VOLUNTEERS FOR AMERICA
(featuring Lynyrd Skynyrd, Styx, Journey, Bad Company, REO Speedwagon, John Waite, Edgar Winter, Mark Farner, Joe Stark, Derek St. Holmes and Monica Matthews)
Hosted by: Drew Carey
October 20, 2001
Hi-Fi Buys Amphitheater
So this is what weve come to, eh? Thats all I could think as a color guard marched in for the opening ceremonies of a rock concert. Granted, this was a benefit for the victims of the attacks on the USA so it makes sense. Its still strange to live in these times and see this. Following the color guard, singer Monica Matthews belted out The Star Spangled Banner dressed in red, white and blue stars and stripes from head to toe. Hands were on hearts and the swell of pride resulted in the first, but definitely not the last spontaneous chant of USA, USA, USA.
Comedian Drew Carey hosted the day. Looking noticeably thinner, he delivered a suitably amusing monologue that was at once good-hearted and incredibly racist. His derogatory remarks about towel heads and our united hatred of them made me squirm a bit. Everyone else roared in approval.
Jam (Tommy Shaw, Derek St. Holmes, Joe Stark, Edgar Winter and Mark Farner)
Luckily, it was time for the first musical performance of the day. Sometime after 4:30 pm, an all-star jam took place. Show organizer Tommy Shaw led guitarists Joe Stark and Ted Nugent alum Derek St. Holmes through surprisingly tight, crowd-baiting versions of You Can Still Rock In America, Stranglehold and Coming Of Age. Edgar Winter gave a particularly lively Free Ride which was highlighted by Joe Stark's punchy guitar work. Edgar also collaborated with Grand Funk Railroads Mark Farner on Some Kind Of Wonderful and Im Your Captain."
John Waite soon followed with a handful of tunes that included smoking versions of Change and Head First. The Brit-rocker was "on" today. His too short set was energetic and fun. He stuck to the rockers today, ignoring his biggest hits, "Missing You" and "When I See You Smile."
After the jam, Journey ambled up on stage and played two acoustic songs that were clearly from the heart, if a bit dull. This was the probably the low point of the event.
REO Speedwagon was up next with the first real set of the day. Opening with Ridin The Storm Out, they stuck to a list of late 70s/early 80s classic rock staples. Thankfully, there were no new songs or maudlin tributes to the victims although Time For Me To Fly felt a little more ominous than it probably should have. Something strange happened to me at some point during Take It On The Run. I realized I felt relaxed and at ease for the first time in a while. Here I was surrounded by average joes and janes. Suddenly, I felt comfortable and right at home. I forgot about my constant worrying and grief over what had happened to us all recently. Songs from my childhood comforted me in a way that nothing else had. After Roll With The Changes, REO rolled off.
Bad Company took over. Paul Rodgers and crew tore through The Sky Is Burning (another ominous title) and a swaggering bluesy hit laced set that ended with a triple shot of Rock And Roll Fantasy, All Right Now and Bad Company. Im not ashamed to say I was singing along.
Journey redeemed themselves for their earlier, lackluster acoustic performance with the full-on plugged in set. Separate Ways, Stone In Love and Dont Stop Believing were heavier than I remembered Journey ever being. Guitarist Neal Schon was technically amazing. It was easy to see why Carlos Santana handpicked Neal to be in the early 70s edition of Santana while Schon was still in high school. A sugary Faithfully led couples to slow dance, but Lovin Touchin Squeezin woke them up. I doubt if more than a handful of people even realized that it wasnt Steve Perry up there singing but only an amazing audio/visual likeness.
Jam (REO Speedwagon, Styx, Journey)
Styx led us through the same tried and true formula of hit after hit after hit. The Grand Illusion gave way to a free-for-all Blue Collar Man that found REOs Kevin Cronin joining in on vocals. There were smiles all around. Suite Madame Blue was trotted out like a war time relic and Come Sail Away found every one singing to carry on with a new found fervor.
After the Styx set, Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke actually came up and read a poem he wrote from the point of view of the victims. It was a bit much, but well intentioned. Paul Rodgers played a solo acoustic Seagull to drive the quiet moment home. Then came the most difficult part of the night. Several New York Port Authority police officers told us of their first hand encounters at the World Trade Center and of all their lost brothers and friends. Looking around the crowd was odd. Tears rolled down faces everywhere I looked. Even Drew Carey was wiping away a tear in the wings as these guys told their stories.
After thanking the crowd and organizer Tommy Shaw, Lynyrd Skynrd did their thing. Whats Your Name, Simple Man and Sweet Home Alabama had the crowd up and singing along. The gravity of Lynyrd Skynyrd playing on the exact 24th anniversary of the plane crash that killed several members of their band was excruciating considering that they were playing a benefit for so many others killed in similar ways. Every now and again a member of the band would point heavenward and seem to be talking to the air. Free Bird closed out the night in a fitting manner. The modern day Southern Gothic moment was completed with gray bearded bikers smiling through tears. Frat boys played air guitar and middle aged moms waved lighters.
Volunteers For America Finale (Lynyrd Skynyrd, Styx, Journey, Drew Carey):
After their set was over, Skynyrd called out all the other performers for an a capella God Bless America. The night ended with all the artists embracing under a red, white and blue confetti storm. Just like at the outset of the show 8 hours before, the crowd started chanting USA, USA, USA. I couldnt help but join in.