Music lovers by the thousands are currently streaming into the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ this June 9, 2022 evening for a highly-anticipated free concert presented by the Garden State Arts Foundation. Featuring classic hits from Tommy James and the Shondells, Little Anthony, and The 1910 Fruitgum Company, tonight’s show is hosted by 77-WABC radio DJ Bruce ‘Cousin Brucie’ Morrow.
Before the event begins, we slip backstage for a pre-show interview with Tommy James. When asked what it’s like to be doing performances again following the pandemic, James replies, “For a year and a half or more there were no concerts, but now we’re back to a full schedule. It’s a lot like being an athlete who’s out of shape. At first, I actually got very winded and my heart was pumping hard. It took a few gigs to get back into it, but I’m feeling fine now,” before exclaiming, “It feels so good to get to mix it up with the fans again!”
James tells us about his Sirius XM radio program, declaring, “The radio show has been so great! It’s broadcast over all of North America, and it’s been a great way to stay in touch with the fans.” He’s also excited to reveal that several of his songs are being considered for use in upcoming television and film projects, disclosing, “There’s a new NBC-TV series, Candy, that plans to use ‘Sweet Cherry Wine,’ and there’s a new movie, National Anthem, that wants to use ‘Nothin' to Hide,” prior to adding, “This would be the first time that particular song has ever been licensed, and it’s for a movie which is a Western.”
James also talks about the progress on the movie version of his memoir, Me, the Mob, and the Music — a book which explains his precarious association with Morris Levy, the president of Roulette Records and a known mobster — acknowledging, “Hollywood shut down during the pandemic for two years, but casting for the film will be the next step. First, we’ll be focusing on the Morris Levy character, and then we’ll be casting the Tommy James character, followed by other roles,” before confessing, “I have various ideas who should play these characters, but I’m going to keep them to myself for now.”
We also learn that James recently video-recorded an acoustic version of his song, “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” which has been sent to the Ukrainian Ambassador to share with the people of Ukraine. Because “music is the best communication,” James believes the song will “give people hope” with lyrics like, “So don’t you give up now/So easy to find/Just look to your soul/And open your mind/Crystal blue persuasion.”
Lastly, James tells us he has a message he’d like us to share with his many fans, saying, “I am very flattered and honored and so blessed to have such wonderful fans. They’ve let me go in so many directions over the years, and they’ve stuck with me, coming to my shows time after time,” before concluding, “I thank the Lord for them and I cherish them; they are so loyal and good!”
Following the interview, we make our way out to the open-air PNC Bank Arts amphitheater where Garden State Arts Center Foundation VP Ron Gravino takes to the podium to thank the sponsors of tonight’s program — PNC Bank, Live Nation Entertainment, and 77-WABC Music Radio. He also thanks the production staff at the PNC Bank Arts Center, the volunteers of the Garden State Arts Foundation, and GSAF executive director Cookie Santiago.
Gravino welcomes tonight’s emcee, Cousin Brucie, who takes the stage as audience members stand, cheer, and dance to his radio show theme song.
“Hello my friends!” exclaims Morrow. After informing the crowd, “I am trying to bring everyone together during this difficult time. My radio show is four hours where people can get away from what’s going on in the world,” Morrow introduces the audience to a surprise performer — fellow 77-WABC DJ and entertainer Vinnie Medugno.
“Are you ready to go back in time tonight?” inquires Medugno. He opens tonight’s show singing Freddy Cannon’s “Palisades Park,” the sound of his rich tenor filling the amphitheater as he dances his way across the stage. Segueing into Dion’s “Runaround Sue,” Medugno changes the song’s “She took my love then ran around/With every single guy in town” lyric for the NJ crowd to “With every guy from Middletown.” The audience chuckles while singing and clapping along to the music.
Medugno provides a tribute to Jay and the Americans’ lead singer Jay Black with a powerful interpretation of “Cara Mia” that has the crowd reacting with avid hoots and hollers.
He concludes his performance with a bouncy rendition of Sam Cooke’s “Twisting the Night Away” which has audience members twisting along at their seats.
Cousin Brucie retakes the stage to show the crowd his “happy socks,” which are decorated with yellow guitars, before introducing tonight’s next act, The 1910 Fruitgum Co.
The members of the group — John Roginsky on guitar/keyboards, Glen Lewis on bass, Keith Crane on drums, Mick Mansueto on vocals, Frank Jeckell on guitar, and Eric Lipper on keyboards — take the stage to open their set with a lively version of the 1968 bubblegum hit, “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” which has the audience snapping along to the happy beat.
