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Snow seemed to be the theme of this trip, though I’d naively hoped at snowy New Years Eve that the snow would all be gone 8 weeks later. Wrong!

It all started the night before I left home, as Leeds and the north of England was swathed overnight with a couple of inches of snow. On the morning of Wednesday 28 Feb, I managed to get to Leeds/Bradford Airport by bus on time, only to find that my KLM flight to Amsterdam (to connect to my usual Chicago flight) was cancelled due to the snow. There was an inevitability in seeing that my travel curse had struck yet again! I can’t remember my last trip without travel problems… at least a dozen trips ago. Anyway, I joined the queue for the airline desk to discuss options. Getting to Amsterdam was out, so suggestions included getting down to London and flying through Boston. However, the best option which would lose me least time was to fly to Brussels, then connect there with a flight to Chicago. Got onto the Brussels bound plane, which sat and sat on the tarmac before finally taking off late. It was going to make the connection to the Chicago flight tight, and by the time we landed and parked about a mile from the terminal, I had about 20 minutes to get onto the Chicago flight before it was due to take off. Luckily it was still loading cargo as the transit bus reached the terminal, but I still had to run along miles of concourse to arrive gasping at the American Airlines gate. Got onto the flight with minutes to spare, but despairing of my luggage… But this time the travel Gods must have taken pity on me, as there were problems in getting the cargo on board so we were delayed by about 40 minutes. The flight was only half full (Brussels to Chicago can’t be one of AA’s premium routes) and it was a relief to look out of the window to see my suitcase arrive to be loaded! So I could relax in the luxury of two seats, and enjoy the flight. Interesting to note that one of the audio programmes included CT’s "Tonight It’s You"… hope the band got paid for that! Arrived at a cold but snow free O’Hare only an hour later that I would have with KLM, through immigration quickly, and safely onto the bus heading up to Madison WI, arriving there around 9.15 p.m. As I headed north, the deposits of snow on the ground increased, and Madison looked very much as I’d left it early in January – very white and frozen!

Thursday 1 March

Up early, for another long day of travel, this time by road. Left Madison mid-morning and drove across to Milwaukee Airport to meet Maria and Stephanie, flying in from New York and Boston respectively, who would be riding with Rhiazann and myself on the 400+ mile journey up to Sault Ste Marie on Michigan’s border with Canada. It was a long haul, marred by Rhia picking up a speeding ticket in the wilds of northern Michigan. It progressively got even colder and snowier too, the actual Bay at Green Bay was frozen, and by the time we reached the Kewadin Casino at SSM around 10.45 pm, we found the roads covered in packed snow.

After checking in, Rhia and I soon headed back down to the bar, to find Bun E in conversation with friends, plus some of the crew resting up after getting in earlier that evening from Detroit. Tom later dropped by, and Robin stopped and chatted for quite a while. A pleasant evening, but it was good to later get to bed after a long day/night and too many beers!

Friday 2 March – Sault Ste Marie, Michigan

A relatively quiet day which I started with a heavy head! I had to drive out into the heavy snow to find somewhere to buy socks (which I’d forgotten to transfer from my case to a smaller travel bag before we left Madison – D’oh!!). Drove down into "downtown" SSM, which wasn’t much to write about. I’m not sure if the Soo Locks were open either, they looked pretty frozen over. However, I did see the mile long bridge over to Canada, before finding a Walmart for socks. Later in the day I took a wander around the very pleasant Kewadin Casino/Hotel, which was nicer than many others I’ve been in.

Soundcheck was at 5.30 pm, though Bun E was on stage earlier and warmed up with drum licks from songs like Anytime and You’re All Talk. When all the band were on stage, they played all of ELO Kiddies, followed by a verse of "I Was a Fool". Bun E came down to chat a little, but Tom and Robin continued soundchecking, playing part of "Take Me to the Top".

After soundcheck was complete, met up with Ron (Milwaukee) Kai (Germany) and Maria in the bar, and ordered food there rather than join the long and snaking line of people waiting to get into the buffet. Most were older folks, up in the U.P (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) for a weekend of gambling!

