Live music is alive and well in Central New York. One night after the band Train brought over 28,000 people to Chevy Park at the Great New York State Fair in Syracuse, Classic Rock legends REO Speedwagon drew an even bigger crowd, estimated at over 30,000.
Lead singer Kevin Cronin bounded out on stage with the energy of a much younger man. Grinning from ear to ear, he shielded his eyes to try to see the end of the wall of humanity that stretched out before him. Joined on stage by original founding member Neil Doughty on keyboards, long time bass player Bruce Hall, Dave Amato on lead guitar and drummer Brian Hitt, Cronin wasted no time getting the Speedwagon up to full speed.
Cronin noted that this year is the forty-first anniversary of the release of the band’s Hi-Infidelity record. It was the highest selling album of 1981, going ten-times platinum. I remember my parents playing this record until the needle nearly wore out. Many of the night’s songs were drawn from Hi-Infidelity.
They played some deep cuts, but the set leaned heavily on the band’s hook filled, sing along anthems. “Keep Pushin’,” “Don’t Let Him Go,” “Take It on the Run,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Time for Me To Fly,” “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” “Keep On Lovin’ You” and “Roll With the Changes” all were greeted with HUGE sing alongs.
Amato who replaced original guitarist Gary Richrath in 1989 was on fire. He brought his own flavor to what are some of the most recognizable guitar leads in rock history. Ask any guitar player over a certain age and they will tell you that Richrath was a beast. His solos were heavy, melodic, and offered a great counterpoint to Cronin’s acoustic guitars and lyrics. Amato owns these solos now and absolutely shreds them.
The rhythm section of Hall and Hitt stayed in the pocket all night and propelled the songs forward with urgency. Doughty, tucked away at the back of the stage is the “secret sauce” that makes the music sound so good. His understated but tasty keyboard runs are often overshadowed by the blazing guitars, but the songs just wouldn’t be the same without him.
After a brutally hot ninety-degree day at the fair, it was nice to see so many people out enjoying live music. This is just an observation on this reviewer’s part, but I noticed how pleasant people have been. I didn’t see or hear anyone arguing over spots or people bumping into them. They were just happy to be there. The people at The Great New York State Fair have raised the bar this year. Not just with the level of talent they have brought in for the concert series, but with how they have presented it all. There are still a TON of great shows to be seen. Come out and catch one for yourself.