Alive In Athens With Iced Earth – Day 9

January 28th, 1999

Everyone got up early for the trip out. Leaving Greece actually seemed to go much smoother than leaving the U.S. A few fans even made it to the airport to see us off. Thankfully we were on Delta for the flight back over the ocean, so it was much nicer this time, although it was still at least 24 hours worth of travel. When we arrived back at Indianapolis, at about 7 P.M., Jimmy went to go bring Jon’s van by to pick up the equipment. It was taking him forever to get back, and finally we learned that the battery was dead. So Larry and Wendi stayed at the airport with the equipment while everyone else went back to Franklin (20 minutes away) so Matt could pick up another truck and go back and get the equipment. Not the greatest ending to the trip, but compared to all the great times we’d had over the previous week, it wasn’t a big deal at all.

Alive In Athens With Iced Earth – Day 8

January 27th, 1999

The next morning everyone got to see a bit of the island, as we walked around looking for a bank to change money at. It’s quite a magical place, it almost doesn’t seem real. I definitely wish I could have seen more of it, but we had to catch the ferry back. This time, everyone was a bit more sober, and some people just slept. Also, it was a nicer day, so we were able to spend more time up on deck. The trip itself is really very nice, you go right by all sorts of islands. I really wish I would have had my camera for it.

We finally arrived back at our hotel that evening (after an hour long cab ride from the ferry), and reality came back to us as Jon and Matt were once again mobbed by the fans. Most of the group that didn’t go with us wasn’t too pleased at us running off like that without much notice, but they seemed to get over it. And they’d had a good time the previous day as well, and seen some stuff that I would have liked to have seen. Apparently they’d also eaten at Ambrosia a couple more times, so we all went there together once more for our final meal in Greece. Once again, they seemed very pleased to see us there, even serving us complimentary lamb’s heads this time around. Yum! Then everyone went to the Plaka to pick up gifts for people back home, and I went back to the hotel and called it a night.

Alive In Athens With Iced Earth – Day 7

January 26th, 1999

…woke up a little more than an hour later, since someone was knocking on our door. It turned out to be Jon. It was 7 A.M., and apparently hardly anyone else had gone to bed at all. As the rest of them had been sitting down in the bar (and drinking more and more), someone came up with the great idea of going out to an island. Somehow they convinced our native Greek tour guides, Stella and Mary, to look at the ferry schedule and see what they could come up with. Thus, Jon Schaffer was standing at my door at 7 A.M., rather drunk, saying “Hey, we’re taking a ferry out to an island, it leaves at 7:30, so if you want to go, you’ve got five minutes to get your shit together!” Of course, I was all for it, so I quickly threw a few things in a bag, and in five minutes was in a cab on the way to the ferry!

A few people were too tired (or maybe not drunk enough) to go, and some others we had to leave behind because we knew they couldn’t get ready in five minutes, so it ended up being me, Jon, his wife Wendi, his dad Tom, Matt, Mike McGill, and Stella and Mary on the six hour ferry ride to Mykonos. We all ran onto this boat with basically no idea where we were going, no idea when (or if) we would be able to come back, no idea if there’d even be places to stay there, and most of us had hardly any Greek money. Finally we managed to be free of all the fans for a little bit, although I was somewhat surprised that I didn’t see a bunch of them jump in the water to swim after the boat! In the words of Mike McGill, “Man, we used to do spontaneous shit like this all time, it rules!” Thus, we found ourselves in the middle of a room on the ferry, surrounded by people quietly reading the morning paper and drinking their coffee, while we quickly made a pile of empty beer cans at our table and made complete asses of ourselves. Since we were being so loud, someone from the boat came by and turned up the TV by us really loud, so a little while later, Jon got up, and since he couldn’t find the volume to turn it down, he just shut the thing off! We soon moved to another area of the boat. Every five or ten minutes, Jon or Matt would spontaneously belt out “STELLA!!!!!” (a la “A Streetcar Named Desire”) as loud as they could, much to the embarrassment of Stella. It was quite a fun time, and actually the guy from the ferry by us seemed to like us, and he even would have played some Iced Earth on the boat if we would have had a cassette. I was also treated to Matt singing wonderful versions of “The Love Boat” and the “Gilligan’s Island” theme.

