‘60s Rock ‘N Roll Revival LIVE! at STNJ

Spotlight Central
Spotlight Central

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By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

New Brunswick’s historic State Theatre New Jersey auditorium is quickly filling up this Saturday, April 20, 2024 evening as music lovers find their seats for a ’60s Rock ’N Roll Revival concert starring Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, The Grass Roots, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and The Brooklyn Bridge.

Backstage, Brooklyn Bridge lead singer Joe “Bean” Esposito talks about his current stint with the band, acknowledging, “It’s a dream come true singing with The Brooklyn Bridge! When I was growing up, I used to listen to their original vocalist, Johnny Maestro, doing songs like ‘Step by Step’ and ‘The Angels Listened In,’ and when I got the call to join the group I was a little intimidated, to tell you the truth, because how do you follow someone like Johnny Maestro who’s a legend? But I felt that we had to keep this great music alive, and the guys are all great guys and great musicians so it’s been a lot of fun.”

Grass Roots lead singer Mark Dawson reflects on being back to doing shows after the pandemic, insisting, “It’s the best thing that’s ever happened! Not that I’m counting, but it was 18 months and 22 days not working anywhere, and it was hard. I did some live shows on the internet which kept me sane — and the fans seemed to enjoy it, too — but I’m so glad we’re back! As several of the other guys on tonight’s show were saying earlier, it all just feels ‘normal’ again, so I’m back where I belong and happy to be with such a great line up including The Brooklyn Bridge, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap.”

Inside the packed STNJ auditorium, emcees Harry G and Alan David Stein welcome tonight’s large crowd and introduce The Brooklyn Bridge, comprised of vocalists Joe “Bean” Esposito, Joe Ruvio, and John Williams, keyboardist Marty D’Amico, guitarist Mike Ernst, bassist Jimmy Rosica, and drummer Lou Agiesta.

Sporting his trademark fedora, Esposito handles the dynamic lead vocal on a cover version of Jackie Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops,” deftly backed by his bandmates.

The crowd cheers, and bassist Jimmy Rosica greets the audience saying, “Thank you so much! We are The Brooklyn Bridge. Sit back and enjoy yourselves!”

Rich full vocal harmonies characterize the group’s 1969 ballad, “Blessed is the Rain,” before Rosica announces, “This next song is Johnny Maestro’s signature song,” and he and the band launch into Johnny Maestro and The Crests’ “Sixteen Candles.”

After an a cappella rendering of “You Gave Me Peace of Mind,” music lovers clap along on the feel-good tune, “Welcome Me Love,” as a kaleidoscope of lights decorate the stage floor while band members sing and dance.

Joe “Bean” Esposito shines on the group’s rendition of The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” where he effortlessly pops into his falsetto voice and elicits cheers, whistles, and applause from the crowd.

The Brooklyn Bridge concludes its portion of the show with the group’s 1969 smash written by Jimmy Webb, “Worst That Could Happen,” leaving music lovers cheering on their feet.

When Harry G and Alan David Stein return to the stage, Stein asks members of the crowd where they’re from and someone shouts out, “Brazil!” The pair introduces Gary Lewis and The Playboys, and Lewis and Co. open their set with their infectious 1965 hit, “Count Me In,” which features Gary’s unmistakable voice energetically accompanied by Playboys Mike Gladstone on guitar, Todd Bradley on drums, Willy O’Riley on keyboards, and Nick Rather on bass.

Lewis greets the crowd announcing, “Let’s have some fun tonight!” as he and the band sail into 1966’s “Sure Gonna Miss Her,” an easy-to-listen-to number which features O’Riley’s swirling keyboard. They follow up with a rockin’ interpretation of Freddie Cannon’s “Palisades Park” which has music lovers bopping in their seats as they sing along.

“That’s some good old rock ’n roll!” exclaims Lewis prior to revealing, “Leon Russell and I wrote this next song in 1965.” After Gary and the boys’ performance of “Everybody Loves A Clown” gets audience members’ fingers and toes tapping, Lewis has the crowd happily singing along with him on his rendition of Brian Hyland’s “Sealed With a Kiss.”

Keyboardist Willy O’Reilly is the featured vocalist on a rousing cover version of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl.” When O’Reilly croons, “Do you remember when we used to sing?” music lovers joyfully join him in singing the ubiquitous “Sha-la-la la-la-la-la la-la la-la te-da” lyric.

