As we make our way up Van Brunt Street in Englewood, NJ on Tuesday, June 20, 2017, we see three huge tour buses parked across the street from the Bergen Performing Arts Center (BergenPAC).
Stepping into the theater’s spacious lobby, we meet three young women manning the merchandise table for tonight’s concert, the 2017 edition of The Happy Together Tour starring The Turtles and five other acts from one of the greatest decades in musical history — the 1960s.
Smiling and friendly, the three interns tell us they’re from Belmont University in Nashville, where The Turtles’ Mark Volman is a professor of music business.
All three say they’re having the time of their lives traveling up the coast with the 2017 edition of the HTT!
Kayla, 21, from Colorado reveals that the first of the three tour buses we saw houses “approximately ten Belmont students who are interns for the first leg of The Happy Together Tour on the East Coast.”
“The second bus,” continues Kayla, “is for the crew, and to transport all the gear needed to present a show of this magnitude.”
“The third bus,” notes Kayla, “is for the show’s headliners,” which, this year, include Ron Dante of The Archies, The Cowsills, The Box Tops, The Association, Three Dog Night’s Chuck Negron, and, of course, The Turtles.
Along with spending time with these well-known artists who — as Kayla explains “all have such cool stories to share” — she especially enjoys working the merchandise table at each venue because that’s where she gets to chat with fans of each act.
And, as she works, she also gets to enjoy some of her favorite songs performed live each night, notably Chuck Negron’s rendition of “Joy to the World” and The Association’s version of “Never My Love.”
Kayla’s fellow intern, Allie, 21, from Georgia, tells us that she, too, enjoys interning with the HTT because she gets to wake up in a new place each day.
“Every day on this tour is unique,” she explains, “and even though the show has the same general format each time, all of the performers go out of their way to make each concert different and fresh.”
Allie tells us that her favorite job on the tour is “to shadow the tour manager,” and that her favorite song to listen to live during each concert is Chuck Negron’s performance of “Eli’s Comin.’”
Lastly, we meet Courtenay, 20, from Arizona, who says that, like Kayla, she especially enjoys chatting with all of the artists on tour.
“They are all so kind,” she reveals. “They know all of our names,” going on to add, “and that makes me feel really special.”
Courtenay — a songwriting major — notes that along with working at the merchandise table and assisting the road manager, she also loves getting a chance to hear such classic songs as The Turtles’ “Elenore” and The Cowsills’ “The Rain, the Park, and Other Things” performed live each and every night.
As we wrap up our conversation, we notice the lobby lights start to dim so we make our way into the beautiful BergenPAC auditorium where we hear the pre-recorded voice of radio personality Shadoe Stevens counting down the minutes until the concert will begin.
“4 minutes… 3… 2… 1… 30 seconds…”
And then it’s show time!
The 2017 edition of the world-famous Happy Together Tour is about to begin!
The auditorium lights go down and the spotlights come up on the evening’s first performer, Ron Dante.
The singing voice of the TV cartoon group, The Archies, Dante, 71, opens the show with a hit he had with his real-life band, The Cuff Links.
As music lovers wave their arms dancing in the aisles right from the famous “Bah-bah, bah-bah-bah-bah” intro straight through to the end, Dante entertains the crowd with his catchy 1969 Top Ten hit “Tracy,” happily singing, “Tracy, when I’m with you/Somethin’ you do/bounces me off the ceiling…”
Looking dapper in his Archies’ comic book vest, following large applause, Dante looks out over the audience and exclaims, “Welcome to The Happy Together Tour!”
Revealing to the crowd, “I was with the Cuff Links when I was asked by Don Kirshner to be the voice of The Archies,” Dante performs the well-known cartoon group’s 1969 Top Ten hit, “Jingle Jangle,” a song he says was written by singer/songwriter Andy Kim of “Rock Me Gently” fame.
Talking about how The Archies’ vocal parts were recorded by himself and fellow musician Toni Wine — who wrote The Mindbenders’ “Groovy Kind of Love” and Tony Orlando and Dawn’s “Candida” — Dante launches into a rollicking rendition of The Archies’ 1965 Top 25 hit, “Bang-Shang-A-Lang.” A cartoon movie of Archie, Betty, Jughead, Reggie, and Veronica play the song on the screen behind him while he and the HTT back-up band perform it live for the BergenPAC audience.
Next, Dante wows the crowd with a series of well-known television and radio jingles which he either wrote or sang on including Coke’s “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” Dr. Pepper’s “Be a Pepper,” Almond Joy’s “Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut,” and many more.
Dante follows that up by explaining how working in the advertising world with his colleague, Barry Manilow, helped him to wind up producing a string of hit albums for the singer/songwriter.
