Hot ticket: Rock Pack brings back superband frontmen to sing hit after hit to close out Bluesfest

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No songs off the new record. No album tracks. Just numbers you know and love.

That’s what you’ll get when you come see the Rock Pack — the supergroup made of up of former members of Asia, Foreigner, Journey and Toto — which closes out Bluesfest Sunday night.

Featuring a mix of blues and rock acts, the event kicks off Friday afternoon at Harris Park.

“This is a show where you will hear hit after hit after hit. And we try to keep them very faithful to the record,” said John Payne, the driving force behind the Rock Pack, a name inspired by the Rat Pack of Frank Sinatra and friends.

Payne joined Asia in 1991, following in the footsteps of the late John Wetton. The Rock Pack show begins with three or four of that band’s tunes.

Younger readers will recognize Heat of the Moment from the climax of 2005’s The Forty-Year-Old Virgin.

Older fans will remember Asia, itself a supergroup in its day, for the album cover with the stylized dragon.

Payne toured with differing lineups of Asia for 16 years.

It was at his home near Las Vegas that he came up with the Rock Pack concept, which allows singers from bands gone by — to whom Payne listened when he was younger, and calls “absolute rock icons” — a new chance to perform.

“It’s fantastic,” Payne said, because it allows him to complete a bucket-list item by playing with a number of living legends.

Londoners who buy a ticket for Sunday’s lineup will see how part of the stage is set up as a pub for the final show of the night, the Rock Pack Arms.

“Being English, I miss pubs,” Payne explained.

Different singers cycle through the pub, have a chat with Payne, then play some of their hits.

All of the singers reunite at the end of the show to perform Foreigner’s Jukebox Hero.

“The stage is pretty cool,” Payne said.

Lou Gramm, the vocalist for Foreigner, is first up.

Payne asks him a few questions, maybe even one about the album Foreigner 4, which Payne calls the “perfect union of songwriting, playing and singing.”

Payne says he wants the audience to have a grasp of the personality and character of each lead vocalist, since some in the crowd weren’t born when these artists originally charted.

“Then I say, ‘Do you want to do some songs?’ ” Payne said.

“It’s a kind of fun thing,” he added.

The format also allows for singers from any number of groups to take part.

The lineup this weekend in the Forest City will include Payne, Steve Augeri (Journey), Gramm (Foreigner) and Bobby Kimball (Toto).

So far, the likes of Mickey Thomas (Starship), Steve Walsh (Kansas), Fee Waybill (the Tubes) and Robin Zander (Cheap Trick) have been part of the Rock Pack fraternity.

Payne is comfortable in the role of interviewer.

“Nothing is scripted. It changes all the time,” he said, giving the example of finding out Gramm started off as a drummer in a band called Black Sheep as one of the facts he has learned from the pub segments.

He takes inspiration from the Rat Pack’s performances.

“They were all having a laugh. They were being self-indulgent. I’m sure a lot of their stuff was ad-libbed,” said Payne of the Chairman of the Board’s 1950s clique.

Payne says he enjoys flying by the seat of his pants on stage

But where does it end?

Payne doesn’t see the hunger for classic rock diminishing. Ever.

Will today’s artists, the likes of Justin Bieber and Britney Spears, have as long-lived careers?

“I don’t think so,” Payne said emphatically.

— — —


What: Bluesfest London, a festival celebrating blues and classic rock

Where: Harris Park

When: Friday, starting at 4:30 p.m.: Anthony Gomes, Rick Derringer, Blood Sweat and Tears and The Wallflowers; Saturday, starting at 1:30 p.m.: Patrick Fockler, Scott Holt, Molly Hatchet, Robert Cray Band, Burton Cummings Band; Sunday, starting at 1:30 p.m.: Wild T and the Spirit, Sons of Rhythm, Bill Durst, Bobnoxious, Pat Travers Band, Rock Pack.

Tickets: $49 for a day pass, $136 for a three-day pass


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