Tuesday, February 27, 2018

CONCERT REVIEW: Chris Hennessee @ Riverfront Park - Cocoa, FL (2.25.18)

Chris Hennessee
Riverfront Park - Cocoa, FL

It was a bona fide, country-
fried soiree. And from my
cool and breezy perch, back
near the shrimp-on-a-stick
stand, I recognized once
again, in short order, that
the most fascinating music
artists don't always play last.

It was an impressive roster, to say the least — an all-star current country collective featuring 11-time Grammy-nominated singer / songwriter, Jamey Johnson, along with chart-buster, Craig Campbell and rising name, Chris Hennessee.

Armed with nothing more than an acoustic six-string guitar, and packing a slew of well-crafted songs, a fistful of engaging stories and a few insightful perspectives, Hennessee commandeered the massive outdoor stage precisely at 5pm. "Do we have any country music fans with us?" he inquired of the quickly growing early bird crowd — in a thick, authentic-sounding southern drawl. Resembling a cross between Bob Seger (circa '76) and Dave Grohl (circa last Tuesday), Hennessee pulled up a stool, plugged in his guitar and kicked off the 30-minute set with his tribute to "real" people and down-home living — 2011's "Waylon Jennings Song."

Since first arriving on the Nashville scene some 20 years ago, the Decatur, Tennessee native has built a distinguished reputation as a sought-after songwriter — contributing his tunes to various albums for an array of artists, from country music star Billy Currington to roots rockers The Wild Feathers. Along the way, Hennessee (who doubles as a member of Jamey Johnson's touring band) also has released several acclaimed solo records, including Hennessee Like Tennessee (2011), Revival (2012), and Greetings from Hennessee (2015).

"Make some noise for country music," Hennessee encouraged fans, as he segued into "Ramble," the title track to his upcoming new record. Offering a tragic tale of heartbreaking infidelity, Hennessee's 2012 epic, "Red Dress" made for another of his many riveting set list highlights.

"This one's 70% true. The other half, I made up," he confessed during the intro to "The Gospel According To Lane." And therein lies the true artistic appeal of Chris Hennessee — he's a gifted songwriter and a master storyteller. His songs don't require slick music videos to convey his messages — his irresistible melodies and well-crafted lyrics are all that's needed to show listeners his Hollywood-caliber "mini movies" — compelling stories of well-drawn characters. Truth be told, even if he "makes it all up," whatever Hennessee is "selling," I'm "buying" — in case quantities.

Chillin' with Chris Hennessee after
his Cocoa, FL concert performance.
Despite touching on a few of his longtime fan favorites, Hennessee leaned heavily on selections from his aforementioned new record, set to arrive in late March on Jamey Johnson's personal BigGassed Records label. Of the new tracks, "A Little Too Loretta" was a standout, as Hennessee revealed how the song was inspired by a real life experience with his wife who'd had some particular "concerns" regarding an Internet photo she'd seen (and misinterpreted) of her husband backstage with a female fan. Okay, maybe that story warrants a music video.

"Don't let other people tell ya what's good and what ain't good," Hennessee announced near the end of his show. "Just because you don't hear it on the radio doesn't mean it's no good. So support independent music."

Pointing to his solution to "the things we shouldn't have to be dealing with in today's world," Hennessee launched into another new tune entitled, "A Few More Gospel Songs" — the perfect set up to his closing commentary. "If you hear me mentioning Jesus a lot in my songs," Hennessee began boldly, "it's because I love Jesus, and you should too." Wow, I could have hugged him for that one. Actually, I did!

-Christopher Long
(February 2018)



C'MON! -

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

MY WILD WEEKEND AT '80s IN THE PARK (Cocoa Beach, FL — Feb. 15-18, 2018)

International Palms Resort
Cocoa Beach, FL  Feb. 15-18, 2018

It was one wild weekend.
Throngs of faithful fans
converged on Florida's other
"World-Famous Beach,"
all bathing in the golden
sunshine, while soaking
up the golden sounds from
the glorious arena rock era.

I experienced this year's massive production from two drastically different, yet equally compelling, first-hand perspectives — both as one the event's main stage performers and also as one of the many crazed fans. A longtime music industry veteran, I've traveled over the years with some of the biggest names in the rock biz while working on enormous arena-caliber tours. As a result, I've seen it all, and I was fully prepared to experience a wild weekend — one likely filled with lots of great live music and perhaps even a little bit of behind-the-scenes tension and drama. I certainly got all that. But I got more — a lot more!

The 5th annual '80s In The Park
festival at the 
International Palms Resort
in Cocoa Beach, FL (2.15-18.18)

*All photos courtesy of Rock Legends Photographers
I recognized in short order, that as the four-day celebration commenced on Thursday, this event would be about much more than the high-octane music blasting onstage and the emotion-filled scenarios brewing already backstage. In fact, '80s In The Park 5.0 proved to be all about PEOPLE — their unique stories and personal passions. There was the 20-something fella who traveled from Brazil to worship at the feet of his lifelong rock heroes — the mother and daughter combo who commuted from Tacoma, Washington to extend their recent Monsters of Rock Cruise party vacation — the young 11-year-old drum phenom seeking additional inspiration the memorabilia vendor who journeyed from Oklahoma City — the legions of locals who have supported this Florida festival since its 2013 inauguration — and of course, the team of professionals who were dedicated to seeing this energized juggernaut to a successful conclusion. 

