4 Words: “Magnificent,” “Fabulous,” “The Best.” Hotel California Salutes the Eagles at Toms River’s Grunin Center

By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

The multi-talented Eagles tribute band, Hotel California, rocked the house on Saturday, March 18, 2017, at the Grunin Center of the Arts located on the campus of Ocean County College in Toms River, NJ.

The concert was presented by the Ocean County College Foundation in order to generate scholarship funds for deserving OCC students — a great idea! — as the concert not only sold out, but even created a waiting list for tickets.

And why not?

The Eagles are one of the most successful bands of all time.

The group was founded in 1971 by Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner. Over time, Leadon was replaced by Joe Walsh and Meisner was replaced by Timothy B. Schmidt. Altogether, the Eagles had five #1 singles, 14 Top 40 hits, and four #1 albums, with two of them — Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975) and Hotel California — ranked among the ten best-selling albums of all time.

After the Eagles stopped touring in the early ‘80s, in 1982, Hotel California was born. The group — which has gone on to become one of the hottest tribute bands anywhere — consists of five mega-talented musicians.

Steve Probst sings lead vocals and plays guitar, keyboards, and more. In addition to his work with Hotel California, Steve has shared the stage with such world-class talent as Kenny Logins, Little River Band, America, Three Dog Night, and Kansas.

Byron Fry, who plays lead guitar and also sings, has worked with artists including Michael McDonald, Keith Emerson, Billy Davis Jr., and more.

Beyond Hotel California, Dicky Lee Dickinson, who sings and plays guitar and other instruments, has also shared the stage with such major acts as Boston and Van Halen.

Scott Fronsoe, who plays bass and sings, has also played with groups including War, The Commodores, and the Atlanta Rhythm Section.

Lastly, John Agostino has also played drums with Vince Gill, Dobie Gray, and The Hudson Brothers, in addition to having his original songs performed by artists including Harry Nilsson.

Upon taking the stage in front of the capacity crowd at the Grunin Center, Hotel California lead singer Steve Probst greets the audience by saying, “How are we doin’ New Jersey?”

At this point, the group launches into a rollicking version of the Eagles debut single, co-written by Jackson Brown and Glenn Frey, 1972’s “Take it Easy,” with Steve playing acoustic guitar and singing lead.

As twangy guitars strum to the country rock sound, these top-notch musicians show the audience they know how to play the Eagles with all of the finishing touches, notably guitarist Byron Fry’s live banjo playing. At the end of the song, the band receives inspired applause from a crowd that clearly knows and loves classic Eagles’ music.

Next, Steve, Byron, Dickey Lee, and Scott take their places at the foot of the stage as bassist Scott Fronsoe takes over the lead vocal on the Eagles’ 1972 Top 10 hit, “Witchy Woman.” While Scott sings, “Woo hoo, witchy woman, she got the moon in her eye,” on the big screen behind the band, stars shoot as a part of an ever-changing colored meteor shower and morph into snowflake kaleidoscopes, lightning bolts, and flashing clouds.

With back-up vocals sung clearly and precisely, Hotel California next recreates some lesser-known tunes including “Victim of Love” and “James Dean” before launching into the Eagles’ 1974 Top 40 hit, “Already Gone.” As colored bubbles and stripes float behind them, pulsing and dancing to the energy of the song, the crowd hoots and hollers following Byron’s solid guitar solo.

Rhythm guitarist Dickey Lee Dickinson asks the audience, “How many people have seen us before?” to which many in the packed house cheer.

“We’ve been doing this for many years!” he notes, before introducing the band’s acoustic set.

As Dickey Lee, Steve, Scott, and Byron take seats for the “unplugged” segment of their program, Steve is featured on the Eagles very first #1 smash, 1975’s “Best of My Love,” the sweet sound of softly strumming guitars creating a lullaby for this audience filled with Eagles fans.

Moving on to another Top 10 hit from 1975, “Lyin’ Eyes,” the men of Hotel California beautifully harmonize on such well-known lyrics as, “You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes/And your smile is a thin disguise/I thought by now you’d realize/There ain’t no way to hide your Lyin’ Eyes,” as kaleidoscopic shapes whirl and twirl behind them.

On 1973’s “Tequila Sunrise,” the sound of a live mandolin adds flavor to this tasty song. It is followed by the Eagles’ 1972 Top 40 hit, “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” the audience stopping and clapping for the guitar solos midway through the performance.

With Scott on lead vocals, Hotel California presents their stunning rendition of Don Henley’s 1981 Top 40 hit, “Heart of the Matter.” Scott’s voice fills the audience with emotion as he croons, “Forgiveness/Oh, forgiveness/Even if you don’t love me anymore,” deftly accompanied by Byron on guitar and back-up vocals.

Before the song is even over, the audience is already standing and cheering.

“Were gonna take a short intermission and, after, it’ll be time to rock!” says the group.

At this point, we have a chance to chat with some of the folks in the audience about Act I of Hotel California’s performance at the Grunin Center tonight.

Fran from Toms River calls Hotel California “phenomenal,” adding, “I can’t stop singing along!”

Frank from Toms River agrees, exclaiming, “This concert is great! People are singing along. The guys are great musicians. And it’s a great thing the Ocean County College Foundation is doing for the community.”

Out in the lobby, we meet Chris and Denise from Toms River who reveal to us that tonight’s concert marks their first visit to the Grunin Center.

Explains Chris, “We live so close, we could literally walk here, but this is our first time ever seeing a show.”

Chimes in Denise, “And Hotel California is awesome! If you close your eyes, you can imagine it’s the Eagles,” to which Chris adds, “We hadn’t taken advantage of this beautiful venue before, but we’ll be coming back for more shows.”

