Arts & Culture

Solon singers joining Foreigner onstage

Rock band bringing orchestral concert to U.S. Cellular Center

Legendary rock band Foreigner is returning to the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday (3/29), with a full band, rock orchestra and 25 singers from the Solon High School choral program. (Photo: Karsten Staiger)
Legendary rock band Foreigner is returning to the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday (3/29), with a full band, rock orchestra and 25 singers from the Solon High School choral program. (Photo: Karsten Staiger)

Foreigner won’t be so foreign much longer to a group of Solon High School singers.

Twenty-five students representing the school’s choral program will join the rock band and the Dave Eggar Orchestra onstage Thursday night (3/29) at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Cedar Rapids.

They’ll be singing the band’s 1984 mega hit, “I Want to Know What Love Is.” They’ve been practicing and memorizing the chorus in unison and in harmony, so they’ll be ready for whatever the band wants when they rehearse together in the arena Thursday.

Solon’s video submission won the popular vote from local radio listeners for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“Surprisingly, the majority of students knew who the band was, and then once you started singing a few of their songs, that really triggered,” said Joel Foreman, Solon’s vocal music director. “I think there’s a lot of people who don’t realize how many really well-known rock songs belong to Foreigner. So you start singing a few of those tunes, and immediately light bulbs went off.”

Among those hits are “Feels Like the First Time,” “Cold as Ice,” “Hot Blooded,” “Double Vision,” “Head Games,” Jukebox Hero” and “I Don’t Want to Live Without You.”

Foreman said cheers erupted during a 7:15 a.m. listening party March 6 among jazz band students gathered for rehearsal, along with others who arrived early.

Solon garnered nearly 14,000 of 29,000 votes cast online.

“We got the word out, and Solon came out and delivered,” said Foreman, who is in his 13th year as vocal music director there. “I think there’s a sizable contingent from Solon attending the concert, so I think it should be fun.”

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He added that he’d like to give “a big thank you” to the community for voting and supporting the students.

“That’s one of the cool things about being in a smaller community — everybody rallies together and wants to see all of the programs — athletic and academic and music and fine arts and everything — succeed,” he said.

Besides being fun, appearing in the concert offers life lessons for those involved.

“One thing that we’re always trying to impress upon our kids is that there are opportunities in music far beyond teaching and performing,” Foreman said.

“One of the biggest benefits for them is going to be able to see the business side and the backstage side of a music concert and the music industry, whether that’s meeting with their agent or talking with their tour manager or seeing how things are run backstage from a lighting and technical standpoint and sound reinforcement — all of the positions that are required to pull off these performances.

“There are a lot of ways to still be involved in the music industry, even if you’re not the lead singer or you’re not inclined to go into education. The educational component is going to be some firsthand experience or firsthand look at all of the opportunities and all of the undertaking that goes into the music industry or a concert of this magnitude,” Foreman said.

THE BAND

Foreigner is in the midst of a year that’s more significant than most others.

The popular rock band is celebrating its 40th anniversary, marking the occasion not only with a tour this winter, but a couple of notable projects. One is a new two-CD anthology, “40,” which includes all of Foreigner’s hit singles as well as a pair of new tracks.

It’s also a banner year for guitarist Mick Jones, the band’s founder and last remaining original member. He has published his autobiography, “A Foreigner’s Tale,” which he said took some encouraging to tackle.

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“I was being hounded, to tell you the truth, for a while about putting stuff down (on paper),” Jones said in a recent phone interview. “ ... I was kind of, not coerced (but) I discovered a lot of people wanted to know a little bit more than they’d read in the press.”

Jones has a story with more than enough twists and turns, encounters with legendary musicians and times of triumph and drama to justify the book, and he touched on some of the notable events during this interview.

Now 72, the native of England got his music career off the ground in France — a country not exactly known for spawning global rock stars. He landed a gig there as a songwriter and touring guitarist for Johnny Hallyday, known as the “French Elvis.”

One of the highlights of this period came in 1964 when the popular Hallyday landed a prime support slot on tour with the Beatles, who were hitting the heights of Fab Four hysteria when they toured in France. A mishap at one of the first shows of a three-week tour opened the door for Jones to enter the Beatles’ world on the tour.

“We would come on stage and then the Beatles would follow us, as the headliner, obviously,” Jones said. “I had my guitar around my shoulders, and in those days they had one of those curtains that rises and drops. It was a real sort of musical place. And the curtain snagged on my guitar and pulled it down. It was the only guitar I had. I was cursing in English. ... I was going crazy, you know. And John Lennon came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. He said, ‘Hey lad, we didn’t know you were English. Come up and have a drink with the guys afterwards.’

“And that was it. That began like a ‘Hard Day’s Night’ for me, hanging out with them all the time, running out of the backstage door, fans, the women, chicks going crazy — my first real taste of big-time rock.”

Several years later, he played with a couple of short-lived bands. When they fell apart, he didn’t know what to do next. But as he pondered his options, he came up with some songs that prompted him to put together the original lineup of Foreigner, which in short order was signed by Atlantic Records.

The rest is history. The band’s 1977 debut album took off and the group was able to string together five more hit albums until differences with singer/songwriting collaborator Lou Gramm led to his departure in 1990.

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Jones and Gramm mended fences and in 1992, Gramm rejoined Foreigner, which released a new studio album, “Mr. Moonlight,” in 1994. In 1997, Gramm underwent major surgery to remove a brain tumor. He returned to touring with Foreigner in 1998, but struggled with various effects from his surgery. Over time, tensions between Jones and the singer re-emerged, prompting Gramm to leave Foreigner for good in 2003.

Jones took some time off to decide whether to keep Foreigner going with a new singer, and in 2005, found a replacement in Kelly Hansen. Today’s lineup also includes Thom Gimbel (guitar/sax), Jeff Pilson (bass), Michael Bluestein (keyboards), Bruce Watson (guitar) and Chris Frazier (drums).

And after years of touring and one album that included a disc of new songs, 2009’s “Can’t Slow Down,” Jones feels Foreigner has regained much of its original stature and popularity.

IF YOU GO:

  • What: Foreigner, with full band and rock orchestra
  • Where: U.S. Cellular Center, 370 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids
  • When: 8 p.m. March 29
  • Tickets: $39.50 to $85, plus VIP packages; venue box office, 1-(800) 745-3000 or Uscellularcenter.com
  • Featuring: Solon High School Choir performing with Foreigner
  • Band website: Foreigneronline.com

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