The opening band were already playing by the time I’d changed and came down to go into the venue at 8pm. They were St James, fronted by "Jaime St James, vocalist of Geffen artists Black’n’Blue". Hmmm… their style and look was very 80’s "hair band". It was a luxury to be able to walk into the venue late, as we had reserved seats. Good to see that Lisa J from Texas had safely arrived in the frozen north!

The venue was the Dream Maker Theater, which had flat seating, fanning out from the decent sized stage. The walls were predominently shades of brown, beige and ochre. Cheap Trick came on at 8.35pm to a warm welcome, though the venue was probably only half full. Why CT had been booked by the Casino to play two nights I don’t know.

RN – Dark grey pinstrip jacket. Black pants, black t-shirt (Nashville Pussy?)

RZ – Black suit, black/brown patterned shirt

TP – Long black jacket, black pants, black turtle neck shirt

BC – Black/white flowered shirt, black pants

Ain’t That a Shame, ELO Kiddies, Lot to Lose, Downed, Wrong All Along, I Want You to Want Me, 70’s Song, 8 Miles Low, Voices, Heaven Tonight, Southern Girls, Surrender, Dream Police, Goodnight Now

The crowd stood from the start which was good. After "Lot to Lose" Rick announced in Elvis style "Thank You Thank You… Cheap Trick is in the building!". I’d taken in my "Silver" CD sleeve which I put at stage front to remind Rick to mention the release, which he did after IWYTWM. During Voices, Lisa J leaned over to me and gave me a message for the AMCT newsgroup… "Flog can kiss my ass – I love this live!" (in response to recent online comments that CT should retire this song from live shows). During Heaven Tonight Rick gave his guitar to Kai from Germany, and the song featured a wonderful drum ending by Bun E. Surrender saw a CT97/KISS flat thrown out, and the show was over by 9.35pm. It was only an hour long, at the stipulation of the casino… Obviously folks sitting in the theatre can’t be spending money on gambling and drinking! The band played a nice show, and seemed relaxed and enjoying playing. After the show, we found the bars and casino very busy as the weekend gambling outing started in earnest, for both locals and coachloads of weekend trippers.

Saturday 3 March – Sault Ste Marie, Michigan

Up mid morning, and had to check-out as we’d been unable to book a third night at the hotel. So, we were going to have to stay the last night in SSM at the Days Inn 4 miles away. Got to chat with Carla awhile whilst waiting to checkout, and later had buffet lunch with Laurie and Mike who’d just arrived from Chicago, as well as Ron and Lisa J. It was snowing again as Rhia and I drove to the Days Inn to check in there. We were back at the Kewadin Casino by 3.15pm, and about an hour later Bun E took me backstage and up to the hospitality suite where he kindly allowed me a 20 minute interview. He took to the stage when we returned downstairs, and he and Tom did an equipment check but not a soundcheck, so no songs were played.

Prior to going to interview Bun E, several of us TI members chatted to Carla out in the walkway, and she kindly invited us to a short meet’n’greet just prior to CT hitting the stage. Ron joined us to announce that he’d struck lucky on the slots, and he was probably the only winner amongst us!

We had food again in the bar before going into the venue around 7.30 and waiting by the door at Rick’s side of the hall. We saw the end of St James’ set, though we’d heard earlier in the afternoon that there was supposedly no support tonight… About a dozen of us were ushered into a backstage corridor, and Carla brought out Tom, then Bun E, Robin and Rick to "do" the line, and then a short impromptu photo and autograph session. For me it was cool to see Rick wearing a Roy Wood t-shirt I’d given him a year ago. We soon left to take our seats, and the band hit the stage at 8.05 p.m, to a warm welcome from a larger crowd than the previous night.

