Journey hits Crossroads

Classic rockers  to share stage  with Rascal Flatts

The vast number of musical activities in New Orleans revolving around the Super Bowl this weekend includes the CMT Crossroads concert by Journey and Rascal Flatts.

Journey, the classic rock band responsible for such enduring anthems as “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Anyway You Want It” and “Open Arms,” and Rascal Flatts, the big-selling country trio that’s obviously been influenced by classic rock, join forces Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Sugar Mill.

CMT’s Crossroads series specializes in pairing country acts with rock, pop and rhythm-and-blues acts. Collaborations have included Carrie Underwood and Steven Tyler, Bon Jovi and Sugarland, and Def Leppard with Taylor Swift.

Journey and Rascal Flatts previously appeared together at the 2012 CMT Awards. The two groups closed the show with a joint rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

“That was unusual for a rock band,” Journey charter member and bassist Ross Valory said last week. “But it was just a great experience and well received. We made some good friends with the boys in Rascal Flatts.”

Valory also found Rascal Flatts to be a well-rounded group of musicians.

“They mix a lot of styles together and we really enjoy their music,” he said. “And they made an endearing comment while we were talking backstage after the awards show. They said, ‘When we break out the beer and the barbecue in the backyard, we’re blaring Journey music.’ ”

Besides their Crossroads show with Rascal Flatts, being in New Orleans during Super Bowl weekend, in the midst of Carnival season, makes Journey’s visit all the more exciting, Valory said.

As long ago as 1978, the year Journey released “Lights,” its first hit featuring singer Steve Perry, the group believed its music could cross over into country. The band’s manager, Walter “Herbie” Herbert, even approached the powers-that-were in country music with the idea.

“Herbie pitched ‘Lights’ to several country power brokers,” Valory recalled. “They got back to Herbie and said, ‘This is a wonderful song, just great for country. But we’ve got one problem: It’s got an electric guitar solo in it.’ ”

Journey was ahead of its time, at least in country music. But in the decades since, country music has gone electric, rock, pop, even hip-hop.

“Ten years later, or less, country music had absorbed all styles,” Valory said. “When was the last time you didn’t hear an electric guitar solo in a country song?”

In the pop world, Journey went on to record a run of powerhouse hits, including “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’,” “Who’s Crying Now” and “Any Way You Want It.”

Journey’s hits of the 1970s and ’80s remained popular through succeeding decades. The inclusion of “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” in HBO’s The Sopranos’ 2007 finale and a 2009 episode of FOX’s music-filled Glee brought the song even more attention.

“That’s the blessing, that the music is still popular,” Valory said. “It’s become part of everyone’s lives. ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ ’ is an anthem for graduations, weddings, professional sports teams. You hear it everywhere, because it’s got a simple, universal message that is applicable to so many different things.”

Journey disbanded in 1989, reunited briefly in 1993 without Perry and reunited again in 1996 with Perry. Following the singer’s ill health, Perry dropped out of the band in 1996. The group carried on for eight years with singer Steve Augeri. Current singer Arnel Pineda, a native of the Philippines, made his recording debut with Journey’s 2008 album, Revelation.

Despite Journey’s new albums, including 2011’s Eclipse, Valory knows the band’s fans want the classics.

“Arnel brings the songs alive in the traditional sense, as they were originally recorded and performed with Steve Perry,” Valory said. “But Arnel not only makes that music his own, he brings the Journey signature to songs that we’ve recorded more recently with him. But for the bulk of our set, we give the audience what we call the dirty dozen: At least a dozen hit songs that we know they want to hear us play.”

On a side note, Valory used his Super Bowl week in New Orleans to promote his animated shirt line, Mouthman. He and other members of Journey, NFL stars and more sports celebrities gathered on Jan. 31 at Razzoo Bar & Patio on Bourbon Street for the Mouthman launch party.

Printed with animal images, such as a shark, raptor, frog and T-Rex, the shirts appear to be moving creatures when the wearers move their arms and elbows.