Happy Together Tour in New Jersey

Happy Together Tour
Mayo Performing Arts Center
Morristown, NJ

By Anne M. Raso

The Happy Together Tour--put together with the looney leadership The Turtles‎' Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman and the legendary "classic rock" music agency Paradise Artists--has been a Baby Boomer summer ritual for 30 years now. Besides getting six great 60s/70s bands, there are plenty of laughs geared to the AARP to senior set and the banter is as enjoyable as the music.

Naturally, the shows are always headlined by The Turtles aka Flo And Eddie, and the other slots vary from year to year. Mark Lindsay has been on the bill the last three years and seems to not age--or ever gain an ounce! The other four acts this time around were The Grass Roots, The Cowsills, The Buckinghams and The Association.

I love getting to see the Happy Together Tour in Morristown, not only because of the historic Revolution Era buildings and amazing restaurants nearby but because the Mayo Center where the concert is held is a beautifully restored old theater given a bit of a modern glass treatment on the exterior. The acoustics are as good if not better than any 2,500-3,000 seat theater an hour away in NYC. Also, the Happy Together Tour bus parks in the back on a side street and fans can literally mix and mingle with the stars of the show as they go back and forth to the bus to get show supplies or to sneak a nap. I have yet to see a groupie sneak on the bus; guess these guys are either more discreet or have outgrown that phase of their careers.

The Grass Roots open the 201 Happy Together show and the same wonderful house band led by amazing Long Island axemen Godfrey Townsend is in tow playing behind every act. (The rest of the tight house band is Greg Smith on bass, Steve Murphy on drums and Manny Focarazzo on keyboards. While the 'Roots play all their hits including "Wait a Million Years" "Sooner Or Later" and "Temptation Eyes," there are no original members ‎from the hit-making days of 1968 to 1973 in the band at present. That is a bit disappointing but they do a highly competent streamlined set and have great "remember then" themed baby boomer banter in their show. (The Grass Roots presently consist of Mark Dawson, Dusty Hanvey, Joe Dougherty and Larry Nelson.)  

The second band on the HT Tour lineup is The Cowsills. Susan Cowsill likes to point out that she has been the only female performer on the HT roster since the days of Spanky McFarland 25 to 30 years ago. The vocals of the three original Cowsills--Susan, Bob and Paul--have only gotten tighter over the years, they all play instruments these days, and they look great. Time has definitely been on their side, and the adorable film footage of the C Family in their heydey adds a lot of nostalgia to their set. They tell the basic history of the group in between songs and talk candidly about how they originally dreaded having their mom in the group and how they inspired the creation of The Partridge Family back in 1970. They did all their hits, including "Love, American Style"--even though that was a TV theme not released as a single.

Next up were the incredible "Chicago hometown boys" The Buckinghams who really knocked the crowd out with their incredible vocals on such classic AM hits as “Don’t You Care,” "Kind Of A Drag," “Mercy” and "Susan." They are a group that rarely come to the New York-New Jersey tri-state area and you don't realize their diversity of styles until you experience a 45 minute set by them that ranges from doo wop to pop to blues-tinged numbers. This group has plenty of funny comments about how they were mistaken for an English band very often back in the 60s, thanks to their British Invasion-sounding name and Beatlesque hairstyles and suits. The group contains two founding members, Carl Giammarese who handles lead vocal duties and Nick Fortuna who handles guitar and backing vocals.

Next up on the HT lineup is The Association, another classic pop band that seems to never pop up in the New York-New Jersey Tri-state area. There are two original members—Jim Yester, Jules Alexander—and “new guy” Del Ramos, brother of the late Larry Ramos who joined in 1972.‎ The group sported white suits with Colonel Sanders style black bolo ties. Their vocals were tight and it was great to hear what I call "the 1960s wedding classics"--"Never My Love" and "Windy"--not to mentioned the "marijuana tribute" that raised censors eyebrows back in '68, "Along Comes Mary."‎ The Association's vocals were incredibly tight and in a particularly awesome onstage moment, three voices blend together to sound like one exceptional voice.

Mark Lindsay is always a Happy Together Tour favorite and he still has all the same slapstick antics that he had when he led Paul Revere + The Raiders into rock 'n roll zaniness every weekday after school on the Dick Clark-produced "Where The Action Is." Lindsay always wears dark glasses during his performances these days and does a lot of rubber-legged dancing that most six-year-olds could not pull off. He likes to joke with the audience about how he misses the '60s and how he has a bunch of different “old people” ailments these days, but he certainly looks to be the picture of health. It is incredible how Lindsay packs so many hits into an hour (he sang on seventeen Top 40 hits including his solo work in the 70s). The audience always gets up their feet when he launches into "Kicks" and "Indian Reservation" but they are equally enthusiastic to hear his solo megahits like "Arizona." You can tell that Lindsay still adores performing and that's a lot of what makes his shows so alluring--plus, he is able to laugh at himself and does so constantly both during and between songs.      

The Turtles come out at the end--no surprise, LOL--for a killer hour-plus set that includes not only their seven or eight hits but supreme rock 'n roll comedy which they have been the kings of for 50 years now. It is now the stuff of rock legend that 45 years ago--when legal entanglements with White Whale Records forbade them from using the name The Turtles--Frank Zappa wanted Howard and Mark on tour with him for their comedy antics as much as their beautiful harmonies. You get a show-and-and-half from these 68-year-old Left Coast rock icons that includes a lot of Mark Volman (aka Flo) making a fool of himself by doing strange drum stick tricks, dressing up as a penguin from Frozen and dancing to "Let It Go," having hysterical onstage arguments with Howard (aka Eddie) and doing a cowbell solo. Howard plays the straight man to Mark's endless goofball antics, proving they are the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis of the hippie set. They still wear tie-dye and paisley and are proud of their rock 'n roll roots. You get all the unforgettable hits like "Elenore," "You Showed Me" and "Happy Together" and the mighty Howard K. still provides his trademark vocals that are truly unique in rock circles of any generation.

Each Happy Together Tour show closes with a grand finale of every band in the tour returning to the stage to sing a reprise of one of their hits with the rest of the show's "cast" singing along. It's an amazing experience--kind of like having the AM radio of the 1960s come back to life but with the incredible sound quality that only present-day technology can provide.

I will come back and back again for the wonderful nostalgia and tunes that the Happy Together Tour brings to the over 55 set and the children and grandchildren they have brought to the show. To check out what tour dates are still left on the tour, visit www.happytogethertour.org.

Photo by Anne Raso