The amount of fear I had retained from that March evening stayed with me every day after I left that building. I was the last patron out the door. My night continued on Main Street helping people in need. The carnage is seared into my memory. Thunderstorms make me very uneasy and I slink to sturdy areas. When the wind is terrible it makes me shiver and I instinctually grab anything bolted to the ground. I already have sleep PTSD issues and they are compounded now. My natural habit is to fight back in healthy ways. The re-opening of the Apollo Theatre AC haunted me. It is why I inspect the ceiling of every building I walk into. This year has given me many amazing gigs to cover and this single event overshadows them all. Obviously, I am not the only person that deals with these issues. Everyone reacts differently over time. However, this day was the ultimate test of my mental health. Taproot was the headliner and one of my favorites through the ’00s. I could not miss their return to touring and the stage. This gave me comfort. The experience humbled me as a person and somehow reassured me of who I am as a person. I care about people. I have read the comments left by people at the show or the trolls trying to be dicks. My inbox filled up with comments and accounts of the night from others. We all made a choice to be there. We all got the warning on the phone. We all chose to ignore the staff’s suggestions of going to the basement. I tend to believe the Universe put us all there and gave us a choice to react. I wasn’t a fan of the people taking videos and not helping, but that was their reaction to fear. People sent me photos of myself lifting boards before I even left the venue that night. I know some didn’t like my publishing of events either. The venue employees and promoter all tried to get people to safety. They dug through the piles with all of us that were left behind. What I wrote is factual and my experience. It was a harrowing ordeal that Mother Nature put us all through. 20 feet either way and that tornado would have hit the bridge next to the venue or the strip of businesses on the other side. It didn’t though and we are now called survivors. The kid on the street that I helped get EMT attention is doing well and it gave me hope that we can slowly move along in life. The days following humbled me quite a bit. My body was thrashed. My moral crisis didn’t mean much once I faced it. I knew I was a bigger and better person than I used to be. I carry a lot of sympathy for those who were seriously injured or even killed. Witnessing all of this gave me a better hope in random strangers to do the right thing in most cases. In hindsight, I can honestly say I would do it all again to help the people I did. My PTSD is really menial compared to the larger picture of things.
As I hit the highway on my way to the venue I realized I had the same hoodie, shorts, and shoes on as that night. Apparently, my clothes needed redemption as well. The little things flooded my head and my anxiety was at a fever pitch. It was a process. Approaching Main Street I began to get really nervous. My hands shook on the steering wheel. Why though? I made it out unscathed and helped as much as I could. The fear crept in on top of it. I parked unintentionally in the same parking spot I had that night. Again the Universe was putting me in that position once more. It took me a few minutes to turn the corner onto Main and walk up to the building. The building looked amazing and was completely rebuilt. The upper level from where the brick collapsed onto the roof was laid all over again. The metal sheeting covered the top once more. The marquee for the building was gone. The support chains hung loosely from the frontage. The exterior was fresh and clean. A medallion was embedded into the brick above the new venue doors. It read 1921. The establishment of the theatre. I sat outside of the building inspecting it and trying to get comfortable with it. The last time I saw it it looked like a war zone. Then I dug deep and knew I had to go in and comfort my senses. Upon opening the door I was greeted by the staff taking tickets. Smiles and friendliness instantly smacked me and I hadn’t even made it all of the way in yet. My eyes hadn’t focused on anything but the floor. I couldn’t look towards the stage or the roof above. The nerves were running hot yet. My anxiety lifted once my eyes scanned the entire room, it was a gorgeous space. People all around enjoying their time together. The walls were repainted with a new color scheme. Details in the decor popped. The flooring that was covered in rubble and dust had been replaced in spots and fully lacquered. it survived the abuse. Even the stage had an upgrade as the lighting was improved and the stage itself was carpeted. The historic building was once again a visual spectacle. Despite this, I still couldn’t look up or walk onto the main floor area just yet and that’s when I decided to walk through the door to the bar area. I stood in the same spot I was when the frontage ripped off into the street. The same window where rain ran horizontally gleamed with sunlight. Looking at the entire bar room once again, one would notice it was totally upgraded as well. As I stood there I ran into my guy who stood with me when it all started and we shared a hug. We experienced the same things at the same exact time. It was comforting and something I never realized I needed. All of my anxieties about the evening decided to leave right then and there. That horrifying common thread turned into moments of beauty and art. It was so surreal.
The entire night was incredible. The fans poured in through the doors. The experience and history of what mattered six months earlier didn’t matter as much anymore. The community needed the Apollo. The fans needed the Apollo. I needed the Apollo. Eventually, my eyes fixated on the roof section that terrified me every day previously. The interior clearly had been rebuilt and reinforced. Everything was secure. I breathed with ease once again. My comfort level was back to normal. The ownership and folks involved obviously cared tremendously to get a place that is important to so many back and running. The crowd that filed in through those doors wasn’t bothered by the events that happened on those floors. They were happy again and that reaction was quite visible in their faces. The merch booths lined up in the same spots were busy. Music and metal have amazing effects on people to make things right in the end. Taproot being the first band back and headlining knew the importance of this evening for everyone that was involved and/or there that night. The audience lined the security railing and sang their hearts out like they always have. The circle pit spun with a heightened fever. Taproot delivered all they had and delivered that energy incredibly well. Armed with a setlist of bangers across 7 albums they had a performance of a lifetime. An adrenaline rush pumped throughout the rebuilt space. Stephen Richards had no issues leaving the stage to explore the room while performing. It turned into a unique way to highlight areas reborn. He joined the circle pit, walked around the backspace underneath the balcony, and then took the stairway up to the balcony then proceeded to leap from it into the crowd below open arms. The once dormant room was alive and full of euphoria. Their closing and arguably most popular song Poem created a stunning and unforgettable moment that signaled all is well and this moment in time was truly about all of us as fans. Frontman Stephan Richards invited all of the fans on stage to sing the song and they did. The microphone was being passed around with glee. I don’t know if that was planned but it sure felt unscripted and perfect. This period of time made it about all of us as a whole. Together. After the performance ended the band spent the rest of the evening talking to and signing various items for the fans. Jubilation overflowed. The atmosphere was electric and the vibes were pleasuring. While mixing it up with the band the realization that the space was alive and brimming with promise. This wasn’t a reopening it was a rebirth. The good times are back. Nothing is forgotten, but the gloom has lifted. Humanity and heart win again. Thanks to the heart and soul of the people involved it is a new dawn with the famed Belvidere attraction.
The final 2 paragraphs of the article I penned in the wake of the roof collapse still rings true and it shocks me how it resonated with my friends, family, and total strangers. I never really knew the reach and impact of the article I penned for Knotfest until I walked back through those doors. That is why it is extremely relevant to the incredible experience given to us all once again. If anything reread them again and let it sink in once again.
The heavy metal community gets a bad rap from those who aren’t in it, but you pick each other up and you help if able. That is the motto, that’s the responsibility of every metal fan. People’s race, sexual orientation, political affiliation, none of that stuff mattered. People, humanity, and caring for your fellow humans are what mattered during the worst of times.
I am extremely proud of everyone that stayed behind. People needed help and I ran towards it when others were running out the door. I also don’t blame people for running either. It was the hypothetical that everyone runs through their heads when they see things in the news. What would you do? Lately, I have been having a moral crisis in my head. I have done a lot of really good and a lot of garbage things. Now I know my past is just that, the past. I’m not that guy and never really was a bad person. It is building upon who I am now that is more important. I truly believe life puts you in places you were meant to be, good or bad. It is what you choose to do in those moments that matter most.