The sold-out crowd at Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center for the Arts is ready and waiting this Friday, November 5, 2021 evening for a live Beatles Bash performance by The Weeklings, a group of top-flight Jersey musicians known for performing picture perfect renditions of Beatles classics as well as creating their own Beatles-inspired pop originals. Also on the bill for this special Beatles tribute concert tonight are The Barefoot Strings, a five-piece string ensemble, and The Maximum Horns, a five-piece horn section.
The Weeklings are comprised of Glen Burtnik (“Lefty Weekling”), Bob Burger (“Zeek Weekling”), John Merjave (“Rocky Weekling”), and Joe Bellia (“Smokestack Weekling”).
Glen Burtnik is a singer, songwriter, bassist and multi-instrumentalist, best known for his work with Styx, ELO, the Broadway production of Beatlemania, and the popular Summer of Love concert tour. Burtnick composed the Billboard hit, “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Good Enough” for Patty Smyth and Don Henley, and also wrote for performers including John Waite and Randy Travis.
Bob Burger is a singer, guitarist, and Gold Record-awarded songwriter who’s performed with such celebrated artists as Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Southside Johnny, and Bobby Bandiera.
John Merjave is a lead guitarist and vocalist who has performed in several Beatles’ tribute shows. He has also worked with Billy Preston, Donovan, and Denny Laine of The Moody Blues and Wings.
Joe Bellia is a studio and live concert drummer who has performed, recorded, and toured with such musical artists as Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, and Dave Mason.
Inside the modern Grunin Center auditorium, located on the campus of Ocean County College, a myriad of electric and acoustic guitars stand at attention along with a drum set center stage, and two raised platforms — one on the left for strings and one on the right for horns.
Manager Tony Pallagrosi welcomes the capacity crowd and introduces The Weeklings who take the stage dressed in black and open tonight’s show with “A Hard Day’s Night.” Starting from the song’s iconic first opening chord, The Weeklings capture the essence of the Beatles — not by trying to imitate the Fab Four, but by channeling the spirit of The Beatles and transforming it with their own considerable talents. Burger and Burtnik interchange vocal parts a la Lennon and McCartney where Burger’s Lennon-esque lead capably handles the “It’s been a hard day’s night” verse and Burtnik’s McCartney-like vocal takes over on the “When I’m home everything seems to be right” bridge. Merjave’s and Burger’s guitar work, Burtnick’s rhythmic bass, and Bellia’s solid drumming perfectly support the vocals. The crowd responds with applause and cheers to this catchy opening number.
Burtnik welcomes the crowd before Merjave plays the infamous guitar intro to “Day Tripper.” Shimmering drums and expert vocal harmonies characterize the “She was a day tripper/One way ticket, yeah” refrain. Transitioning into “Can’t Buy Me Love” — a performance which features a George Harrison-inspired guitar solo by Merjave that brings whistles and cheers from the crowd — The Weeklings perform an electrifying rendition of “Roll Over Beethoven” has which has Merjave singing lead supported by tasty drumming from Bellia who plays crescendos on his tom toms.
Following a catchy Beatle-esque original, “I Want You Again,” Bellia is the featured vocalist on a driving rendition of “I Wanna Be Your Man.” Burtnick and Co. are featured on “The Word” before The Weeklings get the crowd clapping along to Bellia’s pulsating bass drum while launching into their original composition, “Little Elvis.” The crowd loves this rockin’ ‘60s-influenced number which features dueling guitars, propulsive drums, and background vocal lines which echo those of The Beatles.
A highlight of the first set is The Weeklings’ interpretation of The Beatles’ “Baby You’re a Rich Man,” where Burtnick impresses as he sets the groove playing his multicolored bass and gets the crowd clapping along. Heads in the audience bop to the “Baby you’re a rich man/Baby you’re a rich man” refrain before Burger joins in on harmonica, Merjave produces whirls and swirls of sound from his guitar, and Burtnick dances downstage with his bass, keeping the crowd fired up.
