Monday, April 9, 2018

"NOTHIN' BUT A GHOUL TIME!" — Spooky Empire Horror Convention (April 6-8, 2018 / Orlando, FL)

NOTHIN' BUT A GHOUL TIME!
Spooky Empire
Horror Convention
(April 6-8, 2018 / Orlando, FL)
_________________________

After hearing all sorts of
hoo-ha for the last few
years, I felt compelled
to venture out this past
weekend and finally
experience the famed
horror event for myself.
_________________________

Growing up in the Midwest during the '70s, I was riveted by late night horror movies. I possessed a particular passion for black and white classics starring such iconic actors as Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. My poor, sweet mother absolutely was riddled with concern over my unbridled pre-pube obsession with the afternoon T.V. show, Dark Shadows. And I won't even get into how much Count Chocula and Franken Berry I consumed back in those days. As a teenage rock music freak, I was mesmerized further by the likes of KISS and Alice Cooper. As a result of my insatiable adolescent ghoulish appetite, the Spooky Empire horror convention had been on my radar for quite a while.

Spooky Empire 2018 offered fans
a menagerie ghoulish goodies. 
A gloriously haunting celebration of all things frightening and creepy, the Central Florida-based event is billed as "The Dark Side of Comic Con." Produced biannually by the husband and wife team of Petey and Gina Mongelli, the spring 2018 edition of Spooky Empire played out at the fabulous Wyndham Orlando Resort on April 6-8. Over the course of three action-packed days and fun-filled nights, the all-ages extravaganza oozed WOW-factor — from an array of one-on-one celebrity meet-and-greet and Q&A sessions to near-endless groovy vendor booths to seemingly countless skilled master artists demonstrating their craft in the enormous tattoo area to the sea of amazing-looking, costumed characters roaming about the venue.

All dressed in the iconic circa 1983 garb of former
KISS guitarist, Vinnie Vincent, these kabuki-faced
characters were my personal Spooky Empire faves.
Based on our numerous chaotic personal past experiences with various other similar-type events over the years, my girlfriend, Diana, and I expected Spooky Empire to present us with yet another frustrating "cluster"-style scenario. We were wrong. In fact, the first thing we noticed upon entering the Wyndham Resort was how well-organized Spooky Empire was. Which says a lot, given what an unbelievably sprawling production it was. We also were impressed equally by the event and venue staff — professional and friendly, to be sure.

A SPOOKY HIGHLIGHT
What's cooler than getting photo bombed

by the guys from Animal House?
As a talented artist and acknowledged superhero / comic book aficionado, Diana was fascinated by the incredible related artwork displayed throughout the event. As an admitted, drooling rock music fanboy, I was most thrilled about meeting the hosts of the wildly popular Three Sides of the Coin  KISS podcast, as well as attending the Q&A session featuring former KISS guitarist, Vinnie Vincent. In short, Diana and I both went home more than satisfied.

Three Sides of the Coin co-hosts Michael Brandvold,
Tommy Sommers and Mark Cicchini did a fantastic
job leading the spirited Vinnie Vincent Q&A session.
TRUE CONFESSION
I actually wet myself at Spooky Empire when
meeting my superhero - Three Sides of the Coin
co-host, Michael Brandvold. TMI?
In a day when so many events promise so much and deliver so little, Spooky Empire succeeded in delivering "more bang for the buck." And I look forward to attending the 2018 Halloween edition of the convention at the Caribe Royale Orlando on October 26-28.

-Christopher Long
(April 2018)


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Friday, April 6, 2018

MOVIE REVIEW: Paul, Apostle of Christ

MOVIE REVIEW
PAUL
Apostle of Christ
Affirm Films
(PG-13 / 1 hr 48 min)
__________________________

We expected to have the joint all
to ourselves — just me and my gal,
with our econo-sized concession
comboin-hand. I mean, c'mon
now, how many people in today's
super-sophisticated iUniverse are
really gonna flock to a flick that
 depicts the final days in the life
of a withering, imprisoned biblical
figure? But oh crap, dude — the
theater was packed — on a week-
night  and during Spring Break!
__________________________

The older I get, the shorter it becomes — the list of mortals who I truly admire. Let's see, there's Ronald Reagan, Alice Cooper, my cousin Dorothy, the "special needs" kid down the street and   Apostle Paul. I'm sure there are a few others, but I think you get where I'm going here.

