2017 exposed a lot of ugliness roiling not so far under our somewhat civilized surface, and pop culture could not help but address the issues of the edge-of-history era we seem to find ourselves crazily twittering our way through.

2017 was all about politics, and that doesn’t seem to be letting up any time soon, so its important to find entertainment that takes our minds off the perilous world around us, even if it’s just for a while.  That’s how our minds work. If someone were to tell me the only media they pay attention to is their favorite news source, I fear for their happiness and sanity.


My entertainment last year shook out like this:

Since TV has so many quality options available, and its still at least half an hour to our closest theatre, we don’t get to to the movies as much as we used to.

On Netflix,  our household binged Stranger Things Season 2Master of None, and Big Mouth (A), The Defenders, Ozark, Mindhunter, and American Vandal, (A-) as well as the most recent prior season of Showtime’s  Shameless (A+, as always).


Favorite TV stand-up specials include Dave Chapelle: Age of Spin,  Jen Kirkman: Just Keep Livin?,  Marc Maron: Too Real,  and Patton Oswalt: Annihilation.

My wife and I saw all but the last two episodes of Game of Thrones‘ 2018 season on a lazy Sunday in a Cleveland hotel room, and caught up with the show’s twisty cliffhanger (SPOILER ALERT: more incest!) on Amazon, where I am currently catching up on both The Man in the High Tower and The Tick, which I am enjoying. You’re the Worst, The Detour, and Search Party are my kind of network comedies, though I also agree with critics that The Good Place is also pretty awesome.


Baby Driver was the best movie I saw in theaters last year. Thor: Ragnarok was my favorite comic book movie, though Spiderman: Homecoming and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 were both fine installments to the cinematic superhero canon.  The Big Sick and Mr. Roosevelt were funny, endearing low-key comedies, made by artists with personal stories to tell.

Justice League was good, but man, other than Wonder Woman, my beloved DC Comics just can’t seem to find solid theatrical footing.


Still haven’t seen Get Out, Atomic Blonde, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Disaster Artist,or Ladybird but intend on seeing all next first chance.

I’m grooving on Eminem’s new album a lot, but this is the era of singles and streaming services. My favorite songs of 2017 include My Mind is for Sale by Jack Johnson,  Livin’ on the 110 by Prophets of Rage, and Foo Fighters’ The Sky is a Neighborhood. The Foos’  SNL performance of that that song and their medley late on the night of the Saturday before the holiday really jump-started my Christmas spirit.

2017 was the year I discovered Postmodern Jukebox, and fell in love with Morgan James’ cover of the Aerosmith song, Dream On. My wife and I are watching both acts tour schedule and hope to see them in 2018.

I didn’t read many new books in 2017, but instead fell back on some old favorites, comfort reading really, in the form of Tom Robbins (Jitterbug Perfume and Skinny Legs and All are still my favorites), Neil Gaiman, and Mark Twain. I look to get back on track in 2018 and read some newer books I’ve been meaning to get to, such as the fictional take on Charles Manson’s cult The Girls by Emma Cline, the kidnapping thriller Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy, and the humorous The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder.

Nonfiction in my to-read pile include J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, Corbin Reiff’s Lighters in the Sky, and the Vanity Fair Diaries 1983-1992 by Tina Brown.

Comic book wise, Tom King’s run on Batman is ranking among the all time greatest, the dark Archie stuff is cutting edge, and the updated version of Scooby Doo in Scooby Doo: Apocalypse has become a favorite. Saga is still great, Manifest Destiny about the strange Lewis and Clark expedition is awesome, and Lady Mechanika is a steampunk treat.
 The Watchmen – DC Universe crossover Doomsday Clock has started off as a stellar addition to the year in comics, both last year and 2018.

My favorite podcasts of the past year are Doug Loves Movies, How Did this Get Made, and Dumb People Town.

