By Brent Michael, Rock At Night Tampa Correspondent
Venue: Quaker Steak & Lube, Clearwater, Florida, February 9-11, 2018
Event: 20th Annual Bike Builder Invitational Motorcycle Expo
Okay you’re probably thinking, “WTF does a Motorcycle Expo have to do with Music?” The Answer: PLENTY! With apologies to Loggins and Messina, not everyone has beaucoup bucks to drop on individual concerts at $100 a pop or more, plus parking, for three nights in a row. So how does one rock out on a budget, especially if you’re into classic 1970s/1980s rock? Your best bet is scanning the pages of your local motorcycle magazine. Chances are good if you live anywhere in the USA there are several. In Southern Florida the two big dogs are Full Throttle and Born to Ride, both with a long track record of sponsoring music and motorcycle events. In the past, I’ve seen national acts like Paul Rodgers (of Bad Company), Bret Michaels, Vince Neil, Joan Jett, Blackberry Smoke, David Allan Coe, Alabama, Foghat, Molly Hatchet, Black Oak Arkansas, L.A. Guns, Jackyl, Blur, and more at motorcycle events.
A few notes: If your impression of bikers comes from TV and movies, forget that nonsense! From Marlon Brando to Then Came Bronson to Sons of Anarchy, Hollywood has profited greatly by focusing on the “one-percenters,” gangs and clubs known for outrageous activities and criminal enterprises. Those groups are more like half a percent now; with Harley Big Twin prices starting over $10,000 and reaching $30K plus from the showroom floor, you’ll find more doctors (my podiatrist rides a Harley) or lawyers or other professionals on bikes these days than outlaws. Sure, they still exist, but as one member of Florida’s Outlaws once told me, “If we did even ten percent of the crap the pull on Sons of Anarchy, we’d all be in jail!”
So be polite and you can enjoy great music on the cheap! For this weekend, I headed over to the Expo on Friday after work to hear Warrant, best known for their hits “Cherry Pie,” “Heaven,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” “Dirty Rotten Stinking Filthy Rich,” “Down Boys,” “Dog Eat Dog,” and more, all of which were played Friday night. Formed in 1984, the band has gone through many line-up changes, the death of the former lead singer, and now includes three original members: Erik Turner – rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica; Jerry Dixon – bass guitar, backing vocals; Steven Sweet – drums, percussion, backing vocals, harmonica; longtime member Joey Allen – lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals, acoustic guitar, banjo, harmonica, talk box; and Robert Mason – lead vocals, acoustic guitar, formerly of Lynch Mob, Cry of Love, and Ozzy, who replaced the former singer in 2008. These guys are still rocking hard and still coming up with new material – and playing at a festival that you can attend free! Oh, and there’s another advantage: Food and drink on-site, good food, reasonably priced, you can relax between acts in air conditioning or under shade – and with VIP, you can eat and drink free!
Saturday’s headliner was Lita Ford, formerly of the Runaways (who brought you “Cherry Bomb, on the set list Saturday) and also known for her solo career’s hits, “Kiss Me Deadly,” “Only Women Bleed,” “Close My Eyes Forever” (duet with Ozzy Osbourne), “Back to the Cave,” and “”Falling in and Out of Love,” all of which were played Saturday night. In 2013, Lita was awarded by Guitar Player Magazine The Certified Guitar Legend Award, solidifying her claim as the original female heavy-metal guitarist. As she said in 2009 when asked about her new material, “I just wanted to kick ass! I don’t know what’s popular, or the flavor of the day. I just wanted the music to rock! The lyrics are very personal and that’s it. I wasn’t going to come out in sandals with hairy armpits!”
And she did! Backed by a trio of pros that included Patrick Kennison on guitar (co-founded The Union Underground who played on Ozzfest 2001 and released an album An Education in Rebellion which sold 350,000 copies), Bobby Rock on drums (an accomplished performer and studio drummer, he has worked with a diverse roster of artists, including ex-Kiss guitarist’s Vinnie Vincent Invasion, funk-rock pioneers Rare Earth, the multi-platinum Nelson and Slaughter, Alcatrazz feat. Graham Bonnet, Gary Hoey, the Stu Hamm Band, Nitro, Hardline, Carnival of Souls, Monster Circus (feat. Dee Snider), guitar heroes Brett Garsed, T.J. Helmerich, Neil Zaza, Michael Angelo Batio, Bob Kulick, Bruce Kulick, funk bass phenoms Carl Carter and Bill “The Buddha” Dickens, and all-star rockers Scrap Metal, and Marty O’Brien on bass (credits include tours with bands such as Disturbed, Tommy Lee, Static-X, Methods of Mayhem, Lita Ford, and many others. He has performed on three different Ozzfest tours, each time with a different band (Ozzfest’s 1998, 2000, 2002). Also a busy session-bassist, most of this work taking place in his current home base of Los Angeles, O’Brien has recorded with numerous artists such as Celine Dion, Chris Cornell, Brian McKnight, Tommy Lee, Lindsay Lohan, Gus G., Lita Ford and Kelly Clarkson; the latter includes the number one single, Because of You from the Grammy award-winning album titled Breakaway.) Literally an all-star band!
Sunday’s headliner was another international act, though based in Tampa Bay: Robby Steinhardt and Stormbringer. Robby originated the role of rock violinist with a little band named for the state it came from: Kansas! During the two-part show, Stormbringer took the stage alone and revved up the crowd with hits from the ’70s and ’80s that most bands won’t even try: “Highway Star,” “The Final Countdown,” “The Wall,” and “Long Time,” (to name a few) with singer John Vasalakis nailing those high notes as easily as most people walk, John Zahner mastering the keyboards and at times being a contortionist, Rick Moon laying out the licks in tasteful arrangement, Eddie Pecchio keeping the bass line in line, and Dana Newcomer slapping those skins like a game of Whack-A-Mole!
After a short break, Robby Joined them onstage to form Robby Steinhardt and the Music of Kansas, performing many of their big hits, including “Dust In The Wind,” and “Carry On Wayward Son,” two must-plays at any show including the music of Kansas!
But there’s more! Top regional acts apply every year to get on the roster, and this year it included Maiden Cane, the Black Honkeys, Den of Thieves, Jasmine Cain, the Greg Billings Band, and a few other entertaining events: Beer Drinking Competition, Wing Eating Contest, Miss Full Throttle Bikini Contest, the Bike Builder Invitational and Ride-In Bike Show Awards! Oh, and plenty of vendors, with everything from jewelry to clothing, bike accessories, and even a law firm and financial adviser! (Special thanks to my good friend and event sponsor Michelle Osborne, who upgraded my photo pass to VIP!)