JULY 2005 ISSUE
Right: Mark Hershberger (on left) with Dee Long
Klaatu? There's a Konvention being held for that band? How many people even remember that band? Well, evidently quite a few as nearly 150 people from all over the world descended on Toronto on the weekend of May 7, 2005. I remember that date in particular, as it was my 17th wedding anniversary. And yes, I left my wife at home and made the pilgrimage to Toronto to see this band that I've loved since 1976 perform live together for the first time in nearly 23 years.
To call this merely a Konvention would seem too bland a description, as it was more like a large family reunion. You have to understand that many of the attendees have known each other for many years…..they have just never seen each other face to face. Through the wonders of the internet, e-mail, chat groups, newsgroups and the all-encompassing Klaatu web site www.Klaatu.org (run by his Klaatuness Dave Bradley), the Klaatu legacy has been kept alive by a hardcore group of devoted fans and friends from the world over. This gathering in Toronto was, for many, the first time they have seen people face to face that they have been corresponding with for many years. So, I hope that gives you a sense of why people came in from places as far away as Germany and Switzerland just to hang out in a hotel for a weekend with fellow fans.
Sharon Vernon and her top notch staff of Fans First Inc., put together a Konvention weekend that was first class all the way. As their organization implies, the fans come first, and the entire weekend was planned, organized, and executed in such a way that every fan felt like they were a VIP. Sure, there were schedules to be kept, and security measures to be taken, but everything flowed so smoothly that it almost seemed effortless.
The weekend started Friday afternoon with a Klaatu Mystery Tour bus sightseeing trip around the greater Toronto area. (For those of you with a basic Klaatu knowledge, you will get the "Mystery Tour" reference. For those who are new to the Klaatu story, check out the web site at www.Klaatu.org for more info.) The host for the tour was the ever sharp witted Klaatu expert and local Bullseye Record executive Jaimie Vernon (no relation to Sharon Vernon outside of the fact that they are married!) Jaimie's record label Bullseye is responsible for re-mastering and re-releasing the Klaatu catalogue plus solo discs from Klaatu members Dee Long and Terry Draper. Check those out at www.bullseyecanada.com. Jaimie's knowledge of Klaatu related sites in the Toronto area is very broad, and his humorous banter kept the day rolling along. Sort of like John Candy in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles singing the Flintstone's theme on the bus ride. (Wait, isn't Candy Canadian as well??) We stopped by The Obelisk that was used as inspiration for the artwork on Klaatu's 2nd album "Hope". Drove by Danforth Music Hall (a Klaatu concert site), and in total, saw about 15 Klaatu related sites around the city. The tour also dropped us off at Toronto's Hard Rock Café for food and drink and a short walk to a few of Toronto's better CD shops. Always have to visit a CD shop! By the time the bus arrived back at the hotel, we were tired, but well satiated in all of the Klaatu knowledge we gained.
Right: Terry Draper (photo by David Bradley)
The evening events were pretty laid back as more people were arriving from time to time. There was a social gathering in the hotel bar for all fans. This was actually a highlight as I have always said that much of the charm of this Konvention was just hanging out with people I've known for many years, but was just meeting for the first time! And although some of the conversation was centered around Klaatu, most of it ended up being about each other, our families, our lives. Great stuff! Unbeknownst to most of the fans in the bar that night, the members of Klaatu were in the Konvention ballroom setting up gear and preparing for a sound check for the next days live performance. I was privy to most of the process as I had special access status due to my association with Bullseye / Klaatu …or maybe because I whined so much they just let me in to shut me up. The humorous part of this sound check was watching a few people literally scotch tape and chewing gum Terry Draper's old PC together in order to get it to work for the show. Terry's son Adam was in charge of triggering some backing tracks from the PC for the concert. I don't believe the old Mac had been moved out of Terry's studio in 15 years, so the drive from his house to the hotel shook loose every internal component to the point of near disaster. A little Klaatu fan ingenuity saved the day, however. The sound check and set-up went on until nearly 1:30 in the morning, so it was a late night indeed!
