HCG-Wisconsin Dells rings in the New Year with Bret Michaels band

By Tim Wohlers

The changing of the calendar means cause for celebration.  So to celebrate the holiday in proper fashion, HCG-Wisconsin Dells invited rock legend Bret Michaels and his band to perform at a concert in the Upper Dells Ballroom on New Year’s Eve. 
“Bret Michaels is the first national headliner that we’ve had on New Year’s Eve,” said Manager of Public Relations David Abangan.  “We’ve always had entertainment, but not necessarily to the level of Bret Michaels.” 
To get into the concert, patrons purchased a $17 wristband that granted access to the headliner and two other shows taking place in the casino that night.  All the profits from those sales were then donated to Badger Honor Flight. 
“We’ve done that for the last couple years,” Abangan said.  “All the Ho-Chunk casinos do something for Badger Honor Flight on an annual basis just to show support for the organization.” 
For each flight, Ho-Chunk Gaming (HCG) donates thousands of dollars directly to Badger Honor Flight so that our country’s military veterans can visit the monuments erected in their honor.  In other words, for a few lucky veterans, HCG makes dreams come true. 
“We’re interested in keeping the relationship with Badger Honor Flight,” Abangan said.  “It’s important that the Nation support good causes.” 
And at the turn of the year, Bret Michaels and his band helped the Nation with supporting the cause.  Group members exhibited excitement at returning to the Badger State. 
“We do all kinds of casinos in Wisconsin,” said drummer Mike Bailey.  “We play (in) Wisconsin several times throughout the year.” 
The group opened with a lively performance of “Talk Dirty to Me,” the second single released by Michaels’ former band Poison.  The song became an international success in the late 80s and proved to be a big hit among concertgoers at the New Year’s Eve celebration. 
The band wasted little time talking and followed with “Look What the Cat Dragged In,” which topped the charts despite never being released as a single. 
Michaels then took a moment to thank the crowd’s military veterans, relaying to them that the night’s proceeds would benefit Badger Honor Flight. 
“We’ve done a lot of (different) charity events,” said keyboardist Rob Wylde.  “And we love them.” 
Next came a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” paying tribute to the place that the band’s drummer calls home. 
“For events like this,” Bailey said, “we’ll pull out some covers.  But I dig all of the songs.” 
After the cover, Michaels thanked the veterans once again before pulling out his harmonica for a bluesy intro to “Your Momma Don’t Dance.”  Crowd members joined in the second half of the chorus – chanting, “And your daddy don’t rock and roll!” 
At the end of the song, Michaels reminded the crowd about the importance of Badger Honor Flight and all that the program does for our nation’s veterans.  Keeping with the theme, the former front-man of Poison pulled out an American-flag cowboy hat and microphone stand into which he belted out an impressive version of “Something to Believe In.” 
“It was great,” said bass player Eric Brittingham.  “It was a little bit loud.  But that’s what we do.” 
The group then performed Poison’s second-biggest hit, “Unskinny Bop” – of which the meaning remains a mystery – before Michaels introduced everyone in the band.  During this time, group members exited the stage for an extended drum solo by Bailey.  The audience erupted in applause after his last note. 
Then, the band played Poison’s biggest hit.  “Every Rose has its Thorn” topped charts throughout the country and is recognized by VH1 as one of the greatest power ballads of all times.   The crowd showed its love for the musical masterpiece with lights in the air. 
The show ended with performances of Poison’s “Nothin’ but a Good Time” and Kiss’s “Rock & Roll all Nite.”  By the finale, fans were forcing their way to the front for a chance just to touch the rock legend and shake his hand. 
“He loves doing that,” Bailey said.  “It’s amazing to me.  It truly is.  I’ve never seen anybody like that.” 
The concert marked the last event on the band’s 2016 tour, which consisted of almost 200 shows and took the band all over the world.  And after such a grueling schedule, the group’s ready for some rest and relaxation. 
“This was the end of the tour,” Wylde said.  “So we’re ready for a break.” 
The casino had a good turnout at the event – selling over 2100 wristbands – and raised upwards of $36,000 dollars for Badger Honor Flight.  Band members seemed satisfied with the way things went, to say the least. 
“The show was amazing,” Wylde said.  “What a great crowd.” 
They also expressed interest in returning for next year’s event.  So if everything works out, the show could become an annual occurrence. 
“Bret already pitched it onstage,” Bailey said.  “He’s already talking to the promoter, trying to come back for New Year’s next year.” 
The band’s 2017 tour begins Jan. 20 in Wendover, NV.