience even more enjoyable.

A churning performance of “Watching You” also connected with the KISS faithful and during a performance of the new “Rockin' With The Boys” Frehley frequently tossed guitar picks into the audience.

“It’s starting to get hot up here,” said Frehley, while taking off his blazer about five songs into the show. “I don’t want to pass out like I did last time.”

The comment - referring to his 2016 performance at The Kirby, during which he became ill,  had to cut the show short, and was treated for dehydration at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital – drew a chuckle from both Frehley and the crowd. On this night, however, all was well, and Frehley and the band then ripped through guitar-heavy renditions of “Rocket Ride,” "Mission To Mars” and “Strange Ways,” the latter of which featured another extended guitar solo. ”2,000 Man,” a song written and first recorded by The Rolling Stones, but has become a signature song for Frehley, also got one of the night’s biggest cheers.

“I’m looking out there and I think I see a few rock soldiers,” said Frehley, before launching into “Rock Soldiers.”  The anthem-like song, which appeared on 1987’s “Frehley’s Comet” album, remains a fan-favorite and also had the crowd singing along. And for his performance of the 1978 hit “New York Groove,” he brought out his famous lighted guitar which pulsated to the beat of the song. It, too, had plenty of fists pumping in the air.

It was during “Shock Me,” however, that Frehley showed his fans why he is the quintessential lead guitarist. Sure, he hauled out his trademark smoking guitar for a part of the solo, which made for a fun visual, but it was what he played that seemed to impress the crowd the most. It was one of the longest guitar solos Frehley has ever performed, full of both beefy riffs and quick playing. Frehley was already a guitar hero to many before the “shredders” of the ‘80s arrived on the music scene, and that’s never really been his style, but on Saturday night, at least for parts of his solo, Frehley was shredding. It was almost as if he was just having some fun showing off. And it was impressive.

The set ended with a pounding rendition of “Cold Gin,” which also featured an extended guitar solo.

Encores included “Detroit Rock City” and “Deuce,” and it is when you see Frehley tearing through the guitar parts of “Deuce” that you realize how important he was to KISS’ initial success. His sound is very much the sound of KISS “Alive,” the band’s now classic 1975 breakthrough album, and it is clearly a sound that he still holds dear and can still deliver.

Ace Frehley apparently likes Northeastern Pennsylvania.

And apparently it also likes him.

Another good show from the Spaceman.


This story also appears in The Times Leader newspaper and can be read online here:


Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on The River. Reach him at musiconthemenu@comcast.net

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Don’t call me X

Sound Check Magazine  
October 1994

Generation X, huh?

That’s what someone, somewhere, has decided to label me and a few million other young people, ranging in age from teens to early thirties.  At 27, I guess I’m about right in the middle.

We are, Madison Avenue says, a lost generation that is absent of ambition, squandering our intellect, and lacking in direction and identity.

In August, a few hundred thousand of these Xers gathered in upstate New York and tried to recreate the magic of a grand concert that our parents’ generation held 25 years ago. And I guess some feel that we even managed to screw that up, as Woodstock II forgot the little part about getting a powerhouse lineup of great bands.
I don’t buy any of it.

We do have an identity. We do have our own past, our own memories, our own music, and our own heroes.

The Who talked about their generation.

I’ll talk about ours.

Our generation, the one they call “X,” consists of anything that we can recall happening in our lifetime. And, so far, it’s been a pretty cool ride.

I can vaguely recall, as a young child, hearing “American Pie” on the radio and being intrigued by its lyrics. I can remember listening to Elvis Presley albums with my grandfather, marveling at his wonderful voice. I can recall watching old Monkees reruns on TV, and thinking that’s how life for a rock band actually was. And right around that same time, I recall seeing four guys from New York City slapping on the greasepaint, cranking up the amps and becoming “The Hottest Band In The World.”

But music is only a small part of it. There’s much more.

Generation X is Little League, dance recitals and fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Generation X is “Jaws,” “Saturday Night Fever,” “Star Wars” and “Dancing With Wolves.” It’s “M*A*S*H,” “Cheers,” “Cosby” and The Fonz from “Happy Days” trying to jump over 14 garbage cans.

Generation X is “Batman” with Adam West and Michael Keaton. It’s “Saturday Night Live” with John Belushi, Eddie Murphy and Dana Carvey. It’s silly horror movies with 10 sequels and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”

Generation X, probably more than anything, is "The Breakfast Club."

Generation X is baseball strikes, free agency, and Reggie Jackson hitting three home runs in one game of the World Series. It’s Super Bowl Sunday with Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Walter Payton. It’s “Monday Night Football” with Tony Dorsett rushing for 99 1/2 yards on one play.