Moving on to the group’s 1965 chart-topper — which Gary proudly reveals “went to #1 thanks to The Ed Sullivan Show” — Lewis and the band perform a dynamic rendition of “This Diamond Ring.” The audience cheers, and he and the Playboys follow up with their 1966 nod to summer, “Green Grass,” after which Gary autographs a record album for a fan at the foot of the stage.

Driving drums are prominently featured on “My Heart Symphony” before Gary and the band perform another Lewis/Leon Russell tune — 1966’s Beach Boys-influenced hit, “She’s Just My Style.”

Four-part harmonies ring out on this final number which has music lovers moving in time in their seats before rewarding Lewis and Co. with a rousing standing ovation.

“Unbelievable, right?” asks Harry G before announcing, “Put your hands together for Gary Puckett!” Opening with his 1968 hit, “Lady Willpower,” the crowd adores Puckett’s one-of-a-kind voice, backed by Union Gap musicians Jamie Hilboldt on keyboards, Woody Lingle on bass, and Mike Candito on drums.

Following up with his 1968 Top 10 smash, “Over You,” Puckett croons, “Why am I losing sleep over you/Reliving precious moments we knew,” before the audience happily joins him in singing the song’s melodic “Over you” chorus.

Puckett croons the power ballad, “Don’t Give In to Him,” and then proudly announces, “It’s been 56 years, seven months, and 29 days since I started this career!” Asking concertgoers to applaud when he calls out their respective age group — “Under 60,” “60–70,” “70–80,” and “over 80” — Puckett reveals, “I’ll be 82 next October!” Then, he performs the folk-rocking “Let’s Give Adam and Eve Another Chance” and follows up with his 1968 rocker, “The Pleasure of You.”

Puckett gives an upbeat and bluesy performance of Paul Simon’s “Keep the Customer Satisfied” before rendering a dynamic version of his 1969 Top Ten hit, “This Girl is a Woman Now.”

The crowd happily joins Puckett on an impromptu a cappella rendition of Ricky Nelson’s “Travelin’ Man,” after which Puckett says, “Give yourselves a round of applause!” and invites everyone to “lift the roof off this place” helping him sing his 1968 hit, “Woman, Woman.”

Declaring, “Freedom is not free,” Puckett asks veterans in the audience to stand so he can thank them for their service. As a patriotic video plays on the screen behind him, Puckett pays tribute to these American heroes with a poignant interpretation of his ballad, “Home.”

Ending the show with his 1968 million seller, “Young Girl,” Puckett invites audience members to sing the song’s “Young girl, get out of my mind” chorus all by themselves. After rejoining them for the powerful conclusion, the audience responds with a standing ovation for Puckett who graciously bows before exiting the stage.

Following intermission, Harry G and Alan David Stein introduce tonight’s final act announcing, “Put your hands together for The Grass Roots!” as guitarist Dusty Hanvey, keyboardist Larry Nelson, drummer Joe Dougherty, and lead vocalist/bassist Mark Dawson take the stage.

The group opens its set with The Grass Roots’ 1969 hit, “I’d Wait A Million Years,” where Dawson’s smooth vocal rings out over the auditorium as he sings, “I’d wait a million years/Walk a million miles, cry a million tears,” and the crowd responds by joyfully clapping and singing along.

The group follows up with a bouncy cover version of Hamilton, Joe Frank, and Reynolds’ 1971 hit, “Don’t Pull Your Love (Out On Me, Baby),” and a rollicking rendition of their own song, “Heaven Knows,” where audience members dance in their seats to this uptempo pop tune.

After reminiscing about AM music radio and 8-track tapes, Dawson asks, “Do you feel like singing?” The crowd responds in the affirmative as he and The Grass Roots segue into their infectious 1971 Top 10 single, “Sooner or Later,” where the crowd energetically joins in on the song’s “Sooner or later/Love is gonna get ya” refrain.

“You sound great! We’re taking you on the road with us!” jokes Dawson before keyboardist Larry Nelson is featured playing a solo on “Things I Should Have Said.” Dawson proclaims, “‘60s music is the greatest music ever recorded and this is the happiest song ever!” as heads bop and toes tap to the group’s interpretation of the 1971 Edison Lighthouse hit, “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes).”