Eventually, we arrived on Mykonos. Since it was winter, almost everything was shut down, and it took us a little while to find a hotel where they weren’t completely ripping us off. Once there, Tom instantly passed out in his room, so the rest of us just kind of hung out in the hotel bar (once again). Eventually, we made it out of the hotel and walked around looking for a place to eat. We ended up at a Mexican place (well, sort of Mexican), which was sort of cool at first (they played some Black Sabbath for us), but then Jon almost got in a war with them because they wouldn’t take Mastercard. Again we returned to the hotel, where we hung out for a while talking and drinking, and I actually learned a lot about the whole Iced Earth family that I didn’t know. I wanted to see some of the island while I was there, so even though it was night, I went out walking around by myself. It was definitely an interesting place, and quite eerie since everything was closed up. When we finally went to bed that night, we calculated that Stella and Mary had been up for 40 hours straight, and somehow they looked just as good as they always did.

Alive In Athens With Iced Earth – Day 6

January 26th, 1999

This became the day of rest. Not too much happened. The main thing was that we moved to a different hotel. Apparently everyone wasn’t too pleased with the first one, so we went to a new one a few blocks away. Of course, it took all morning and some of the afternoon to get everyone roused out of bed, get checked out, and checked in at our new place. At least it gave the fans there plenty of time to get all the autographs they wanted, although that didn’t mean they didn’t follow us to the new hotel. A group of us discovered a very cool place at dinner that night, it was a very “local” joint called Ambrosia, and basically no one there spoke any English, which always means that it’s the best place to eat. And of course it was. They gave us all sorts of free food too.

When we got back from dinner, almost everyone was just hanging out in the hallway by our hotel rooms, when all of a sudden this crazy masked man explodes out of a room wielding an ax and spraying everyone and everything with a Spiderman web-shooter loaded with Silly String. Of course it turned out to be Brent, pulling out some of his after-tour tricks. Someone from the hotel told us to quiet down because we were laughing so much, but of course we didn’t pay much attention. A little later, we all just headed down to the hotel bar to have some drinks. After being down there a LONG time, I noticed that it was 5:30 A.M., and decided to go up to bed. I fell asleep, and…..

Alive In Athens With Iced Earth – Day 5

January 25th, 1999

I got up the next morning at about 9 or 10, and went down to the lobby. And all the kids were still there! Apparently, many of them had stayed overnight. Unfortunately for them, Jon and Matt had already left to do interviews (Jon recorded a show for Germany’s VIVA at various places around Athens). There were a couple other members of our group down there, and the fans knew we had something to do with band, so they all came and questioned us! Thankfully no one asked for my autograph! Of course, none of them really believed that we didn’t know where the band was, but we really didn’t. Rick (who played keyboards for the shows) was the only person who actually had something to do with the music down there, so he got mobbed by autograph seekers. Jim Morris and I were laughing at his predicament, so in turn, he made a general announcement that that was Jim the Producer over there…so that made a whole wave move over to Jim to get his autograph, which was a completely bizarre experience for him. I had to go up to my room once to get my sunglasses, and a crowd of 10 or 20 chased me up the stairs and all the way to my room…it was a real frenzy! I told them there wasn’t anything exciting in my room, but apparently they assumed I had the whole band stashed in the bathroom or something.

Finally, the whole non-band portion of our group got together, and we headed out as tourists to the Acropolis. It was a beautiful day, and the Acropolis was just amazing. As we walked around, our group got split up, so I spent the afternoon with Jenny and Claudia, the new managers of Iced Earth’s European Fan Club. They’re definitely dedicated to putting together a much better club than there was before, and it was cool to hang out with them. After walking around a while, we returned to hotel (still full of fans), and waited for the bus to get together to go back to the club. As we were sitting in the bar talking, I realized that there were six of us sitting at a table, and we were all from six different countries: Greece, Germany, Sweden, Japan, the UK, and the US. I thought that was very cool. The guy from Greece was Joe, who was with the promotion company, and he finally told the hotel to clear the fans out of the lobby. I don’t know why the hotel didn’t do that themselves long beforehand, but anyway, they just stayed out on the street then, right in front of the doorway. Eventually, everyone got together, the bus showed up, and we returned to the Rodon Club.

