• Karl

Load-In To Load-Out With GRIN: Live At The Surf Ballroom

Updated: Jul 31, 2019

Live music at the Surf Ballroom.
GRIN:) kicking some serious ass

MIDWEST of EVERYTHING (July 2019) - There are a lot of things I could write about the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. But, its very likely that anyone reading this already knows it's a pretty bitchen place. So, I will just say that if you have not visited, visit. Google it if you need to.

I arrived at the Surf at 4PM on Friday July 19th. The sun was a fiery ball of misery that day. It was the kind of hot ass day that makes an ice cream cone feel like a part time job (You see... the licking involved in keeping the ice cream from melting on your hand would be extensive. You would be licking more than a sofa full of happy cats. It would feel like a job)

Anyway... I met guitarist Tim McCleary first and we chatted a bit while the other members of the band rolled in. Brad Dickes on lead guitar and vox, Shannon Hickman on drums and last but not certainly least, Dave Morris on bass. Readers of this site will recognize that name, Dave has slowly killed off all other bass players in the area and as such is the only bass player in a 75 mile radius. ..Not really, but this is my 3rd time meeting him for these features. (See: Juni West and Levi Smith features) The truth is, bass players are few and Dave is really, really good at it.

I sure do love his Fender P BASS with its SNEAKY-ASS JAZZ BASS pick up.

The first thing we all did was head in to the green room to keep cool. If you haven't been, the green room walls at the Surf are full of band signatures and various drawings. The main green room is said to have the lyrics to American Pie handwritten by Don McClean himself (See: Surf history).

GRIN loaded in their gear and then hung out while the headliners, Thunderstruck: America's AC/DC, finished setting up for their sound check.

Feast your eyeballs on these:

L-R: Brad and Tim in the green room.

Once the headliners finished their soundcheck, GRIN was able to load their gear onto the stage and do a soundcheck as well.

It's not just your average soundcheck when you are at the Surf either. Well, it's your normal soundcheck, only its amplified through a monumentally bad ass sound system that felt like an arena show system. The sound filled every crack and corner of the venue with thundering bass and screaming guitars. It was pretty gosh darn neat-o.

I could actually feel my adrenaline kicking in and I could see on a few faces on stage that the same may be happening up there. ... As a guitar player myself, louder is often times much better. If you ever picked up a guitar as a teenager and put your amp to 11 and pretended you were on a huge arena stage, you understand what I am saying.

Anyway, these are some photos you need to point your retinas at:

GRIN has been around for awhile. Tim, Brad and Shannon have been playing together since their late 80's high school days in Clear Lake. (Class of 90! Like myself) They played original songs at one point under another name, even released a CD at one point.

But, these rock songs are the songs they have always wanted to play. The mid to late 90's was not a good time for 80's metal nostalgia though... that has only come to fruition lately. They love it.

Once soundcheck was complete, we took a few band photos and then more or less just waited. Lots of waiting. Dave tinkered around on Tim's guitar and they discussed chords and songs.

Beer and snacks showed up.

They were set to go on at 8:30 and needed to be done at 9:15, no exceptions. It was said, the sound would just get pulled at 9:15 no matter what.

There was a nervous energy in the air. Anticipation. Like a comfortable, friendly tension. One of the biggest gigs of the year for these guys. It was a sold out show, so they would be playing in front of a bunch of rock-hungry folks.

I could feel it too.

The beer helped.

With beer and snacks also came time to start changing clothes. The band was dressed in shorts and Ts from just being a human. Work clothes etc.. Fresh duds for the stage were in order.

About the same time, the front doors opened (8PM) and people started pouring in. It was a sold out show. Voices and misc. crowd noise started filtering back to the backstage area. Things were starting to get more intense. All the waiting around would soon be over. The energy of the room slowly started to expand beyond the walls themselves. (This was all in my head... and I was drinking so..)

Dressed and ready. 8:30 was approaching. Tim and Brad worked on getting loosened up. They all told me that they knew it was a big show. It would take them one song to find their mojo. After that first song, the nerves were gone and it became more fun and less tense.

Backstage, about to go on. You could hear the crowd. I peeked around the corner and saw that most people seemed to have arrived. The front of the stage was starting to fill in.

I was genuinely excited for them.

The stage lights were about to go on, the sound would be turned way up. There would be little chance for anyone to hide in the mix. Your instrument would be heard outside on the street. There was no escaping the fact that you would soon be on stage playing your instrument extremely loud for a room full of people.

You want them to cheer.

You want them to have fun.

You want them to love the music.

You are pretty sure they will, but that dark corner of your brain starts whispering to you... Are you really sure? What if you mess up a song real bad? What if you break a string?

What if..

Seconds before going on

The clock struck 8:30. Showtime!

We Got Corn Commercial break:

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"People have always told me that I was meant for a stage. Then they told me when the next one was leaving town" - My dad

And now the part of the story that you haven't been able to read yet because its just happening now:

They rose from the Surf like the great Poseidon (Olympian God of the sea) and descended on the stage with furry... fury. With laser sharp weapons in hand, they began their set.

I give you:

GRIN:) - Live at The Surf Ballroom

Exiting the stage.

And.. in a flash it was over...

What you may not know:

When the opening band is done, staff rushes on stage and basically grabs up all your gear as fast as they can and then sets it all in the hallway behind the curtain. That's why Brad played straight through his amp for this show - last time his pedals and patch cables were in a big bundle, much like my Christmas lights are right now in the basement. You won't catch them complaining, its just the way it is as the warm up band.

The idea is to get the headliners on stage as fast as possible.

Gear in the hallway backstage

The skinny: GRIN did magic. I was smiling like an idiot the whole entire time. They took the ass and applied a hefty foot to it. When I wasn't shooting photos I was clapping and cheering right along with everyone else.

Brad broke a string on his Stratocaster within the first few minutes. He switched to a Les Paul looking guitar (I don't think it was a Gibson?) and the show went on seamlessly.

Backstage they discussed the parts they messed up. It's what people do. People who are always striving to get better. Artists are always super critical of themselves. I know I am.

But.. I didn't hear any mistakes.

All I heard was a full-on rock show.

The GRIN:) set-list:

We Will Rock You

Tie Your Mother Down

I Want You To Want Me

I Wanna Rock-n-Roll All Night

All Day And All Of The Night

Blitzkrieg Bop

Fight For Your Right (To Party)

Ballroom Blitz

I Wanna Be Sedated

Basket Case

What I Like About You



I must admit - I have never really understood the mass appeal of tribute bands. I have never seen a tribute band play live. But, Thunderstruck kicked some good ole ass.

IPhone photo. I was done taking photos.

When it was all done, there was a sense of having traversed a mountain. The feeling of having achieved something worth achieving.

Hours of nervous tension, that built up gradually as the night progressed, then a straight up energy push on stage, culminating in the idea that a notch on the belt had been chiseled. A rung in the ladder had been climbed.

And that's what it was.

Arguably the best cover band in the area, proving once again why they get called upon to do these types of larger gigs.

Because when it is all said and done, they did the job. They were given a task and they knocked it out of the park.

They took the ass and kicked it mightily.

I had a blast. It was an honor and privilege to tag along for the night. A night I wont soon forget, in spite of the beer that viciously tried to keep these memories hidden forever.

You bastard, beer. lol. I love you anyway, get over here.

Thank you Warren and Dave for the beers!

Thank you for reading and checking out all the photos with the eyeballs in the front of your head.

with love,



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