So, what is it about Paul that makes him so fascinating and inspiring that his life warrants a big-screen production nearly 2,000 years following his death? Well, allow me to break it down.

Next to Jesus, Paul's story arguably is the most compelling of any biblical figure. He wasn't God. He wasn't even an earthly king. He was an Everyman of his day — sorta. As Saul of Tarsus (his birth name), he was known (and feared) far and wide during the first half of his life as a powerful, ruthless Jewish kingpin with a notorious reputation for persecuting and even murdering Christians.

But one day, as Saul traveled with his cronies from Jerusalem while on a mission to arrest and / or kill Christians in Damascus, he was struck down by a light from heaven. At that point he heard the voice of Jesus, calling him out. “Why are you persecuting me?” Now blinded, Saul was led to Damascus by his motley crew, where he remained — blind for three days. To cut to the chase, when his sight finally was restored by a fellow named Ananias, Saul experienced one of, if not THE most amazing spiritual transformations ever recorded. 

Jim Caviezel (L) and James Faulkner (R) deliver
impressive performances as Luke and Paul.
Following three years of prayerful study, Saul reemerged as Paul. No longer an enemy to believers, Paul dedicated his life to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the land. But oddly, Paul soon experienced the same persecution that he once dealt to others — imprisonment, beatings and the like. Yet he remained diligent in "fighting the good fight" until his dying day.

And that's what makes his story so inspiring. If a despicable character like Saul was worthy of grace and forgiveness, and he could be transformed into "Paul" — a dedicated Christ-follower filled with love and compassion, how much hope is there for the rest of us? Listen, I've done A LOT of regrettable, filthy stuff in my life, but I never killed anybody. Get it?

Hmm — a former cruel villain who suddenly peddles and practices grace, forgiveness, kindness, love and compassion. Heck, even for the "smart" people who dismiss the Bible as a mere fairy tale, that's not just good stuff, that's GREAT stuff! And as a staunch, Bible-believing Jesus-follower, I was "all in" when I heard that part of Paul's story now was playing out at my local cineplex. "Two adult tickets to Paul, Apostle of Christ, please!" SPOILER ALERT: I don't cast spoilers.

Oliver Martinez as Roman jailer, Mauritius.
Written and directed by Andrew Hyatt, the film picks up during Paul's final days while being held in a Roman prison. No stranger to persecution by this point in his life, Paul had been sentenced to death by Emperor Nero. His crime? A bogus charge of being a threat to the Roman Empire.

Simply put, in 67 AD, Rome was a tough place to be if you were a Christian. In fact, Christ-followers were forced to live in secrecy. Upon hearing of Paul's imprisonment, he's visited frequently by Luke, his longtime confidant and skilled Greek physician. And it was during those covert late-night meetings when Paul dictated his final words to Luke — writings that ultimately would be revealed throughout the New Testament.

Portrayed famously by James Faulkner, Paul appears much as many might expect — broken down, weary and soft-spoken. Played convincingly by Jim Caviezel, the younger and more virile Luke also soon finds himself as a guest of the Roman penal system. During their joint incarceration experience, we get a glimpse of the unique bond of friendship between the two men. Paul further reveals a dry sense of humor as well as an ongoing battle with his own inner demons. But even as the young Christians begin to take up arms in an effort to avenge the crimes committed against their people by the Romans, Paul remains resolute, calling for peace, love and grace.

As a theology graduate, I give Paul, Apostle of Christ high marks for what I consider biblical accuracy. However, I could easily have sat through an additional hour's worth of the various character's backstories. And as a guy who simply likes to "keep it real," I also offer the film mad props for feeling legit — world-class performances from an impeccable cast, realistic-looking sets, authentic wardrobe and no detectable silly wigs.

