The Dictators’ Kentucky Tour, May 10-11, 2002
Another year, another Dictators-related road trip, this time to the land of the Kentucky Derby, Muhammad Ali, mint juleps, Fort Knox and the Louisville Slugger.
As soon as Salvi arrived at Midway early Friday, we hit the road toward the glorious bluegrass of Kentucky, by way of Cincy, home of our future RTB friend, Dawnowar. Passing Riverfront Stadium (we shoulda caught a few innings), and it’s still-under-construction replacement, crossing the Ohio, into sleepy Newport, Kentucky, home of the Southgate House, site of the Dictators’ first-ever Kentucky gig.
The Southgate House is on my shortlist of cool rock venues. A huge mansion near the river, a bar & restaurant upstairs, and in the basement, a ballroom/concert hall that had served as the birthplace of the Thompson Submachine Gun (see Al Capone). Tables and chairs surrounded a dance floor, great sound, good sightlines and cold, cheap beer.
Cincinnati band Thee Shams opened with a tough set. The Dictators took the stage, clawing through a 19-song, 76-minute set — heavy on “D.F.F.D.” — with HDM proclaiming, “We can’t curse tomorrow night, so we’re gonna curse a lot tonight.” (He did). At one point a tipsy, short-shorts-wearing Kentucky woman hip-checked our table, sending my old film Kodak flying, never to take another picture. But like a bat broken delivering a game-winning hit, it died happy. The Dictators’ set flew by in a blur, it wasn’t until we later listened to Sal’s tape that we realized just how fierce that set was. The weekend was off to a kickazz start.
We adjourned to the local White Castle for our post-gig chowdown, hoping our heroes would grace the place, but soon headed back to the room. Bright and surly Saturday, as we went to check out, we bumped into a very chipper Thunderbolt Patterson, hanging around CJ’s red van & equipment trailer. We yakked for a while, J.P. being very impressed with my Illinois DFFD 1 license plates, and promised to meet up at the next stop, the Owensboro, Kentucky BBQ Fest, later in the day.
A few weeks earlier, not being able to find much about the BBQ Fest on line, I’d called 97X-FM, “Owensboro’s Best Rock.” I spoke at length with a station rep, who told me excitedly that the Dictators would play for “up to 10,000 people” at the fest. 2001’s headliners, Jackyll, he claimed, had drawn a huge, enthusiastic crowd, and promised that soon the station would begin hitting “D.F.F.D.” frequently. And, as a bonus, the opening act would be local heroes Atticus Fault (nope, us neither) who’d just released their first MCA album. “The Fault” really had a huge following around Owensboro, he gushed, promising a “rabid crowd” of Atticus Fault fans.
As soon as we checked into our room, we recorded the 97X-FM ad for the concert off the tinny room radio, the very recording that was used as the final track of the “Every Day Is Saturday” comp. (We still patiently await our royalty checks). Packing our antacids and tape recorder, we headed toward the riverfront, in search of BBQ, beer and the Dictators. We began our tour of gluttony from the east end, starting at Larry, Daryl & Daryll’s (!) BBQ, sampling something from most every cart. Except the burgoo, that is, which was rumored to contain parboiled possum parts.
When we’d finally eaten our way to the west end, we spied the snazzy 97X-FM tent, jammed with Dictators (no Scott), CJ, a few sweaty radio types, and several crickets. We were greeted as long-lost brothers, the guys thanking us for traveling so far to see them. We spent quite a while talking about last night’s gig, the Las Vegas Shakedown, baseball and BBQ. Someone suggested the burgoo if we hit the fest again, so as we left to stake our claim by the stage, Sal gamely bought a bowl. Being more of a bon-vivant than I, he eventually proclaimed it “sublime.” I took him at his word.
We found the “stage,” which consisted of two 60-foot flatbed trailers, parked diagonally in the street, a good-sized PA and about 10 lights. The crowd could stand in the street, sit on the curb or sit on the lush lawn of a public building. Uh-oh. Well, Elvis had played on truck beds in his early days, maybe this could be a good career move after all. Not too many folks around, so we planted ourselves in a shady spot on the lawn, watched families and pretty girls go by, and counted the “Jackyll 2001 Tour” T-shirts (I counted 17), all the while downing still more BBQ, plus a tall frosty beverage or three, and waited for the Dictators. An almost perfect way to spend the shank of a lovely May Saturday evening.