Moving on to the group’s 1969 single, “Indian Giver,” Keith Crane’s driving drumbeat compels the audience to tap their toes as they sing along with the band.
Following cover versions of The Vogues’ “You’re the One” and Manfred Mann’s “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” the group moves on to another one of their hits, 1968’s “1, 2, 3 Red Light.”
To conclude their set, The 1910 Fruitgum Co. perform the 1967 smash which made them a household name — “Simon Says.” On this number, Cousin Brucie joins the band on stage and has his hands in the air playing the game along with members of the crowd before they respond with animated cheers and applause.
Cousin Brucie introduces tonight’s next artist, Little Anthony, calling him “a great dramatist and great star” who “has the lock and key to our hearts and our souls.”
Following an overture of hits played by his talented backing orchestra, Little Anthony opens his set with a poignant and soulful version of Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself.”
After he sings, “All by myself/Don’t wanna be/All by myself/Anymore,” four backup singers — Deanna Caroll, Susan Marten, Sarah Tracey, and Johnny Britt — join Anthony onstage for the song’s dramatic conclusion.
The crowd cheers and Anthony and the singers give a potent performance of Marvin Gaye’s Motown classic, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” where they soulfully rock the estimated crowd of over 7000 music lovers.
Anthony greets the audience before taking them back in time with his 1959 hit,“Tears on My Pillow.” He follows up with a performance of his dramatic 1964 ballad, “I’m on the Outside (Looking In).” The arrangement — which features smooth backup vocals, a dramatic orchestration, and Anthony singing with style and flair — ends with great audience applause.
After talking about how he’s getting on in years — joking, “My hair is white, but I don’t sing with my hair!” — Anthony and company perform a spirited version of Little Richard’s “Lucille.”
Upbeat, rocking, and rollicking, the number features several instrumental solos before the audience echo-sings along with the singers, having fun on this classic ‘50s tune.
Anthony and the orchestra follow up with a song which he says, “was our ticket into the 2009 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” On his 1964 smash, “Goin’ Out of My Head,” Anthony sings with ease as the orchestra swells, bringing enthusiastic cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd.
After the audience settles down, Cousin Brucie asks Anthony to talk about his latest album, Anthology, telling him, “We adore you, we love you, and we thank you for the decades of music.”
Following a short intermission, Cousin Brucie invites his colleague, fellow 77-WABC talk show host and Guardian Angels’ founder Curtis Sliwa, on stage to chat. The men talk about their admiration and respect for one another with Brucie acknowledging, “We both want the same things — peace, harmony, safety, and goodness.”
Brucie introduces tonight’s headliner, Tommy James, who takes the stage along with his band, The Shondells, featuring Jonathn Ashe on bass, John Golden on guitar, Glenn Wyka on drums, Mike DiMeo on synthesizer, and John Korba on organ.
The crowd claps to the driving beat as James counts off the rockin’ intro to his 1971 solo hit, “Draggin’ the Line.”
His voice sounding as fresh and clear as ever, James sings, “Makin’ a livin’ the old, hard way/Takin’ and givin’ by day by day/I dig snow and rain and the bright sunshine/Draggin’ the line,” as lights flash, vocal harmonies ring out, and the band’s wall of sound resonates throughout the amphitheater.
“Jersey! Everybody alright?” inquires James, before exclaiming, “Thanks for coming out! This is a great place to see a concert. Let’s put your energy together with ours and let’s make this happen!”
Blue lights flash to the beat as a tremelo electric guitar plays and James croons the lyrics to his 1968 hit, “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”
Audience members happily sing along before clapping and cheering for this fan favorite.
Toes tap to the rhythm of the group’s next number, “Say I Am,” before James picks up an acoustic guitar and tells the audience that his memoir, Me, the Mob, and the Music, is slated to become a motion picture. He describes the final musical number in the film as a slowed-down version of his classic tune, “I Think We’re Alone,” which he and the band play in a mainly “unplugged” arrangement.
Following cheers, Tommy and the band move on to a powerful and driving rendition of “Ball of Fire” — a song which features stunning live vocal harmonies — before continuing with the 1970 hit James co-wrote and produced for the group, Alive N Kickin’. Filled with mighty harmonies and power chords, lights flash as he and the band put a fresh spin on the million-seller, “Tighter, Tighter.”
