Fort Forward: Middle Waves



With all the redevelopment and refurbishment going on throughout downtown, it would be easy to underestimate the significance of Middle Waves.

Middle Waves, which will happen September 16 and 17 at Headwaters Park, is a music festival of a type that Fort Wayne has never before attempted.

Fort Wayne already has popular festivals devoted to specific genres like country and electronic music.

But Middle Waves aspires to be something grander, a music festival that will transcend genre and geography.

Middle Waves is the brainchild of a number of likeminded, local trailblazers: Matt Kelley at One Lucky Guitar, Alison Gerardot at Riverfront Fort Wayne, Sweetwater Sound’s Chuck Surack, Corey Rader at the Brass Rail, Dan Ross at Arts United and Alec Johnson with the City of Fort Wayne.

The template for Middle Waves is so-called “destination festivals” like Bonnaroo and Coachella, music festivals that many people feel compelled to attend every year (some of them traveling quite a distance) regardless of who is performing.

The idea for the festival, Gerardot said, grew out of an “intercommunity visit” that members of Greater Fort Wayne took to Des Moines, Iowa, two years ago.

“What those community leaders in Des Moines were saying at that point in time,” she said, “was ‘We were where you are now’ in terms of momentum. ‘Everybody can feel it. Everybody knows.’”

“‘But we have this one event in our community called the 80/35 Music Festival,’” Gerardot remembered them saying, “’that really turned the tide for everyone sort of working in unison to just continued to really push this community forward.’ They say that’s the event that happened in Des Moines where everybody woke up the next day and finally realized that they were cool.”

Kelley said it has always been an “underground dream” to start, or have someone start, a festival like this in Fort Wayne.

But once sponsors began boarding Middle Waves, the dream quickly became a reality.

Kelly said the name of the festival was meant to evoke Fort Wayne’s rivers (the focal point of so much new excitement), “waves of grain” (the focal point of so much pastoral nostalgia), and “making waves” (the focal point of so much idiomatic bravado).

From an operations perspective, Kelley said, Middle Waves is not-for-profit. All the aforementioned organizers are volunteers.

One of the lynchpins of the whole venture was fastened when festival headliner, the Flaming Lips, was signed.

Fort Wayne had never before lured a band of that stature and hipness to northeast Indiana and it gave the festival instant buzz and cachet, not only among local music fans, but among national talent bookers as well.

“Yeah, well, we’re excited about them,” Kelley said. “Because they are, in some ways, the quintessential festival band. You’ve seen them at Bonnaroo and Glastonbury. There’s an immediate legitimacy to a festival they are a part of.”

Other bands signed thus far include Best Coast, Doomtree and Jeff the Brotherhood. More bands will continue to be signed into September.

Kelley said they have 28 slots to fill on three stages over two days. He said another group of signed acts should be announced around the first week of August.

Fort Wayne has a reputation as a place where folks tend to buy tickets at the last minute, but Kelley wants to encourage people to buy early, because every dollar organizers get now can and will be spent on this year’s festival.

Kelly wants to stress that Middle Waves is not just for youngish people.

“We’ve kind of positioned this as, ‘We want young people to love living here,’” he said. “But they had age diversity (at the 80/35 Music festival) and it was really cool. You’d have hip-hop going with folks in their mid-50s bouncing up and down and it was like, ‘Boy! This is all the diversity we would hope to see.’”

“The diversity at that festival is something that we hope to transport to this festival,” Gerardot said. “It wasn’t just young people. It was all people. Lots of families. I was shocked. 60- and 70-year-olds just hanging out and listening to Nas.”





Silver Tongued Devil


HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 14: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Gene Simmons of KISS performs at Mending Kids International's "Rock & Roll All-Stars" Fundraising Event on February 14, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Bezjian/WireImage)

Just as disco was putting guitar rock into a temporary sleeper hold, KISS was touring the country in a station wagon.

The foursome made the princely sum of $75 apiece per week, according to front man Gene Simmons.

They undoubtedly traveled sans makeup, but it’s fun to think of a kid glancing over on the highway in 1974 and seeing a woody wagon filled with glam rockers.

