Article by Daniella Koontz
When I first found out that I won the SPfreaks competition I was completely shocked and elated. What an amazing feeling of accomplishment. The next step was to figure out which show I was going to attend. Since I live in the state of Florida, I’d have to fly. Several of the shows overlapped dates that I already had planned to be on vacation, so those were out. Several dates were already sold out, so those were obviously out, and several were too far away for my budget. On top of that I had to figure out how to manage my husband’s schedule so that he could attend with me, since Smashing Pumpkins has been his favorite band much longer than mine. Yes, I’m one of the younger generations of fans. Sadly, it didn’t work out for him, so I had a free ticket. You wouldn’t think it would be hard for me to find a friend to go with me, but it was. I chose to go to the Wednesday night concert in Washington DC. Most of my friends had work/school or other responsibilities that prevented them from going.
Finally the day of the concert, one of my friends couldn’t find a replacement for his work and couldn’t go. So I called up my best friend from when I was a teenager, who I hadn’t seen in 3 ½ years and told her to get ready because she was going with me. She had a whole 40 minutes to get ready, and pack an overnight bag for an amazing night in Washington DC.
When we arrived in DC we ate at one of my favorite spots, Pizza Paradiso. On our way from dinner to the concert hall, we saw the Motorcade. Very fun to watch. We arrived at the concert an hour and a half before the doors opened. Why? Because when my husband and I went to Hard Rock in August to see “A Night With the Smashing Pumpkins,” we arrived two hours early and the line was so long, I can hardly describe it. But the concert going must not be as hardcore in DC, because there was no line. So we walked around the DAR and I took photos of the tour vans, bus, and other interesting things. I was already screaming, and my heart was racing. Just knowing you are in such a close proximity to your favorite band is breathtaking.
We arrive at Will Call and I receive my envelope with two tickets. My friends said, “Hey shouldn’t you have gotten backstage passes?” I was too shy to ask and said, “I guess not.” Thankfully my friend stood up for me and told the lady at the window that I had one the SPfreaks poster contest. She then asked me in a brass tone, “What do you think you’re ENTITLED to.” In a sheepish little voice I said, “Backstage passes?” She said that she would check, and sure enough she handed me two beautiful backstage passes with my last name written on them. My heart was beating through my chest as I text messaged my husband in complete excitement while somberly wishing that he was with me.
As we entered the concert hall I was amazed that there was no security or bag check. I had snuck in my Canon 30D along with my little Canon digital camera that recorded video. Earlier I had called the operator and she said to me, “Well you can bring it, but you can’t use it.” Watch me woman! The concert hall was beautiful and ornate. They had a huge lounge in the lower level, beautiful seating, and high ceilings with amazing lighting fixtures.
We found our seats and waited patiently. Half an hour before the show, the concert hall wasn’t even half full. But by the time the show started it was packed! My seats were in the balcony on the left when looking at the stage. We were right above the backstage door and got to watch the band enter and exit the stage. The only downfall is that the speakers blocked the horn section.
The lights went down and the band emerged, Billy in a long black and white coat. In his hand he held a pumpkin bucket. He grabbed the mike and dove into Ava Adore. My heart skipped a beat since this was one of the songs that we named our daughter after. (The first being Lily My One and Only). Billy shook his pumpkin and spread glitter across the front row of fans and all over the stage. Then Billy disrobed to showcase his tour getup; The white spider shirt, black spacesuit skirt, classic black and white leggings, red socks, and Nike sneakers. During the show, the lighting went from deep purples and pinks to cool blues and greens, alternating with patterned stripes, flowers, triangles, and spots.
The crowd went wild when the band tore into 1979. Just a taste to feed the beast of the past. I had almost as much fun watching the fans in the first few rows, as I did watching the band. Almost. In the front rows was a man who video taped the whole show. I’d love to see the video pointing up Billy’s nostrils all night. There was a woman who danced through every song, mouthing the words to most of them. There was the metal head with huge hair throwing his fists up and head banging. There was the man in the hat whose body gyrated for two and a half hours straight. Of course I took photos of all these amazing fans, because without fans like these the Smashing Pumpkins wouldn’t exist.
The first half of the concert was definitely for the fans, with favorites including Soma, Cherub Rock, Zero, and Bodies. I personally was almost in tears when Bodies started. My arms had goose bumps up and down them most of the night. We were also blessed with some new material as well as some amazing classics, a Simon and Garfunkel cover, and I think even a demo (that according to spfc.org had only been played 3 times previously).
My throat was sore from screaming so much. I felt bad because there was a mom with her young son sitting right in front of me. Later on I saw them backstage. What a rockin’ mom! I wish my parents were that cool when I was that age! (I related this to my mom and had to tell her that Dan Fogelberg and Weird Al don’t count)
There were lots of fans who wanted to get a closer look. Two gentlemen in particular had to be escorted out several times by a huge security guard with enormous gauges in his ears, along with other body modifications. Intimidation tactics? The funniest part is when the boys decided that they were going to sit in the special balcony chairs in front of me. The guard came up and laid one rather large hand on each of the boy’s shoulders instantly bringing them to their feet. I threw my arms up in the air and shouted “GO SECURITY! Woo Hoo!”
