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Great White, Cherokee Survivors Motorcycle Rally, Fair Grounds, Cherokee, N.C.; Friday, Sept. 10

“Like the fearsome, deadly denizen of the deep that shares its name, Great White knows something about survival of the fittest.”

Given the band’s recent history, this lead-off sentence to their latest press release is a bit hard to fathom.

In case you missed it, this one-hit-wonder outfit of ’80s hard-rockers played no small part in a deadly Rhode Island nightclub fire on Feb. 20, 2003. About 100 people died, and more than twice that number were injured after the band’s pyrotechnics ignited a blaze that quickly enveloped the small club. Scores of people were trapped inside as panicked fans rushed the same exit.

The video footage was hard to stomach to begin with, and now that same cameraman — along with entities ranging from Clear Channel Broadcasting to Great White’s sharky crooner himself, Jack Russell — are named in a lawsuit filed this summer by more than 200 people affected by the tragedy. The suit alleges, among other things, that the cameraman, in filming the mayhem, blocked the escape exit, and that Russell and his manager were negligent for igniting the fireworks in the first place.

So you can see why a publicist’s boastful use of “deadly” and “survival” in describing this particular rock band might elicit an even-more-apt set of words from me: bad taste. Great White did lose one of its own members in the fire, and they claim to be donating “proceeds” from their current shows to a victims’ fund. But “proceeds” could mean 50 bucks a night (although in fairness, on a tour immediately following the fire, the band reportedly raised more than $60,000 for the victims’ families).

Whatever the case may be with the charity angle, consider this: Since last year’s debacle, Great White has been playing bigger and better gigs, ascending from the ashes of an obscure metal nightclub to headlining a major regional biker rally in less than two years. And while that amounts to questionable career advancement for some, you can’t deny that Great White is now profiting — at least indirectly — from their infamy.

Imagine a visiting rock band igniting flamethrowers from the stage at Stella Blue or The Grey Eagle. If the crowd lived to tell about it, they’d run the perpetrators out of town on a huge incense stick, hog-tied naked and tarred and feathered with gallon after gallon of patchouli stink and old Be Here Now flyers. But 100 dead people in Rhode Island will never have that chance, and needless to say, there were plenty of reasons to go see what Great White might ruin at the semi-annual biker rally in Cherokee.

But it seems the curse of Great White follows them around like a dark cloud — quite literally, in fact. On our final approach to Cherokee, my photographer and I entered into an eerily timed torrential downpour that hung over the reservation for hours, effectively raining out both the rally and show. Great White was cancelled.

Disappointed as we were at missing the co-defendants in action, we headed over to nearby Harrah’s for a few hands of video poker. After emerging from the casino several dollars poorer, we exited Cherokee for Asheville. The rain let up almost as soon as we left town, capping an altogether strange and ominous missed rendezvous with some seriously unlucky rockers.

As much as I wanted to dissect Great White, then pen some scathing review to perpetuate their rapid extinction, apparently the band itself, a string of lawsuits, and even Mother Nature are already working overtime on that particular kill. My money’s better spent supporting reservation gambling anyway, and while I may never experience “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” live in concert, I also may never have my shins broken with an aluminum baseball bat — arguably a good thing in both cases.

Score: On the bad-’80s-hair-band scale, Great White scores, well, a Great White. (Honestly, what group could be more washed-up, potentially dangerous or straight to the point than the real thing?)

To donate directly to the Rhode Island fire-victims fund, visit www.stationfamilyfund.org.

Look here for coverage of upcoming shows benefiting WNC flood victims. In other words, let’s get together and plan a musical benefit or two for this most recent tragedy unfolding in our own back yard.

[Asheville-based music writer Stuart Gaines, a contributing editor at An Honest Tune, can be reached at youknowthiscity@yahoo.com.]

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