RN – Dark check jacket, black pants, Roy Wood Army t-shirt

RZ – Bronze sparkly shirt, black suit

TP – Gold suit, black shirt, cowboy hat

BC – Blue flowered shirt, black pants

Ain’t That a Shame, ELO Kiddies, Lot to Lose, Downed, I Want You to Want Me, I Know What I Want, 70’s Song, 8 Miles Low, Voices, Flame, Southern Girls, Surrender, Dream Police, Goodnight Now

Again, a short show at the behest of the casino. However, another tight yet relaxed show, the band were in fine form. Tom seemed to want to finish early, as he said "Thank you, goodnight" as he collected the applause after IKWIW! Again Lisa J commented on Voices… "Tell to Newsgroup to F.O!! This song is fantastic!". The Flame was a surprise but welcome addition to the night’s set, and as always Robin nailed that big note towards the end! Surrender saw an In Color/KISS Alive II flat flying out into the crowd, and Goodnight Now saw Bun E demonstrate his awesome drumming skills with a terrific ending. A great show, over all too soon.

Sunday 4 March – Green Bay, Wisconsin

Our much needed sleep was interrupted at 6am by both a rogue clock/alarm, as well as a snow clearing lorry out in the parking lot of the Days Inn. Lisa J dropped Maria off with us just after 9am, and we left chilly SSM (16 degrees) and headed south through the snow covered Interstate towards St Ignace. The snow covered trees were beautiful in the bright morning sunshine, and en route large stretches of both Lake Huron and Lake Michigan were frozen over. We had a few light snow flurries en route, and the temperatures definitely got warmer (though not exactly tropical!) as we headed south, as the roads changes from snow covered to slush, and finally cleared as we approached Wisconsin on Highway 2. Around St Ignace there were several small stores advertising local specialities, though I really wasn’t tempted by "Smoked Fish Jerky Fudge"!

We reached the Oneida Casino/Radisson Hotel opposite the airport at Green Bay at 2.10pm, glimpsing Lambeau Field just minutes earlier. We checked into the hotel, had a quick shower, and went downstairs to check out the venue. In the hotel lobby who should we run into but Robin, who asked us where the venue was! As we walked along, he mentioned that some old friends of his would be attending the show that evening, including Brian Beeby, his old singing partner at the Wisconsin Dells.

The venue for the show was actually a large convention/meeting room close to the casino. Plushly carpeted, the ceiling was low which would obviously tempt Rick later on! The set up stage was big and wide, with a set of lights set low from the ceiling in front of the stage. Boy, would Rick have problems getting the flat to sail out into the crowd later. Before soundcheck Ricks steps weren’t in evidence, obviously due to the low ceiling, but were put in place soon after he arrived. He probably insisted on them! Soundcheck at 5pm was a nice surprise, with the band playing Carnival Game and Shelter.

Carla mentioned that the band had arrived safely at Green Bay late last night, despite the snow falling up in SSM where they flew from. However, they were delayed by an hour because of having to wait for an airport worker to come and sweep snow off the aircraft wings! Ah, the joys of touring…

Doors opened at 7.30pm, and the sold out crowd of probably 700 were waiting enthusiastically before the band took the stage at 8.35pm.

RN – Purple jacket, black pants, Girl Brand guitar t-shirt

RZ – Black suit, black/brown patterned shirt

TP – Long cream leather jacket, black turtle neck shirt, black pants, white cowboy hat

BC – Orange patterned shirt, black pants

Ain’t That a Shame, ELO Kiddies, House is Rockin’, Downed, I Want You to Want Me, I Know What I Want, Wrong All Along, 70’s Song, 8 Miles Low, Oh Caroline, Heaven Tonight, Southern Girls, Surrender, Voices, Dream Police, Lot to Lose, Goodnight Now