After a happy-go-lucky version of “Eight Days a Week” — where the audience double-claps right on cue following each “Hold me, love me” refrain — Bellia counts off “Help,” and the group rocks on an arrangement which fills the stage with melodies and harmonies that ebb and flow over and around one another, weaving a rich and exciting tapestry of sound.
Burtnik acknowledges the crowd, exclaiming, “You guys are cool!” before introducing the group’s keyboardist — Mike Mancini (“Einstein Weekling” ) — to the sold-out house. The band concludes Act I with another highlight — a live performance of “I Want You” (She’s So Heavy)” where Burger soulfully handles the lead, Merjave’s guitar echoes the vocal melody, and Mancini’s keyboard adds to the mood of this Beatles’ classic. The number ends dramatically with each of the musicians from The Barefoot Strings and The Maximum Horns entering the stage one at a time with a high-hat cymbal and adding cascading cymbal rolls as the band cycles through the song’s powerful coda.
During intermission, we chat with several audience members who share their thoughts on The Weeklings’ Beatles Bash thus far. Comments Irene from South Amboy, “Before now, I wasn’t really familiar with The Weeklings, and I’m surprised at how good they are — in fact, this is the best show I’ve seen in a long time. The band is super tight and the sound is so clear and balanced.” Continuing, “The group has great stage presence, too. The harmonies are tremendous — the vocalists have great falsetto voices — and the lead guitarist is impressive and the drummer is skilled,” Irene further notes, “Also, their original songs are really good; for instance, ‘Little Elvis’ appeared to come right out of The Beatles’ time period,” before concluding, “Overall, they’re just really impressive, and, when you think about it, there’s really nothing else like hearing live music.”
States Ron from Toms River, “I’ve seen The Weeklings before. I’m very impressed by Glen Burtnick. He’s extremely talented. He and the band perform The Beatles’ music perfectly — chord for chord, note for note.” Acknowledging, “They have the energy for this music and, emotionally, they really get into it — they always leave the crowd satisfied,” Ron further adds, “Now I’m looking forward to the second half where they’ll bring out all the string and horn players.”
Act II opens with a bang with the addition of The Barefoot Strings and The Maximum Horns with The Weeklings now appearing in black suits with white shirts and black ties. The horns call out on the opening of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” before the group smoothly transitions into “A Little Help From My Friends,” and “Getting Better” features spot-on harmonies and Mancini on synthesizer.
Glen Burtnick beautifully handles the vocals on the lovely ballad, “She’s Leaving Home.” Bob Burger’s falsettos hug Burtnik’s heartfelt lead as The Barefoot Strings intertwine their lush harmonies. At the end of the number, comments like “Yeah, baby!” and “Beautiful!” can be heard emanating from the crowd.
Strings and horns are featured on “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Following the psychedelic “Let me take you down ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields” chorus, Burtnick swaps his bass to play tom tom center stage, and Burger and Merjave duel on guitars in an extended instrumental exchange where they feed off one another to animated audience whistles, cheers, and applause.
John Merjave sings and plays acoustic guitar on a delightful rendition of “Here Comes the Sun” before The Weeklings perform a highlight of the second set, a live performance of “All You Need is Love.” The horns open this Lennon classic as Burger switches to acoustic guitar and sings lead on the well-known “All you need is love/All you need is love” lyric while Burtnik and Merjave’s top-notch falsettos add to the mood. Brass and saxes play, ending with the infamous “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah” coda which elicits excited cheers and applause from music lovers in the crowd.
The Maximum Horns are featured on a rollicking rendition of “Got to Get You Into My Life” which has guitars embracing as the band rocks, and The Barefoot Strings accompany Burtnik’s emotional vocal on the powerful ballad, “Eleanor Rigby.”
Burtnik sings and plays keyboard on “Martha My Dear, accompanied by Bob Burger on bass, along with the Barefoot Strings. The horns join in before being followed by the rest of the band. After Burtnik asks the crowd, “George Harrison — are we fans or not?” the sweet sounds of the strings add to the vibe of “Something” sung by Merjave and featuring an exquisite guitar solo.
