It came as a bit of a surprise to me that one of my favorite classic rock musicians was scheduled to perform at my alma mater, Millersville University. The seventy-one year old Dennis DeYoung, formerly of Styx, hardly seemed like a good fit for a college music festival. But not one to pass up a chance to see Dennis and his band play a night of Styx hits, I acquired tickets for my daughter Ana and me. When the night came, we made the drive to Millersville, not knowing what to expect.
When we got to campus, I was hit by a wave of nostalgia. There were a few new buildings, to be sure, and some obvious modernization, but to my eyes not much seemed to have changed. The biggest upgrade was to the Student Memorial Center (The Smack, as it’s called) where the concert was to take place. I was aware they had expanded the building by adding a fitness center and a few other additions, but it was much bigger and fancier than I recalled from my days at the ‘Ville. I’m pretty sure that clock tower wasn’t there 25 years ago!
Ana and I had to walk around the building looking for a way in. Finally we found the right door and entered a gigantic gymnasium turned concert hall. We met my sister, Jena, and my niece, Melody, who had saved us seats in the front. When we arrived, the first band of the night had already taken the stage.
Student Bands: Hope for the Future of Rock & Roll
I didn’t have high expectations for the four “student bands” that kicked off the night. Fortunately, my expectations were blown out of the water. The bands consisted of hand-picked musicians from a “commercial music” class taught by my old college buddy, now a Millersville professor, Mike Vitale.
The student bands (Burns and the Boys, Thundercats, Boyz Who Cry, and The Scoobies) each had their own niche, with music ranging from classic rock, 80’s pop, and hair metal to disco, funk, grunge, and contemporary hits. Every song in their sets was a Billboard chart-topper. The mostly-female vocalists were all amazing, and the musicianship was top-tier, with some players reaching a level of skill far beyond their years. All in all, I was pleased that I got there early enough to hear this new generation of musicians. It gave me hope for the future!
The Dazz Band
Next on the agenda was The Dazz Band. If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking “what’s a Dazz Band?” Well, according to that repository of the accumulated knowledge of all mankind, Wikipedia:
The Dazz Band is an American R&B, funk band whose popularity exploded in the early 1980s. Emerging from Cleveland, Ohio, the group’s biggest hit songs include the Grammy Award-winning “Let It Whip” (1982), “Joystick” (1983), and “Let It All Blow” (1984). The name of the band is a portmanteau of the description “danceable jazz”.
Despite my unfamiliarity with the band, I enjoyed their performance. Let’s face it, you gotta love any band with a horn section! The musicians were seasoned pros, and the vocalists were excellent showmen and definitely kept the crowd entertained. The verdict: the funk got into my soul and kept my feet a-tappin’ and hands a-clappin’ while I waited for the main event. You can’t ask for more than that.
The Main Event
By this point, we had been there several hours, and Ana was feeling tired. She had seen Dennis DeYoung with me a couple times already and knew there was a great show ahead, but she was having a hard time getting psyched up for another hour or two of music.
Nevertheless, we worked our way up to the area just in front of the stage. The band came out, and the energy in the room surged. As soon as Dennis took his spot right in front of us, a smile lit up Ana’s face. She was re-energized and ready to rock. I knew how she felt.
Dennis’s very excellent band hit the first notes of “The Grand Illusion” and the crowd went wild. I saw young college students rocking out to music more than four decades old. The older folks in the audience (like myself) rocked as best they could in their own geriatric way. Headbanging puts too much strain on the neck, so I had to be satisfied with a gentle nod and an occasional devil-horn salute.
Whoever was filming the video above must have been standing right next to us, because this was pretty much the view we had. Not bad!
As the night went on, the hits kept coming. Dennis sang his most well-known Styx tunes, including Lady, Lorelei, Babe, Suite Madam Blue, The Best of Times, and even the divisive (but in my opinion awesome) Mr. Roboto. His band of ludicrously talented rock musicians emulated the Styx sound perfectly.
For many years, a tale was told in certain circles that Dennis DeYoung was a ballad guy and had forgotten how to rock. His current touring band lays that fallacy to rest—this is a rock band, and they put on a loud, powerful rock show. No two ways about it: this dude might be a septuagenarian, but he sure as hell ain’t riding the slow train.
Of course, not every hit from Styx was written and sung by DeYoung. Enter guitarist and vocalist August Zadra, who stands in for Styx’s Tommy Shaw. No one can do it like Tommy, of course, but August does an amazing job of covering Shaw’s hits, including Blue Collar Man, Too Much Time on My Hands, and Fooling Yourself. No true Styx fan could be disappointed by Zadra’s performance, with his powerful, soaring vocals and stunning guitar work.
The performance ended with an incredible encore which included Zadra singing Tommy Shaw’s “Renegade,” and Dennis capping the night with the immortal “Come Sail Away.”
It was around 11:00 when it was all said and done, and we were exhausted but happy. I was glad to have shared an evening of great music with three of my favorite ladies. I’m already looking forward to the next time I’m able to catch a Dennis DeYoung show. If you’re a fan of Styx, classic rock, or even music in general, I highly recommend you spend an evening with Mr. DeYoung and his band as they perform the Music of Styx. You will not regret it.