Generation X is astronauts. Remember the blastoffs? The splashdowns? Do you recall hearing those static-filled voices, “Come in Houston. Houston, do you read?” and seeing that tiny little white dot on the TV screen zooming towards the stars and thinking, “Wow, guys are actually in there.” Every little kid wanted to be an astronaut. (Until we found out it was really, really hard.)

Many years later, Generation X saw seven of those brave astronauts die.

Generation X is MTV. It’s J.J. Jackson, Martha Quinn and Adam Curry. It’s “120 Minutes,” “The Week In Rock” and “Headbanger’s Ball.”

Generation X is “Purple Rain,” “Pyromania,” “Born in The U.S.A,” “The Joshua Tree,” “Synchronicity” and “Thriller.”

Forget Woodstock II. Generation X is Live Aid, with millions of dollars being raised by young people to feed starving people.

Generation X is heavy metal. It’s denim jackets, faded jeans and high-top Converse sneakers. It’s Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, Van Halen, Guns ‘N Roses and Metallica.

Generation is also classic rock and roll. It’s John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel. It’s The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and The Grateful Dead. And it’s grunge, with flannel shirts, goatees and black shoes. It’s Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden.

For Generation X, the guys don’t have to shave every day. A little stubble is alright.  They play softball with their friends and go to ballgames with their dads. The women can wear their hair however they want – long and straight, short and trimmed, or a big, funky perm. They’re smart and they’re ambitious in the workforce, but they still love to talk on the phone with their friends and go to the mall with their moms.

Generation X is student loans and ridiculously high rates on car insurance.

Generation X is Ollie North, William Kennedy Smith, Clarence Thomas III and O.J.

Generation X is the fall of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall. It’s hostages in Iran, Operation Desert Storm, Ronald Reagan beating an assassin’s bullet, George Bush and Bill Clinton.

Generation X is concerned about the environment and the future of the world. It’s U.S.A for Africa, Greenpeace and Amnesty International.

Generation X does have ambition. We still study to be scientists, teachers and doctors.

Generation X, like Generation A or Generation C or whatever generations came before it, also likes a long walk on the beach, a cool summer breeze and a beautiful moonlit fall night.

Generation X, huh?

People never really change and our lives, in part, serve as both a mirror and a reflection of what goes on around us. And really, there’s no need to look to the past, or the future, to find an identity. We’re doing OK, right now, and we’re still only just beginning. If you look hard enough, you’ll see. We’re leaving our mark, here and there, slowly but surely. And when we’re all gone, the things that we built, the impressions that we left, and the changes that we’ve made will be even easier to recognize.

Rest assured, X will mark the spot.

Frehley ready for blastoff

Former KISS guitarist set to take 
F.M. Kirby Center on a guitar-fueled rocket ride

Special to The Weekender

Ace Frehley is in fine spirits. During a recent phone interview, the former KISS guitarist cracked his trademark laugh several times as he chatted freely about his most recent solo effort, “Spaceman,” his next album, “Origins, Vol. 2,” his two highly memorable stints with KISS, and his upcoming show at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre.  He also spoke about his complicated current relationship with the members of KISS, his influence on younger guitarists, and of his last appearance at The Kirby Center, in April of 2016, during which he became ill and ended up spending a few days in a Wilkes-Barre hospital.

“Spaceman,” released last fall, is Frehley’s ninth solo studio album and twelfth solo release if you include live albums and compilations. It came exactly 40 years after his first solo effort, which is why he says he originally considered naming the album “40 Years Later.” But when his former bandmate Gene Simmons, who co-wrote two tracks on the album, suggested the “Spaceman” title, Frehley says he decided to go with it. The title, of course, comes from the onstage persona that Frehley had created with KISS in 1973.

“The mindset I was in during the making of ‘Spaceman’ … I was really thinking about my first ’78 solo record,” says Frehley. “It was the 40th anniversary, and I actually did nine songs on purpose, as kind of a good luck thing. (His 1978 solo album contained nine tracks, including the hit single “New York Groove.”) I approached ‘Spaceman’ kind of like I approached my ’78 solo album. On the track ‘Mission To Mars’ I was using old delay effects and it brought back memories of when I used to use an Echoplex in the studio with KISS, and live.”

Ace Frehley's "Spaceman" was released last fall. 
One track on the album, “Bronx Boy” is reflective of Frehley’s youth and growing up in New York City, which he had also touched upon with the 1979 KISS gem, “Hard Times.” Another track, “Rocking With The Boys” was first penned in the ‘70s and, thematically, is similar to the KISS classic “Beth” in that it tells the tale of a musician that’s too busy working with the band to spend time with his lady.

