Tag Archives: Foreigner

Band director recalls students’ night with Foreigner

Submitted photo These Cambria Heights High School students sang back-up vocals for Foreigner on March 16.
Submitted photo
These Cambria Heights High School students sang back-up vocals for Foreigner on March 16.

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

Twenty-five Cambria Heights High School students had the opportunity of a lifetime March 16 when they joined legendary classic rock band Foreigner on stage at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown.

The students sang back-up vocals during the performance of Foreigner’s 1984 chart-topping hit, “I Want to Know What Love Is.”

Meanwhile, their music director, Michael Kokus, stood backstage feeling like a proud parent.

“It was a great moment,” Kokus said. “I’m so invested in those kids, and it was almost like I was living vicariously through them.”

When the song concluded, lead singer Kelly Hansen said: “Come on, people, make some noise for this beautiful choir that’s with us tonight. They are the Vocal X Cambria Heights High School choir from Patton, Pennsylvania. Come on; give it to ‘em; make some noise.”

Hansen encouraged choir members to “raise their hands up” as the thousands of Foreigner fans in the arena that evening shouted and applauded.

Before the students walked off stage, Hansen told the crowd to take a good look at them.

“I want you to see how beautiful your future looks,” he said. “That’s it right there, everybody.”

For the past few years, Foreigner has partnered with the Grammy Foundation to fund high school music programs across the country. The band is concerned that music is being removed from school curriculums. So, their tour stops usually involve working with local radio stations to host a contest among high school choirs to — you guessed it — sing “I Want to Know What Love Is” live on stage.

“I applaud Foreigner for their efforts to lead the charge and say, ‘Music is something that matters,’” Kokus said. 

“Music is for every child. Musical talent exists on a spectrum just like mathematical talent and talent for the English language. Music is not a dispensable part of a child’s education.”

A few weeks prior to the concert, Kokus’ co-workers at Cambria Heights told him about the contest that Foreigner was bringing to Johnstown, and he couldn’t pass up the chance to get his students involved. He went online, found an arrangement for the band’s hit “Cold as Ice” and then sent his students home with an assignment that Friday afternoon: return to school on Monday having learned and practiced the music.

“I basically said, ‘Listen, here’s what the contest is about. Here’s the music. You guys are going to show me how great your work ethic is this weekend, and then we’re going to be in good shape.’”

The ninth- through 12th-graders involved in the contest represented Cambria Heights’ acapella group, Vocal X, as well as the school’s rock band, Synergy.
Kokus was pleased to find that they returned to school prepared to record the audio for the contest.

In addition to Cambria Heights, five local school districts participated in the contest made possible by Forever Broadcasting: Conemaugh Township High School, Dubois Central Catholic High School, Greater Johnstown High School, Westmont High School and Windber High School.

Public voting took place online March 5-9, and Kokus and his students were informed that they won the morning of March 10.

“There was lots of shouting when they heard they won,” Kokus said with a laugh. “They were just thrilled about it, and very pumped.”

Also “pumped”: the students’ parents.

“Classic rock is a big deal in this area,” Kokus said. “At times I couldn’t tell who was more excited, my students or their parents.”

After Kokus received confirmation that his choir had won, he received a call from Foreigner’s manager.

“He explained how everything was going to play out,” Kokus said. “While it wasn’t very difficult musically to execute, the stress of it was that there wasn’t going to be a practice with the band, so it had to be right the first time.”

And right the first time it was.

“It couldn’t have gone better,” Kokus said of his students’ performance. “They did their thing. They did everything without a hitch.”

Kokus mentioned that he was humbled by the support that he and his students received from school administrators.

“We had some administrators go (to the concert) with us, and it was really touching to see that level of professional respect that they gave to us,” he said. “That was pretty big. I appreciated that very much.”

Kokus said that he’s proud to say that the music program at Cambria Heights is indeed well-supported.

“We have exceptional support,” he said. “The administrative and community support that we have is tremendous.”

Hansen and his fellow bandmates didn’t just invite the choir on stage to sing a song and then send them on their way; in addition to performing, Foreigner tasked the choir to sell Foreigner CDs and raffle tickets as possible that evening.

“The kids broke off into groups of five and with a chaperone’s help, they sold as many Foreigner CDs as they could,” Kokus said. “They even sold tickets to raffle off a signed guitar at the end of the show. In exchange for our time and efforts, we received $500 to sustain our music program.”

Kokus plans to use the donation to specifically assist the 25 students who were involved in the performance.

