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Rock 'n' roll high school reunion

Warrant will perform as the final act during Saturday's Rockfest event at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. (Publicity image)1 / 4
Jack Russell's Great White is one of the bands that will perform during Rockfest on Saturday at the Corn Palace. (Publicity image)2 / 4
Firehouse will perform Saturday during Rockfest at the Corn Palace. (Publicity image)3 / 4
Lita Ford will perform as one of the acts during Saturday's six-hour long Rockfest at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. (Publicity image)4 / 4

If ever there were a decade known for its music, it's the 1980s.

Conjuring up images of big hair, bright colors and Madonna's off-the-shoulder shirts, the defining sounds of the '80s ranged from Michael Jackson's pop prowess to Poison power ballads.

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And it's a sound that's still sought-after, as this weekend's Corn Palace lineup can attest. Rockfest, where five rock bands will play for six hours, will start at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Palace. Tickets are $40 and available at the Corn Palace box office at 995-8430 or

Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling said about 1,200 tickets had been sold by Thursday afternoon, out of 2,500 available. While Schilling said he doesn't believe the show will sell out, he is optimistic sales will reach the 1,800-ticket goal.

"It's definitely a very reasonable price for this number of bands, and they are all the real bands -- it's not like these are tribute groups," Schilling said.

The bands include local act Signal 21 (which counts Daily Republic Publisher Korrie Wenzel as a member), followed by longtime rock 'n' roll hard hitters Jack Russell's Great White, FireHouse, Lita Ford and Warrant.

Schilling said each artist will play for about an hour, some a little longer, one after the other with short breaks in between. Signal 21 will start at 6 p.m., followed by Jack Russell's Great White, which will take the stage around 6:50, performing hits like "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" and "Rock Me."

Next will be FireHouse, known for singles like "I Live My Life for You" and "When I Look Into Your Eyes." Lita Ford will follow, taking the stage around 9:30 p.m. Ford's hits include "Kiss Me Deadly" and "Close My Eyes Forever."

Warrant's Turner promises 'extravaganza'

Warrant, known for songs like "Heaven" and "Cherry Pie," will finish the evening, playing from around 10:50 until midnight. Erik Turner, one of the founding members of the California-based hard rock band, said he thinks this will be the first time that FireHouse, Jack Russell's Great White, Lita Ford and Warrant will take the same stage on the same night -- and he's looking forward to it.

"It's going to be an '80s rock 'n' roll extravaganza like you've never seen before in your life," Turner said. "This is a little bit of history."

He joked that it's a rock 'n' roll high school reunion, "with a lot of hair spray and spandex."

"I might even wear some lip gloss, if you guys are lucky," he added with a laugh.

Warrant's hit singles include "Heaven" and "Cherry Pie," which has been featured as a soundtrack song in multiple movies and TV shows.

"The song has taken on a life of its own and become a part of '80s hard rock Americana," Turner said.

In addition to touring, the band has its own line of wines -- Warrant Wines -- which Turner said he works with a winery to develop. More information is available at

As one of the few to have lived the life of a 1980s rock star, Turner recalled how unsettling it was the first time someone referred to Warrant as "classic rock."

"I was like, 'what the he** are you talking about?' " he said. "We started this band when we were in high school, some of us. We were just some kids that wanted to be rock stars, and went for it. We worked our butts off. We made a lot of sacrifices."

After nearly 30 years, the band is still performing and recording music; its most recent album, "Rockaholic," came out in 2011. It's all original material the group is proud of, Turner said, and concertgoers will likely be treated to new selections, as well as the band's most acclaimed singles.

"We're going to play all the songs everyone wants to hear," he said. "People can expect, hopefully, a lot of great music that brings back a lot of great memories."

It's a change of pace from the Palace's other highly anticipated '80s event, Hairball, which Schilling said has acquired a loyal following of people who dress up in era-appropriate attire, have pre-parties and listen to tribute groups perform select songs from popular hair bands.

"People who grew up listening to the music in the '80s -- they keep going with that," Schilling said. "Hair bands, rock 'n' roll bands, they're the ones people say, 'We want to hear them.' "

Local gets chance to open for idols

One of the major influences on the music of the 1980s was the introduction of MTV in 1981.

"It changed everything," said Billy Lurken, a member of Signal 21 and the news director at KMIT radio in Mitchell. "It was basically another radio station, only with video this time."

The first song Lurken remembers seeing on MTV was the Naked Eyes version of "Always Something There to Remind Me," which became a Billboard Top 100 hit in 1983. He said it offered a new creative medium for artists to play with, primarily as a vehicle to promote the music.

The '80s also ushered in novelty rap (think Will Smith while he was still the Fresh Prince), and what Rolling Stone calls the "golden era of the soundtrack song" as hit films became synonymous with music, like the movie "Top Gun" and its song "Danger Zone." Meanwhile, catchphrases like "Bust a Move" and "I want my MTV!" became popular.

And, after decades of rock music being dominated by men, Rolling Stone magazine lists the 1980s as the era of "tough girls," with female performers like Joan Jett and Lita Ford, post-Runaways, and Pat Benatar "donning leather jackets, snarling expressions and take-no-crap attitudes."

Lurken also noted the technological advances in music during the '80s, as studios used things like digital recording and synthesizers to add effects and create a slicker -- albeit at times more artificial -- sound.

"You can hear a song now and tell, for the most part, if it was recorded in the '80s," Lurken said.

As MTV ushered in a more visual era, Lurken -- who took his first job in radio in 1988 -- remembers magazines like "Song Hits" and "Creem" saw a surge in popularity in the decade.

"A lot of it was because the bands were very photogenic," he said. It was also a less genre-specific time, he said, in which country music group Alabama could share the top 40 with a hair band.

Part of the recently renewed interest in 1980s music, Lurken suggested, is cyclical. He said radio is "unkind" to music that is 10 to 15 years old, but once it hits about the 20-year mark, it seems to rebound -- just as 1950s music and culture saw a revival in the '70s and '80s.

"It's good music. That's why it's been around," Lurken said.

Lurken, who plays guitar and sings with Signal 21, said the group will perform classic rock to open up Rockfest, which will include tunes from the '60s, '70s and, of course, the '80s.

"It's a great honor, because this is the music I grew up listening to on the radio, and it was the music that was on MTV," Lurken said of Saturday's performance. "It's an honor to be opening for people you grew up listening to; it's going to be a lot of fun."