A Day with KISS – Crandon Wisconsin – September 1st 2023

REVIEW: A Day in the Life with KISS in Northern Wisconsin – September 1, 2023 in Carter and Crandon, Wisconsin

By Jim Zons

Many people know this:  I’m a HUGE fan of the band KISS, so when I saw they would be playing one of their final dates on this final tour in Wisconsin’s Northwoods Labor Day weekend, I knew I had to be there to cover the show!  But … Kiss was in Crandon, Wisconsin of all places (pop 1,713), probably the smallest community KISS has appeared in DECADES, at Crandon International Raceway.  Okay … this should be interesting! But I had no idea how interesting the day would become ….

So, the day before the concert, I was waiting for information about my tickets and photo pass, when I got a call from my contact with the Potawatomi Community, who was getting me set up with everything I needed to cover the concert.  He asked me, “so, were you planning on being here at the casino for the groundbreaking?”  Uh .. groundbreaking?  That’s when he pointed out that the main reason that KISS was performing in Crandon was Gene and Paul would be appearing at the Potawatomi Casino & Hotel in Carter, WI for a groundbreaking for their newest location of their “Rock & Brews” restaurant location.  And then he asked: “did you want to interview Paul and Gene during the groundbreaking?”  DID I????  That would be a big YES!  So … I headed north a day early so I wouldn’t be late for the groundbreaking at the casino the next day.

Some background: Rock & Brews began as a concept of Dave Furano, a well-known rock concert promoter who got his start in the 1960s promoting the Stones, Dylan and other legendary bands.  He nurtured this dream of a “Rock ‘n’ Roll” restaurant for decades, until a chance meeting backstage at a KISS concert in 2010 with Gene and Paul spawned the birth of Rock & Brews: classic comfort foods and unique craft beers with a rock ‘n’ roll vibe. Fast forward 13 years and there are now there are 24 locations across the country, including a recently opened Rock & Brews location at the Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee. The new location opening in the casino in Carter would be the second Rock & Brews location in Wisconsin.

Friday morning, I headed over to the casino in Carter so I could be there early for the press event (I still wasn’t convinced I was going to get a chance to interview Paul and Gene!)  I was the first press person on hand for the event, but soon a number of local print outlets and TV stations showed up to cover the groundbreaking and interview Paul and Gene.  We didn’t have to wait long before Paul and Gene and their entourage swept into the existing restaurant area (the future home of Rock & Brews) for the press event prior to the groundbreaking.

I started off with a short interview with Dominic Ortiz, CEO of the Potawatomi Casino Hotel. I asked him about the partnership between Potawatomi Casinos and Rock & Brews, and he said, “You guys wanted the best. We brought you the best! Our partnership with Paul and Gene started over a year ago when we envisioned bringing Rock & Brews to Wisconsin. What a great partnership, right? Great food, family, fun. Some of the best craft beers in the country, all coming to Wisconsin, and partnering with the Potawatomi Casinos and Hotels.”

Finally, it was time to interview Gene and Paul!  The guys were doing interviews separately, so I stepped up first to interview Gene and asked him to elaborate on the concept of Rock & Brews.  Gene said, “We’re not French highfalutin food with frog’s legs and things you’d never put in your mouth willingly. Slugs, and why would you put that in your mouth? No, no. You want comfort food. And for those who are watching their girlish figure, you got huge salads and the demon burgers and all that stuff, but stuff we really love, why can’t you? And also have the culture and the music we grew up with because classic rock, all the bands, Springsteen and the Stones and Hendrix and KISS or whoever you like, is really the soundtrack of our lives. When you think about it, we grew up with it, so why can’t you have that? And the culture with imagery and lyrics in a big wide open space where everybody can see everybody and have one big goddamn party.”  Sounds like an AWESOME place to hang out, doesn’t it?? (To listen to the entire interview, go here: https://vimeo.com/eznewmedia/review/864030674/ed2b545082 )

Next, I interviewed Paul Stanley and asked him if his love of cooking influenced anything they are serving at Rock & Brews.  Paul said, “it doesn’t come down to my personal taste because your taste is as important as mine. All I want to make sure is the quality of what you’re getting is up to standard and the quality of the food we have at Rock & Brews bar none is as good as it gets. So, whether you’re a vegetarian or whether you’re a carnivore, we’ve got the best burgers, we’ve got great salads, we’ve got you covered, and we also make sure that it becomes part of your community.”

I finished up by asking Paul how he felt doing one final concert in Wisconsin pretty much 50 years after performing in Wisconsin during their first tour, and he said, “I feel amazing. There’s nothing but a celebratory feeling. An incredible feeling of accomplishment. You can be Michael Jordan forever, but you can’t play like Michael Jordan forever. You can be KISS forever, but we want to stop while we are KISS and we’re at the top of our game and this is really a victory lap for us.”  Well said, Paul.  Well said. (To listen to the entire interview, go here: https://vimeo.com/eznewmedia/review/864035633/03e1cd7da7 )

After the interviews, it was time for the big groundbreaking!  First, the event started with a drum circle and traditional Native American dancers. After the ceremony, there were speeches from tribal representatives, and Paul and Gene, before the actual groundbreaking, which consisted of Paul breaking a guitar over a bass drum! Watch the video!  https://vimeo.com/eznewmedia/review/864036114/02161d389d

Shortly after the groundbreaking, one of the band managers for KISS mentioned that Gene really wanted to stop for some ice cream at a little drive-in restaurant called Yeti’s in Crandon on their way to the concert venue, and I should stop by.  So I did! The entire band and entourage showed up with a police escort in black SUVs like they were in a presidential motorcade!  The lobby in Yeti’s is small, so it was pretty crowded with the band, managers and the rest of the group at the counter ordering ice cream! Longtime KISS manager Doc McGhee was at the front buying ice cream for everyone, including me (though I turned him down because I had just finished a HUGE shake from Yeti’s before the band pulled up!)  Gene got a sundae so I asked him what he thought, and he said, ”this sundae … is better than sex.  Wouldn’t you agree??” I did agree, but later thought I should have answered, “I don’t know Gene.  Better than sex in general … or better than sex with YOU??”  Alas, you never think of the good quips when you’re in the moment. After getting ice cream, the band mingled outside with Potawatomi tribal members and regular Yeti’s customers while KISS’s greatest hits played back over the drive-in’s speakers.  What a BLAST!

Several hours later, it was finally concert time!  If you have attended previous stops on the End of the Road tour, this concert had an entirely different feel since it was a stage setup on the edge of a racetrack in the Wisconsin Northwoods, so it felt more organic and raw. Plus, for what I would imagine was the first time ever, the opening act for KISS were traditional Native American dancers from the Potawatomi community!  In addition, the smaller setup meant fewer effects and other now “standbys” like Gene flying up into the lighting grid during “God of Thunder” and Paul flying over the crowd to perform “Love Gun.” It also seemed like a shorter set than previous stops on this tour, skipping songs like “Deuce,” and “Say Yeah,” but the rest of the classics you’ve come to expect at a KISS concert were there, including “Detroit Rock City,” “Shout It Out Loud,” “Cold Gin.” The “encore” featured “Beth,” (the piano was rolled out as opposed to being lifted out of the floor), “I Was Made For Loving You,” and of course “Rock and Roll All Nite” was the last song of the night, amid pyrotechnics and tons of confetti and streamers. If this was my last KISS concert ever, what a show, and thanks to the Potawatomi community for bringing the band to the middle of nowhere in Northern Wisconsin!