Rock-afire Explosion regrouping for summer concerts at Volo Museum

For fans of a certain band that’s been out of the limelight for a few decades, excitement is ratcheting up at the Volo Museum.

In fact, everything is coming together now for a summer filled with Rock-afire Explosion concerts, said Brian Grams, director of the museum at 27582 Volo Village Road, Volo. And, when dealing with roughly 40-year-old animatronics, it’s no small undertaking.

The Rock-afire Explosion — a seven-member band that once thrilled audiences at ShowBiz Pizza Place, with a later incarnation performing at Chuck E. Cheese — has achieved something of a cult following, accumulating even young fans who weren’t yet born when the band was at the height of its popularity in the 1980s and ’90s.

“This is the holy grail of pizza animatronics,” said Grams, who purchased the museum’s complete, matching-numbers set in 2019. “I believe we will be one of only two locations in the U.S., and three in the world, with a full Rock-afire show operating in the public. The rest are owned by collectors.”

Over the winter and into this spring, Grams has overseen the construction of an enclosed 40-foot by 10-foot stage for the band, with its larger-than-life bears, a bird, mouse, wolf, mongrel and gorilla. It will feature three garage-style doors that will open during shows. Also hard at work preparing the band for its re-debut has been 17-year-old Jacob Mickan of the Crystal Lake area.

Mickan counts himself a fan of the video game series and film “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” which features a troubled security guard who gets a job at an abandoned pizzeria where the animatronic mascots are possessed. “When that game was released in 2014, it solidified my interest in animatronics,” he said.

Mickan also cherishes a photo of his 2-year-old self visiting a Chuck E. Cheese where the animatronics were still intact (the chain removed those still remaining in the late 2010s).

He so loved the Rock-afire Explosion, in fact, that he purchased his own Dook LaRue, the drummer in the band, in 2021. After watching numerous YouTube videos, he brought his Dook back to solid working order, he said. Mickan was hired by Grams after the youth responded to a Facebook post seeking someone who could reassemble the bandmates and hook them properly up to a series of pneumatic tubes, from which pumped air brings them to life.

Mickan has been spending numerous hours each weekend for several weeks attending to every detail on each character — from their moving limbs to their wandering eyes and blinking eyelids.

“I like being here,” Mickan said. “It’s a lot of fun and something I really enjoy, working on these guys. I’ve already had people stopping over to check on the progress. They’re excited to see it when it’s done.”

Grams said he is thrilled at the prospect of families enjoying some time watching the band perform on a grassy area just east of the newly constructed stage, where the nearby Munchin’ Junction offers cool drinks and tasty treats.

“This has been a long time in the making,” he said. “During fair weather and at set times the doors to the stage will open and play a free show. We are also looking into bill acceptors that would allow people to see a show on their schedule.”

Even the show’s original creator, Aaron Fechter of Orlando, Florida-based Creative Engineering Inc., is excited for Volo’s reintroduction of his cult phenom production.

“I always call it modestly the greatest animatronic rock show ever created, and I challenge anybody to defy that label,” said Fechter, who not only built the bands, but whose voice also animates some of the characters. “It’s one of the few high-tech products that will remain the greatest ever.”

Between purchasing the band, building its enclosed stage, licensing the show and bringing the aged Mitzi, Fatz, Billy Bob, Rolfe, Dook, Looney Bird and Beach Bear back to life, Volo has invested roughly a quarter of a million dollars into its Rock-afire Explosion, said Grams, who, at 48, was among the myriad children who grew up enjoying the band on special occasions.

“Our investment will be well worth it when we see the smiles on the next generation to fall in love with this band,” he said. “We’re thrilled to preserve this iconic piece of history and put it back on public view.”

The Volo Museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Regular museum admission is $22.95 per adult, $20.95 per senior or military, $12.95 for children, age 5 to 12, and free for children, age 4 or younger.

Separate, single-day admission to the Jurassic Gardens dinosaur park is $16.95 each; free for children, age 4 or younger. Members are admitted free.

For other details, visit, find Volo Museum on social, or call (815) 385-3644.

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