Written by Dave Clements
ImageWe headed to The Woodlands Pavilion on the Friday that began the Labor Day holiday weekend feeling grateful that the weathermen pretty much got it wrong.  There was a high percentage chance of rain called for but the night was breezy and mild…much like the bands performing on this night.  Research informed me that REO Speedwagon and Chicago were both originally formed in 1967.  That must have been a good year for musical talent to emerge!  Their longevity alone would have been impressive.  The fact that they were still able to draw a nearly sold out crowd and deliver the favorite tunes of their loyal fans is testimony to their entertaining excellence and solid work ethic – appropriate for this Labor Day celebration.

The co-headlining groups had an opener.  Tim Stop came out before the sun went down and before all of the crowd had filtered in.  He sat on a stool with his acoustic guitar looking very cool and confident.  He played 2 original songs in a style that reminded me of equal parts Jason Mraz, Gavin DeGraw, and Casey Abrams – all performers that I admire a lot.  During his short 3 song set, Mr. Kevin Cronin (REO’s quirky lead singer) walked across the stage carrying a golf club and declared he was ‘just playing through’ to the delight, applause, and laughter of his fans.  Tim then let us know that he and Kevin are regular golfing buddies.  His last song was a slowed down cover of the Michael Jackson song ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ that had the early crowd tapping their feet.  Nice job warming up the fans, Tim.

ImageNext up was REO Speedwagon.   Until Kevin Cronin opened up his mouth and delivered the first few notes of the opening song, Don’t Let Him Go, I had forgotten how distinctive his voice is.  When you hear an REO song, you KNOW it’s an REO song thanks to that voice.  The rest of the band were all in good form and seemed tight, professional, and genuinely happy to be there.  Kevin, however, is clearly the cheerleader.  He grinned and smiled through such fan favorites as Can’t Fight This Feeling, Take It on the Run, and Tough Guys.  This wasn’t a jump to your feet screaming performance.  This was a kicked back, chill out, sway to the music kind of thing.  About mid-set Kevin Cronin addressed the fans saying, “What’s kept us fueled is our love of music and the love of our fans”.  Nicely put, Kevin, and very classy.

ImageAt the break between REO and Chicago, my wife heard people behind her expressing excitement for the upcoming Chicago set.  One lady wondered aloud ‘will they bring all of the horns? I sure hope they bring all the horns!’.   Chicago is for sure a unique Rock and Roll group with a twist.  Their distinctive sound is as much, or more, a stand out as REO’s.  You hear a Chicago song and you know it’s them.  I count this as a big achievement, especially in light of all of the ‘cookie cutter’ generic sounding new ‘talent’ we hear on mainstream radio these days.

The nine members of Chicago (yes, all of the horns were there) took the stage and launched right into Make Me Smile.  Like REO ‘s reception, even though every fan was clearly hoping to hear their favorites tonight, this was a laid back audience.  Don’t get me wrong, Chicago delivered and then some.  No musician on stage ever sits back and rests, they are all engaged at all times.  Watching how cohesive and in tune to one another they are is amazing.  They played their hits Questions 67 & 68 (or more familiar lyrics ‘I’d like to know can you tell me – please don’t tell me’), You’re the Inspiration, and the Spencer Davis Group cover (and crowd favorite – this DID get them jumping around!) I’m a Man.

ImageObviously saving the big ones for the end, the set concluded with Just You & Me, Hard to Say I’m Sorry, Saturday in the Park, and Feelin’ Stonger Every Day.

REO’s Cronin had hinted during their set that the crowd should stay in their seats all the way until the end.  Having been around awhile (okay, longer) it was easy to conclude that the two groups might jam together.  They did not disappoint!  In what may be the longest encore the Pavilion has known, REO Speedwagon and Chicago took the stage together and gave us Ridin’ the Storm Out, Keep On Loving You, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is, and finally 25 or 6 to 4!  Whew!  There were a couple of other songs in there too.  Greatest Hits overload!  Both headliners worked overtime on this Labor Day weekend and we all went home smiling.

Until next time remember there is no time to kill,