Until Atticus Fault took to the stage to face the crowd of maybe 600 people, that is.
After approximately four minutes of Atticus Fault, it became quite apparent that hiding out in one of the many overflowing porta potties would be preferable to listening to these mopes play their Coldplay-lite “rock and roll.” Boring, whiney, sniveling, lightweight, grating, tepid, faceless, gutless drivel, delivered with absolutely no enthusiasm or fire whatsoever. In the singer’s hometown, no less. Led by us, people began fleeing the area in droves, leaving “The Fault” playing to a rabid crowd of about 150 of their biggest fans.
After “The Fault” eventually quit playing, many of us refugees returned to the stage area to catch the Dictators. Unfortunately, just as many did not return, leaving our heroes to hit the stage in front of slightly less than 10,000 … maybe 400 people at best. We felt bad for our guys, who still put out a fierce 18-song set, at times a bit sloppy, but in the end one of the most unusual and memorable gigs we’ve ever seen them play. HDM successfully made it through the set without cursing, We heard there was an in-band bet or two that he couldn’t pull it off, but he did. And he was quite proud of it!
“Dude, those guys completely kicked Jackyll’s ass!”
The crowd, despite its size, seemed to spur the Dictators on, whooping, hollering, cheering, moshing in the street, all while doing all HDM’s cursing for him. When band intro time rolled around, the echo was turned up so HDM could deliver the lineup boxing announcer-style, in the land of Ali, his favorite boxer, funny as hell. When the set ended, after “Blitzkrieg Bop,” the tattooed, mulleted little dude standing next to me slapped me on the back and yelled, “Dude, those guys completely kicked Jackyll’s ass!”
Agreed, my brother in BBQ! Ross set his guitar down, came to the front of the stage, once again thanking Sal & I for making the trip. Nice guy, even on this night.
Behind the trailers, as the band began packing up their gear, greeting some fans, selling a few shirts & CDs, Ross approached us, shaking his head sadly, repeatedly asking, “Is this what rock is coming to?” He told us how disgusted they all were, feeling the promoters and radio people had lied to them (no doubt), and saddled them with an awful opening act on top of it all. All he could say was, “All we can do is play our best.” After the other fans had left, looking around, we saw several long Dictator faces. We bid Ross & J.P. good night ’til next time, wondering (still to this day) if we should drag them to the nearest beer tent for a quaff.
Leaving early Sunday, we soon hit a monsoon in Mellencamp land. As we passed through Terre Haute, I spied an Indiana landmark through the pissing rain, splashing into the rutted parking lot of Square Donuts, home of … you guessed it. A very nice, extremely dentally challenged young woman greeted us warmly, asking what brought us into Square Donuts on such a nasty morning. When we told her we were heading to Chicago so Sal could catch his flight back to Boston, she lit up, obviously impressed by such well-traveled city slickers. “I bet there hasn’t been nobody from those places in here since they executed that Timothy McVeigh at our prison a few years ago! Them reporters kept tellin’ me they were sneakin’ him Square Donuts all the time!” Yup, I’m sure Square Donuts were his last meal request, honey.
As another fun and frolicsome Dictators weekend came to a close, we realized we’d just witnessed the strangest Dictators gig we’d probably ever see. We both sensed something was up, that a change was in the air after the Owensboro BBQ Fest. Sure enough, a few weeks later, Scott Kempner left the band and headed to California. The beginning of the end … or was it?
SOUTHGATE HOUSE, 5/10/2002, Set List – New York, New York/Haircut and Attitude/Master Race Rock/Avenue A/Baby, Let’s Twist/ Savage Beat/Next Big Thing/It’s Alright/Who Will Save Rock and Roll?/Burn Baby Burn/Band Intros/Channel Surfing/What’s Up With That?/The Party Starts Now/Faster & Louder/Sonic Reducer/I Am Right/Stay With Me ENCORE – Pussy and Money/Blitzkrieg Bop
OWENSBORO BBQ FEST, 5/11/2002, Set List – The Party Starts Now/Haircut and Attitude/Master Race Rock/Avenue A/Baby, Let’s Twist/Minnesota Strip/Next Big Thing/It’s Alright/Who Will Save Rock and Roll?/Band Intros/Channel Surfing/What’s Up With That?/New York, New York/Burn Baby Burn/Sonic Reducer/I Am Right/Stay With Me ENCORE – Faster & Louder/Blitzkrieg Bop