By Adam Waldman
History was made 50 years ago this weekend in a little town called Bethel in New York’s Catskill Mountains. What started out as a simple music festival turned into a chaotic event that brought the town to a standstill. Over 400,000 people crowded onto the land owned by Max Yasgur. The country road leading to the destination became a parking lot as people abandoned their cars and walked the rest of the way.
Some look back on Woodstock merely as a part of music history, but that moment in time is just as important in American history. During a time of turmoil, a chaotic music festival brought like-minded people together in harmony. Food was scarce, but the surrounding community pitched in to help. Rain poured down heavy, muddying the fields, but it didn’t dampen the spirit of those in attendance.
You might be wondering what this has to do with Alice Cooper, Halestorm, and Motionless In White. More than you realize…
In 2008, the setting for Woodstock became an incredible venue called Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. Since its opening, the summer concert schedule has continued to grow. For rock fans, most of the acts fell squarely into the Classic Rock category.
Perhaps it was all of the attention that the 50th anniversary of Woodstock has generated over the past year or so, but for the first time ever, a true metal show took place on these hallowed grounds. And it was glorious!
It’s fitting that the first metal show at Bethel Woods featured Alice Cooper as a headliner. His debut album came out just a few months before Woodstock took place in 1969. His history and legacy would suggest that he is a Classic Rock artist, but he is more than that. Known as much for his shocking theatrical persona and macabre stage show, Alice Cooper is what metal is all about. The only thing as cool as Cooper on this night was the unseasonably chilly weather.
Before darkness fell upon the Bethel sky, Motionless In White warmed up the crowd with a mixture of metal intensity and self-deprecating humor. Knowing that their set had four songs remaining, Chris Motionless suggested that it was a good time to go for a beer run. He estimated that it would take two songs to get to the concession stand and back, and that a few beers would make the last two songs even more enjoyable.
Halestorm provided the perfect bridge between Motionless In White’s pure modern rock sound and Alice Cooper’s metallic Classic Rock. It didn’t take long for Lzzy Hale to showcase her stunning vocals, opening the set with a powerful a capella intro. Halestorm is unapologetic about their love of ‘80s hard rock and metal, and it shows in their sound and stage presence.
A half century ago, Janis Joplin graced the stage at Woodstock in a performance for the ages. On this cool summer night, it felt like her spirit was being channeled by Hale, whose vocal style can best be described as the lovechild of Joplin, Pat Benatar, and Sebastian Bach. The tendency is to point out that Hale is arguably the preeminent female vocalist in rock today, but the truth is that her standing shouldn’t be judged by gender. Plain and simple, she is a badass rocker with the same decadent mindset that was prevalent in the ‘80s.
In the era of the #MeToo movement, one of the things that seems to have been lost in the mix is that it is perfectly acceptable for women to embrace their sexuality. Hale does so as much as anyone. The only thing that could possibly make her overt sexual lyrics a bit awkward is the fact that she is oozing sensuality with her brother Arejay on the drum kit behind her.
Lzzy shared a story about how she has always been a bit weird, and encouraged those in attendance to embrace their own eccentricities. Little did she know then, but her moment of self-actualization foreshadowed the realization of a dream that she could never have possibly imagined coming true. When attending a slumber party at the age of 11, Lzzy brought with her an Alice Cooper album. Who could have ever imagined that the two would be sharing the stage in a place steeped in musical history many years later?
Speaking of history…
In June of 1986, the school bell rang for the last time of the year. The last time forever for me. I hopped into my red Camaro, and turned the ignition key. The engine roared. I popped the cassette into the tape deck, which was already cued up to Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.” Like the end of a Hollywood movie, I exited the parking lot with the song blaring on my Blaupunkt stereo. With the windows open, everyone in earshot heard…
That moment is as clear in my mind today as it was over three decades ago. Yet somehow, through the years, I never had the good fortune to see Alice Cooper in concert. Had I missed the opportunity to see him in his prime? In a word…NO!
The curtain bearing Alice Cooper’s eyes (adorned with his signature black make-up) dropped and was carried away by helmeted henchmen. Torches blazed on the castle on stage. A wall of sound emerged with a three-guitar attack and monstrous rhythm section as the band launched into “Feed My Frankenstein.” Cooper himself seemed frozen in time like some heavy metal Dick Clark. The signature hat and makeup. The masterful cane twirling. The distinct sinister gravel of his vocals. It was everything that I hoped for (and then some).
The juxtaposition of theatrical macabre taking place on the land of peace and love was not lost on me. Nor was the history of the moment. It wasn’t Woodstock, nor was it part of the 50th anniversary celebration, but for a lifelong metalhead, seeing a show like this at Bethel Woods is a moment that I won’t soon forget.
It’s safe to say that no other show at Bethel Woods has featured an enormous tattooed baby strutting across the stage, or a singer chained up in a straightjacket, and then having his head severed by a gigantic guillotine.
Standing out in a band fronted by a rock and roll legend is challenging enough before you factor in theatrics and the unusual presence of three guitarists. But Nita Strauss did just that throughout the evening. Her looks and tight black pants certainly drew your eye, but it was her absolutely fierce guitar playing that mesmerized most.
From the hits to the deeper cuts, experiencing Alice Cooper live was even better than I hoped it would be. It was more than a concert. It was a throwback to yesteryear when stage shows were as important as the music.
Leave it to Alice Cooper to take an already bombastic show and put it over the top by adding a fourth guitarist to close the show with “School’s Out.” The guitarist, none other than the erstwhile 11-year old girl who brought an Alice Cooper album to a slumber party. The dream fully realized as Lzzy Hale played and sang along with Cooper’s most popular song. Monolithic colorful beach balls filled with confetti dropped into the audience. When they reached the stage after bouncing through the crowd, Cooper slashed them with his sword. Amidst the chaos, the band seamlessly transitioned briefly into bits of “Another Brick In The Wall” before finishing with the crowd chanting in unison…
“SCHOOL’S OUT FOREVER!”
Hopefully, Alice Cooper’s show set the stage for more metal acts to follow in the years to come.