As we drive into the parking lot of Holmdel, NJ’s PNC Bank Arts Center this warm and sunny Tuesday Sept. 26, 2017 afternoon, we notice lots of NJ music lovers lined up at the gates waiting to enter today’s free concert sponsored by The Garden State Arts Foundation featuring The Cameos.
Once inside the auditorium, we take our seats. Here we meet a woman, Marianne, who tells us she is the manager of The Cameos. She takes us over to introduce us to her “thin and handsome husband,” Cameos’ bandleader and drummer, Paul Stuart.
Stuart provides us with a bit of background on The Cameos, a Jersey-based cover band that specializes in music from the ’50s, ’60s, and ‘70s.
According to Stuart, with a schedule of over 100 shows per year, the group not only performs in venues here in the Garden State, but also plays shows throughout the Northeast in places like Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts.
Stuart explains that, as a musician, he spent six years working with Roger DelRusso, the founder of The Cameos, who started the band back in 1957.
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“For a time, the group broke up,” reveals Stuart, “but then Roger and I created a new Cameo group.”
Before he passed away, DelRusso turned the leadership of The Cameos over to Stuart which, he says — in its current format — has been together now for 11 years.
“Typically, we have eight members in the band,” says Stuart, “but because this show is special, today we have ten,” adding, “Nine out of the ten musicians on stage today are from Jersey. Just one — guitarist Jamie Bannon — is from The Bronx.”
“Our niche is doing songs that everyone can relate to,” Stuart acknowledges, “covering artists like Johnny Maestro, The Duprees, Jay and the Americans, The Four Seasons, and more. And we don’t use pre-recorded musical tracks,” noting, “everything we play and sing is performed live — including all of the harmonies.”
Concludes Stuart, “We are very grateful to have a following which we’ve developed over the years” cautioning, “but we don’t usually call them a following,” explaining, “Instead, we call them our friends and family.”
Garden State Arts Foundation VP Ron Gravino makes his way onto the stage to welcome the crowd and thank the corporate sponsors of today’s concert — LiveNation Entertainment, PNC Bank, Sirius XM Radio, and others — in addition to thanking the audience for their generous contributions to the GSAF.
Given this is the final GSAF performance of the season, Gravino asks the crowd to let him know if anyone has any suggestions for artists who could perform next season joking, “Don’t suggest Paul Anka — we can’t afford him — but maybe Tom Jones?”
Gravino introduces The Cameos, who take the stage and open the show with their four male lead vocalists — Chris Cerullo, Dan Ugarte, Arno Petronzio, and John Basilone — performing an a cappella rendition of The Dubs’ “Chapel of Dreams.”
Following generous applause, The Cameos backup band kicks in and accompanies the lead singers on a patriotic rendition of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”
The audience is so taken with the group’s majestic performance, they rise to their feet just as an enormous American flag is unveiled behind the musicians.
“Today is a special day!” exclaims Stuart from behind his drums. Pointing to the huge flag, he says, “This is why we are proud to be Americans!”
Going on to also note, “This is our sixth time returning to the PNC Bank Arts Center,” Stuart asks the eager crowd, “Are you ready for a good time?”
When the audience replies in the affirmative, The Cameos launch into a medley of songs by the late, great Johnny Maestro which includes numbers like The Crests’ “Sixteen Candles” and The Brooklyn Bridge’s “Blessed is the Rain,” “Welcome Me Love,” and “The Worst That Could Happen.”
The group’s big sound fills the PNC Bank Arts Center and prompts the audience to respond with hoots and hollers.
Following a dynamic rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds,” The Cameos move on to a song which Stuart jokes, “comes from so far way back, I don’t even remember it!” Adding that the tune “is from 1958, and was performed by five guys from Brooklyn,” The Cameos delight this crowd of “oldies” enthusiasts with their harmonious vocal blend on The Fascinators’ “Chapel Bells.” They follow that up with a spirited rendition of The Vogues’ “Turn Around Look at Me.”