“Maybe we will use it to purchase new musical equipment or for transportation to a show,” he said.

In Kokus’ 11 years spent working for Cambria Heights, he said he has never had an opportunity quite like the one he was granted, courtesy of Foreigner.

“This was pretty unique,” he said. “The nature of the (music) business doesn’t involve bands sticking around long enough to do this sort of philanthropic work. If members of the band were reading this article, I would say thank you for leading the charge to keep music in schools and humbling yourselves by inviting high school students to the stage with you.

“We have to think about the next generation of music, and these kids need to be inspired. Foreigner is in the right place to inspire kids, and they’re not taking that position for granted. Every student benefits from music and for some, it’s a completely integral part of their high school experience.”
He thanked the school and community for the ongoing support.

“I just want to thank the Cambria Heights community, school district and administration for the support,” he said. “We have so many people in our area who realize that music matters.”

The experience meant a lot not only to Kokus, but also to his students.

“They thanked me for giving them the opportunity,” he said, “because that was an opportunity to expose my kids to a perspective I couldn’t have created for them in a classroom environment. And they’re still talking about the concert, still wearing their Foreigner T-shirts to school.”

Foreigner’s Gimbel enjoying life on the road

Photo courtesy of www.foreigneronline.com
Photo courtesy of www.foreigneronline.com

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

Foreigner’s Thomas Gimbel described the band’s current tour as incredible.

“We’ve had sold-out shows,” he said during a telephone interview a few hours before the band’s performance at New York’s Lincoln Center. “Folks are joining in and dancing and clapping. That’s what a concert is all about.”

Gimbel — who may well knock Johnstown audiences off their feet with his saxophone solo during the song “Urgent” when Foreigner performs live at Cambria County War Memorial on March 16 — said that he and his band members have been having a ton of fun on the road.

“I believe in fun,” he said. “Girls just want to have fun. But so do boys. These concert experiences fall into that ‘fun’ category.”

Foreigner is no stranger to fun; over the past few years, they’ve joined Kid Rock, Styx, Heart and Journey on the road. Many of those shows sold out and shattered attendance records.

“We got used to seeing ‘sold out’ signs at the venues every night,” Gimbel said. “It’s a really nice thing that’s happening . . . that people are discovering how great it is to be part of a live concert. Even if you had a hologram performing in front of you in your living room, you couldn’t beat the energy and enthusiasm of a crowd.”

Foreigner has supplied the world with hits such as “Feels Like the First Time,” “Cold as Ice,” “Double Vision,” “Juke Box Hero,” “Hot Blooded” and “I Want to Know What Love Is,” and over and over Gimbel has witnessed crowds around the world singing along, many at the top of their lungs.

“It’s extremely uplifting to see people from different countries and cultures join in with us and speak the language of music,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where we’ve played; you’d be surprised by how loud the crowd sings. That’s the ultimate treat for us.”

Gimbel joked that it’s OK even if people don’t know the words — or tend to get them wrong.

“Juke Box Hero was once turned into ‘Juicebox Hero,’” Gimbel said, “and ‘Dirty White Boy’ into ‘Dirty White Bear.’”

While children tend to be the ones who most often misunderstand the lyrics, Gimbel said that he and his fellow band members get a kick out of it, and appreciate that those children are at their show in the first place.

“We love seeing parents bring their kids to our shows,” he said.

Foreigner’s interest in the next generation is demonstrated by their partnership with The Grammy Foundation. Together, they’re working hard to help ensure that music education remains a core part of the high school curriculum across North America.

“We’ve been working with the Grammy Foundation for a long time now, trying to raise people’s awareness about funding for music being taken away from the schools,” Gimbel said. “It’s just not fair. Those kids didn’t do anything wrong. They don’t deserve that.”

It seems fitting that Gimbel and his bandmates are helping students, as Gimbel considers himself to be a student of sorts.

“I feel like I’ve grown a ton from watching and learning,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot, especially from Mick. He sets a fine example.”

Mick Jones, the band’s founder and lead guitarist, formed Foreigner in 1976 alongside vocalist Lou Gramm. Together Jones and Gramm wrote hit after hit, and Gimbel said that their expert songwriting has, in part, contributed to Foreigner’s success and legacy.

“Mick put real craftsmanship into the songs,” he said. “We’ve asked him, How did you write a song like ‘Waiting for a Girl Like You?’ And he has responded, ‘I don’t know. A lot of the songs I don’t even remember writing. I just woke up and they were on the paper in front of me.’ He’s a true artist. True artists see themselves as conduits or mediums, and the work just appears in front of them.

