REO’s Cronin ‘coming home’ to perform at Silver Creek Event Center
Published 11:55 am Sunday, March 12, 2023
NILES — For REO Speedwagon frontman Kevin Cronin, returning to southwest Michigan to perform is like coming home.
Cronin and REO Speedwagon are heading “home” March 24 to perform at the Silver Creek Event Center at the Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo. A limited number of seats remain for the show, which is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m.
Southwest Michigan is a homecoming of sorts for Cronin because growing up on the South Side of Chicago, heading to Michigan during the summer for vacations was normal. He is familiar with the area lakes and golf courses like Indian Lake Hills Golf Course near Eau Claire where he and his family would play according to course owner Suzy Vanderburg.
“Chicago is a strange place,” Cronin said. “It is a long city. People on the South Side of Chicago and people on the North Side of Chicago live in two different worlds. People on the North Side go to Lake Geneva and up into Wisconsin. On the South Side, I would go through Gary [Indiana], through New Buffalo, and we would vacation up in Grand Haven. That was our go-to place.”
Cronin said the family would load into the car and head to the dunes.
“We would go to the Indiana Dunes or the Michigan Dunes state park and hang,” Cronin said. “Those were my stomping grounds for sure.”
Formed in 1967 and signed to a record deal in 1971, Cronin joined REO Speedwagon in 1972. The band has been on the road ever since. It is not uncommon for the band to play more than 50 shows a year. According to Cronin, that sort of work ethic comes from having grown up in the Midwest.
“I feel like the luckiest guy in the world,” Cronin said. “The Beatles were my first influence, but next was Crosby, Stills & Nash. That first Crosby, Stills & Nash album is as close to a perfect album as you can get, and “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” the closest to a perfect song as you can get. So, I have always been a fan of theirs. Over the years, I met Stephen Stills, and he is kind of my hero, I met him at a charity event that I was a part of back in the early ‘80s. Later on in the ‘80s I saw Stephen again outside of a club. The club was packed, and the bouncers were not letting him in, so I kind of rescued him. That led to us writing a song together that actually appeared on two Crosby, Stills & Nash albums.
“If that wasn’t enough, this past weekend, I was part of a free concert that was put on in Las Vegas that featured Billy Gibbons, of ZZ top; Vince Gill, a great country artist who is now part of the Eagles, Stephen Stills and myself. Stephen and I ended up on the same airplane going to Vegas and we ended up doing a duet, “Almost Cut My Hair” as a tribute the David Crosby. My feel are still a little bit off the ground from that experience.”
Cronin said it is that type of dedication to their craft that has made the band a success throughout the decades.
“You put in a lot of hard work, and REO Speedwagon has paid its dues. You sacrifice a lot, but the rewards are so great if you are lucky enough to have lasted as long as I have,” he said. “Cool things start to happen at this point because those of us who have survived, there is a lot of mutual respect there, and I am always honored and surprised and thrilled by the opportunities I get as a result of the fans, mostly the Midwest, especially in the early days where it was Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin for us. The people in that area gave us a foundation and a confidence that we could spread our wings further.
“We have always had that loyal fan base in the Midwest, and really, New Buffalo is kind of at the epicenter of that. You are right there with Illinois right next store and Indiana right next store. So, when we come to New Buffalo, I feel like it is a bit of a homecoming for me because I know that area so well, and I have a lot in common with the people who live there because I lived right up the road a piece.”
Reo Speedwagon is one of the most successful bands in rock history, and the group has sold more than 40 million records over the decades. From 1977 to 1989, REO Speedwagon released nine straight albums that achieved Platinum or higher in sales.
REO Speedwagon broke through the glass ceiling in 1980 with the release of “Hi Infidelity,” an album that spent 15 weeks at No. 1 and spawned hits “Keep On Loving You” and “Take It On the Run.”
Cronin said that having so many hits that are so familiar to all of REO’s fans, who are expecting to hear those songs means that the band needs to continue to work on them even after all these years.
“I am always working to make them better,” he said. “A song is an ever-evolving organism, at least, that is how I look at them. A song is finished in time to make the record, but that is not the end. I am constantly tinkering with the arrangements and changing the vocal phrasing a little bit. But, you have to be careful to keep it enough, like the record, so people can sing along. I can’t possibly sing it the same way every night, so every night is a new experience. When we come to town, it has been a while normally since we have been there. At least a year or two, so I want to show people who saw us the last time and come back again. I want to show them we have not lost a step. If anything, we have gotten better. I want people to leave that venue feeling like, “jeez, I worked hard to earn the money to buy those tickets, but it was worth it. Those guys exceeded my expectations.’ That is what I like to do. Exceed expectations.”
With the retirement of founding member keyboardist Neil Doughty in January, Cronin becomes the longest-running member of the band, which also includes bassist Bruce Hall, guitarist Dave Amato, and drummer Bryan Hitt.
The newest member of the band, Derek Hilland, who replaced Doughty on keyboards, has injected new life into the band as it is back on the road again.
“Up until last December, he [Doughty] was the only person who had played in every single REO Speedwagon concert in the band’s history and on every single REO album in the band’s history,” Cronin said. “He has definitely been a constant. He and I have gotten closer as friends over the years, and I miss his comradery, his sense of humor, his intelligence because he was always interesting to talk to. But we all get to a point in our life where it is time to step down and do something else.
“Neil had spent his entire adult life on the road. He has a loving wife. Her daughter has had two children, who just started calling Neil ‘grandpa,’ and Neil went from not really caring that much about kids to “Oh my God, this little guy loves me and calls me grandpa,’ I am so glad he is able to experience that. He was burnt out. It is a hard life physically, and Neil is five years older than me, and that is a big difference. I am happy for him. He is happy. He is well taken care of into his retirement.”
Cronin is also happy to have a talented replacement for Doughty.
“We have a great new keyboardist in Derek Hilland, who was recommended by my good friend Rick Springfield,” he said. “Derek played with Rick for about 15 years. Rick just described him as a phenomenal organist, pianist and abundantly funny and decent human being, and Rick was right. He is all those things.”
To check on availability of the remaining seats for the show, visit fourwindscasino.com and click on the link to the Silver Creek Event Center.