Billboard number-one hits dominated FestiVille at Millersville University (MU) on April 28, 2018. The springtime music festival is only in its second year, but it is already an incredible two-day event conceived and organized by MU student groups Marauder Music Productions and Millersville’s Concert Committee. In its inaugural year alone, FestiVille brought headliner Joan Jett & the Blackhearts to its entertainment lineup.
At FestiVille 2018, Friday evening featured a fun-filled time with The Wonder Years, a pop-punk band led by MU alumnus Josh Martin. The night closed with Third Eye Blind, a 1990s rock band that is still widely popular on tour and at festivals across the U.S.
I was in Millersville for the Saturday festivities, which kicked off with a phenomenal two hours of number-one Billboard hits from the 1950s to present by four student bands: Burn & the Boys, Boyz Who Cry, the Thundercats, and the Scoobies. The Scoobies was the largest ensemble of vocalists and musicians and the final band in the set. They deserve special recognition for the talents of their three lead vocalists and energetic choreography as they tackled an ambitious array of recent hits including Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” and a rousing rendition of Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.”
After the student bands, The Dazz Band took the stage with hits “Let It Whip,” “Joystick,” and “Let It All Blow” to keep the crowd on its feet and dancing to R&B and funky tunes. The great Bobby Harris is one of the original members of this Grammy Award-winning group and he contributed to the live music with his saxophone, clarinet, and background vocals. He was joined by newer members and vocalists Sennie “Skip” Martin and Donny Sykes.
The celebration of Billboard number-ones closed out with Dennis DeYoung and the Music of Styx. DeYoung is a veritable king of Billboard hits, having written multiple tracks that placed in the Billboard top ten lists during the late 1970s (“Babe”) up to the early 1990s (“Show Me the Way”). The former vocalist and keyboardist of Styx is currently on The Grand Illusion 40th Anniversary Tour. His current band was carefully developed with musicians and vocalists to capture the sound you’d expect on Styx tracks. Lead guitarist and vocalist August Zadra definitely has a rich voice that can match Tommy Shaw’s, while guitarist/vocalist Jimmy Leahey balances him well as a James “JY” Young figure. John Blasucci (keyboards), Michael Morales (drums), Suzanne DeYoung (background vocals), and newest member Brad Lang (bass/vocals) rounded out the band lineup.
If you’ve never been to a Dennis DeYoung concert, you need to add his tour to your must-see list. His vocals were still amazing as he sang “The Grand Illusion,” “Lady,” “Lorelei,” and yes, “Mr. Roboto” at the beginning of his setlist. Zadra stepped up for “Blue Collared Man (Long Nights)” and “Too Much Time on My Hands,” along with fantastic harmony parts from Leahey. DeYoung played keyboard chords on an impressive Hammond keyboard stacked on top of a Yamaha with ease. He is indeed a master at balancing the theatrical flair of the show through props (brandishing a Mr. Roboto mask!), his dramatic yet cool pointing and expressions, and even some air guitar next to Zadra and Leahey.
DeYoung proved memorable and entertaining with his comedic remarks between songs, too. “Dennis, you’re going to play at a college. I couldn’t remember the last time I played one,” he joked.
Acknowledging the college venue, he also shared advice for that age group. “The music business has changed a lot. You kids trying to be in the business, go ahead!” he encouraged, eliciting cheers from the students and parents.
Bonus points to you if you noticed another DeYoung in the band line-up I mentioned earlier. Suzanne DeYoung is Dennis’ wife of 48 years and she sang background vocals at the concert. She also contributed to the comedic relief by putting in a plug for the Dennis DeYoung Facebook page. Even though she stood on the back platform by bass player Lang for the entire set, I would argue that Suzanne had the most prominent role. DeYoung strode over to her during “Best of Times” to gaze at her and hold her hand for a while as a touching and powerful moment. Additionally, it was evident through the attention that they gave to Styx’s number-one single and another crowd favorite, “Babe.”
“I decided I would write her a song instead of buying her jewelry,” DeYoung recalled about Suzanne’s birthday in 1979 and how the idea wasn’t initially well-received. Reaching the end of story about the song’s success for the birthday and its ensuing popularity, he paused for effect and smiled at the audience as he quipped, “I should write more birthday songs!”
The encore was superb with “Renegade” and “Come Sail Away.” With so many top Styx tracks that evening, it’s a tall order to rank the best ones but I’ll give it a shot. I would put “Mr. Roboto” first, followed by “Babe,” and then a very intense “Suite Madam Blue.” The latter song, which comes from the Equinox album in 1976, was particularly memorable at FestiVille because DeYoung held one of the notes for an incredibly long time without pausing for a breath. Its development, he commented, coincided with the bicentennial of the United States as he pondered the question, “What does this country mean to me?”
The second annual FestiVille closed out perfectly with Dennis DeYoung and the Music of Styx. DeYoung has tour dates posted from now through October 2018, so be sure to check out one of his concerts while you still can during this 40th anniversary tour for the Grand Illusion album. Keep an eye out for next year’s FestiVille at Millersville University. It’s a fun-filled event with internationally recognized headlining musical acts that families can enjoy each year. The MU student organizations successfully recruited wonderful and talented student bands to showcase. There’s no telling how much bigger the third year of FestiVille will get!