Happy Together in New Jersey

The Happy Together Tour
Mayo Performing Arts Center
Morristown, NJ

Rating: Five Out Of Five Stars!
Yes, We Were Happy To Be At The Happy Together Tour Stop In Morristown, NJ Again This Year!

By Anne Raso

The Happy Together Tour is a summer ritual for not only the artists on the tour each year—the headliners are always the fabulous, fun and funky Turtles—but despite a lot of the artists now being well into the 70s, they are sounding (and looking) great! It is more than just a show for those nostalgic for 60s pop—it is a full-on celebration of more innocent times with great pop culture footage behind the bands as they play, including commercials for the things of Baby Boomers’ childhoods (like Dippity Do and Carnaby Street’s mod fashions).  You get nothing but the hits and they really put the crowd on their feet! You also get canned backgrounds/intro on each performer by Shadoe Stevens, a good friend of The Turtle’s Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman.

The same group of excellent musicians backs each of the six acts, and it is led by supreme East Coast axeman Godfrey Townsend who you might have caught over the years backing Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker’s son Kofi Baker. His bluesy style can best be described as influenced by Eric Clapton in his prime but he appears to move through every song on the Happy Together Tour with ease and a big smile.

This year Spencer Davis is on board as the first act out of the gate. Of course, his sound is different without the legendary Stevie Winwood on vocals but the rhythm guitarist takes on the vocals himself these days although the Happy Together Tour’s versatile drummer Steve Murphy takes on “I’m A Man” (at one point in the show, the sticksman also does a mean imitation of Journey’s Steve Perry just for fun). I loved that Davis came out to mingle with the crowd out in the lobby after his set and gladly took photos and signed autographs. He genuinely loved getting to know his fans and hear about their lives, which greatly touched me. (Strangely enough, it turns out that he owns a house a few doors down from where my friend/guest’s husband lived in North Wood, Middlesex, England and his son now lives in it!)

The Cowsills were up next and it’s touching to see that the surviving members of this family (whose lives as a performing band inspired The Partridge Family TV series) still sound great together. Their harmonies are as pure as ever, and they possibly have the funniest-ever footage of people with wacky hippie hair behind them onscreen as they perform their biggest hit “Hair.” Paul Cowsill joked that they did not make it onto the Happy Together Tour until this year because they were too young (they are only in their 60s, LOL)! Susan Cowsill is still like the bubbly pre-teen of her heyday with her high-energy vocals and onstage bopping around with a tambourine. And don’t worry, they do perform the “Love American Style Theme” on the Happy Tour!

Mark Lindsay was looking fit and sporting dark shades as he normally does for his set. His rubber-legged dancing is almost as enjoyable as his singing, and Chuck Negron seems to joke about it in his set every time. Like the other HT Tour acts, Mark Lindsay talks about getting old but he certainly shows no outward signs of it during his performances. He belted out  “Kicks,” “Just Like Me, “Arizona” and “Good Thing” in a row without missing a beat and you could see that the ladies’ in the audience were reminiscing back to when they had Tiger Beat pinups of the former teen idol on their wall. They all got up on their feet for him when he put on a bright, multi-colored velvet Raiders style coat for the end of his set.

Gary Puckett is impressive not only because of all the hits he performs like “Over You,” “This Girl Is A Woman Now,” “Lady Willpower” and “Young Girl” but he actually wore the navy military jacket with gold buttons that he sported on the cover of the Young Girl 45 sleeve. I’m impressed that he stayed in such great shape. He reminisced about how it’s been 49 years since the peak of his hit-making days on Columbia Records and also put good words in for the veterans in the audience. While he voice does not seem to hit the high notes as it once did, Puckett was in fine form.

Chuck Negron sported a Woodstock T-shirt under a distressed black leather jacket as he belted out. He came out singing “Mama Told Me Not To Come” and his voice was truly hitting the high and low notes! He then continued with a blitz of Three Dog Night hits—“Eli’s Coming, “One” and “Joy To The World” (which he half-jokingly credits for paying the bills for numerous children and grandchildren in his later days). Like The Turtles, there are hysterical Viagra and other “old people meds” references between songs. (I strongly suggest that you follow him on Facebook to see his almost daily updates from the road.)

The Turtles’ set always starts out with surprises—usually it’s Mark Volman (aka Flo) sporting an outrageous get up. On this year’s Happy Together tour he comes out as Adele in her “Hello” video complete with golden brown wig and faux fur boxy jacket that seemed to not fit him very well, LOL! He then lets the wig blow under a large brightly colored fan, which he then turns on partner-in-crime Howard Kaylan (aka Eddie). Kaylan quipped last night (since it was 95 degrees outside): “That’s the one time I’ve really enjoyed being blown onstage!” The Turtles plowed through the hits “She’d Rather Be With Me,” “You Baby,” and “It Ain’t Me Babe” with a lot of vim ‘n vigor (even though Kaylan has to perform in a chair due to recent foot surgery)—and there was even five minutes of Zappa style madness with Townsend doing his best FZ style riffs! Kaylan’s off-the-cuff quips makes The Turtles set special and he’s not afraid to speak his mind, even poking fun at Ringo Starr and his All-Star Band members like Todd Rundgren. There was a serious moment in their set when Volman talked about his recent bout with cancer (he was diagnosed in April 2015) and that after eight weeks of chemo he is “100 per cent cancer free.” I could see tears welling up in the people sitting around me in the orchestra section as Volman told everyone “close to you tonight when you get home and tell them that you love them.”

The Happy Together Tour concludes with an all-star reprise of the hits performed during the show, which is delightful. It’s a “gas” (to borrow a 60s term) to see all these artists together on one stage! ‘Nuff said?