A Day in the Life of a Rock Star
Music fans often wish they could trade places with their musical heroes, experience what they get to live each day. Usually this is accompanied by a fantasized rendition of what that life might be like. This past weekend, however, I was able to experience that life first hand by spending a day with the rock band Great White. Known for their hits, “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” and “Rock Me”, among others, they have toured across multiple continents and more than 30 countries in their 30-year career. During my day with them I discovered how insanely awesome it is and I was also pleasantly surprised to learn what really goes on behind the scenes with these world-renowned rockers. Check it out as I walk you through a “Day in The Life of a Rock Star” — or in this case, five of them.
8 a.m. Saturday
The band loads up on their tour van with their equipment; they flew into MSP Airport last night. They travel relatively light as their stage equipment was shipped ahead of them. During the three hours to Brainerd they rest and review information about the show that night and their upcoming dates on the West Coast.
The band arrives in Brainerd where they check into The Arrowwood Lodge in Brainerd, the official hotel of Lakes Jam. They are easy-going and polite to the staff as they get checked in and get their bearings.
I get a chance to sit down with the band, which consists of: Mark Kendall on lead guitar, Michael Lardie on guitars and keyboard, Audie Desbrow on drums, Scott Snyder on bass and dynamic front man Terry Ilous. We spend about 30 minutes chatting about what it’s like to be world famous rock stars and also about their music. Check the Dispatch later this week for the full interview!
Great White hosts a “Grab a Bite with Great White” lunch often for fans in the cities they are in. Four lucky winners from the Brainerd area were selected and arrived to hear a little of my interview with the band and then have lunch.
Lunch is served! The Arrowwood Lodge serves up a fantastic lunch off their restaurant menu and everyone gets their fill. Despite being a little star struck Lodge had trained their staff to offer the professional service they are known for and lunch went seamlessly. The band ate light and kept the conversation lighthearted as they were genuinely interested in learning more about the lucky fans that were attending the luncheon. The band members shared fun stories about meeting their musical heroes and what inspires them to continually focus on becoming better musicians — the fans. The lunch ends with the band taking time to sign autographs for the lunch attendees, CDs, show schedules, drumsticks and even a pair of cymbals one enthusiastic fan brought. The band cheerfully signs everything that’s offered and it’s obvious to see that the fan interaction is a huge part of the appeal of being on the road is for them.
We hustle out of the hotel so we can get out to the Lakes Jam event area so the band can get unloaded. Once they arrive they are ushered to an area just behind the stage where there is an RV they can use for a green room (that’s a prep room for us non-performers). As they are getting their gear unloaded I can’t help but notice that the items they’ve requested for their green room are (surprisingly?) healthy — Powerade, fruits and cheese, light snacks, lots of bottled water and Diet Coke. Scott, their bassist says that they need to be on the top of their game when performing because the fans have paid good money to come to the shows and they want to deliver a top notch performance for them. Are you seeing the trend? These guys LOVE their fans.
The Lakes Jam crew prepared for the full lineup of artists and instructed their crew well. As the band sets up the Lakes Jam crew is on the ball helping move heavy equipment, gathering cables and cords and helping out in any way needed. The band, along with their stage manager, Matt, show their experience as they unload their gear and setup within minutes. Michael (guitar and keyboard) also has decades of experience in sound engineering and producing, so he also checks in with the festival sound techs and works out some of the details for their set. The band appears calm, which comes from years of experience, even though they have to hurry as the first act of the day, Sena Erhardt, prepares to take the stage.
Great White finishes their initial set up and heads to the wings as Sena comes on stage. They share musical influence with the talented blues singer as Great White is based in blues rock, which is obvious in their 2012 album Elation and from their show later. They watch some of the performance and then take advantage of the slow afternoon.
A rare time for the band — down time. Michael chats with me about their schedule, saying they are on the road so much — the bulk of their tour dates fall from May to October — and when they aren’t touring they are usually working on details for upcoming shows, doing interviews and promoting the band. The band is one of the most active out there, giving over 200 interviews recently, and sometimes only getting a couple hours of sleep between shows, travel and set up. They each go their own way, some checking out the other acts, others heading back to the hotel for a power nap and some just hanging around enjoying the nice day. Audie, the drummer, spent a little time chatting with one of the techs from REO Speedwagon about their drummer’s set up, just one more example of how these guys know there is always something new they can try.
The band members all arrive back to the Lakes Jam grounds to get ready for their meet and greet and their set coming up in only a couple short hours. Despite looking like rock stars from head to toe already, they change into their show clothes and put the finishing touches on their appearance.
A meet and greet has been arranged and the band heads off to the tent just behind the stage. After meeting with the press and answering a couple questions they meet with some of the VIP fans and contest winners that get to meet the band. It’s all smiles and fist bumps as they get to know their fans a little better with everyone getting a chance to get a picture with the band and an autograph or two.
