Unless you are from The Hudson Valley area of Upstate New York, specifically Orange County, the name Rock Fantasy might mean nothing to you. But to people from the area, especially heavy metal fans, Rock Fantasy has been an important part of our lives for 20 years. The store is "the heavy metal store to end all heavy metal stores", and one of the largest retailers of metal CD's, DVD's, concert T-Shirts, and memorabilia around. Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo, a long-time customer of the store (going back to 1985) talks to owner Steve Keeler about the history and the future of this metal landmark.
There's no other store like it, so read on for the full article and pictures of Rock Fantasy.
Small town life in Upstate New York has many things going for it, including the clean air, the abundance of trees, mountains, lakes, rivers, and of course a virtual melting pot of different types of people. One thing you wouldn't however expect to find in our little corner of the world is a place where you can go to for all your heavy metal needs. I'm not just talking a small little metal section in the local FYE shop in the local Galleria, or a few sprinklings of Pantera, Megadeth, and Metallica CD's at Best Buy. What I mean is a down and dirty bona-fide metal shop, that has every metal related CD release that you might be looking for, new or old, death or black metal, hardcore or prog-metal, classic or thrash, metal-core or instrumental. Also, a place where you can get just about any metal concert T-shirt that is on the market, at a price much more affordable than buying one at the concert itself. How about metal DVD's, magazines, posters, jewelry, and pro-wrestling memorabilia? Well, in downtown Middletown, NY on 75 West Main Street there is such a place, and it's called Rock Fantasy. This store has been around now for 20 years, and owned by Steve Keeler, who has poured his very existence into Rock Fantasy and the world of metal so the area can have an outlet and place to purchase merchandise on the genre that he and his clientele love so much. Steve has become a metal icon in the area over the years, and a true supporter of bringing metal music to the Hudson Valley region.
I can remember being barely in my early 20's back in the mid-1980's when Steve opened up Rock Fantasy, and driving 40 minutes on a pretty regular basis from SUNY New Paltz where I was attending college, to pick up the latest metal LP's (there were no CD's yet) from bands like Slayer, Helloween, Iron Maiden, Celtic Frost, Exodus, Yngwie Malmsteen, Anthrax, Dark Angel, and many others who were hot at the time. What was great about Rock Fantasy was that no matter if it was a domestic or import release, Steve would usually have it in stock, unlike some of the local record shops, of which there were few. Previous to Steve opening up Rock Fantasy, there was another similar store not too far away called Rock and Roll Heaven, but they did not stay in business long. Steve talks about the early years:
Steve Keeler & Rock Fantasy
"There was a store in Warwick, NY (about 20-30 minutes away from where Rock Fantasy is located) called Rock and Roll Heaven, which was owned by the Zazula's who were cousins of Johnny Z from Megaforce Records. I had an idea to open up a store like that here in Middletown at the same time, because there was a need to have a place to buy heavy metal. There was only one record shop in Middletown at the time, and it was hard to find Metallica, Slayer, and Venom albums, so there was a definite need for that type of music here. I was into it, so originally we started selling stuff at fairs and flea markets, and then decided to open up a storefront in November of 1985. Then in 1991 I moved one building over to a larger store, and we are still selling concert shirts, CD, DVD's, and everything that goes along with it. We also sell pro-wrestling shirts, DVD's and memorabilia, and got into comic books back in the late 80's but that almost cost us the store, so we got out of that. If there's something you are looking for and is hard to find we can usually find it and order it if it is still in print."
While glancing around the store, you can see hundreds of photographs of various bands who have visited Rock Fantasy, dating back to the 80's as well as more recently. I asked Steve how hard it is to get bands to come to the store these days, and he replied, "It's tough to get bands to come to the city of Middletown to do signings because I don't have a venue in the area. The Chance in Poughkeepsie in the closest venue to us, but it's 45 minutes away and most record companies will not let the band take a 45 minute drive each way as they are afraid they won't make it to their sound check on time or whatever other politics that go on nowadays. Years ago it was much more happening for live metal here in the Hudson Valley, as we had more venues and clubs, plus bands played at the Orange County Fair every summer, but times have changed".
"It's tough to do metal and prog shows in the area" says Steve, "because the hardcore crowd basically owns the scene right now. New York City has a great club to see metal over at BB Kings, but around the area here you could have 4 hardcore bands opening up for a metal band, and most of the crowd will leave before the headliner takes the stage. At BB Kings, it's the total opposite."
Steve Keeler and Rock Fantasy
Getting back to the in-store appearances and stuff on the Rock Fantasy calendar, Steve does have some things in the works. "We may have Chris Caffery (Savatage/TSO) in the store this Fall. He's a local musician who has really made a name for himself, and we also have some pro-wrestlers coming in as well. On November 5th we are having a party celebrating 20 years in business with a show at The Chance featuring Suffocation, Cryptopsy, Vader, Despised Icon, and Aborted, plus we are also co-sponsoring the Judas Priest/Anthrax show at the Mid Hudson Civic Center, which is on October 11th".
I asked Steve if Rock Fantasy has a Web presence at all, and in fact they do. "We do have a website that is basically an advertisement for what is going on at the store, what we sell, plus some photo galleries, and links to other things and sites, but we are not doing transactions through the site". When I asked Steve what his plans for the future of this long standing place for metal heads to get together, purchase metal products and talk about their favorite bands, he replied "Right now we are just looking to celebrate our 20th Anniversary for a year, try to get some in-store stuff going on for the fans and customers that have supported us over the years and the new kids coming in. We just want to hang in there. It's tough these days, with Best Buy, Circuit City, the Internet, and music downloads. Downloading is really hurting music sales…. there's a lot of downloading going on. The CD may be dead in 5 years. You never know…"
Steve Keeler and Pete Pardo
Somehow, I think in 5 years, or even 10, Steve Keeler will still have his dark and packed-to-the-gills store open for business with wall to wall metal items for the hungry heavy metal fan who just can't get enough of the music we all love. Let's hope so. Rock Fantasy is one of those places where you can walk in, easily spend a few hours talking metal, and finding all sorts of items you may never see anywhere else. Plus, you never know who you might run into there (the day I was there for this interview members of the band Herod were in the store) on any given day. And honestly, where else are you going to get that must have concert T-Shirt, regularly priced at $30-$40 at the show, for under $20.00? Do yourself a favor, if you are in the New York area, take a trip to Middletown and check out this haven for metal, and if you are passing through from out of state, stop in and meet Steve and take home some metal goodies. You'll be glad you did.