NORTHAMPTON, Pa. - The beat of the drum, the sound of the music and the excitement of the crowd still echo in Tommy Crist's mind more than 40 years after opening for Rush at the Roxy in Northampton.
"It was very exciting for us, learning how to do that, fit in the slot," Crist said.
Crist's band, Slim Pickins, opened for a number of major acts over the years, touring nationally and internationally, but that one night with Rush was certainly one for the books. While in town for that performance, Rush band members even wrote part of a song on their album, "Caress of Steel," which lists Northampton County on the lyric sheet.
Crist recalls the emcee's animated voice warming up the crowd.
"Got them going. Then they kicked right in and the lights went on," Crist recalled.
This week, that memory has become even more precious, in the wake of the death of Rush's legendary drummer, Neil Peart. Crist remembers Peart as being quiet in person, while maintaining a strong and powerful presence on stage.
"It was interesting to watch him, what he could accomplish," Crist said. "With three pieces, they had a pretty big sound."
Many say the drummer's musical influence and genius span generations. Former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, who owns a home in the Lehigh Valley, took to social media to remember his longtime friend, writing that he will "always be a mentor and a hero to me and his influence on me as a drummer for the past 40 years is absolutely impossible to measure."
Crist agrees, the loss is monumental.
"I was sad to hear of his passing," Crist said. "At my age now there's a lot of musicians that I knew and worked with that have passed on."
But the beautiful thing about music, Crist says, is that it lives on far beyond the life span of its original creators.
"That's the thing it's always there for other generations to understand," Crist explained, "it is universal, it's what unites a lot of people."