Styx

Styx, from left: Lawrence Gowan, Chuck Panozzo, Tommy Shaw, James "JY" Young, Ricky Phillips, Todd Sucherman

Festival in the Park's opening night action this year — with a big assist from the Berglund Center — will be two sets of classic, sometimes proggish rock from Styx.

The Chicago-born band will be the only act on the Festival in the Park bill that night, and the show will double as the opening show of Berglund Center's Bud Light Up The Night Series.

Read more about Festival in the Park and other Memorial Day weekend events in Wednesday's Extra or music.roanoke.com.

The Chicago-formed band started its recording career in 1972, and aside from a breakup from 1984 to 1990, it has been playing internationally ever since. Such hits as "Renegade," "Come Sail Away," "Too Much Time On My Hands," "The Grand Illusion" and "Blue Collar Man" are required concert elements. But Styx has found that its newer material has a place in the live shows, too, keyboardist and singer Lawrence Gowan said.

When the band released its 2017 album, "The Mission," members wanted to incorporate that music, but wanted to make sure that their faithful fans would be into it. Styx began to open shows with that album's "Gone, Gone, Gone," then would launch directly into "Blue Collar Man."

"We wanted to see how the faithful are going to react to this album before we foist it on them in a manner that’s like them taking their medicine," Gowan said in am April 26 phone call.

Checking social media, Styx found that fans were "endlessly requesting songs" from the new disc, he said. 

"Now we can plug in just about any song from 'The Mission,' and it goes over equally well," Gowan said.

The band's trip to Elmwood Park will be its third Roanoke Valley appearance since 2010. By that year, original keyboardist/vocalist Dennis DeYoung was long gone, and Gowan had been in the reformed band for about 11 years when Styx hit Salem Civic Center to play landmark albums "The Grand Illusion" and "Pieces of Eight." 

Styx had plucked Gowan from a solo career in his home country, Canada, where his album "Strange Animal," under the name Gowan, had been a success. Its single, "A Criminal Mind," remains a favorite in the "Great White North." 

The Scotland native, who grew up in Toronto and still lives there, said that he eschewed his solo work for his first 11 years with Styx. 

"It would have been too much of a workload and mentally frustrating, because I really want to be part of this band," he said. "If I think too much of my solo existence, it’s going to interfere with that."

The year the band played Salem, it also played a multi-night run at a Niagara Falls, Canada, casino. The venue boss came to Gowan and asked if he would be interested in putting on some solo shows there. With the 25th anniversary of "Strange Animal" upon him, Gowan booked three shows for six months later at the venue. For the following three years, Styx would play a string of shows there, followed a half-year later by Gowan shows, he said.

Bandmates "Tommy [Shaw] and Chuck [Panozzo] and JY [Young] said, whenever you make a run [of Gowan shows], you come back and bring something fresh to the table," he said. "It was just something in the attitude, the personality, I suppose, that had begun to rock those two paths. So they became more and more encouraging, saying you should keep doing that, eight-to-nine shows a year."

These days, after Styx books what has become about 90 shows per year, Gowan books dates across Canada. 

In April, Styx played Quebec, where the band is huge, and did a performance on the Canadian version of "The Voice," "Le Voix." The band played a medley, finishing it with Gowan's "A Criminal Mind," a song that has been in its set on and off for years.

"Within 24 hours of us playing that show, Styx 'Greatest Hits' went to No. 5 on the iTunes rock chart, and 'A Criminal Mind,' my solo version, went to No. 6 on the singles rock chart on iTunes," he said.

It's part of what makes playing with Styx such a good time. Gowan said. Another contributing factor is the band's creativity. During the time of this interview, the band was working on new recordings. 

"I'm watching the NHL playoffs, which I have to do, because I'm Canadian," he said. "I look at the fact that this is a very arduous and hard thing they’re doing, but the fun factor cannot be denied. When you see their faces at the end of a game, even if they’ve been beaten up, that’s kind of how we feel at the end of the show. It’s inescapable that we’ve had a really good time."

Contact Tad Dickens at tad.dickens@roanoke.com or 777-6474. Follow him on Twitter: @cutnscratch.  

 

For the past decade, Tad Dickens has been writing about music. For now, it remains sunshine and rainbows.

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