“I wrote the chorus to that song before ‘Beth’ ever happened,” says Frehley. “I have like three different versions of that song. The problem with it, up until ‘Spaceman,’ was I was never really happy with the bridge and the verses. You get a good hook, but sometimes the rest of the song just doesn’t hold up. You can have a great hook, but if you don’t have good verses and a bridge, it’s not going to cut it. Finally, when I was writing songs for ‘Spaceman,” I decided to take a hard look at that song and it worked out great. I’m really happy with the end results.”

With the track “Pursuit of Rock and Roll,” Frehley sings of his love for the all-time greats, referencing Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. And, in other interviews over the years, he has cited Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton as influences. Since the late ‘70s, however, it’s been Frehley that’s been a major influence on others. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he is often named by musicians as the reason they first wanted to play guitar. He has also forged friendships with some of those disciples, such as Slash. Frehley says he enjoys the musical camaraderie.

“I’m very good friends with John 5 and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam,” says Frehley. “I was also really good friends with Dimebag. I ended up spending a weekend at his house. I was in Las Vegas when Vinnie Paul passed away. I flew down to Dallas for the funeral and gave a little speech. That came as a real big shock.”

Frehley says he appreciates the accolades he gets from other musicians, though he admits he’s still often surprised by it.

“It feels great,” he says. “I’m dumfounded by it. I’m not classically trained, and it just amazes me that I’ve influenced so many musicians. Not only superstar musicians, but just regular guys off the street. Every time I do a meet-and-greet and I meet fans, or any guitar player, they always say they picked up the guitar because of the ‘Alive!’ album.”

Ace Frehley is a member of the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 
Frehley was the original lead guitarist in KISS and was a member of the band from 1973 to 1982. He then rejoined the group from 1996-2002. Like most bands, KISS has had its share of inner turmoil and Frehley has had his ups and downs with his former bandmates. Regardless, he looks back at both of his successful stints with “The Hottest Band In The World” with fondness.

“The ‘70s were the highlight of my life,” says Frehley. “Being voted in a Gallup Poll as the No. 1 rock group in the world. Going over to Australia and getting the key to the city from the Lord Mayor in Sidney and playing stadiums. My childhood dream had come true. And it all fell apart, partially because of drugs and alcohol. Peter (Criss) left. And then I decided to leave. But when we put together the reunion tour, it was so bizarre. I remember the first night, at Tiger Stadium, I really got a sense of deja vu. Here I am, years later, in the same make-up playing the same songs, and I’m scratching my head going, ‘Did I ever leave the band?’ What happened?’ ”

Ace Frehley served as KISS' lead guitarist
from 1973-1982 and 1996-2002.
What did happen? After splitting from KISS in 1982, Frehley, at last initially, had a busy solo career. Throughout the latter half of the ‘80s, he released several solo albums under his own name or with his band, Frehley’s Comet. But, from 1989’s “Trouble Walking” until 2009’s “Anomaly” there was no new music other than his appearance with KISS on 1998’s “Psycho Circus.” Since 2009, however, he has released four new studio albums and a fifth, “Origins, Vol. 2,” will be released later this year. Frehley says sobriety has been the key to productivity.

“I was beside myself, when I got sober 13 year ago, and somebody came up to me and said, ‘Ace, do you know you haven’t done an album in 20 years?’ ” he says. “That’s what alcohol can do to you. I was completely oblivious to the fact that I hadn’t done a record in 20 years. I said to myself, at that juncture in my life, ‘It’s time to make up for lost time.’ And I think I have.”

Indeed. “Origins Vol. 1,” released in April of 2016, featured Frehley revisiting some KISS classics and putting his spin on songs from artists such as Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. One track, a cover of Free’s “Fire and Water,” featured guest vocals from former bandmate Paul Stanley. For “Origins, Vol. 2,” Frehley says he’s taken a similar approach and that it will again feature a Zeppelin tune, “Good Times Bad Times.” Other than a final mix, the album is ready to go.

“I’m really excited about ‘Origins, Vol. 2’ ” he says. “It’s surpassed my expectations. I got Lita Ford singing ‘Jumping Jack Flash,’ and she’s amazing. She came to my home and I coached her for two days with vocals and she just (expletive) killed it.  I also have Robin Zander singing ‘30 Days In The Hole’ by Humble Pie. I really wanted to do the Humble Pie song, but I just couldn’t cut it, vocally, because Marriott’s just too good of a god-damn singer. I just couldn’t do justice to his vocals. But I remembered that I had bumped into Robin Zander years ago at a meet-and-greet and he had mentioned to me that he’d like to sing on one of my upcoming records, so I remembered that and gave him a call. And he killed it as well. He sounds like a young Marriott.”

