Finding out that KISS was finally looking for "the Best KISS Tribute Band In The World" came to our attention on a Friday night in January of 2012. I had just arrived home from work and within a matter of moments our lives would be changed forever. Of course everyone in the band looked to me to tell them that we were going to enter the contest to begin with. To be honest, from the moment that I found out about it something within me stirred and lit a fire that I knew that I could not put out. By the end of that evening the entire band was on board and preparations were under way to leave for Las Vegas.
Now to some that may seem like a very presumptuous attitude to take but we felt that we really did have a shot.
Sure there were mixed emotions about it too but we were focused on what we wanted and knew there was no living with ourselves if we didn't try.
Almost immediately message boards around the world were buzzing with opinions. This band is the best. No...that band is the best. As is always the case we stayed very far away from the epicenter of that controversy and focused on what we felt were the key elements in giving this our best effort. First we needed to complete a video to submit. That task fell on Andrew. For the next week Andrew worked on piecing together footage from our January performance at the Akron Civic Theater with additional footage from our Little River Casino show in October. Once completed we all viewed the finished product and it was sent off for submission into the contest. Over 200 KISS Tribute bands from around the world entered the contest. Members of KISS and their organization narrowed that list down to what they felt were the top 20 submissions. From there fan voting would be conducted over a two day period to find the final four. Collectively we exhausted our resources to gain as many votes as we could. I'm not sure if we got the best sleep possible leading up to the 3 PM post on Kissonline that Wednesday afternoon but when we saw our name the deprivation was well worth it.
We were in! Now considered to be one of the four best in the world our work was just beginning. Rehearsals began that very week to prepare for our performance. The burning question between us was which songs would we want to perform. So many to choose from yet they had to do the trick. We approached it this way. Which songs did we perform well. Were we utilizing our strengths with each song? Were they fun and could we convey the best representation of KISS for the fans with each one. After the smoke cleared we had decided upon "Modern Day Delilah", "Deuce", "Makin' Love" and "Black Diamond". Rehearsals continued at a fevered pitch for the next two weeks...we even doubled up on them to prepare as best we could. Flights were scheduled, bags were packed and guitars were tuned...look out Las Vegas.
After touching down on Saturday evening we were soon engulfed beneath the glitz and glamour of the nightlife that never sleeps. But we didn't have time to take in any of the sights as we had an 8 PM meeting with the organizers from Monster Mini-Golf at the Hard Rock Casino. There we met all of the other bands. First, it was Rock and Roll Over from Texas. Then the guys from Kissteria in Australia. Lastly, we met the band that we thought would be our best competition, Kiss Forever from Budapest, Hungary. Once everyone was gathered the details of the following day began unravelling. We had a basic plan in our heads as to how we thought things would go but Christina from Monster Mini-Golf had other ideas. As everything was laid out for us the one question that was prevalent on everyone's mind was in which order would the bands perform. This was decided by a random drawing. All four bands names were written on to bright orange index cards. A member of the Las Vegas KISS tribute Las Vegas KISS would draw the four cards in succession. Whoever's card was drawn first would have the choice of performing in whichever slot they chose. As his hand reached for the first card I channeled everything that I could into that moment and then I heard the two words that I had been longing to hear...MR.SPEED! Before our name was even read aloud I proclaimed "First"! I had envisioned us going on first out of the four bands and it came true. I wanted to set the bar and put the pressure on the other bands to have to beat us. When our name was read it felt as if all of the air had been sucked out of the room. I think the other bands wanted to perform first as well. Well, good things come to those who wait. The rest of the details were ironed out with one glaring change. We were asked to be in costume and ready to go at 9:30 AM the next day. At first we were a little shell shocked by the news but it turned out to be one of the most memorable moments of the two days. All of the bands were being taken to the famous Las Vegas sign for photo opportunities at 10 AM. We were stoked!
On Sunday morning we arrived first at the Hard Rock Casino. There we met Erik Kabik, a well known local photographer who would be shooting the event at the Las Vegas sign. One by one the other bands arrived and we greeted each other with a restrained enthusiasm. Now these were the bands that were standing in the way of us living out our dream. I exercised a bit of trepidation for quite a while remaining focused on the task at hand. Once on board the bus with the other bands and heading towards our destination a sense of relaxation sort of fell over all of us. We began laughing and joking and there was even quite a bit of air drumming going on to the songs spilling out of the speakers. We pulled up to the Vegas sign which sits right next to McCarren Field. For those of you that are fans of the movie "Oceans 11" this was referenced in that movie as I'm sure in many others. To anyone on the outside this must have appeared like a scene out of a science fiction movie when the doors of the bus opened. One by one the members of each band stepped off of the bus. Cars began beeping their horns as we strode along the sidewalk up to the sign. There a large group of tourists were already capturing their moments in time beneath the metal giant but that all came to a screeching halt with our arrival. At first, all of the bands were assembled for one group photo. All of the "Gene's" stood together and the "Paul's" and so on. After the group shots each band took a turn. The sun was warm and the glare was bright and the memory of that experience will linger with me for quite some time. Soon it was back on to the bus and the return trip to the Hard Rock.
