Meeting Jerry Cantrell

4.5.22 at Irving Plaza, New York City

After seeing Alice In Chains play many times over the years and Jerry’s solo shows, I finally met Jerry Cantrell today at Irving Plaza in NYC for his tour promoting his latest album, Brighten.

I have so much guitar practicing to do for this year-long intensive class I’m taking and so much other work to do, but I could barely concentrate all morning. While my kids were at school, I spent most of the morning just showering, picking out the best outfit, packing a microscopic-sized pocket book with all of the things I would need for the rest of the day. This was no easy feat with a bag that couldn’t be any larger than my hand, if I wanted to bring it into the venue (I didn’t have a clear bag or backpack I could use).

I had been telling my family that I wouldn’t be home on this day for many weeks so they were prepared for me not to be home (a rare occurrence as I work from home and like to be home when my teenage sons arrive home from school). They promised me they would feed our almost twenty-year-old geriatric cat, clean up after themselves, and not burn the house down.

Since my friend Whitney couldn’t leave work early, we planned that I would take the NJ Transit Train into Penn Station, NY and she would drive in later and meet me for the show. I left plenty of time and didn’t want to be late because the Meet & Greet instructions told me to arrive by 3:30pm and not be late so I wouldn’t miss anything. I had an early lunch at home and walked to the train station that is about twenty minutes from our house.

Everything went smoothly on the train and then a quick subway ride downtown to 14th Street, Union Square. I actually had to check my subway map because it’s been almost fourteen years since I left Brooklyn for the burbs of New Jersey!  

Waiting on line to meet Jerry Cantrell on a cold, gray day.

I arrived at Irving Plaza at around 3:15pm, there was a small line of people outside the venue so I assumed this was the Meet & Greet line and I joined the end. More and more people started to show up so security made two lines. Unfortunately, I was the last person on the first line so I had to keep telling everyone “get in the other line!” but in a nice way. I didn’t want them to wait there just to find out they would be kicked off of the first line and end up even further back in the second line.

A half hour went by and the security started checking IDs and vaccination cards. They handed out the VIP laminated cards and then we waited, and waited, and waited. I was already nervous at the idea of finally meeting one of my all-time most favorite guitarists, but the cold weather started to get to me and I was beginning to shiver.

By the time I got inside at around 4:30pm, I was completely cold and a bit miserable, to be honest. My autoimmune condition already makes me feel like I have icicles in my blood and waiting outside in some cold dreary 45 degree weather didn’t help. It was a gray, overcast day with chance of rain at any moment and the cold weather always gets to my hands and feet to the point of pain. I think it’s called Reynaud’s Syndrome and goes along with my Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease. Oh joy! Damn those years of stress and lack of sleep that only got worse during the pandemic and my ASD son’s struggles at school and a bunch of other things, but that’s for another story!

When we got into Irving Plaza, we were asked to wait inside the main entrance, and waited there for about another fifteen minutes while they briefed us and explained that we wouldn’t get our VIP merch during the show but it would be mailed to us. I was kind of relieved that I didn’t have to carry a poster and guitar strap around with me, although I had already made arrangements to put them in Whitney’s car when she arrived.

While standing in the Irving Plaza vestibule, I glanced down to the floor to see what remained of the old black and white hexagonal tiles that I remember from some forty years ago when I stood in this very spot in my black leather biker jacket after one of the many hardcore punk shows I used to attend here back in the early 1980’s. I remember that the entry was completely covered in these black and white tiles, but they’ve since been covered up with drywall that has been painted a deep purplish burgundy color with ornate gold molding added to give the impression of a Baroque or Neoclassic high society estate. It definitely changed the impression that you get when you walk inside, but when glancing over at the bar in the corner with the beer and soft drink cooler, you are quickly reminded that it is a slightly- seedy nightclub and music venue. It’s definitely changed for the better and a good thing they no longer sell bottled beer. I vividly remember the night my friend Sindi had to leave early, because during a punk show, some numb-nut threw a bottle from the balcony into the mosh pit below and hit her right in the head. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what show it was, but fortunately, she recovered!

Finally, back to the present day! We are led into the main concert space where Jerry is having his sound check. We all slowly file in with our cellphone cameras put away to follow the specific instructions given to us a few minutes earlier that we mustn’t get our cellphones out during the Meet & Greet or risk being kicked out on our arses. Totally understandable, since they will be providing the photographs that we’ve paid for with our special VIP ticket.  

I don’t know if it was the fact that I was still so cold and shivery from being outside so long, or the the memory that I’ve been coming to this venue for over forty years and still have never set food on the stage as a performer, or what it was, but I suddenly got really emotional standing their watching and listening to the sound check. I had to hold my breath to stop from sobbing and keep the tears from rolling down my cheeks. I just felt so sad, tired, but also happy to see Jerry back up on the stage after two horrible years of us all being stuck inside without any live shows other than virtual performances. Also, the bittersweet feeling that he is still here after all of the hardships he’s been through with losing his beloved mom, grandmother and band mates. not to mention that incident with an injured finger from a freak football accident, shoulder surgery and a hard won battle with alcoholism. I guess all of those struggles he’s overcome give me inspiration to carry on in spite of mine, but I was a bit sad that I was standing there having to pay a fee to meet him instead of the way I always dreamed of meeting him – on stage as a fellow musician and performer.

