REVISED VERSION/INCLUDES VIDEOS: It seems like yesterday that we’d truck down the Parkway to the Garden State Arts Center, party hearty, chill on the lawn. Then we got older, got real jobs, had kids. Still, it seemed a great birthday present for my husband: Lynyrd Skynyrd with Bret Michaels and .38 Special at the (do I have to use the name?) PNC Bank Arts Center.
We decided to make it a family event. Along came our three boys: the 21-year-old who didn’t know from Skynyrd Nation, the 16-year-old drummer, and the 7-year-old first-time concertgoer.
Arriving at the venue felt like home to me, having seen so many shows there in the past. However: Driving through
the sea of long-hair, tattoos, grills, kegs, and lawn chairs to look for a parking spot was quite the bitch.
We eventually found a spot roughly 30 miles from the arena — or at least it felt that way. The moment we got out of the car, a woman came up and said to my husband: “Sir, you’re getting a citation for not partying hard enough.”
Ms. Hilarious shoved some stickers into his hands and requested a “donation” of 10 bucks that she said went to a food pantry.
Needless to say: Hubby wasn’t tickled. Told her she picked the wronnnnng guy.
“I’ll take those back then,” she said, snatching back the stickers. Then she suggested we watch our car.
The trek to the arena was lung-busting, but we finally made it to the top of the hill. We stopped for a sec before going inside — and there, on the side, was a guy (let’s call him “dude”) sitting in the grass, head down, and periodically throwing up.
Finally, a couple of police officers booted him — and his friend. The buddy had to be supremely pissed.
Although the arena has a “no cameras” rule, we had good seats. So I made it past security by shoving my camcorder into the bottom of my crazy old lady bag, under two pairs of glasses, my work ID, a makeup case, and my wallet. Hell, I get scared sticking my hand in there.
Although not a huge fan, I’ve always liked .38 Special, and I was pleasantly surprised to find what a great live band they are. The vocals were on the money — “Back Where You Belong,” “Wild-Eyed Southern Boys,” “Rebel to Rebel“ (dedicated to Ronnie Van Zandt)” and “Hold on Loosely“ for the encore. The band was really tight.
Folks were having fun, and the place had a relaxed feel; given the bands involved, most of the audience was over 30, with some youngsters here and there.
During the break, we bought our $4 bottles of water with the tops removed by the vendor — for security purposes.
All I could think of was Bret.
I enjoy Poison, not because they are musical geniuses (although Cece really can shred) but because they make fun, feel-good, party music.
When Bret came out, the place exploded with the screams of middle-aged women who have followed hi recent health crises. I actually pictured him rolled out in a wheelchair with a respirator, but Bret bounced onto the stage with the excitement of a man who’d just cheated death.
The Bret Michaels Band dove into “Talk Dirty to Me,” electrifying the arena. I was disappointed with what came next: a cover of “Your Mama Don’t Dance” that has been on two Poison CDs.
Then Bret thanked everyone for the prayers and well wishes. He’s grateful to be alive and still rocking, he said.
The band launched into “Bittersweet,” which sounds like something you’d hear from one of these late 90s pop/rock bands trying to sound edgy. Bret did seem to struggle with getting the lyrics out, mostly singing the first half of a line with the backups handling the second half.
(Wait…. Did I see him taking a couple of pills during the guitar solo?)
It’s hard to picture Bret as the hard-partying rocker when we’re constantly reminded that his smokin’ hot body is shot to shit on the inside.
“Something to Believe In” was followed by a cover of Sublime’s “What I Got.” And just when Bret seemed to be running out of steam, the band ripped into “Unskinny Bop” — with Bret dancing his ass off and drummer Chuck Fanslau thrilling the crowd with thunderous solo.
They wrapped it up with “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (though I’d hoped for the country version), “Fallen Angel,” and “Nothing But a Good Time.”
Bret was clearly wiped, but he had managed to feed off the same life source as his audience, getting as much juice from them as we gave him.
Of course, seeing our youngest son singing along was completely adorable. When I noticed his eyes a bit red, I got concerned. Contact high? Nah….
For more video from the show, go to: YOUTUBE/GINA GAFFNEY
Skynyrd opened with “Workin’ for MCA” and whipped up the guys in the crowd wearing cowboy hats and ass-length hair, chugging beer and waving Confederate flags. They hooted and howled through “Skynyrd Nation,” “What’s Your Name,” “That Smell,” “Simple Man” (got teary from the slideshow of our soldiers), “Still Unbroken,” “Tuesday’s Gone,” and “Gimme Three Steps.”
Bret joined them for — what else? — “Sweet Home Alabama,” which made this 80s teen happy-happy.
And the encore — do I have to tell you? Wouldn’t that have freaked everyone out if they’d OPENED with “Free Bird”?
The voyage back to the car was easier: We were headed downhill. The masses around us were pumped, and fairly well-toasted.
I have to admit it kind of creepy to hear one group of 20-somethings shouting “The South will rise again.” We followed three younger folks (two guys and a girl) down the path to the lot; one guy almost stumbled several times into a ditch on the side of the road.Mother & child rock out
At one point, he lost his shoe. Then he approached a t-shirt vendor and said, “I love you, man!“
Hope he wasn’t the designated driver.
Thankfully, our car was in one piece. We got home at 1 a.m., after a two-hour drive, and I tossed our little guy into bed.
I wish I could say that the concert made me feel young again. But just thinking about it makes me want to take another nap.
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