REO Speedwagon lead singer Kevin Cronin, who was born in Evanston, grew up in Oak Lawn and attended Brother Rice High School, is hitting the road with his bandmates on a tour that begins July 1 at RiverEdge Park in Aurora. // Courtesy of Randee St. Nicholas

REO Speedwagon kicking off tour at RiverEdge Park in Aurora after pandemic break

REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin is looking forward to the band’s July 1 concert in Aurora. “It’s just going to be great to strap on a guitar and make some noise,” he said.

It’s a time of milestones for REO Speedwagon frontman Kevin Cronin.

He turns 70 in October, next year he and his wife Lisa will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary, and his band’s breakout album “Hi Infidelity” hit No. 1 on the charts 40 years ago.

Beyond all that is the milestone of heading back on the road after a 15-month pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cronin and REO Speedwagon will start a six-month tour on July 1 at RiverEdge Park in Aurora to treat their fans to classic songs such as “Roll With The Changes,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Time For Me To Fly” and “Keep On Loving You.”

Cronin can’t wait to see the crowds again.

“We’re really looking forward to coming back to the Midwest and the Chicago area,” Cronin said. “It’s going to be a celebratory atmosphere there in Aurora. It’s just going to be great to strap on a guitar and make some noise.”

Cronin, who was born in Evanston, grew up in Oak Lawn and attended Brother Rice High School in Chicago, has toured with REO Speedwagon every year since permanently joining the Champaign-born band in 1976. The streak of touring annually will remain intact — REO’s last show was March of 2020 in Effingham — but 15 months off the road still felt like an eternity to Cronin.

“This is the longest we’ve been off tour in any of our adult lives,” he said. “And it’s probably the longest a lot of people have gone without seeing a live show.”

Cronin kept busy during the pandemic while locked down with Lisa and their children at the southern California home he calls “Camp Cronin.” He’s been working on an autobiography for a few years, but can’t seem to finish it because he keeps thinking of more stories to include.

“I’ve had a chance to really connect with my family to a deeper degree over the past year and a half than I ever have before,” Cronin said. “And I’ve been able to see all four seasons change at my home, which may seem like no big deal to most people. But for someone like me that travels for a living, I’ve really tried to savor the good parts of the last year and a half.”

After a 15-month pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, REO Speedwagon kicks off a new tour on July 1 at RiverEdge Park in Aurora. // Courtesy of Randee St. Nicholas

Playing with his REO Speedwagon bandmates was limited to Zoom meetings. Cronin said he and Bruce Hall, Neal Doughty, Dave Amato and Bryan Hitt began practicing together last week in preparation for the upcoming tour that will go through mid-December and take them all around the country.

Cronin said he’s interested to see what the crowds look like. The die-hard fans will turn out as always, but the band recently found a new audience with an appearance on the Netflix show “Ozark.” REO Speedwagon songs even climbed back on the charts when the episode began streaming.

“Our music gets out in all kinds of different ways,” Cronin said. “The beauty of streaming is people discover it all the time. So, yeah, I imagine there will be some new fans and some older fans who were just re-energized by it.”

He’s also looking forward to visiting his old stamping grounds to start the tour. Cronin said a rider on the band’s touring contract includes pizza, and when he’s in the Chicago area he makes sure they get plenty of Lou Malnati’s deep dish.

To stay in shape, though, Cronin said he limits himself to one piece because the acidity of the tomato sauce might mess with his vocal chords.

It’s another eagerly awaited slice of normalcy for Cronin and REO Speedwagon as they get ready for a return to the road.

“It just feels good to be starting in friendly territory,” he said. “We’re all proud of our Illinois roots.”

• • •

REO Speedwagon with special guest Head East

When: 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 1
Where: RiverEdge Park, 360 N. Broadway, Aurora;
Tickets: $45 to $149

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