REO Speedwagon and Chicago Keep ‘Pushin’ On’

How do you become a rock ‘n’ roll legend? You keep ‘pushing on.’ At least, that’s what  REO Speedwagon’s lead singer, Kevin Cronin, told upwards of 11,000 fans at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Aug. 19, 2014. “You’ll have people tell you that your dream can never come true. They will ask why you don’t you just give up. They will tell you to quit. But if you want to make your dream come true, you just gotta keep pushing on.” That, of course, led into REO’s 1976 song, “Keep Pushin’ ”.

Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert
Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert

The REO Speedwagon and Chicago collaboration has not happened before this year, but it does make a lot of sense since both legendary groups have been ‘pushin’ since 1967. Both experienced their peaks in the 1970s and ’80s, drawing fans in the 40+ age group to the Saratoga show. Many of the ‘older’ fans brought their kids, or grandkids to this show, in part thanks to the GE Kids in Free program, but also because they recognized how important it is for youth to experience the quality music that has influenced current pop stars. Not to mention that it doesn’t hurt for kids to hear the message that you need to ‘work hard to make your dreams come true.’ The night’s highlight, of course, was the last half hour of the show featuring the joint performance of six hit songs – three of REO’s and three of Chicago’s. One might expect a stage crowded with fourteen incredibly talented guys to be too much. But they pulled it off. Every person on that stage contributed his own unique style to the songs they performed together.

Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert
Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert

Neither REO nor Chicago are resting on their 20th century laurels; both are still writing and performing new music. REO’s “Whipping Boy” and Chicago’s “Now” were almost as well received by fans as their hits were. Cronin’s stories were entertaining — in particular, his recap of an afternoon hike in Saratoga had the full attention of all fans. While in the woods he acquired a deer tick, which launched him into a captivating story about how he got the “creeps” and relied on a hand-held mirror to make sure he was entirely tick free. The mirror revealed parts of his anatomy he hadn’t seen before, and as he discovered himself he developed a new appreciation for certain body parts. Eventually though, he realized that it was all an illusion. The mirror was concave, making everything appear much bigger than it actually was.

Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert
Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert

Chicago’s band members didn’t tell funny stories, however, the passionate performance of trombonist James Pankow was just as fascinating.

Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert
Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert

What appeared to be a competition between drummer, Tris Imboden, and percussionist, Walfredo Reyes, was also a lot of fun to watch.

Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert
Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert
Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert
Photo by Jim ‘JT’ Gilbert

The perfect August night that aptly opened with local, one-man band, Rich Ortiz’s “Summer Song” ended with “Roll with the Changes” and the message that change is inevitable, and often good. SPAC fans were incredibly fortunate to be able to see these two legendary bands perform together; after all, it may never happen again. Right now, tour dates are scheduled through the end of this month.