Although Gingger didn’t look like she was feeling well (she didn’t move very much throughout the night), Billy seemed to still be able to have a good time. He didn’t interact with the crowd at all, like he did during the August tour. He did, though, dance around the stage with tambourines, shred his guitars, and dance around in a top hat. When post processing my 4GB of photos, I had to zoom in on a few photos of Billy with his black guitar. It was sporting some stickers that I hadn’t previously seen. Some hearts, a green cloverleaf that says “It’s Easy Being Green,” and a few label made sentences that said, “I passed the man test,” “It’s cocoon time,” and “Dani of the moon.” (If anybody knows what Dani of the Moon means, please let me know)
Okay, so I realize that I haven’t said much about the other members of the 9 piece band. I adored the horns, especially because I’ve been a fan of Gabriel, from No Doubt, for much longer than Smashing Pumpkins. I remember buying my first tape and it was a No Doubt album. My dad played the trumpet for a few years, so I’ve always had an affinity for trumpets, especially during my SKA phase.
The violinist, Gingger, used an amazing double violin that added a rich deep sound to the music. According to a previous article on SP.com her violin covers the entire range of the orchestra’s double bass, cello, viola and violin. I was completely lulled to hear the sound of a full orchestra in ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.’ It was a complete lighter waving moment, to which there was no lighter or cell phone waving. DC crowds really aren’t that exciting are they?
After the show my friend and I ran around to the curtain to wait to go backstage. We proudly sported our backstage stickers and waited with schoolgirl glee. I pulled out my portfolio containing the winning watercolor and also the DAR poster that I repainted (the original submission was digital, this was a watercolor version of that). Finally our name was called and we headed backstage. I was shaking as I held my portfolio close to my chest. We first saw Jeff in the hallway. I sheepishly asked him if he would sign my painting, and he graciously obliged. Then we walked into the room and waited. I didn’t want to interrupt any conversations, so we just stood there and stared… and stared. Billy was on the couch in a white robe talking to several men involved in a radio station. They were asking him question after question and I wish my mind was clear enough at that point to have listened. Bass player Ginger walked by me with a salad and I again sheepishly asked her to sign my poster. She’s much smaller in person than she appears onstage. Unfortunately Billy asked that nobody take any photos backstage. I completely understand, I mean, he was wearing a bath robe!
A woman walked in and handed Jimmy Chamberlain a golf ball from the White House. I finally caught his eye and was brave enough to get his signature and tell him exactly what my husband asked me to tell him. I’m sure he hears it all the time, but he is the best drummer ever. My husband was so disappointed that he didn’t get to make it to the concert, but he sacrificed this opportunity to finish his orientation with his new job so that he can take care of me and our little girls.
I met so many other people who enjoyed the winning poster. One guy worked for the White House. Remember earlier when I said that we saw the motorcade? We indeed saw Barack Obama driving to the White House! Well his car at least. He also confirmed that Billy accepted the invitation to have lunch at the White House. He was very nice and I wish I would have gotten his business card and given him mine. I had my business cards with me, but didn’t give them to anybody because my phone number has changed since I got them printed.
Finally I worked up the nerve to speak to Billy. All day I had been racking my brains with what I would ask Billy Corgan if I got a chance to. All I could do was look at my shoes as he signed my paintings. My friend asked him how he keeps his voice so strong through such a long concert. Billy chalked it up to genetics. After signing our tickets he didn’t return my Sharpie… so I said, “Uh, can I have my Sharpie back?” Then I started laughing and said, “Okay, so I just have to tell you that I’ve been trying to figure out all day what the one question that I’d ask Billy Corgan if I had the chance to, and I just wasted it on ‘Can I have my Sharpie back?” Billy chuckled and said, “Yeah, you only get one question.” As I walked away and told my friend, “That was such a South Park moment, like when they got to ask god one question and Stan totally wasted it.”
Then I finally turned to Gabriel, he was the first band member to offer a handshake. I was blown away. I didn’t hold my hand out because I was too shy to force somebody to shake my hand. He took a while to look over my poster and seemed thoroughly impressed. I melted. I had told everybody else that this was the winning poster for SPfreaks, and they just smiled and said it was nice. Gabriel examined every inch and even asked me what some of the symbolism was. I even admitted that I drew the bombs backwards and he helped me make excuses as to why they were just fine. He inquired as to my art background, and encouraged me to keep going with it. He is also the only one who addressed his signature to me. Don’t pelt me with rotten tomatoes, but looking back it was so much more exciting to meet Gabriel because he took an interest in who I was and the art that I made for the contest. Not that I expected Billy to be interested in me, he meets so many fans per show. But to have such an amazingly talented musician take an interest in me for even the smallest moment….. yeah…. I was on cloud nine.
Then I pulled a blond moment while looking for Lisa, Ginger, Kristopher and Stephen. I walked out of the room and asked Jeff to sign my poster AGAIN. So instead I got him to sign my DAR poster. I felt like such a moron, but really, I was completely star struck. Seeing them in person is actually a calming feeling where you remember that they are just human beings like you. They have thoughts and feelings, they get tired, have to eat, and have friends and family, just like you and I. At the same time you just can’t believe that you were this close to somebody whose work has inspired you and millions of others for so long. This close…. For all the fan girls, need I repeat the fact that Billy was in a bathrobe? I saw him shirtless as he came out for the encore (he threw on his T-shirt while walking onto the stage) and I saw his thigh when his bathrobe fell open. Go ahead, squeal with glee. I joked with my friends that I want his brains not his babies.
Then security pointed us to the exit before we could find the rest of the band. Thankfully we found Stephen outside and got to talk to him for a little bit. He signed my poster and we thanked him and excused ourselves. We got to walk past all the fans waiting to see the band emerge from backstage. It felt like walking the red carpet. As we walked back to the car I spun and danced gleefully. This will be something I tell stories about for a very long time.