A crowd of over 5,000 music lovers files into the PNC Bank Arts Center this Tuesday, May 9, 2023 afternoon for a free Garden State Arts Foundation concert featuring Bobby Wilson and his tribute to Motown and his father, Jackie Wilson. Also on today’s bill is Tommy C with his tribute to Bobby Rydell along with The Chiclettes’ tribute to female artists of the ’60s, all accompanied by The Coda Band.
Before the show starts, we chat backstage with up-and-coming tribute artist Tommy Coniglio, aka Tommy C. A Jersey boy, Tommy reveals, “I was born in Hoboken, the home of Sinatra, but when I was a kid, my family moved to Freehold, the home of Springsteen.”
As a tribute artist, Tommy’s repertoire typically includes everything from the great American standards of the 1950s up through the ’70s disco era.
Explaining how, as a 26-year-old, he’s come to love such classic material, Tommy recounts, “My mother’s father was big on ’50s doo wop, rock ‘n roll, and pop music, and my father’s side comes out of Brooklyn, which is where I learned about the standards performed by artists like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.”
For this afternoon’s show, Tommy is excited to perform his musical tribute to Bobby Rydell. Acknowledging, “I’m a big Bobby Rydell fan,” Tommy recalls, “I was first introduced to him when I saw the movie, Bye Bye Birdie, and when I was a kid, I appeared in school and community theater productions of the show. Also, when I was about four or five, my grandparents moved to Wildwood. We’d spend our summers there hearing Bobby’s songs like ‘Wildwood Days’ and I just put two and two together.”
Tommy is proud of the fact that, before he passed away in 2022, Rydell did his final two recordings with Tommy — updated versions of “Sway” and “Wild One.” Recalls Tommy, “It was unbelievable getting to meet him and work with him. He was so down to earth,” before acknowledging how special it is to be performing here at the PNC Bank Arts Center stating, “I’ve been coming here since I was a kid — I saw my very first concert here, and now to be on the other side of the stage is really cool!”
Outside in the PNC Bank Arts Center amphitheater, Garden State Arts Foundation VP Ron Gravino welcomes the afternoon crowd, noting, “There are a lot of people here today — this is great!” After thanking Live Nation Entertainment and everyone who helped put on today’s show — including executive director Cookie Santiago, the PNC Bank Arts Center staff, and Bob O’Brien and the GSA Foundation volunteers — Gravino introduces The Chiclettes and The Coda Band.
The Chiclettes — comprised of Deanna Caroll, Sarah Tracey, and Susan Marten — start things off with a bang with an upbeat medley consisting of The Pointer Sisters’ “Jump (For My Love)” and Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love.”
Accompanied by The Coda Band’s Mary Beth Ryan-Mastropaolo on saxophone, Dennis DiBrizzi on keyboards, Joe DeAngelis on guitar, Paul Page on bass, and Pete Mastropaulo on drums, the trio claps their hands over their heads as they trade vocals and sing in three-part harmony.
“Hello, PNC!” exclaims Sarah, before introducing Deanna and Susan, revealing that despite hailing from Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island, “We’re honorary Jersey girls because we often play in Jersey.”
The Chiclettes impress with a medley of Dionne Warwick/Burt Bacharach hits including “Walk On By” where Sarah sings lead, along with “I Say A Little Prayer” which spotlights Deanna on lead vocal.
The captivating medley concludes with the group’s interpretation of Dionne Warwick and The Spinners’ “Then Came You” featuring Susan as lead vocalist.
The crowd cheers, and Deanna asks, “Does anyone remember The Fifth Dimension?” before inviting the audience to sing along with her on “One Less Bell to Answer.” Then, the trio gets the crowd clapping along as they sing together in harmony on Doris Troy’s “Just One Look.”
Deanna and Sarah dance around Susan as she takes a turn in the spotlight singing Dusty Springfield’s “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” before Sarah introduces The Chiclettes’ final number — their take on the Ike and Tina Turner arrangement of “Proud Mary.” Slowly starting off in three-part harmony, the trio gets the crowd going as the tempo accelerates. The number concludes with music lovers clapping and cheering on their feet.
The Chiclettes introduce Tommy C, who takes the stage in his sparkling navy suit and launches into his tribute to Bobby Rydell with “Wild One.”
Backed by The Chiclettes and The Coda Band, Tommy energetically croons, “Oh, wild one/I’m-a gonna tame you down,” as concertgoers tap their toes in time to the music.
Audience members cheer, and Tommy says, “PNC Arts Center, how are you doing today? I’m Tommy C, ‘The Voice of Tribute.’” Explaining how his next Bobby Rydell song was the inspiration for The Beatles’ “She Loves You,” Tommy performs “We Got Love,” where he goes out into the audience singing the song’s “Yeah, yeah, yeah” lyric to all of the happy fans as The Coda Band and The Chiclettes rock out.
Back on stage again, Tommy explains that he is the spokesperson for The Bobby Rydell Foundation, an organization with goals of erecting a statue of Bobby Rydell in Wildwood, NJ, donating money to charity, and creating scholarships for Philadelphia school students who intend to pursue music education and performing arts careers.
Following a smooth rendition of “Forget Him,” Tommy exclaims, “We’re gonna take you down to the shore!” as he, The Chiclettes, and The Coda Band musicians perform “Wildwood Days.”