The next day, Saturday, was the main event day. There was a very special video presentation on a large screen in the main hall. We were treated to many different Klaatu rare videos including the never before publicly seen animated feature "Happy New Year Planet Earth" video. This was a ½ hour long animated film produced in 1978 that featured 6 Klaatu songs throughout. The film's budget dried up before it was completed, so it was never aired and has sat unseen since. We also saw the completed animated "video" for the Klaatu song "A Routine Day". This video actually did air in Australia of all places and has seen some play over the years though out the world. This was followed by some extremely rare video of Klaatu playing live in concert from 1981. Klaatu toured for only 1 1/3 years from 1981 / 82, so any live audio or video is extremely rare. The finale of the video presentation was a brand new animated video production for the song "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft". This song, Klaatu's signature as it were, was given an outstanding treatment in animation featuring many Klaatu related visuals featured on album covers and culminating in the ship featured on the final album "Magentalane" cover coming to life and sailing through space. Seeing the sails of the ship actually billowing was just incredible! Awesome!
A quick surprise for all in attendance occurred when all three band members, John Woloschuk, Dee Long and Terry Draper were introduced to a standing ovation. They came out briefly, said hello and welcome, and then existed, They would return a short time later for a formal Q + A session.
Right: John Woloschuk (photo by David Bradley)
The video presentation was followed by a Q + A session with Frank Davies and Steve Smith. Frank Davies was the president of Daffodil Records who released the first few Klaatu singles, and he was also responsible for getting Klaatu signed to Capital Records without Capital ever having met the band or even knowing their names! Unheard of and unprecedented in the industry! Frank managed Klaatu's career and remains very close to the band to this day. His insight and stories were fascinating. He is a true gentleman and was such a pleasure to listen to. Steve Smith is the man responsible for creating the "Could Klaatu be the Beatles?" rumor. He was, in fact, not even a writer at the Providence Journal, but he ended up penning the story that broke world wide within a few days of publication and set the wheels in motion for Beatle fans to check it out. His anecdotes were fantastic!
Shortly afterwards, the guys from Klaatu, joined by Ted Jones who is the artist who created the beautiful Klaatu album covers for "3:47 EST", "Hope", "Endangered Species", and "Magentalane, took the stage for a Q & A session. Rumor had it that John Woloschuk, who has remained a bit of an enigma publicly since Klaatu called it quits in 1982, was not planning on saying too much during the Q & A session. He wanted to leave most of the talking to Terry, Dee, and Ted. Well, maybe it was the moment, maybe he was caught up in the enthusiasm from the fans, whatever the reason, he talked on and on and on with most of the questions. These answers, coming from the person considered to be the major creative force behind Klaatu, were just incredible. His stories were humorous and insightful. He really seemed to be enjoying himself. All members of the band are unique personalities and very affable. It is always a joy to hear Ted Jones speak about his part in the Klaatu story. As most Klaatu fans know, Ted's artwork was indeed an integral part of the bands image.
After the Q & A, there was a break for folks to get some dinner, and everyone knew that the best was yet to come. We were promised a 6 song acoustic set from Klaatu! Unbelievable! Really a dream come true. But….what we got ws more than anyone expected. John played acoustic guitar, Dee played electric guitar, and Terry, ever the inventive one, played a strange combination of Keyboard / Bass Drum / High Hat that would have been well suited to the garage in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But, it worked beautifully! As I mentioned earlier, Terry's son Adam was controlling a computer triggering background music to compliment the songs as well. So, what was originally slated as a 6 song acoustic set turned into a semi-acoustic / electric show! I was awestruck, as I believe most everyone in the room was. The band came out to another standing ovation and cheers galore. They launched into "At the End of the Rainbow" from the Magentalane album. It was sheer perfection. It was as if they never stopped playing together! 23 years, and no rust. John's voice was as it sounds on the records! As I looked around the room, you could see people with tears in their eyes. It was actually happening. They were seeing Klaatu play live! Understand, this is something that up to a few weeks before the Konvention, no one thought they would ever see. The Konvention did not originally have this on the agenda. This was a concert I think truly no fan thought they would ever have the chance to actually be a part of. But here it was. It feels so good! The set list followed with "I Don't Wanna Go Home", "Cherie", "Magentalane" (which included an audience sing along), an incredible semi acoustic / electric version of "Little Neutrino", and ended with the apropos "All Good Things". It was only six songs. It lasted barely ½ an hour. It didn't include their bigger, better known tracks like "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft", "Knee Deep in Love", or "A Routine Day" …but somehow, it didn't matter. It was a perfect selection of songs for the occasion. They performed flawlessly. I, like everyone there, was emotionally spent. Speechless. Period.