Back inside the auditorium, Act II begins with Steve asking “Are you guys having a good time?”

He also makes the crowd — which came tonight to support college scholarships — chuckle when he says, “I noticed before that some of you were late. You’ll have to go to the Dean’s office.”

Exclaiming, “Now it’s time to crank it up!” Steve and the group rock it to the rafters on the Eagles’ 1976 Top 20 hit, “Life in the Fast Lane.” Perfectly executing the intricate guitar work of the original recording, the group’s driving beat gets the crowd fired up even before Byron slays them with his electrifying guitar solo.

Following enormous applause, the band segues into a lesser-known Eagles tune, 1979’s “Those Shoes,” complete with voice controlled “talk box” guitar adding to the mystery of the song.

With clouds floating on-screen behind them, twangy guitars create a folk-like instrumental backdrop as Scott sings lead on the Eagles’ 1978’s Top Ten hit, “I Can’t Tell You Why,” the audience truly appreciating the top-notch musicianship of this talented group of players.

As Scott continues to sing lead and Byron rocks out on guitar on the Eagles 1975 #1 hit, “One of These Nights,” at least one audience member can clearly be heard screaming out, “We want you to play all night!”

Moving on to a beautiful Eagles’ song written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey that went on to become a hit for Linda Ronstadt, Steve is featured on an emotional rendition of “Desperado.”

The audience is so clearly impressed with their performance of this ballad, Scott responds by wondering aloud, “So are you ready to rock?”

At this point, all of the group’s guitarists — Dicky Lee, Steve, and Byron — stroll down stage to rock out as Byron handles the lead vocals and plays lead on Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way.”

As butterflies and flowers move across the big screen, Dicky Lee adds voice controlled talk box to his guitar playing, his hair blowing in the onstage breeze.

The audience responds with cheers and claps, several members already on their feet.

The entire audience claps along on the Eagles’ infectious 1979 #1 hit, “Heartache Tonight.” As Steve and Scott trade vocals, dancing guitars add to the mood and put smiles on the faces of the members of the happy crowd who all sing and clap along.

The audience roars its approval for Byron’s superb guitar solo on Joe Walsh’s 1970 song for The James Gang, “Funk 49.”

Hotel California’s way-cool interpretation of “Funk 49” also features a drum solo by John Agostino and has the entire band playing percussion instruments, including Steve on cowbell and Scott on güiro.

Trading “yeahs” with the audience and then trading harmonica riffs with Byron’s guitar licks, Dicky Lee encourages Byron to “Bring it ON!”

At this point, Byron launches into a guitar solo for the ages, creating an improvised melody at lightning speed. Then, he morphs into Jimi Hendrix’ rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” while a giant US flag waves on screen behind the band. As the crowd whistles and cheers, the entire group joins in on “the rocket’s red glare” before reaching the song’s stunning conclusion and bringing the entire sold-out crowd leaping to its feet.

Dicky Lee says, “Thank you, Toms River, in the great state of New Jersey!”

Then, he invites “everyone who served — or who had a family member who served — in the military” to stand.

As audience members rise from their seats, they give an enormous round of applause in appreciation for their real-life heroes.

As Byron plays on a single fingerboard of his double-necked guitar, the band morphs into a live rendition of their namesake song, the 1978 Grammy winning Record of the Year, “Hotel California.” With kaleidoscopic images morphing on the screen behind them, Steve, Dickey Lee, Byron, and Scott come together downstage for the song’s famous swirling guitar coda.

The audience bursts into applause, jumping to its feet!

Steve replies by exclaiming, “We’ve been coming to New Jersey for decades, and the hospitality here in New Jersey is the best,” going on to joke, “of course, we say that everywhere, but tonight we really mean it. “

For their first encore, the men of Hotel California perform a song which they don’t always include in their concerts any longer because, as they explain, “it’s so hard!”

Here, they rip into an a cappella version of The Eagles’ “Seven Bridges Road,” audience members clapping and tapping their toes, notably when the musicians’ instruments enter to a rockabilly beat and expertly accompany the quintet’s ultra-tight vocal harmonies.

For a second encore, Hotel California performs their version of Don Henley’s 1982 single, “Dirty Laundry.”The entire audience sings along on the famous “Kick ’em when they’re up/Kick ’em when they’re down” refrain, the entire band tearing it up on stage.

Lastly, Hotel California invites the entire audience to “get up and dance” as they perform their third and final encore, the rockin’ “Get Over It.” Featuring a soundscape of wailing guitars, for the song’s grand finale, Steve throws his guitar pick into the audience, all members of the crowd cheering on their feet.

As the fans file out of the auditorium, we meet Nolan, age 10, who shows us a guitar pick he got from the band, saying, “This show was great. I liked the song, ‘Hotel California’, the best.”

Nolan’s mom tells us that, despite his young age, it was her son’s idea to have the family attend tonight’s concert after “he saw it on the marquee outside the college and said he wanted to come.”

Adds Nolan’s dad about the experience, “What amazes me is that the Eagles were so popular that Hotel California — a group which is so talented in its own right — can make a living doing Eagles’ music.”

On our way out, we also meet Dave from Toms River, who says about Hotel California’s tribute to the Eagles, “it was awesome — incredible,” going on to note, “and I saw the actual Eagles in the 1970s — for $15!”

Lastly, we meet Ginny from Toms River who, while making her way up the aisle, shares her opinion of the evening with us in four words:

“Magnificent,” “Fabulous,” “The Best.”

To learn more about Hotel California — including upcoming concert information and more — please go to www.hotelcal.com. For more on future concerts at Toms River’s Grunin Center of the Arts— including singers Roseanne Cash and John Leventhal on April 6, and Jimmy Webb: The Glen Campbell Years on Apr. 22 — please go to grunincenter.org.

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