Gary Puckett live at the PNC Arts Center: “It’s All About Dreams”

By Shelley Bromberg, Msbrom.com

photo by Love Imagery

It’s a beautiful day on Tuesday, May 16th. Not only is the weather stunning, but it’s a nostalgic day — a day to reminisce, a day to reflect back on our youth, and a day for keeping memories alive through music. It’s an opportunity to step back into the past — by listening to the music of sixties icon, Gary Puckett.

Gary Puckett is BEST known for the musical group, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, which was one of the most successful rock bands in that decade. Most notably, the group garnered 6 consecutive gold records and in 1967, that was a number higher than the Beatles!

Today’s concert is the first show of the 2017 season, and it’s part of the Garden State Arts Foundation’s 2016 “Senior Concert Series,” which offers free concerts to NJ residents 55 and older. The Garden State Arts Foundation has offered performances at no cost since 1984.

Ronald Gravino, Vice President of GSAF’s Board of Trustees confirms that “no federal, state, local, or Garden State Parkway toll money” is used to fund the performances. Instead, the GSAF is fortunate to receive donations from such sponsors as Live Nation Entertainment, Sirius M ’60s on 6 radio, PNC Bank, Oldies WOLD 107.9 radio and contributions from individual donors.

As we make our way to our seats of the PNC Arts Center, the stage is set with instruments and the arena filled to capacity with audience members eager to be taken back on a nostalgic walk to the past. They will certainly not be disappointed.

Ronald Gravino introduces the opening act, Vinnie Medugno as a “great young talent” discovered by American radio personality, Cousin Brucie. When Medugno takes the stage, he immediately holds the audience in the palm of his hand by enthusiastically belting out such classic oldies tunes as Johnny Tillotson’s classic “Poetry in Motion,” “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tommy James, and Volare.

Medugno sings Freddy Cannon’s “Palisades Park”, which is a homerun for this Jersey crowd. No doubt many in the audience must have fond memories of enjoying the world-famous Jersey theme park. Throughout each number, the audience claps, sways, and sings along.

Medugno continues working the crowd as he heads into the audience for “Runaround Sue.” He receives a warm hug from a woman seated towards the back of the arena. When we later catch up with her, we learn that her name is, in fact, Sue and she’s from Newton, NJ. Sue reveals that (Medugno) just “seemed like he was hugable.”

Medugno ends his set with Jay Black and the Americans “Cara Mia.” In the middle of the number, Medugno asks, “Where’s Carole Cohen? This one’s for you!” We had an opportunity during the intermission to find Carole and ask her what it was like having a song performed for her, and she replies, “It was thrilling. He’s a gifted singer and it’s wonderful hearing the songs I loved as a teenager once again. Now I’m ready to hear Gary Puckett!”

Before Medugno departs the stage though, he reveals that his parents raised him “on all of this great music… My Mom stirred sauce to Gary Puckett. It’s all about dreams.” Medugno discloses that he himself is a huge Puckett fan. In fact, he nearly “hit the floor” when asked to open for Puckett. He tells the audience a heartwarming story about Puckett that he learned from watching youtube videos.

One such video entitled, “Gary Puckett Plays Bedside in My Dad’s Hospital Room” shows Puckett with acoustic guitar singing Gary Puckett & the Union Gap’s 1968 hit, “Young Girl” to the subscriber’s terminally ill father, Dallas. Puckett traveled four hours to fulfill Dallas’s dying wish — to meet the legendary Puckett. Afterwards, Dallas said of the impromptu hospital room concert, “It’s almost worth dying for.” Sadly, Dallas passed away seven hours after this lifetime dream came true.

Prior to today’s performance, we interviewed Medugno backstage and learned why he is such a huge Puckett fan. In fact, we witness Medugno meeting his musical idol and telling him what an inspiration he is — and has been for so many — including this father, Dallas, on the video.

Puckett then discloses to Medugno that Dallas, the man on the video to whom he sang, was such a huge Puckett fan that whenever a family member asked who was singing the song (on the radio), he always replied, “It’s Gary Puckett.” Puckett now quips, “This was for any singer, even if if it was Petulla Clark!”

Puckett learns from Medugno that he hopes to have such a huge impact on people’s lives and dreams as Puckett has had.

After intermission, the audience erupts in applause as Puckett enters. Puckett opens with “Lady Willpower,” as the audience sings along to the classic tune.

Lady Willpower. It’s now or never. Give your love to me. I’ll shower your heart with tenderness.

Puckett is wearing a long black military jacket with gold buttons to which he later states about the outfit, “We’ve reenlisted!” His bandmates are dressed in similar military gear — holding true to their sixties get-up, resembling the Union Army during the Civil War. The band is comprised of Jamie Hilboldt on keyboards, Mike Candito on drums, and Woody Lingle on bass guitar. Together they are a strong trio for this venue.

Puckett discloses, “I flew all night to be here. I’m glad you are here for us.” With his signature voice, Puckett leads this eager crowd on a journey back-to-the-past by crooning such memorable hits as “Woman Woman,” and “Over You.” When he serenades the audience with “This Girl is a Woman Now”, his voice is strong and solid to the very last note. Clearly, Puckett sounds as good as he did in the sixties.

When Puckett performs “Home,” as a moving tribute to all of the veterans in the audience he states, “Thank you. Thank you for the sacrifice you made for the rest of us — freedom is not free. Welcome home.” The veterans stand as the lyrics take on even greater meaning:

And every night they lie awake and dream of mama’s chocolate cake

And wonder if there’ll be a tomorrow

and will they ever see their home and their family

or will they ever be back home.

Puckett ends the show with the million-selling single, “Young Girl”, to which a woman in the audience comes to the stage to hand Puckett roses. He continues with the lyrics, roses in hand.

Young Girl get out of my mind. My love for you is way out of line. Better run girl. You’re much too young girl.

As the audience leaves the arena, we have a chance to speak to some of them. Emily, a 97-year-old from Wall Township, exclaims, “It was fantastic. I enjoyed his voice and the work the foundation does is wonderful!”

Perhaps Marion from Middlesex sums it up best stating, “I love music from my era. It reminds me of good things from the past, and it takes my mind off things now. Every day is a blessing and music is a part of it. It keeps us alive.”

To learn more about Gary Puckett and see his upcoming schedule, please go to garypuckettmusic.com. For information on upcoming concerts by the Garden State Arts Foundation including Michael Amante on May 23, The Osmonds on June 13, and the US Army Field Band & Soldiers Chorus on June 29, please go to gsafoundation.org. For more information about Vinnie Medugno, go to www.vincentmedugno.com.