After the concert, there was a meet and greet with the band members. This was set up so well by Fans First in that a private room with snacks and a bar was available. Fans could mingle, eat, drink and talk about what just happened. When the band members arrived (along with Ted Jones, Steve Smith, and Frank Davies) all fans were asked to take a seat at one of the many large round tables, leaving one chair unoccupied. Then, for the next hour or so, the band members and special guests rotated from table to table spending 10 minutes chatting with the 8 or so people at each table. It was so personal. Right in your face. I've known Terry Draper personally for many years and count him as a good friend. I've known Dee Long casually for a number of years as well. I hardly knew John Woloschuk before the evening started. But, I , too…..felt like a star struck child when each one sat down. Fortunately, my innate ability to add comic relief to virtually any situation did apply itself, and the conversations flowed rather well. Again, by the time this session was over, everyone was emotionally exhausted, but, at the same time, so damn energized by the entire evening!
Right: Dee Long (photo by David Bradley)
Most of the hardcore fans adjourned to the hotel bar where plenty of drinking, partying, laughter, and stunned rapture ensued. It had happened. It WAS a happening. One to be remembered for a lifetime. These are Klaatu fans we are talking about here. A rare breed of fan to be sure. One thing that struck me as really special, is that there was no gloating about being there when we knew a number of fans and friends could not make the trip for many different reasons. Some financial, some personal. To a man, everyone talked about how they wished so-and-so would have been here. How much a number of members of the fan base were missed. It's a big family, a family that grew even larger during the Konvention.
The next morning (Sunday) was basically the day that most people headed for home. There was, however, one more event to attend. Fans First Inc., organized a charity auction to benefit "Save the Children" Canada. There were many items donated by the band members including a foot pedal (A Big Muff) used by John Woloschuk on the Klaatu tours and a custom made jacket worn by Terry Draper on tour. The highlight of the auction was a pair of hollowed out, dried out coconuts used in the recording of the "Hope" album. Bidding was furious. You would have thought a representative of the Hard Rock Café was in attendance. The winning bid topped out at nearly $2000 Canadian (which is what, $42.99 U.S.?). Fans First Inc., raised a few thousand dollars for the charity doing this auction, and the fans had a great time bidding on all sorts of memorabilia. It was a great way to end the weekend…giving something back as thanks for a chance of a lifetime!
Final mention has to be made of the other reason fans showed up at the Konvention. We were celebrating the release of "Sunset", a 2 disc rarities package of Klaatu singles, b-sides, alternate mixes, unreleased gems, live tracks, and rare audio. The package, featuring stunning new artwork by Ted Jones, was the icing on the cake. It is something that the fans have been asking for for many years, and Jaimie Vernon of Bullseye Records delivered. If you are a fan, or just curious. I would highly highly recommend you stop by the Bullseye sight (www.bullseyecanada.com) and order this gorgeous and well done package.
Bravo Fans First Inc., Bravo Jaimie and Sharon Vernon…….Bravo Klaatu! As John Woloshuck was leaving the final meet and greet, he turned to the crowd and said, "Maybe we will see you next year!". Oh man………