“We went to the heartland,” Simmons said in a phone interview, “because New York and LA were too busy doing the disco stuff. And we went to Fort Wayne and we went to Mankato and we went to Saint Joseph and we went to Paris, Texas. Places like that. That’s where they remember you.”

Four decades later, the band (minus two of its original members) has been returning this summer to some of the midsized and fun-sized cities that first embraced it.

KISS performs August 12 at Memorial Coliseum.

“The buildings (in these towns) might not be as tall as the ones in New York,” Simmons said. “But buildings don’t determine cool. People do. The people in small towns will tell you what they think and the rest be damned. They don’t care. If they like and love you, they like and love you. They don’t care if anybody else does.”

The erudite, outspoken and cocksure Simmons has gotten himself into various degrees of hot water over the years because of his tendency to tell you what he thinks and the rest be damned.

But it would be hard to criticize his work ethic. The band has earned some laurels on which it could conceivably rest. In 2015, Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) announced that KISS had earned more gold record album citations (30) than any American band in the history of such certifications.

The awards wouldn’t mean anything, Simmons said, if the band decided to perform future shows as if the memory of a former greatness was all it was required to deliver to its current fans.

“At the end of the day, the only thing that’s important is what you do on stage, proven tonight,” he said. “Before we get up on stage, I know that show is going to be the most important concert we ever play. And we’re going to take it deadly seriously because that’s what we do.”

At the age of 66, Simmons still straps himself into 50 pounds of armor every night and climbs aboard 11-inch platform heels.

He recalled the opening show on this tour, which happened outdoors in Tucson.

“The temperature was 103,” he said. “Add to that the stage lights, which probably raise the level another 10 degrees. And when the fireballs kick in, maybe another 10 degrees. You’re talking about 120 degrees on stage with about 40 percent humidity factor.

“So all night we’re chugging water,” Simmons said. “We’re trying to catch our breath. We don’t use backing tracks. We don’t lip synch. We work for it. This is the hardest working band in show business. Pride is an important word.”

Simmons said people roll their eyes sometimes when he talks about the band’s high standards.

“They go, ‘Oh boy. He’s so full of himself,’” he said. “You’re damned right we are. We’re proud to get up there at every show and introduce ourselves with a pretty cocky statement: ‘You wanted the best. You got the best. The hottest band in the world.’”

KISS became one of the world’s hottest bands through an unlikely combination of makeup, cosplay, stage pageantry, savvy songwriting and pop mythologizing.

Each member of the band was a celebrity in his own right in the 1970s.

The various men who have replaced lead guitarist Ace “Spaceman” Frehley and drummer Peter “The Catman” Criss since the early 1980s aren’t nearly as vivid in most people’s minds as their progenitors.

But the core of the band remains the same: Simmons (aka the Demon) and Paul “The Starchild” Stanley. It’s a professional marriage that has not been without its strife, Simmons said.

“We never butt heads which is a strange combination of two different sides of your body,” he said. “We always disagree about everything. But I think it’s fair to say that we’re two different sides of the same coin. We share the same work ethic, the same commitment to the band, the same commitment to the fans. Show up on time. There’s no Axl Rose behavior here.”

Simmons, being Simmons, told a story of a confrontation he once had with Rose.

“I told him to his face: ‘You’re the luckiest son of a bitch who ever walked the face of the planet. Now, at least don’t insult your fans and show up on time.’ People who buy tickets are giving you a gift. Even God doesn’t do that.”

KISS came up at a time, Simmons said, when a rock band had to deliver on stage in every conceivable way and the band won’t abandon those values.

“We put on a show,” he said. “We’re apolitical. We don’t tell you what to do or what to think. What’s the secret of life? I have no idea. What we do is celebrate life. On our tombstones, it’s going to say ‘KISS Gave Bang for the Buck.’ If that’s our only legacy, it’s enough.”

Bands that wing it, mail it in or let personal shortcomings imperil their professional obligations are doing their fans a grave disservice, Simmons said.

“It’s easy to forget that you’re not the boss,” he said. “You just work here. The fans are the bosses. We owe them everything. Without them, I’d be asking the next person in line, ‘Would you like fries with that?’”