Tony Orlando LIVE at the PNC Arts Center!

March 11, 1972. I am seven years old and heading to my very first concert at Madison Square Garden! I am told I am going to see David Cassidy! My brother Marc, fourteen and the oldest of the four of us siblings, is now in charge! He leads us up. Step. Step. Step. Are we ever going to get there? More steps. What’s David doing at the top of all of these stairs anyway?, I ponder in my seven-year-old mind, as I think I’m actually going to meet David Cassidy!

We finally arrive to the tippy top of the nose bleed section. I view what looks like a tiny stage way down below. We all sit, and wait with baited breath and unbridled enthusiasm. Finally, Cousin Brucie takes the stage and introduces the opening act. To our amazement, it’s Tony Orlando and Dawn! They sing Knock Three Times and Tie a Yellow Ribbon. We love them! It is the formal beginning of a lifelong love for live musical performance.

Fast forward to September 22, 2016. The sun is shining and there’s a slight breeze in the air. Once again, Marc and I are seated in an open auditorium. This time we are ready with over 7000 plus attendees to take a stroll down memory lane at the P.N.C. Arts Center to watch Tony Orlando! We discuss what is now known as Cassidy’s landmark concert of ‘72 and ponder how Mom even got the tickets in the first place and how much they were. We check our iphones. Though we are all grown up now, and life and the world have changed so much, some things still stay the same. We still sit and wait with the same childhood wonder and unbridled enthusiasm for a live musical performance by a musical icon from our youth. Tony Orlando.

This concert is 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.

This banner day is off to a patriotic start with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. Unbeknownst to the audience at the time, the symbolism of our nation’s freedom and patriotism will take on a stronger stance as the concert unfolds. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial sits across the way. The audiences’ faces view the vivid red, white and blue of the American flag.

First up is funny man Joe Cardone. He delights the audience with rapid fire jokes and stories, and he assures us that while he has performed in this venue quite a few times, the comedy is always new. The patriotic theme continues as Cardone reminds the crowd that “You need to laugh more. Enjoy the fact that you are American… Be grateful for being American. G0d bless America.” The crowd is warmed up and is sitting eagerly awaiting the performer they came out to see and hear today…

Singer, entertainer, and performer extraordinaire, Tony Orlando takes the stage and immediately bonds with the audience. “Every time I come here I realize we all got gray together!” he quips. Jean Brown, a woman who has worked diligently for the GSAF for 25 years, enters the stage to receive a plaque. To her and the entire audience’s unexpected surprise, Tony begins to croon Joe Cocker’s “You are so beautiful” to her. He holds her hand. The audience responds with sweet awwws. They dance together. The audience erupts in applause and eveyone sings along. You are so beautiful to me….

The audience immediately sings, claps, taps their feet, and even knocks (three times), as Tony Orlando belts out his Tony Orlando and Dawn’s top hits with which we are most familiar. Although not present for today’s performance, Dawn members are Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent. These pop tunes include “Tie a Yellow Ribbon”, “Candida”, “Knock Three Times”, “Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose” and “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You?)” Jokingly, he begins each tune telling the crowd during which eighteenth century year it was made. He asks them “Do you remember? Thank God they remember!” He reminds them that this is his 56th year in the business and states, “Thank you for all the years you’ve given me. God bless you!”

Throughout the concert, Tony describes his early years. He was born and raised in New York City, where he declares, “Half (the people) were cab drivers and the other half (of the people) robbed the cab drivers. That’s the neighborhood I came from.” He was discovered by producer Don Kirshner, also known as the man with the golden ear. Orlando recalls that Kirshner’s offices were surrounded by such young musical legends as Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Carole King and Simon and Garfunkle. He recalls it was, “a great time to start our careers with Donnie.” He reveals his Jersey connection having lived in Union City, West New York, and Hasbrook Heights. He assures the audience, “No area of the country ever treats me like you guys!”

