Ybor City, Florida

For one to do such a long trip in order to watch a concert needs a lot of thought, good organization and of course a considerable amount of money. In this case however, everything seemed really simple to us. Last July, when the Criss Oliva Memorial Concert was officially announced, (the rumours from “the inside” existed quite some months before that), our decision took a matter of minutes. And that was because the whole thing initially included a SAVATAGE show with would be the closest thing to their line-up of “Hall Of The Mountain King”, “Gutter Ballet” era (Jon Oliva, Johnny Lee Midletton, Steve “Doc” Wacholz, Chris Caffery…which by the way never got to Greece), as well as live performance of CIIC, presentation of some of the new Jon Oliva solo stuff and STREETS, a SAVA cover band. I say initially because that night, as well as the whole trip, was hiding a lot of pleasant surprises… The conclusion is that the whole experience was like a dream come true for us and those 10 days we spent in the U.S. are some memories that will stay inside us forever…

But let’s take things from their beginning. October 12th 1am.After having watched NEVERMORE live in Rodon Club, Athens and after a last check at our luggage, Andrew (my partner in the Greek Legion) and I, are at the airport, ready to take off. The trip was exhausting since it lasted almost 20 hours and also we had to go through a series of customs and border checks in Amsterdam and Detroit. What was very funny was the look on the American officer’s face when we told her we came all the way from Greece to watch that show. She wouldn’t believe us until she opened our bags and saw all the SAVA t-shirts, records, cd’s and flags we had brought with us. On Sunday afternoon, we arrived in Tampa. Chris Kinder was waiting for us, smiling. (Chris is the drummer for CIIC), to whom we are extremely grateful since we stayed at his house for the 10 days we spent in Florida. A HUGE thanks goes also to his girlfriend, Phyllis). “Are you tired”, he asks “Of course not”, we answer, and the party begins!

During those 4-5 days we spent there before the show, besides our tourist activities, we had the chance to meet the guys in CIIC, who turned out to be a really great company. We spent quite some time with most of them and we had a lot of fun. We also had the chance to listen to the rough mix of 6 songs from the forthcoming Jon Oliva solo record, which he presented at the concert plus we also attended at a rehearsal for that show!

Friday, October 17th! The big day has come! We arrived at Ybor City, a nice place full of night clubs outside Tampa, around 4 in the afternoon. After meeting Chris Caffery, we entered in The Masquerade, a beautiful ex-theatre of 1000 people capacity. We had a chance to look around while we were watching CIIC’s and STREETS’ soundcheck. The doors opened at 6:30 and people started filling the place. From what we heard, around 800 tickets were sold. Too bad for those who missed it…

Around eight, lights turn off and Marla Stone( a well known radio producer of 98 ROCK, one of the most popular radio stations in Tampa) appears on stage to say a few words about the show. A few minutes later, STREETS are on stage to warm up the “international” crowd (people from around 10 countries travelled to see this show). Their performance was good, Troy’s voice is close to Jon’s but unfortunately the sound wasn’t very good. From where we were sitting, keyboards were louder than the other instruments, something that was kind of irritating. Their setlist was very interesting though as they played “Thorazine Shuffle”, “Agony And Ecstasy”, “Legions”, “Price you Pay”, “City Beneath The Surface”, “By the Grace Of The Witch”, “Warriors” and “The Dungeons Are Calling”.

After a short break CIIC are on stage! It was the first time for me to see them live and I must admit I was fascinated! After a lot of local shows in Tampa, their appearance in some of the major European festivals last summer (Rock Hard, Wacken Open Air, Bang Your Head Revisited), plus some gigs with ANNIHILATOR, the band is very tight and energetic. Christopher Kinder (drums), Kevin Rothney (bass) and Shane French (rhythm guitar) are very stable in their role, John Zahner sounds impressive behind his keyboards and for the “player” of the band Matt LaPorte, words are not enough. Our jaws were hanging when we watched him play. Last but not least Mr. Zak Stevens! Greek audience knows what he’s like since we had the chance to see him in Greece with SAVA for their “Dead Winter Dead” tour. Zak performed greatly all the CIIC songs and he was in constant communication with the crowd. Their setlist was “Out Of Reach”, “Lies”, “The Circle”, “Forgiven”, “Watching In Silence”, “Face To Face”, “Into The Wind”, “Walls”, “F.O.S.”, “Sea Of White”.

