The last time he was in Little Rock for an REO Speedwagon show, Kevin Cronin related a story to me I’d never heard. I met Cronin a few years back at Butch Stone’s after-show party, and we talked about some earlier REO Speedwagon days, particularly about one concert date in my hometown, Pine Bluff.
Cronin and the band’s manager immediately remembered that trip in 1978. The story sounded like something out of the film “Almost Famous.” At that time, REO Speedwagon flew on tours in a DC-3 with “REO Speedwagon” painted on the sides, above the windows. Cronin recalled not being sure if the plane was airworthy when disaster actually struck on the way into Pine Bluff’s Grider Field: the landing gear wouldn’t drop. After circling a while, the pilot decided to take it in for a belly-landing.
Somehow, Cronin and the REO boys made it unscathed, but Cronin vowed never to fly on that plane again. They left out of Little Rock on a commercial jet the next day and didn’t look back.
“The next time I saw that plane, I was reading a magazine and saw a story about a major Mexican border drug bust and there was our plane, still with REO Speedwagon painted on it, surrounded by DEA agents,” he said. Seems that on concert trips with REO, the pilot would deliver the band to each city, then would fly off for a while. Only later did Cronin and crew figure out that apparently some other business was being transacted.
REO Speedwagon will be this year’s Sunday evening classic rock act at Riverfest, and though the group no longer features guitarist Gary Richrath, it does have founding member and keyboardist Neal Doughty and bassist Bruce Hall with newer members Dave Amato, formerly with Ted Nugent’s band, and drummer Bryan Hitt.
It looks as if I’ll need to be flying between both sides of the river all three days or Riverfest. My ideal schedule would be sitting at the North Little Rock stage most of Friday night through Robert Randolph and the Wallflowers, while still catching some of B.B. King late on the amphitheater stage, seeing regional acts on the Little Rock side and then hitting the reunited Black Crowes late Saturday, then spending most of Sunday at the smaller Triple-S Alarm stage in west Riverfront Park to see Terrance Simien and Sonny Landreth while still trying to catch some REO before the fireworks.
Drummer extraordinaire Joe Cripps tells us he’ll be doing triple duty this weekend. He’ll play with his old group, Brave Combo, at 7 p.m. Friday at the Triple-S Alarm Stage. He’ll then join Brent Best of Slobberbone and anybody else who joins in for a group he’s named Pilot Snake, and they’ll jam at the tiny Press Box on Fair Park by UALR late Friday night. Saturday, Cripps will play with his latest project, Norte de Havana, at 4:30 p.m. at the Triple-S Alarm Stage.
Cripps will be like the rest of us on Monday –- ready to nap all day.