The eye of the Stormm

EVERETT — Friday was the best night of their lives.

In one of the biggest cases of being in the right place at the right time, the local band

Stormm played in front of 5,900 more people than they ever had before.

The five Snohomish County musicians opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd before a near-capacity crowd at the Everett Events Center’s first rock concert.

The dream gig was not without discord, but at the end of the night what they would remember was bright lights, good music and the crowd that carried them through their 35 minutes of rock stardom.

The band had only 10 days to transform themselves from Lynyrd Skynyrd ticketholders into the opening act.

They decided to show up early on the big day.

Guitarist Duane Wheeler and Stormm’s only roadie, Wheeler’s cousin Steve Wheeler, are the first to arrive.

The roadie backs his equipment trailer past two Lynyrd Skynyrd semitrucks to the events center’s maintenance entrance.

Duane Wheeler, 39, works at Guitar Center in Lynnwood and started the band’s first incarnation in the early ’80s. He has floppy blond hair and is wearing a Sonics jersey, a black leather jacket and jeans.

Lead singer Ron Moore, 39, and guitarist Gary Rarden, 38, arrive.

Rarden has wavy brown hair that reaches just above his shoulders. He is wearing a NASCAR shirt and shorts. He always wears shorts.

Moore’s mullet hairstyle suits him well. It is, as they say, party in the back and business in the front. He’s wearing a blue and black checked flannel shirt unbuttoned just enough to reveal his favorite shirt — a sleeveless, black Dale Earnhardt jersey.

Drummer Bob Sperber, 45, and bass player Mike Fish, 28, are next.

Sperber’s head is freshly shaved. The quietest band member, he is more prone to philosophy than sarcasm. He wears a black leather jacket over his blue fleece pullover.

Fish has curly blond hair that almost reaches the Stormm sticker stuck to the back of his black leather jacket.

He pulls out a Van Zant record in a protective plastic sleeve, an early endeavor by Johnny Van Zant, one of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s lead singers.

"I’m going to see if he’ll autograph it," Fish says.

Every band member is wearing snow-white sneakers.

Stormm’s equipment is piled behind the stage, a small section of what looks like a musical equipment warehouse.

Sperber is assembling his drums, and the rest of the band wanders around checking out the stage, the frigid, empty arena and their dressing room.

"It’s a storm out there," the roadie calls out.

"Yep. A Stormm rolled in," Moore says with a chuckle.

They guys return to their dressing room to wait for the sound check. The cinderblock room is empty except for three folding chairs.

Wheeler realizes it’s time to take their Stormm merchandise to the lobby. They don’t know quite where to go, but grab five boxes and head out into the arena.

In a moment straight from "Spinal Tap," the group loses its way and wanders down several hallways before finding five tables covered in piles of Lynyrd Skynyrd shirts.

The guys each spent hundreds of dollars of their own money for Stormm memorabilia in the few days before the concert.

They are surprised to find that they were required to sell their T-shirts for $35, the same price as Lynyrd Skynyrd shirts, instead of the $15 they wanted to charge.

The band members look worried.

"It’s a lot easier to sell Lynyrd Skynyrd stuff than Stormm stuff," Moore says. "Nobody knows who we are."

With its wooden barrels, the stage is set to look like a bourbon rick house — Jim Beam is the major sponsor of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s tour.

The guys rehearse a few songs. They’re not used to such sophisticated sound equipment or to the undivided attention of sound professionals.

Moore, the lead singer, is known for not knowing what to do during guitar solos. During one he unbuttons his shirt. During another he checks his cellphone. During another he just shrugs and smiles. The guys continually tease him — what will he do when it’s show time?

Across the stage, Rarden has is guitar strapped on but is on his cellphone asking someone to bring him a 9-volt battery.

Sperber is drumming on his thigh.

A Lynyrd Skynyrd roadie is helping Fish hook up his wireless microphone.

"Damn, there sure are a lot of seats in here," the roadie says.

"Thanks. Thanks for pointing that out," Wheeler says.

"And every single person in those seats are coming here not to see us," Fish says.

Actually, several whole sections of the arena — the ones nearest the bar — will be Stormm fans. Family and friends are in from all over town, and from California, Oregon and Texas.

Done with the sound check, the musicians return to the dressing room hungry, but are told by the Lynyrd Skynyrd people that they’re not allowed to eat the food catered for the bigger band.