Howard Stern still entertains me day in and day out, and though the show’s R-rated shenanigans have mellowed, the staff interactions continue to delight with fly-on-the-wall glee and Howard’s 2017 interviews with such creative  luminaries as Bono and the Edge, Robert Plant, Miley Cyrus, David Letterman, Jimmy Iovine, and Chris Cornell get better all the time. Sadly, the Whack Pack is diminished by loss every year, with 2017 taking Nicole Bass and Joey Boots.


The celebrity deaths that most touched me in 2017 were Adam West, Mary Tyler Moore, Chuck Berry,  Don Rickles, Tom Petty, and a certain CGI television tiger.


I’m also still pretty pissed about the end of @midnight.

Personal pop culture highlights of 2017 were seeing Stevie Nicks on her storytelling tour (though severely disappointed openers The Pretenders had to bail), Green Day (known in our household) as the best concert ever, and Dave Chapelle at DC’s historic Warner Theater, which aired for the first time on Netflix on New Years Eve 2017, and was as entertaining and insightful as the show was when we saw him live.

Finally visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was a bucket list kind of trip.


But my favorite pop culture moment of 2017 was when we went to see WONDER WOMAN in the theater. Four elderly ladies, one using a walker, planted themselves in the the aisle access front row and watched that movie as though they’d been waiting their whole lives to see it.  Watching those ladies watch Wonder Woman helped me remember how important entertainment is to our lives.



In 2018, we have tickets to see comedian JB Smoove at the landmark Times Square comedy club Caroline’s. We’ve seen comedy in NYC before, but never at Caroline’s. A visit to this comedy mecca will be crossed of our list by the end of January.

In September, we hope to visit friends and attend the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival, which in the past has headlined such artists as Etta James, Lou Reed, and Willie Nelson. Performers for this event will be announced in March.


We also hope to get back to Nashville in 2018.


And we’ll be looking for breaks in the politics wherever we can find them.

Happy New Year from poppedculturebrent!




My friend and fellow writer Kenton Kilgore recently posted a blog about listening to music while writing such Young Adult novels as Dragontamer’s Daughters, Lost Dogs and his current work This Wasted Land. Though I share Kenton’s love of music, I find music with lyrics distracting when I write, so if I’m listening to music while tapping away at the keyboard, its usually light classical or instrumental covers of the adult contemporary, classic rock ,or Americana that I usually listen to.

It’s elevator music, basically.

I do, however, use popular music in my writing.

Almost every character I ever write about has a playlist.

Organizing a playlist for my characters gives me insight into who they are. The music someone listens to can tell you as much about them as what they look like or how they talk. Musical preferences help define a character’s tastes, which in turn helps a writer understand that character’s interior emotions and thoughts, as well as their outlook on the world that’s being created around them.

Music is a type of setting. Think about the difference in the music played at a ballgame, in a ballroom, or in a barroom.

Even lack of interest in music, having no playlist at all,  says a lot about a character.

For my novel Bloody Point 1976, a story about a young Chesapeake Bay waterman hired to return a local big wheel’s daughter from The Block, Baltimore’s notorious red light district, all the major characters except Clacker Herbertson, who couldn’t care less about what’s playing on the radio, has a playlist.

Tooey Walter is the book’s protagonist. Tooey’s twenty years old and works on the water catching crabs and oysters. He lives with his grandparents and is a bit of a loner. Until Bloody Point 1976 begins, his life is not very exciting at all.  Tooey listens to 8-track tapes in his secondhand pickup truck and prefers southern rock and mainstream rock music.

Tooey’s playlist includes artists like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger, and Steve Miller.  The first time in the book that music is associated with Tooey is when he pops Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic into his tape player when he leaves Harris Bradnox’s Bloody Point Estate for the first time.

The Toys in the Attic album provided me not only character development points but also hit on some of the darker themes that would run throughout the book. Not only that, but the name of the character Salt Wade, the obvious and primary villain of the story, started with a track off this album called Uncle Salty.

Later, as Tooey starts off on his big city adventure, he pops in Heart’s Dreamboat Annie.  He compares listening singer Ann Wilson’s voice to attending church, and finds no over-the-top sex symbol nearly as hot as Anne’s sister Nancy when she’s wailing away on her guitar. Despite including hits like Magic Man and Crazy on You,  the song that Tooey is listening to as he drives across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge is White Lightning and Wine.

And towards the end, Tooey has a Stevie Wonder moment. Boogie on Reggae Woman is the song buzzing in Tooey’s head as he tries to recover from a Salt Wade beatdown.

Delores ‘Dee’ Bradnox is the wayward daughter Tooey is sent to retrieve. Working as a stripper called Heaven, and trying to resist Salt’s pressures to take her involvement in the sex worker trade to the next level, Dee is not a discriminate music lover. Whatever’s playing on the jukebox at Club Harem or Nick’s Mousetrap is good enough for her.

In Bloody Point 1976 Disco hits like Thelma Houston’s Don’t Leave Me This Way, Fire by the Ohio Players, Hot Chocolate’s You Sexy Thing, and former porn star Andrea True’s More, More, More all bring the ladies to the stage, as do such funky classics as the Commodore’s Slippery When Wet and party anthems like Rock and Roll All Nite by Kiss and Foghat’s Slow Ride.

And it wouldn’t be the 70’s without big hunks of AM radio cheese like Afternoon Delight (Starland Vocal Band),  Let Her In (up-and-comer John Travolta), and Moonlight Feels Right (Starbuck) with it’s Chesapeake Bay theme and references

When Tooey hits The Block for the first time, he’s treated to a surprise striptease by a beautiful bartender who not only gives him a lead on finding Dee, she also provides a moment of major discomfort for our young hero. The song that’s playing is the infinitely sexy Tell Me Something Good by Chaka Khan and Rufus.

The final main character, Salt Wade, more than any of the others, is driven by music. He listens to the bluesmen of the early 20th century almost to exclusivity. More specifically, he’s obsessed with the music of a harmonica master named Howlin’ Lobo, an obvious nod to the great and powerful Howlin’ Wolf.

So that’s how music influenced the characters in my novel Bloody Point 1976.

If you’re a writer, I’m curious if and how you use music in your writing.

If you’re not a writer, I’m curious if music helps define who you are.

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BLOODY POINT 1976  is available at Amazon and at various local retail outlets, as are my nonfiction books, REMEMBERING KENT ISLAND – STORIES FROM THE CHESAPEAKE and A HISTORY OF THE KENT ISLAND FIRE DEPARTMENT.




The latest in a series about influences from Kenton’s earlier days:

Many–probably most–writers listen to music as they work, but for me, it’s more than background noise. Some musicians, some songs inspire me when I’m writing, and that’s especially true for my latest project, This Wasted Land, a young adult dark fantasy novel that will be published in early 2018.

My favorite band is Led Zeppelinthe premier group of the 1970’s. With guitarist Jimmy Page, vocalist Robert Plant, bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham, Zeppelin was a perfect example of the whole being more than the sum of its parts, so much so that when Bonham died in 1980, the group disbanded rather than attempt to replace him.

Even if you’re not a fan of classic hard rock, you have surely heard–perhaps more times than you’ve cared to–their magnum opus “Stairway to Heaven,” which Rolling Stone magazine listed as #31 on its list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” (not bad for a band that RS hated during Zep’s heyday).

But while people may automatically think of the over-played “Stairway” when they hear the name of the band, it doesn’t epitomize what Zeppelin was. Led Zep’s music evolved from their early years of blues-rock (the albums LZ I and II), to quasi-folk music (LZ IIIand the untitled fourth album); to what I call their “epic” sound of the albums Houses of the HolyPhysical Graffitithe challenging but underappreciated Presence, and In Through The Out Door.

It’s those “epic” albums that I most favor. To be sure, not every song has inspired me–“The Crunge” and “Hot Dog” are just goofy fun–but many of the others have. There’s a grandeur to them, a vastness of scale, a dizzying intricacy, and a permeating “light and shade,” as Jimmy Page referred to it.

