Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Magical Place

Judas Priest / Whitesnake
California Mid-State Fair, Paso Robles, CA
July 29, 2009

For the 2nd time this year, Umlaut ventured to a rural country fair to see a concert! With 170 miles (one way) between S.F. and Paso Robles, this show was the quintessential opportunity for a good 'ol fashioned Metal Road Trip... and since there was a work angle for me as well it was a no-brainer. Timo came through by borrowing his dad's SWEET armored personnel carrier to transport The Road Trip Crew (Timo, Photo Ray, Jerry, and Umlaut) to the White Trash belly of California. Every once in awhile you experience something that changes your life, and that's exactly what happened to all of us because of our visit to the California Mid-State Fair. It was magical, dude!

It's hard to put into words what a surreal experience arriving in Paso Robles was for The Road Trip Crew, with people who live near The Fairground's entrance charging $10 to park on their front lawns while their kids sold lemonade on the driveway. After parking the armored personnel carrier on someone's lawn, we approached the front gate and a grandmother offered to sell us discount fair tickets for $2 off the normal admission price ($6 instead of the normal $8... score!)... So, we bought scalped fair tickets from a Paso Robles grandmother and the tone was set for what would be an incredibly awesome evening in the belly of California!

Upon entering The Fairground the sights, the attractions, the aesthetic, and the people was almost overwhelming; it was like we'd landed on another planet! I felt like we'd taken a time machine back to the 1980's and I was in complete sensory overload for a good 45 minutes. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here's 2,000 words on the Mid-State Fair's earthy charms:

See The "5x World Champion" Giant Pig For $1!

Retro Low-Fi Concert Art!

I had a hard time focusing on things while walking around the fair's concourse because there was so much to take in... from the deep fried Snickers booth... to the barbeque grill / smoker that was literally as big as my Prius ("Big Bubba's Bad BBQ")... to the BB gun shooting gallery ("Hee Haw's Shootin' Guns")... to dozens of other things.. to the mindblowing people watching opportunities. Sensory... over.... load.

Best Quote: "If Led Zeppelin were still together they'd be playing here.." - One local to another as Zeppelin blasted from a beer concession.

Thanks to the Rock Godz we had brilliant 10th row seats and it's a bit of an understatement to say that the concert site was... uhh... interesting. The most bizarrely charming aspect was that the stage was set up in dirt field / outdoor rodeo arena. I imagined myself being at one of those Metal Festivals in Europe in the 80's that I'd read about as a kid when it would be raining and the crowd was knee deep in mud and piss and puke and Metal... but thankfully Paso Robles was comfortably warm on this Summer evening. However, adding to the site's... uhh... uniqueness was a cattle pen next to the bleachers that was less than 100 yards from the stage:

The stage as seen from next to the Cattle Pen (to the right)...

... the Cattle Pen.

Just prior to Whitesnake taking the stage, an MC introduced two young girls to the stage who... SANG THE NATIONAL ANTHEM?! WTF!?

(Vid by Umlaut)

I can safely say pretty much the last thing I expected to see on this day was 2 girls singing 'The Star Spangled Banner' in front of Whitesnake's backline... and, for the record, I think they should have also sang 'God Save The Queen' since both of the bands performing are British in origin; it was kind of a dis.. I'm just saying.

I'd never seen Whitesnake before... and I actually hated them during the Hair Metal 80's because I was all about Slayer, Metallica, etc.. but in recent years I must admit that if their hits come on the radio I generally don't turn them off. They hit the stage with familiar FM Radio tunes like 'Love Ain't No Stranger' and Coverdale sounded surprisingly good and his backing band (no vintage members are left..) were equally good from a solid FM Radio standpoint. I tried to count how many times Coverdale did his signature stage move (raise the mic stand upside down > mic at cock level > stroke the stand once > let the stand fall back down > sing)... but I lost count at around 6x. It's a good, solid bullshit stage move and it's probably gotten him more tail than we can even imagine. "Slide it in.. right to the top.. slide it in.. I ain't never gonna stop..."

The Signature Move in Paso Robles
(Pic by Photo Ray)

I have to admit that seeing Whitesnake at a country fair worked for me, but I'm sure the country fair beer buzz I had going influenced me... no doubt. Towards the end of the set Coverdale blew his voice out and he sounded terrible.. At that point he needed Tawny Kitaen on the hood of a Jaguar ASAP to distract the crowd. However, when they launched into 'Still Of The Night' I knew the MILFs of Paso Robles would be going home happy... waiting for the night to c-c-c-c-come.

