ROCK THE PARK: Unforgettable breathtaking performance by STYX and fireworks close out Rock The Park’s 10th anniversary three-day bash

STYX delivered a stellar performance at this year's Rock The Park on Saturday, July 27, 2013.
STYX delivered a stellar performance at this year's Rock The Park on Saturday, July 27, 2013.
STYX delivered a stellar performance at this year’s Rock The Park on Saturday, July 27, 2013.

Photography courtesy of Kerry Belliveau of Kerry’s Klips Photography

Story by Joe Burd

It would be quite easy after such an incredible showing by all of the bands Saturday night, including London’s Under The Covers winner Dirty Little Secret, to use the old adage, “third time’s the charm.”

However, considering the incredible, breathtaking performances seen over the first two days – Thursday and Friday – along with Saturday’s, for all intents and purposes, musical magic the only suitable adage would be to say this year’s 10th anniversary edition music festival had, “batted a 1000,” by the end of the final night.

But let’s put the music aside just for a moment and talk about what Rock The Park’s really about – it’s about hope, it’s about bringing the community together for a common purpose, and, most importantly, it’s about raising money to help fight a disease that affects 160,000 people around the world, often resulting in death after years of treatment that only keeps it at bay – Metachromatic Leukodystrophy (MLD).

7-year old Bethany McIntyre's passing was the inspiration for Bethanys Hope and London's annual Rock The Park classic rock music festival.
7-year old Bethany McIntyre’s passing was the inspiration for Bethanys Hope and Rock The Park.

In fact, the prognosis for anyone with or that develops MLD is grim at best, but most children who are born with the disease don’t live beyond age 10. The disease is an inherited genetic condition which damages the nervous system and progressively causes those afflicted to lose intellectual and motor functions.

The disease really hit home in the forest city community of London 13 years ago when one of its own young residents, 7-year-old Bethany McIntyre, bravely lost her battle to MLD after a devastating diagnosis at age two and a subsequent five year battle that included several surgical operations, mounting medical costs, and, as expected, many setbacks along the way.

Ten years ago, three years after young Bethany lost her precious life to the disease, Jones Entertainment Group created Rock the Park to support Bethanys Hope Foundation in progressing research for MLD.

“When the effects of this terrible disease hit close to home, claiming the life of seven year old Bethany McIntyre, friendship and hope came together with a vision to Rock for a Cure. Seven years later, through the support of dedicated fans and a love for music, Rock the Park proudly reached the goal of 1 million dollars raised and donated to MLD research,” said JEG president Brad Jones.

Saturday, it was announced during the course of the evening that, after last year’s milestone of having raised 1.5 million dollars in the first nine years, this year’s 10th anniversary edition of Rock The Park was approaching the 2 million dollar mark.  Today, it was announced, by JEG Marketing Director Alycia McComb, that this year’s bash raised $306,000 and, after 10 years of rockin’ for a cure, a total of 1.8 million dollars has been raised.

“We would like to thank all the hard working volunteers and everyone who was involved to make Rock the Park 10 successful. We have now raised over $1.8 million dollars for Bethany’s Hope Foundation,” said McComb in a public release.

Now to the stellar night of music, people and unrivaled community spirit – Coney Hatch, SAGA, Grand Funk Railroad, and, the headliner and main event of the evening, legendary 70’s and 80’s rockers STYX.

Thousands of people passed through Rock The Park during the three-day 10th anniversary bash.
Thousands of people passed through Rock The Park during the three-day 10th anniversary bash.

After Journey’s epic performance the night before, it didn’t seem possible that it could get any better and that sentiment was shared by a lot of folks who were there the previous night – oh, how wrong we were about that notion.

When you think of opening bands that play festivals, what often comes to mind is that of new, up and coming, talent that, more or less, would do almost anything for the opportunity to open for a major performer or band such as virtually all of the headlining bands that rocked the park this year.

To be sure, there were a few of those standard bearer opening bands this year, most notably The Rural Alberta Advantage, currently signed by Saddle Creek Records, on opening night, who’s strong showing and favorable fan reaction from the raucous crowd said it all; and, equally impressive in their own right, Blackburn Radio’s Under The Covers contest winning cover band Dirty Little Secret.

Not mincing any words and being completely frank, The Rural Alberta Advantage put on a show outstanding enough to headline their own night and they’ll prove that soon enough as they continually play more venues, winning over new fans everywhere.

