The Atlanta KISS Expo took place on Saturday, January 20th at the Marriot in Atlanta. This was something that I was definitely curious about but I wasn’t sure if I was going to be willing to fork out the money for this. With my social anxiety, I couldn’t even begin to fathom what it would be like to be crammed into a hotel conference hall with that many people. I mean, the KISS Army is already a fucking intense bunch as it is but throw close to 1,000 or so of them together and the thought of it literally had me nearly losing my breath.
That being said, I still really found the whole concept intriguing so I started looking into the prices of this thing. This is what I found:
Atlanta KISS Expo 2018 Ticket – Silver Ticket – $45.00
• Admission in to the 2018 Atlanta KISS EXPO
• Q&A with Vinnie Vincent
• Q&As with Special Guests Special Guests
• Live Performances
• Commemorative Lanyard
• Amazing Dealers and Guest Tables
• After Party and KISS Tribute Band performance
• Meet Vinnie Vincent face-to-face when you purchase autographs and photo ops.
Atlanta KISS Expo 2018 Ticket – Pink Ticket – $75.00
• VIP Admission in to the 2018 Atlanta KISS EXPO
• Q&As with Vinnie Vincent and Special Guests
• Special Commemorative Vinnie Vincent Lanyard
• Early Access to all dealers and vendors (1-hour early)
• Commemorative 5 guitar pick set
• Atlanta KISS Expo “I Was There!” commemorative poster
• Access to Vinnie’s two Professional Photo Op times
• Priority access to Vinnie’s first (of three) autograph session that day from 10am to 12:30pm.
Vinnie Vincent VIP Meet & Greet – $289.00
• Exclusive VIP Q&A with Vinnie Vincent
• 3 autographs on items of your choice (no guitars or instruments please)
• 1 Professional Individual Photo Op with Vinnie – Includes a hard copy 8×10 that will be available to pick up Saturday morning, and a digital copy will be emailed after the event)
• 1 Professional Group Photo with Vinnie (digital copy emailed after event)
• 1 ticket to the Atlanta KISS Expo 2018
• Special Vinnie Vincent VIP lanyard
• Exclusive “I Was There!” event poster
• Fast Pass if you’d like more autographs from Vinnie on Saturday during second and third autograph sessions
• Limited to 100 people
• Sunday VIP Meet & Greet: Friday’s VIP Meet & Greet tickets are sold out, but we’ve added a second Meet & Greet for Sunday, January 21, 2018!
As you can see, these were some pretty hot fucking tickets because tickets at every price point sold the fuck out. Yeah, I mean, in my mind I’m thinking, “Do people really care that much about Vinnie Vincent? The Ankh? The guy that played on like 1.5 albums and wrote “Unholy”? The guy that released two Vinnie Vincent Invasion albums? Being that this was also going to be his first public appearance in over 20 years, I began to realize that this really was quite a big deal for both him and for KISS fans and what better way to make a comeback than at an expo for the band that put you on the map right? I figured since the event was sold out that I pretty much missed the boat but then my good friend and fellow internet asshole Mike Brandvold from the 3 Sides of the Coin podcast came through for me and hooked me up with a VIP pass.
When the day arrived I was super excited but then all of the sudden, I was nervous. My god what was this going to be like? Well, I just decided to put aside any pre-conceived notions, take my meds, pop a Xanax, and just hit it. I hopped on MARTA and made my way to the Buckhead Marriot for Atlanta KISS Expo. I was so excited. I approached the hotel and was expected to be greeted by signs, banners, and fanfare of such. I walked through the doors of the hotel, walked into the lobby and… nothing.
That’s right. Nothing. No signs, no banners, no indication that there was even a KISS Expo happening here. I nervously checked my phone to make sure I was even in the right place. I sure was. I walked around aimlessly for about five minutes until I finally ran into someone with a KISS shirt on. I asked where the conference was and he says, “You have to take the elevator to the 4th floor, hang a right, go down a ways and then take a left at the sign.” I felt like Spinal Tap trying to find the fucking stage door in Cleveland.
I followed his directions and I got up there, walked down the hall and there was a printed sign on a piece of printer paper that said, “KISS EXPO THIS WAY.” Oh wow, I could already tell this was going to be a chaotic mess. The line was so long that from where I stood I couldn’t even see the entrance. Luckily, I made my way to the front and told the security person that I was with Brandvold so he came out and got me with my pass and I bypassed the line. From what I heard, people were waiting in line for as long as 3 hours just to get through the door. It all just looked like a logistical, chaotic mess from the very beginning so I knew that this was going to be a crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy expo.
