On Friday night I took a three hour drive down to Corbin, KY to hear rock legends, Styx in concert at the NIBROC Festival. I found it odd that a band of this caliber whom frequently play at sold out venues to thousands of fans was playing at this festival. Before I learned of this concert, I had no clue this festival even existed. When we finally arrived, there were probably at least 2,500 people crammed around the stage in the middle of the street. To give you an idea if you’ve never been to Corbin, Corbin appeared to be around the size of New Albany and its festival the equivalent to Harvest Homecoming only with some far superior concert entertainment. What was more even amazing was the fact that this concert was free to the public. Yes, I said a FREE Styx concert. How did this festival afford to hire them is beyond me, but kudos to them for getting an awesome band.
The crowd was more than enthusiastic and the band seemed genuinely thrilled to be there. Tommy Shaw talked to the audience about the awesome southern cooking that you just can’t get in California. Like Ricky Phillips said in our interview earlier in the week, Kentucky audiences really are special and span a wide demographic from old to young. Styx really took advantage of this and engaged the audience. Lawrence Gowan tested them on their classic rock and roll knowledge by having them call back parts of famous song lyrics such as, “We will we will…… Rock you!” and others.
Although the band is over 30 years old, they sounded almost exactly like they did in their prime. Despite the inevitable aging of their voices, their vocal quality was still stellar. Shaw’s voice hit all the high notes and still had great tone. I sensed very little or no weakness in his singing. Most importantly their infamous prog-rock three/four part harmonies were tight and in tune. I wish other younger bands would have the same self-integrity to sing harmonies as well as this band. Each musician was equally important, and they all did a fabulous job. No one stuck out as the weak link. That’s probably why Styx is still so successful.
They put on an impressive show as well, not just musically but their stage presence was incredible. It seemed like they had some staging rehearsed. Sometimes Philips, Shaw, and James Young would all walk up to the front of the stage together or someone would go jump up next to the drummer, Todd Sucherman. Gowan had an awesome silver revolving platform that held his keyboard with a shiny Styx name plate on the front of it. Every once in a while he’d turn the keyboard away from the crowd and play one handed while facing them. Although I don’t think it was all that impressive, the fans cheered and clapped extra loud and seemed to be awed by it. The audience also really ate it up when they threw Styx merchandise or their guitar picks into the audience. One thing is for sure, Styx knows how to work an audience.
I got most excited when they played my favorite Styx song, “Come Sail Away.” Again the vocals were spot on. The keyboard solo was pretty good, but some of the different layers were a bit difficult to hear. Grant it was a music festival so not every little detail is going to have the acoustics to carry it well. This was definitely my favorite part of the show.
Also something I noticed was their insane sound system. There were JBL Vertec Series columns hanging on each side of the stage, JBL Folded Horn Subwoofers across the ground in front of the stage, and all powered by Crown power amps. Lined down the backline of the stage were a row of what looked like stacked Marshall amps lit up with brightly colored sheets of light. I think these were more for looks than anything else, similar to how KISS uses stacks of empty Marshall speaker cabinets. One, it wouldn’t make sense to play through a PA system and use all those amps. If they did it would have sounded awful, which it didn’t. It’s a rock staple from their olden days. Is it necessary? Probably not, but it does give a slight feel of nostalgia of the classic rock days.
There wasn’t a special appearance by Chuck Panozzo which would have been cool. He frequently makes guest appearances. Over all the concert was high quality and intimate in the small town of Corbin. If you ever get a chance to see these guys play I would highly encourage you to do so. I drove a total of six hours and it was totally worth it.
Photo(s): courtesy of Anna Blanton