Burtnik exclaims, “We’re having fun! Are you having fun?” before Bellia starts off “A Day in the Life” on maracas and Burger brilliantly sings lead playing acoustic guitar. Without missing a beat, Bellia tosses his maracas to Merjave so his hands are free to continue playing the drum set. Mancini adds depth with his synthesizer on this John Lennon masterpiece, everyone playing intricate moving parts that glide in perfect sync until the last resounding chord which brings cheers, whistles, and quite a few in the audience to their feet.
Perhaps the greatest highlight of the evening, however, is The Weeklings’ performance of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Merjave starts off playing acoustic guitar and singing alone before the string section joins in. Then, he switches over to electric guitar for the Clapton-inspired solo, and the crowd erupts into wild cheers.
Merjave’s masterful playing hugs the audience in a wild embrace and brings the house to its feet with animated whistles, cheers, and applause.
Immediately, the group launches into yet another highlight performance of “I Am the Walrus.” Burger energetically handles the “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together” lyric backed by the horns and strings.
The audience happily sings along on the “Goo goo g’joob” refrain which builds to a frenzy with dueling guitars, and Burtnik strolls out into the audience as Burger and Merjave circle the stage in an extended coda in front of the standing crowd.
Burtnik’s voice is lush and sweet on the touching “Golden Slumbers,” and the horns add depth to “Carry That Weight” as audience members sing along. Bellia channels Ringo Starr on the drums before Burtnick, Burger, and Merjave jam on electric guitars center stage and the musicians decrescendo into “The End.”
After The Weeklings harmonize, “And in the end/The love you take/Is equal to the love you make,” the audience erupts into cheers and bravos as they demand an encore.
Burtnik thanks the crowd, acknowledging, “It’s really good for our souls to play for a live audience!” Then, he plays piano and sings solo on a nostalgic rendition of “Hey Jude” before the rest of the group joins in and everyone vocalizes on the “Na na-na na-na-na-na/Na-na-na-na/Hey Jude” coda.
Burtnik announces, “Thank you, we’ve got just one more,” before warning, “You guys are gonna dance!” Feeling like youngsters again, audience members stand twisting and shouting to the irresistible sounds of “Twist and Shout” emanating from the stage.
Several of the orchestral musicians join in dancing to the music of The Weeklings, too, before everyone comes downstage to bow together, raising arms in a sign of unity before leaving the stage.
As we make our way out of the auditorium, we chat with several music lovers who share their thoughts about tonight’s performance. Exclaims Jay from Thornton, PA, “This show was sensational! The Weeklings do awesome Beatles interpretations, and their original material has an authentic feel to it, too.” Kevin from Red Bank declares, “I loved this show, especially ‘I Am the Walrus!’ The harmonies are really good, and John Merjave is a spot-on lead guitar player. This concert was well worth seeing!”
Michael from Brick reveals, “I follow Glen Burtnik — and I actually have two tickets to his Summer of Love concert which have been hanging on my refrigerator for the past two-and-a-half years — but this concert is just the best! The Weeklings put on one hell of a show.” Ellen from Brick agrees, calling The Weeklings’ Beatles Bash, “Fabulous — the best ever!” and Stuart from South Amboy concurs, stating, “This is the best Beatles concert I’ve seen. The Weeklings were spot on — just perfect.”
Sallie from Hyattsville MD reveals, “I drove all the way here from the Washington, DC area today. I heard about the show on Sirius radio and just had to come see it.” Acknowledging, “I can really appreciate The Beatles’ music more now that I’ve seen it played live,” Sallie explains, “The intricacy of the music and the brilliance of the recreation of what The Beatles did by The Weeklings was just extraordinary.”
Lastly, we follow up with Irene from South Amboy — whom we spoke with at intermission — who sums up the entire Weeklings’ Beatles Beach performance in just a few simple words when she exclaims, “This concert was my happy place!”
To learn more about The Weeklings, please go to weeklings.com. To find out about future events at Toms River’s Grunin Center — including Splish Splash: The Music of Bobby Darin on Dec. 3, and The Eric Mintel Quartet on Dec. 5 — please go to grunincenter.org.
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