Lead vocalist and guitarist Kevin Claxton on stage with his band Dirty Little Secret at Rock The Park on Saturday, July 27, 2013.
Lead vocalist and guitarist Kevin Claxton on stage with his band Dirty Little Secret at Rock The Park on Saturday, July 27, 2013.

Under The Covers winner Dirty Little Secret – a very talented London-based cover band – fought hard against three other impressive bands from around the region and won the opportunity to open up the last day of this year’s 10th anniversary festival. There was no doubt that, hot of their noteworthy win on Jul. 4, DLS came out Saturday to entertain the crowd with some classic favorites from bands such as ZZ Top.

DLS lead vocalist and guitarist Kevin Claxton remarked about opening up the final night of Rock The Park 10 simply saying, “Amazing. There’s no words.”

Bassist and keyboard player Adam Blythe echoed Claxton’s feelings and added, “Love being here today, but it’s a bit overwhelming.”

Claxton also talked about winning the Under The Covers contest, remarking that, at first, it was just suppose to be contest local to the Forest City, but then it quickly evolved into a battle of bands that would include talent from all four of Blackburn Radio’s distinct markets.

“Winning the battle of the bands at Norma Jean’s against three other very talented bands was a pretty big deal to us and we’re just thrilled to be here today,” added Claxton.

When asked what the summer’s looking like for this talented cover band, Claxton remarked that they’ve already played 54 shows this year and have dozens more lined up over the next few months.

For more information about DLS, you can check out their homepage at http://dirtylittlesecretlondon.webs.com.

Rock The Park capacity crowd on the final day, Saturday, July 27, 2013.
Rock The Park capacity crowd on the final day, Saturday, July 27, 2013.

Once Dirty Little Secret finished their set, it was barely 4 p.m., the venue was quickly approaching capacity, and the remaining four bands to follow DLS could not, under any reasonable circumstances, be thought of as “openers.”

Shortly after 4 p.m., it was time for the night to officially begin with the likes of 70’s and 80’s power chord, synthesizer-infused super band, Coney Hatch – a name coined after the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum (1851–1993) in London, England – who has produced, to be certain, some of the most memorable tracks from, really, an epic era of music and entertainment.

Despite some typical ups and downs that come with the territory, band members coming and going, this band has endured 31 stellar years in a tough industry and, in the minds of many, still sounds the same today as they did decades ago when they first came together.

In the, what seemed like, short hour that Coney Hatch was on stage, they managed to pull off most of the singles that shot this band into orbit three decades ago – Devil’s Deck, Hey Operator, Monkey Bars, Don’t Say Make Me, Shake It, and She’s Gone.

No sooner did Coney Hatch finished up their nostalgic set on time, having effortlessly primed the crowd the rest of the night, before the stage was being set for the next band at 5 p.m. – 80’s progressive rockers SAGA.

Another band that’s had it’s share of ups and down, several breakups and comebacks – like many bands that have been around for decades, especially from that particular era – SAGA has skillfully managed to overcome its “personal issues” time and again, continuing to tour regularly and consistently releasing new material every couple of years.

Keyboardist Michael Sadler (Left) and Lead vocalist Jim Gilmour (right) of 80's Progressive Rock band SAGA.
Keyboardist Michael Sadler (Left) and lead vocalist Jim Gilmour (right) of 80’s Progressive Rock band SAGA.

During their hour-long set, they masterfully rifled through and performed classics ditties from all four of their successful recorded albums and a substantial singles collection including, to name but a few, On The Loose, It’s Time, The Flyer, Wind Him UpWhat Do I Know and Only Time Will Tell.

Next up on tap at 6:15 p.m., it was time for the hugely popular 70’s classic rock band Grand Funk Railroad, an American blues rock band that was on top of the heap during the 70’s, to hit the stage. Grand Funk Railroad toured to packed arenas worldwide, putting out some of the best music from that era including such epic tracks as We’re An American Band, Some Kind of Wonderful, I’m Your Captain, and Inside Looking Out.

After three breakups and reunions, this band has endured the test of time and has some of the biggest classic rock tracks in the world under their proverbial belts – their last reunion was in 1996 and continues to endure to this day.

Grand Funk Railroad on the main stage at Rock The Park 10 on Saturday, July 27, 2013. Left to right, Mel Schacher on bass guitar, Max Carl on vocals and guitar, and Bruce Kulick on lead guitar.
Grand Funk Railroad on the main stage at Rock The Park 10 on Saturday, July 27, 2013. Left to right, Mel Schacher on bass guitar, Max Carl on vocals and guitar, and Bruce Kulick on lead guitar.

