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On a night of rock and reminiscing, Columbus’ Tina Giles walked into Mill Race Park full of sentiment.
REO Speedwagon, the headline act for Saturday’s sold-out Rock the Park concert, was the favorite band of her brother, Bob Skaggs, who died of cancer at age 41 in 1999.
Before the music began, she and a group of friends released balloons in memory of Skaggs, who attended numerous REO concerts during the pop-rock group’s 40-plus years in music.
“He would have been so pumped for this,” Giles said wistfully.
More than 7,000 people — estimated to be larger than last year’s crowd of 7,025 to see Foreigner — felt the same way for the annual event organized by the Columbus Area Arts Council.
REO Speedwagon opened with “Don’t Let Him Go” to a huge cheer and a lighting storm of photo flashes from the crowd, which bopped heads and pumped fists to the beat of the song.
When the band broke into “Take It On the Run” a couple songs later, the crowd sang every word.
Rock the Park unfolded on a larger stage and with a bigger sound system than last year, according to Arts Council officials. It also materialized in beautiful weather with temperatures in the mid- to high-70s.
Beach balls bounced and spun through a crowd decked substantially in rock band T-shirts, such as Bob Marley and Led Zeppelin. Attendees ranged from teens to those in their mid-70s, including Brown County’s Roland Fox. He saw REO Speedwagon more than 20 years ago at Indianapolis’ Market Square Arena.
“If you like their kind of music, they were great,” Fox said.
Shelbie Young, 14, has listened to REO’s music for a few years, courtesy of her mother Ellen Young’s disc collection.
Shelbie’s favorite REO tune is the No. 1 hit “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”
“I just really like the lyrics and their meaning,” Shelbie said.
REO Speedwagon, which released its first album on Epic Records in 1972, enjoyed its greatest popularity in the 1980s. The band has sold 40 million records in its career.
During an earlier interview, keyboardist and original member Neal Doughty promised a concert full of the band’s singles, including the No. 1 hit “Keep on Loving You.” REO also is well known for tunes such as “Take It On the Run,” “Time For Me to Fly” and “Ridin’ the Storm Out.”
The quintet has enjoyed something of a resurgence in classic rock in the past decade with tours with Styx, Pat Benatar and Ted Nugent. Its DVD with Styx sold more than a million copies.
Columbus’ David Murphy remembered seeing the band in 1980 at a rock fest at the old Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Ky. He showed up early at the gate Saturday “to make sure I could get as close as possible to the stage.”
Some people showed up early Saturday. In fact, 50 people were in line for the 449 remaining tickets a full four hours before the show.
Jay Thomas of Columbus said he came for the music and for one other reason. He broke into laughter as he tried to explain.
“I want,” he said, “to see all the hot chicks.”
Opening local band Those Valiants played a mix of classic and current rock. They opened with Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” with the crowd filling in the chorus.
“Great crowd, awesome experience,” said Ruben Guthrie, drummer for Those Valiants.
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