Third Time’s a CharmREO Speedwagon Returns to Washington Fair

After having their show at last year's Washington Town and Country Fair canceled by a sudden storm, REO Speedwagon is looking forward to playing this year's Fair Friday night, Aug. 9, at 8:30 p.m.   Submitted Photo.

REO Speedwagon fans who were in town last year for the concert at the Washington Town and Country Fair weren’t the only ones disappointed when the show was unexpectedly canceled by a storm.

The band was too, said Tim Poepsel, of the Fair’s backstage crew. That’s a big part of why they wanted to come back this summer.

REO Speedwagon will perform Friday night, Aug. 9, at 8:30 p.m. on the main stage of the Washington Town and Country Fair.

“They’d had a great day and knew by the crowd that it was going to be a great show,” Poepsel told The Missourian. “They really liked the crowd, and they really like Washington.”

Last year, the band was only on its second song when the rain came, causing what everyone initially thought would just be a delay. But as winds picked up speed and the storm turned more serious, the Fair was forced to cancel the rest of the show and even close down the fairgrounds.

“(REO’s) production manager was impressed with how we were able to get everyone out and no one was hurt,” said Poepsel.

Local fans have already been talking about the band’s return performance this year. Poepsel tells them they’re in for a good show.

“REO always puts on a good, electrically upbeat show,” he remarked.

The Washington Fair has made an impression on REO, who have put in special requests for things they’ve been treated to here in the past — like homemade salsa from Joanie Leesmann, one of the backstage crew members.

This year’s REO concert will be the fourth time the band has played in Washington.

The first time was in fall 1972 when the then up-and-coming rock band played for a dance at St. Francis Borgia High School. The Missourian ran a feature story last summer on that memorable concert.

The band returned to Washington to play at the Fair in 1997 and again in 2012.

While REO isn’t the only band ever to play the Fair multiple times, it may be the only one to have returned for three concerts, said Poepsel.

Legendary Career

Formed loosely in the late ’60s at college in Champaign, Ill., REO (famously named after a fire engine) was far more than your average frat-party band.

By the early ’70s the band’s unrelenting drive, nonstop touring and recording jump-started the burgeoning rock movement in the Midwest. It carved a path eventually followed by STYX, Kansas, Cheap Trick and more.

Platinum albums and freeform FM radio staples such as “Ridin’ the Storm Out” followed, setting the stage for 1980s explosive “Hi Infidelity.”

The band’s younger fans might not realize the sheer impact “Hi Infidelity” had on music and the culture of rock ’n’ roll. Its 9 million in sales was fueled by huge hit singles in “Keep on Loving You” and “Take It on the Run.”

“High Infidelity” spent months in the No. 1 slot, a feat simply unattainable in music today. The strong run continued with hits like “Can’t Fight This Feeling” up through the new “Can’t Stop Rockin’.”

Fronted by iconic vocalist Kevin Cronin since 1972, REO Speedwagon has for decades been a confounding blend of consistency and change.

The nine-times certified “Hi Infidelity” remains a high-water mark for rock bands.

Make all the “Ridin’ the Storm Out” or “Roll With the Changes” cracks you want, but that’s exactly what the band has done. REO Speedwagon has that Midwest work ethic.

The band has gone onstage and in the studio and done the work, year after year — dozens of albums, hundreds of concerts, infinite radio spins. The eyes have always been on the future and on the road — not a year has gone by where REO Speedwagon didn’t perform live, thrilling fans with hits like “Keep on Loving You” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”

And yes, they do roll with the changes. With the modern-day music industry disintegrating, the band members recorded “Find Your Own Way Home” in 2007 and put it out themselves through Walmart — and personally drove to radio stations across the country to get it heard.

Ultimately the album had more success than it would ever see with a record company.

Cronin (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards) has always cast an eye to the future, along with band-mates Bruce Hall (bass), Neal Doughty (keyboards), Dave Amato (lead guitar) and Bryan Hitt (drums). It wasn’t a surprise to Cronin to see the industry run aground.

“I think maybe the music industry needed to fall a little bit because it was getting bloated and there were just too many people putting out CDs with one or two good songs on them and eventually that’s gonna backfire,” Cronin says.

When the talk turns to benefit concerts the names that come to mind are George Harrison, U2 and Bob Geldof. REO has quietly done its share, from appearing at the Live Aid concert in 1985, to a benefit for port authority workers after 9/11 and recent MusiCares shows, along with a “Ridin’ The Storm Out” benefit concert that raised more than a half-million dollars for Iowa flood relief in 2008.

In what little downtime he has, Cronin stays busy with appearances on shows like “Politically Incorrect” with Bill Maher and his own writing on his blog at He recently appeared on FOX-TV’s “Don’t Forget the Lyrics!”

Today it’s all about what it has always been — taking good care of the band’s legacy while keeping the focus on the future. That may be even more important these days, Cronin believes.

“The world is going through a weird phase, and everybody needs music now more than ever. We all need to join our friends, pool our resources, combine our energies, because there is power in people coming together,” he says.