GIBSON CITY - Two hard rock bands that flourished in the late 1980s and early 1990s will turn up the heat when the sounds of Firehouse and Jack Russell’s Great White hit the stage at the two-day Harvest Fest in downtown Gibson City.
Starting at 4 p.m. Sept. 10, Harvest Fest gets under way with inflatable games, a beer tent and food vendors, leading up to two concerts that night, Kickin’ & Pickin’, starring Kyle Rhoney in a one-man band playing rock, folk and bluegrass music (5-7 p.m. in the beer tent) and a dueling piano show by Fun Pianos (7:30-10:30 p.m.), plus a beer stein holding contest (8 p.m.).
“It is a good time and it does not matter your definition of a good time,” said Bill Kirby, president of the board of directors for the Gibson Area Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the festival each September. “If you want shopping, relaxing, kid activities or adult activities you are going to find it at Harvest Fest.”
Steinholding is a traditional Bavarian strength and endurance contest in which competitors hold a full beer stein out in front of their bodies at shoulder level for as long as they can; the last person holding with good form is the winner. Registration begins at 8 p.m. for two competitions, one involving 25 men and the other 25 women. There is a $20 entry fee per contestant. First-place winners receive $50 and an authentic German beer stein. All participants receive a beer mug filled with Samuel Adams Octoberfest beer.
“I think the theme for Harvest Fest has always been about simply kicking off the harvest season and giving people an opportunity to come together before many of our rural population start to spend long hours in the field,” Kirby said. “What a better way to do that than come to downtown Gibson City, where you can find a variety of activities from Friday night through the concert Saturday night.”
A full day of activities is slated for Saturday, Sept. 11.
Saturday’s events kick off with Coffee & Cars from 7 to 9 a.m., followed by a cornhole tournament getting under way at 11 a.m. Kirby said that the last time the Chamber was able to host Harvest Fest, in 2019, the bags tourney brought players from all over. “It wasn’t just a local, small-town game,” he said.
The double-elimination bags tourney will award a $1,000 prize to the winning team, along with prizes for the runner-up and third-place finishers. Registration begins at 9 a.m., and all teams must be registered and pay a $50 registration fee by 10:30 a.m., with play beginning at 11 a.m. People can register at gibsoncityharvestfest.com. For more information, contact Billie Jo Denny at email@example.com.
The Absurd 1/3rd Race involves participants making a donation to Shriners Hospitals for Children in return for the opportunity to have a drink at stops at downtown bars along a one-third-mile route that equates to about .5K. “All proceeds were able to go directly to the Shriners, thanks to our town’s sponsors,” Kirby noted.
There will be a beer tent (11 a.m. — midnight), food vendors (11 a.m. — 9 p.m.), retail vendors (11 a.m. — 5 p.m.), a rock-climbing wall (11 a.m. — 5 p.m.) and a Kids Zone (11 a.m. — 5 p.m.). The Kids Zone includes inflatables, balloon twisting, face painting, mini golf, an exotic reptile petting zoo, puppets and Rotary barrel wagon rides.
Glam metal band Firehouse featuring Jack Russell’s Great White will be performing, starting at 7 p.m. Saturday. Firehouse came into popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s with signature power ballads “Love of a Lifetime,” “When I Look into Your Eyes” and “I Live My Life for You.” The band was the winner of the American Music Awards 1991 Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Band, has had 16 gold and platinum records and has boasted sales of 7 million worldwide.
In 1977 Russell co-founded the band Dante Fox alongside guitarist Mark Kendall, and in 1981 the band changed its name to Great White. In 1984 the band released its self-titled debut album. Great White’s third record, “Once Bitten” (1987), which featured the single “Rock Me,” and record “...Twice Shy” (1989), which included the cover “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” went platinum. Russell departed from the band in 1996 to pursue a solo career but rejoined the band in 1999. In 2001 Great White disbanded, and the next year Russell started touring under the name Jack Russell’s Great White. The current incarnation of Jack Russell’s Great White was formed in 2011 with lead guitarist Robby Lochner and drummer Dicki Fliszar.
Lochner, who is also the tour manager for Jack Russell’s Great White, said the upcoming show “is pretty much” the typical Great White sound, “however, a bit heavier and more powerful. The songs are being played real close to the original recordings with some extra things here and there on intros, endings and sometimes middle sections. We are a two-guitar player sound now, which makes the overall sound more powerful.”
