From the Pit to the Crowd: Styx

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This was definitely a first for me. Bringing my gear to Sea World with the primary reason not photographing animals, but to photograph Styx. They were performing at Sea World Orlando’s Seven Seas Food Festival on March 4th and I was fortunate enough to receive photo credentials to review the show.

I showed up at the park around 12 PM, went through security, and I called my Sea World Orlando contact to meet and acquire my photo credentials. Once I had those, I had time to explore the park. If you haven’t been to Sea World Orlando it is a fun place for all ages. They have a great assortment of animals, which we visited the seals and sea lions, sharks, flamingos, mantas, and dolphins. I also took some time to see the Clyde and Seamore Sea Lion High show, which was very cute. And if you’re a daredevil they have a few roller coasters including the newest one, Mako, that sports the highest drop at 200 feet in the air (thanks, but no thanks!).

I headed to the Bayside Stadium by 3:30 PM so I could get my seat before the show started. The seat were great and was a good viewing area of the stage. I then grabbed my gear and went over to my friend Kara, who was also photographing that day. We chatted for a minute about the photographing area and arrangement. We then asked when we were able to get into our shooting spot. They had said right after the show started. I thought it was weird and then realized that the band would be walking to the stage from where we’d be shooting. This meant we had the chance to photograph them on the way out.

Kara and I kept an eye on our clocks and had our cameras set up to catch the band on their way out. At 4 PM sharp, someone announced the band through the PA system, the curtains got pulled back from the tunnel, and out they came. Styx consisting of Tommy Shaw (lead vocals, guitar), James “JY” Young (lead vocals, lead guitar), Ricky Philips (bass, guitar), Lawrence Gowan (lead vocals, keyboards), and Todd Sucherman (drums) came out through the tunnel and made their way onto the stage. Kara and I snapped off as many shots as we could until they hit the stage. There was one other person who was escorted out, who was a surprise guest to be named later.

Lawrence Gowan started out on vocals with the infamous words “Welcome to the Grand Illusion…” from the song “Grand Illusion” off the 1977 album of the same name. It was the first time I’ve gotten to hear Lawrence on vocals and he sounded amazing. The band going on 45 years strong sounded like they never missed a beat. Tommy, JY, and Ricky all provided backing vocals to the song. They gave Kara and I the main walkway from where they exited to the stage for our photography. The band provided us with many different looks and poses. This is rock band with true star power and it showed. They work the stage and the audience very well.

Next, Tommy Shaw took over on vocals for “Too Much Time on My Hands” a very upbeat song. Tommy’s vocals sounded just as good as when he first started and he was rocking it out on the guitar and playing to the crowd. You could see he was enjoying every minute being on stage and the rest of the band was too. The crowd was definitely loving the performance as well.

The band took a break for a moment for Tommy to greet the crowd. He joked about being able to see the crowd and how his guitars were complaining that he was touching them this early in the day. He then went on to greet his surprise guest, original bass player for Styx, Chuck Panozzo. Chuck came up, bass in hand, to join them on stage as the band started off into “Fooling Yourself”, also from the Grand Illusion album. Tommy Shaw once again was lead on vocals. Chuck appeared to be enjoying his time on stage with the band smiling and laughing. Ricky, JY, Chuck, and Tommy all lined up towards the end of the song playing in unison and taking a bow to the crowd once the song was finished.

I headed back to my seat to enjoy the rest of the show. Lawrence took back over on vocals to perform “Lady” from their 1973 album titled Styx II. Lawrence did an amazing job with the song vocally and it sounded just as expected. And then the crowd received a very nice treat when JY took over on vocals for “Lorelei”.  Tommy then spoke to the crowd saying other than performing the classics from the Styx catalog, they decided they wanted to try some songs they normally don’t play at shows. This time, they were performing “The Man in the Wilderness” from The Grand Illusion album. If anyone ever doubted Tommy’s vocal strength after all these years, this was the song to hear him prove them wrong. He hit amazing high notes that were pitch perfect and clear. The crowd cheered in approval.

JY took back over on vocals to perform “Miss America”. Tommy and Lawrence then surprised the crowd by performing “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen from the Various Positions album. Leonard recently passed away on November 7, 2016. It was a well done tribute to an amazing songwriter. Styx then followed up with one of their most recognizable songs, “Crystal Ball” by the album of the same name. This album was Tommy Shaw’s debut to Styx and it was only fitting that he sang it to the crowd, with the crowd singing back the chorus. During the long instrumental at the end, Tommy left the stage with his guitar and made his way through the crowd while still playing. The band followed up with the Beatles cover “I Am the Walrus” from their 2014 Big Bang Theory album and then with “Blue Collar Man”.

The band, with the exception of Lawrence, left the stage. Lawrence talked to the crowd about the different varying tastes and style in music and went through a medley of songs, one that included “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. At one point during the medley, Tommy popped his head up behind the back of the stage gaining laughter from the crowd, but Lawrence had no idea what was going on. Lawrence then led the band to close out with “Come Sail Away” once again from The Grand Illusion. And once again the crowd sang along.The band then walked backstage leaving the crowd wanting more.

The band came back on stage with Lawrence leading them through “Rockin the Paradise” from the 1981 album Paradise Theatre. Abd then Tommy came back on vocals to start off with another of those infamous lyrics “Oh mama, I’m in fear from my life from the long arm of the law…” from the song “Renegade” off the 1978 Pieces of Eight album. This is by far my favorite Styx song and was so pleased to hear it live, hear it well performed, and for it to be their closing song. The band took a bow at the end and made their way back off stage and through the tunnel out of sight.

Styx put on an amazing set and performance in front of a crowd that truly appreciated them. Styx goes back on tour with REO Speedwagon this summer that starts off in Ridgefield, WA on June 20th. I’m looking forward when they come down to Florida during this tour. Much like this Sea World show, this tour is one not to be missed.