This article was originally published by Smile Politely in September of 2021.
Singer Jack Russell is an entertainer who doesn’t hold back when talking to a crowd. On the second night of the Gibson City Harvest Fest, he proclaimed his love for the era that his band Great White emerged from.
“If you missed the ‘80s,” he said to the all-ages crowd, “you f****** missed out!”
Judging by the numerous middle-aged folks at the festival, it’s safe to say that many in attendance lived through the 1980s. The Saturday event took place on a beautiful late-summer night in the city’s quaint downtown, where there were food trucks, a few massive farm vehicles on display, and a ready-to-rock crowd.
Todd and Beth Smith traveled to the festival from the Springfield area to see the headline band, Firehouse, for the second time. He was wearing a Def Leppard T-shirt, and she sported AC/DC attire. Both said that Firehouse, whose first album came out in 1990, puts on a killer show.
“They’re high-energy,” Todd said. “They still sound like they did years ago. That was one of the reasons we wanted to come back and see them.”
Hair metal T-shirts were on display everywhere within the milling street crowd: Ratt, Van Halen, Tesla, Motley Crue, and others. One lady wore a “Hold Your Fire” Firehouse T-shirt as she slipped into the “party pit” at the front of the stage with her friends.
Sixty-two-year-old Lori Deaton was at the show with her husband, who donned a Jackyl T-shirt. The two were celebrating their 22nd wedding anniversary on a day that happened to be the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Like the Smiths, the couple had seen Firehouse before.
“The music’s good,” she said. “It’s just a good time.”
Following a moving singing performance of the national anthem to kick things off, Jack Russell’s Great White took the stage as the smells of cigarette smoke and greasy fries intermingled in the air. Under a quarter moon high above, the band launched into a swinging meat-and-potatoes set of songs that had a bluesy feel and were well defined by Russell’s unmistakable voice. The band’s huge ‘80s hit “Once Bitten Twice Shy” was of course played, but other catchy tunes caught the ear as well, including “Heart the Hunter,” “Lady Red Light,” “Mista Bone,” “Can’t Shake It,” and “Rock Me.”
At one point during the performance, with a large American flag flapping in the wind on a crane nearby, Russell acknowledged the 9/11 anniversary and how proud he was to be an American. His heart-on-his-sleeve pride came off as refreshing in an era of political divide and cynicism. The crowd appreciated Russell’s sentiments.
Firehouse fans may have been disappointed that founding lead singer CJ Snare couldn’t perform at the festival because of a health issue, according to a blabbermouth.net piece. Nonetheless, Last in Line vocalist Andrew Freeman filled in ably for Snare thanks to a hearty set of pipes and a rock-‘em-sock-‘em presence that were undeniably engaging. While Russell was hunched over and sort of hobbled around on stage (in an endearing way), Freeman was a ball of energy straight out of 1988. He reveled in bantering with the crowd throughout, at one point offering these words:
“How ya doin’ tonight? Who’s been here all day? And who’s been drinkin’ all day? Sounds like a Saturday in Illinois to me, that’s for sure.”
Glossy on record, Firehouse has a pumped-up sound when playing live, and their tunes may have been heard throughout a good portion of Gibson City. The band, which has sold more than seven million albums and has an American Music Award to its credit, safely stuck with the songs from its first two CDs. The big choruses of “Rock on the Radio,” “All She Wrote,” “Shake and Tumble,” “Oughta be a Law,” and “Reach for the Sky” called to mind many of the great T-shirt-mentioned bands of yore. The rockers’ softer side came through on the hits “Don’t Treat Me Bad” (surprisingly played early in the set) and “Love of a Lifetime” (lots of lit cellphones in the air during that one).
Freeman attempted to enliven the audience at the end of the show by announcing the band was going to play a few surprising covers: Judas Priest’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” and AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” The classic songs hit the spot, ending a night that felt like trips back in time drawing forth both fun and sad emotions.
Concert video footage and photos by Sal Nudo