Frehley’s current relationship with KISS is, as it has often been, complicated. Less than a year ago, it appeared things were better than they’d been in quite some time. In 2016, Stanley had appeared on “Origins, Vol. 1” and, in 2018, Simmons had co-penned two songs and helped name the “Spaceman” album. Frehley also made several appearances with Simmons as the KISS bassist/vocalist promoted his “Vault” box set and Simmons and Frehley actually did a short tour of Australia together with Frehley using Simmons’ band for his sets. Photos of the two, having a good time together, spread throughout social media. Frehley also appeared on last year’s annual KISS Kruise and even joined his former band on stage, sans make-up, for a few songs.

Ace Frehley plays the F.M. Kirby Center on Saturday 
In January, however, KISS began its “End of The Road” final tour, and though the band let it be known they were open to the idea of having some guest appearances from former members, Frehley let it be known he’d prefer to be included on the entire tour. That didn’t happen. Shortly before the start of the tour, Simmons, in an interview with Guitar World magazine, rehashed some of Frehley’s past problems with alcohol, which irked Frehley and his wife, Rachel. A retaliatory post on Frehley’s Facebook page, blasting Simmons and accusing him of inappropriate behavior towards Rachel, went viral. And just like that, all of the good will that had been forged between 2016-2018 appeared to be gone.

Frehley is asked if, since the January blowup, he’s had the chance to try and mend things with Simmons.

“I have had no contact with Gene, and Gene hasn’t commented on Rachel’s accusations,” says Frehley. “He hasn’t said ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay’ or denied it, or apologized. It’s just very unsettling and an unfortunate situation that that had to go down. I don’t know the specifics, exactly, because I did not witness anything. In reality, talking hypothetically, if Rachel decided to sue Gene … in the court of law, I would have to have to say, if they put me on the stand, that I did not witness anything. It’s a tough situation. And that’s all I really have to say about it.”

Frehley says that he has had some contact with Stanley, who had recently written, in his new book, “Backstage Pass,” that he’s glad to have redeveloped a friendship with Frehley.

“I spoke with Paul last week,” says Frehley.  “I just touched base. He didn’t really want to talk about the feud between me and Gene. I heard he’d said some nice things (in the book), and I actually sent him a text thanking him for the kind words …. That’s what prompted me to get a hold of him and thank him, and wish him luck on the European tour that they’re on right now. I always try to keep the door open.”

KISS’ “End of The Road Tour” has been a success, selling out arenas in the United States and stadiums in Europe. Stanley recently stated that the band does have a date and venue for the final show, but it has not yet been revealed. It is assumed it will be in New York. Frehley says that, despite the unresolved issue with Simmons, he’s still open to doing some shows with the band, though he admits it would be awkward to stand on stage with current KISS guitarist Tommy Thayer, who has capably held the gig for the past 15 years, dressed as the Spaceman.

“I’m not about to just show up at a KISS concert,” he says. “If the situation presented itself, and it was offered to me in the right way, sure. Even if I didn’t want to do it, I’d do it for my fans, because I know my fans want it …. But unless I was invited, and we could figure something out, where Tommy goes backstage and I takeover for a few songs - I don’t know. It’s a difficult question. And it’s an awkward question.”

What is not awkward for Frehley is playing solo shows, which he’s been doing since 1985. Even during the years when he didn’t record, he always toured. His shows are peppered with his KISS classics such as “Shock Me” and “Rocket Ride,” as well as KISS songs that he didn’t originally sing, such as “Detroit Rock City” and “Cold Gin.” There are also tunes from Frehley’s Comet and more recent numbers and, of course, some smoking guitars. (Literally.) He says his band, which was once Simmons’ backing group for his solo shows, is phenomenal.

“They all sing lead, so we can do three and four part harmonies,” says Frehley. “It’s a much more cohesive unit. I enjoy working with these guys. They’re all out of Nashville and they’re really professional.”

Frehley’s return to the F.M. Kirby Center on Saturday will be the fourth time he’s played the venue. He performed there twice with KISS in 1974, when it was known as The Paramount Theater, and he was there, solo, in 2016. That day was memorable, as it was also the day that “Origins, Vol. 1” was released nationwide. That afternoon, Frehley did a record store appearance at the Wyoming Valley Mall, where he signed hundreds of autographs. Later that night, on stage at The Kirby, just before the encores, he began to feel ill onstage. He was taken to Wilkes-Barre’s General Hospital where he would stay for several days.

Frehley remembers it well.   

