The Valley Dispatch, August 20, 1998
By Rex Rutkoski

Hot (musical) times are ahead this weekend at the ol' fire halls.

The Rapper himself, rocker Donnie Iris, headlines a triple bill concert Saturday at Saxonburg Firemen's Carnival Grounds, Saxonburg, a joint venture of Saxonburg and Buffalo fire companies.

On Sunday, veteran Southern rocer Charlie Daniels leads another triple-header concert at Rosedale Fireman's ground, in the firemen's "Backstage at Rosedale" concert series in Penn Hills. It is about one mile from downtown Verona.

"We felt this area was kind of starved for a quality outdoor concert series" says Jim Schmidt, a Buffalo fireman and chairman of "Concert '98" in Saxonburg. "This is something we will be looking to do as an annual event."

Schmidt feels the joint venture making the Iris show possible represents the wave of the future for fire companies. Departments are strapped for manpower and are looking for new sources of revenue to be able to continue to serve their communities efficiently. It is a matter of good sense - and survival - for fire companies to cooperate, Schmidt suggests.

Rosedale fireman John Erzen said the fire department was having difficulty raising money for equipment and purchases and other needs when the idea for the concert series was born about four years ago. "We had an asset a lot of people didn't have, about four acres of ground," he explains.

Iris and his Cruisers and Charlie Daniels plan to do their part with lively performances.

"People should expect a good, lively, energetic, rock 'n' roll show, and they should expect to get involved," says Iris, whose new album is "Donnie Iris and The Cruisers Live! At Nick's Fat City."

Live shows are what continue to keep people embracing his music says Iris. "The band is an excellent live band. And what we record is 99 percent our own material," he adds.

It is material that has touched the rock 'n' roll and pop hearts of listeners for decades, starting with Iris' years in Pittsburgh's Jaggerz. He wrote their number one hit, "The Rapper", and continues to perform it today.

Fronting Donnie Iris and the Cruisers through four national album releases for MCA, Iris hit with songs such as the Top 20 charting "Ah! Leah!" with its energetic scream by Iris, and "Love is Like A Rock." The "Ah! Leah!" video became a favorite on MTV.

"When you write a song and put it down on tape, you hope something happens. But it's hard to tell what will strike a chord in people. For some reason these songs did," he says.

Charlie Daniels will have no shortage of songs to deliver Sunday at Rosedale. He's been making his particular blend of rock and country since the 1950s, writing a song for Elvis Presley and Tammy Wynette; recording with Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger and Flatt and Scruggs, and touring with Leonard Cohen.

Fronting his own Charlie Daniels Band, he has sold millions of records with songs such as "Uneasy Rider", "The Devil Went Down To Georgia", "In America", "The South's Gonna Do It Again", "Long Haired Country Boy", "Still In Saigon", "The Legend Of Wooley Swamp" and others. Earlier this year, he was given the Academy of Country Music's Pioneer Award.

"We try to make people happy and have a good time with our music. They pretty much know what they will get when they come. I've been around a long time," says Daniels, laughing.

"I see people out there in the audience smiling, anticipating the show and it makes me happy. I feel like they've come to get a good show and we try to give it to them," he adds.

Daniels, whose new album is "Fiddle Fire, 25 Years of The Charlie Daniels Band" prefers not to label what he does.

"People ask, 'Are you rock or country? We are American. We play American music. You miss a good thing if you tie yourself down to a category," he says.

He prefers to leave all his options open. "I want to be able to play whatever comes to mind. I intend to spend the rest of my career doing what I want to do in playing."

His audiences happily allow that freedonm.

"Pittsburgh likes Charlie Danils quite a bit. He's played a lot here," says Steve Juffe of DiCesare-Engler Productions, which is in its third summer of producing th concert series for firemen.

"He reaches people in rock and country. He's a real good fund-raiser for the firemen," Corbin-Hanner, the guest act is also a strong draw he says.

"Charlie Daniels is a legend," says fireman Erzen. "He's proven himself."