By the time Blue Öyster Cult launched into its 1981 hit, “Burnin’ For You” three songs into its set list at Mill Race Park Saturday, things were beginning to heat up with the group’s hard rock/heavy metal sound.

“This is such a nice night for a rock show,” guitarist Eric Bloom said. “We’re going to be playing all kinds of stuff from our career through the years.”

The group’s true hardcore fans at the 31st Annual Our Hospice of South Central Indiana Labor Day weekend concert mentioned beforehand that they were looking forward to a night of rock reminiscing while reliving some of the best guitar tunes of their high school days.

An estimated 7,000 people gathered at the park for the concert, some staking out their viewing locations on Saturday afternoon. Opening act was The Woomblies Rock Orchestra.

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Bob Cheatham saw the band for the first time in 1981 at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky, and loved their varied sound. He still has their T-shirt from the group’s Black and Blue Tour with Black Sabbath.

“Every song of theirs always has sounded different, unlike a lot of the bands today,” said Cheatham, who is from Greensburg.

He last saw the group, featuring two original members, Bloom and guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser, about a decade ago.

Some members of the hospice crowd have made the event something of a tradition.

“Oh, this is going to bring back a lot of memories,” Cheatham said before the free show that raises awareness and funds for hospice’s mission of helping seriously ill patients and their families. “Actually, it’s a lot of good memories of just driving around in the country, listening to their music in the car.”

At a pre-concert meet-and-greet session at Hotel Indigo, Cheatham was excited to get to shake hands with Roeser, considered something of a classic rock god by some.

Mike Shelton, one of the concert emcees, liked their album cover art almost as much as their tunes from his teen days. He saw the band members in the early 1970s at Freedom Hall.

“The thing I really remember most is that all the band members came out at the end playing guitar — and that just blew me away,” said Shelton, a guitarist himself who was playing their music in his high school band. “It was wild.

“They were killing it. They sounded great.”

Of course, most fans will say the band members never sounded greater than on their 1976 mega-hit, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” Bloom said in a recent interview in The Republic that he and his mates still love performing it, “but people will have to stick around.”

Online set lists from recent shows reveal that it comes at or near the end of most performances, while the 1977 hit, “Godzilla,” often surfaces near the early portion of a concert.

Jim Powell remembers those songs and others. He first saw the ensemble in 1977 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, and also in Chicago a few years with Styx.

“My friends and I were kind of hard-rock guys,” Powell said, adding he bought all the albums at least for their first decade. Sadly, he lost his LP collection the flood of 2008.

Some in the hospice crowd have done their best to make the long-running event something of a tradition. Columbus native Ron Everroad now lives in Arkansas. But he tries to make it back to town every year for the concert, regardless of the headliner.

“It just makes for a very nice, long weekend,” Everroad said.

By the numbers

90

Expected length of concert in minutes

7,000

Estimated concert attendance

$100,000

Amount of money hospice hoped to raise

3

Number of the band’s biggest hits

45

Years that the band has performed

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.