Since I got there a lot later than I had the previous day, the crowd of fans waiting out front was MUCH larger this time. Because it was their second night in a row at the same place, all of the equipment was exactly where it was the night before; there had been no need to tear down the equipment and set it up again, which was very nice for the band and crew. The soundcheck was much shorter, although several adjustments were made of course. It was at that point that my new digital camera decided to break, so I only got about half the pictures that I wanted to from the trip. After a while, the doors opened, and the same process which had occurred the night before commenced again: the fans running in, waiting, the excitement building, singing to the pre-show music, and going crazy when the show began

For this show, I got a completely different perspective than I did the night before. I was at the very back of the club, up against the wall. After a while though, I still had to get into the crowd, but I stayed pretty far back, where it was slightly more relaxed. It was a nice change, because I could observe everything better, from the band, to the sound, to the crowd. One amazing thing about the Greek fans is that they seem to know and love every song equally well. In the U.S., people are generally more familiar with the newer stuff than the older, but these kids knew everything. Most people I talked to who saw both nights seemed to enjoy the second night more. For me, it was hard to say, since they were both so different, but the second night was definitely more “evil”, as it seems like they played more of their darker songs. They only repeated a few from the previous night, so those fans that came to both shows got to see two very different sets, and that provided more songs to put on the live album.

After this show finished, there was a much longer wait, since the equipment had to be broken down and taken with us. So by the time we left, the crowd outside was much smaller than the night before and more manageable. This time, instead of going to the hotel, the promoters took everyone to a very nice restaurant, where we were given tons of great food and drink. It was a very cool experience, sort of like a very big family dinner. The promoters were very pleased with the results of the two nights, as they apparently didn’t really believe Iced Earth would be able to sell out both shows…but the band (and the fans) proved them wrong!

Alive In Athens With Iced Earth – Day 4

January 23rd, 1999

Finally, the day of the first show. I woke up at about 7:30 after a good night’s sleep and went down to breakfast in the hotel. I was a bit surprised to see that Tom’s bed (we were sharing a room then) was unused, but it all made sense when I saw everyone else was already at breakfast. Jim had simply gotten up before me, but the other three had never went to sleep (and were still pretty juiced) after running around to various bars all night long. I’m kinda sorry I missed it, and am sure I didn’t hear half of what happened that night!

Since those three were going to get some sleep, and Jim was heading out to the club to meet the truck finally, I decided to go with him. We arrived at the Rodon Club before 11AM, and there was already a group of twenty or thirty kids outside. I’d never seen a show being set up before, and it was pretty interesting. I got an opportunity to explore the whole place, and see how everything comes together. The crew was very cool, and like Jim, said that the fact that this was a live recording didn’t mean any added pressure for them; it was just another day at the office. With the help of a few fans, all of the gear made it on to the floor, and then slowly into its assembled form onstage. Meanwhile, the lights were aimed and set, and Jim worked outside in the truck to get everything up to speed there. The truck ended up next to the venue, parked precariously at the edge of a huge pit, so that made things a bit of an adventure. They had walkie-talkies for communication, but sometimes messengers had to run back and forth.

At about 4PM, the band finally arrived. The show in Thessaloniki had been a big success, so they felt good for the shows here as well (despite the fact that Jon had managed 15 minutes of sleep between the two shows). They got to soundchecking pretty quickly, and of course spent a lot of time getting everything just right. Brent did his very cool drum solo/warmup, and then the whole band played some stuff together. I think they started with “Melancholy”, and after a little bit of that, suddenly busted into “Dante’s Inferno”! They played the full thing (to a crowd of about 10 people), so I got to hear it twice live. I felt I could have gone home without even seeing the show after they played that. Eventually, everything was all set, and at about 6:30, they opened the doors.

Immediately, a steady stream of kids started flowing in, and as soon as they got in the door, they sprinted up to as close to the stage as they could get. I really wanted to be up close for at least one of the nights, so I went up there before too many people came in. But I kept getting squeezed back, and I figured I had three hours to wait, so after a little while, I returned to the back of the club. Eventually, the entire place was filled…the floor, the balcony, and even the big staircase. Banners were unfurled and hung from the balcony, and an electric feeling began filling the place.

If I didn’t already know that Greece was a very special metal place, it became quite obvious when the pre-show tape rolled along and got to Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”. At the intro, a huge roar went up from the crowd, and every person in the place began spontaneously singing along. I’d never seen anything like it. Not only were they singing, they were jumping around and generally going crazy. I was completely amazed. They continued to sing to every song from then on, for at least an hour…Iron Maiden, Slayer, Blind Guardian, everything that the tape played. Of course, I just had to be in a crowd like that, so I began to work my way up from the back once again. The little mosh pits formed during “Master of Puppets” helped me quite a bit, as I was able to sneak through them. Still, it took me close to an hour to make it up as far as I could go (three or four rows back), which shows how densely this crowd was packed, and how unwilling they were to give up an inch in their quest to see Iced Earth. About half an hour before the showtime, the Iced Earth chants began. There were about three different versions, all loud enough to drown out the PA. Then, smoke started leaking out from between the curtains on the stage, and there was a huge surge forward (which I didn’t think would be possible, but somehow we managed to pack even tighter). The curtains opened, and Iced Earth’s first official live recording was underway.