Lochner attributes Great White’s longevity to its music. “People keep coming out to hear the songs they grew up listening to,” he said. “We will hear the whole crowd singing along on most nights.”
Touring these days is very different compared to the band’s earlier years, according to Lochner. “Back in the day you could be away from home for over a year at a time and no cell phones or Internet for easy communication with family and friends,” he said. “Nowadays for most bands of the era it’s all about fly dates: Leave on a Thursday, come home on a Sunday, usually play Friday and Saturday. Sometimes it may be only one show or could be three, as in Thursday, Friday, Saturday.”
Lochner said the Internet has dramatically changed the music industry since Great White debuted. “The Internet is a double-edged sword,” he said. “It’s great because you can get recognized from anywhere so the labels do not have total control anymore but tough because there’s so much information. The trick is getting through.”
It’s challenging for any legacy act to get decent radio airplay anymore, Lochner said. “The classic songs get OK rotation on classic rock stations, but it’s very difficult to get new material heard,” he said.
Lochner said it’s been a great learning experience playing with Jack Russell. “From learning the industry as it is today to learning how to be compassionate with other humans,” Lochner said. “There is so much interaction with people on all levels that it’s to be kind and understanding with everyone.”
Lochner has had many favorite tour moments so far. “Overall I’d have to say being onstage and having the connection with an audience is the best part of any touring moment; however, there have been times when we have extra time and get to see some really cool things around the country that we would never see otherwise,” he said.
The band experienced a lot of isolation during the pandemic, Lochner said. “I personally was able to write, mix and produce consistently, which was nice,” he said. “We all have a renewed appreciation of being able to play to a live audience.”
Lochner said more touring and new records lie ahead for the band.
“Bringing Firehouse and Great White in for the Saturday concert is a break from the country artists that we have had in years past and that can be found all over Central Illinois at festivals,” Kirby said. “Everyone is excited to see what this kind of change brings.”
Because there are no tickets sold, attendance is difficult to gauge, Kirby said, but he estimates that the past couple of concerts have brought in over 2,000 people. The concert is free to the public, and “party pit” tickets are also available.
Earlier in the day, Chicago area oldies/classic rock band Bagshot Row will play from 2 to 5 p.m., and high-energy rock band Seasonal Disorder, which covers everything from Michael Jackson to Metallica, will perform from 5 to 7 p.m.
Other activities on Saturday include inflatables (11 a.m. — 5 p.m.), Touch A Truck (11 a.m. — 3 p.m.) and a barrel train (11 a.m. — 4 p.m.). “All things considered, you can expect to enjoy yourself,” Kirby said. “Harvest Fest has everything you could want for the family to have a great time.”
Kirby said the goals of Harvest Fest are to showcase the people, the community and the businesses in Gibson City. “It’s a great town with fantastic people; even a historic rain/flood can’t keep us down,” he said.
The Harvest Fest board is made up of community members, some of whom have been on the board since day one. “They have done a great job at working with city businesses and officials to give everyone an opportunity to be involved, whether it is sponsoring a specific event or giving directly to Harvest Fest,” Kirby said. “The City of Gibson helps get tables, trash and a few other things in order. Our mayor works hard to help make Gibson City a unique city to visit, from our brick streets, speaker system and free Internet in the downtown area.”
This year’s board includes head Kelli Simmons, Dale and Billie Jo Denny, Lindsay and Justin Carpenter, Marc Petersen, Kris and Roger Cramer, Kelly May, Tish Painter, Brooke and Jason Freels, Brandon and Stacey Heldebrandt, Dawn Reynolds, Brandon Zumwalt, Rae Ann Maupin, Tara and Chuck Gawthorp and Scott Harden. “They are the ones who get this done each year,” Kirby said. “The Harvest Fest board really does look for people and activities that understand that this event is for the attendees and their families to enjoy, and hopefully, come back another time to visit.”
Kirby said the people of Gibson City is what makes the festival special. “Friendly is the word that comes to mind when thinking of Gibson City,” he said. “I think you can go anywhere in Gibson and always get a wave, a nod or a hello from just about anyone and everyone.”
People can find out more about the festival by visiting www.gibsoncityharvestfest.com.