Even though it’s a sweltering, muggy Thursday, August 26, 2021 evening, music lovers of all ages brave the heat at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ to attend Cousin Brucie’s Palisades Park Reunion Concert, a free event presented by the Garden State Arts Foundation. Featuring classic music from artists who entertained audiences at NJ’s Palisades Amusement Park back in the 1960s, tonight’s show — hosted by 77-WABC radio DJ Bruce “Cousin Brucie” Morrow — is slated to star such beloved performers as Tony Orlando, Bobby Rydell, and The Capris.
While music lovers make their way down into the open air amphitheater, we take a moment to chat with singer Tommy Petillo of The Duprees whom we happen to meet in the audience. Says Petillo, a co-creator of the East Coast Music Hall of Fame, “To see these guys is always a thrill; without them there wouldn’t be any rock ‘n roll!”
Explaining, “The Capris are my friends, so it’s nice to see their music is still going strong, especially in the age of COVID,” Petillo further notes, “and Bobby Rydell is a favorite who is an East Coast Hall of Fame Lifetime Recipient. He’s known all around the world, yet he’s still so humble.”
Continuing, “Tony Orlando is such a great guy! I got to know him from the last East Coast Music Hall of Fame gala; he’s warm, with a great personality, and he makes you feel good,” Petillo also adds, “and I can’t forget about Cousin Brucie. I listened to Brucie every night on the radio. He’s like the uncle you never met in person, and he’s still on the radio doing it today.”
When asked about what his own group, The Duprees — famous for their 1962 hit “You Belong To Me” — has been up to lately, Petillo acknowledges, “We haven’t sung together for a year and half, but on September 17, we’ll be doing a concert in Nutley, NJ,” adding, “There’s nothing like live music. The Duprees have been performing for 50 years, and we’re still going strong!”
Ron Gravino, VP of the Garden State Arts Foundation, welcomes the crowd and thanks the sponsors of tonight’s event including LiveNation Entertainment, PNC Bank, and others. He introduces this evening’s opening act, Vinnie Medugno, an entertainer from Staten Island, NY, who stars in his own GSAF concert with The CODA band and The Chiclettes here at the PNC Bank Arts Center on Sept. 8.
Taking the stage opening with Freddy Cannon’s “Palisades Park,” Medugno’s rich tenor fills the amphitheater as he dances his way across the stage.
Following avid applause, Medugno exclaims, “You don’t know how good it feels to be here with you after 18 months!” before encouraging the audience to “Make some noise!” and the receptive crowd goes wild cheering and applauding.
Following his renditions of such classic tunes as Johnny Tillotson’s “Poetry in Motion” and The Rays’ “Silhouettes,” Medugno concludes his set with a powerful interpretation of Jay and the Americans’ “Cara Mia,” the crowd responding with enthusiastic hoots and hollers.
After acknowledging, “This is the first time the Palisades Park Reunion show is here at the PNC Bank Arts Center,” Gravino introduces tonight’s master of ceremonies, Cousin Brucie. As four women hold up signs that read “We,” “Love,” “You,” and “Cousin Brucie!” Brucie takes the stage wearing a leopard suit complete with matching bowtie and face mask saying, “Welcome to what I’ve been waiting for for a couple of years.”
“We have to open things up with a Palisades commercial!” exclaims Brucie, who proceeds to teach the audience the words to the Jersey amusement park’s memorable 1960’s-era jingle, “Come on Over.” As the jingle plays, Brucie has the audience sing along on the “Palisades has the rides/Palisades has the fun/Come on over…” lyrics with him before taking the time to thank another sponsor of tonight’s event, New York City’s MusicRadio 77-WABC, which is currently celebrating 100 years in operation.
Cousin Brucie introduces The Capris and, immediately, several ladies in the audience start to scream. The group takes the stage and gets the crowd clapping along to its rendition of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” featuring multi-part harmonies, a wailing sax, and keyboard runs up and down the piano to flashing colored lights.
Audience members join in singing the group’s rendition of Dion’s “Runaround Sue.” Then, listeners are mesmerized by lead tenor Michael D’Amore’s falsetto vocal on Eddie Holman’s “Hey There Lonely Girl. Many begin to sway in their seats with their heads bopping when they hear The Searchers’ “Love Potion #9.”