"Hey, we’re getting a learning experience on this thing," Wheeler says.

"I’m a little upset that we didn’t get what was promised, but we’ve got to take what we can get," Fish said. "But obviously we’re not throwing our instruments down and leaving. This is the opportunity of a lifetime."

They retire to the bar on the arena’s third level.

Rarden, a guitarist, takes a walk with his camera. He snaps a picture of Stormm T-shirts hanging next to Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirts. He spent more than $1,000 of his own money having the merchandise made.

"We gotta document these memories," he said. "I’m just happy that these people gave us the time of day."

Before they arrived, the guys set a three-drink limit — at least before they played. Without the promised beer in their dressing room, it isn’t a problem.

Just after 7, the guys are back in the greenroom outside their dressing room.

Everyone else is done eating, and Stormm is eyeing the leftovers. A catering employee brings a stack of plates, and with 30 minutes left until the show, the guys figure it’s OK to dig in.

The beer finally arrives — a crew member sneaks it in a blue duffelbag.

The guys are standing by the door of the greenroom, dressed and ready.

No one says much of anything for a minute or two, and as soon as Rarden says, "OK, it’s time for good ‘ol Gary’s pep talk," there’s a knock at the door.

A man enters. "You guys ready to go?"

They look at each other.

"Yeah," they say.

They stand in a circle behind the stage, and the lights drop.

"That’s what I’m talking about," Moore says.

Though about a third of the crowd is still in the hallways buying nachos or beer, there’s a significant roar as Stormm takes the stage.

"Is this place awesome or what?" Moore says. "And I didn’t even have to drive to Seattle."

They start with their original song "Mural Mural." Sperber pounds away. Rarden and Wheeler thunder their guitars, and Fish’s fingers dance on his bass guitar. Moore tilts the microphone stand and sings his lungs out. They’re all smiling.

When they sing a cover of Dobie Gray’s "Drift Away," the crowd sings along.

They look at each other in disbelief.

Someone in the crowd yells, "Rock ‘n’ roll, boys!"

During their song "I Wanna Go Home," there is a smattering of lighters visible atop the crowd.

The moments between their songs are filled with gratitude.

"It really is an honor to be playing for a hometown crowd," Fish says. "I live six blocks that way!"

Onstage they are transformed under the flashing lights. The crowd’s waves of cheers and applause wash over them. They’re no longer just five local guys who practice rock songs in a Maltby-area barn. For 35 minutes, they are rock stars.

As the last chord resonates, the crowd hollers back.

"Thank you, Everett!" Rarden says. "We couldn’t have done it without you."

"Give it up for Lynyrd Skynyrd!" Moore calls as his bandmates run offstage.

There is little time for celebration. After a few hugs and high fives, crew members move in to help Stormm pack their stuff and go.

Sperber is still grinning as he packs his drums. "I could get used to this," he says.

Lynyrd Skynyrd is onstage, but Stormm and their fans hardly notice. Everyone has returned to the arena’s third-level bar, turning it into a sort of congratulatory mosh pit.

Band members scatter, and for hours there will be hugging, whooping, hollering, jumping up and down and exuberant shouting.

"That was fantastic," Sperber says.

At the center of a large circle of people just outside the arena doors, Moore is smoking and waving his arms around, talking animatedly.

Fish is shooting tequila with a friend, and has two beers waiting in the wings. Later, a woman will ask him for his autograph.

"I haven’t even stopped to see Lynyrd Skynyrd," Fish says. "If someone’s not telling me what a great show it is, someone’s handing me a drink."

Rarden is hugging his wife, Anna.

"Aw, that was a blast," he says. "It’s that roar of the crowd that makes you want more."

Later, as the show ends, Wheeler, Moore, Sperber and Wheeler’s wife, Roxanne, are drinking beer and listening to the last few notes of "Freebird."

Wheeler decides to try to meet the band as they come offstage, and runs out of the room. Everyone else follows.

Behind a wall of security, Lynyrd Skynyrd is leaving the building. They raise their drinks to a small crowd of admirers. Wheeler reaches his hand past a security guard, and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Gary Rossington shakes it.

Other than playing in the same place on the same night, that handshake would be the only intersection of the two bands.

"I’m not surprised," says Sperber as he walks back to the dressing room. "Just to play in the same show with them — that’s good enough for me."

Reporter Jennifer Warnick: 425-339-3429 or jwarnick@heraldnet.com.

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