Monsters on the Mountain returned to Tennessee this year at a new venue in Gatlinburg on August 19-20 with a pre-party on Thursday. While not far from last year’s Pigeon Forge location, a few miles made a world of difference in the atmosphere. When we drove in on Thursday after an amazing hike in the clouds to Clingmans Dome in the Smokey Mountains and a quick visit to the Appalachian trail, we instantly knew that this was an upgrade over 2021.
Most hotels and dining were within a quarter mile radius of the venue and we quickly saw monsters on the streets and at our hotel. While we didn’t go to the pre-party where John Corabi (Motley Crue, Union, The Scream) performed, friends were hailing to us from the patio as we walked to dinner. Sadly, the party had a very limited capacity leaving most without tickets.
Later, we found our family at Puckers, one of two local bars poised to welcome our group (the other being Shamrocks). A community member Scott Courtright organized an unofficial event with help from Ronell Rimes who provided the club DJ with a list of our favorites.
We called it an early evening so that we could explore the Skybridge view overlooking town before heading to the venue on Friday morning. We learned of local bear sightings (but somehow managed to miss them by mere minutes ourselves), and picked up our credentials and wristbands before overseeing the VIP lounges for a few hours.
As the crowd arrived, the Rock N Roll Market lined the upper and lower hallways with everything from art and candles to jewelry and clothing. Featured vendors included RonzWorld Guitars, Strung, Shining Sol Candle Company, Paintings by Darryl, Heavy Metal Zen, Kreatures of the South, Rock N Roll Closet, Smokey Mountain Woodworks, Kivel Records, Eonian Records, and Wentworth Gallery (featuring guitarist Joe Satriani’s art – rumor has it Joe brought a performance and some aliens for lucky patrons).
Much like the Monsters of Rock Cruise, the schedule started early and had some overlap (just without the multiple performance opportunities). I found myself working or eating at times which meant I simply couldn’t be everywhere at once. So, I can only speak to what I saw personally and all bands won’t be represented with photos. You’ll also find many more captures from the event on my social channels @ThePureRockShop as there are just too many to share here!
Tango Down kicked off the day while I was still volunteering at the VIP lounge, so I wasn’t able to attend. My first show of the day was Bad Marriage, a Boston born band that I first discovered on the Monsters of Rock Cruise. Bad Marriage is Jonny P (lead vocals), Ian Haggerty and Mike Fitz (guitar), Todd Boisvert (Bass) and Michael Delany (drums). They delivered a set of mostly original music but closed things off strong with a Judas Priest cover. You can give them a listen and learn more about the band at BadMarriageMusic.com.
Bad Marriage performed on the Creekside stage on the left of the lower level of the convention center and Lillian Axe picked things up almost immediately after on the Mountainside stage directly to the right as the crowd shifted. Lillian Axe is always a favorite. Some of my first interviews on this website are with guitarist Steve Blaze and original frontman Ron Taylor (and I see those links still get hit today). The band which now features Brent Graham on lead vocals, introduced their new album from Womb to Tomb at the festival, and can now be found on their first tour of the United Kingdom in nearly three decades!
That stage swap pattern continued leaving little time between bands for food, drink or socializing without missing something, and when the schedule took us upstairs we found that we regularly missed something because we ran into people along the way. But that is exactly what makes the festival fun, we get to visit with our family, and there is something for everyone, from Rockstar Paint classes to shopping to the beer garden, everyone found their home in Tennessee.
I was thrilled to catch Autograph twice this month, the first being at Masquerade in Philadelphia. The addition of Steve Unger (Metal Church) on bass has been a big change following the unexpected passing of Randy Rand. From “Blondes in Black Cars” to “Get off your Ass” these guys had our full attention until they closed with “Turn Up the Radio!” While bittersweet, it is great to see the band keeping Randy’s music alive.
Earlier this year, Frontiers Music Srl recently made an announcement welcoming the legendary ’80s hard rockers Autograph to the label’s roster. The band, at the time, featuring vocalist Simon Daniels, guitarist Jimi Bell, bassist Randy Rand, and drummer Marc Wieland, were close to wrapping up work on their brand new studio album Beyond.
Randy delivered the final masters and artwork for Beyond and was sorting out plans for the release with the label when he received some news about his health. And then, shockingly, just a few days later, on April 26, 2022, Randy Rand passed away. Before his untimely passing, he shared with his bandmates that if something was to happen to him before the release plans were finalized, he wanted them to release Beyond, his last recorded work. The album is due out in November, and a new single and music video, “This Ain’t The Place I Wanna Be” is out now. You can watch the video here.
Kip Winger performed solo next with the accompaniment of percussionist Robby Rothschild. That was until he realized that there was a keyboard on stage and started beckoning to Paul Taylor who was somewhere way in the back of the crowd (I personally had a laugh with Nerd Halen frontman Hal Sparks as I texted Paul “get on stage!”).
A song later, Paul was put to work to perform “Miles Away” despite having just driven in just to see his old bandmates from the Tom Keifer Band. It was a comical interruption to an intense acoustic set of solo and Winger band favorites as Paul, Kip and Robby all worked together to get the keyboard set up for that famous ballad as the crowd chuckled at the entertainment.