Audience members joyfully sing along on the tune’s, “Whoa whoa whoa whoa those Wildwood days/Wild, wild Wildwood days,” before erupting into cheers and applause at the conclusion.
Telling the audience about his experience working with Bobby Rydell on the legendary singer’s final two recordings, Tommy’s rich baritone calls out as The Coda Band crescendos and diminuendoes on one of those recordings — a Latin-influenced arrangement of “Sway.”
Lastly, after recognizing the musical contributions of The Chiclettes and The Coda Band, Tommy gives a dynamic performance of “Volare,” where music lovers sing along on the infectious “Volare/Oh oh/Contare/oh oh oh oh” refrain before rising to their feet for a standing ovation.
Audience members clap as “Mr. Entertainment” — Bobby Wilson — is introduced and takes the stage singing Otis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose.” Smiling as he sings with gusto, the crowd responds with enthusiastic cheers and applause.
Asking, “Are you ready?” Wilson launches into his rendition of Wilson Pickett’s “634–5789,” connecting with the crowd as he moves about the stage deftly accompanied by The Chiclettes and The Coda Band.
Wilson thanks the audience and acknowledges his backup singers and musicians before announcing, “Sing along if you want,” and joking, “We like to do songs where you can understand the words!”
Going out into the audience to shake hands and greet his fans, Wilson performs Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” Little Anthony and the Imperials’ “Tears on My Pillow,” and Shep and the Limelites’ “Daddy’s Home,” clearly charming music lovers with his easy personable style.
When Wilson returns to the stage, audience members stand and twist to Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ the Night Away.”
The crowd hoots and hollers, and Wilson responds, “Don’t you miss Sam Cooke? They don’t make music like that no more!” before doing his best impression of Little Richard, joking, “I’m the prettiest man on stage!” Launching into Little Richard’s “Lucille,” Wilson has the audience eating out of his hand as they sing, clap, cheer, and applaud for this talented entertainer.
Wilson presents a series of hits by his father, the great Jackie Wilson, starting with “That’s Why I Love You So” where the audience joins Bobby in singing the song’s catchy “That’s why I love you so” chorus. After following up with his father’s ‘50s-style hit “Reet Petite,” Bobby sings his heart out on “To Be Loved” in a performance which elicits a standing ovation.
Declaring, “My father was the best — there was only one Jackie Wilson,” Bobby presents a dynamic performance of “Lonely Teardrops,” dancing and hopping backwards as he sings.
Music lovers continue to clap along and dance at their seats on Jackie Wilson’s “Baby Work Out.”
Bobby talks about meeting Smokey Robinson before performing a tribute to him in the form of an emotional rendition of “Tracks of My Tears.” Then, after telling the audience to “Get up and dance!” he performs a spirited version of The Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around” where audience members stand, clap, and sing along on the catchy, “Whenever you call me/I’ll be there” refrain.
Following a soulful rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar,” Wilson lifts the audience even higher with a version of his father’s biggest hit, “(Your Love Keeps Liftin’ Me) Higher and Higher.” Reminding listeners to “Love your neighbor and love yourself,” he explains, “When we love one another, we will be united,” before the afternoon concludes with a standing ovation for Bobby Wilson, The Chiclettes and The Coda Band.
As concertgoers make their way out of the PNC Bank amphitheater, we chat with several in the crowd who share their thoughts on today’s’ performance by Bobby Wilson, Tommy C, The Chiclettes, and The Coda Band.
Says Helene from East Brunswick, “ I enjoyed it very much. I liked the variety!” Kathy from Cranford agrees, adding, “I loved all the performers. Tommy C did a good job — I really miss Bobby Rydell — and I love how Bobby Wilson was able to captivate the audience. There’s a magnetism there — he’s really great!”
Says Richie Santa from Sayreville, an Elvis tribute artist who’s in the audience today, “This show was just fantastic, as I expected. This is an exciting time at PNC — the Garden State Arts Foundation shows are always top notch! Tommy C has such a passion for this music and did a great job with Bobby Rydell’s songs, and Bobby Wilson’s charisma and energy really drew in the audience and made this show a home run.”
Exclaims Maria from Aberdeen, “Tommy C was fantastic!” and her husband, Bob, adds, “He’s a real pro. He has a lot of energy!” Carol from Edison asserts, “These Garden State Arts Foundation concerts are always great, and today’s show was no exception,” adding, “Bobby Wilson was so energetic!” Lucky from Edison agrees, adding, “Bobby Wilson is just like his father, Jackie Wilson — a great performer.”
Keneshia from Patterson contends, “Bobby Wilson’s shows are always unforgettable,” and Vanessa from Union concurs, acknowledging, “We had four generations of family members here today. I especially enjoyed bringing my mom to this show — we all love Bobby Wilson!” Lastly, Tracy from Patterson asserts, “Today’s show was awesome — just amazing. Bobby Wilson has truly earned the name, ‘Mr. Entertainment.’ He’s phenomenal — just electrifying!”
For information on Bobby Wilson, please go to facebook.com/BobbyWilson. To learn more about Tommy C, please click on thevoiceoftribute.com. For info on The Chiclettes, please go to chiclettes.com. For more info on The Coda Band, see facebook.com/CodaProductions. For information on future Garden State Arts Foundation concerts at the PNC Bank Arts Center — including Cousin Brucie presents Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone, Tommy Roe, and the Soundtrack of Our Lives with Deborah Rennard and Al Sapienza on June 8 — please go to gsafoundation.org.
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