The crowd roars as Tommy and the band ramp things up even further with a performance of James’ 1968 #1 smash, the psychedelic “Crimson and Clover.” Tommy sings with feeling, “Ah, now I don’t hardly know her/But I think I could love her/Crimson and clover,” on this classic rock ballad.
The crowd whistles and cheers and James and the Shondells respond with a song that really gets the audience moving — 1966’s “Hanky Panky” — the crowd clapping and cheering heartily at the end.
Tommy and the boys follow up with a second version of “I Think We’re Alone Now” — this time, an up-tempo rendition, à la the one heard on the original 1967 recording. The musicians rock the amphitheater as lights flash and audience members dance and cheer to the music.
Following 1968’s catchy “Do Something To Me,” the James’ gang launches into an electric version of one of the greatest party songs in the history of pop music, Tommy’s 1968 smash, “Mony Mony.”
Music lovers dance on the sidelines while the band vamps and Tommy ventures offstage and out into the audience. After shaking hands with fans in the crowd, he makes his way back onto the stage, his talented musicians finishing the song with flair as the audience stands and cheers.
Cousin Brucie asks the fans, “Do you need some more Tommy?” before acknowledging, “I need some more Tommy!”
The crowd agrees, and James and Co. perform an encore of Tommy’s 1969 hit, “Sweet Cherry Wine.” They follow up with a rollicking rendition of 1967’s “Mirage” before concluding tonight’s festivities with a rockin’ reprise of “Mony Mony.” At the conclusion, James exclaims, “We love you! Thank you, New Jersey!” to avid cheers and applause.
As we exit the PNC amphitheater, we chat with several music lovers who share their opinions of tonight’s musical event with us. Whereas Cindy from Point Pleasant Beach remarks,“Vinnie Medugno was amazing on ‘Cara Mia!’” her friend, Val from Brick, comments, “I enjoyed Little Anthony. ‘Goin’ Out of My Head’ was one of my favorites.” Joanne from Montvale agrees, declaring, “Little Anthony is just phenomenal for his age — the energy that man has is unbelievable!” before noting, “All the shows the Garden State Arts Foundation puts on here are so good.”
Jeff from Toms River contends, “Little Anthony had such an impressive band and backup singers. I first saw him 20 years ago and I just had to come see him again — and it was a nice surprise seeing Curtis Sliwa here, too.” Russ from Montvale asserts, “Little Anthony still has a great voice, and the 1910 Fruitgum Company’s music is so wholesome.” Sue from Hackensack concurs, adding, “It was fun doing ‘Simon Says’ with Cousin Brucie onstage. It made me feel like a kid again.”
Debbie from Toms River declares, “Vinnie Medugno was outstanding! He has an excellent voice,” prior to adding, “I saw Little Anthony 20 years ago. His music brings back such great memories. For example, I remember my mom playing his albums all the time when we were at the pool.”
Jay from Brooklyn reveals, “I loved Little Anthony — he still sounds unbelievable,” while his friend, Angelo from Brooklyn, exclaims, “I loved everybody tonight! The acoustics were amazing — the sounds hit you right in your heart!”
Leon from Queens asserts, “Tommy James has still got it!” and Frank from Woodbridge agrees, explaining, “I liked Tommy’s energy! He made me wish it was 1970 again — his music really brought back a lot of memories.” Likewise, John from Flushing notes, “I’ve heard Tommy perform many times over the past few years and, to me, he’s never sounded better — his voice always seems to get ‘Tighter, Tighter!’”
Lastly, we chat with a group of four young people from Staten Island, NY. Remarks Emily, “Vinnie Medugno was great, and with Tommy James, I felt like I was at a real rock concert — I loved his energy and the lighting,” before noting, “Little Anthony was really good, too, and it was so cool that so many people who are on the radio were here tonight.” Michelle calls tonight’s concert, “A great show!” acknowledging, “I’m a big oldies fan, so I liked all the acts.” Her friend Matthew agrees, adding, “I grew up with this kind of music,” while Jahdiel concludes by exclaiming, “The entire show was awesome from start to finish!”
To learn about Vinnie Medugo, please go to vincentmedugno.com. To find out about The 1910 Fruitgum Co., please click on 1910fruitgumcompany.com. For further information on Little Anthony, please go to littleanthonyandtheimperials.org. For more on Tommy James, go to tommyjames.com. For up-to-date info on Cousin Brucie, check out Cousin Brucie’s Friendship Page at facebook.com/YourCousinBrucie. Lastly, to learn more about future Garden Stage Arts Foundation events, please go to gsafoundation.org.
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