By 7:45 p.m., Grand Funk Railroad had finished thoroughly entertaining the crowd and it was time for one of the best, most well known and iconic bands from the 80’s to flank a stage – the one, the only… TOTO.

It was clear even before the lineup of TOTO stepped foot onto the stage, the atmosphere was already taking shape; the stage looked like a flashback from earlier years when this band was in their prime. The two sets of keyboards was a dead giveaway that this band was on hand to take those in the park back in time to the 80’s.

TOTO – comprised of Joseph Williams on lead vocals, David Paich on keyboards, Steve Porcaro on keyboards, Steve Lukather on guitar and backing vocals, and Nathan East on bass – was formed in 1977 and found success almost immediately. During the 80’s, tracks like Hold The Line, 99, Africa, and Rosana had become anthems of the decade.

Each of those tracks stood out Saturday night, with some sounding like they did three decades ago, such as Rosana and 99, and other tracks where the arrangement has been changed (or enhanced with new solos and additional layers of sound) such as Africa.

TOTO performing live on stage at Rock The Park 10 in London, Ontario, on Saturday, July 27, 2013. Left to right, Steve Lukather on guitar and vocals, Joseph Williams on lead vocals, and Mabvuto Carpenter on guitar and vocals.
TOTO performing live on stage at Rock The Park 10 on Saturday, July 27, 2013. Left to right, Steve Lukather on guitar and vocals, Joseph Williams on lead vocals, and Mabvuto Carpenter on guitar and vocals.

The night’s pièce de résistance for TOTO came with the last track, probably their biggest hit amidst so many good tracks spanning three solid, successful decades – Hold The Line. The energy, the vibe, and the pleasure the band clearly enjoyed belting out the epic track made for one heck of a final song – no encore necessary.

Though the three-day festival caters to those who can’t get enough classic rock, the park was packed with people representing all age ranges. That said, it sounded like, by the rabid applause and cheering, the entire crowd loved TOTO – from teenagers to older adults – and the veteran band clearly appreciated the robust response they got and, to be sure, seemed to feed off the positive energy permiating throughout the entire outdoor venue.

The time had finally come shortly after 9:30 p.m. for the big show, the grand finale; for one of the most prolific, progressive classic rock bands of all time to grace the stage – it was time for the, what some might see as preeminent, 70’s and 80’s music veterans STYX to flank the stage fronted by none other than Lawrence Gowan.

Famous the world over for albums the band released in the late 70’s and early 80’s, STYX has held prominence and demonstrated staying power that most bands can only dream about when getting into the music business.

When is the last time that you traversed back through time, traveling to a distant point in your past that, while you didn’t know at the time, defined a part of your existence – a time when life and society seemed so much easier and less chaotic

Traveling back to a place-where you didn’t know it at the time- that defined a part of your existence; back to a period when things were simpler, when life seemed to be less utterly confused than it is today? For many of us that witnessed STYX on Saturday that’s exactly what happened.

Lawrence Gowan (left) and Tommy Shaw (right).
STYX frontmen Lawrence Gowan (left) and Tommy Shaw (right).

The show had everything you’d expect from such a grand, at time very theatric spectacle of music and, frankly, between the vocal talents of original member Tommy Shaw and Lawrence Gowan, you’d never notice founding member and former lead vocalist Dennis DeYoung wasn’t present – the music is the same today in almost every aspect as it was three decades ago.

And when it came to the songs we all know, love and wanted to hear – you know, the tracks that once upon a time played in constant rotation at radio stations around the world and put this band on the proverbial map – STYX didn’t miss a beat and didn’t disappoint anyone having performed, for all intents and purposes, all of their greatest hits and best tracks since 1970.

As a bonus to everyone, Canadian band member Lawrence Gowan, who’s earned incredible fame and noteriety in his own right with a long and impressive solo career before joining STYX, treated the crowd to one of his personal best and biggest commercial hits – an unforgettable, haunting rendition of A Criminal Mind.

Once the show was finished, the festival went the proverbial extra mile in celebrating its milestone 10th anniversary with a display of tour de force fireworks that lit up London’s entire downtown region.

Three days, three incredible nights of entertainment that prompted an array of emotions and nostalgia for those lucky enough to come out to the park this year; hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised bring the 10 year total for the annual event to 1.8 million dollars; and Rock The Park has set the stage, with such staggering success, for another decade – and another.

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