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Sammy Hagar live at the Naperville Ribfest
Naperville, IL

by Scott "Dr. Music" Itter



Ah yes, Ribfest…….

You arrive at this festival and you can’t help but think of that Cheech & Chong moment when they open the door of their van and a mushroom cloud of smoke wafts through the air. Only the smoke hanging in the air over the beautiful town of Naperville on this day smelled not like cannabis, but more like Kansas City. Thousands descend upon Naperville’s monster Ribfest event, which always attracts big name national touring acts such as Heart, LeAnn Rimes, Charlie Daniels, Ted Nugent, and many many more. I make it a point to attend this killer festival each year, not only to finger paint with the delish rib sauce, or because it’s practically in my backyard; the reason I never miss Ribfest is because it always rocks with some amazing music. This year was no different.

Sammy Hagar. He’s always been a musical idol for me. From cutting my musical teeth with the first Montrose record to not being able to drive 55 in my youthful years, Sammy is a guy that’s always had a tune for the times. When I heard Sammy was doing Ribfest, I had to make sure I got a good spot, pressed up against the barricade at the front of the stage. I had seen Sammy once before, some 13 years ago, and I remembered it being a very fun show filled with many of my all-time favorite songs. It was July 30, 1997 the last time I saw Sammy. My son was only a month old at that time, and now I would stand next to a 13-year old kid who acts like he’s been waiting to join his Dad for that Sammy show he missed so long ago. He came to this show armed with his guitar and a silver Sharpie, hoping to fulfill a rock ‘n’ roll dream.

It’s 8:05. It’s time to rock.

This was a party even before the host showed his face. The long line of bleachers at the back of the stage started to fill with lucky fans that came to rock on stage with Sammy and his band. The Cabo Wabo bartender girls, looking even more delicious than the ribs being served at the back of the park, were parked on the right side of the stage behind a small tiki-style bar. They had already started to shake and stir.

As Sammy’s longtime drummer, David Lauser, climbed behind his kit, and bassist Mona and guitarist Vic Johnson strapped on their weapons, the crowd erupted. It was just then when I realized there were about 20,000-30,000 people behind me. When Sammy hit the stage with the opening chords of “There’s Only One Way To Rock,” the whole place went up for grabs. Sporting white khaki beach shorts and a comfy white tee, he looked like the host with the most…………tequila. You have to understand, when you see Sammy you go to a party where they play music. It’s not even fair to say that it’s a concert with a “party-like theme.” First and foremost, this is a party. It’s all about fun. If he’s laughing or climbing over something on the side of the stage and misses a few words, it just seems to confirm that the party is a good one.

On this blazing hot evening we would get a trip through Sammy’s greatest musical moments. He played, arguably, his biggest hit, “I Can’t Drive 55,” following the opening number, and one of Van Halen’s biggest, “Why Can’t This Be Love,” directly after that. It was a fast start to say the very least. Now, by calling the first Montrose record my favorite of all time, I’m always fearful that he might forget about playing something other than “Bad Motor Scooter.” So, you can only imagine how elated I was when he announced that we were going back to 1974 for a while, and then broke into “Space Station #5,” “Rock Candy,” and “Bad Motor Scooter.” No, wait; come to think of it, you really couldn’t ever imagine how elated I was. Amazing.

The set would never slow down and the party just seemed to become even more overwhelming. The Cabo girls would bring out a few blue concoctions every couple of tunes, and the folks perched high along the back of the stage were rocking as much as the lunatics down in front. Every once in a while you’d see a hat or a t-shirt fly from the crowd, and they would act as a costume change for our main man. A Naperville Fire Department t-shirt, a floppy beach hat, a Van Halen baseball jersey…..all becoming part of Sammy’s partywear.

As the band ran through hits like “Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy,” “Heavy Metal,” and “Mas Tequila,” Sammy would occasionally take a record or a shirt from a fan and autograph it from the stage. I finally got to the point where I told my son to raise his black Flying V into the air and let Sammy know you’ve arrived. Shortly after he did that, Sammy rushed over to our side of the stage and pointed at the axe. Security in the camera pit helped the guitar reach the stage, where Sammy would pretend to play it. I’d say you could imagine how my son felt at this point, but I don’t think any of us will ever really imagine what that moment must have been like for him. A playful and smiling Sammy Hagar laid my son’s guitar flat and signed it on stage in front of about 30,000 people. Dreams really do come true.

From the opening chord to the final note, I don’t think the guy ever stopped smiling, and neither did anyone else in attendance. Two of the greatest parties I’ve ever been to were hosted by Sammy Hagar. His ability to make you comfortable and put a smile on your face is incredible. I felt like I was leaving the man’s living room as the show came to a rousing end with the Van Halen hit, “Finish What Ya Started.”

As we made our way to the backstage area to possibly say thanks to the man himself, we were told he had already left the park and was off to throw another party the next evening. It just so happens that it was the Cabo girls that gave us that info, so I decided to take a few pics of my son with the ladies and his newly autographed guitar.

…….Even Dad’s dreams came true on this night.

Thanks

I’d like to thank Stephanie Pennick of Positively Naperville, and Ray Kinney of the Ribfest publicity staff for making this such a special evening.

And, extra special thanks to Sammy Hagar for so many years of great music, for throwing one hell of a party, and for making all of our dreams come true.

Setlist

There's Only One Way to Rock
I Can't Drive 55
Why Can't This Be Love
Space Station No. 5
Rock Candy
Bad Motor Scooter
Best Of Both Worlds
I've Done Everything for You
Three Lock Box
Whole Lotta Zep
The Girl Gets Around
I'll Fall In Love Again
Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy
Heavy Metal
Mas Tequila
Right Now
Finish What Ya Started