Chairman James E. Billie reveled in the electrifying sounds of rock-and-roll during a five-stop European business visit of Hard Rock cafes and hotels that began with a two-day seaside concert in Spain.
“I thought, ‘Here we are. This is the avenue for getting out our music.’ Rock-and-roll is in the hands of the Seminole Tribe,” Chairman Billie said.
Seminole singer-songwriter Spencer Battiest and Hollywood Reservation’s own The Osceola Brothers filled out a striking list of artists who performed at the 16-hour, two-day Hard Rock Rising Barcelona. Set on the picturesque Platja del Forum, the July 24-25 concert headlined with American rock band Kings of Leon, Latin superstar Juanes, American rock singer-songwriter Lenny Kravitz and Swedish electric dance disc jockey Avicii.
But while it’s one thing for rock artists raised on the reservation to entertain hometown fans who already love them, it’s another thing when they land on a beach in Spain to perform before a foreign crowd.
“To be in a place where people don’t know you and they don’t have to like you or applaud for you, you only have a few minutes to show who you are and become one with the audience,” said Battiest.
More than 32,000 spectators attended the event produced by Hard Rock International and promoted by Live Nation. It was the second Hard Rock Rising music festival in 2015. The first was held March 26 at the Miami Beach Centennial celebration and featured Andrea Bocelli, Barry Gibb, Gloria Estefan and other music stars.
This year’s concerts relaunched the brand’s annual festivals that began nine years ago as Hard Rock Calling in London.
According to the corporate website, Hard Rock Rising continues the brand’s commitment to provide a “forum for music icons and today’s hottest new talent to connect with music fans around the world.”
James Buell, senior director of music and marketing for Hard Rock International Inc., said the London, Miami and Barcelona concerts presented rare performances.
“We’ve seen reunion performances from The Police in London, intimate acoustic sessions with Mumford & Sons in our private VIP tent, The Killers at the peak of their ascension to superstardom at the footsteps of Buckingham Palace, Andrea Bocelli leaving thousands on Miami Beach breathless, and most recently Lenny Kravitz and Kings of Leon setting the coast of Barcelona ablaze,” Buell wrote in an email response to The Seminole Tribune.
But the truly standout performance, Buell said, “would be Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney onstage together in London’s Hyde Park, powering through the Queen’s curfew to lead the crowd in a stirring rendition of ‘I Saw Her Standing There.’”
Joni Josh, office coordinator for the Chairman’s Office on Hollywood Reservation, said a delegation of Tribal members who attended the Barcelona event was welcomed enthusiastically. Josh was among nearly a dozen in the Seminole group that also included Chairman Billie and Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola.
“They definitely have deep respect for our people and are very interested in our culture,” Josh said.
During a sightseeing jaunt of Barcelona, Josh said a tour guide pointed to a 197-foot-tall monument of Christopher Columbus erected in 1888 and said, “This is the statue of that big, bad man.”
Battiest said the cultural paradox became profound during the middle of his solo show when he and his brother Zac “Doc” Battiest sung their Native American Music Award-winning song “The Storm.”
“It was a very brave thing to do when in the middle of the square there is a huge statue of Christopher Columbus. But the people applauded. They loved it and they received the message. That was a very deep performance for us,” Spencer Battiest said. “We were the foreigners this time.”
The brothers dressed for the song as they always perform – in patchwork vests handmade by their grandmother Judy Baker.
Josh said the concert experience, from being seated in the VIP section to watching onstage, was “mind-blowing,” though she has become accustomed to meeting international celebrities and rock stars since the Tribe opened the first Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in 2004. In 2007, the Tribe completed the purchase of the Hard Rock brand.
Chairman Billie, who gave credit to Hard Rock International Inc.’s top executives Hamish Dobbs and James Allen and President Mitchell Cypress, said he “never thought in a million years” that the company would grow so large with 145 cafes, 21 hotels and 10 casinos that span 59 countries.
Chairman Billie said future goals include 19 new locations in South America alone, including Panama, Columbia, Brazil, Peru and Argentina. He also hopes to build a Hard Rock Hotel on the east and west sides of the Berlin Wall. Another cafe is in the works for Tallahassee, Florida.
“When Hard Rock came to me, I was quick to jump on it. When Mitchell Cypress came in I just thanked him and God that whatever happened during that time, Hard Rock was brought home,” Chairman Billie said. “It was unforeseen good luck.”
Buell said the “Rising” events allow Tribal members to meet with cafe, hotel and casino employees worldwide, as well as investors, potential partners and media who may be in attendance and eager to learn more about the Tribe.
But Buell stressed an additional advantage: The festival is a chance to showcase emerging Native American artists in front of thousands of spectators.
For Chairman Billie, seeing Seminole members perform made him very happy but a bit sad. A Grammy award-nominated singer-songwriter with three albums to boast, Chairman Billie wished he entered the Hard Rock business when he was a younger man.
“Way before Hard Rock I had been to London and to Denmark and other places all over the States riding a motorcycle with my guitar strapped to my back so I could play where I went. Now I have to watch,” Chairman Billie said. “But it brings me joy to see the Battiest and Osceola brothers do all over the world what I could have done.”
Josh, who watched from a small area onstage, said The Osceola Brothers and Battiest wowed the crowd.
The Osceola Brothers – Cameron, 18; Sheldon, 17; and Tyson, 14 – kicked off the Barcelona festival just 15 minutes after the gates opened.
“It was weird and awesome at the same time,” Cameron Osceola said. “For us, it wasn’t about proving who we are as Seminoles but proving we are not just a kid band. I told my brothers to get out there and play like it’s the last time playing.”
It worked, said Battiest, who watched The Osceola Brothers’ impressive set and witnessed what happened next.
During the break, Cameron Osceola sat in an interactive photo booth that was equipped for VIP pictures with a backdrop, guitars and headphones, and began playing Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” In seconds, Ben Gittins, of the London-based hit band The Carnabys, joined in. Zac Battiest reconnected the amps for the crowd to hear and the audience responded by reveling in the jam.
“It was such a cool moment,” Battiest said. “Cameron was the true definition of an artist. He was playing for himself and he drew a crowd … to be able to see all of the Osceola brothers blossom into who they are and grab their destiny is such a cool thing.”
Josh said Spencer Battiest also delivered an awesome show. The set, with the exception of “The Storm,” premiered four of his newest pop love songs.
“Everyone was hyped and having a great time. People were dancing. Spencer alone, then with Zac, really rocked it for a great opening to the rest of the concert,” Josh said.
Battiest said the Barcelona experience was so positive that “it confirmed what I am doing is what I am meant to do … my life as an artist is on the right path.”
For Chairman Billie, the tour of the cafes showed him that Hard Rock is also on the right road. He said all employees were welcoming, courteous and helpful long before they realized that they were serving the Hard Rock owners.
While in each city, the Chairman met with media to discuss new growth opportunities for the Hard Rock brand.
Buell said the company is seeking to “dramatically expand its hotel and casino portfolio” and open new cafe locations around the world. Chairman Billie, who with President Cypress used to “knock heads” with mean kids who tried to put them down when they were boys in Clewiston, said Hard Rock will continue growing bigger and stronger.
“We knocked heads then and we’re still doing it,” Chairman Billie said. “Hard Rock will keep going a long way. Everyone on Earth loves the Hard Rock.”
Photos courtesy of Hard Rock International.