After explaining that the group “hasn’t been together in 19 months” and thanking the crowd for “supporting live music,” The Capris continue their set with their interpretations of songs including Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers’ “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” Conway Twitty’s “But It’s Only Make Believe,” and a rollicking rendition of The Del-Vikings’ “Come Go With Me” where the crowd happily joins them in singing on the famous “Dom-dom-dom-dom dom, dom-be-doo-be” intro.
D’Amore introduces fellow Capri Frank Reina, revealing that “Frank has been with The Capris for 63 years — and is 81 years young” to which Reina replies, “I may be a senior citizen, but I’m only 25 when I’m up here on stage!” The group continues with “Morse Code of Love,” a ‘60s-era Capris’ number which became a 1980s hit for The Manhattan Transfer, before wrapping up with their 1961 hit, “There’s a Moon Out Tonight.” Audience members stand and applaud for this classic group as the members happily wave and bow.
“Did you enjoy that sound?” asks Brucie, before regrettably informing the crowd that tonight’s next scheduled artist — Bobby Rydell — is ill and will not be able to perform tonight. Brucie takes a moment to contact Rydell by phone to wish him well. He asks Bobby to address the audience, and the crowd calls out get well wishes to Rydell who promises to attend Cousin Brucie’s next Palisades Park Reunion event.
Brucie asks Vinnie Medugno to step in for Bobby and do a few numbers for him, at which point Medugno performs an encore presentation of “Cara Mia.”
Medugno concludes Act I of tonight’s show by paying tribute to Rydell — an artist he calls one of his “vocal inspirations” — by singing two of Rydell’s biggest hits, “Wild One” and “Volare.”
During intermission, we take a moment to chat with several members of the audience who share their opinions of the show thus far. Comments Richard from Punta Gorda, FL, “I’d never heard Vinnie Medugno before, but he has a great voice and he knocked it out of the park!” adding, “Not too many people can do that — the way he filled in at the last minute.”
Continuing, “The Capris were great!” Richard recalls, “63 years ago, I was 12 years old, and I remember dancing in elementary school to a lot of those songs,” joking, “but I had to find someone to dance with!” to which his wife, Jane, points out, “I’m a little younger than Richard but, of course, I love this music because he does.”
Linda from Avenel contends, “The Capris were great — I remember all the songs they did,” and Tom from Carteret concurs, explaining, “I love this music! We go to hear it live every chance we get,” before joking, “but does anyone know where I can find a leopard suit like Cousin Brucie’s for the next cruise we go on?”
We also chat with Louisa from Staten Island who exclaims, “It was wonderful getting to see Cousin Brucie. I’ve listened to him since I was a little kid, and I love him!” adding, “Even though the sun really was out today, I loved it when The Capris sang ‘There’s a Moon Out Tonight.’”
Acknowledging, “I was disappointed that Bobby Rydell was sick,” Louisa confesses, “but Vinnie Medugno is our hometown guy.” Revealing, “I’m a friend of his mom’s in Staten Island and I’ve been watching him since he was a little boy. He was never embarrassed to be on stage,” Louisa recalls, “When he was little, he used a fake microphone and sang into it every day, and now look at him — he’s spectacular!”
As Act II commences, Cousin Brucie introduces Tony Orlando, who takes the stage to enormous applause.
Orlando publicly thanks Brucie for being a devoted friend and for helping him throughout his career. Tony invites Brucie to sing a song with him, and the two of them croon “You don’t remember me/But I remember you…” to each another on Little Anthony and the Imperials’ “Tears on my Pillow.”
Following hearty applause, Tony Orlando and his band launch into a dynamic rendition of Neil Diamond’s “America.” Red, white, and blue lights pulse to the rhythm as Orlando’s voice rings out strong and clear and the crowd claps along.
During an instrumental interlude, Orlando invites all of the veterans in the house to stand so they can be recognized for their service, and even includes a moment of silence where the lights go out to remember those who served but never came back before singing, “They put their life on the line,” and bringing the performance to a powerful conclusion.