Anyway, after the "fun" of Whitesnake it was time to get serious with Judas Priest; no more mic stand posing! According to the Umlaut Archives this was the 5th time I've seen Priest dating back to 1981. On this tour, Priest decided to jump on the bandwagon like so many other veteran bands these days and play their legendary British Steel album in its entirety! Now, while Unleashed In The East has alway been my favorite Priest album, even I had to admit seeing Priest play their classic 1980 material had my head spinning, especially since it meant they would not be playing crap like 'Turbo Lover'.

It was weird seeing Priest hit the stage with little fanfare as they blasted into 'Rapid Fire', but when they then slammed into 'Metal Gods' my Inner Teenage Metalhead awoke in all its Hulk-like glory.. METAL!! I was hoping Halford would acknowledge nearby Soledad State Prison with a dedication before 'Breaking The Law' that might have gone something like this:

"This one's for anyone who's dropped the soap at Soledad!!
It's called Breaking the what?!
Breaking the what!?
Breaking... The Law!!!"

But, alas, he didn't.

Long story short: British Steel... in its entirety... WOW. Halford sounded better than he has on recent tours and it still amazes me how great K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton still look and play. They're still the ultimate Metal Guitar Duo, dude... and hearing 'Living After Midnight' never gets old for me... and having 'The Rage' in the setlist for the first time ever was pretty mindblowing.. but the highlight for me was 'Steeler'! "Kiss of Judas... spider like.."

After the British Steel portion of the set, Priest continued with a set that included the title song off their last album (Nostradamus) and greatest hits that included the likes of 'The Ripper' (!), 'Diamonds & Rust' (!!... performed electric the way it should be and not acoustic as they've done on recent tours... Thank Dog!), and 'Victim Of Changes'... Man, I still get chills down my spine watching K.K. go into his solo spot during 'Victim'; it's cool to still have that connection with my Inner Teenage Metalhead over stuff like that.. We've been best friends for so long.

THANKS to Old Metal Tim for the After Show passes, but instead of rubbing elbows with Rock Stars we got caught back up in the magical wonder that is the Mid-State Fair again. We followed the crowd back into The Fairground, which was open for another 90 minutes and the rides were all fully lit up in the night sky and the energy and fun in the air was thick enough to cut with a knife... and it was a Wednesday School Night! At that point The Road Trip Crew suddenly became hungry and we descended upon various food (and beer) kiosks for one last round of Mid-State Fair hospitality. So, while Old Metal Tim was witnessing Ron Jeremy chat with Glenn Tipton backstage (Ron Jeremy in Paso Robles!?), I was meeting *real* Paso Robles people like this guy:

(Pic by Umlaut)

Is that magnificent or what!? Metal! Fuck that celebrity shit! This guy was *real*, man... REAL!! To top it off, Timo and Photo Ray both won carnival coke mirrors from carnies by throwing darts at balloons. To quote Photo Ray: "What happens in Paso Robles stays in Paso Robles!" REAL!

Big City Hipsters will make fun of a place like Paso Robles and an event like the Mid-State Fair, but both completely rule. Big City Hipsters can go fuck off and die! The people in Paso Robles were without self-consciousness and wearing whatever they wanted, whether it was 15 years out of date or not, and everyone was having a good time... and having FUN is what life should be about. At one point I was walking on the concourse and a guy walking in the other direction leaned over as he passed me and said in a polite voice "Metaaaliica..." in response to my vintage 1994 Tour shirt. He was so polite about it... REAL!

The Road Trip Crew made a pact to make the trek to see at least one band in Paso Robles every Summer moving forward. I wish we'd known about the Mid-State Fair's charms sooner, goddammit! We also came to the conclusion that the area must also be where Free Range Strippers are raised; there must be something in the water.

Number of Iron Maiden shirts = 25 (at least!). I was so caught up in everything I looked at the merch but didn't do an audit, but it's nice to see that Priest has a merch company who does quality work. On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. Due to the 170 mile or so return trip, I didn't roll back into Casa de Umlaut until 3:12AM... but the previous 12+ hours was something I will never forget. I want to move to the Mid-State Fair and live there forever.. It's a magical place:

(Vid by Umlaut)

Click HERE for Umlaut's photo memories from Paso Robles..