Saxophonist Cathy Carbone takes center stage to gracefully handle the lead vocal chores on The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine.”
Carbone is followed by today’s special guest, Doreen Arminio, who joins the band to perform The Students’ “I’m So Young,” her big voice making a huge impression on this PNC crowd.
During the program’s short intermission, we chat with Mary from Staten Island, NY, who reveals, “I’ve come to the PNC Bank Arts Center to see The Cameos six times already because they do the music I love,” before confessing, “I adore Johnny Maestro, so I was in heaven when The Cameos did their tribute to him!”
Act II opens with The Cameos’ guitarist Jamie Bannon singing lead on Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” the crowd happily clapping and singing “so good, so good, so good” on the song’s ubiquitous chorus.
“You wanna hear a little Four Seasons?” asks Stuart, after which the group performs a Four Seasons’ medley of tunes including “Save it For Me,” “Bye, Bye, Baby (Baby Goodbye),” and “Dawn,” the vocal harmonies ringing out all thorough the PNC auditorium. A high point of this Cameos medley is Paul Stuart’s top-notch drum solo which earns him avid applause.
Singer Dan Ugarte tells the crowd, “In 1956, I remember hearing this next song on my way to junior high school,” before launching into a riveting version of The Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Night,” his effortless high falsetto voice exciting this Jersey crowd.
Moving on to Larry Chance and The Earls’ “A Capella with My Friends,” The Cameos’ smooth vocal harmonies are accented by Cathy Carbone’s wailing sax.
Doreen Arminio is invited back to the stage to perform Etta James’ “At Last.” As she sings, a couple can be seen blissfully slow dancing on the right-hand side of the auditorium.
When the song is through, we ask the couple — Lenny and Brenda from Red Bank — why they chose to dance to this particular number.
Explains Lenny, “It was our wedding song,” revealing that he and Brenda are presently celebrating eleven years of marriage— ironically the same number of years the current incarnation of The Cameos has been together.
Stating, “I’m proud of the members of this band,” and adding, “thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting us for the past 11 years,” Stuart introduces each of the members of The Cameos to the large PNC Bank Arts Center crowd.
Afterwards, the group performs a medley of Jay and the Americans’ hits including “This Magic Moment,” Come a Little Bit Closer,” and a show-stopping rendition of “Cara Mia” featuring Chris Cerullo which earns the group a well-deserved standing ovation!
“We have time for one more,” states vocalist John Basilone who sings the lead vocal on Larry Chance and The Earls’ “I Believe,” and closes the show by announcing, “God bless each and every one of you!”
As audience members make their way out of the amphitheater, we chat with several in the crowd who share their opinions of The Cameos’ performance this afternoon.
Paul from Warren discloses, “I’ve been a New York Giants fan for 50 years and The Cameos’ performance of ‘God Bless the USA’ reminded me of the same feeling I always felt hearing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ played live at the games,” before exclaiming, “That should have been shown on television so people can see what our country — America — is all about!”
Michael from Toms River, a long-time fan of The Cameos — in addition to being a vocalist who used to sing with Cameo’s member Danny Ugarte in a group called The Plazas — comments, “This show was fantastic — one of the best Cameos’ shows I’ve seen,” calling the group’s performance of “In the Still of the Night” his favorite number.
Jeanne from Hazlet informs us that she sees many Garden State Arts Foundation shows here at the PNC Bank Arts Center because, as she explains, “I live so close, I could walk here from my home.” Calling The Cameos “a talented group of musicians,” she further notes, “They put on a great show!”
Lastly, we chat with Sy who is here visiting the Garden State from Boynton Beach, FL.
After stating, “This is one of the most beautiful shows I’ve seen in a long time!” Sy smiles before likely summing up the feelings of many here at The Cameos’ performance today upon uttering two simple words:
For more on The Cameos, please go to thecameos.com. For information on future Garden State Arts Foundation Shows at the PNC Bank Arts Center, please click on gsafoundation.org.Photos by Love Imagery
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