As I greeted my friend DJ Will on his way to “the office” on the third and final day of Monsters on the Mountain, I still needed major caffeination to proceed. So as the tunes were spun and painters created an amazing likeness of Alice Cooper on canvas, I slowly began my day. I was disappointed to miss a noon performance by Wild America, who had headlined at the M-Pre Party hosted by D-Toxin Productions last May at Baltimore’s Cancun Cantina. For anyone looking to see them again, they’ll be with Tango Down (who performed on Friday) and others, at Kivel’s New England Rock Festival on October 7 and 8.
As we eased into the day, Stryper’s Michael Sweet took the stage with an acoustic guitar and a stripped down performance that included solo material and even a few covers. He included Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” as the crowd chuckled at his ‘prayer’ introduction. Following his performance, Michael greeted fans at the merchandise booth for photos and autographs. While still trying to be cautious about Covid, he took time for his fans from behind the counter as they lined the hall while others performed nearby.
Following Michael’s performance, Jason Bieler & Jeff Scott Soto returned for their comedy routine and tribute to Olivia Newton John, and at some point transitioned into performing songs from Saigon Kick, and other favorites like Journey, before taking their lives into their own hands with even the mention of Malmsteen. (For those who care, Yngwie had been strategically scheduled to perform on Friday. This was most likely to avoid crossing path’s with Soto. I for one, had no interest in his fiddling after the behavior we witnessed at the M3 Music Festival, and later was told that he’d banned media from the show anyway…).
But, the showstopper was their whistling routing which was specifically targeted at April in tribute for all she does for Monsters on the Mountain. (Who would have thought it was possible to top their serenade of The Carpenter’s “Close to You” from their 2021 parking lot performance). All in all this was a full on upgrade from last year’s venue, and the people of Pigeon Forge would sincerely like to thank us for sheltering them from another sing along to “Fuck You It’s Christmas.” Just as we would all like to thank Jason and Jeff for getting us relocated to a more receptive town and much better venue!
Things soon heated up with Mick Sweda’s (Bulletboys, King Cobra) new band The Hot Summers. The band’s new album has finally been released, and you can find it on all the usual platforms. And, Bulletboys fans will be happy to hear that Jimmy D’Anda can be found performing drums on a few tracks as well.
With the exception of a cover of King Cobra’s “Second Time Around,” the band, featuring Shane Tassart on lead vocals and guitar, Mick Sweda on guitar, Dylan Soto on drums, and Bryan Kimes on bass, performed a well-received set of all originals. We really hope to see these guys on Monsters of Rock Cruise in 2023!
Another band that was new to me was Toque from Canada. Until Mick Sweda told me how to properly pronounce their name the day prior, and informed me that a toque was a hat, I was pretty much in the dark. I remembered Brent Fitz from his time with Union and Vince Neil Band, but had never heard of Toque prior to them being announced to perform here.
We got a sneak peak when Brent and frontman Todd Kerns (Slash, Adler’s Appetite) joined Soto and Bieler at the VIP show, but we all soon learned what we were missing when the full band hit the stage. Brent and Todd were joined by Cory Churko (Shania Twain, Slash) on guitar and Shane Gaalaas on drums (MSG, Yngwie Malmsteen).
They said that we had Larry Morand to thank for bringing them to the mountain to play a bunch of Canadian songs in jest, but I sincerely want to say THANK YOU Larry! Toque’s performance was a true highlight of the weekend. Their set included originals along with lot of Canadian band covers like Adlo Nova’s “Fantasy,” Saga’s “One the Loose,” a guest appearance by Jeff Scott Soto for Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend,” and a finale of April Wine’s “Roller.”
As an added bonus, we next caught Brent performing on drums with Brother Cane and I had the pleasure of getting to know the Toque guys as their photo experience photographer later in the day. This was my first chance to catch Brother Cane live and they totally blew me away. Another highlight from the weekend, and I honestly only remembered “Got No Shame” from the radio.
They put on a great show, with a full band that included Damon Johnson (Thin Lizzy, Alice Cooper) on guitar and vocals, Glenn Maxey on bass, Buck Johnson on Keyboards, Dave Anderson on guitar, and Brent Fitz on drums showing us his “monster” face. It was kinda funny, as I approached mid-set and asked someone in the crowd if I could step in for a minute to grab a drummer shot just as Brent posed…the guy that moved for me said, “well I think you got it!” So thank you tall man for giving me opportunity for a monster shot!
