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Night Ranger performing benefit concert with Cleveland's Contemporary Youth Orchestra

Lead singer Jack Blades talked about what fans can expect from their first-ever live concert with an orchestra.

CLEVELAND — On Wednesday, Nov. 9, at the Key Bank State Theatre at Playhouse Square, 80's rock icon and multi-platinum recording artist Night Ranger will be performing in the 2nd annual Danny Ripepi Memorial Concert benefitting the Contemporary Youth Orchestra.

Danny Ripepi, a Northeast Ohio funeral home executive, was tragically killed in a freak accident when a dump truck caused a highway sigh to crash onto his vehicle in September of 2020.  Ever since then, his family has sought to give back to the community via memorial concerts. The first one provided 5 K9 unit grants to police departments across Northeast Ohio.

This year's concert will benefit the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, who went viral in 2021 thanks to a virtual Zoom performance of "Fooling Yourself(Angry Young Man)" with Styx's Tommy Shaw.  

We spoke to Night Ranger lead singer and bassist Jack Blades about the benefit, the band's personal connection to Danny Ripepi, what it means to be performing with the young musicians in the orchestra and how fans get to become a part of Night Ranger's legacy via this concert.

You and your bandmates are taking part in the 2nd annual Danny Ripepi Memorial Concert benefitting the Contemporary Youth Orchestra which will be on November 9th at Playhouse Square’s State Theater.  What can you tell me about his fundraiser?

"We’re pretty excited about the second one.  It’s the second fundraiser that we’ve done, and we feel it’s really close to our heart because our tour manager, Ed Ripepi, his brother was Danny, and of course Cleveland is like a second home for Night Ranger.  Basically 'Sister Christian' broke with WMMS in Cleveland in 1984.  And from that time on, Cleveland for us is like a hometown gig. It’s all like we’re going to get together and hang out in Cleveland, have a good time and all that kind of stuff and that’s what it’s like in Cleveland. So when we had the chance, and we’re honored that we have this chance to do this, not only for the memorial show for Danny Ripepi, the fact that we ‘re doing it with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, which we’re really, really excited about because this is a first for us too. I don’t know who’s going to be more excited.  Those kids, the audience, or the band. Here we have this 80-piece orchestra playing all the Night Ranger songs. We’re really looking forward to it."

Your Damn Yankees bandmate Tommy Shaw has performed twice with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra.  Did you talk to him about how this arrangement works?  Did he influence your decision to take part?

"Absolutely.  He warned me (Laughs) Actually, we’ve talked extensively about everything like that. And he’s told me how this and that and how this goes and this works and the ups and downs and all of those kind of things.  In a lot of ways, Tommy really helped me out a lot because now we’re not going in kind of semi blind on the whole scene and the whole orchestra and the setup and the “this and the that”, the youth symphony, and the whole thing. He’s given me the lay of the land as you’d say, so it’s really helped us out a lot. The whole band, we’re really pumped up about all these songs that we’re doing. Some of the stuff is just going to be absolutely… I mean we’ve heard their rehearsals and I’m telling you there’s goosebumps on my arm."

Is this the first time you’ve performed with an orchestra?

"This is the first time we’ve performed with an orchestra, yes, so it’s going to be very exciting for us."

How has rehearsing been working? You guys are actively out on the road. Is it the orchestra learning our songs and you guys show up to play or are you having to rearrange your songs to fit an orchestral setting?

"That’s a good question. It’s a little bit of both. We’re sending tapes back and forth, you know, tracks back and forth to hear what they’re doing. We add on parts. We say, “What about this? Try this. Can you guys try this here? Can your team put together this? Can you try that? Can you do this and that and the other?” The back and forth seems to be doing really well and of course we’ll be rehearsing soon with them and everything like that as soon as we get back from our trip to Tokyo which is next week."

Do any of you guys have a background with an orchestral instrument, maybe in a school band before switching to rock?

"Uhhhh… no. (laughs) Absolutely not. Our keyboard player, Eric Levy, who is a wonderfully very talented musician musically and everything like that, and kind of speaks the language. So that’s really helped as a liaison between Brad and Kelly and Kerry Kelly, our other guitarist, and myself going “No. Just add this here and just do dah dah dum.” And Eric has been beautiful in that thing.  Here’s what it sounds like, and he’ll go “dah dah dah dah dahhh” and show it to the guys. So it’s really, Eric has helped out a lot because we just have stream of consciousness ideas and what we want to do and how we want to do it. But I can’t put it down in like the third violin should play this, the second does this and that. I’m there to create and those guys are there to frickin’ figure out what we’re creating."

Is there a particular song you’re looking forward to playing under this arrangement with the orchestra?

"That’s a good question. I’m just looking forward to all of them. One of my favorite songs is 'When You Close Your Eyes.' I think they did a fabulous job, really fabulous job on the orchestral arrangement of 'When You Close Your Eyes.' And of course, 'Sister Christian.' People are going to be blown away with songs like 'Don’t Tell Me You Love Me.' How can you have an orchestra on 'You Can Still Rock in America,' 'Don’t Tell Me You Love Me' and all these big rockin’ tracks and everything like that. I think people are really going to be just blown away by everything."

Editor's Note: Watch the full interview with Night Ranger's Jack Blades below.

You all usually throw in some unexpected covers into your set lists.  Can we expect some of that or is this a pure Night Ranger show?