What a terrific show! I think this was the best of this run of 5 shows I saw, beating even hometown Rockford (see later). The crowd were wildly enthusiastic, and despite the unusual and far from ideal venue (those at the back must have strained to even see the band), there was a terrific atmosphere. The band obviously revelled in being on "home" territory, and at least twice Rick talked about playing in Green Bay back in the mid 70’s when the band were still establishing themselves. All of the band looked relaxed and to be enjoying themselves. There were frequent smiles all round, and each band member played at something close to their best. Rick had to change his guitar early on during ELO Kiddies. I hadn’t brought my Silver CD case as it was a standing GA show, so instead I scribbled a bold "SILVER" on a page of my notepad, to remind Rick to mention the new release. He spotted my notebook after IWYTWM, then took and held it up to the crowd, saying "We have a new live CD out called Silver… but it doesn’t look like this!". Slightly embarrassing! After 8 Miles Low, Tom and Robin played a little bit of "It All Comes Back to You" as they changed guitars… Rick was coming to the mic to say a few words, and so sang a line of the song! During Heaven Tonight it was cool to see Rick hand his guitar to a young boy who was in the front on Rick’s side of the stage. During Southern Girls Rick finally lost his inhibition with the ceiling… at first he stood on his steps and using his guitar neck prodded at one of the ceiling tiles that contained a light fitting. Then later on the song he was back up on the steps, and trashed a different ceiling tile, which crashed down in front of the stage. As Rick had reminisced earlier in the show, it was just like the early days! Surrender saw a KISS Rock’n’Roll/In Color flat get thrown out, and Rick did well to send it quite a way back. After Dream Police Rick introduced a friend onto the stage, a large gentleman by the name of Darryl St John. He seemed well known to much of the crowd, and I believe was a local fan from way back when the band first started, and often the only crowd CT played to was Darryl and a beer bottle. I think that was the story. Anyway, both he and the band were delighted to be on stage together. Darryl sat and was given a guitar, and guested on both Lot to Lose and Goodnight Now, which was very cool.

A number of us fans (both those who’d been up to SSM, plus others from the Green Bay and Chicago areas) finished off the evening getting food and drink in one of the hotel bars.

Monday 5 March saw the band holding a mid morning news conference for local media at the hotel, before setting off for Minneapolis and the show there the following night. Rhia and I were heading back to Madison, and passing up the 10 hour round trip to Minneapolis for that show. After all, we had two more shows to look forward to later in the week. The middle of the week was busy, culminating in a long day on Thursday in Milwaukee. We’d been invited by Ron and Kai to join them in a small recording studio, to help provide backing vox for a song or two for the forthcoming AMCT fan tribute CD #4. It was a long but fun session, and hopefully folks will enjoy the results. All kudos to Ron, Kai, Lisa and the others for their major contributions to what was recorded, which sounded great.

Friday 9 March – Rockford, Illinois

Showday again, after a few days off. However, we hadn’t got back to Madison from Milwaukee until 1.45 a.m, so I started off tired at the beginning! It was a beautiful bright day, though again cold. We got down to East Main St around 3.30pm, and parked just a block away from the Coronado Theatre. We saw Bun E, Tom and later Rick arrive to soundcheck. We found that we could vaguely hear soundcheck through an air conditioning vent at the back of the theatre… with the bonus that the vent was expelling warm air. That was very welcome as we stood in the cold alley! Soundcheck was I Know What I Want, I Can’t Take It and Take Me to the Top. Afterwards we went to find somewhere to eat, and ended up in the nearby Swilligans Bar, which soon became crowded with both locals and CT fans.

We got back to the theatre soon after 7pm, and entered into a dazzling lobby. The restoration was magnificent, and the theatre was a wonderful venue to be in. Off to the right was the merchandise stand, with new items being the Silver t-shirt, plus a limited edition (of 100) poster commemorating this evenings show. As usual, the merch stand took a sizeable chunk out of my wallet! The inside of the theatre was also impressive and beautifully ornate. There was a ground floor of seats, plus a balcony. There was a large archway over the stage, and the ceiling was a deep blue with small pinpricks of light resembling stars in a night sky. One seat in the 13th row (I think) of the balcony is apparently covered in checkerboard material, standing out from all the other seats.

It was good to see a large turnout of fan club members, who’d snapped up TI’s allocation of seats in the front rows. There are too many for me to name them all, but cool to see so many from the Rockford and Chicago areas as well as further afield, from coast to coast, and beyond. Great to meet so many familiar faces both before the show, during the interval and afterwards.