There’s also a tremendous intensity of emotions–love, joy, hope, pain, anger, remorse–that the music and vocals convey and evoke, that reach deeply into me even as I listen to these songs for what seems to be the thousandth time. I flip past “Whole Lotta Love” when its comes on my car radio; I am riveted by “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”

I hope to harness and bring that emotional firepower to This Wasted Land. Almost 30 years ago, when I first conceived of the story, Zeppelin’s music was the soundtrack in my head:

All I see turns to brown

As the sun burns the ground

And my eyes fill with sand

As I scan this wasted land

“Kashmir” provides the title for my next novel, but it’s not the first time I’ve gone to that well.  “Traveller of both time and space” is part of another line from the song, and it’s the title of a piece of fan fiction I wrote for my Warhammer 40K gaming website, the Jungle.

Listening to “Kashmir,” I imagine Alyx, my feisty teenage heroine of TWL, crossing endless gray wastes, evading or battling monsters, as she pursues the shapeshifting witch Freydis, who has abducted her boyfriend, Sam, and brought him to the nightmare realm of Lonelylands, ruled by Oth, Freydis’ merciless master.

And it’s another Zeppelin song that makes me think of Freydis in all her cruelty, and pain, and want:

In the evening

When the day is done

I’m looking for my woman

Oh, but the girl won’t come

So don’t let her

Play you for no fool

She don’t show no pity, baby

She don’t make no rules

“In the Evening,” with its unearthly intro, phantasmal guitar solo, and Plant’s wrenching wails, is my favorite Zeppelin song. It’s especially relevant to This Wasted Land (I can say no more lest I give too much away), but I like it so much that a chapter in each of my other novels–Dragontamer’s Daughters, and Lost Dogs,–is named after it.

Oh, I need your love

Oh, I need your love

Ooh, yeah, I need your love

I’ve got to have

I’ve got to have

After the band broke up, Robert Plant embarked on a distinguished solo career that continues to this day (his latest album, Carry Fire, will debut on October 13, 2017). I became a huge fan, and like with Zeppelin, his solo work inspired me as well. More on that–and on TWL–some other time.


Lest I am misconstrued, I do think highly of Zep’s earlier work, particularly:

…and, of course, “Immigrant Song,” most recently–and appropriately–used for the teaser trailer to the upcoming film Thor: Ragnarok.  As a huge fan of Zep and Thor, you can bet your last dollar that I’ll be there on opening night.

Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress, This Wasted Land, a dark fantasy novel, will be published in 2018.

Kenton is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, (like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons) based on Navajo culture and belief. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.

Don’t miss the latest! Sign up for my mailing list, and you’ll know about blog posts, sneak peeks, upcoming releases, sales, special offers, and more as soon as they appear. I will honor your privacy and never spam you or sell your information. And you can, of course, unsubscribe any time.  New directions in YA sci-fi and fantasy



On Friday, September 22nd, my wife and I, along with my best bud and his daughter, saw Dave Chapelle live at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C. and we couldn’t have had a better time. I guess you might say we could have better seats, but not a better time.

First of all, D.C. is a capital pain of a city to drive around in. Even those of us that have done it on occasion usually have no idea where we might be at any given moment in time or place.  But thanks to modern technology,  we zipped in and parked in almost the exact amount of time Google Maps predicted.

Maps came through again. I’d marked a number of restaurants within walking distance and we had about an hour and a half before the show.  We asked a passerby for recommendations, and after mentioning that he worked at the Warner, he gave us several nearby suggestions. We ended up at  The Oceanaire Seafood Room at 1201 F Street NW and it wasn’t anything short of top-notch.

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Service was impeccable. Our waiter Tom was the training film definition of smooth and efficient service. He was friendly and knowledgeable and carried himself with endearing professional swagger.  Our food came out so quick it was somewhat amazing, and everything was delicious. We tried the crabcakes (and being from Maryland’s Eastern Shore on the Chesapeake Bay we know crabcakes), clam chowder, the tomato & mozarella and iceberg salads, and the family-style sides of truffle whipped potatoes,  cream corn and grilled asparagus, and there wasn’t a disappointing dish on the table.

