#2. I met Alice in Chains (Tampa, 1994)


alice in chains.jpg

In 1994, all of the members of Alice in Chains (such a terrible name for what in retrospect was a genuinely good band) was set to perform at Jannus Landing in St Petersburg, Florida, a 2,000 person tented outdoor venue, ringed in giant palm trees. People hate on Florida, but you couldn’t really have a balmy outdoor stage like Jannus Landing in many other places. I always loved going there.

I’d scored tickets to the sold-out Alice in Chains show from a tall lanky polyamorous couple who were maybe pampering me in and effort to get me to join them, though I was about 20 years from being able to pick up on that kind of thing, much less comfortably go along with it. Which is a pity. But they sold me these two Alice in Chains tickets for face value, $15 apiece, during the band’s Dirt tour. Or maybe Jar of Flies? I wasn’t a super fan at the time because, even more pretentious back then than I am now, I preferred the first wave of grunge artists and their old muddy Peaveys to the second wave grunge artists like AIC and Pearl Jam, and their nice new Marshall stacks (Fist bump if you understood that last part).

Not long before, around the time Kurt kilt hisself, I’d seen Pearl Jam play their nice Marshall stacks at sold-out Jannus Landing, just before PJ first played Saturday Night Live, and weeks before they temporarily took over the world. Alice in Chains’s Jannus Landing concert was set to be as exciting as Pearl Jam’s: more than sold out, and right before the band would blow up and never play 2,000 capacity places again. Before the show, Alice in Chains, the entire band, had even scheduled an autograph-signing at local Tampa heavy metal record store, Sound Exchange. They may have even played a little acoustic set, for which I ended up not sticking around…

Tampa is known for its world-class heavy metal scene, rivaled only by Sweden’s. Floridians created “Death Metal,” because Florida can make you want to die. Inside the tiny Sound Exchange, a packed-in crowd of several hundred bought death metal albums while waiting for Alice in Chains to arrive. But outside, just my three college friends and I leaned against the stripmall bricks. Half the people who passed us on the way in begged to buy my tickets.

As we leaned, cracking jokes, a white limo pulled along the curb. We all four stood up. The optic jarred us: grunge band in white limo. This was also back when music fans of our age were obsessed with this now-extinct idea called “selling out.” The four members of Alice in Chains stepped out of their sell-out mobile and began walking directly toward us: singer Layne Staley (who would die of a heroin overdose eight years later) picked up the back of the line, sunglasses on and head down behind guitarist/singer/songwriter Jerry Cantrell, while bassist Mike Inez, and Sean Kinney the drummer with the swinging black curly hair, lead the group. They looked grungy, and smelled strongly of cigarettes and patchouli. The four of them looked at the four of us.

With no one else outside on the sidewalk to greet them, the white limo seemed extra silly, and so I stretched my arms out and backed against my friends, pushing them gently away from the store’s front door. “I’m holding the crowd back for you,” I teased.

Sean Kinnny extended his arm and put his long middle finger right in my face, as the band and all their hair swished past us into the air condition record store.

Slightly embarrassed and taken aback, I furrowed my brow and followed them in the door announcing, “I have these two tickets that I don’t really want anymore!” Sean Kinny shot me a nod of approval. In front of the band I scalped the tickets for $20 apiece — a lot of money back in college. Then I left and took my girlfriend to dinner instead.

In retrospect, I wish I’d gone to that show.

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal acct (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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