“I started to get palpations towards the end of the how, and I kind of had to sit on my amp a few times,” he says. “I just didn’t feel right. I started to get dizzy, and I had to cut the show short. I really didn’t know what was going on. I went to the emergency room and found out I was severely dehydrated and suffering from exhaustion. It was a little too much for me. It may not have happened if I didn’t do the in-store. I forgot to drink fluids that day and usually, when I do a concert, I just lay in bed and order room service and watch movies and save my energy for the concert. It took maybe a little more out of me than I thought it had, and it affected the show. They decided to keep me overnight for observation, because they thought something might be wrong with my heart – because of the palpations and fluttering – and they gave me an angiogram, and it came back 100% negative. In fact the doctor, who was about 45, said ‘Jesus Christ, Ace, I wish my angiogram was a good as yours. You have absolutely no blockage.' So I don’t have to worry about getting a triple by-pass anytime soon.

“Everything was fine. They took good care of me.”

Expect some encores on Saturday.
This story also appeared as the cover story of June 26, 2019 issue of The Weekender, the No. 1 arts and entertainment newspaper in Northeastern Pennsylvania, The Weekender version can be viewed here:


Who: Ace Frehley
When: Saturday, June 29, at 8 p.m.
Where: F.M. Kirby Center for The Performing Arts, 71 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre
Info: (570) 826-1100

Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on The River. Reach him at musiconthemenu@comcast.net

Monday, April 1, 2019

Ultimate KISS ARMY Experience
 gets you closer than ever to KISS

Special VIP tour offers much more than a typical meet-and-greet


Imagine that you are a KISS fan and that you have been so for many years. You’ve got all of the band’s albums and, within the KISS Army, you see yourself as a five-star general. You’ve got at least 20 ticket stubs from their concerts, and though it might be a bit hard to squeeze into it these days, you’ve still got your concert t-shirt from your very first KISS show. You’ve also got a sizable collection of KISS collectables, and you might even joke that when it comes to KISS trivia, you know more about the band than even Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.  

But … have you ever actually walked on the KISS stage? Stood right before their mic-stands? Have you ever held Gene Simmons' bass or Paul Stanley’s guitar? Sat behind Eric Singer’s drum kit? Peeked inside Tommy Thayer’s traveling guitar case? Held Gene’s torch, into which he breathes fire? Tried on Paul’s platforms and Gene’s dragon boots? Hung out with KISS in a relaxed setting before the show, where not only can you get a professionally-taken photo of you with the band, but you can also mingle with the group and take some fun selfies.

Probably not.        

Well, OK … definitely not.

But, with the “Ultimate KISS ARMY Experience,” that’s exactly what you can do. It is the most deluxe VIP package that the band has ever offered to its fans and includes a type of backstage access and on stage access that has never been available before. You literally spend about three hours backstage and then watch the show from a special area, directly in front of the stage, which is actually several feet closer than the very front row. And when KISS recently brought its “End Of The Road” tour to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, a handful of KISS die-hards did just that.

KISS fan  Raymond Scipione holds
Gene Simmons' bass guitar.
“It was awesome, “ says Jodey Mutcher, 49, of Stroudsburg, PA. Mutchler, who has been a KISS fan since she was nine years old, says that since this is indeed KISS’ final tour, she felt it would be her last chance to get a closer look at “The Hottest Band in the World.”

“I’m surprised we had such access to the stage, and were able to touch their equipment,”  she says. “That’s a lot of trust that they have in their fans.”

The “Ultimate KISS ARMY Experience” tours are run by Epic Rights, a company that also handles KISS’ tour merchandise. Cost, per person, is $6,500.They are hosted by Keith Leroux, an assistant to the band who also handles its social media. Leroux was chosen to give the tours because he’s not only an employee of the band, but also a die-hard fan of the group with encyclopedic knowledge of all-things-KISS. That, combined with his cheerful demeanor and enthusiasm, makes him the perfect tour guide.

“I enjoy just being here,” says Leroux. “It’s amazing.  I love to see fans share with the band what I get to experience all the time.”

Leroux says even he’s surprised at how much the tour offers.

“When we put it together, it was intentionally expensive, so that it was limited,” he says. “They wanted it to be limited. They wanted it to be for the die-hards, but not where there are 50 people showing up. I really didn’t think the band would allow us to do everything we did. There was a wish-list. And they approved everything. The pit, from where people see the concert – no one has ever been allowed there before. And for all kinds of reasons … insurance, the pyro … the pyro literally had to be moved back, because a person who doesn’t work for KISS can’t be within a certain number of feet of the pyro. And so by allowing the fans in the pit, it changed the layout of the stage show. Even most crew members and band members don’t go where we go on the tour. They don’t need to. Their job might be in just one area, and if you don’t need to go on stage, you don’t have a pass to go on stage.

Dwayne Wimmer poses behind the KISS drumkit
“Fans are truly going into places where nobody can go,” he adds. “And again, when we put the list together for KISS, I thought for sure they were going to pair it down. But they approved every single thing.”

