It was 7:45 PM. The entire day had been full of torrential rainfall and potholes converted into puddles. However, sunset comes late now that we’re nearing the summer solstice and Helios decided to give us a little visit before he rested for the night. So now, at quarter of eight, as I walk into Higher Ground in South Burlington, VT, I can see a faint rainbow. Any symbolism in that? You tell me.
We all flocked to the club to pay tribute to the shortest man and biggest voice the metal world has ever had: Ronnie James Dio. Just keep in mind that it was a tribute. This was not a funeral or a grieving session. We wanted to celebrate some of the most kickass music ever made and get one last chance to thrash around like mad to it. For those like me who had never witnessed Dio in any of his bands live, this was our one and only chance.
The evening was structured such that several acts would come on and play a set of music from one of Ronnie’s eras. Confusingly, none of these were actual bands, just members of local bands put together to play some stuff. First up was a group fronted by a girl whose name I never caught, but has some pretty damn good pipes. They kicked off the night with a few Rainbow tunes, beginning with “Man on the Silver Mountain,” which was absolutely wonderful. After a few other great tunes, they played my personal favorite Rainbow song, “Catch the Rainbow.” I must admit that, despite me being mostly done with my mourning, I was unable to hold back a few tears. It’s one of Dio’s most emotional performances and these guys were able to channel that feeling so well that it was almost scary.
After a few more Rainbow songs, Made in Iron came out to give a little sabbatical in honor of Dio’s time in Black Sabbath. They kicked it off with a blistering performance of “Neon Knights” and after a few more rousing songs including “Mob Rules” and “Children of the Sea,” they transitioned into the always epic “Heaven and Hell.” Even though these guys are used to doing Iron Maiden covers, they managed to absolutely decimate these Sabbath songs.
Next up was Amadis, a band I have regretfully never seen live, to kick off the Dio era. They played a good combination of essential and lesser known tracks with “I Speed at Night,” “Stand Up and Shout” (my favorite), “Lock Up the Wolves,” and “Gypsy.” However, in the midst of all this Dio madness, they pulled out one Sabbath song from the Dehumanizer album, “After All (the Dead).” This was one of the highlights of the night for me. It’s just one of the heaviest, most crushing songs Dio ever did and it always gets my blood pumping.
Now, I know what you’re probably saying: “What about ‘Holy Diver’ and ‘Rainbow in the Dark?’” Well, the night was not over yet. The fourth band to take the stage was almost like a local supergroup with guitarists Colin Fletcher and Franky Vitriol, bassist Aram Bedrosian, and several others. They first played “Rainbow in the Dark” which was pretty damn good, though the keyboards were so low in the mix that they were impossible to hear, an unfortunate thing to happen with a song so dominated by its synthesizer line. They followed the song up with “The Last in Line,” which was stunning. The guitar tone was just purely epic, sounding those chords with a certain resonance that worked its way right into your heart. However, they managed to top that performance with an extended, monumental rendition of “Holy Diver.” As opposed to only having a guitar solo, as the original has, they gave the song a new personality with an extended jam featuring two guitar solos and bass solo. I never would have thought of it as being a “jam song,” but it worked surprisingly well and everyone on stage was having blast, just adding more to an already great cover.
It felt like a good place to end, but things weren’t over yet. The band left the stage and about 10 minutes later, Amadis were back, but with several more musicians, all of whom had played earlier in the night. Now, the event’s title was “We Rock,” so how could the night end without playing said song? This was how it all ended, with a very nice moment of silence for Dio afterwards. In a way, I feel as though it put Ronnie’s spirit to rest. Of course he will never be forgotten, but I’ve now been able to finally accept that he’s gone. I’m sure I’m not the only one who had a hard time with this, but now I feel much better about the whole situation. So, I would like to dish out some thank yous: thank you to all the people who came out to this event and contributed to the Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund; thank you to Higher Ground for allowing something like this to be put on with such short notice; thank you to the people who organized the show; thank you to the musicians; and, most of all, thank you Ronnie James Dio, or Ronald James Padavona, I should say, for your music. You’re voice has given us all so much and that will never go away. People die; legends don’t. Goodnight, sweet prince.