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Bandmates to play tribute to Michael Stanley

Jonah Koslen, left, shown with Michael Stanley at a 2012 news conference for their concert at the Warren Community Amphitheatre, will be among the former bandmates celebrating Stanley's life and music at a concert Sunday at the Robins Theater in Warren. (Staff photo / Andy Gray)

The Michael Stanley Band set many records in northeast Ohio during its heyday with multiple sellouts at Blossom Music Center, Richfield Coliseum and the Front Row Theatre.

Those records continued even after Stanley’s death on March 5, 2021, following a seven-month battle with lung cancer.

Tribute shows last December featuring his current band, The Resonators, and former Michael Stanley Band members were the quickest sellouts in the history of MGM Northfield Park.

Many of the musicians who participated in those shows will perform Saturday at Akron’s Goodyear Theater and Sunday at Warren’s Robins Theatre for an encore presentation.

A portion of every ticket sold for these two concerts will be donated to the newly formed 10,000 Watts of Holy Light Fund of The Cleveland Foundation. Stanley’s family teamed up with The Cleveland Foundation to create the fund, which will identify Cleveland-centric organizations and dedicate annual donations as part of their mission.

Jonah Koslen, who wrote and sang some of MSB’s most popular songs during his tenure with the band from 1974 to 1977, was a part of the tribute shows last December and will be back this weekend. During a telephone interview last week, he talked about the concerts at MGM Northfield Park and how this pair of shows will be different.

The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

TICKET: What was the experience like doing the tribute shows last December at MGM Northfield Park?

KOSLEN: Very powerful experience, very powerful. I’ve played many times with the band, showing up playing with Michael and the Resonators, and I’m friends with everybody in the band, so it was a natural for me to come in and perform with the band. It was a way for all of us to get together as a community, to process losing Michael. It was a very powerful experience, cathartic for everybody.

TICKET: What are some of the moments that stand out from those shows?

KOSLEN: For the encores, Michael’s daughters joined us and Michael’s grandkids, everybody was up there at the same time doing “My Town.” That was very powerful, a lot of fun.

Opening night with “Midwest Midnight,” that was one of the songs I sang with the band. That was a very powerful, moving experience. Some of the stuff like that, there are moments where it takes a lot just to hold it together. You have to focus more on the music and less on the loss. It’s such great music, and it was a pleasure to be able to play it with his band the Resonators and participate in the whole experience.

TICKET: How soon after the shows last December did the idea to do more come about?

KOSLEN: We did the December shows with the band to see if they were going to fly, and they did. All of them sold out. After that it seemed like a natural thing to do. Everyone wanted to keep playing and get together as a community again, so Michael Belkin Jr. and Barry Gabel (with Live Nation and Belkin Personal Management) got to work on it with Rodney Psyka, the percussion player who does a lot of the organizing for the band.

Tommy Dobeck, an original member of the Michael Stanley Band, didn’t get the opportunity to perform with us in December. He had a medical issue — everything turned out fine but there was a week there when he was in the hospital getting back on track. This will be his first time performing with the post-Michael Resonators, and he’s very excited. He was really disappointed he couldn’t do it, and we really missed him. It’s hard to do a Resonators’ show without Tommy behind the drums. He’s the heartbeat of the band. So Tommy will be there along with all the Resonators and myself and a couple of guests.

TICKET: Will the structure of the show Sunday at the Robins Theatre be similar to the ones last December?

KOSLEN: It’s going to be similar, but it’s going to be simplified some. There will still be some video, but not as much. After doing the show a couple times, you got a sense of what worked and what didn’t work. So there will be video segments, but not as many. It will be all people speaking in the videos about Michael who will be recognizable to the audience.

It will be primarily the same material, but there’s an additional four songs that we added to the set. (Guitar player) Marc Lee Shannon wrote a wonderful song commemorating Michael, “Steady On.” It’s just a fabulous song, a wonderful piece of music and a great tribute. It’s a natural, and I’m glad we’re able to do it this time.

TICKET: What are some of your favorite songs Michael wrote?

KOSLEN: I loved “Rosewood Bitters.” It was the first song I heard by him, the first song a lot of people heard by him. I was living in Denver at the time, working in a record store. There were so many songs over the years. “Midwest Midnight” is just a classic rock song, one of his best and one of the best rock songs there’s ever been.

TICKET: Are there songs that take on a different resonance since Michael’s death?

KOSLEN: We were going to do one of his songs, “My Last Day on Earth.” I was supposed to sing it, and it was really impossible to get through that. We won’t be doing that, and we didn’t do it at the last show either.

They all take on a different light. They have to. He’s been at the center of everything for so long. People in the band were questioning should we do this or not? Can we do it? Some members didn’t feel like they were up to it. Others really wanted to because it’s such a community and to deal with the loss.

But every song, he’s there, my songs included. “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Mind,” every time he did it with the Resonators, he introduced it as my song. That meant a lot to me over all these years. The songs we’d celebrate together as a band, like “Strike Up the Band,” they were such a group experience. It was good to experience it with everybody and experience the loss while we were doing it.

TICKET: The group was called the Michael Stanley Band, but you played a very prominent role in the early years as a songwriter and singer, so did other members like Kevin Raleigh. It seems Michael had a greater generosity than many bandleaders.

KOSLEN: Very true. After I left the band, he did only one album where he was the only songwriter. He wrote material with Bob Pelander, wonderful material. Yeah, yeah, it’s a real loss … (long pause as Koslen’s voice broke) … It’s great to be up there with them and to do Michael’s tunes the way they should be done, to put the life, the heart into them the way he did.

TICKET: Will there be more shows after the two in Akron and Warren this weekend?

KOSLEN: I don’t really know. We’re taking it one show at a time. I know people have enjoyed seeing it and we’ve enjoyed doing it, so it’s quite possible we’ll do another show later in the year.

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