Me and Jerry at Irving Plaza, NYC on 4.5.22

After the sound check a table was set-up and we all got back in line to meet Jerry. He was wearing a long black coat, scarf and sunglasses with red lenses.  It was really cold outside, but not much warmer inside the venue – probably to keep the virus germs at bay.

I was about the fourth or fifth person to meet Jerry and I was such a nervous emotional wreck at this point that I just wanted to get the hell out of there! I watched to see how long other people spent talking with him and some barely said anything to him and just got their one item signed, so I was very conscious about not taking up too much of his time. All I could manage to tell him was that I’ve been a fan since the 90’s when I first saw Alice in Chains perform “Them Bones” on MTV and that it was a “jaw dropping” moment for me.  I also said, “But I bet you you’ve heard this story a million of times.” He paused and looked at me, and I got a horrible feeling that I shouldn’t have said this, but maybe it was just my imagination because he then said, “Well, it’s always nice to meet a fan.”

He handed back my Brighten CD with a nice cobalt blue (my favorite color) sharpie signature on the inside cover and gave me a cool white guitar pick with an iridescent green wasp? and Jerry Cantrell logo on it. He seemed happy that I had brought his new CD to sign and not some old Alice in Chains music because it meant that I was supporting his latest musical efforts. This is very true, but I’ve loved all of the music he’s ever put out – some songs more than others – but overall I appreciate the value of all of them and that they don’t all sound alike and have various influences in them. I hear country music, hard rock, acoustic singer-songwriter, metal, grunge – of course – and many other genres of music in his songs.

After he gave me the CD with his signature, I almost ran out without my photo, but he and his assistant reminded me and we got a great photo together. I was so glad that I didn’t look awful considering how cold, tired and emotional I was. I was also happy that Jerry was even smiling a bit in the photograph. When I went to the site to download the photo, I could see the other VIP attendees photographs and he wasn’t smiling in all of them, but in various states of expression including the “metal horns” hand gesture I would also have been happy with! On the way out Jerry said, “Hey, enjoy the show tonight!” He’s not only the “riff lord” but a super nice guy as well! A real “mensch” as we would say in New York!

After the Meet & Greet

So after I met Jerry, I had some time before my friend Whitney was supposed to arrive at around 6pm, so I went around the corner to grab a quick dinner at 

Gramercy Kitchen 184 3rd Avenue, New York, NY 10003
Tel. 917-265-8884
https://www.gramercykitchen.nyc

Jerry Cantrell at Irving Plaza 4.5.22
Jerry Cantrell at Irving Plaza 4.5.22

As I said, I’m rarely in NYC anymore, so I was happy to discover this place because the service was quick, food was good and it had a nice more-than-your-average-diner kind of a vibe to it. I even had a glass of white wine with my scrambled eggs and rye toast. Weird combination, I know, but I really needed to mellow out with a glass of wine after my Meet & Greet experience. So far, I’m managing to not go overboard with the drinking, as tempting as it is many times, believe me! I guess I’m lucky that the only thing I’m addicted to is coffee! Got to have my caffeine! I can’t manage on my usual five hours of sleep with autoimmune condition without my coffee! And, before you even think it, yes, I know, giving up coffee and getting more sleep would be a better idea. I’m trying, but some days, with the never-ending roller coaster that is my life situation, it ain’t gonna happen. How the heck do you think I’ve even got time to write this long blog post? In my sleep?

Anyway, so perfect timing, I’m just finishing my dinner and Whitney texts me that she’s found an amazing parking spot just two blocks from Irving Plaza! The benefits of going to a Tuesday night weekday concert! I meet her at the car and I’m so glad to see my dear fellow mom friend from New Jersey! We chat for a few minutes and head back to the venue because the doors have already opened at 7pm. By this time, there is a huge line snaking around the block. I know Whitney isn’t keen on going up to the front of the stage and being smooshed in with a bunch of strangers, all vaccinated or not, so I suggest we go get a drink at this pub/restaurant I just walked by an hour earlier.

Headless Horseman 119 East 15th Street New York, NY 10003.
214.632.9844
https://headlesshorsemannyc.com

On the way out from meeting Jerry, I saw it was just around the corner from Irving Plaza and it looked good. They were having a happy hour, but I wasn’t sure if they served food so I went to Gramercy Kitchen instead. It turns out they do have a good pub menu, and a great atmosphere. It’s dark with lots of old wood decor inside with a cool horse and carriage archway at the entrance. We go inside for a half hour as there’s a restroom and we can wait out the crowd and go in to see Jerry after everyone has gone in. I fully expected to not be able to see a thing when we went inside, but I didn’t want to ditch my friend to use my VIP entry ticket and stand at the front without her, even though she said she was fine with that idea! 