Chris Kinder, Matt LaPorte and John Zahner remained on stage and a bass player(with an incredible moustache!) called Jason Jennings joins them. Marla Stone returns to the stage to introduce…Jon Oliva. At first, they present the 6 songs we talked about above. Their titles are “Father, Son and Holy Ghost”, Walk Alone”, “Outside the Door”, “Reality’s Fool”, “I’ll Fly away” and the crowd gives them a really great welcome! These songs are kind of bluesy and Jon reveals his rock influences more than ever, some bands such as THE BEATLES or QUEEN are “present” in his new music. The songs are “calm” in their biggest part with some different sounds on keyboards to enrich the result and make the songs feel “big”. Of course there are some points that are very SAVATAGE-ish but no need to say that this is bad at all(by the way, in the cd we listened to, everything is recorded by Jon except for lead guitars for which Matt LaPorte is responsible)! A song that I liked from the very beginning is “Walk Alone”, as it starts in a very creepy way only with piano and vocals and then Jon gets really heavy and leaves us speechless. Also his performance in “I’ll Fly Away” is beyond any comment! On your knees people! We’re just waiting for the album…Back to the concert: “When we were kids, Criss and I used to listen to THE BEATLES and jump around on the couches taking our sister’s tennis rackets for guitars. This particular song was the one that was driving Criss crazy and that’s why I chose to play it tonight”. With this little story, Jon introduced “Hey Bulldog” of THE BEATLES. It was followed by “Wishing Well” by FREE(which can also be found in “Fight For The Rock”). For the end Jon left “In the Dream” which was one of Criss’ favorites. Matt’s solo at the end of the song was simply amazing and Jon’s screams at the end of the song made us look each other with a feeling of surprise and anticipation for what would follow.

The lights are on and some are preparing to go towards the bar when Jon goes to the microphone: “About 10 years ago, together with a gentleman called Chris Caffery, we did a record… “Doctor Butcher”, do you remember it?” Seconds later, Chris C., John Osbourne and a bass player, named Rob from the local band SMACKHEAD, hit the stage and offered us one of the big surprises of the night. The intro of “The Picture’s Wild” and “Lost in the Dark”, “Don’t Talk to Me” from the one and only DOCTOR BUTCHER record was all we heard from them. Their performance was very aggressive and made us ask for more, which unfortunately didn’t come.

A 15 minute break follows so things can be prepared for the headliners of this special concert. During that break we had the chance to meet Dawn Oliva, Criss’ wife who –of course- was very touched by the whole thing and thanked everybody for honouring her husband’s memory. The black sheets that cover some parts of the stage fall and the “Gutter Ballet” tour stage show is revealed. One more pleasant surprise… Thick smoke covers the stage and Jon Oliva, Chris Caffery, Johnny Lee Midletton, Steve Wacholz and John Zahner (he helped SAVATAGE as well so Jon could focus more on singing and also to enrich the sound. Besides, John had toured with the band back in “Gutter Ballet” and “Streets” tours so he knew very well all that material). And the party begins with “Twisted Little Sister”! “Sirens” follows and we are simply out of our minds! The sound was great, clear and loud. One of the first things one can see is Killdrums’ tiny jazz drum set, as well as his amazing playing. “Doc” was giving out a great show, doing all the old characteristic moves. Another thing that one can see at once is Johnny’s new short haircut after so many years. Jon grabs an acoustic guitar and says that they’ll play a song everybody knows but in a version they’ve never done before. “D.T. Jesus” was an unforgettable experience. Especially at the end of the songs with the screams, the chills up our spines were inevitable. “New York City Don’t mean Nothing” and “Can You Hear Me Now” are next and I could say they were simply perfect! Jon performance that night was outstanding, while SAVA fans who have watched the band’s older tours agreed that it was the best performance they’d ever watched. Caffery’s passion during these songs was more than obvious while Middletton and Zahner were great at their rhythmic duties without stopping headbanging.

