Come on, feel the noise
TIFFIN– Something big is about to hit the small town of Tiffin.
And it’s going to make a really loud noise when it does.
TiffinFest committee members Melissa Fontanini and Lyndsie Schnoor, co-owners of Bella Sala reception and banquet facility in Tiffin, didn’t hesitate when the opportunity came for their business to sponsor this year’s headline entertainment for the annual community festival.
“Happy’s the man,” said Fontanini, referring to the lead guitarist and front man for the arena rock tribute band, Hairball, who will play TiffinFest on Saturday, Aug. 23. The concert is kicked off by well-known local rock cover band, Two Buck Chuck, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Hairball will detonate at 8:45 p.m.
Fontanini and Schnoor were able to meet members of the band when Hairball performed at a private event at Bella Sala, and were blown away by the group.
It’s easy to be blown away by Hairball. Almost literally.
The six-member ensemble doesn’t just cover popular rock tunes from the 1980s. With the use of costumes and wigs, dead-on timing and vocals and amplifiers as big as a house, they become the iconic rock stars of the era– Prince, Eddie Van Halen, Gene Simmons, or Ozzy Osbourne, for example– so convincing in their appearance and sound that the thrumming, jumping, dancing crowd can almost be convinced they are transported back in time by a blast from the past.
Because, by the way, there are plenty of blasts, too. Every Hairball show is also well-known for its riotous pyrotechnics.
Happy– their stage names are the only ones they use for publicity purposes– and the crew have been playing together as Hairball for 14 years now, and though their start was modest, their popularity skyrocketed almost as fast as one of their on-stage fire bombs.
“We’re the band that refused to grow up,” said Happy in a telephone interview last week. “We are basically doing the same thing we did in high school; dressing up like Kiss, cranking our amps all the way up as soon as our parents left for grocery shopping. It started out as kind of a joke, kind of tongue in cheek. But some of the things we did were more realistic portrayals and tributes to many of the artists we were covering. But people were having fun with it, we were having fun with it, so why fight it?”
The act kept gaining momentum, and soon became increasingly in demand. The more they played, the more they were able to re-invest in equipment and theatrical special effects.
“We started to have the ability to do the things we only dreamed about when we were kids: the big light show, the pyro stunts, the big amps, all the bells and whistles and magic that make Hairball rock and roll,” Happy said. He was playing in a band in Atlanta with Chris Jericho– now famous in World Championship Wrestling circles– at the time Hairball was beginning to ascend. By then, Happy was used to playing original music, and wasn’t sure how he felt about going back to an all-cover band.
“When I got the offer to do Hairball, I was only going to do it for a little while until I found something else,” Happy said. “But once we got going, it just sort of evolved into what that has been the most fun I’ve had over any other band I’ve been in. I love playing this music, people love hearing this music, all the artists we represent are heroes to me, so I thought, why should I be worried about other people’s perception?”
If you are old enough to have actually seen any of the bands portrayed by Hairball and you want to be reminded of the intensity, fun and meaning of the concerts of your youth, Hairball can take you back and deliver every bit of the fire and energy of 20 of those shows, all crammed into one two-and-a-half hour extravaganza, Happy promised.
Yet you need not be of a certain age to enjoy a Hairball performance.
“I feel we are unique in that we are for everybody,” Happy said. “So when I look out and see eight- and 12-year-old kids next to their parents, singing the words to ‘Rock and Roll All Night,’ or ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine,’ I know, that is classic rock.”
Yet the ageless, timeless appeal of a big rock-and-roll show shouldn’t be over-thought, he said.
“It’s like trying to make sense out of dancing. Even cavemen knew fire was good, and Hairball throws more fire on stage than anything else coming to town, as far as I know,” said Happy. “A loud guitar coming through a Marshall amp and beating drums and someone screaming into a microphone has been cool since it started, and I don’t think it’s going out of style any time soon. I think people are going to be paying tribute to Motley Crue and Kiss and Queen long after I’m buried in the ground.”
A slight pause, and Happy added his own request.
“And when you bury me, please pack some speakers in before you throw on the dirt.”
Even with an estimated 150 shows a year, having to wow the audiences night after night in venues nationwide, and even traveling as far as London and Mexico, does not get old for Hairball members Happy, Rockstar Bob, Joe Dandy, Kris Voxx, Blake or Freaky. The energy comes from the fans, Happy said.
“It comes from all the people that I meet who drove 300 miles to come to a show, or say it’s the twelfth time they’ve seen us. I think about those people, and when that intro tape rolls, it’s like the refresh button hits, and it’s time to celebrate,” he said, though he admitted doing a lot of stretching before each show. “We take having a good time and throwing this party very seriously. Monkey business is serious business.”
Hairball also takes seriously the responsibility to the artists they portray, many of whom they have met and have occasionally shared a stage. Happy said he has great respect for people like Chuck Brennan, who founded the Brennan Rock and Roll Academy for Boys and Girls Club members and musicians like Rod Zombie, Dee Schneider, Vince Neal, Alice Cooper and Gene Simmons, who appeared with Hairball at Brennan’s benefit concerts to raise funds for the music academy.
“Pretty much anybody we portray got up on stage and proved exactly why they are worthy of this admiration,” Happy said. “It just shows the good they do and why all these years later they are still significant.” As if that weren’t cool enough, Happy added, the next day Joan Jett got up on stage with Hairball to raise money for Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock Foundation.
“It’s a positive outlet for teens and youth, trying to give them good choices– teaching them to play guitar, teaching them to dance or sing– so their achievements empower them when they become adults. That will point you in the right direction in life. That’s what the Solid Rock Foundation and the Rock and Roll Academy are about. It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling, knowing we can pull families together, and knowing I don’t have to use vulgarity to say what I want to say.”
It’s a message audiences appear to be in tune with.
“The line between the band and the fans is a very thin one, because we are all just gathering together to celebrate the type of music and shows we love. Hairball is just a bunch of fans up on stage waving the flag for all these acts and how we love ‘em.” Equally powerful is the chance to meet with the audience after a show, and share stories about the first time they saw Kiss, or what it was like to meet Paul Stanley. “It’s as much about the gathering of the people as it is about this band,” Happy said.
There are many men and a few good women behind Hairball, more people behind the scenes than in front, Happy said. The band’s head pyrotechnician has toured with musicians like Beyoncé, Prince and Paul McCartney, and the sound production crew is also some of the best.
“It doesn’t matter how well I play if the sound doesn’t come out right. It’s a lot of manpower and a semi-truck to make this go. And we just keep adding more cars to the train in this circus. Every year is bigger than the one before. It’s been explosive.”
Aptly phrased, for a band that lays down a few thousand dollars worth of fireworks before thousands of fans night after night.
Tickets for Hairball’s TiffinFest performance can be purchased online now, at www.tiffinfest.org.
Happy said whether playing for 50 people or 5,000, he is ready to put the hammer down.
“And it’s a really big hammer,” he said. “It’s time to get off the couch, get off your feet, get in the air, and get together with people. That’s why Hairball is one of the greatest gifts in my life. And sharing it is an honor. Amen.”