Forgive the extended post, but I wanted to let all of you (as well as the guys from JOP who watch this board) know just how much Saturday’s JOP performance meant to me, and so I’ll start at the beginning. Back in 1990, I saw Savatage for the first time in Milwaukee, as one of the two openers for Testament (Nuclear Assault was the other). I didn’t know who they were at the time, but I was instantly blown away by their energy, as well as their originality. In particular, I was impressed at how well they integrated the keyboards with the very heavy guitars. And the vocalist was a madman, determined to give the audience everything he had for the 30 minutes or so they were on stage. Over the course of the next few years, I picked up a few of their albums, most notably Gutter Ballet and Hall of the Mountain King, and they were just as amazing on disc as they were live. Flash forward to 1991, and I knew I had to get their newest album Streets, especially as I’m a sucker for concept albums/rock operas. I took a bus to a record store across town, and picked up the tape. I didn’t have my Walkman on that trip, so I read the lyrics and the story on the bus trip back to my dorm room, and I was suitably impressed. Then I got home and listened to the music—and it blew me away like few albums had ever done. In particular, the riffs were amazing, particularly on the opening song, "Jesus Saves" and "Ghost in the Ruins." And then I got to the closing song Believe—and it was as if Jon was speaking directly to me. I’m not a particularly religious person, but I do believe there is something out there guiding us and taking care of us, and without that presence, I would not have made it through adolescence, let alone through college and to today. And Jon, Criss and Paul O’Neil managed to beautifully express what I knew in one of the best songs I have ever heard. As the final piano note hit with Jon’s quiet plea to “believe,” I knew even more than I knew before that I would be a Savatage fan for life. Unfortunately, I would not get to see the Oliva brothers together again. I did have tickets for the Milwaukee stop of the Streets tour, but that show was cancelled, and thus I missed my shot, as the next major piece of news was that Jon had stepped down, to be replaced by Zak Stevens. Edge of Thorns was a decent album, but didn’t quite have the same magic (although it came close in spots). The same thing was true of the live show that I did see in 1993. Criss was on fire, but it still didn’t feel quite the same as when I saw them three years before. It didn’t help that their set was fairly short (about 70 minutes or so, with only 13 songs). But nonetheless, I enjoyed myself and looked forward to seeing more from them in the future. And then came the real punch in the gut less than two months later. October 17, 1993. I was listening to a late night metal program on one of the Chicago radio stations (103.5 “The Blaze” and the news came in. I almost never cry when it comes to the deaths of famous people but I couldn’t help it, especially when I heard the Slaughter song “Fly to the Angels.” Yes, it’s a cheesy song, but it seemed so appropriate at the time. I let myself feel the pain of loss, knowing that even if the band continued, they'd never be the same. And they weren't. Jon returned, and the band continued on with a number of decent to excellent records, but none of them matched the heights of Streets—although Dead Winter Dead came close with the best one-two closing punch since Streets in “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)” and “Not What You See.” And Poets and Madman had one of my favorite Savatage songs in “Morphine Child.” And I saw the band live several times over the next few years, once in 1998 and twice in 2001. The 2001 shows were very fun to see, as the band had a new energy with its killer team of Jon and Damond Jinya, particularly in their medley of classic songs. I also got to hang with Jon for several minutes before a September 2001 show in the Chicago area, and it was really cool to talk with the guy, especially as that show took place only a few weeks after the September 11 attacks. And then Savatage went on an indefinite hiatus, with Jon becoming more and more immersed in his solo projects, even lashing out at some for even suggesting a reunion—although occasionally doing it with humor, joking that maybe people don’t realize he even had a new band which was pretty much Savatage. I’ll confess that I was among those people, who realized he had a side project, but didn’t really go out of my way to track the albums down. In any case, my dream of seeing Streets live in its entirety seemed dead until last year. I only attended the Saturday PPUSA show in 2013 (primarily to see Sabaton), as commitments and a lack of interest in the bands kept me away for Friday's events. However, I did check the PPUSA website to see who would be appearing in 2014, and I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Streets being performed live for the first and only time? No matter what the rest of the weekend offered, I was THERE!!!! And yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if they would really be able to pull it off, as the previous times I had seen Jon (during the 2001 tour), he wasn’t as strong in the vocals, and he particularly struggled with some of the older stuff. And yet, I was still looking forward to this weekend. After what seemed like forever, PPUSAXV came, and I enjoyed the hell out of the entire weekend, enjoying most of the other bands (particularly Overkill, Stratovarius and Voodoo Circle). But I was ready for JOP doing that classic album and take me to the early 90’s. And even though the JOP set didn’t start until about 11:45, it was WELL worth the wait. But Jon made us wait some more for the album, as he went through a few earlier songs, including the opener “Surrender, which is perhaps my second favorite Poets & Madmen song behind “Morphine Child.” However, it was “Of Rage and War” that really ended my doubts as to whether Jon was ready for it—as he really hit the high notes like it was 1990 again. “The Price You Pay” was next, and that was the only disappointment for me, as there were other 80’s Savatage songs I would have preferred (“Sirens,” “Holocaust,” or “Power of the Night”. However, Jon redeemed himself with a “Mentally Yours” teaser into “Gutter Ballet.” And then it was time for the epic, before which even Jon acknowledged he didn’t know what the fuck he was doing when he agreed to even try this. But he and the band delivered on every level possible, especially given that Jon had broken ribs from a few days ago. However, I think it made him even more determined to please the fans of this festival, with whom he shared such a connection. At times I felt he could have toned the goofiness down and simply played the songs, but as it turned out, it was the goofiness that made this show so special. And the songs took on an added specialness live, especially as I had heard only a handful of them live, and even fewer of them with Jon on vocals. The quieter songs such as “Heel My Soul” and “A Little Too Far” took on an added poignancy. And other songs that hadn’t reached me as much on the album such as “St. Patrick's” and “Can You Hear Me Now” really connected with me. And the band delivered on every level possible, most notably the guitarists, particularly Bill Hudson. If I closed my eyes, I could almost feel Criss Oliva’s spirit behind those amazing riffs and solos—which was particularly notable during my favorite guitar solo in “Ghost in the Ruins” (which I had seen Criss play during the 1993 tour). And the show only got better, as I felt the closing song “Believe” in a way that I had not felt ever before live, as the dual guitar harmonies almost had me in tears. The song touched me every bit as much as it had over twenty-three years ago when it was released. That was magic, and you can tell that Jon felt it as well. But the show wasn’t over, as Jon took a few minutes to correct the omission of “A Little Too Far” before slamming into “Hall of the Mountain King” which became even more amazing when another vocalist joined in (I think he was from Need), and Jon had a lot of fun with him. And then the closing punch of “Temptation Revalation” and “When the Crowds are Gone” which had been suggested as a perfect way to end the festival, and I can’t disagree. And when it was over, you can tell that Jon knew he knocked it out of the ballpark, and that not a single one in the building wanted it to be over. It would be hard-pressed to top that show as a musical experience. I can’t remember seeing a band's set in which I was so into the music from the first to the last note and everything in between. I waited twenty-three years to see that show, and it was well worth the wait. Thank you Glenn and the PPUSA staff for arranging this. And thanks to all of the festival-goers for contributing to such an awesome atmosphere, and a fun show. And finally, thank you Jon and the band for delivering an experience that I will never—ever forget.