Let Freedom Rock Fest Review - CSB's Stu Franks
7/7/2014 9:54:00 AM
WMGK’s “Let Freedom Rock Fest” has become, like Halloween and the winter holidays, a “wait all year in anticipation” type of event. This year’s iteration delivered in every way it could. Things kicked off with this year’s Houseband contest winner, Musician Impossible, launching into such classic rock faves as “Separate Ways”, “Carry On Wayward Son”, and “Bohemian Rhapsody”. They did their best to stay faithful to the songs we have all sung along to for decades, and their dedication showed.
Before we knew it, Don Felder of the Eagles had taken the stage. He and his band didn’t hold back as they started their festivities with Already Gone. The band could have been confused for the Eagles themselves if you closed your eyes. Don Felder played a great selection of Eagles hits, along with a couple of his own solo works like “Heavy Metal” (Takin’ a Ride) and “You Don’t Have Me”. Like the “hit the ground running” his music has, Don Felder’s set felt like we were all on the highway – his drummer Scott Devers driving all the way. Even when he dropped a stick, he never dropped the beat. It was truly a joy to see young and old alike enjoying the show – I saw what had to be a nine-year-old girl singing along to “Heartache Tonight”. At the end of the ride, Don pulls out his doubleneck, and invites Styx’s Tommy Shaw and Foreigner’s Kelly Hanson to take part in the vocals. While the song was dropped down a key, it made the whole experience a darker one – and for a song already so dark, it had an intensity that can only be felt live.
Perhaps taking a cue from Don Felder, Styx fired on all cylinders as they began their set with Grand Illusion. With giant visuals helping immerse us in the experience, Styx simply did not stop until we were all out of our seats, and even then kept going. So much of their music had such an uplifting feel to it – this came to a climax with “Come Sail Away”, which felt more like a spiritual, out of body experience than a simple rock performance. Styx was simply in their prime – it felt like we had gone back in time. There was not a single nuance missed. We blinked and Tommy Shaw was hundreds of feet from the stage, right in the middle of the crowd. I could tell that the band was leaving it all on the field, and enjoying every last minute of the performance as much as the thousands of fans who were singing along to all their songs. They truly stole the night in every way.
Foreigner opted for the less visual scenery, and instead gave incredible mood lighting for their songs. It was no coincidence that many of their songs began with extended, funky intros that slowly clued us in on what song was about to start. For a group that had its heyday in album oriented rock, this performance set out to do more than just run down the set list. Halfway through the set, the legendary Mick Jones hit the stage, and that’s when Foreigner truly brought their A-game. During their encore, Foreigner invited Cherokee High School’s choir on stage for an uplifting performance of “I Wanna Know What Love Is”. The energy from the stage was palpable.
A guitar signed by all three acts was being held up for raffle, with the proceeds going to the Philadelphia Fire Department, who had come to the rescue when Styx’s tour bus caught ablaze. Styx and Foreigner made it known during their sets how much they appreciated the hard work and courage of Philly’s Bravest.
There’s just something magical, almost indescribable, about seeing live performances of songs you’ve sung along to your entire life. Tonight’s performance capitalized on that, knowing that this show was more than just about the music, but about the heavy dose of nostalgia that comes along for the ride. This was a night to remember!