July 06, 2011
In the photo: A young KISS fan rushes to the front of the stage as the gates open at Sarnia Bayfest 2011.

By Observer staff

The gates have opened and the fans are flooding into Centennial park where legendary rockers KISS will kick off the 13th annual Rogers Bayfest.

Die-hard fans like Chris Buscema were in line since Tuesday evening for a chance to watch his all-time favourite band.

"I'm so pumped for tonight," said the 20-year-old Sarnia resident, who brought an authentic Gene Simmons Axe bass guitar with him, in hopes that "The Demon" himself will sign it.

Buscema scored a coveted backstage VIP Meet & Greet pass thanks to Bayfest organizers and his performance at The Observer's Superfan contest.

Meanwhile, the official tour bus for Gene Simmons' Family Jewels, the rocker's popular television show, arrived backstage shortly before the gates opened.

Sixteen-year-old Brian Maxwell, of Collingwood, bought $195 worth of KISS merchandise before the show to add to his bedroom shrine. He says his homage to the band contains more than $1,000 worth of band memorabilia

"They're not just a band, they're superheros," he said.

The KISS Army was in full force as hundreds of the more than 15,000 at the park turned out with faces painted or dressed up like the flamboyant rockers.

KISS' popularity hasn't waned since the iconic band formed in New York City in 1973, led by original members Paul Stanley and Simmons.

Fans continue to flock to their shows, which are fueled by large amounts of pyrotechnics, flaming guitars and Simmons' signature fire breathing and blood-spitting.

Each band member puts on his own face makeup, which takes close to an hour.

Their headline show opening Bayfest marked their second visit to the Sarnia festival in three years.

Bayfest organizer Michele Stokley said the massive 5,700-square-foot stage required extra trussing to accommodate the band's thunderous show.

Even as Gene Simmons "Family Jewels" motor coach rolled, Bayfest security and backstage workers stopped to snap pics on their cameras and cell phones.

The waterfront festival, which began with in 1999 with more humble beginnings, has grown into one of Ontario's feature tourism events.

This year's Bayfest is expected to draw close to 100,000 people over the course of the seven-day music extravaganza, drawing fans from across the globe, including Tennessee, South America and across Canada.

For those wondering how the band kicked back before heading on stage, they sipped on coconut water and dined on seared salmon and steamed vegetables.

They also requested four copies of The Observer to read featuring stories on lead guitarist Tommy Thayer and the band's backstage wish list.