After a couple of ill-timed rainouts, summer in downtown Wilkesboro officially kicked into gear this weekend with a fun-filled family movie night on Friday and a well-attended double-billed tribute concert on Saturday.

Movie fans of all ages really seemed to enjoy the critically-acclaimed “Incredibles 2” on the giant 33-foot inflatable screen on Friday. Many families brought large blankets and spread them out on the lush lawn at the Carolina West Wireless Community Commons to relax and enjoy the show.

Prior to the movie, the kids in attendance had a blast on the Justice League bounce house, the Radical Run obstacle course and the Toxic Meltdown slide. They also chased the high scores on fun-sized arcade games like Centipede, Donkey Kong, Ms. Pac Man and Galaga.

The great weather continued on Saturday evening, with the “Bless the Rains” band presenting the “ultimate Toto tribute experience” at 6 p.m. on the Wilkes Communications Pavilion stage. Led by Gabriel Bello on lead vocals and sax, the band grooved through a vintage 1980s setlist made popular by the three-time Grammy Award-winning band Toto.

The band closed the set with Toto’s biggest hits: “Rosanna” and “Africa.” The first song was Record of the Year in 1983, off the year’s Album of the Year, “Toto IV.” The crowd had waited all evening for the chart-toppers, and they weren’t disappointed with the rousing medley.

I’ll admit to having a soft spot in my heart for “Africa.” It was the first 45-RPM record I ever bought with my own money, when I was 12 years old. I recall playing that record over and over, transfixed by the tribal beats and “ancient melodies” of the song.

Bello, who lives in Charlotte, testified toward the end of his band’s set that he’s been cancer-free for two years. He gave credit to God for saving his life and carrying him through the ordeal.

The next tribute band, “Trial by Fire,” then took the stage at 8 p.m. Having a much longer list of Top 40 hits by Journey at their disposal, they spaced out the crowd-pleasers throughout the spirited set, keeping the audience engaged from start to finish.

Trial by Fire, also based out of Charlotte, opened with the 1983 Top 10 single “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” and kept the pedal to the floor the entire set. Lead singer Ernie Shepherd delighted the crowd with his wide vocal range, sounding uncannily like Journey frontman Steve Perry.

The song that really brought the audience to its feet was “Don’t Stop Believin.’” It modestly peaked at number 9 when it first charted in 1981, but it experienced a resurgence of popularity in 2009, when Finn (Cory Monteith) sang it solo in the locker room during the pilot episode of “Glee.”

“Glee,” which in my mind made high school chorus (and 1980s karaoke) cool again, helped the song sell an additional 7 million digital tracks (downloads), making it the best-selling download from the 20th century. It’s hard to find a music fan who doesn’t like not only its inspirational message but its deft blend of hard rock and vocal pop sensibility.

The crowd on Saturday was quite large. I haven’t heard an official number yet, but I’d guess there was nearly 3,000 people in the audience, giving last summer’s Eagles tribute crowd a run for its money as the largest to attend a concert in the Commons.

With tributes to the Beatles, Tom Petty, Billy Joel and other big names coming later this summer—including the return of the Eagles band—expect the crowds to get even bigger. Borrowing the famous line from “Jaws,” Wilkesboro is going to need a bigger boat—a nice problem to have in the town’s continued effort to revitalize its downtown.

Editor’s Note: See related photos on pages 1 and 14, and at www.journalpatriot.com.

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