In sum, Paul, Apostle of Christ is a riveting, epic piece of work — one that I recommend, highly.

-Christopher Long
(April 2018)

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Thursday, April 5, 2018

CUT THE CAKE! (My Website Turns Eight)

CUT THE CAKE!
My Website Turns Eight
__________________________

Eight years, gone in a flash. And
after hundreds of features, reviews
and short stories, my little 1.2 acre
of cyber real estate now has been
visited half-million times. As I
reflected recently on this milestone,
I was reminded of all the amazing
people I've met and the incredible
places I've been along the way.
Dig these fun photo highlights.
__________________________

As "The Show Biz Guru," I've reviewed
near countless live music events since
first launching this site back in 2010 
from rock and pop to country and blues.
And occasionally, I've had the pleasure
of connecting one-on-one with a few of
the artists whose concerts I've attended.

My 2013 encounter with the Jersey-
based RockNRoll Chorus a cappella
troupe was truly memorable.
Discover the group HERE.

And then there was that time in 2015 when I
found myself onstage with Mick Fleetwood.

Find my concert review HERE.
I had the privilege of spending some time with
Canadian combo, Courage My Love, following
their March 2018 Orlando concert performance.

Brimming with WOW-factor, my
site has become more about sharing
unique personal experiences than
merely dishing-up entertainment-
related reviews. And over the years,
I've met some fascinating people. 

Gaining new publishing insights from
children's author, Amy Sweezey, in 2015.

Read about it HERE.
Despite my waning personal political passion,
I found future U.S. President, Marco Rubio,
to be completely legit when we met up while

out on the campaign trail in 2016.
It's a universal perspective - EVERYBODY loves
ice cream. And my 2017 discovery of Jesse Long's
line of frozen treats was simply life-changing.
Get the full scoop HERE.

While I certainly continue to enjoy an
array of show biz exploits, my most
rewarding recent experiences have
 played out via my faith-based efforts.

I've discovered my true "comfort zone"
and a genuine love for people while
traveling on global missionary trips.
These days, my favorite "rock stars"
are the inspiring kids with whom I
"do life" in the field of youth ministry.

I remain grateful to everyone who has
taken the time to read not only my
stuff, but also the work of the many
"Guest Writers" who have contributed
compelling content to this site over
the years. And I'm eager to see what
lies ahead in the future. Stay tuned!

-Christopher Long
(April 2018)


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Saturday, March 24, 2018

FLASHBACK RECORD REVIEW: Megaphone "Exit Silent Mode"

FLASHBACK RECORD REVIEW 
Megaphone
Exit Silent Mode 
_________________________

There I was, sitting in the control
room during a recent recording
session. At one point, the producer
struck up a conversation with the
engineer about the celebrated
Orlando rock band, Megaphone.
Hmm. Note to self go home
and revisit "Exit Silent Mode."
_________________________

It was nearly a decade ago  Megaphone was hot as a pistol. Not only had the wildly popular four-piece Florida combo been opening for a menagerie of such rock icons as AC/DC and KISS' Paul Stanley, the band also was packing in fans at their own headline concerts in some of the area's premier venues, including the famed House of Blues. And it was there, on a rainy night in December 2009, when I first saw Megaphone perform live  opening for Aerosmith's Joe Perry. Simply put, I was hooked instantly by their irresistible, guitar-driven sound.

Onstage, frontman / guitarist Matthew Bloodwell, guitarist Paul Smith, bassist James Woodrich and drummer Scott Smith were a ferocious, formidable force. But what thwacked me hardest about Megaphone was the band's infectious, well-crafted pop / rock songs. In short order, I found myself standing at the merch booth, plunking down a moist wad of Washingtons for a CD copy of the band's just-released sophomore set, Exit Silent Mode.

MEGAPHONE - 2009
Produced to meticulous perfection by Matthew Bloodwell, Justin O'Neill and Paul Smith, the crunchy 12-track collection packed enough punch to satisfy the staunchest modern rock purists, while oozing enough golden pop goodness to make Butch Walker cry like a naughty school girl following a firm after-class paddling.

