Strange Wings: My Savatage story
By Bob Peterson, November 4, 1999
There's no such thing as a Savatage fan. I believe that you're either totally obsessed, or else you've never heard of Savatage. My wife Kathy and I have both been obsessed with Savatage since we heard the song "Chance" for the first time in 1997. Since that time, we've collected all their CDs and we listen to them daily, often hourly. We dreamed about seeing Savatage in concert, but we live in Minneapolis, far away from all the Savatage tours and we didn=t want to spend a lot of money flying around the USA to see them.
Kathy and I used to travel a lot and had accumulated some frequent flier tickets through Northwest Airlines. In 1998 we decided to use the free tickets to see Savatage in Atlanta.
On the Friday before the concert, I turned off my computer at 4:00pm (which has The Wake of Magellan album cover as a background screen) and removed the TSO CD that was playing. I have no doubt that it was a relief to my office mate who didn't understand listening to Christmas music in the middle of June! After we got to the airport, the mechanics kept our airplane grounded for two hours and we missed our connecting flight in Memphis. There were no more flights to Atlanta that evening, so we had to "Stay" in Minneapolis until the next morning. Northwest airlines gave us $150.00 in travel vouchers for the inconvenience.
When Saturday morning came, our flight was all ready to go except for one thing: the flight was over-booked by dozens of people. Northwest offered $800.00 in travel vouchers to anyone who would take a later flight. I looked at Kathy and said, "With $1600.00 vouchers plus the $150.00 we got yesterday, we can see Savatage in Europe later in the year!" Kathy's eyes lit up. Soon we were moved to the 3:00pm flight. That flight was also over-booked, so Northwest graciously moved us to the only seats available on the plane: first class! So Northwest airlines gave us $1750.00 to fly first class to see Savatage! There's a God, and faith is not pretend "Anymore"!
The Atlanta show was everything we dreamed. It was in a small bar with only 200 or so people. There were two warmup bands. The first band was called Salt Jack. They were a hack-and-slash angry-sounding metal band who tried their best to fire up the audience. As they played, their faces held an expression of arrogance, as if to say, "Who the hell is Savatage anyway? Salt Jack will show you how to rock!" But much to their dismay, the audience looked bored. Surely this was no ordinary audience! Savatage fans accept nothing less than musical excellence! Meanwhile, some of the members of Savatage were walking around the bar, socializing with the fans. I asked Jon Oliva how he was doing. He said he was nervous because he was missing a band member (guitarist Al Pitrelli had an accident on the previous night's show and was in New York with his arm in a cast).
When it was Savatage's turn on stage, the members of Salt Jack were sitting next to me in the audience. Their jaws hung open, obviously overwhelmed and outclassed a thousandfold by even an incomplete version of Savatage! I remember when Savatage sang, "...started playing bars, kids came in their cars, hear them shouting at the stage..." the whole audience screamed back the response, "Jesus saves!" The once-proud faces of Salt Jack now held an expression that said, "Oh my God, Savatage makes us look like crap!" The music and the whole stage performance were glorious, beyond the description of mere mortals. After two encores, the band left the stage, and we were all left with the ghost of Criss Oliva playing his guitar solo, "Silk and Steel." It was a touching moment. After the show, I had my photo taken with Jon outside the bar.
After the show a friendly, clean-shaven gentleman approached us from a nearby table. He had the same piercing eyes as Zak Stevens. He asked, "Is it true that y=all flew in from Minnesota just to see Savatage?" "Yes we did," I replied, "And if things work out well, we'll see them again in Europe!" We chatted for a while. He told us he was Zak's brother and that he and his family had driven to Atlanta to see the show. I told him that it was Zak's silky voice that started Kathy on the road to Savatage-obsession. He told us that it meant a lot to hear that and to see such support for the band. It was obvious he was very proud of his brother. He said that Zak had always been talented, and could outperform most drummers in the business.
In the fall of 1998, Kathy and I took our $1750.00 in free travel vouchers, and flew to Paris where we saw Savatage for the second time. With Al Pitrelli present, the show was even better than the Atlanta show. We took a train from Paris to Dusseldorf and saw Savatage again. It was great to see Savatage perform in a place where they were truly appreciated by the fans. When we returned to the USA we still had travel vouchers. We didn=t want the money to be wasted, so we used them to fly to New York City to attend the ASavacon@ Savatage convention.
I'm a Savatage fan for several reasons. First, Savatage's songs have depth and meaning. It's not hack-and-slash meaningless metal. The songs are brilliantly written. The stories, the clarity of vision, and the feelings portrayed all contribute to an experience that no other band has come near. Savatage has touched my soul in ways that nothing else ever could. Second, the quality, musicianship, and excellence of all the band members, flowing in a perfect harmony, execute that vision with impeccable grace and precision. I "Believe!"