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Skillet redefines VIP experience for their hardcore fans

Skillet bmembers are Seth Morris(from left) John Cooper Jen Ledger  Korey Cooper.

Skillet band members are Seth Morrison (from left), John Cooper, Jen Ledger and Korey Cooper.

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Updated: June 21, 2013 4:33PM

Plunk down many hundreds of dollars for the top-notch “VIP” experience at a Rolling Stones concert, and here’s what you get: One premium reserved price level 1 floor ticket, VIP entrance, pre-show buffet dinner, exclusive merchandise item, official tour program, collectible laminate and onsite check-in staff.

But those who shelled out a fraction of that amount — $165 — for an all-day VIP “experience” with the million-selling Christian rock band Skillet appearing Friday at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall get quite a bit more. Most significantly, they’ll be part of a meet-and-greet that essentially lasts for eight hours.

Lead singer John Cooper says he’s expecting only the hardest of hardcore mavens at Chicago’s event, where the bill also includes a first-listen to Skillet’s forthcoming CD “Rise” (out June 25), dinner and a 30-minute acoustic set. According to a Skillet spokeswoman, all of the 200 available seats (at round tables, much like an awards show set-up) have been purchased.

“We’ve kind of gotten to a place where it’s hard to meet fans,” Cooper says. “You can get VIP tickets [for other shows], but it’s very quick. You get to meet people and take pictures, but it’s in and out. And so we kind of thought, ‘What would be a way to get our hardcore fans into a small room and get to meet them face-to-face and have that kind of fan experience and showcase the new record and kind of give them a little treat and play the record before the rest of the world hears it?’”

Asked if this sort of thing is an emerging trend, Metro and Double Door co-owner Joe Shanahan says no. And the concept, he adds, only works with small crowds.

Skillet recently tested the VIP approach in Nashville, where almost all of the 150 seats sold. Cooper says people traveled from all over the country — Massachusetts, Colorado, South Dakota — to be there. And, yes, there were some odd moments with folks who were nervous to meet their musical idols. But “awkward stalker” types stayed away.

“It was just amazing talking to people. I met couples who got married walking down the aisle to a Skillet song. And I met a guy who spent the last nine months in Afghanistan and one of our songs was the thing that gave him hope and brought him back home to his family.”

Judson Eakin, promotions director for Lincoln Hall and its sister venue Schuba’s, says they’ve done VIP events in the past, “but nothing to this extent.”

If reactions from Nashville fans are any indication, Chicago patrons won’t be disappointed.

“I thought they were going to be up on stage most of the time, but when they came down and just were hanging out with us, it was really cool,” one woman told Nashville’s One One 7 TV. “They’re real people, too, and sometimes you forget that.”

Said another, “It was definitely worth the money and the time and the eight hour drive down here.”

After Lincoln Hall, Cooper and his three band mates — wife Korey, Jen Ledger and Seth Morrison — will embark on a tour of America and Europe, where they’ll open for the mega-selling Canadian band Nickelback in October and November.

But the bigger they get, Cooper says, the harder it is to meet those who made them big in the first place: their fans. So he’s not ruling out another VIP day, though it won’t happen for quite a while.

“This event burst out of our love for our fans and the excitement we have in meeting them,” Cooper says. “So I think those two things are probably tied together.”

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