KISS’ “End of The Road” show is the most mammoth of its career. It convoys from city to city with more trucks and buses than ever before. The KISS crew alone consists of 75-80 people  and about 100 local stage-hands are also brought in for each show. Even with nearly 200 people working, it still takes 10 hours to assemble. Once fans begin an “Ultimate KISS ARMY Experience” tour, they are escorted to the soundboard area, where they get their first glimpse of the stage. Soon, they are on the stage, where they are not only permitted to take any photos they’d like with their own phones or cameras, but they are also professionally photographed by Leroux or other members of the KISS staff, who later provide those photos to the fans. While on the stage, you can stand behind the band’s mic-stands and sit behind the drum kit. (It is there, behind the drums, when looking out into an 18,000 seat arena, when you truly feel as though you are sitting in the cockpit of KISS.) You also hold Simmons' torch and walk inside Simmons' special off stage area where he stores his basses and “blood” for his on-stage antics. Later, you can hold and pose with one of Simmons' basses and Stanley’s guitars, and before it’s time to go and try on their boots and hang out with the band, there’s also a special lounge with a catered meal and open bar.
Fans have never had a closer look at KISS
than they can now have with the Ultimate
KISS Army Experience, where they can
watch the show from directly in front of the stage. 
There's also a chance, at any given time while on the tour, that you might bump into Doc McGee, KISS' legendary manager, or that even one of the members of the band might join in for a while, sans makeup and costume.

The “Ultimate KISS ARMY Experience” is usually comprised of about 6-10 people in each city. And, as you’d expect, they are serious, die-hard KISS fans and ones with the means to afford it. Regarding the cost, some might compare it to attending a major sporting event. Each year, thousands of NFL fans from around the nation make a pilgrimage to the Super Bowl. They might spend thousands of dollars just for the tickets, plus airfare, hotel costs, food, souvenirs … it all adds up, rather quickly, to about the same amount as the cost of the “Ultimate KISS ARMY Experience.” But those NFL fans don’t get to walk around on the actual field before the game, or hold the footballs that are going to be used in the game, or hang out with their favorite players just before they take the field and have photos taken with them, or watch the game from right on the sidelines. That, in essence, is what “Ultimate KISS ARMY Experience” offers to KISS fans. And for them, KISS is their favorite team and “The End Of The Road Tour” is the Super Bowl. And in most cases, extensive travel isn’t even necessary, as the tour is likely coming right to you.

Get up close and personal with
Paul Stanley with the band's new
Ultimate KISS Army Experience 
Ray Scipione, 48, of Hammonton, N.J. has been a KISS fan since 1979. Once he heard about the “Ultimate KISS ARMY Experience,” he signed right up. The main reason, he says, was to be even closer than the front row.

“I really wanted to be up close,” says Scipione.  “All of this other stuff is icing on the cake.”

Scipione says that though it’s a costly VIP tour, it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime event.   

“It’s an expensive night, but I live life on experiences,” he says. “You can only buy so many cars, or jewelry or clothes. For me, it’s this. It’s waking up five years from now and saying, ‘Man, remember that night I did all of that?” There are people that just save, and they never live their life with any experiences. They just save and save, but they never do anything. I’d rather do this, where I can look back, and have pictures and videos, and I can relive the night.”

Joe Lagana, 58, or Orwigsburg, PA, has been a KISS fan since 1974 and saw them for the first time in 1976. He’s now seen them more than 75 times and he also took the “Ultimate KISS ARMY Experience” tour in Philadelphia.

“It was simply awesome,” says Langana. “To get to try on their boots - it’s just simply awesome. And it’s a very comfortable pace. Nobody was rushed. Keith is great.”

If the shoe fits, where it: Joe Lagana
tries on Gene Simmons' dragon boots

Lagana said that though he’s done other VIP packages in the past, he opted to do the “Ultimate KISS ARMY Experience” because of all of the newly added extras.

“It’s ‘The End of The Road,” he says. “It’s the final tour. You probably won’t have the opportunity to do this again.”

Dwayne Wimmer, 54, of Haverford, PA, has been a KISS fan since 1976 and has seen the band more than 30 times. He agrees.

“What’s cool about it is that it’s a small group and we got to take our time,” he says. “You’re on the stage for 20 minutes, or a half an hour, you’re walking into the areas where they go to off stage in between songs. You get to hold their guitars, put on their boots – that’s crazy. And you get to talk with like-minded fans, about your experiences and how you became a fan. You’re building relationships and making friends.

“It’s great.”

(The Ultimate KISS ARMY Experience is available before every show on the band’s “End Of The Road” tour. For more information, visit www.kissonline.com)

Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on The River. Reach him at musiconthemenu@comcast.net

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Thank you, Mom and Dad …

… and thank you, KISS

A lot of amazing things happened in Philly for my son and I on March 29. Some people did some very nice things for me. And I know, based on what they told me, that they did them because they came to know and respect my work and that, over the years, I have dedicated a good portion of my life to supporting good music and celebrating good music.