At this point Jon invites an old friend to join them on stage. Zak Stevens comes out asking “feels like the old times?” and the show continues with “Lights Out”, “Miles Away”, “Follow Me” and “Edge of Thorns”. There was a family atmosphere and everybody’s satisfaction was obvious. Zak leaves and SAVATAGE go on with “Temtation Revelation” and “Gutter Ballet”. No words can describe our feelings… Back to “Streets” which is Jon’s favourite album and that’s why he honoured it som much that night. “Tonight He Grins Again”, “If I Go Away”, “Somewhere In Time”, “Belive”… One look around and I see people crying, others looking speechless and others singing and headbanging like crazy. Anybody could see the tension that was in the air during those songs. They are very emotional and that night everybody could feel them so strongly inside. I don’t want to repeat myself but especially in “If I Go Away” Jon was… you know! The band leaves the stage only to come back a bit later to finish us with “Power Of The Night” and “Hall Of The Mountain King”. MADNESS REIGNS!!!!!!!!

Anything I have written cannot reflect even the least of what we felt at The Masquerade. We were wondering if it was truth or just a dream… The band’s performance was incredible and Jon delivered the best performance of his life. He gave everything in that concert. It was amazing to watch him close his eyes, grinning at the end of every song. It was like he felt his brother’s presense and it was rewarding.

After the show there was a raffle for a white Jackson guitar signed by all SAVATAGE members. After that the bands’ members stayed at the venue for more than two hours to sign autographs, take pictures etc. Something that I definitely have to point is that none of the bands that played at the concert was paid and all the money went to ACDD, Alcohol Free Kids and other non profitable purposes.

That was it about that night. But our fun wasn’t over yet. The following day, STREETS did a gig at a small venue in Tampa called Boomerz. The people that were there were less than 100 but among them was a very special guest… Mr. Jon Oliva. Towards the end of their show the Mountain King joined them for 3 songs. “Midas Night”, “Sirens” and “The Dungeons Are Calling”. We were in awe! The funny thing was that-as Jon said- he hadn’t sung “Midas…” for over 15 years and that’s why he was holding a piece of paper with the lyrics. Yet his performance was as good-if not better- as in the studio version. He’s the KING! On Sunday we were invited for barbecue over at Killdrums’ place, an amazing house in the woods. Steve turned out to be an excellent host since he spent quite some time to show us around his house, as well as his forge (where he makes his knives) and countless special SAVATAGE memorabilia and pictures. We also had the chance to ride one of his many motorbikes! Finally, one of the following days we found the time to visit Orlando and the legendary Hard Rock Café to admire –among hundreds of others- Criss’ white Charvel which is displayed there.

As this report comes to an end, I’d like to thank some people from the bottom of my heart. First of all Christopher Kinder and his girlfriend Phyllis, who made us feel the absolute essence of the word hospitality. We can’t thank you enough guys! Everyone in CIIC and especially John Zahner (who was a true hero in the concert since he played in 3 out of 4 bands) and Kevin for their great company. Of course Jon Oliva, Chris Caffery, Steve “Doc” Killdrums and Johnny Lee Midletton, all the great people from all over the world that we met there and last but not least Kathy Tijou, the person who organized the whole thing and despite her anxiety she found the time to show us her place (“The Savatage-museum” as it’s known) with all those great memorabilia. See you all next time!

John Vogiatzis- Rock-On Magazine, Greece