The audience is also treated to the smooth sounds of Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me, Tomorrow.” Tony prompts the audience line by line as they repeat after him and sing each soulful line. Keyboardist Toni Wine takes a verse and adds her lovely voice. Tonight, you’re mine, completely. You give your love so sweetly. Tonight the light of love is in your eyes. But will you love me tomorrow. This is followed by a beautiful rendition of “Groovy Kind of Love”, which brings the audience to the feet in a dynamic standing ovation.

Toni Wine is an American pop music songwriter and singer in her own right. Not only did she write “Candida,” but she wrote for such artists as Elvis Presley and The Mindbenders (“A Groovy Kind of Love” with Carole Bayer Sager). When asked which is her favorite song she states that it is Checkmates Ltd.’s hit “Black Pearl”, which she co-wrote with Phil Spector and Irwin Levine. In addition, Toni sang backup on Barbara Streisand’s Top 10 LP “Stoney End” and Willie Nelson’s Grammy-winning “You Were Always On My Mind.” She reveals that she and Valerie Simpson are the “Babylon Sisters” on Steely Dan’s platinum album “Gaucho”.

Other highlights from the band include a lively performance of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.” The audience claps, cheers, and rocks in their seats as drummer, Tim Pope pounds his sticks on the stage stool and then moves his dynamic solo onto the stage floor! In addition, keyboardist Kerry Cole performs a wide range of incredible vocal impersonations including Willy Nelson, Sony Bono and Cher. He grits out Joe Cocker’s lyrics with ease. What would you do if I sang out of tune, would you stand up and walk out on me? The audience is completely entertained by the array of talent on stage as Tony yells, “Do I have a band!”

The patriotic theme peaks as Orlando sings Neal Diamond’s hit “Coming to America”, which is cleverly interspersed with a moving tribute to all veterans in the audience. He asks veterans from each war to stand throughout the song, beginning with WWII as a handful of men stand. He then asks those who served in Korea to rise. and about 50 people stand. Tony croons, “We want to thank you so much.” Next up, he asks the Vietnam Vets to rise. There are many. Orlando tells them, “You were disrespected. No parades. You never complained. Y0u held your head up. We owe you an apology. Welcome home!” The audience cheers and shouts in unison “Job. Well. Done.” After this, veterans from Desert Storm rise. There is one single woman in the front who stands and is thanked. While there are no veterans from Iraq in this 55 and over crowd, family and friends stand in their honor as the audience sings. “They put their life on the line for America! We want to thank you so very much!”

The musical crescendo rises as Johnny Patillo, original singer from the fifties do wop group, The Duprees takes the stage with Tony. Nostalgia is in the air as the audience sings and sways from the tunes of their early years including the Duprees, “You Belong to Me” and such classics as “Blue Moon,” “Silhouette” and “Tears on My Pillow.” Patillo hails from Asbury Park and reveals that ‘there is nothing like performing in New Jersey.” When asked how he likes still performing these oldies, he confirms joyfully, “You never get old to rock and roll!”

After that the audience is ready to stand, cheer, sing and shout as Orlando and keyboardist perform a lively version of the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction. I can’t get no, I can’t get no. I can’t get no satisfaction! This is followed by a lively version of Johnny Be Good.

By the time Orlando is ready to sing his final “Tie a yellow ribbon” and depart the stage, the crowd jeers. Orlando reminds them “I’m 72 years old!” We could probably reminisce and enjoy the music of the past decades all day long. Tony exits the stage and we are immediately catapulted back to 2016 - exiting the auditorium as adults but bringing a bit more of our childhood back with us.

Upcoming events include a meet and greet with Tony Orlando and Dawn, October 28–30 in Parsippany. For more information, go to Chillertheater.com. Upcoming concerts include a Vets Rock Salute in CT at Mohegan Sun on November 11th. For more information go to mohegansun.com. Don’t miss Tony Orlando’s Great American Christmas Show from November 27-December 1 at the Sands Show Bethlehem Event Center in Behlehem, PA. Go to Sandseventcenter.com for more information. To learn more about the Garden State Arts Foundation go to gsafoundation.org.

photo credits: Love Imagery