I posted quite a few photos of our KISS experience on social media, mostly of my son. But this one here is one of my favorites of me. Standing on stage at the Wells Fargo Center. I’ve seen everyone from Paul McCartney, to Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Billy Joel, Madonna, Eric Clapton, U2 and countless others stand on stage there.  It is, looking out over the 18,000 seat arena, a surreal feeling. And somehow I found myself there, standing before, ironically enough, Paul Stanley’s mic-stand. It was seeing him on stage, in Philadelphia 35 years ago, that helped put me on this wonderful musical journey. He is the greatest frontman I’ve ever seen, and his band is the greatest live band I’ve ever seen, and somehow my son and I found ourselves walking on their stage.

Later in the evening, after the show, when all was quiet, I was thinking about how much I loved music when I was a teen, and how my parents supported that love. They’d drive me and my friends to the “Midnight Movies,” to see films like “Tommy,” “Let It Be,” “The Song Remains The Same” and “Quadrophenia.” Sometimes, at age 15 or 16, my Dad would pick us up after the movie at 2 a.m. When we weren’t yet old old enough to drive out of town for big shows, my folks would drive us. Drop us off at the arena. Pick us up after the show. Everywhere from Philly to Allentown to NYC. And, before I got my first high school part-time job and had my own money, they’d always give me a few bucks to buy that album or music magazine that I wanted.

Sometimes, my parents had to reel me in a bit. I remember once, around 11th grade, my Mom felt I was spending too much time in my room with my records, with my headphones on, rather than on my studies. She was a sweetheart, but when she was mad, sometimes her Irish would slip out a bit.

“Alan,” she said. “All you care about is the goddamn Who.” That wasn’t true. All I cared about was KISS, Bruce Springsteen, The Police, The Beatles, Van Halen and The Who. And really, my grades were fine. And they kept letting me go to concerts.

(Mom, by the way, actually loved The Who.)

This photo is for my late Mom, and for my Dad. Thank you. Thank you, for when you noticed that I found something I really loved, just letting me roll with it.

And thank you, KISS.

As we were walking from the arena back to the car after the show, my 10 year-old son said to me, “I’m still trying to process what just happened.” And then he asked me if we could go to see KISS again in Hershey.

Thanks for that as well, KISS. It might be “The End of The Road” for you. But for him, the musical journey is just beginning. And that, after tonight, I know is because of you. And because of the things that my Mom and Dad did for me, all those years ago.

Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on The River. Reach him at musiconthemenu@comcast.net

Monday, March 25, 2019

KISS' ‘End of The Road’ tour:
A victory for the music

Legendary band will make its final stop in Philly on Friday


March 25, 2019

One of the more interesting little tidbits within the history of the rock band KISS is the fact that the group landed its first record deal based solely on the merit of its music. It was 1973, and the president of the new upstart label was so impressed with a demo featuring some of the group’s songs that, though he hadn’t even seen them play live, he decided, immediately, to sign the band. Yes, KISS was already developing a high-energy live show and was beginning to experiment with a glam-rock look, but it was, quite simply, its music that first vaulted the group into the big leagues of rock.

Of course, once KISS got there, they pretty much single-handedly changed the way rock concerts were done. They redefined the modern stage show. They were “the hottest band in the world.” It was the greatest show on Earth.

But underneath all of the flash and the pyro and the extravagance were, at the core, good songs. And it is those songs, just as much as anything, that has allowed KISS to carry on and thrive for the past 45 years. And it is those songs - just as much as the brilliant staging and showmanship - that will help fill up the Wells Fargo Center with KISS fans on Friday night.

I’ve been on board with KISS for most of their 45-year ride, having been a fan since 1976. I can recall the older brother of one of my friends jamming “Alive!” is his room and allowing us to listen, and being captivated by what I heard. Not long after that, I saw the band on television for the first time, and not long after that, my parents let me pick out one of their albums from the record club. I chose “Rock and Roll Over.” Next, I picked up their hard-rock masterpiece, “Destroyer,” and eventually, I had all of the rest. Like millions of kids around the globe, I’d sit in my room, in front of my record player, just listening to the songs. Sure, KISS had great mystique and cool album covers, and their faces seemed to jump right off of the magazine covers, but what kept you coming back was the music.

By 1984, I was 16 and was old enough to start going to rock concerts. And when KISS came to Philly on its “Lick It Up” tour, I was there. And it was one of the most incredible things I’d ever seen. It was a transitional time for KISS. They’d lost two original members and had, after 10 years, decided to drop their trademark war paint. It was time to let just the music and their own charisma do the talking. And how did that work out? All of the band’s non-makeup era albums in the ‘80s went gold or platinum, the group were staples on MTV, and all of their tours filled arenas. And the main reason for that, again, was the music.

