The Happy Together Tour - Live in Jersey!

Mayo Performing Arts Center
Morristown, NJ 6/13/17

Words and Image by Anne Raso

Every year I make the pilgrimage from the Yorkville section of Manhattan (where I live) to see the Happy Together Tour at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in downtown Morristown. The theater is old and quaint and well maintained--but the acoustics are to die for! This is a show that makes the official start of summer for me and it's hard not to go and have all your worries and trouble vanish. It's better than a $200 per hour shrink and a lot more fun to interact with! This is a show with not only the classic music of the '60s and early 70s featuring the groups who have only ripened with age, but there are plenty of laughs and audience participation. There are comical (and serious) references to the '60s--you'll hear the word "groovy" at least a dozen times during the concert! And the jokes about the ailments of old age will make you wonderful if Don Rickles wrote material for the classic rock legends on the bill. This concert tour is now in its tenth year and originated from the HippieFest concept, which was also developed by the Crown Jesters Of Laurel Canyon, The Turtles (aka Flo & Eddie). The 60s graphics on the screen behind the stars will leave you mesmerized and some of the psychedelic patterns will leave you feeling as if you're on a good acid trip...that is probably the exact idea behind them. There is vintage footage of each artist and great commercials from "back in the day"--like ones for Dippity Do and assorted hairsprays!

The show has a revolving series of five support acts for The Turtles, and up on stage first this tour is Ron Dante, the man behind The Archies (he's the voice of Archie Andrews) and The Cufflinks. He first made his name doing jingles with Barry Manilow including the legendary "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing" Campaign about 47 years ago. Besides performing The Archies hits like "Jingle Jangle" and "Bang Shang A Lang," his set consists of five or six minutes worth of his best-known jingles for American Airlines, Beneficial, American Airlines, Mounds/Almond Joys and McDonald's (yes, he wrote and performed "You Deserve A Break Today")! His banter is interesting; in Morristown, he spoke of The Monkees turning down "Sugar, Sugar" but of course the fictional Dante-led Archies snatching it up and going to #1 with it. This guy looks about 45 and got away sporting black leather pants--how many older musical legends can get away with that?

The Cowsills were on last year's Happy Together bill and while only three of them remain (Susan, Bill and Bob), their voices remain incredibly strong and they all play guitar or bass--they do not need to do so as legendary Happy Together Tour bandleader and former John Entwhistle/Jack Bruce axeman and his insanely "together" band are there for musical support. I truly admire their harmonies and was surprised to learn how good all three are as instrumentalists. They run through the hits with a lot of fun banter in between including about how they were approached 48 years ago to do the show that eventually became the Partridge Family. They also do a special salute to their deceased family members. The Cowsills start off strong with "The Rain, The Park And Other Things" and then move on to "We Can Fly," "Indian Lake" (which was picked by the seven year old Susan Cowsill for the group to record in 1968), "Love American Style." Interestingly enough, their brother John is touring this summer as the drummer for The Beach Boys.

Although the legendary vocalist/songwriter Alex Chilton, The Box Tops do an amazing job with a lineup that includes original member Gary Talley on lead guitar and Bill Cunningham on keyboards and bass. The band takes turn singing lead vocals and start out with "Cry Like A Baby" which hit #2 on the charts in 1968. Next up was a gorgeous cover of Booker T And The MG's "Green Onions" followed by the group's 1967 attempt to go psychedelic, "Neon Rainbow." The set was concluded with "The Letter" (which was a #1 hit in 1967) and the audience got up on their feet to give the Box Tops a big "standing O"! The musical talent of this Memphis-based group dazzles--you could not tell the instrumental skill of these guys when their hits were blaring out of AM radios in the late 60s. These guys are all talented session players when they are not on tour as The Box Tops and often performed side by side with legendary Stax musicians!

After a 15-minute intermission, The Association came out dressed in matching white suits with black shirts and it was clear that their legendary harmonies still sound as crisp and clear as ever. Current members of the group are original are lead guitarist Jules Alexander, Jim Yester on rhythm guitar and bassist Del Ramos who actually joined 47 years ago (so I will take a liberty and call him an original member here). They did all the hits to the result of a standing ovation. Their harmonies were arguably unmatched by any other 60s vocal group other than The Byrds or The Beach Boys (at least in my book, although they are decidedly "less rock 'n roll). They zoomed through an amazing all-hit hit and Ramos made an emotional tribute to US Troops and First Responders. The set list naturally included dazzling renditions of "Never My Love" (the second most played song of the 20th Century), "Cherish," "Along Comes Mary."

Next, the formidable Chuck Negron hit the stage in all black. You saw faces light up even though the theater was dark. It is insane how this man can hit all the high notes even at age 75. He is always the funniest member of the tour (at least in my eyes) and makes the best old age ailment jokes. He spoke of recently turning 75 and hinted that he is grateful that he is able to do what he does at his age--and jokingly questioned the audience if he should still be singing about being friends with a frog as he grows older! He started out his set with "Celebrate," then talked about his days living in the NY tristate area including growing up in the Bronx and "summering" in Lake Hopatcong and Pt. Pleasant, New Jersey. After telling a great tale about rock fans not knowing that Brian Wilson was Three Dog Night's first producer ("although things did not work out as they often do in the music business"), he performed "Eli's Coming," "Easy To Be Hard," "One" and "Joy To The World." I was surprised that he did not throw in a track from his critically acclaimed brand-new CD Negron Generations (featuring his daughters Charlie and Annabelle) coming out next, but I guess his set has a time limit. This album--which has a spiritual spin on it since the belter is currently celebrating 25 years of sobriety-- features something very special to Three Dog Night fans. There are three unreleased Three Dog Night songs on Negron Generations and that alone makes the CD worth buying!

What can be said about The Turtles except that they are going strong after 52 years in the pop world and are two of the funniest and most unpredictable guys out there making music today? They always start their set with what can be described as a pop culture parody in which they wear funny costumes (often meant for females). Last year, Mark Volman came out dressed as Adele in arguably the shiniest golden blonde wig ever, but this year he got to be dressed up as Belle while colleague Howard Kaylan dressed up as the beast. It was hard to not laugh as they danced the waltz together. At the end of each of these opening moments of schtick, Kaylan says something like "let's cut the crap" and moves on to one of the great Turtles hits. This year it was "Elenore" followed by a mostly instrumental Zappa tribute since the guys spent years backing Mr. Z as Flo & Eddie. Both Volman and Kaylan encourage a lot of audience participation, including getting everyone on their feet for "Happy Together" and asking the crowd to sing the famous "BA-BA-BA-BA" in the chorus. The highlights of any Turtles set (at least for me) are "You Know She'd Rather Be With Me" and "You Baby" which are two of the bounciest tracks ever to grace AM radio. You can't help but smile when you hear those songs on the radio, YouTube or live in concert.

Any Happy Together Tour ends with every act coming out to reprise one of their hits followed by a group collabo on (what else) "Happy Together." It's wonderful that everyone gets to see each beloved act a second time in the show. While the general audience is over 55 for the Happy Together shows, I encourage parents and grandparents to bring their little ones and teens to at least one Happy Together concert to see what classic rock is really all about.