When I got into the room, I was a little taken back by how crammed and claustrophobic everything was. When I walked in, I was looking directly at the stage and a bunch of chairs and then lining the perimeter of the room were where all the vendors were. Each vendor had a six foot table or so (some had two maybe) just crammed full of KISS shit. It was really hard to navigate around to see what some of the folks had but it was obvious that, like in every store, record show, and/or expo, the really good shit was all behind the tables and on the walls.
I spent some quality time with Michael and Tommy from 3 Sides of the Coin and we had a blast just railing each other and calling each other names. We laughed, we talked biz, we talked Baz, we bullshitted and it was just really a great time. I have been friends with Mike for some time now so to finally meet him in person and actually talk was an absolute blast. Some folks started to approach their table (they are famous ya know?) so I told Mike I was going to go walk around and check things out.
KISS Expo was definitely the place to find some pretty cool shit but honestly, I was pretty surprised at the lack of truly great hard to find KISS collectables; mostly seemed to be a lot of current issue/Spencer’s issue merch. There were lots of trading cards, over priced KISS Mego dolls, and easily the ugliest custom made Vinnie Vincent dolls. The faces on these dolls were all jacked up looking and the paint job did not look very good at all. The dude was trying to sell for $50 a pop. Needless to say, hours later, they were still there and not selling. There were also lots of vendors with some cool vinyl pieces and a lot of them were also selling just inserts from various KISS albums which I thought was brilliant. I managed to score me the much sought after German pressing of KISS Killers (with the block S’s) and I even picked up a KISS Love Gun pop gun insert that I have been wanting to replace for over 30 years.
Since I was lucky enough to get in before the mass hysteria of all the fans started, I figured I’d make my rounds and check out some of the invited guests. The first one that I literally ran into was Bob Kulick. As you all know, I didn’t give Bob’s debut solo album (or the artwork) the most glowing review. Luckily, he had no clue who I was and had no problem posing for a photo with me. I even talked with him for about five minutes and he was seriously the sweetest, kindest person you could imagine. I kind of expected more of an ego but this guy has zero ego. He was a super nice dude and it was a real honor to meet him. I still don’t like his album but I love him. Great guy.
I continued to stroll the room when all of the sudden, I heard a very familiar voice. It was the voice of someone complaining and bitching and saying shit like, what am I supposed to be doing? Where do I go? This thing is so unorganized… blah blah blah. I turn around and sure enough, it’s my mortal enemy: Eddie Trunk. He looked right at me and I could tell that he had no clue who I was. Right away I asked him for a photo and he says, “Make it quick.” Oh man, this was my moment. So I pose with ol’ shithead and then I take a second one flying a middle finger over his head. I’ve waited years to troll him in person and now I can die a happy blogger. He was every bit the pompous, arrogant ass I imagined he’d be. I really wouldn’t have minded him proving me wrong but he just confirmed to me that this dude is just a Grade A windbag tool.
After that I made my way back around the vendor tables and I came across this guy named Mark Minick. Mark is such a huge fan of KISS Alive I that he made this amazing mini KISS stage with fully functioning lights and smoke as the KISS Alive I album played. Mark was the nicest guy and when I asked him why he did this he said, “I wanted the best, so I built it.” You can check it out here.
Another cool couple of folks I met were the hosts of the Growin’ Up Rock podcast. They had a table set up and they were inviting people to sit down and to be a guest on their podcast to talk about KISS. I thought this was such a brilliant idea and it was something that I feel was a great way to promote their podcast. It was one of the only interactive tables set up and I really enjoyed the experience of being on someone’s podcast. It’s a great podcast by the way so be sure to check it out.
The Q&As started up on the stage and this is where I found the whole set up of this event really awkward. There were all of these people walking around, checking vendors, talking and what not all while the Q&As were going on up on the stage. In a nutshell, it was just way too much going on in a small room. Why didn’t they have a room for the vendors and a separate room for the Q&As and performances? This is where I felt the ball was dropped.