In an hour and half we were wined and dined and impressed in a 4-star fashion. The Oceanaire let’s you know up front it’s high-end dining, which means it’s pricey, but as a treat on a special night out, our experience could not have been more perfect.

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The Warner Theatre, originally the Earle, opened in 1924, at the height of America’s grand theater era, and began its career in vaudeville and silent movies.  There was “a rooftop garden that attracted thousands of visitors every night, and the basement restaurant/ballroom became famous in the 1930s as the Neptune Room, where such A-list acts as Jerry Lewis and Red Skelton performed. The theatre switched to a movies-only policy in 1945. In 1947, Harry Warner, one of the Hollywood’s Warner Brothers, visited. Warner said that since he now owned the place, his name should be on the marquee. “Thus the Earle Theatre became the Warner Theatre.”

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The entertainment industry is a fickle and fragile thing, and like all showbiz survivors, the Warner rode the cultural waves with all the grace that it could muster.  Highs included a surprise small venue Rolling Stones concert in 1978, and rock bottom was probably the theatre’s short run as a porn palace.


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After a three-year remodel, the  Warner reopened in 1992 with a gala featuring Frank Sinatra in his final D.C. appearance. Today the Warner is an entertainment destination that showcases musical acts for every taste, and performers that include the very best stand-up comedians. Stand-ups like Dave Chappelle.

Dave Chappelle is from the Washington D.C. area, Silver Spring, to be specific, and at the Warner Theatre show he seemed to enjoy being back in his hometown. He mentioned several local landmarks throughout his show, including the eye-popping Mormon Temple located near Kensington, and every one not only established his bona fides, but they all got laughs.

Chappelle is 44-years old and has being doing professional stand-up since he was an underage high school kid. His comedy has evolved into more of a storytelling style, and he’s one of the best to have ever commanded a stage.  He talks about his status as a stand-up  in the show we saw, hinting that he may not be doing it again, at least any time soon, and when he mentions that he’ll be filming his “last” Netflix special during this run of shows at the Warner, the audience isn’t sure if they’re bummed or excited.

With a long reputation for controversy and shaking things up (i.e. the big bucks and hit TV show he walked away from in 2006), Chappelle would have been remiss not to address the elephant sitting in the middle of the swampy room that is Washington, D.C. right now. The elephant all of us are talking about all the time. The elephant that Chappelle famously said he was willing to give a chance on SNL on the first show after the 2016 presidential election.

Chappelle was, as expected, blunt, honest, and most importantly funny, in his observations of the political times we find ourselves in. Yes, he was political, but human. Combative, yet graceful. Angry,  yet compassionate.

He had a message, but he did not belabor it.

He spoke the truth as he sees it, and he was as funny as a man can be while doing it.

And that’s my kind of comedy.


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MUSIC, Pop Culture, TRAVEL


Paris. London. Dublin. Barcelona. New York. We could have gone to any of the world’s great cities to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We chose Cleveland, and let me tell you Cleveland Rocks! The city was friendly. The food was great. And The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a must-see for music fans of every generation and taste.


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see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at this link:

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The story that’s told by a visit to the Hall of Fame starts off with Rock and Roll’s roots in the Country, Gospel, and Blues of the early 20th Century. Furry Lewis was a 1920’s Memphis bluesman who reemerged in the 1960’s during the Blues Revival advanced by the popularity of such blue-based bands like The Rolling Stones, who Furry later opened for twice, and included such other musical luminaries as Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker.3 - Copy

Elvis Presley was the bridge between the old ways and the new, and the template for all rock and roll stars of the future. An American original, influenced by all of the Southern culture that surrounded him, Elvis combined the currencies of his time – the rise of mass media, changing race relations, and an yearning to break from conformity – and became something no one else had ever really become before. Elvis Presley was one of the first famous people to not really need a last name. There was only one of him. Elvis was, of course, a first year inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.4 - Copy

