REO Speedwagon Was a Lead-Off Hit for the Rays

They have produced a multitude of songs that step beyond the annuals of time. Anthems of new romance, loves lost and even emotional pulls at your warrior side that has been at the forefront of several generations. This was the perfect band to begin the third season of the Rays/Hess Express Saturday Night Concert Series.

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The selection of REO Speedwagon seemed as a natural to kick off this year’s musical celebrations considering some of their direct and indirect ties to the Tampa Bay area. How many people know that Oldsmar, the little shadetree town nestled on the northern shores of Tampa Bay is actually named for R E Olds, the originator of the Oldsmobile franchise, and the inventor of the REO Speedwagon.

Beyond that degree of Tampa Bay seperation, REO’s lead singer Kevin Cronin made sure to do a personal ” shout out” to some friends of the band (Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander) who live in the northern Tampa Bay city of Spring Hill. 30 memebers of the “Tampa Bay REO clan”, which included family members and friends converged on Tropicana Field with prime spot in front of the stage to see Cronin and crew bring back the 70’s full blown with the Teflon roof of the Trop.

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The chemistry on stage between Cronin, lead guitarist David Amato, piano/keyboardist Neal Doughty and long time member bass guitarist Bruce Hall was evident from the first note played.How can you not like a band with a drummer who last name is Hitt….Bryan Hitt to be precise. From the drum beats to the solo guitar riffs that embody every REO song, the band pulled us in with their musical magic.

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 I am one of those who remember and wore out my copy of their Hi Infidelity album with its great ballads and high energy guitar and drum riffs. With the band celebrating their 30th anniversary of the release of that iconic album, and a remastered version out now, it purely felt like a hometown concert between friends.

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The first thing I noticed upon hitting the photog’s well today was the entire band was smiling from ear-to-ear. These are guys who definitely get into their songs and have fun playing together. That is something so rare to see a band together for over 30 years since their days at the Univeristy of Illinois who enjoy their work, and love sharing their craft. Made for the perfect ambrosia to again remember all of our lovelorn past.
Thumbnail image for REOSpeedwagon2011 068.JPGThumbnail image for REOSpeedwagon2011 115.JPGHow many of us lived and died in our early relationships wins and losses with songs like “Take It On the Run“, The Letter” or “Can’t Fight This Feeling“. I have noted before that “Riding The Storm Out” actually set in a snowy setting was one of the songs we heard in our ears when I hit the sands of Kuwait City back in 1991. In my youth, REO Speedwagon definitely has a special place.

Thumbnail image for REOSpeedwagon2011 298.JPGThumbnail image for REOSpeedwagon2011 279.JPGThe set by the band kept the assembled Tropicana Field crowd swaying and grooving with the riffs and vocals with more than a few in the crowd singing along and showing their inner Karaoke demons. But that is what hearing bands like this who set up musical memeory chips to our lives do to you.

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They bring up the intensity of the first moment you might have heard the song, possibly proposed to your future wife, or even lamented a failed attempt to keep the one you loved with you. REO delivered full bore and then some. 

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Was even great to see Johnny Damon and his kids around the Rays dugout rails enjoying the music. Funny thing is only 3 Rays, Damon, RP Kyle Farnsworth and RP Joel Peralta were even born when Hi Infidelity made its first march through the Billboard charts
Thumbnail image for REOSpeedwagon2011 093.JPGThumbnail image for REOSpeedwagon2011 088.JPGWith the band ending their set with “Riding The Storm Out” it sent the crowd back into the words buzzing on the band’s performance, and even bringing in a few new fans to the band’s music. REO Speedwagon has come a long way since their first gigs in campus bars and stashing their equipment in a friend’s station wagon (possibly an Oldsmobile).
Thumbnail image for REOSpeedwagon2011 306.JPGThumbnail image for REOSpeedwagon2011 270.JPGClassic bands like REO always bring a new sense and appreciation of music to younger fans, but to those of us who have weathered the rock storms of the past it brings moments to light that sculptured our lives and made us who we are today.

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