I’d seen plenty of Iced Earth shows before, and metal shows in general, but none could compare to this. The energy from the crowd was unbelievable, and the band just reflected it right back to us. They’d played a few times before in Athens, so they knew a little bit of what to expect, but they were still obviously blown away by the response. After about the fifth song, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore up there. Between the singing, the screaming, the jumping up and down, and trying to keep my balance in the constantly shifting sea of bodies, I was getting seriously worn out. Which makes the kids in Greece all the more amazing: I was quite a bit bigger than most of them, and tall enough to get some fresh oxygen every once in a while, but every one of them was giving non-stop, insane energy, even if their face was buried in the back of the person in front of them. So I started to make my way back. But after moving a few inches, I said to myself “Wait. This RULES! I’m staying right here”. I did the same dance for the rest of the set…after every song, I’d tell myself that I had to get out of there and take a break before I died, and a soon as they’d start the next one, I’d be drawn right back into the thick of it. I simply couldn’t leave, it was that incredible.

I did finally work my way back through the crowd about halfway through the final song, “Iced Earth”. Once I broke free, I ran up to the backstage area, to the side of the stage where Jon’s parents and wife had been for most of the show (which was very cool for them and for Jon). The rest of our group was also there by then, and I arrived right at the “we are together now” line, which I thought was pretty neat. The band took their bows, and cleared off the stage. The venue slowly emptied out, and we waited around for the band to get cleaned up, still reveling in what we had just seen. After an hour or so, it was time to leave. My job temporarily turned from fan to bodyguard, as I had to help hold the crowd back from the band and the smaller women in our group. We ran through the gauntlet of hundreds of screaming fans, and safely made it onto the bus (although Brent almost got smothered, but hey, he’s tough.). They surrounded the bus, yelling, waving, and jumping up and down. As we drove off, kids even ran down the street after us.

After driving about halfway back to the hotel, we stopped at a McDonald’s (yeah, classic Greek food) to pick up some food for the band. We weren’t stopped for more than two or three minutes before a bunch of kids spotted us and came running up to the bus. Luckily, Mike McGill was standing guard at the door, and was able to keep them from surging on. Since it would have been too hard for the band to go out, or for the kids to come on, they instead passed their CDs, records, tickets, and shirts on to be signed by the band and then passed back out. Unfortunately, some jerk stole a signed shirt that belonged to someone else, and the band was pissed about that, but there wasn’t much they could do. The food came back, everything was signed, and we continued on our way. Of course, there was a large crowd waiting at the hotel when we returned. Apparently the magazines let the kids know where the band is staying, and it becomes fairly common knowledge. So while the band was held up signing autographs, I went up to my room, got out of my still-sweaty clothes, took a shower, and passed out.

Alive In Athens With Iced Earth – Day 3

January 22nd, 1999

I woke up at about 4AM (my body clock was all messed up, of course), and with sleep nowhere in sight, I took a walk up to the Acropolis by myself. Of course the main area was all closed off, but there was plenty of other cool stuff to check out in the darkness. A sat up on a big rock overlooking the whole city for an hour, and on the way back to the hotel got to see the city waking up.

This was the day that Jim Morris was supposed to get in touch with the people providing the recording truck, and go get everything set up. As it turns out, for some reason, the recording truck people decided that they’d wait until the next day. Jim was kind of pissed, since that was the whole point in him coming over a day earlier, but it gave him a chance to hang out with the rest of us. With so few things going as planned in this business, it’s amazing most stuff works out as well as it does. Sometime later in the day, we all got out and walked over to the Olympic stadium. It’s quite a work of art, and it has a lot of steps you can climb. While I was up at the top row, I took a picture of the Acropolis, which you can now see in the background of the “Alive in Athens” cover art. When we came back down, we found Tom talking with a few locals hanging around at an outdoor bar next to the stadium. (Since it was winter, we were about the only tourists around). We all stood around and had a nice conversation, and before we know it, it’s three hours later. After about the fifth time that Jim said how hungry he was, one of the guys we were talking to, Nino, said “Ok, you all come over to my place and I’ll make you a nice dinner”. If someone says that in the U.S., you pretty much run the other way as fast as you can (and Jim almost did). But we figured it would be reasonably safe, so we walked to Nino’s apartment, where he proceeded to make one of the best meals we’ve ever eaten. We had a great time, and we invited him to the Iced Earth show the next night, but it didn’t seem like that was quite his thing.

