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Music Coverage from Hostile Territory

September 30, 2009 - Jim Price
In the history of news reporting, journalists have risked their lives to get news by venturing behind enemy lines during times of war.

On Thursday night, Sept. 10, as a devout Steelers fan, I ventured into the heart of hostile territory – Ravens country – to cover a concert event.

That event was the “Stimulate This” Tour, featuring Shinedown, Halestorm, Cavo and Tantric.  Held in conjunction with “Countdown to Kickoff,” a kickoff party and pep rally for the Baltimore Ravens, this free concert took place at Power Plant Live, an outdoor plaza and entertainment area located in downtown Baltimore’s Inner Harbor area. 

My four cohorts and I arrived early for the concert, and soon found ourselves immersed in a sea of purple in front of the stage, as Ravens fans arrived en masse for the festivities.  We were careful not to divulge our NFL loyalties, lest we subject ourselves to a night of taunts and abuse, especially after the locals got their beer buzzes on.  We did see a Washington Redskins fan who showed up wearing his team’s colors; he appeared to fare well through the event…But then again, his team wasn’t a divisional rival that thwarted the hometown favorites’ quest to play in Super Bowl XLIII earlier this year.

At the stroke of 5 p.m., one of the morning show announcers from Ravens flagship and local rock station 98 Rock emerged on stage to fire up the growing crowd, and triggered a cacophony of boos and “Steelers suck!” chants when he asked if the Ravens were going to boot the Black-and-Gold’s posteriors during the upcoming season.  Six rows back from front and center of the stage, my cohorts and I remained calm.  After triggering several spirited scrums among the crowd with free station T-shirt tosses, the announcer introduced Tantric.

Formed by former members of Days Of The New, Tantric displayed a similar, though harder-edged, 90’s alternative rock sound as they did popular singles like “Breakdown” and “Down and Out,” “Mind Control,” “Falling Away” and more. An interesting component of their current presentation is electric violinist Marcus Ratzenboeck, who gave their sound a unique dynamic.

Next was St. Louis foursome Cavo, who played a fiery brand of melody-geared hard rock. The group showcased songs from their major-label debut CD Bright Nights Dark Days, and capped their charged set with their popular current radio hit “Champagne.”

At this point, an hour-plus intermission between bands took place, as the Ravens took the spotlight during a local television station’s live broadcast of “Countdown to Kickoff.”  The Baltimore Ravens’ broadcast team hosted the show, which featured appearances by several Baltimore Ravens players (including Ray Rice), the team’s cheerleaders and Shinedown.

Shortly after the telecast ended, Halestorm took the stage and lit up the Baltimore audience with a powerful set, performing tunes off their self-titled Atlantic Records studio debut CD. Lead lady Lzzy Hale’s voice is a serious threat to become the eighth wonder of the world; she awed the crowd with her vast vocal firepower and range. She, brother Arejay Hale on drums, guitarist Joe Hottinger and bassist Josh Smith did numerous songs from the CD such as the leadoff “It’s Not You,” “Dirty Work,” “Innocence,” “Bet U Wish U Had Me Back,” “Nothing to Do With Love” and more; capped with their current national radio hit “I Get Off.” An additional highlight of Halestorm’s set was Arejay’s drum solo display, which evolved into a full band drum circle. (Thanks to soundman Shawn Hocherl who advised Lzzy that I was six rows back from the front of the stage, she gave me a public shout-out during the middle of Halestorm’s set!)

Headliners Shinedown then slammed the lid on the night with an excellent performance, as they celebrated their best-known songs and hits. The group set the tone early, launching their set with the rowdy “Sound of Madness,” and continuing with such favorites as “Save Me,” “45,” “Fly from the Inside,” “Call Me” and more. Lead singer Brent Smith took control early, displaying commanding stage presence as he rallied the fans before each song. At the height of his power, he successfully prompted the members of this huge crowd to turn to the folks next to them and greet and shake hands. Brent, guitarist Zach Myers, bassist Eric Bass and drummer Barry Kerch propelled the show through hard-rocking zeniths and tranquil acoustic-geared moments, with the crowd riding the edge for all of it. When the audience demanded the encore, Shinedown responded with their huge hit “Second Chance” and “Devour” to close the night.

And although this was a night for Baltimore to celebrate their team, the small Altoona contingent of Steeler fans got the last laugh on the night.  Following the television show portion of the evening, the Steelers-Titans game was shown on the jumbotron next to the stage.  Shortly after the concert concluded, we quietly snickered as Jeff Reed kicked the game-winning field goal to win the game for the Black and Gold, giving them a quick half-game lead in the division over the Ravens, Browns and Bengals.  (Obviously that divisional lead didn’t last.)

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Marcus Ratzenboeck of Tantric.


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