My rose and Paul Stanley's rose
If you’ve read enough interviews with KISS founders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley over the years, you know that they are both virtual walking encyclopedias on the history rock. They both came of age in the ‘60s and were schooled on The Beatles and other acts from the British Invasion, and that foundation has always guided their sound. And they have, for the most part, always made extremely smart choices when it comes to their music. They replaced original drummer Peter Criss, a terrific swing-style player, with the late Eric Carr, who was cut more from the cloth of Led Zeppelin and helped power the band into heavier waters. They replaced original guitarist Ace Frehley, a Hendrix/Clapton-style player, with shredders such as Vinnie Vincent and the late Mark St. John, and eventually, the more textured Bruce Kulick. All brought the right touch to each KISS album they played on. They were the right musicians for the band at the right time. Other members, such as Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer, who have cemented the KISS lineup for the past 14 years, have done the same.  KISS, thanks to the guidance of Simmons and Stanley, has always been a tight band with gifted musicians.

There’s a great quote that was supposedly once quipped by Angus Young of AC/DC: “People say we’ve made 10 records, and that they all sound the same. That’s not true at all. We’ve made 11 records and they all sound the same.” Whether Young actually ever said it or not doesn’t really matter. It’s funny. And for the most part, it’s true. It’s what makes AC/DC what they are. I like them. But for me, what makes KISS special is that, like all truly great rock bands, all of their records do not sound the same. KISS has never been afraid to tweak their sound or try something new. Sometimes it may have been for the sake of art, such as the ambitious 1981 concept album “Music From The Elder,” or for the sake of more commercial appeal, such as 1979’s “Dynasty” and 1987’s “Crazy Nights.” The end result, however - as a full body of work - is quite remarkable. It’s why, in Philly on Friday night, you’ll hear everything from the power and crunch of “Deuce,” to the beauty of “Beth.” You’ll hear both the grungy “War Machine” and the disco-influenced “I Was Made For Lovin’ You.”  You’ll hear some blues within “Cold Gin” and you’ll hear classic rock in “Detroit Rock City.” And you’ll hear those big anthems, such as “Shout It Out Loud” and “Rock and Roll All Nite.”  You will hear KISS. You'll hear a band that worked with gospel singers on 1989's "Hot In The Shade" album, recorded a pop gem such as 1980's "Shandi," and yet also gave us the gloriously churning "God of Thunder." You will hear what just might be the most musically diverse hard-rock band of all-time.

Albums such as 1985's "Asylum" embrace the concept of individuality

For me, as a teenager, it was KISS’ songs about individuality that resonated with me the most. Tracks such as “King of The Mountain” “Get All You Can Take” and “I” had an incredibly positive impact on my life. They helped shape a philosophy that, in some ways, I still carry with me to this day: Believe in yourself. And if you want something in life, go for it. Those songs are a big part of the reason I’ve got this Paul Stanley-style rose tattoo on my arm. They are why this Friday’s show in Philly will be my 35th. A few years ago, I took my young daughter to see the band. This time, I am taking my 10 year-old son. KISS, for many, has become a rite of passage. And now both of my kids will know why Dad's got the rose.

I’ve been lucky in that, through my work in music journalism, I’ve had the chance to have had some personal encounters with the members of KISS. I’ve interviewed them about a dozen times for newspapers and once hosted a three-hour radio special on the band. And even in more casual settings, I’ve been able to tell them some of the thoughts that I’ve shared here today. I once told Simmons about my love for some of those ‘80s records, and some of the songs that impacted me. His tone was kind and almost fatherly, and he advised that the most important thing in life is to enjoy yourself as much as you can, every day. I also once had a chance to show Stanley my rose tattoo, and he placed his right next to mine for a photo. That one was a keeper.

Weekender cover story
In following the KISS  “End of The Road” on social media, I’ve seen the photos of sold-out shows, night after night, in arenas across America. And I do see the tour, as Stanley has called it, as one last “victory lap.” It is a triumph, particularly for Simmons and Stanley, who have always – always – done things their way. It is a victory lap for the KISS Army, and for the rock band that has earned more gold records than any other American group in history. It is a victory lap for the band that, again, got its first record deal not because of makeup, bombs and pyro, but because of its brash and fresh style of rock and roll.

It is a victory for all-things KISS.

It is a victory for the music.

KISS’ “End Of The Road” tour comes to Madison Square Garden in New York on March 27, the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on March 29, the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh on March 30 and Hersheypark Stadium on August 21. For ticket info, visit www.ticketmaster.com

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on The River. Reach him at musiconthemenu@comcast.net)