There was a great Q&A going on with former KISS bodyguard Big John Harte and unfortunately, in order to really hear what was being said you had to hopefully grab a seat up front or do your best to tune out all of the other surrounding noise. This was a real bummer because from what I did here, he had some really great stories. He talked for maybe all of 20 minutes
Then all of the sudden, out of nowhere, comes the next guest speaker. You guessed it; my good friend, the pompous, egotistical windbag himself, Eddie Trunk. The way this guy took the stage over, you would’ve thought that this was the Eddie Trunk Expo. He talked about himself, himself and his show, himself and his radio show, himself and Ace Frehley, himself some more, himself and Ace Frehley again, dogged on Gene and Paul, and talked about himself some more. That motherfucker must have talked for 45 minutes and he just wouldn’t shut up for even a second. I’ve seen and heard hell and trust me people, this was it.
I actually heard people around the room saying, “Does he ever shut the fuck up?” I swear I was so annoyed by his voice I wanted to shoot myself in the face. I left the room to get some air and to get away from that creature’s voice and as I exited the room I literally ran smack into, of all people, Ron Keel. Ron was going to be doing an acoustic later that day that I was sure to be skipping but hey, this was Ron Keel, “The Right to Rock” dude. Even though I never liked Keel and could care less about them, I couldn’t pass up a photo op with him. Ron was a super nice guy and much like Kulick, was psyched to be there and to talk to anyone who wanted to chitchat.
Finally Eddie Trunk shut his piehole so I made my way back inside and this time I wanted to talk to the fans. This was by far my favorite part of the experience. I met some great folks from Florida who all dressed up as KISS members and even in their homemade costumes. They looked fantastic and they were an absolute blast to talk to. I met fans from all over the fucking world. I met fans from Germany, Sweden, Australia, and Canada just to name a few.
They were all really, super nice people and very cool people to talk to. It was a reminder as to not only how much I love KISS but as to what a magical band this is. To have a fan base this rabid that are just as excited to hang out with other fans as they are to meet the members themselves says a lot. I mean, this is the KISS Army after all and we are all brothers and sisters in arms. Everyone was so excited to see Vinnie Vincent and the fact that this was his first public appearance in 20 years or so really spoke volumes. It also made me realize that Vincent was a much more important member to KISS fans that I ever thought.
Wandering around and hanging out was a really fun time. I really loved getting to meet so many passionate KISS fans from all places and all walks of life. I also ran into some really good friends who I knew were going to be there and seeing each other in this environment made it feel just that much more special because at that moment, we weren’t just friends, we were all KISS Army comrades. It was fun to just geek out with them, talk about memorabilia, and make fun Eddie Trunk and the ugly Vinnie Vincent dolls.
The day started to get long, the hours got a bit longer, and I could feel myself ready to check out. I went and talked to Brandvold over at the 3 Sides booth and he said, “Did you meat Big John? Let’s go meet him.” Big John Harte was KISS’ long time bodyguard and a pretty iconic character in his own right. Big John also worked with Iron Maiden and Billy Idol to name a few.
Brandvold takes me over to Big John and says, “Big John, this is Don the Great Southern Brainfart. He’s the biggest asshole I know.” Big John looks at me, smiles, and says, “That’s quite an endorsement coming from him.” He posed with me for a couple of hilarious pix and he was just as nice as could be. He told some great stories and I thought, “Hey, this guy needs to write a book.” I would read the hell out of this one. Well, it turns out he’s working on a book as we speak and I can guarantee that this book is going to be full of amazing stories.
After about five hours I had pretty much had my fill and I was ready to hit the road. Brandvold and I convened out in the lobby, talked a bit more, and had our touching moment of good bye hugs. I knew I was going to be missing the Vinnie Vincent Q&A but I knew it would be captured… and it was thanks to Tommy from 3 Sides of the Coin.
As I made my way out of the hotel and towards the Marta station, I just felt really happy. I felt like I was leaving a family reunion with a bag full of stories and memories that will last a lifetime. For 5 hours, this 44 year old was transformed back into a dorky 14 year old along with nearly 1,000 others as we bonded and shared our love for four guys from NYC who wore Kabuki makeup, blew shit up on stage, and still continue to blow our minds. Regardless of how disorganized this event was, regardless of how claustrophobic it was, and regardless of how absolutely fucking annoying Eddie Trunk was, it was all worth it and I would do it all again tomorrow if I could. Once in the KISS Army, always in the KISS Army.