This was to be a special hometown evening, as the opening band were Harmony Riley who took to the stage at 8.20pm to a warm reception. Back down to a 3 piece, the band contains two younger Nielsen’s, and both seemed to enjoy setting the tone for the evenings entertainment. Miles demonstrated his vocal and guitar skills, whilst Daxx was energetic and effective on drums; and bass player BigHed ably completed the trio.They played a 25 minute set, culminating in Miles shuffling around the stage as if on speed! As they trooped off stage right, enter Nielsen senior from stage left to exclaim "Harmony Riley, what a great looking bunch of guys!". There was a 35 minute interval before Cheap Trick took to the good sized stage.

RN – Silver jacket, new Silver t-shirt, black pants

RZ – Black suit, black/brown patterned jacket

TP – Long deep pink jacket, black pants, black turtle neck sweater

BC – Orange patterned shirt, black pants

Ain’t That a Shame, ELO Kiddies, House is Rockin’, Downed, I Want You to Want Me, I Know What I Want, Wrong All Along, 70’s Song, 8 Miles Low, Voices, Heaven Tonight, Southern Girls, Surrender, Oh Caroline, Dream Police, Lot to Lose, Goodnight Now

Terrific show, the hometown atmosphere was such that you could make a fortune if you could bottle it. The band played what is currently the standard set, but every song was enthusiastically received, and the band were visibly delighted at the response. Of course a lot of friends and family were in the crowd or sitting side stage, and Rick even joked about the number of the Carlson clan in the theatre tonight! He also said that he felt as if they knew everyone in the theatre, and that was probably no exaggeration. The intro to Southern Girls was modified to "It’s… time… for Rockford… girls!". Surrender saw a Heaven Tonight/KISS flat almost make it to the front of the balcony, but a fumble sent it down into the seats below. At the end of Surrender, the band stayed on stage, smiling and waving, and we had little inking of the event that was to take place. Carla and Daxx walked on stage, road manager Carla brandishing an evil set of scissors. Rick announced that something was about to happen… then Daxx took hold of his Dad’s famous braided goatee beard, and Carla snipped it off at the chin. There was a moment’s silence before the crowd erupted at what they’d seen! As Rick walked off, he said to watch out for this unusual item on Ebay!

Bun E was first back on stage, and suspended a small drumhead over the front of his CT logo one, proclaiming "Free E.J". Tom and Robin were on next, before Robin finally introduced "the guest guitarist, Rick’s evil twin"… Rick came on looking like a different man. Not only had he changed into his purple jacket, but he was now clean shaven, and his look turned back the clock by 10 years! Gosh, that was one fast shave! The crowd were in disbelief as the band launched into the encore, but soon turned up the enthusiasm for the climax of the show.

After a number of goodbyes in the theatre and lobby, Rhia and I headed to the after show, held in a large room upstairs in the theatre. It seemed like half of Rockford was there, and I guess some 80% were relatives or friends of Rockford’s "Fab Four". The band members circulated, shaking hands, greeting (apparently) long lost relatives and friends, and generally doing the hometown return thing. I briefly asked Rick about the beard, to which I didn’t get a straight answer! Oh well…!!

Saturday 10 March - Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Another late morning after another late night, back from Rockford at around 1.30 a.m. Headed over to Milwaukee mid afternoon, for the ice hockey game followed by CT. Around lunchtime Rhia had the cool idea to make a number of braided goatees for our group of 30+ people to try to stick on their chins as a gag for Rick. So before leaving Madison we hunted to but price tags, wool for braiding, rubber bands and sticky tape. I drove to Milwaukee, Rhia made beards. Simple really. How it would work out, we didn’t know. Ron in Milwaukee had been cool enough to buy a group of 36 seats close to the stage on Rick’s side, but we didn’t know (until later) how close we’d be, and whether Rick would see the gag.

We parked up near the Bradley Centre, and met up with about a dozen of our group already in the nearby Turner Centre restarant, where we had 5 tables reserved. So Rhia and I ended up with Steve "a funny comment for every occasion" Crawford, Carolyn, Rhonda, Lisa and Dawn, and Rhia soon had a production line of goatee’s going along! Mass production was only halted by our meals being delivered! Before we started production, I pulled out a single braid from my jacket pocket, and clandestinely showed it to a few folks, who, for just a few moments thought I’d somehow got the "real" one cut off at Rockford. The "Gullible Award" of the night went to Lisa J, who firmly believed for about a minute that I held "the" CT collectors item of the new millenium! Sorry Lisa, but your face was just a picture!

