It’s a beautiful day: Tuesday, May 16th, 2017.
Not only is the weather stunning, but it’s a nostalgic day, too — a day to reminisce, a day to reflect back on one’s youth, and a day for keeping memories alive through music.
It’s an opportunity to step back into the past while listening to the sounds of ’60’s icon, Gary Puckett, at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ.
Puckett is best known for his work with his band, Gary Puckett and The Union Gap, one of the most successful rock groups of the 1960s. In total, the band garnered six consecutive gold records. In fact, in one year — 1967 — they even outperformed The Beatles!
Today’s concert is the first offering in the Garden State Arts Foundation’s 2017 “Senior Concert Series,” which offers free programs to New Jersey residents aged 55 and older. The Foundation has offered performances at no cost since 1984.
Ronald Gravino, Vice President of GSAF’s Board of Trustees, confirms that “no federal, state, local, or Garden State Parkway toll money” is used to fund these performances. Instead, the GSAF receives donations from such sponsors as Live Nation Entertainment, PNC Bank, Sirius XM ’60s on 6 radio, the Princeton Public Affairs Group, and the Sills Cummis and Gross law firm, in addition to contributions from individual donors.
As we make our way to our seats, we notice the PNC Bank Arts Center stage is set with instruments, and the arena is filled with over 6,000 music lovers eager to be taken back on a nostalgic walk to the past.
Gravino takes the stage to introduce this afternoon’s opening act, Vinnie Medugno, describing him as a “great young talent” who was discovered by well-known American radio personality, Cousin Brucie.
When Medugno takes the stage and begins to sing, he immediately holds the audience in the palm of his hand by enthusiastically belting out such classic oldies tunes as Johnny Tillotson’s “Poetry in Motion,” Tommy James & The Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and “Volare,” a 1958 hit by Domenico Modugno — “no relation!” explains Vinnie.
Medugno next sings Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon’s “Palisades Park” — a home run for this Jersey crowd — as the audience claps, sways, and sings along.
Medugno continues to entertain as he jumps off of the stage and runs into the audience singing Dion’s “Runaround Sue.”
While performing, he even receives a warm hug from a woman in the back of the ampitheater.
When we later catch up with the woman, we learn that her name is, in fact, Sue, and she’s from Newton, NJ. Sue reveals that Medugno “seemed like he was huggable,” so as he came by, she graciously offered to hug him!
Medugno ends his well-received set with Jay Black and the Americans’ “Cara Mia.”
Upon learning that one of his audience members — an 83-year-old woman — happens to be here at the PNC Bank Arts Center today attending one of her very first concerts, in the middle of his number, Medugno shouts out, “Where’s Carole from Toms River? This one’s for you!”
During intermission, we have an opportunity to find Carole and ask her what it was like to have a song dedicated to her, and she replies, “It was thrilling. He’s a gifted singer, and it’s wonderful hearing the songs I loved as a teenager once again,” adding, “and now I’m ready to hear Gary Puckett!”
Before Medugno departs the stage, he discloses that although he is only in his 30s, his parents raised him “on all of this great music” from the 1960s, acknowledging, “My Mom stirred sauce to Gary Puckett!, saying, “It’s all about dreams.”
Medugno admits to the audience that he is a huge Gary Puckett fan. In fact, he exclaims he nearly “hit the floor” when he was asked to open today for Puckett.
He also tells the crowd a heartwarming story about Puckett he recently learned as a result of watching a YouTube video.
The video features Puckett singing his 1968 hit, “Young Girl,” to a terminally ill man named Dallas. Puckett traveled four hours to fulfill Dallas’ dying wish — to meet the legendary performer.
Afterwards, said Dallas of the impromptu hospital room concert, “It’s almost worth dying for.”
Sadly, Dallas passed away seven hours after his lifetime dream came true.
Prior to this afternoon’s performance, we interviewed Medugno backstage. In doing so, we were there to witness the moment when he got to meet his musical idol, Gary Puckett, and tell him what an inspiration he has been for so many fans, including one of his most devoted — Dallas.
Puckett reveals to Medugno that he learned that Dallas was such a huge Puckett fan that whenever a family member asked who was singing on the radio, Dallas always replied, “It’s Gary Puckett,” going on to note, “And this was for any singer, even if if it was Petula Clark!”
Medugno concludes by telling Puckett he hopes to have as huge an impact on people’s lives and dreams as Puckett has had during his long and successful career.
Following a standing ovation for Medugno, the audience erupts in applause as Gary Puckett, along with his band, The Union Gap, takes the PNC Bank Arts Center stage.
Opening with “Lady Willpower,” the audience sings along with Puckett to the classic refrain, Lady Willpower/It’s now or never/Give your love to me/And I’ll shower your heart with tenderness/Endlessly.
Wearing a long black military jacket with gold buttons as he sings, Puckett later states about his and the group’s outfits, “We’ve reenlisted!”
His bandmates — also dressed in military garb resembling the Union Army during the Civil War — are: Jamie Hilboldt on keyboards, Mike Candito on drums, and Woody Lingle on bass guitar. Together, they form a strong trio to accompany Puckett’s signature vocal style.
Puckett exclaims to the audience, “I flew all night to be here. I’m glad you are here for us!”
With his legendary voice, Puckett leads the large crowd on a journey back to the past crooning such memorable hits as “Woman Woman,” “Over You,” and “This Girl is a Woman Now.”
When he serenades the audience, his voice is strong and solid to the very last note. Clearly, Puckett sounds as good as he did back in the 1960s.
Before he performs his song, “Home” — a moving tribute to the veterans in the audience — Puckett asks all who served to stand, telling them, “Thank you for the sacrifice you made for the rest of us. Freedom is not free. Welcome home.”
The veterans rise, and the lyrics take on even greater meaning: And every night they lie awake and dream of mama’s chocolate cake/And wonder if there’ll be a tomorrow/And will they ever see their home and their family/Or will they ever be back home.
Following huge applause, Puckett ends his show with his million-selling single, “Young Girl.”
He, along with the crowd, sings the famous chorus: Young girl, get out of my mind/My love for you is way out of line/Better run girl/You’re much too young girl.
For his efforts, Puckett is rewarded by this Jersey crowd with a standing ovation. Thanking the audience for their kindness, he pauses to appreciate the moment.
As audience members file out of the arena, we take a moment to chat with some of them who share their thoughts with us regarding this afternoon’s nostalgic performance.
97-year-old Emily from Wall Township exclaims, “This show was fantastic! I really enjoyed Gary Puckett’s voice,” going on to add, “and the work the Garden State Arts Foundation does is wonderful!”
Perhaps Marion from Middlesex sums it up best, however, when she concludes, “I love music from this era! It reminds me of good things from the past, and it takes my mind off of things now. Every day is a blessing and music is a part of it. It truly keeps us alive.”
To learn more about Gary Puckett, please go to www.garypuckettmusic.com. For more information on future Garden State Arts Foundation performances at the PNC Bank Arts Center — including Michael Amante on May 23, The Osmonds on June 13, and the US Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus on June 29 — please check out gsafoundation.org. Lastly, to find out more about Vinnie Medugno, please go to www.vincentmedugno.com.