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Former Styx frontman entertains crowd at Mill Race

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The official T-shirts for the free, annual Our Hospice of South Central Indiana concert nearly became sadly prophetic Saturday. The souvenir apparel read, “Come Sail Away.”

On a day when rain poured and Mother Nature still drizzled even an hour before the concert began, it seemed that the poncho-prepared early arrivals at the event site of Mill Race Park in downtown Columbus indeed might sail away amid all the water.

But by the time former Styx lead singer and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung took the stage at about 8:45 p.m., a smaller-than-normal crowd of thousands happily sailed away only to the pop music past and familiar territory — a seeming ocean of hits stretching as far back as “Lady” in 1972.

DeYoung promised a set list of the better-known tunes: “Come Sail Away,” “Show Me the Way,” “Babe,” “Lorelei,” “The Best of Times” “Mr. Roboto,” “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” and others.

“Here we go,” he said, dressed in white and leaning over the stage railing toward the crowd.

He and his band kicked into a rollicking rendition of “Grand Illusion” to open his set that was expected to stretch nearly two hours.

His second number, “Lady,” drew cheers as his vocals were featured front and center stage.

Dallas’ Tony DeMars, a radio disc jockey in Styx’s heyday more than 30 years ago, took it all in from a front-row seat he staked out in the early afternoon.

DeMars had driven to St. Louis yesterday to visit his son, and noticed DeYoung was scheduled to perform here, only a few hours away. He has seen the band or DeYoung more than 20 times since the 1970s.

“This is about the songs,” DeMars said, highlighting the 1978 number, “Pieces of Eight” as his favorite. “He said things and offered insight in his music that I and other people simply connected with.”

Others connected solidly with hospice and its mission of working with advanced-illness patients and their families.

Our Hospice of South Central Indiana, among the first such agencies formed in Indiana in the early 1980s, deals with everything from medical care to spiritual support to grief counseling.

“Hospice is absolutely awesome,” said Seymour’s Terri Quinn, sitting near the back of the crowd under an awning she and her three female friends brought to stay dry. “If it hadn’t been for hospice, I really don’t know what any of us would have done.”

All four of the buddies have had friends or family members treated by hospice. But the women mentioned that they attended rain or shine for one other big reason.

“We’re concert junkies,” Seymour’s Kelly Norman said.

Others such as Oakley Knight, who drove more than two hours from Bardstown, Kentucky, with wife Michelle and son Aaron, are Styx junkies.

Knight’s been listening to the band’s songs or DeYoung’s solo material most of his life. The family last caught a Styx show about 15 years ago in Wisconsin.

“I was very surprised at the (replacement) lead singer when I heard the guy,” Knight said. “He sounded a lot like Dennis DeYoung.”

Battle of the Bands winner Mayan Miscalculation opened the night with the Phillip Phillips’ hit, “Gone, Gone, Gone.” Members of the folk-pop group left the stage 30 minutes later exhilarated at seeing the crowd clap and sing along.

“On a scale of one to 10, I’d give this an 11,” said keyboard player Kelly Langevin.

Columbus’ 40 Years of College, a favorite for years at these hospice concerts, performed music from Motown to The Beatles for their appreciative following. By their second number, the Dobie Gray classic, “Drift Away,” the crowd seemed to have forgotten the rain clouds and wind and drifted into rock reminiscing.

Yet, people remembered the night’s mission of supporting hospice. Taylorsville’s Herb and Linda Bladen bought several varieties of the 5,000 homemade cookies sold to benefit the hospice agency’s work.

Herb Bladen looked at a clearing sky and mentioned they were glad they came.

“We turned on the TV news for the forecast and decided we’d give it a try,” he said.

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