It worked out really well! I bought her a soda and I had one last glass of wine for the evening — Much less expensive here during happy hour than at Irving Plaza! It was great to talk and catch-up with Whitney as we’ve barely seen each other during the COVID-19 pandemic. When we went to go into Irving Plaza and do the security and vaccination check, it went really quickly without the crowds and the security woman that patted me down was very understanding about the granola bar that was in my coat pocket. “No, not a gun, just a granola bar.” Phew!

During the Show

When we got inside, I suggested we check out the balcony since I had a VIP pass, but we didn’t need one to go upstairs and we totally lucked out. Because it was still early and the opening act, Lola Colette was just starting to play, we were able to get an amazing spot right in front of the red ropes blocking off the stage lighting and sound area directly centered to the front of the stage. Since Irving Plaza is a smaller venue, we weren’t far away and could see the entire stage without anyone blocking our view! We were so happy and had a great time at the show. I took tons of photos and video of almost every song they played that night.

Lola Colette at Irving Plaza 4.5.22
Lola Colette at Irving Plaza 4.5.22

If my memory serves me correctly, Jerry started out with “Them Bones,” “Your Decision” and went straight into the title track off his new CD, “Brighten.” then a trip back to “Cut You In” from his 1998 solo album Boggy Depot. After this he played one of my favorite tracks off of Brighten, “Siren Song” which has a rad animated video release to go with it. Then, it was back to some Alice in Chains with “No Excuses,” “Heaven Beside You,” “Check My Brain,” “Would,” “Man in A Box” was in the set as well, “Between,” “Psychotic Break,” and then it was back to the present with “Atone,” the old AIC crowd favorite, “Rooster” and ending the night with the appropriately titled song from the final track on Brighten, “Goodbye,” which definitely sounds to me like it was influenced by Jerry’s love of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s music.

After the Show

A few days after the Irving Plaza show and meeting Jerry Cantrell for the first time, I decided to look up some more information on the internet about Layne Staley. I came across this article and was surprised  to find out that he died exactly twenty years ago on April 5, 2002! 

https://www.grunge.com/205459/the-tragic-real-life-story-of-alice-in-chains/

Layne Staley died 20 years ago today in 2002 at the age of 34. I didn’t realize this when I went to meet Jerry Cantrell. I’m glad I didn’t say anything about Layne, or maybe I should have. I didn’t even realize and I think maybe that’s why Jerry seemed a bit “off” to me when I met him and referenced that I’d been a fan since the 90’s.  He seemed a bit down, not readily apparent, but something felt like it was going on under the surface of his pleasant and friendly demeanor. Maybe it was just that it was a cold, gray day in NYC and I get the impression that New York City isn’t really Jerry’s  “cup of tea.”  As Greg Puciato put it on his Instagram post, “a reasonable night in NYC” or something along those lines.

This was the same year that I got married to my husband on April 20, 2002, only 15 days after Layne’s passing. What a strange coincidence that I would see Jerry play and meet him on this day of all days. 

Jerry Cantrell at Irving Plaza 4.5.22

So the reality of meeting Jerry was definitely different than how I imagined it would be a few weeks before. Of course, I was rehearsing all of the various witty and fun things I was planning to say like, “Hello fellow 1966 baby, singer-songwriter and guitarist.” Or, “How are your cats doing? I have an almost twenty year old cat and love cats. What are your cats names again? Ted and Dealy?” “Oh right, who is watching them? I hope you have a good cat sitter!” “Do they travel with you? Ha ha!” “So, I’m also a guitarist and songwriter, here’s my card. I would love to play guitar or sing on one of your tracks.” “Oh, by the way, is that last song “Goodbye” on Brighten inspired by Elton John?”

It would have felt better having him know that I’m also a musician, but instead I just walked away feeling like my usual imposter I’m-not-a-real-musican self. Ironically, that moment back in 1991 when I was sitting in River Dell, NJ on my then-boyfriend’s bed watching Alice in Chains play “Them Bones” for the first time, I was in the middle of getting my second college degree in Computer Graphics at The School of Visual Arts in New York City. I said to myself, “I never want to be just a New Jersey housewife and I still want to be a musician and play my guitar.” It was at that moment that I decided I would never stop playing music and always want more than a mundane existence.

Ironically, I am a New Jersey housewife, but since that time, I’ve earned two college degrees, given birth to two beautiful, intelligent and caring sons, gotten married to a hard-working husband with a cool British accent – “Hello American ladies! Eat your heart out!” I’ve played guitar in many bands, formed my own band, sung live on BBC London Radio and performed music on stage in London, NYC, other US states, and had my music streamed internationally. I’ve written and co-written many original songs, produced original song albums, not to mention playing drums, piano, and even a bit of bass guitar. 

I may not be where I want to be yet, but I’m not just a New Jersey housewife either and who knows, maybe Jerry and I will be on stage together someday at an AARP benefit! Ha ha!

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