Buck Dharma and the rest of Blue Oyster Cult perform Saturday during a free concert at Craig City Park. Dharma is the lead guitarist and an original member of the band since 1967.

Photo by Shawn McHugh

Buck Dharma and the rest of Blue Oyster Cult perform Saturday during a free concert at Craig City Park. Dharma is the lead guitarist and an original member of the band since 1967.

Blue Oyster Cult draws biggest crowd in history to Whittle the Wood

Hands stretched into the air and catcalls rose from the crowd in front of the stage as a familiar riff drifted from the fingers of guitarist Buck Dharma.

“Burnin’ for You,” which Blue Oyster Cult played near the top of their set Saturday at Craig City Park, got the entire crowd moving and shaking in the evening sun.

About 5,000 people turned out for the finale to the 11th annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous, featuring the 1970s psychedelic rock band.

Diehard fans pushed their way to the front of the crowd and nodded their heads along with the tunes.

Others, like Riley Johnston, 15, and Cortnee Shanebrook, 13, sat on picnic table in the back of the crowd, eating Dippin’ Dots and taking it all in.

The girls were a little young to recognize Blue Oyster Cult, whose most famous hit, “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper,” was released in 1976.

“I don’t know their songs,” Johnston said. “I like the music. It’s neat.”

Both girls said Whittle the Wood is their favorite event of the year because everyone in town gets together.

“I like that everyone just comes and hangs out here,” Shanebrook said.

Dave Pike, event coordinator, said he always tries to book a band with national recognition that will appeal to all ages.

But, Saturday night’s show might be hard to top.

Pike had the opportunity to take a quick break from work and

settle in to watch the show.

“I would say the highlight of that show was ‘Godzilla,’” Pike said of the popular song named after the famous beast. “They had the bass guitar solo. They really put on a show for ‘Godzilla.’”

In the audience, children as young as 2 were waving their hands and picking up the “metal horns” hand sign from their parents.

Some even mimed Godzilla’s destructive steps.

Pike said the music reached far corners of the festival’s demographic.

“It goes from generation to generation to generation,” he said of Blue Oyster Cult’s music. “These guys were famous in the 70s, and all kids are like, ‘Oh Daddy, that’s great,’ and it was from 40 years ago.”

The band’s lead singer, Eric Bloom, and lead guitarist, Buck Dharma, have been playing together since 1967, and are the two remaining original members.

But, even the newest member, bassist Rudy Sarzo, had his time to shine.

Sarzo, known for playing in bands like Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne and Quiet Riot, still styles his dark brown locks in 1980s hairband fashion, and still steps up to rip bass solos.

He’s been with Blue Oyster Cult for about two years.

“He picks up a bus and he throws it back down/As he wades through the buildings toward the center of town, Godzilla/Oh no, they say he’s got to go/Go go Godzilla,” Bloom sang as Sarzo leaned into his thumping solo.

“They did just exactly what we expected,” Pike said. “Bring in the hits and rock it out.”

The band saved the crowd-pleaser “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” until the very last song, and the ensuing ovation brought the band back out for an encore.

While there were minor hiccups Saturday — like the band’s equipment not arriving on time — Pike said the entire weekend went as well as it possibly could have.

“When you get that many people in one place, you’re always a little bit nervous about having some trouble,” he said. “But, there was nothing. It was smooth as glass. Smooth as a baby’s bottom.”

Craig Police officers were on hand as a resource, along with The Memorial Hospital’ EMS. But, Pike said the worst scenario was a young girl with a splinter.

“We didn’t need (law enforcement) for any rowdy fans or violence or anything,” he said. “Blue Oyster Cult definitely brought out somewhat of a different crowd. The whole town comes out for this show anyway, so Blue Oyster Cult brought just a few more people than normal.”

But, all those people were well-behaved for the most part, Pike said.

From dancing around beer coolers to backyard games and kegs, the vibe remained calm and enjoyable as the sun sank behind the stage.

“It was the biggest crowd ever,” he said. “And I attribute that to Blue Oyster Cult and also that this festival is starting to get some recognition just by word of mouth.

“It’s just like icing on the cake when we bring in acts like this.”

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