Blues-based "Hollywood" hard core combo
JUNKYARD kicked off Friday's main stage soiree.

'80s hair metal poster boys WINGER
delivered an incredible Friday night set.

Arena rock powerhouse LA GUNS
closed out Friday's main stage festivities.
Over the course of four days and nights, fans would experience live performances from two dozen bands — the famous and the infamous. Aside from the action-packed main stage sets, there also were side stage performances, after-show parties, up-close-and-personal meet-and-greets — even an afternoon '80s-themed cruise on Friday. More "bang for the buck," indeed.

BURNING STARR guitarist Jack Starr (top) and LILLIAN AXE guitarist
Steve Blaze (bottom) both treated fans to impromptu jam
sessions during Saturday's "Rock Con" expo.

I was thrilled and honored to have connected with so many
wonderful people and to have made such great new friends
while appearing at the '80s In The Park "Rock Con" expo.
From tropical heatwaves to torrential downpours, '80s In The Park promoters have faced an array of Mother Nature's "surprises" over the years while staging the annual outdoor production. In fact, this festival had been scheduled originally for last September, but due to Hurricane Irma, it was postponed until February. Consequently, performers and fans experienced several reservation snafus when attempting to check in at the International Palms Resort due to the additional hotel guest load generated by the weekend's Daytona 500 race. There also were a few related band cancellations. So, did I have any personal concerns as I witnessed these potentially problematic issues unfolding? Yeah, sure. But the show did go on. And what an incredible show it was!

Saturday's main stage lineup kicked off
with a raucous set from TANGO DOWN.

'80s alterno darling GENE LOVES JEZEBEL
ignited Saturday's main stage show.

delivered a mighty set.

NOVA REX truly laid it
down on Saturday night.

Renown guitarist George Lynch
closed out Saturday night's show
with his band LYNCH MOB.
From the main stage to the side stage to the "Rock Con" expo meet-and-greet held in the hotel's downstairs lounge to the related memorabilia displayed throughout the site, '80s In The Park 5.0 was a sprawling, weekend-long celebration of the neon-tinged, hair sprayed, spandex era.

Bret Michaels impersonator Michael Spooner was
the life of the festival's nightly after-show parties.
TUFF frontman and MetalSludge.tv founder
Stevie Rachelle was on-hand all weekend
manning his popular "Rock Con" expo booth.
As in previous years, husband and wife team,
Charles and Lissa Knight were fabulously
engaging '80s In The Park hosts.
Appearing all weekend at the festival's "Rock Con" expo, I still managed to personally catch several of the live main stage sets  Every Mother's Nightmare, Lillian Axe and newcomers Silvertung each "crushed" it with blistering performances, especially Chicago-based pop / rock legend Enuff Z'Nuff.  And as I humped my way numerous times back and forth across the property from the "Rock Con" venue to the main stage, I witnessed first-hand what '80s In The Park is really all about — PEOPLE. I saw untold numbers of fans laughing, singing, dancing and having the time of their lives as they partied on the beach under Florida's warm sunshine. Apparently aware of my current personal faith mission, I was stopped on Sunday by a fan, seeking of all things, prayer for her own personal struggle that morning. It was pretty freaking awesome — we held hands right there in the hotel courtyard, proclaimed the name of Jesus Christ and embraced God's blessings and the ability to take on the day boldly. Kinda crazy, right?

Rock newcomers SILVERTUNG delivered
one of Sunday's highlight performances.

Simply put, LILLIAN AXE was AMAZING!

One of rock's all-time greats, ENUFF Z'NUFF
electrified fans on Sunday's main stage.

As the sun set Sunday night, my own band,
DEAD SERIOS hit the festival's main stage.

HOUSE OF LORDS closed out the
four-day '80s In The Park celebration
with a superb Sunday night.
My band DEAD SERIOS is known for our outrageous live concert performances. So, you'd think after 33 years, my ex-wife would have known to duck and cover when the pieces of broken toy lawn mower debris came flying off the stage at the end of our '80s In The Park set. Nope. She got clocked royally — accidentally, of course. I recall walking off the stage and hearing the instant shouting, "Chris, you just killed your ex-wife!" I turned around, and there she was, sitting on the ground with her face pressed against a blood-soaked towel. Fortunately, festival staff was on top of the situation and beefy-looking guys wearing tight-fitting security shirts rushed her backstage immediately where she was attended to by medics. Despite lots of blood and a bruised nose, she'll be fine.

My ex-wife's gashed face shortly after being
introduced to flying pieces of toy lawn mower
debris during the DEAD SERIOS set.

'80s In The Park staffer Belinda, mugging
for the camera after the Sunday night
show with SILVERTUNG frontman Speed.

Dressed to TOTALLY impress, I was psyched
to say "Hi!" to South Florida '80s rocker, Roxxy
following Sunday night's DEAD SERIOS set.

Maybe to an amateur, or to the untrained eye, watching the event unfold from behind the scenes, '80s In The Park 5.0 might have looked like a cluster of chaos, conflicts and confusion. But for me, my band and our crew, the weekend offered a wild, wonderful and extremely positive and professional experience. As a fan, the festival packed one powerful punch — delivering an array of incredible bands and state-of-the-art production — more "bang for the buck," indeed. And the personal memories and relationships that I've taken away from the weekend will last forever. As a certain '80s group once said, it was "Nothin' but a good time," for sure!

-Christopher Long
(February 2018)



C'MON! -