Dante concludes his portion of the program with a joyful rendition of The Archies’ 1969 #1 hit, “Sugar Sugar.” The audience happily singing and bopping along, Dante leaves them cheering on their feet.
As the Happy Together logo flashes tye-died colors on the screen, the family band, The Cowsills, takes the stage to cheers and applause from the packed house at BergenPAC.
Singer Paul Cowsill tells the excited crowd, “We’re having the time of our lives! Let’s take you back to the ‘Summer of Love,’ 1967!”
Here, the group performs an energetic rendition of their catchy ‘67 hit, “The Rain, The Park, and Other Things” (aka “The Flower Girl”), as groovy yellow and purple flowers dance on the screen behind them.
Following avid applause, Susan Cowsill announces, “This next song is Tommy James’ favorite.” Pointing directly into the crowd, Susan states, “This is for you, Tommy,” as the group performs their 1967 Top 40 hit, “We Can Fly.” The audience taps and claps along to the song’s snappy melody and the siblings’ tight vocal harmonies.
Next, Bob Cowsill reveals, “Even though she was just a child, Susan picked this next song for us to record, and it became a hit.” Here, The Cowsills perform their 1967 Top Ten Billboard smash, “Indian Lake.”
As members of the family band that provided the inspiration for TV’s The Partridge Family, the siblings go on to perform a TV theme they recorded back in 1969 — the theme song from Love, American Style.
As images of tresses of every color, length, and style of hair one can imagine — not to mention photos of models using Dippety-Doo styling gel, Clairol products, and Adorn hairspray — flash on the screen, the group ends their nostalgic set with a high-energy rendition of their 1969 hit, “Hair.”
For their fun, entertaining, and highly musical performance, the crowd goes crazy for this fantastic family band!
Next, The Box Tops —Gary Talley, Bill Cunningham, and Rick Levy — make their way on to the stage where they open their set with their 1968 hit, “Cry Like a Baby.” Silhouettes of dancers in hot pink, orange, and yellow move as the sounds of an electric guitar and an electric sitar twang and wail to the driving beat.
Cunningham takes a moment to explain to the audience how difficult it was for “Cry Like a Baby” — which reached #2 on the charts — to become a #1 hit due to stiff competition from such groups as The Beatles, The Young Rascals — “from right here in New Jersey!” he exclaims, to audience cheers — and, especially, from another artist who kept their song from hitting the top spot, Bobby Goldsboro, thanks to his 1968 hit, “Honey.”
After performing their 1969 Top 20 number, “Soul Deep,” Cunningham reveals, “We’re from Memphis, and Booker T. and the M.G.’s went to the same high school we did.” At this point, he moves from bass over to keyboards and the band pays tribute to Booker T. with a soulful instrumental version of “Green Onions.”
Calling it their “contribution to the psychedelic era,” the group performs their 1967 Top 25 hit, “Neon Rainbow,” as a kaleidoscope of rainbow colors fill the screen, electric stringed instruments wail, and the audience claps along.
The Box Tops conclude their portion of the evening’s festivities with a song which reached the top of the pop charts exactly 50 years ago this summer, “The Letter.” The audience joins in on every word singing, “Lonely days are gone/I’m a-goin’ home/My baby, wrote me a letter,” the fans enjoying the nostalgic vibrations of this feel-good tune radiating straight into their hearts.
Following excited applause, during intermission, we spot well-known singer, songwriter, and producer Tommy James outside the BergenPAC lobby and take a moment to chat with him about tonight’s concert.
James — who had an enormously popular string of hits with “Hanky Panky,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” “Crimson and Clover,” “Mony Mony,” and many more, recently celebrated his 50th year in the music business with a special concert at New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center, where he performed his 1968 hit, “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” with The Cowsills.
“I love these guys!” exclaims Tommy. “And this is such a great show. I’ve worked with all of these guys and it’s so great seeing them — they sound so good!”
Knowing the artists mainly as a result of his associations with them behind the scenes, James continues, “I’ve known Ron Dante for years — I’ve never seen him play before — and he kicks a**!”
Clearly enjoying his time as an audience member tonight, James concludes by stating, “I am truly tickled to see all of these folks performing here tonight!”
As way make our way back into the theater for Act II, we arrive just in time to see The Association — Jim Yester, Del Ramos, and Jules Alexander — kicking off the show’s second half with their monster hit, “Windy.” The crowd claps along to the beat of the unmistakable intro to this 1966 chart-topper, cheering and whistling with approval at the end.
Jim Yester welcomes the audience — many of whom are in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond — to the group’s portion of the show joking, “The Association was established in 1965. Thank you all for staying up this late.”
