uac011112001.jpg When it first started, Community Concerts was one of many organizations around the country that would buy shows from Columbia Entertainment and bring them to their communities. Over time, the concept grew and as recently as 20 years ago, according to Michael Fleishman, attractions director for the Community Concerts series, the program was strictly a classical music affair. The organization continued to keep pace with the tastes of its audience and over the years the programming, at least here in Fayetteville, has evolved.

“We decided to change with the times and our organization has grown and grown. Today there are just a handful of community-concerts organizations left in the country,” said Fleishman. “The parent organization went by the wayside 10 to 15 years ago, and we are the only group that really became a true performing-arts organization.”

Part of changing with the times includes bringing in a variety of shows each season that meet the entertainment needs of a vibrant and diverse audience. This season is no exception. In fact, this year’s programming budget is the largest it has ever been, and that is refl ected in the shows that are available. Darius Rucker, former front man for Hootie and the Blowfish, now a country solo sensation, kicked off the season in November, followed by Lee Ann Rimes in December.

REO Speedwagon is up next in the lineup. The band, which reached its heyday in the late ‘70s with its break-out album You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can’t Tuna Fish, will be at the Crown on Jan. 14, bringing back memories and making new ones for the audience.

Some see the group as only an ‘80s band, but in reality, REO Speedwagon has been entertaining for more than 30 years and counting. With hits like “Keep On Loving You,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Take It on the Run” and “Someone Tonight”, they continue to tour the country performing and recording music — and their fans keep showing up at concerts and buying their songs. The pace is brisk, but the band wants nothing more than to please their fans. REO Speedwagon has not let a year slip by without doing at least one concert, and they continue to seek creative ways to make their work available to listeners.

In 2007, the band recorded Find Your Own Way Home and teamed up with Wal-Mart to get the music to the public at affordable prices. Their passion shows through in each performance as fans from years past flock to hear their old favorites, and they bring their teenaged children with them, spawning an entirely new generation of followers, and well, keeping the fire burning so to speak.

Driven by a desire to give back, REO Speedwagon is out there working to help when a worthy cause arises. They’ve participated in Live Aid in 1985, a benefit for port authority workers just after 9/11, MusiCares shows and a “Ridin’ The Storm Out” benefit concert, raising more than $500,000 for Iowa flood relief in 2008.

So far, the ticket sales are strong and Fleishman is confident that the group is a good fit for Community Concerts’ audiences.

“Reo Speedwagon is the third concert for this, our 76th season,” he said. “It promises to be huge. It is going to be a big show. They are a very iconic group.”

There is something to be said about a group with this kind of staying power. The themes of their songs are easy to relate to; they are about life, passion, relationships and overcoming challenges.

In addition to a rockin’ good time, Community Concerts has something else planned in conjunction01-11-12-reo-speedwagon.jpg with the concert. This marks the fifth anniversary of the Fayetteville Music Hall of Fame. On the night of the concert, the newest members will be honored. “At the REO Speedwagon concert we will do a very special presentation,” said Fleishman. “It is to honor those who have brought musical distinction to Fayetteville. There are a lot of people here who, through the years, have taught our children; they’ve entertained us; they’ve gone to Broadway; they’ve put on Broadway shows for us. They’ve enriched this community musically and they deserve to be honored.”

Community Concerts is serious about providing good entertainment, but the organization has a positive impact on the community in other ways, too.

“We did a cancer-awareness recognitions with Lee Ann Rimes. Through the efforts of the Darius Rucker show we had a big Veterans Day salute to the military in conjunction with Heroes Homecoming. We’ve been doing more in recent years to put community into Community Concerts,” said Fleishman. “This organization does a lot more than put on concerts. It is an all-volunteer nonprofit and I don’t think a lot of people realize that they’ve done a lot outside of the concert season.”

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster and the Crown Box Office. For more information at ticket inquiries visit Community Concerts at www.community-concerts.com or call 323-1991.

 Photo: REO Speedwagon is set to rock the Crown on Jan. 14

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