"It's gonna be a blast to come back 'home' to St. Louis," said Kevin Cronin, lead singer of the iconic rock band REO Speedwagon. "When I call St. Louis 'home,' I mean what I say, too."
Cronin and the rest of the band, Neal Doughty (who went to Belleville West High School and whose parents live outside of Millstadt), Bruce Hall, Dave Amato and Bryan Hitt rolled into Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on Friday as they headline the Midwest Rock 'n' Roll Express Tour, that also features good buddies Styx, and Ted Nugent.
Usually the headline status will flip-flop between REO and Styx, but never at St. Louis.
"That was the dealbreaker right there," Cronin said. "We've toured with Styx so many times, and they are good friends of ours, but we draw the line when it comes to the St. Louis shows -- we always close. To be fair, Chicago is there town, and we know that. So it works out great."
Cronin says their loyalty will be forever with the St. Louis fans.
"We all have ties to St. Louis, because when we started breaking big as a band, coming from Champaign, we thought we had hit the big time coming to St. Louis," Cronin said. "From there when we started breaking nationally, we had our biggest crowds in St. Louis. The fans there have always been a big part of our lives and our career. They've been behind us through all the ups and downs, good and bad times. We always feel the love from St. Louis, no matter what. That's no bull----, either."
The band started out in 1966 at Champaign, but it wasn't until 1972 when Cronin joined the fold, that the band began its rise to stardom. No matter where they were in the world or what the music business saw in store for them, it was an unwritten rule the band play St. Louis at least once or year or shortly thereafter.
"A lot of bands come through because it's a big market for them, sure," Cronin said, "but for us, there's been nothing like St. Louis, Belleville and this market. We made a concious effort to come here every year or 16 months, because we felt that we owed it to them to come play and entertain because they have been so good to us. Plus, everybody likes to go where they're wanted. It's like going home for Thanksgiving, only its the middle of June. Let me tell ya, it makes you feel good."
Being able to return to a market and stir up some fun for 15,000 fans on an annual basis is quite a feat, especially in these days, with so many artists out there seeking for the concert dollar. Cronin feels its the music that has kept the fans loyal.
"It's not like me, or when writing with anyone else in the band, that we think we need to write a hit song," Cronin said. "Of course that might be the goal in order to make a living, but we've writtena lot of great songs, that weren't even recorded. We think about what our audience wants to hear, and we like to get the songs that connect to the audience. We write about what we know. And coming from here in the Midwest, of course, you all know the same things. We wrote back then about things we knew about, the fans knew about, and the songs are what stand the test of time. There's been many a talented folks come and go in this business, so you really have to know and believe in what you are putting out there. It's just that simple, because the fans aren't stupid."
Cronin had to postpone his interview -- for what he thought was a very good reason.
"I have to get my hair cut because I am attending the premiere of (the Tom Cruise film) 'Rock of Ages' tonight and I need to look the part," Cronin said fececiously.
So is he a rock star?
"Definitely not, I am not a rock star at all," Cronin said. "I play rock 'n' roll music, but we look at ourselves as working musicians making a living. The rock star thing never was our appeal.
"Nowadays, I am more of a father who happens to playing in a touring rock 'n' roll band. Yeah I had to get this haircut to walk the red carpet, and that's my job to do that. I'm not knocking it at all ... it's fun ... but it's work, really. I am very lucky in the fact that I have been given a second chance with my younger children, and I am not going to waste their youth being gone on the road for months at a time. This go-around, we are able to make decisions that are best for our families, and our personal lives, but we still love what we do. Honestly, I don't know how to do anything else but make music."
What's the best part about touring and playing in amphitheaters and stadiums?
"It's actually getting to play music with people you love and for people you love," Cronin said. "Having what I call a 'homecoming' concert in St. Louis is always a highlight each and every time. As you know, there's no place like home.
At a glance
What: The Rock N Roll Midwest Express
Who: REO Speedwagon, Styx and Ted Nugent
Where: Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
Tickets: $19 to $129