Shane Thornton – Guest Contributor

It’s not everyday you get to witness a rock legend.  But when you do, you cherish every second. Ronnie Montrose for me is a living legend. His 2011 tour with Michael Lee Firkins just happened to kick off here in the Emerald City @ the WOW Hall with full force.

Michael Lee Firkins Trio

Opening the show is Michael Lee Firkins from Omaha, Nebraska. His self-described brand of guitar playing is known as “self twang”. When you hear him play, you’d think he’s playing a slide guitar.  But when you watch him, you see that his action with the wang bar sounds just like a slide!  If you weren’t watching him, you’d never know. His style is everything from Albert Lee to Hendrix with some Angus Young and Ry Cooder.  Firkins’ band, a three-piece unit, Micheal Lee Firkins (guitar), Dave Rapa (bass) and Courtney DeAugustine (drums) brought their “A” game with such songs as Skynyrd’s I Know A Little opening the show.  Ripping through complex down-home originals that provided cheers and fist pumping from the crowd to excellent renditions of “Black Betty” (one of my all-time favorite songs). The trio played a mind shattering version of Sabbath’s “War Pigs”  done with bottle neck slide by Firkins. His rhythm section reminded me of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Double Trouble on steroids.

The Montrose Band

After their set, the focus now was all on Ronnie Montrose. Throughout the audience you could see fans with their old original vinyl albums of Montrose in hopes to get their record immortalized with an autograph from Ronnie himself.  He’s been playing for well over 40 plus years and apparently, there is no stopping this Montrose train. With guitar leads from the old school of “let it rip” to the soulful tones of his classic blues licks, Ronnie came out with a BANG and never stopped.  Screams and cheers from the audience shouting “We love you Ronnie” seemed to last the whole set!

Lead vocalist, Keith St. John, whose resume includes fronting such bands as the Neal Schon Band and Sweet, nailed every note with perfection and had a certain Robert Plant type charm that the crowd ate up.  St. John’s vocals is the perfect voice to all of Ronnie’s tunes…including songs from the Gamma days (Ronnie’s old band).

When you back up a guitar great like Ronnie, you better be good. Steve Crow, on the drums, was pure thunder and let me just say his meter had no waver. He built a solid foundation for the band and when he went into the drum intro “Rock Candy” I could feel it in my bones.  Dan McNay on bass guitar was riveting with his tight in the pocket approach on his “slap and pop” solo.

Michael Lee Firkens (g), Ronnie Montrose (g), Dan McNay (b)

Ronnie Montrose, by his actions off stage, is known for being a kind hearted man who loves music and is sympathetic to other musicians. He teamed up with MEMA (Musicians Emergency Medical Association)  for a Ronnie Montrose Charity Guitar RaffleAlso teaming up with local music organizations, he gives away a signed guitar after every show this tour.  Yes, I did put my name in for such a coveted guitar!

At one point in the show I screamed to Montrose “thanks for making Eugene your first stop opening the tour Ronnie!” In which he went to the front of the stage and gave me a fist pound and said “And it certainly won’t be the last!” The crowd roared as he blasted off into Bad Motor Scooter  which he invited Firkins to join him onstage to add extra psycho slide guitar. Montrose proved he truly is a guitar legend in his style, his performance and his obvious love of his craft.