Dusty Hanvey takes over the microphone and introduces The Grass Roots’ 1967 gold record, “Let’s Live For Today.” He dedicates the song to veterans in the audience — notably those who served in Vietnam, explaining, “they were the only veterans to return home without a hero’s welcome.” The audience joins in on the song’s powerful “Sha-la la-la-la-la live for today” chorus and Hanvey impresses with a blistering guitar solo which has audience members hooting, hollering, and cheering on their feet.

Dawson reacts by declaring, “That was a treat — you just got double scooped by Dusty!” and the group continues with “Where Were You When I Needed You?” a catchy pop confection which features Dawson’s strong, clear vocal, and “The River is Wide,” where colored circles morph on the screen to drummer Joe Dougherty’s rhythmic backbeat.

Dawson exclaims, “Let’s get a little more guitar work out of Dusty!” before Hanvey shines picking out a guitar solo on the rockin’ “Come On and Say It.” After joking, “I know the big question you want answered tonight is ‘What hair conditioner do I use?’” Dawson asks drummer Daugherty to choose the band’s next selection and he picks 1971’s “Two Divided by Love.” Audience members sing along with Dawson on the tune’s catchy “Two divided by love/Can only be one/And one is a lonely number” refrain.

Following the rhythmic “Glory Bound,” Dawson announces the group’s final number insisting, “We need to get back here to Jersey again — I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday night!” Here, Dawson and Co. present an electrifying rendition of their 1968 Top 5 hit, “Midnight Confessions,” where audience members sing along on the “In my midnight confessions/When I tell all the world that I love you” chorus, dancing at their seats and enthusiastically taking over the lead on the dynamic “I love you!” refrain.

“Thank you, New Brunswick!” declares Dawson as music lovers stand, whistle, and cheer for The Grass Roots while the group waves goodnight and exits the stage.

As music lovers make their way out of the State Theatre auditorium, several share their thoughts on tonight’s ‘60s Rock ‘N Roll Revival performance. Whereas Betty from North Brunswick insists, “The Brooklyn Bridge played some great songs!” Donna from Saddlebrook acknowledges, “I loved The Brooklyn Bridge — Joe Esposito’s voice is just phenomenal and their songs are timeless — but Gary Lewis did so many fun songs and Gary Puckett was wonderful, too; this was the fifth time I’ve seen him, and he was spot-on tonight!”

Diana from Cranford asserts, “It was a terrific night of music! The Brooklyn Bridge was wonderful, and Gary Lewis and Gary Puckett were terrific,” and Jeanine from Belvedere declares, “The show was great! The Brooklyn Bridge was unbelievable and both Garys were phenomenal, too — it was so much fun!” Shawn from Woodbridge reveals, “I listen to all different decades of music, and I especially liked The Grass Roots tonight — they were fantastic and I loved the covers they did.” His friend, John from Woodbridge, agrees, asserting, “The Grass Roots were awesome!”

Bette from Kearny comments, “I enjoyed this show a lot! Gary Puckett is 82 and he still looks and sounds great, but I was impressed with all the groups — I thought their energy level was amazing because they’re all older than me, and I’m old!” Celebrating her 92nd birthday tonight, Peggy from New Brunswick admits, “I like ’60s music, and I liked this show very much!” to which her daughter affirms, “I liked it, too!” explaining, “I remember my mom playing all these songs when I was growing up and I can still remember all the words!”

Elaine from Hillsborough exclaims, “The Grass Roots were phenomenal, and lead singer Mark Dawson was great!” before joking,” I’ve got to find out what hair conditioner he uses because his hair was beautiful!” Lastly, Gary from Howell Township insists, “All of the groups were my favorites! The ‘60s is my era, so for me, this was one super ’60s show!”

To learn more about The Brooklyn Bridge, please go to facebook.com/thebrooklyn bridge. To find out more about Gary Lewis and the Playboys, please click on garylewisandtheplayboys.com. For further info on Mark Dawson and The Grass Roots, please navigate to markdawson.us. For more on Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, click on garypuckettmusic.com.

For information about great upcoming shows at New Brunswick’s State Theatre New Jersey — including The Rock ’N Roll Doo Wop Spectacular starring Herman’s Hermits with Peter Noone, The Doo Wop Project, Bob Miranda and the Happenings, and Vinnie Medugno on November 16, 2024 — please click on stnj.org.

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Spotlight Central
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