Back at the Hard Rock everyone entered the building in disarray, not really sure what was to happen next. The stage and the lighting were still being installed. We were told that each band would have their own dressing room but what ended up happening was that we all shared one common room together. This would be pivotal as the afternoon wore on. So everyone seemed to take a little time to do their own thing, grab a bite, set up their things in the dressing room or just plain hang out. What we did know is that nothing was going to happen until at least 2 PM and it was only a little after 11 AM. As fate would have it out of the four bands we were the only ones that were granted a sound check prior to our performance. Now this is important to note especially when you're playing through someone else's equipment. Once the green light was given we played through "Crazy, Crazy Nights" and "Let Me Go, Rock And Roll". I was very unhappy with the sound of the amp that I was using. Not to mention that it was on the opposite side of the stage that I am used to. The rest of the guys seemed more at ease with their gear but my mind was rattled. As we entered the dressing I was not feeling good about things and made it known to the rest of the band. Eventually Joe and I would step aside and discuss my dilemma to which we made a decision that in my mind effected the outcome of our performance...for the better. The atmosphere in the room was very loose. Almost too loose. As 2 PM approached we started to feel a little more anxious about what was about to happen. As it turned out we wouldn't go on until almost 2:30 PM and it couldn't have come soon enough. I was completely ready to go and performing in the middle of the day is extremely unusual for us but this was no ordinary day.
They announced our name and we climbed the stairs to the stage. A few minutes would pass while we got our instruments ready and took our places to begin. So many things flashed through my mind and I remembered what Jim Neff had told us in an email prior to our leaving on this trip. He said "don't over think your performance. Let the other bands do that. Just go out there and be yourselves...be the best MR.SPEED that you can be". Andrew attacked his snare drum with the beginning of "Modern Day Delilah" and there was no turning back. I was aware that the crowd was cheering us on and we all did our best to show them what we're capable of. To be honest I was acutely more aware that Tommy Thayer was watching us more than anyone else. We had four songs to hit the audience between the eyes with and those four songs went by in the blink of an eye. As the last few notes of "Black Diamond" permeated the Vegas air I felt that we had done exactly what we set out to do, maybe even a little more. Emotions were running high as we made our way back into the dressing room where the other three bands were waiting...watching...listening to what we had just done. Now we could do nothing more than wait. It would be hours until the winner would be revealed and so we settled into the dressing room and listened to all of the other bands. As I mentioned earlier the fact that we shared the same dressing room made it possible for us to get to know each other a little better. The comraderie that we formed is the one thing that I will never forget from that day. At any one time you could find multiple members from each of the bands sitting together sharing stories, likes, dislikes, opinions and whatever else we felt like discussing. I particularly enjoyed hearing about the drummer from Kissteria telling me how he saw KISS there in 1980. He was 10! It was interesting to discover that there could be four KISS tribute bands in one place that weren't at each other's throats. We really did enjoy the company of each of the other bands but we found that we had the most in common with the KISS Forever band from Hungary. Something just clicked and we could feel it. The afternoon wore on and the competition came to an end. It was time to judge a winner.
In my opinion there are a few moments that really define who you are and some of them even take your breathe away. When they come around I'm not sure that you can totally prepare for them. Maybe the surprise of them to begin with is what makes them so special. One of those moments was about to happen to us. As they gathered the four bands at the side of the stage I can honestly say that anxiety had begun to set in. What if we didn't win? How would I still feel after everything that we had been through that day and leading up to it. The judging had needed a little extra time or so we were told and time seemed to be standing still. As we waited for the announcement the four of us took each others hands and held tight. Being guys this isn't always the easiest thing for us to do but again this was no ordinary event so we sucked it up. When the announcement was finally read aloud..."the 2012 best KISS tribute is...MR.SPEED" I was elated! I pretty much wear my heart on my sleeve and I was overcome with emotion. So many thoughts were running through my mind. I'm not sure what the other guys were feeling but I was overcome with feelings of happiness, sadness, love, hate and an exhausted satisfaction. I looked at Tommy and he looked at me. It was genuine. The fans were cheering for us. The other bands were gracious and congratulating us. People were taking our pictures and wanting to talk to us. It was chaos to say the least but I welcomed every second of it. I remember retreating to the dressing room just to have a moment by myself, I wanted to enjoy it on my own. I felt that I owed it to myself. We all handled the news in our own little way and then made our way back out to the stage area. By this time things had started to calm down a bit. We met up with Tommy for our meet and greet portion of the day which was very special to each of us. He was very complimentary and shared his opinion with us as to why he felt we had an edge over the other bands. We posed for a few photos and I even had him sign the note that announced us as the winner. Before much longer we were collecting our things and heading back to our hotel. Our moment had arrived and it was time to celebrate. We decided to cross the parking lot and have dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. Upon entering we realized that the KISS Forever band was already there. So we asked to be seated near them to share our celebration. During the course of the meal two members from their entourage left the restaurant only to return moments later. They had gone to a local liquor store and presented us with two bottles of champagne. We were extremely touched by their generosity and in return we purchased a round of drinks for their entire table. It was just another example of the comraderie that was shared between the two bands that day. One thing that was never mentioned was that I had knee surgery on the 13th of January but there was no way that anything was going to keep me from reaching my dream. I am thrilled to say that this dream was worth waking up for.
In the end I was very proud to be on stage with Joe, Andrew and Danny that day. We rose to the occasion and did what I'm sure many people thought we couldn't do but more people thought we could. We competed against three other bands from around the world and won. More importantly we competed against every demon that ever tried to tell us to grow up, cut our hair, take the posters off of our walls, listen to a better band and on and on and on. When KISS finally wanted all of the KISS tribute bands in the world to put up or shut up one tribute band rose above all of them and made history. Our page in history can never be taken away from us. They thought they were the best...they're not, we are.
MR.SPEED Exclusive! Here are our opening 2 songs from our performance at
Mr.Speed and Tommy Thayer|
01.30.2012 | MrSpeedOnline.com
After winning our title of "The World's Best KISS Tribute Band" we were also granted some time to meet with Tommy Thayer one on one. Tommy congratulated us on our win and complimented us on the dynamics of our performance that he felt gave us and edge. We wanted to share some of our excitement with all of you.