The girls from Vixen took over next with Lorraine Lewis (Femme Fatale) commanding the audience with more energy than any of her male counterparts (except maybe Extreme’s Gary Cherone), Britt Lightning on lead guitar, Julia Lage on bass, original drummer Roxy Petrucci, and Tyson Leslie hiding in the shadows on keyboards.
This was my first true opportunity to watch Julia with the band live as I’d last seen them make the transition at the Monsters of Rock Cruise pre-party where reunions and related socializing distracted my attention, and all I can say is that these girls are hotter than ever and it was a blast watching them play off of each other’s energy.
And while those vixens seemed to feed off of each other, KIX frontman Steve Whiteman takes his energy from the crowd, and requires serious participation throughout their set. He expects nothing short of a “you’re welcome” if he says thank you, and he is always trying to find fun ways to make fools of those who aren’t paying attention…Curious as to how many distracted attendees found themselves answering to asshole when encouraged to participate during “Cold Blood”?
We saw that the guys had to cancel a show this past week at Penn’s Peak due to illness. We wish them a speedy recover as we do for everyone recovering from the crud we encountered in Tennessee.
As we all know Covid has touched each of us in some way, and the Nelson brothers reminded us that we shouldn’t allow the pandemic to polarize us as they dedicated a song to a lost friend named Brian. On the topic of tragic losses, they didn’t include “Garden Party” or “Hello Mary Lou” in the set as they do for their Ricky Nelson remembered shows, but they did play their custom-made hand tooled leather guitars that replicate the guitar played by their heart throb father Ricky Nelson who was lost way too young.
Instead, their set focused heavy on their singles like “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection” and “After the Rain.” While not a story teller set, the twins Gunnar and Matthew Nelson always seem to have a message in their hearts. So it seemed like a challenge to squeeze everything in during a festival set, but they did their best.
For those interested in more Nelson history, I’d encourage you to check out my interview with Matthew. I’m still grateful that he didn’t mess with me as I was expecting Gunnar, and most certainly wouldn’t have known the difference over radio! For those still seeing double, note that Gunnar’s hair is longer these days and he’s playing guitar, and his brother Matthew is playing bass.
When Firehouse hit the stage, I was careful not to get caught texting by CJ Snare during their set this time around as he totally called me out in the front row at a show in Ohio earlier this year. But there were no distractions as I simply grabbed a quick photos of the band before settling in to sing along to my favorites like “Shake & Tumble” and “Don’t Treat Me Bad.” Thankfully that seizure of a video screen was replaced by the band logo mid-set (but I admit, it did make for some cool photos!)
In celebration of 40 years, Night Ranger put the ‘cherry on top of the mountain’ when they officially brought the festival to a close. Known for two frontmen and lots of guitar action, the band kicked things off strong with “(You Can Still) Rock in America” early in the set, and ended even stronger with “Don’t Tell me You Love me,” and somewhere in between they introduced a new song “Breakout.” As has become customary, there was a killer drum solo with full band participation and at some point Kelly Keagy got upset about the Damn Yankees song choice and broke a few sticks, which reminded me of how Todd LaTorre walked out on drum duties the other night too. Guess that’s what happens when frontmen are stuck behind the kit?!
While Night Ranger was the headliner, Shot of Poison brought the official afterparty upstairs for some bonus action. Hailing from Boston, and fronted by our friend Frank (aka Fret Michaels), with Bruce Bennett (aka B.B. Seville) on guitar, Bobby “Dollface” on bass and Ken “Rockkit” on drums. These guys offered the ultimate tribute to Poison from an offering of roses to the ladies up front to Bret-inspired jumps and a duplicate of the top hot that Poison’s C.C. Deville was wearing just weeks ago at PNC Park’s stadium tour performance. It was a total blast singing along to all of our Poison band favorites and a great way to wind down for the night just before we all headed to Shamrock’s for one last farewell hug from our friends.
Follow us @ThePureRockShop on Facebook and Instagram for more captures from the event, as well as local show coverage including Buckcherry, Quiet Riot and Fozzy. Other recent festival coverage includes the 2022 Monsters of Rock Cruise and M3 Music Festival last May in Baltimore and Masquerade in Philadelphia in July.
Want more from day two bands? Visit our archives for interviews with Stryper’s Michael Sweet, Jeff Scott Soto, Steve Whiteman from KIX,Bill Leverty from Firehouse, Matthew Nelson, and Keri Kelli from Night Ranger.