John Grindrod: Spending an evening with old friends at the Rose

Following some surgery-and-recovery challenges in April, I was really looking forward to an evening with my Lady Jane at The Rose Music Center on May’s first Saturday. You see, not only would I be spending time with that special gal from Montezuma, but I would also be seeing some old friends.

Of course, I really don’t think any of the ten members of the band Chicago know I even was planted on earth some 72 years ago. But with those special musical groups that provided so much entertainment for us back when the songs we played were on vinyl and we wore our cloaks of youthful invincibility, I think we see them as friends that provided the sound track for our finest memories.

The group — originally named The Big Thing in 1967 before adopting the name Chicago Transit Authority in 1968 and then morphing again to Chicago after the 1969 release of its eponymously named first album “Chicago Transit Authority” when the actual city’s mass transit operation threatened legal action — has been with me since high school. The band remained with me through my idyllic Miami University days and far beyond, providing that unique sound that the founding members envisioned — music that was rock, yet with a heavy infusion of brass.

To date, the band has been performing for over fifty years, produced 38 albums and has sold a logic-defying 100,000,000 songs. I first saw the group in its relative infancy perform at Millett Hall in the early 1970s at Miami.

The last time I saw them before last month was at Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati in 2017. The bill was supposed to include the Doobie Brothers as well, but something happened to the “bros,” and that group was a no-show. No worries, though, I thought. My interest was centered on Chicago anyway, and they wound up playing a longer show to fill the void.

The ten-member band still features three of the founding members in 75-year-old trombonist extraordinaire James Pankow; 76-year-old trumpeter and flugelhorn specialist, Lee Loughnane; and 78-year-old Robert Lamm, who’s on keyboard and has written so many of the band’s iconic songs, including the one he so capably soloed for at The Rose, “Saturday in the Park.”

Now you may think that the advanced ages of the three would have created not so much a diminution of their instrument-playing capabilities but a regression of the on-stage energy that Jane and I saw in Cincinnati six years ago. Energy is one of those vital largely intangible elements in performing arts that fits that category of, you don’t exactly know what it is but you surely know when it’s missing.

Well, during the nearly three-hour show on our evening at The Rose, there was no shortage of energy from anyone — from the dual percussionists, Ray Yslas and Walfredo Reyes, Jr., who electrified the crowd with their talents during a drum solo of “I’m a Man” to Ray Herman, who alternated between sax, flute and clarinet to Eric Baines on bass and vocals to lead vocalist and guitarist Neil Donell to guitarist and vocalist Tony Obrohta to keyboarding and vocalizing Loren Gold and on to those three septuagenarian original members.

Particularly of interest to Jane was the trombone work of Pankow, who was all over the stage producing his sweet sounds. You see, once upon a Celina High School time, Jane had a brief fling with the trombone, that is, until she so disliked wearing the band-uniform headgear that she had to leave her dreams of mastering the instrument behind to ensure better hair days.

In addition to the talents and energy of the group that will play in 90 cities during this year’s concert season, I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize how very impressed I was with the venue. For those of you who’ve never been, The Rose Music Center is a first-rate operation. Plenty of signage in Huber Heights off I-70 led us right to the facility. The parking was well-monitored, and the facility’s entry points were well handled for easy admittance.

Once inside, Jane and I found the concession areas effectively managed and — so very important in these days of heightened health awareness — clean, well-stocked restrooms. The venue is rather intimate, at 4,200 capacity, so sight lines are excellent, and all seating is under roof with open sides to provide excellent ventilation. The sound system, lighting and screen graphics were first rate as well. Finally, and so important at the end of an exhilarating but long evening, exiting was well managed to shorten the ride home.

Indeed, there is still rock and roll into some musicians’ seventies, something I think they wouldn’t have believed when they first began playing at local bars and perhaps at an Elks or K of C chapter. But if you think that’s pushing it, you’d be wrong because there’ll be a certain famous octogenarian that’ll be the front man for the newest version of The Four Seasons at what’s sure to be a sold-out show at The Rose on July 22. His name is Francesco Stephen Castelluccio, better known as Frankie Valli, who just turned 86 years young on May 3, exactly three days before I met my old friends during a terrific evening at The Rose.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected].