Friday, June 16, 2023

Insight: Revisiting a familiar soundtrack in person

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Last December when I was searching for a great Christmas gift for my wife Nancy, I read an article about a concert tour returning in June to a venue close by in New Hampshire. It just so happened that the date for the “Happy Together” concert fell on June 11, which is also our wedding anniversary. Throw in the fact that my wife is a fan of singer Gary Puckett, and it convinced me to purchase tickets for the show.

Singer Gary Puckett performs during the 'Happy Together'
concert at the Hampton Beach Ballroom and Casino in
Hampton Beach, New Hampshire on June 11. In 1968,
Puckett sold more records than The Beatles.
Ticket prices were very reasonable, and I was able to quickly find great seats four rows from the stage in the middle of the Hampton Beach Ballroom and Casino for the concert. Everything was handled digitally, and the concert tickets were sent directly to my iPhone, making it easy to get into the show.

The musicians appearing in the 2023 Happy Together Tour were acts I had grown up listening to back in the 1960s and several of them have been inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. There were The Cowsills, The Vogues, The Classics IV, Gary Puckett, Little Anthony, and the Turtles, all backed up by an exceptional and versatile band led by Godfrey Townsend who played guitar on many classic top hits such as Mitch Ryder’s “Devil with the Blue Dress,” Merrilee Rush’s “Angel of the Morning,” and the Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin.”

Standing outside in a short line waiting to get into the concert hall, I heard two women talking and they obviously were there to see Gary Puckett, saying they wished he would walk down the line to meet his fans. I’ve always been a fan of Puckett, who is known for such hits as “Lady Willpower,” and “This Girl is a Woman Now,” and “Over You,” and “Woman, Woman.”

The first group to appear on stage was The Cowsills, a singing family who were the inspiration for television’s “The Partridge Family” in the early 1970s. There are four surviving Cowsills band members, and three of them, Bob, Paul, and Susan, performed at this concert. They opened with “The Rain, the Park and Other Things” and if you closed your eyes, it was like being transported back through time to 1968. At one point, my wife said she was surprised by how good they sounded. They performed five of their songs in an energetic appearance, including my favorite, “Hair.”

Next on stage were the Classics IV and again, they sounded exactly like their hit records from the 1960s. Saxophonist Paul Weddle truly delivered on classic songs such as “Stormy,” and Traces of Love,” and “Spooky.”

Before intermission, The Vogues took the stage and their harmony and style shined as they opened with their 1965 hit “Five O’ Clock World.” They also performed “You’re the One” and “My Special Angel,” sounding much as I had listened to through the years.

The second half of the concert began with Gary Puckett coming out on stage wearing a double-breasted turquoise jacket very similar to the outfit he wore during his appearance on television’s “Ed Sullivan Show” in 1968. As he sang his hits, the audience roared with approval and shouted out the lyrics as he performed.

Puckett is known for his vocal range and dramatic performances and the crowd there to see him certainly was not disappointed by his showmanship. He reminded fans that they are reason that his career has been successful and how grateful he is people remember his songs more than 50 years after he recorded them.

I didn’t know what to expect from Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer Little Anthony, who seemed a bit older than the other performers. But he can still sing and delight an audience. His renditions of his classic 1950s and 1960s tunes such as “Hurt So Bad,” and “Tears on My Pillow” showcased his golden voice and he received a standing ovation in closing his set with “Goin’ Out of My Head.”

The last band of the evening was The Turtles with original member Mark Volman, also known as “Flo.” Back in 1967, I owned the album “Happy Together” by the Turtles and I’ve always enjoyed their feel-good songs and up-tempo melodies. Because of illness, original Turtles’ lead singer Howard Kaylan hasn’t performed with the band since 2018 and his replacement for the “Happy Together Tour” is Ron Dante, former lead singer for The Cufflinks and The Archies in the 1960s.

Dante was great and besides performing Turtles’ classics “You Baby” and “Elenore” and “She’d Rather Be With Me,” and “It Ain’t Me Babe,” he also sang “Tracy” by The Cufflinks and “Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies.

The show closed out with all the performers from the concert on stage for “Happy Together” and encouraging the audience to stand and join them in singing this Turtles’ Number One hit song from 1967.

Days later, I am pinching myself to see if I’m awake and if our attendance at that concert really happened, or if it was a dream. Those songs and musicians are part of the soundtrack of my life and I’m grateful to have been with Nancy to see them performed in person.

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