Next, Yester introduces Del Ramos, who dedicates the group’s next song to “all the troops, veterans, and first responders” in the crowd — not to mention his “girlfriend Linda” — also here tonight — and his “97-year-old mother.” Singing lead on what Yester refers to as “the second most-played song of the last 100 years,” the audience knows all the words and sings along to 1967’s “Never My Love.”
Yester then introduces Jules Alexander, the arranger of the group’s 1966 #1 hit, “Cherish.” As the band performs this classic number, audience members sway to the music, clearly cherishing every note.
Yester reveals that their final song tonight “was not played on the radio when it first came out” because of its controversial subject matter, joking, “If you don’t know what it is, you didn’t really experience the 1960s.” At this point, the group launches into a lively version of “Along Comes Mary,” as audience members stand and cheer for a job well done.
Following The Association is Chuck Negron from Three Dog Night who opens his set with the popular trio’s first million seller, 1969’s “Celebrate.” As his powerful voice rings out through the venue, many in the packed crowd “dance to the music,” their arms in the air clapping to the solid bass and drum beat.
After a compelling rendition of Three Dog Night’s 1969’s Top 5 hit “Easy to be Hard” earns him a standing ovation, Negron — surprised — says, “This is nice!” going on to jokingly suggest that if his 16-year-old daughter could be here to see the audience’s reaction, she might be a little more likely to think her dad is “cool.”
Moving on to the Laura Nyro-penned 1969 hit, “Eli’s Comin,’” Negron, 75, gives a dynamic performance which shows his impressive range and power, bringing the packed house — again — to its feet.
Responding, “This is humbling,” Negron performs a robust rendition of Three Dog Night’s first million seller, “One,” as shapes and colors swirl behind him as he sings.
After taking a selfie with the entire audience behind him, Negron concludes his portion of the evening’s program by singing a Three Dog Night song for which he recorded the original lead vocal — 1971’s Song of the Year, “Joy to the World.”
Sounding fantastic, Negron and the HTT band leave the entire audience singing, swaying, dancing, and wearing grins from ear to ear as they cheer this unforgettable performance!
Then, going from the sublime to the sublimely ridiculous, The Turtles’ “Flo and Eddie” — Howard Kaylen and Mark Volman — take the stage dressed as characters from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. With Volman attired in a golden gown and wig and Kaylen in his Beast get-up complete with realistic mask, the two waltz to the classic Disney score for laughs before coming to their senses and launching into a rockin’ version of The Turtles’ 1967 #3 hit, “She’d Rather Be With Me.”
After excited applause, Volman and Kaylan, both 70, follow that up with their 1966 album cut, “You Baby,” before moving on to a lively version of a Frank Zappa instrumental, “Peaches en Regalia,” which precedes a spirited rendition of their 1968 Top Ten smash, “Elenore.”
Their act always filled with humor, Kaylan goes on to tell the audience that, as The Turtles, “We were just three letters away from being The Beatles…” before further adding, “…and $175 billion dollars.”
To conclude their portion of the concert, Kaylan and Volman invite the enthusiastic audience to stand up “for two minutes and 48 seconds and join in” on their final song.
Without hesitation, the entire crowd stands, cheerfully singing and moving to the groove of the group’s 1967 chart-topper, “Happy Together.”
“Did you have a good time tonight?” shouts Kaylan.
Following a resounding “YES!” the individual artists, one at a time, return to the stage so they can each do a snippet of one of their biggest hits, after which they all join in on a reprise of “Happy Together.”
As smiling audience members exit the auditorium, we chat with several of them who happily tell us about their concert experiences here tonight at BergenPAC.
Donna from Middlesex — who says she has already seen the Happy Together Tour three times this week and also has tickets to see it two more times this summer — reveals, “It’s still fresh — they change it up a little bit every night” going on to add, “It’s uplifting. I love it no matter how many times I see it — it’s just so much fun.”
Amy from Jersey City — who, herself, has already seen this version of the show four times — states, “Each show gets better and better — the fourth time was even better than the third,” further going on to joke, “And I’d be going to even more Happy Together shows this weekend if my son hadn’t ruined it by deciding to get married!”
Lastly, we chat with Rich from Monroe Township who reveals, “This is my third time seeing the Happy Together Tour. It’s phenomenal — every year, it gets better and better! The musicians are so enthusiastic and they play at such a high level. They genuinely enjoy interacting with their fans, too.”
Going on to further note, “This is the one tour that brings the 60s back to a time when, as kids, we listened to all these songs on the radio,” Rich concludes by asserting, “For me, this show is the best of the best!”
To learn more about The Happy Together Tour 2017, please go theturtles.com/tour. For further information on future concerts at BergenPAC — including Dave Mason on July 13, The Zombies on July 14, and Gordon Lightfoot on August 8 — please go to bergenpac.orgPhotos by Love Imagery
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