This was not the first devil’s horn raised in the crowd. It wasn’t the last.

Derek Diehl attended the 40th International Convention picnic at Soldier Field on Saturday wearing a leather Chicago Bears jacket dating back to the early 1980s that was originally owned by his grandfather.

Keyboardist Lawrence Gowan, Bassist Ricky Phillips, Lead Guitarist Tommy Shaw and lead vocalist James Young.
Comedic actor and musician Nick Offerman opened for Styx.

This might not have been heaven, but for the 35-year-old member of Denver Local 111, walking throughout the Bears’ home stadium was close.

“For me, yeah,” Diehl said when asked if this would be the highlight of his time in Chicago. “I don’t care what other people do. I don’t want to leave. It’s killing me I can’t touch that grass.”

Delegates and guests roamed freely through the legendary stadium’s concourses and club seats. Bands played across multiple levels – some outside on a sunny, crisp afternoon, others inside the stadium’s hospitality clubs.

But the grass field – which was set up as a soccer pitch for the MLS’ Chicago Fire, who also call Soldier Field home – was off limits.

Diehl still was having one of the best days of his life.

“It’s huge,” he said. “I love it. I’ve never been to Soldier Field, never have seen a game here. To be here today is awesome.

“I grew up watching the Bears every week and was raised a Bears fan,” said Diehl, who works as a foreman for signatory contractor Adiona Transportation Solutions. “That’s something they passed on to me. I love Denver but I love Chicago, too.”

With the stadium playing host to attendees from across North America, the party drew rave reviews.

“You can’t come here and have a bad time,” said Augusta, Maine, Local 2327 Business Manager Julie Dawkins, a 29-year member attending her second convention. “All these brothers and sisters, it’s great. It’s like a family.”

Beaumont, Texas, Local 479 President Justin Cooper attended the picnic with his wife, Stacie, and 21-month-old daughter, Paris.

“Good music, good food,” Cooper said on the way back to his hotel. “It’s been a great experience,” he said of his first convention, which hadn’t even officially begun. “Being able to come together with people who share your values, you can’t beat that.”

“I’m loving it,” said Alton Wilkerson, a journeyman wireman from Los Angeles Local 11. “It’s an honor to be here, just being an electrician, to be at something this extravagant.”

After a few solid hours of brotherhood in the sun, the throngs migrated to the nearby Wintrust Arena for the comedic musings of actor, woodworker and scotch drinker Nick Offerman and the Chicago rock legends Styx.

“Hey brother, how you doing?” echoed through the hall and smiles and handshakes were as common as silver cans of beer.

The most excited might have been Dublin, Calif., Local 595 journeyman wireman Pat Quinn.

“I have been watching Styx since 1980 and I have seen them every year for the last dozen years,” he said. “This is my music, my music from high school.”

When asked what the IBEW should be ready for, Quinn set the standard high.

“I know they are getting old [founding member Chuck Panozzo turned 73 this year], but they put on a great show every time. Every time,” he said.

Education Department International Representative Jeremy Sundeen and his wife Wendy brought their kids, Hailey, Caleb and Caden.

Attendees watch the Milwaukee Tool Shed Band perform inside the club level of Soldier Field.
Soldier Field’s club level was a popular gathering point for many attendees during the International Convention picnic on May 7.

When asked if she was looking forward to the show, Hailey said, “My mom is excited,” with the combination of scorn and love that all teenagers use when talking about their parents. And it was true, Wendy said, smiling broadly. She was.

Sundeen said Styx came from his dad’s record player not his own, but he has a crystalline memory of Styx blasting from a neighbor’s party when he was six. It was the night his bike was stolen, and he will never forget it, though he doesn’t blame Styx.

Before Styx, however, Offerman began his mixed musical and spoken word set with some well-intentioned and appreciated pandering with a song comparing the relative merits of drinking with electricians (“the sons of old Ben Franklin, I’d raise a beer and thank ‘em”) versus other, lesser trades.

Then the members of Styx rose took to the fog-drenched stage, where from the first thumping power chord to the last note of the encore, the band was 100% heart.

It had everything a lover of 70s rock and 80s pop rock could want: guitar solos, tight harmonies, stratospheric yowls from a singer pointing to the arena ceiling as strobes flashed and smoke machines belched.

“Are you ready for a rock show?” screamed vocalist Tommy Shaw to the thousands. They really were. “IBEW spells a good time to me!”

The crowd wanted the hits and Styx delivered "Lady," "Lorelei," "Crystal Ball," "Rockin' the Paradise," "Renegade," "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)," "Save Us from Ourselves" and "Too Much Time on My Hands."

They saved their biggest hits "Come Sail Away" and "Mr. Roboto" for the encore. They were each greeted with joy and the glow of hundreds of mobile phone flashlights swaying in the darkness.

“What did I tell you?” Quinn said at the end of the show. “The greatest rock and roll band. Ever.”