Live From the Astroturf, Alice Cooper: Phoenix Film Festival Recap

This is part 1 of a 3-part tour blog series on the Live From the Astroturf, Alice Cooper film festival circuit.

Dennis Dunaway
April, 2019

The plane is gliding down to the runway in Phoenix, Arizona—our old stomping grounds. I’m looking out the window at the sprawling growth that makes spotting even the most familiar landmarks of my era slim.

Reminiscing on classic photos. Picture by Julia Arrgh.

Chris Penn and Steve Gaddis are there to give Cindy and I a ride. We’ve all come to the Phoenix Film Festival with fingers crossed for getting something to happen for Live From The Astroturf, Alice Cooper. The title refers to the pink Astroturf that covered the stage in Chris Penn’s Good Records store in Dallas, Texas where, on October 6, 2015, the original Alice Cooper group reunited for a surprise performance at my Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! book-signing event.

Jeanne Carney, Chris Penn, Cindy & Dennis Dunaway, Patrick Brezinski, and Steve Gaddis at Cortez High School, where Dennis and Alice met. Picture by Julia Arrgh.

That event had an exceptionally cool gathering of fans. It was equally cool for Michael Bruce, Neal Smith, Alice Cooper, and I, who hadn’t played together since 2011 - around the time of our Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.

Well, Good Records wasn’t fancy like the Grand Ballroom, but it was perfect for some hard rock played the way we like it—raw and real.

The evening was recorded and filmed for Chris’s own personal memories, but the sound and the footage came out so good that director Steve Gaddis said, “I think we’ve got a film here.”

And so the wheels started turning in Chris Penn’s head. He got the okay from the Alice camp, he got Bob Ezrin and Jusin Cortelyou to mix the recording, and he got Steve Gaddis to edit the film footage. On top of that, he planned a 7” vinyl single release with packaging that had a real “wow factor.” It turned out to be the fastest selling single in the history of record store day releases.

We knew that Michael planned to be at the Phoenix screening, and likely Neal, but Alice was recording and hadn’t said anything to anybody about coming.

Michael Bruce, Neal Smith, Alice Cooper, and Dennis Dunaway on the Phoenix Film Festival red carpet for Live from the Astroturf, Alice Cooper. Picture by Julia Arrgh.

But he made it. The movie theater was buzzing with energy when the four of us walked in and took our seats, and of course there was a designated seat for the late great Glen Buxton. I saw friends from our high school daze and from as far away as Canada and France. I had lots of relatives there including my mom, my sis, and my brother. Alice and I sat together with giant bags of popcorn. When he ordered his, he said, “When you think you’ve put too much butter on it, put more.”

Just like he did when we were teenagers.

The lights went down and the film began. On the big screen, the film opened with fans giving their testimonies as to what first attracted them to the Alice Cooper group.  Who would have ever imagined this kind of sincere loyalty over what some high school friends set their starry-eyed sights on way back in ‘64? And then Chris Penn comes on the screen and his passion spills out as well.

This heartwarming buildup leads to a pleasant surprise for everyone—the sound. From the first riff of Michael’s guitar, you get the distinct feeling that you’re in that record store back in 2015. But it doesn’t feel like then, it feels like now.

Cindy is rockin’ out in her luxury reclining chair while Neal and I glance over at each other. He smiles in approval of the film. Beyond him sits his partner, Rose, and Michael with his partner, Lynn. I look to my right and see Alice’s wife, Sheryl, smiling. Alice and I continue chomping popcorn. Yes, right away, we can all see that this is a special film. A labor of love made by some talented people.

Chris Penn, Steve Gaddis, Dennis Dunaway, and Cindy Dunaway with the Phoenix Film Festival Best Documentary Short award for Live from the Astroturf, Alice Cooper.

A Q & A followed and we enjoyed a sense of appreciation for everyone in the theater.

The next day was filled with family, friends, and fans … and another screening of the film. There was also a tour of Cortez High School, the homes where Glen and I grew up, and the Dunes Lounge where the Earwigs played our very first paying gig in 1964. I also stopped by Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe to sign their copies of my book.

We had dinner with Alice and Sheryl. Neal and Rose and Michael and Lynn were there as well. Afterward we went to Alice’s house to hang out.

The following night, Cin and I joined Chris and Steve at the awards ceremony. They were worrying about catching their flight for the next film festival in Detroit, when the Phoenix Film Festival MC called out their names ...

The film won for Best Documentary Short!

Stay tuned for Part 2: Live From the Astroturf: The Freep Film Festival.