We crossed the road to the Bradley Centre in the pouring rain, took our seats, and sat through over two and a half hours of ice hockey. It was the Milwaukee Admirals versus the Manitoba Moose (a level below NHL standard), with Manitoba taking a 2-0 lead, Milwaukee pulling back to 2-2 before snatching a winner in overtime at around 10.15pm. The game was sort of fun, with lots of amusements during and in the breaks. Our group cheered and hollered as the announcer welcomed the "Cheap Trick International Fan Club" to the arena, amongst other groups. We got a few short spells of Cheap Trick songs, to which we cheered and sang along… ignoring the strange looks we were getting from the hockey fans around us! Some of our group was even shown on the jumbotron, singing and dancing along to a CT song! Other mid game entertainment was more bizarre, including an ice cream eating contest on the ice (with arms tied behind the back), and a human slingshot along the ice to some oversize skittles. Hmmm… hockey entertainment. We were informed that the crowd was over 12,000 (in the magnificent indoor arena that probably holds double that figure), and cool that most stuck around to see CT after the game.

The stage was set up at one end of the arena, behind one of the hockey goals, and as soon as the game was over the perspex screens at that end were removed. However, no fans were allowed on the ice of course, so it was somewhat bizarre to see the band playing to the crowd at each side of the stage, rather than the big empty expanse of ice in front of them. They took to the stage at 10.25pm…

RN – Black suit, red patterned t-shirt

RZ – Black suit, black/brown patterned shirt

TP – Long black velvet jacket, black pants, black turtle neck shirt

BC – Black/white patterned shirt, black pants

Ain’t That a Shame, ELO Kiddies, Lot to Lose, Downed, Wrong All Along, I Want You to Want Me, 70’s Song, 8 Miles Low, Voices, Heaven Tonight, Southern Girls, Surrender, Dream Police, Goodnight Now

A short 60 minute set, but well performed nonetheless. Some of the acoustics weren’t ideal, and I certainly heard excessive vox echo during the 70’s Song. Cool that Rhonda (Heaven2nyt) got Ricks guitar during the song from which she took her screen name. Rick teased the crowd on Tom’s side with the CT97 flat before throwing it up into the fans on "his" side of the stage, which included most of our group. As people dived to try to catch it, it was a wonder no-one was injured!

After goodbyes to many friends, a few of us found our way downstairs for the small aftershow before the band headed away. We discovered that the beard cutting/shaving had been planned for a number of days before the Rockford show, with options being discussed for how/when it might be carried out for maximum effect! We got away at 12.30 a.m, driving back to Madison in light snow.

Sunday 11 March

Woke up very tired after another very late night (poor old thing that I am!), packed, and on this cold but sunny day was on the 1.15pm bus out of Madison for O’Hare. Pleased to say that my return travel was uneventful, though of course I’d had the fun and games on the outward journey. The overnight flight to Amsterdam was long and I got no sleep L At least having an empty seat next to me made the 8 hr flight a little better, plus Kai was heading back to Germany on the same flight, so we got to spend some time talking before, during, and after the flight. Had to kill 3.5 hrs at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport before catching my flight home to Leeds. It was a pleasant surprise that my flight got in a few minutes early, my case arrived safely onto the conveyor belt, and I caught the lunchtime bus back to Leeds centre. I was due to go straight into work, but to be honest I was just too exhausted. Instead I took a taxi home, unpascked, and was in bed by 5pm!!

As ever, an interesting and totally worthwhile trip, despite the snow and usual travel problems. And as ever, some thanks are due… To Rhia, for the use of her car, driving, and everything else; to Ron for organising the Milwaukee show arrangements; to Carla for her continuing kindness; to Rick, Bun E, Robin and Tom for the great shows and for putting up with seeing me yet again!; to CT’s crew for being cool ; and particular thanks to Bun E for the interview. And last but not least, thanks to all the cool friends I travelled with and met along the way! Too many to list, but you know who you are! The pleasure was mine!

Kim Gisborne, 15 March 2000+1


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