Overall, I was very happy to have this time in Athens before the band got there, as it gave me a chance to see the area a bit more “normally” than I would later on when the band joined us.

Alive In Athens With Iced Earth – Day 2

January 21st, 1999

Thankfully, I managed to sleep a good bit on the flight, and was reasonably alive when we landed in Athens. It was the first time I’ve ever been out of the U.S., so I was pretty excited. Another difference (and a very nice one) from normal travel presented itself. We had no idea where we were going, and didn’t care. All we had to do was find the guy from the promotion company (Jim Morris says it’s always the “same” guy, no matter what country he’s in), and everything would be taken care of. He found us, and got us in cabs and on our way. We made it to our hotel eventually. On the way, I got my first taste of Athens traffic. I’m from Chicago, where plenty of people drive like maniacs, but it’s nothing compared to Athens. Just before the hotel, four guys got out of a truck in front of us trying to make it up the street, picked up a car, and moved it out of the way so they could get by. And the cabbie said we hadn’t seen anything yet.

Our hotel was in a great spot, basically right under the Acropolis. We had a nice dinner right next to the hotel. Earlier, Jon’s dad (who is a pharmacist) went into a pharmacy across the street to talk shop, and find out what kind of differences there were between the U.S. and Greece. Within five minutes, he’d gotten into a big argument. It quickly became obvious where Jon gets some of his fire from. That night, we all walked around the Plaka (the old town area with lots of shops and restaurants) and scoped out some bootleg Iced Earth merchandise among other stuff. I walked into a record shop, and for the first time, realized that I was in Europe, where there would be all sorts of CDs I normally wouldn’t see in the U.S. I got Misanthrope’s Libertine Humiliations (a very fine CD!)

Alive In Athens With Iced Earth – Day 1

January 20th, 1999

I was lucky enough to travel to Greece with Iced Earth in early 1999, when they recorded their live album, “Alive in Athens”. I had the opportunity to see two of the best heavy metal shows imaginable, and after that, to just hang out with Iced Earth on a “vacation”. This is my journal from that trip.

My travel started on the evening of the January 19th, as I drove down to Franklin, Indiana from the Chicago area. I narrowly avoided a 5 vehicle accident on the way down, so things were already off to a “metal” start. I got down to the house where Matt, Jimmy, and Brent were staying at about 11:30. I met Jimmy’s two snakes (one small, one giant), hung out, and listened to some tunes.

The next morning, we headed out to the airport at about 9. I quickly learned that flying with a band is a bit different than flying on business, or for a simple vacation. First, there were twelve of us in our party at that time, and we had all of the band’s equipment with us. I’m not sure how long it took us all to get checked in, but it was at least an hour, and the line grew from 0 to at least 50 people before we cleared out of there. We probably didn’t make a lot of new Iced Earth fans then! By using everyone’s baggage allowances, and some creative packaging (like completely wrapping two guitars together in duct tape so they’d count as one), we managed to get everything on to the planes. The guys then went to a hat shop there to pick up some hats before leaving (an Iced Earth tradition, apparently). Even though everyone went to the airport together, we were actually on two different flights. The band and some others would be going to Thessaloniki first, while the group I was in (me, Jon’s dad Tom, and friends John and Jeanna) was headed straight to Athens. We finally got on the plane, leaving Indianapolis, and flew all the way to……

…….Cincinatti. Yep, this was going to take a little while. After a bit of a layover, we got on another plane, and this time made it all the way to JFK in New York. The wonderful directions given to us for the Olympic Airlines terminal took us on a fun bus ride around the entire airport, and nearly right back to where we started. Well, I’m from Chicago, I’m not supposed to like New York anyway. Finally, we made it to the Olympic terminal, where it was my job to find Jim Morris, who would be producing the live album. He came up from Tampa, and had a much easier time of it than we did. I spotted him, and introduced myself and the rest of our group. I quickly found out that he’s an even bigger computer geek than I am, and we proceeded to talk technical for a while. I got to know him a lot better on the rest of the trip, finding out what a complete goofball and very cool guy he is.

At about 7PM, we loaded onto the 747, and left for Athens. Unless you enjoy a very hot and dry plane, unfriendly flight attendants, and announcements that you can’t understand even when they’re in English, I don’t recommend Olympic Airlines. Sometime during those ten hours in the air, we crossed into the next day, and Europe.