As the lights inside the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton, N.Y., went down for the fourth time shortly after 10 p.m. on May 13, those still inside the building roared excitedly for the action to come.
The crowd had already witnessed sets from such hard-rocking bands as St. Louis' Brookroyal, the Pennsylvania-based Halestorm and Springfield's own Staind. Now, as the gathered throng gazed anxiously at a large white veil covering the stage, a security guard standing to my right leaned over to one of his comrades and uttered perhaps the most prophetic words of the evening.
"Shit's about to get crazy," he said.
Suddenly, an ominous bass sound began rumbling out of the venue's public address system, and I could feel the wall at my back begin to vibrate with the force of the music. Then the white veil dropped and the Lawrence, Mass., natives of Godsmack burst into view playing the strains of their hit 2000 song "Awake."
"I'm alive. For you, / I'm awake. Because of you,/ I'm alive. I told you,/ I'm awake swallowing you alive."
While the energy in the room picked up noticeably as those words echoed throughout the arena, the level of sanity luckily did not reach the extreme outcome predicted by security. Instead, the crowd responded like a group of seasoned marathon runners kicking into the home stretch. Since Godsmack was the last act on the bill, the audience fed off the band's energy as part of a frantic sprint to the finish line. And to their credit, the members of Godsmack responded. You see, such reciprocation between the musicians and their listeners was the goal all along.
Weeks earlier, during a conference call to promote the launch of the aptly titled Mass Chaos Tour, Godsmack singer Sully Erna cited the event as an opportunity to put on a show strictly for the fans.
With no new studio album to promote, just the band's first live release Live and Inspired, he said, "I think we just have the mentality of going out for, like, kind of the greatest hits tour, rather than supporting new music. We're just going to put together a really fun set. Obviously we'll have the drum battle that me and [drummer] Shannon [Larkin] do, and we're just going to try to put together the best songs we can, the most energetic songs that we can, and stuff that we feel is going to be the most interactive for the audience. This is actually kind of a vacation for us a lot, in the sense there's no real hard work behind prepping for a new record and all that stuff. This is [a moment to] kind of just let loose and have fun with it."
Staind guitarist Mike Mushok agreed with Erna's sentiments. Though his band is currently touring behind the release of a new self-titled record, he noted that anything extra artists can do to give back to those people who support them is the right thing to do, especially during an economic downturn.
"I think in this economy it's tough for people to have extra money to be able to go to a show. It's kind of like a little bit of a luxury. So, I mean, the more bang for the buck you can give them, I think the more likely chance you have of getting people there and, hopefully, giving them the most value for their dollar," he said. "That was really the idea for us. We had this record, and we were looking for who we could play with and [the name] Godsmack came up. We were like, 'That would be fantastic if those guys wanted to do it.' So, we went and were able to put it together."
Still, for a tour featuring two of Massachusetts' most successful hard rock acts, the Mass Chaos Tour sure could have used a lesson in geography. Despite criss-crossing the country for several weeks this spring, not a single date was scheduled in Staind and Godsmack's home state of Massachusetts, a fact that not even the bands were aware of until informed during a recent interview.
Mushok said, "The tour was booked the way that it was. It would be cool to do a Massachusetts show together, absolutely, maybe later on down the road. I mean, I know there's talk about trying to do something more a little bit later in the year, so maybe we'll see if we can put that together."
In the meantime, lucky audiences in other states can enjoy a solid bill that, top to bottom, is filled with exciting artists capable of riling up a crowd and bringing down the house with their music.
To start with, Godsmack and Staind alone have combined to sell more than 35 million records over the last 17 years. And as the third name on the program, Halestorm is enjoying a hot run of success thanks to the key placement of its music on television programs like Glee and the recent release of its sophomore album The Strange Case of..., which debuted on the Billboard Top 20 chart last month.
"All three bands are strong," Erna said. "The whole line-up is great. Any single one of these bands could go on first, second or third; it wouldn't matter. I mean, the whole package is really strong, and I'm really excited about it."
Halestorm vocalist Lizzy Hale, the lone woman on a testosterone-heavy bill, also appeared excited about the prospect of playing alongside some bands that she truly admires.
During the conference call she said, "I freaking love being a girl on an all-guy bill. I mean, it's great. You feel like a little sister in rock almost. You've got these big brothers around you. You learn a helluva lot and you stick out your thumb and, I don't know. I love it."
Hale's own brother Arejay plays drums for Halestorm, bringing energetic stick-pounding plus a wild-man stage presence, and as anyone who witnessed the pair's recent appearance at the Broome County Arena can attest, the duo thrive when they're in the spotlight. aDuring a Mother's Day show, they acknowledged who is responsible for their success. "My parents were both obviously crazy," the female Hale said during a pause in the show. "When my brother and I said we wanted to start a band, they said, 'Go do what you love.' They supported us and we wouldn't be here today without them."
In the same way, Staind and Godsmack wouldn't have careers without the long-standing support they've received from fans in Massachusetts and beyond.
"Obviously, I think all three of us [Mushok, Erna, and Hale] know that if it wasn't for the fans, we wouldn't be here," Mushok said, "They allow us to do this. They're the ones that buy a ticket, come to the show, support the bands, and, I mean, that's why we're still around. We do our best to write the best music we can. I know Lizzy and Sully do also. And you try to put out the best product that you can, and you hope that people like it and want to listen to it and be a part of it. So, we've been fortunate so far and, hopefully, we can continue."
While introducing perhaps his group's biggest hit, "It's Been Awhile," during Staind's stop in Binghamton, singer Aaron Lewis said, "I wrote this song 18 years ago, before anyone cared."
To hear Lewis' words sung back to him by thousands of admiring fans, it was readily apparent that there are many out there who care now and will continue to do so for years to come. In fact, if Erna has his way, maybe the fans will even get to completely take over the show from the bands one day, in order to make the experience as complete as humanly possible.
"I think we're going to let the fans actually play the shows. I'm just going to be a lazy boy on the side actually and watch them play," he said. "I love that idea. I think we should find fans that look like every band and just have one night where we kick back in lawn chairs and watch them go."
"It would be very cool to just sit down and drink," said Mushok.