“This music has a lot of sincerity. It’s heartfelt stuff. People connect with these songs. These songs make them feel good. The lyrics are honest, like you’re having a conversation with someone. We can all connect with the songs and say, ‘Yeah, I know what that feels like.’ And from my perspective, I really believe it’s the soulfulness that carries each song forward. Mick always wants to make sure we’re playing these songs with feeling.”

As a multi-instrumentalist — Gimbel plays rhythm guitar, saxophone, flute and keyboards — and graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Gimbel said he appreciates how his fellow band members have encouraged him rather than request he “not go too far.”

Gimbel received that same level of enthusiasm and encouragement from Aerosmith. He embarked on two world tours and made numerous TV and film appearances with Steven Tyler and company from 1989 to 1995.

“I remember Aerosmith encouraging me to play this funky sax breakdown with (drummer) Joey Kramer. They were encouraging me. They were really encouraging me. They didn’t try to paint me into a corner and box me up,” Gimbel said.

“On the top level of the top tier of bands, you’ll find that. At the top level, these guys boil it down to the marrow because they want your best to get translated to the audience. Band leaders want to get the most out of their players.”

When Gimbel isn’t playing an instrument, he enjoys playing golf. And residents of Hockeyville, USA, should know that he appreciates hockey, too.
“When I attended my first hockey game, I couldn’t believe how cool hockey was,” he said. “I’m so impressed by the fast skating and the athleticism.”

Foreigner is scheduled to play a concert in Miami, Florida, before heading to Johnstown’s Cambria County War Memorial Arena.

“I’m from a small town,” Gimbel said, “and I really enjoy them. But as far as concerts go, they could be held anywhere. If people are listening in and joining in the fun, I could play a concert in any town and in any setting.”

And he had a special message for fans who are planning to attend Foreigner’s show in Johnstown: “We’re really glad that you enjoy our music,” he said, “and we’re looking forward to seeing you.”

Foreigner coming to Johnstown

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

There are no “Head Games” being played here: Classic rock band Foreigner really is coming to Johnstown’s Cambria County War Memorial Arena on March 16.

“The call volume has been tremendous and we’re very excited,” said War Memorial Arena Assistant General Manager Karen Gregorchik. “We’re anticipating a well-attended (show), if not a sellout show.”

Foreigner is perhaps best known for their hits such as “Feels Like the First Time,” “Cold as Ice,” “Double Vision,” “Juke Box Hero,” “Hot Blooded” and “I Want to Know What Love Is.” Altogether, Foreigner claimed 16 Top 30 hits throughout their career.

“I think people will enjoy hearing Foreigner’s popular anthems,” Gregorchik said. “These are songs that people grew up with. These are songs that people know and will be singing along to.”

Founded in 1976, the band has 10 multi-platinum albums to its name.

Foreigner consists of founder and lead guitarist Mick Jones, lead vocalist Kelly Hansen, bass guitarist Jeff Pilson and multi-instrumentalist Tom Gimbel.

Foreigner’s new lineup came together around 2002, when Hansen joined the band and replaced original singer Lou Gramm. Since that time, Foreigner has released a live greatest hits album, an LP titled “Can’t Slow Down” and a three-disc set titled “Feels Like the First Time.” 

“Juke Box Heroes,” a compilation of digitally recorded Foreigner hits, enjoyed success within the Billboard Top 200 chart alongside another compilation album, “The Soundtrack of Summer.” The latter was released in conjunction with the band’s 2014 U.S. amphitheater tour.

Foreigner’s latest release is titled “The Best Of Foreigner 4 & More.” The high-definition live show was recorded live at Borgata in Atlantic City in October of 2014. A year earlier, in June of 2013, Jones was inducted to the Songwriters Hall Of Fame.

Last year, Foreigner toured with Kid Rock. Their tour sold more tickets than any other Live Nation summer amphitheater tour.

Over the years, Foreigner’s music has appeared in major motion pictures, including “Rock of Ages,” “Anchorman 2,” “Magic Mike” and “Pitch Perfect.”

Tickets to see Foreigner in Johnstown are on sale and can be purchased at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000. Tickets can also be purchased at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena box office during regular business hours, which have been extended. The new hours are Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

The box office is also open on Saturdays during event days from noon until show time.

“We encourage people to purchase tickets through Ticketmaster if they don’t want to wait in line at the box office,” Gregorchik said.

“We can’t wait to bring Foreigner to Johnstown.”