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In an exhibit featuring the Radio Deejays who brought the new sounds of the 1950’s to the world, there’s a small tribute to Buddy Deane. The Buddy Deane Show was a teen dance show similar to American Bandstand broadcast on Baltimore, Maryland’s WJZ-TV from 1957 until 1964. The racial integration story-line of The Corny Collins’ Show in Baltimorean John Water’s Hairspray  is based on Deane’s trailblazing music program.6 - CopyBuddy-Deane1


Collections of memorabilia at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame spotlight items from such trendsetters as Motown and the English Invasion of the 1960s:20170819_102339 - Copy20170819_102448 - CopyIncluding the flip sides of the lovable/dangerous Rock and Roll coin, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones:9 - Copy20170819_101146 - Copy

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Other displays of pioneers from the Viet Nam – Civil Rights era of music include Jimi Hendrix and Led Zepplin:20170819_104845 - Copy20170819_104443 - Copy

New musical genres, like Punk and Rap, that challenge the status quo are well – represented at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As to any controversy as to whether hip-hop should be included, Ice Cube best summed it up when N.W.A. was inducted in 2016:

“Now, the question is, are we rock and roll? And I say to you goddamn right we rock and roll. Rock and roll is not an instrument, rock and roll is not even a style of music. Rock and roll is a spirit. It’s a spirit. It’s been going since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, R&B, rock and roll, heavy metal, punk rock and yes, hip-hop. And what connects us all is that spirit. That’s what connects us all, that spirit. Rock and roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and in life.

“That is rock and roll, and that is us.

“So rock and roll is not conforming. Rock and roll is outside the box. And rock and roll is N.W.A. I want to thank everybody who helped induct us into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I just want to tell the world, “Damn, that shit was dope.”

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Tributes to the greats are located throughout the museum:8 - Copy20170819_105558 - Copy20170819_105821

One of the most intriguing collections are the various stage costumes from Hall inductees:20170819_105610 - Copy20170819_105653 - Copy22 - Copy20170819_105839 (1)20170819_11001420170819_11131720170819_105413 - Copy

2017 Hall of Fame inductees include: Joan Baez, Pearl Jam, Nile Rodgers, Tupac Shakur, Journey, and Electric Light Orchestra, and each artist or band currently has a featured exhibit running.



Another cool exhibit features modern artists of every musical genre:00000rhrn-2017_6heroStage gear from Kesha, Bruno Mars, The Black Keys, & Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” outfitbuddy


Another current exhibit features artifacts from one particular long lost era including psychedelic concert posters, art, instruments, and the sound board Jimi Hendrix used that summer of 1967. 5 - Copy01

A favorite part of our visit was the Rolling Stone Magazine’s 50th Anniversary exhibit. There is a recreation of the counter culture periodical’s early San Francisco office space, and displays of the beautiful art and photographs that have graced the magazine’s pages, along with important issues of the day Rolling Stone has addressed over the decades, as well as explorations into Rolling Stone’s impact on both the creators and consumers of pop culture, but the crowning glory is the massive cover gallery located way up there on the museum’s top floor. The cover of The Rolling Stone is a who’s who of the important touchstone personalities of each generation that has come along since in its inception.23 - Copy

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As part of our visit to Cleveland, we caught one of the best rock concerts we’ve ever attended. 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Green Day provided two+ hours of a massively entertaining high-energy sing-along-with-the-hits and how-about-dem-deep cuts show, plus a medley of covers that included Shout, Satisfaction, and Hey Jude. They pulled three fans  up on stage at different times, including a 13-year old guitar player named Noah, who owned his moment in the spotlight like a boss and got himself a signed guitar to prove it. One local newspaper review said the venue should either cancel all upcoming shows or just face the fact that the show of the year has already happened.

Any fan of Rock and Roll should take any opportunity ever offered to see Green Day live.

Most of the photos below are courtesy of the fan pics attached to The Cleveland Plain Dealer article about the Green Day Concert at Ohio’s Blossom Music Center on 08/21/17.


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20170819_105747 - CopyHandwritten lyrics to Life’s Been Good by Joe Walsh at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame2 - Copy