Focusing on an array of relationship-related anxieties, the record's many highlights include the Hoobastank-flavored opening track, "Write it Down," and the super-catchy sing-along, "My Favorite New Disaster." But for me, THE shiniest gem of this 45-minute treasure trove is the seemingly Eddie Ojeda-inspired, arena-caliber anthem "Bad to Good."

In sum, almost ten years later, Exit Silent Mode remains one of my all-time favorite, go-to feel-good records.

-Christopher Long
(March 2018)

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Thursday, March 22, 2018

MARS COWLING: A Personal Tribute to a Rock Legend

MARS COWLING
A Personal Tribute to a Rock Legend
_________________________

New Year's Eve '78-'79. It was only my
third legit rock concert experience 
a bona fide Southern-fried bash starring
Florida's "Guitar Army," The Outlaws.
I'd just turned 16. And I can still recall
rather unique fragrance permeating
the 10,000-seat, sold-out arena as
special guest, The Pat Travers Band,
hit the stage  "makin' magic," indeed!
_________________________

"Uh, excuse me. You don't know me, but I was in the band that opened for you tonight." I was so freaked out I could barely speak — which was odd, given that in the fall of 1992, my band DEAD SERIOS was one of the mightiest forces on the southeast rock scene.

"I know who you are" the bass player of the headline act responded warmly, with a distinct British accent. "I stood right there and watched your whole set!" he added — leaning in close enough to be heard over the backstage clatter. Or was it my knees knocking that was making all the racket?

Back in the day, DEAD SERIOS opened for more national-level bands than I can even remember. And honestly, I couldn't have cared less about many of them. But on this particular night in Palm Bay, Florida, we hadn't opened for just another College Radio flavor of the week or up-and-coming hair metal hopeful. We'd just "crushed it," opening for the legendary Pat Travers Band, and bassist Mars Cowling had apparently seen us perform.

"This dinosaur bullshit I play with Pat is fucking boring," Cowling confessed as we continued our backstage conversation. "I wish I was in your band," he added. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Mars Cowling was one of my all-time rock heroes, and the words of praise gushing from his mouth were surreal to me. I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, or piss in my pants. So I just gasped for breath, shook the man's hand and went on my way. Besides, he had a show to play that night too.

All I wanted in 1978 was to be cool — like the surfer dudes who mocked me in class for being UN-cool. They all had the hottest chicks, authentic puka shell necklaces, quality dope and a firm grasp on the coolest new music. In 1978, The Pat Travers Band was THE band of choice among my school's pot-smoking surfer alliance, and I had to discover for myself what all the buzz was about. So, in the fall of 1978, I bought a vinyl LP copy of the latest PT album, Heat in the Street. Simply put, the eight-song set clocked me harder than even the debut Van Halen record just a couple of months earlier. And by New Year's Eve '78-'79, I was standing in Florida's Lakeland Civic Center, witnessing the band live onstage. It was a high-octane performance that I can only describe as intense, brutal and ferocious. And it was the first time I'd ever heard "an old rhythm and blues, boogie woogie number called, 'Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights)'."

The Pat Travers Band circa '79
Oh sure, The Pat Travers Band's namesake's engaging vocals, screaming Melody Maker and poster boy looks were sufficient to hook and reel in rock fans by the scores. And the blistering, companion fret work of Pat Thrall also attracted legions of guitar aficionados. Plus, the band was (at the time) the current home of one-time Black Oak Arkansas drummer, Tommy Aldridge — another of my early teenage rock faves. But what really closed the deal for me with The Pat Travers Band was the bass stylings of Mars Cowling.

As a dumb 17-year-old punk, my typical weekends were spent doing stupid stuff that teens (still) do. Then, come Sunday night, I'd be holed up in my bedroom  head buried in my stereo hi-fi headset as I struggled to complete my neglected homework assignments before the Monday morning school bell rang. The soundtrack to those Sunday night "cram sessions" always featured the double-whammy combo of Heat in the Street followed by the platinum-selling PT live set, Go for What You Know. But even then, I recognized that Cowling's style was unique — holding his Fender Precision bass way up high. Onstage he oozed slick, slinky swagger. On record, his bass grooves moved me. Cowling's talent also was recognized by many of rock's most prominent players.

