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By JOSHUA COFFMAN
FORT KNOX — Brandishing a pair of pearl white guitars, the rock ’n’ roll power trio of ZZ Top belted out a host of hits from the ’70s and ’80s Saturday night, proving they could still be sharp-dressed men — even with cheap sunglasses and graying beards.
Starting its set with “Give Me All Your Lovin’,” the band played to a crowd of about 8,000 at Godman Airfield, many of whom waited for hours to get close to the stage.
Paul Fries and his wife, Becky, of Vine Grove arrived at Fort Knox around 4:30 Saturday afternoon for the concert, scheduled to kick off after 7 p.m.
The irony was not lost on Paul as he donned a tie-dyed T-shirt emblazoned with a peace sign as he stood at the front of a yellow barrier on an Army installation.
He crammed in with hundreds of others and eagerly waited for the gates to open.
“I didn’t come all this way to be at the back,” said Debi Clemons, a relative from Chicago who came to Kentucky to visit the Fries family and see ZZ Top.
Nearby, John Burnett of Hawesville stood with his wife and son holding a sign: “Picks and a drumstick, please.”
Burnett said he has chased concerts for rock memorabilia for decades, attending more than 200 shows. His most treasured item: A drum stick he caught in 1977 in Louisville from now-deceased Led Zeppelin drummer Jon Bonham.
“We’re ready to rock,” Burnett said. “That’s what we do.”
Minutes later, military police officers removed the yellow barricades and the mad dash began as the masses ran toward the stage, passing dogs on leashes from the Fort Knox K-9 units that barked ferociously as the rowdy runners stormed past.
Before the music started, fans passed the time drinking beer and tossing Frisbees and footballs.
Psychedelic ’90s alt-rock band Blind Melon took the stage after warm-up band Blackberry Smoke. Blind Melon, recently reformed with singer Travis Warren following the death of Shannon Hoon in 1995, played fan favorites like “Galaxie” and “No Rain.”
And, though the skies darkened toward Louisville, the song worked. It stayed dry at Fort Knox throughout the concert.
A group of soldiers in armor training took some time off to soak in the experience and mingle with a few wrestlers from the WWE who made the trip.
“It’s good to get out,” said Pvt. James Billingsley of Sedalia, Mo.
“We get to drink energy drinks and eat food,” echoed Pvt. David Kirkland of Alabama.
Event coordinator Mark Wicker said the show marked the eighth outdoor concert at Fort Knox in five years.
Southern rock performers such as ZZ Top and Lynard Skynard have brought the best crowds. And, thanks to community support, Wicker hopes it marks another show of many more to come.
“For an event this size, it’s went very smooth,” he said as Billy Gibbons’ guitar wailed in the background.
Waiting for the rock legends to take the stage, Drew Mills of Ekron hooted and hollered with friends, energizing the crowd around them.
“It’s been really long. We’ve been here all day,” he said. “We’re supposed to see ZZ Top, but I (haven’t) seen a beard all day.”
His wait didn’t last much longer, as the group began belting riffs from songs like “Waiting for the Bus” and “LaGrange.”
ZZ Top proved Saturday night it still isn’t too loud and, after 35 years of touring, they still aren’t too old to rock.
Joshua Coffman can be reached at (270) 505-1740.