The crowd cheers and Orlando recalls, “The first time I sang this song was in 1973 to welcome home the POWs.” Here, he invites the audience to clap and sing along on his #1 smash, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” as he sings and dances around the stage with a yellow ribbon draped around his neck.
“You guys have blessed me with 60 years in show business!” exclaims Orlando as he launches into his rendition of Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “Up on the Roof.” After introducing one of his backup musicians, keyboardist Toni Wine, Orlando performs his 1970 Top 10 hit written by Wine entitled “Candida,” the happy-go-lucky song bringing people back to a simpler time.
Audience members love Orlando’s rendition of his 1971 #1 smash, “Knock Three Times,” and happily join in on the well-known “Knock three times/On the ceiling if you want me” lyric.
On a rhythmic version of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” Orlando moves downstage to play a drum solo on a wooden stool. Not to be outdone, his drummer, Tim Pope, follows him downstage to play on the stool while Tony holds it.
The audience goes wild as Pope plays on the floor with lightning speed before the pair trades vocal riffs, scatting high and low, and delighting the crowd with a unique performance.
Orlando takes a moment to introduce another member of his band, his younger brother Dave, on keyboards, and the siblings perform a touching rendition of the Billy Joel/Ray Charles recording, “My Baby Grand.”
After confessing, “This is our first concert in a year and a half,” Orlando and Co. conclude their set tonight with a medley of Beatles’ songs including “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Something,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “Let It Be,” and a grand finale of “Hey Jude,” where hands sway back and forth on the infamous “Na, na na, na-na-na-na” refrain.
The crowd stands as Orlando exclaims, “Good night and God bless!” and Cousin Brucie thanks the audience before wishing everyone a safe trip home.
As audience members make their way out of the amphitheater, we chat with several music lovers including Carolyn from Franklin Lakes who exclaims, “This show was great, and it was especially great seeing Cousin Brucie!” adding, “I love listening to his radio show. He has cool guests, and when I listen, it brings me back to my youth.” Barbara from Franklin Lakes agrees, noting, “Tonight’s show was a lot of fun! Tony Orlando is a big star, and I especially enjoyed it when he sang ‘Knock Three Times.’”
We also chat with members of a Tony Orlando fan club called The Tony Troopers. Recalls Margie, a Trooper from Howard Beach, NY, “The first time I saw Tony Orlando was in 2016. I get emotional when I see him perform his music — and now we follow him around.” Sue, a Trooper from Old Bridge, proclaims, “We’re a step above his regular fans!” before Barbara from Queens adds, “And we just love that he lets his other band members shine.”
Carolyn from Ozone Park, Queens reveals, “We’re going to be at the East Coast Hall of Fame awards gala at Harrah’s in Atlantic City in June. We already have our tickets, and we’re even going to attend a cooking show with Tony Orlando!” Adds Harry from Hammonton, “We have tickets to the East Coast Hall of Fame gala, too. Tony’s a kind and compassionate man. It’s no wonder he’s up for a Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement award in June.”
Lastly, we chat with Harry’s wife, Maria, who sports a Tony Orlando tattoo on her arm. Explains Maria, “Tony signed a poem I wrote, and then I had his signature tattooed on my arm,” before declaring, “He’s the best! 100%! He loves and appreciates his fans, and he was amazing as always tonight,” before turning away to reveal a message printed on the back of her T-shirt which sums up this evening’s Palisades Park Reunion Concert in five short words:
“Some Things are Just Timeless.”
For information on future Garden State Arts Foundation concerts at the PNC Bank Arts Center, please go to gsafoundation.org. To learn more about Cousin Brucie, go to facebook.com/YourCousinBrucie. For further info on Vinnie Medugno, please click on vincentmedugno.com. To find out more about The Capris go to thecapris.net. To learn more about Tony Orlando, please click on tonyorlando.com. For more on the East Coast Music Hall of Fame awards, go to eastcoastmusichalloffame.org. For further information on The Duprees Sept. 17, 2021 concert in Nutley, NJ, please click on facebook.com/nutleyparksrec.
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