"No matter how I tried, I could
never get a bass to growl like Mars
could. He had such a unique tone
and unorthodox way of playing."
-Rodney O'Quinn
(Bassist / Foghat)

One-time Pat Travers bassist and current
Foghat bassist Rodney O'Quinn (L) in
South Florida with Mars Cowling (R) - 2017.
"It was such an honor to be friends with
Mars Cowling for the past nine years."
-Rodney O'Quinn
(Bassist / Foghat)

By the time 29-year-old, England-born Cowling joined 21-year-old native Canadian Travers in 1975, he already was an established name on the British rock scene, having played in a number of blues-based cover bands. Cowling would go on to record eight records with Pat Travers before leaving the band in 1982 — an impressive string that included the 1980 Top 20 smash, Crash and Burn

Following his initial PT run, Cowling had a brief stint playing in the Miami-based, duel female-fronted rock band, Gypsy Queen. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform live with GQ in 1984. By 1989, Cowling had rejoined the PT ranks — remaining on board until 1993.

Sadly, Cowling was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia in February 2018. Long retired from the music biz, he lived in South Florida, where he passed away on March 20th.

Over the last 40 years, I devoured Cowling's recorded work, and I was fortunate to have seen him perform live numerous times. And I was honored to have been a member of his opening act on that incredible night back in 1992. I will never forget Mars Cowling. And the music he created will remain forever fresh and powerful — "makin' magic," to be sure.

-Christopher Long
(March 2018)

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

MY STORY OF SOBRIETY: 14 Years and Going Strong!

MY STORY OF SOBRIETY
14 Years and Going Strong!
___________________________

I'd been a stumbling, slobbering
drunk for much of my adult life.
Then, on St. Patrick's Day 2004,
at age 41, the "light" came on 
finally. Thanks, Jesus! I owe you,
BIG TIME!
___________________________

I've recounted my life-changing experience numerous times — my story of first getting sober 14 years ago, maintaining my sobriety and my subsequent, reality-based perspectives. In fact, I've attached links (below) to several of my related web features.

It's worth repeating that these annual anniversary pieces aren't meant to come off as preachy or boastful. They're meant merely to inspire and encourage folks who might also be battling this soul-crushing "demon." Staying sober doesn't make me a better person than anyone else. But it sure has enhanced my quality of life. And if I can beat the bottle, so can you.

For me, maintaining sobriety while working
as a DJ in the bar business is a breeze.
Ironically, I've worked as a DJ in the bar business for 25 years. However, rather than magnifying a temptation to imbibe  being surrounded by the real-life darkness and drama of the nightclub world actually helps keep me sober — serving as a constant reminder of how the alcohol industry is driven by lies — primarily the deceitful, yet enticing, often X-rated mass media advertising that leads to a skewed public perception of guaranteed good times, amplified popularity and conquests with hard-body hotties. Oddly, puke, piss, hangovers, more puke, DUIs, death, destruction, even more puke and an array of other certain sordid residual regrets never are revealed in any of Madison Avenue's glitzy and seductive marketing schemes.

I'm not quite sure what message clever
ol' "Jack" is trying to convey in this ad. But
 trust me, it has NOTHING to do with how
YOUR real-life experience will play out.
The good news is, even if you've been conned — like I once was, you don't have to remain enslaved. Sweet freedom awaits. The battle of the bottle is one you can win. And take it from me, it's a battle worth fighting.

As always, I want to extend a genuine and personal invitation  should you be dealing with your own alcohol-related struggle, and you need someone to "lean on," you can reach out and contact me anytime at my personal email address. Just remember, I’m NOT a licensed counselor, but I am a nightclub DJ, which is kinda the same thing. (AuthorChristopherLong@yahoo.com)

-Christopher Long
(March 2018)

_________________________

Don't miss my other
sobriety features:

_________________________



The latest from author Christopher Long
is available NOW on Amazon.

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