Rothschild is a folk musician who’s latest album Exploring the Musical Wilderness was co-produced by Kip Winger.
The crowd then moved upstairs to the Summit stage which offered an open pit in front of the stage, seating throughout the center, and more open space for mingling in the back of the room.
This venue was also the staging place for this year’s photo experience events. Earlier in the day, Kip Winger, Nerd Halen, and Tango Down had met with fans there, and later it was Autograph, Bad Marriage, and Lillian Axe posing in front of the colorful backdrops.
We quickly learned that the photo experience lines moved quickly as we had to snag a quick cell phone picture with Nerd Halen because the event was already over when we arrived at the hour’s end (credit to the photographer, I honestly can’t remember who snapped it!)…All of the professional photos can be found at www.vipcruisephotos.com. I wasn’t scheduled to work the photo experience on day one, but stopped back up to joke with our friends from Lillian Axe and to hound Steve Blaze for some guitar picks (with much success – Thanks Al Moran!!).
Richie Kotzen performed at the Summit stage along with bassist Dylan Wilson and drummer Bruno Valverde (Angra, Kiko Loureiro Trio). As always, Kotzen set the bar high and brought a mix of funk and rock that is unique to his trio. Bruno added a playful youth to the band and Dylan and Richie kept the crowd engaged as they played off of each other’s talents. Having followed Kip Winger, it was a refreshing break from the heavier hitting performances early in the day.
But the reprieve didn’t last long as stadium anthem rockers, Quiet Riot hit the Creekside stage next, with the return of Jizzy Pearl (Love/Hate) on lead vocals and bass god Rudy Sarzo tearing it up again. Rounding out the band were longtime axe slinger Alex Grossi and new drummer Johnny Kelly, but honestly, I couldn’t take my eyes off Rudy. I’ve been waiting to catch a Quiet Riot show patiently since his return.
A storm destroyed equipment back in July when they were slated to perform in Pennsylvania with Skid Row and Winger, and this has been my first opportunity since. While nobody can ever replace Kevin, it was also great to see Jizzy return to the band following his departure to focus on his solo career several years ago.
The Patio was the home of the acoustic stage, and my first and only experience outside was to catch an acoustic performance by a few members of Native Sons. Much different from the full band set we’d caught at Brad Lee Entertainment’s Masquerade in Philadelphia, Native Sons stripped things down for an intimate gathering with the “mountain” and the blue skies of Gatlinburg serving as a beautiful backdrop.
While we tried our best to rush dinner, we met up with friends, and Extreme took the stage around the time we were finishing dessert. We did catch some of their set, and I later joked with drummer Kevin Figueiredo that they looked like surfs flooded with blue light! I tried my best to salvage a few photos, but I didn’t capture anything like I’d done on the pool stage view behind Kevin on the 2020 Monsters of Rock Cruise.
Great to see these guys getting back to business, and that the long-awaited performances with Aerosmith are finally happening in September. Extreme was by far one of the most energetic bands of the weekend. Without a photo pit this year, I’d been securing my bag off to the side of the stage or behind the seats in the pit where I spent most of my time shooting with a zoom lens. Definitely wasn’t expecting Gary Cherone to run across the wall of monitors where I quickly ditched it this time. A big thanks to anyone who helped keep my gear safe!
Up next was another favorite. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Tom Keifer band always gives 110%. I catch them as often as possible and this was actually the fourth show I’ve seen this year. After a chilly performance at M3 Rock Festival last May, I’ve been lucky enough to catch the Sonic Slam tour with L.A. Guns and Faster Pussycat twice.
Billy Mercer returned to group after a sabbatical this summer with Luis Espaillat was filling in on bass, and it was great to see Savanah Keifer and Tanya Davis offering vocal and percussion support after they’d missed the Greensburg, PA performance due to illness. It was even more awesome to see Keifer strutting the catwalk in his platform boots and trade licks with lead guitarist Tony Higbee. As I stayed to the back of the pit and just soaked in the energy that Tom was drawing from the crowd, I could only hope to capture glimpses of these transactions with my lens. His words echo in my heart as I’m sure they do for anyone who’s been hurt by love …never again, no, no … Nobody’s Fool...
The party continued as Nerd Halen took the stage upstairs with some comic relief and a unique spin on the Van Halen (and Van Hagar) classics that we all know and love. Fronted by comedian Hal Sparks and joined by guitarist Caleb Rapoport, drummer Jeff Page, and a familiar face behind those taped up glasses, Sean McNabb (Great White, Lynch Mob) on bass, these guys had us laughing their entire set. From the pencil connected to Caleb’s guitar to the wiggle in Hal’s hips, we were thoroughly entertained by their act, as well as their stellar delivery of classic Van Halen favorites!
For more coverage from the Mountain, read day 2 here and check back soon for more. Follow us @ThePureRockShop on Facebook and Instagram for more local show coverage including Buckcherry, Quiet Riot and Fozzy. Other recent festival coverage includes the 2022 Monsters of Rock Cruise, M3 Music Festival last May in Baltimore, and Masquerade in Philadelphia this past July.
Want more from day one? Visit our archives for interviews with Kip Winger, the late Frankie Banali from Quiet Riot, Richie Kotzen, and guitarist Pete Evick from Shining Sol Candle Company (and Bret Michael’s Band).