Sound check time, and for the first time I see the band with their game faces on. I watch each member check his equipment one last time with help from the crew to get their audio levels and signals as close to perfect as they can before they go live. It’s an added treat for the audience as this is not a closed set and the crowd gets front row seats to see how professional musicians prepare for the show. Even with the seriousness of making sure everything is technically sound, you can still see how much they enjoy every minute leading up to the performance. They poke some jokes at each other and Mark gives me a little rock star wave and a smile as he coolly sips on his Diet Coke. Michael works with the sound techs as they set mic levels with Scott, Audie and Matt running instruments through check. Terry is off in the wings getting mentally prepared to deliver his trademark high energy performance to the awaiting fans.
Showtime! Following a brief intro from Danny and Mac from BL Broadcasting, the band slams into their opening number with the full force of a Great White, obviously just as much an attitude as it is a namesake. For the next 90 minutes the fans are treated to a performance that I can only describe as mind-blowingly fantastic. The band shows they still have the chops after all these years touring, as they move from song to song. Terry flies around the stage interacting with the other band members and playing to the crowd — at one point borrowing a lucky concert-goer’s cellphone and snapping some pictures with it of the band performing and of the crowd. Audie hammers relentlessly on his drum kit, putting the driving beat out to the crowd. Scott shows his talent on his Spector five-string, delivering a fluid low end. Michael is right at home on the keys and guitar, sprinting from side to side of the stage at times. He even takes a moment during one of the songs to take a picture of some of the stage hands watching the show from backstage. Mark, the quintessential guitarist, lays down solos that showcase the blues rock that Great White strives for. His tone reminds me of old school Clapton (Cream era), or Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple), who Mark confessed are influences of his. Still, Great White’s sound is unique, a product of working with the band for years and creating a sound all their own. They play for the crowd perfectly, blending numbers from their new album, like “(I’ve got) Something for You”, along with the songs that helped them climb to the top like “Rock Me” and “Mistabone”. They close out the set with “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”, a crowd favorite, with Terry enticing the crowd to sing along and at the last minute taking the camera for the Jumbotron and giving the audience a firsthand view from the stage and closing out their set with a huge finale that leaves the fans screaming for more. They exit the stage with Audie throwing his drumsticks to the crows, and Michael, Mark and Scott throwing guitar picks. Terry leans back to toss the mic to the waiting fans, but at the last minute stops himself, gives the crowd a sly wink and throws them a kiss instead. The 90 minutes flew by and it seemed that they should still play on but I suppose that’s indicative of a great show, it feels like it’s over too soon. Great White, mission accomplished — you rocked our socks off.
The Lakes Jam crew shows that they are still ready for everything as they help tear down Great White’s gear and start getting set up for Night Ranger. As their gear gets loaded the band takes a minute to refresh in their RV and then they are off to the Merchandise Tent to meet their fans.
The band walks through the VIP area towards the Merch tent to accolades like “Great show man!” and “Great White rocks!” These comments are met with heartfelt thanks from the band and they take the time to shake hands or high-five all their fans. Once they get to the Merch tent there is already a line out the door and the band hustles in to make sure that everyone there gets an autograph and a photo. The fans in line love Great White and the band loves them. I hear comments from many of the fans that they have seen them before and they still put on a great show, and how much their music means to them. To the band, they are all grins as it is comments like this that are the icing on the cake for a performance.
With all of the official business done for the day, I chat with the band about their final comments on Lakes Jam, their performance and what it means to have their fan base. Every single band member expressed great gratitude for their fans, with the common denominator being “It’s about the fans, man.” Michael said, “Minnesotans know how to rock! They understand blues rock and roll, it’s their bread and butter, and they always rock really hard.” Terry summed up his thoughts of how much these performances mean with, “As long as you enjoy it, do it. The crew was amazing and it was a great time.” Audie and Scott echoed his comments saying, “Fun equals the reaction of the fans” and “If the crowd loves it, I’m happy!” Mark offered his final thoughts with, “It’s awesome being able to get out and mingle with the fans. I was really impressed with the production (Lakes Jam), for a first year event it went really well, with great acts and I am seeing a good future for it.”
The band finishes getting changed and grabs a bite to eat with the freshly replenished fruit and cheese. They then meander backstage to watch Night Ranger, who they have toured with extensively in the past, to show their support. They hang around watching Night Ranger and REO Speedwagon, another band they admire, and eventually head back to the Arrowwood Lodge for the night. They tell me they are taking full advantage of a full night’s sleep and they are going to enjoy it.
Sunday, 10 a.m.
The band loads up and starts the drive back to the Twin Cities, this is a comparatively light travel week they tell me with it only being 13 hours one way. Normally they have two to three days like that each week during their touring season, so this is relatively easy.
Thanks, Great White, you came, you saw, you rocked.