That Time I Unexpectedly Played Onstage with Alice in Chains in the Middle of Their Concert

Alice in Chains, Dirt Tour — Tucson, 1993

Every once in a while this story resurfaces in conversation. It’s pretty cool, so I thought I would go ahead and write it down for posterity.

Chapter 1: Moshtoberfest Takes the Stage

One of my bands, Cadaverous Quartet, was commanding the Tucson metal scene and was beginning to get international attention in underground music networks. We had recently won our second consecutive Battle of the Bands at this place called The Rock — a little dive bar that caged 21-year-olds off to the side so bands could play all-ages shows.

Our most substantial gig was in October of 1992, when we were asked to co-headline this event dubbed “Moshtoberfest.” Some local promoter had this idea that if he billed all of the best local bands in one show, he could fill the exhibition hall of the Tucson Convention Center, which could accommodate upwards of 10,000 people. About 7,000 people showed up, which was monumental when compared with the 400–500 people we typically hosted at a show.

I remember being blown away at how enormous the stage was. My bandmates and I were used to being crammed onto a tiny stage, where we could share meaningful eye contact for cues, and stage divers would occasionally get tossed into my drum rack. On this stage the drum riser had me towering over the crowd, and it felt like I needed flares to get the attention of my bandmates.

In the end, it was an amazing show. We watched as our music stirred up a colossal mosh pit for most of our 45-minute set, triggered by one part shredding guitars and one part thunderous double-bass humming that rattled the concrete floor like an earthquake. And…there was a rockstar back-stage area, which was a completely new experience for us.

Chapter 2: Alice in Chains Takes the Stage

It’s six months post-Moshtoberfest. My friend and I arrive at the show, and everything seemed normal. Lots of kids amped up and ready to sweat, long lines at the merch stands, and people speed-smoking outside so they could get close to the stage without having to concede their spot for a nicotine fix. But briefly after the show began, things got really weird.

It became apparent after a couple of songs that frontman Layne Stanley was quite inebriated. He wasn’t performing up to par, and by the third or fourth song he began saying bizarre things to the people in the front row. The details of the dialog are fuzzy, but I recall his saying something like “our roadies can play our songs if you don’t like the way we’re playing them.”

After another song or two someone literally throws a shoe at Layne. He throws it back and then halts his band from continuing with the song.

He says something to the effect of “fuck it, if you think you can do better, why don’t you come up here and play,” and then he pulls this young kid onto stage. Drummer Sean Kinney surfaces from behind his kit, hands the kid his sticks, and gives him permission to go play. The kid sits down and starts mindlessly bashing away on his kit. Within seconds Sean retrieves his sticks and expels the wannabe drummer.

In this complete WTF moment, the only thing I’m thinking about is how I badly I wanted to be in that kid’s position. Then the moment arrives. It all becomes so clear to me: I actually know how to get back stage because my band just had all-access at this venue six months prior.

Chapter 3: I Take the Stage

As I step out from behind the wall of speakers, Sean Kinney notices me walking towards him. Clearly I’m not security, clearly I’m not in their crew, and clearly I’m a long-haired metal kid, strolling with an accidental arrogance in response to their call-for-players.

Sean says into the microphone “oooh, I guess someone came to play.” His face reveals his inner thoughts, that I’m another fan who’s gonna bash his kit for a moment before he can eject me from the stage. So he happily hands his sticks to me and says “have at it.”

Half of the crowd is booing and the other half seems to be cheering for me. I feel like I’m a moment away from hurling all over the stage. Then I hear some people yelling my name. I think it’s an auditory hallucination, but remember that these are my people. Many of them have seen me play in my bands. Many of them have shared drinks and laughs with me.

Okay, let’s go.

As I climb behind his high-end, meticulously-cared-for kit I feel so absolutely at home. A drum set — any drum set — is my domain. This is where I spend my days. But Sean didn’t know this.

I take a deep breath. Then I scan the sea of people who are quieting down and waiting with anticipation. I raise my sticks, not knowing what I’m going to play. My mind is racing. “Should I play a solo?” “Should I play one of our songs?” I just drop my arms and let it happen.

My mind and body take over, and I play this piece I wrote as the introduction to one of my band’s songs. It’s a drum-solo segment, and it has a catchy rhythm to it. I look out and see Jerry Cantrell smiling and getting into the groove. Then, at the pinnacle of my experience, he begins to riff with me.

Yeah. I’m actually jamming with Jerry Cantrell, on stage, in the middle of an Alice in Chains concert. People begin cheering and screaming. This is happening. What. The. Fuck?

Chapter 4: Sean Kinney Concedes

I see Sean Kinney smiling, shaking his head, and walking towards me. I’m thinking “it’s time. I’m being ejected. Gotta keep playing until he pries the sticks from my hands.”

But I play it cool. When he extends his hands for the sticks, I stop playing and hand them over. He smirks and says “you got me. That was great. There’s a cooler of beer over there on the side of the stage. Feel free to chill there and have one on me.”

I climbed down from the drum riser, threw my hands up and yelled at the audience. I walk over to Jerry and thank him for jamming with me. He shakes my hand and says “nice playing, dude.”

And just like that, it was over.

I enjoyed the rest of the show on the side of the stage, and the crowd was in a better mood after the intermission. I’d like to think I contributed to making peace between a drunk frontman and his shoe-throwing fans.

Chapter 5: “You’re That Guy”

This lasted a while, before dying down and fading away. Almost as urban legend. But there were 10,000 people there who bore witness, and their memories serve as a pre-internet archive of this would-have-been-viral moment in history.

My bands did amazing things. I have countless stories of shenanigans, strange encounters, and unexpected events in my music career. But this was definitely my “fifteen seconds” moment. And it was glorious.

Meditator, experience designer, technologist, international public speaker, writer, family man, soccer addict, activist ✊🏻

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