"This is going to be pretty much pure Night Ranger. You’ve seen Night Ranger shows. We change the sets. The sets are so not etched in stone. We write down what we think the set’s going to be like and there’s like 5 or 6 songs that get thrown in the middle and changed around and this gets moved here and we just call out stuff. We just call it out and do it. That keeps it fun for us. Keeps it fun for the audience. That keeps it exciting. You never know what you’re going to get. You never know what we’re doing. We just have fun with it and we’re having a blast. But doing it with the 80-piece orchestra, they gotta know what we’re doing because if we go off and start vamping, there’s going to be 80 people up there going, 'What the… is going on here?' You know what I mean? Paging through their pages of charts and everything going, 'I don’t see it?!' So it’s going to be Night Ranger and what we rehearsed and what we will be rehearsing."

What does it mean to you to see these kids in the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, this generation, learning your songs and playing them in this manner?

"One, we feel like it’s an honor, the fact that here we are, we’re celebrating our 40th anniversary this year. It’s been 40 years; in fact we’re playing the 9th of November.  The actual anniversary is November 2nd of 1982 that we released the 'Dawn Patrol' album. So this is literally, literally almost 40 years to the day. And so the fact that we’re still out 40 years later playing these songs and people are coming to these shows and having a great time, and then to be able to put them in an orchestral organization, it’s just a dream come true for us."

That leads into my next question. You’re out on tour in support of your 40th anniversary and your most recent album, ATBO (And The Band Played On). Aside from living 25 hours a day, what’s been the secret of your longevity, or dare I say it, your success?

'I don’t know. We’re enthusiastic in this band. We get up there and we love to play. When we walk on stage, it’s like we haven’t been on stage in 10 years. We just get so excited about it and I think that the people, when they feel the energy we feel the energy from them and it becomes this whole symbiotic relationship. And everybody just feeds off of everyone else and it just gets greater and greater and greater. And I think we’ve never lost the excitement of the lights going down, the crowd cheering, walking on to the stage, we’ve never taken it for granted. And we’ve never lost that youthful exuberance that we feel every time those lights go down. I think that could very much be a key to why Night Ranger all these ought 40 years later."

The memorial fund that this goes towards. The Danny Ripepi Memorial Fund. How did that come about?  His brother is your manager.  Did you guys know Danny via Ed?  Like this is an easy thing and it’s a great cause?

"Ed is our tour manager. We knew Danny of course. Danny would come to all of our shows every time we’d play in Cleveland or anywhere nearby. Danny was a friend of ours too and this all came about when the tragedy happened and Ed said we’re going to do this memorial benefit concert and we said, 'We’re in. Count us in.' And it’s been like that."

If there’s one thing you want fans to know about this show, what would it be?

"I think the greatest part about this is that we’re filming this. We’re filming it live to release as a DVD or even like on AXS TV and stuff like that. So, it’s being filmed live. It’s a 13-camera shoot, or 15-camera shoot and we’re recording it for a live record. We want… this is why we picked now. Not only was it the memorial concert for Danny Ripepi, but the fact that it’s Cleveland. We picked it because Cleveland is where our heart is. The Midwest and Cleveland, like I told you, we were basically broken out of Cleveland. So we thought, if we’re going to do this, if we’re going to do a symphony show, an orchestra show and filming it and recording it for a record, this is the place to do it. So we want to see everybody in Cleveland come to the show. We want to pack the place out.  We want it to be raucous and crazy and wild. And we want it to be totally Cleveland, Ohio. That’s what we want it to be."

Aside from “Sister Christian” breaking out here and this show once it’s done, any other favorite Cleveland or Northeast Ohio memories from touring around here?

"There’s so many. So many shows at Blossom. So many shows at the old Coliseum that they tore down. Public Hall. We’ve played about every place you could play around your neck of the woods, you know what I mean? Every time there’s a new experience and a new excitement. And the greatest part is seeing old friends. And that’s the greatest part.

Back to the orchestral show. Is this going to be like a normal, two-hour Night Ranger concert?

"Yes, it is. There might be a couple of songs that they don’t play on, that we just play. Now that might be the stuff where we can throw in a few extra things. You know what I mean? Now you’ve given me the idea there. That might be an interesting concept. We’ll check it out."

The 2nd Annual Danny Ripepi Memorial Concert. Nov. 9 at the State Theater at PlayhouseSquare. Night Ranger and he Contemporary Youth Orchestra. Should be an amazing show. Thank you, Jack.

"You’ve got it. It’s great to be with you and we want to see everybody in Cleveland at that show. Nov. 9. Come on. Get out there. You’re going to be on-camera. You’re going to be recorded. You’re going to be living in history. "

The 2nd Annual Danny Ripepi Memorial Concert benefitting the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, featuring multi-Platinum recording artist Night Ranger; performing in collaboration with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra will be at KeyBank State Theater at Playhouse Square on November 9th at 7pm! Tickets to the show are still available at www.playhousesquare.org.

The Contemporary Youth Orchestra is committed to the study and performance of exclusively contemporary and new orchestral music, with a focus on introducing students to careers in the creative arts industries. CYO is in residence at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), Metro Campus and works in partnership with Tri-C Metro’s Center for Creative Arts. Through collaborative programming, they seek to address instrumental music education gaps in the Cleveland area. Past “Rock the Orchestra” performances by the CYO have included artists Styx, Jason Mraz, Kenny Loggins and Cleveland’s own Michael Stanley.

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