“I Just Love this Music!” “Doo Wop Extravaganza” LIVE! at the Great Auditorium
By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery
It’s a gorgeous Labor Day weekend in idyllic Ocean Grove, NJ.
The sea breeze and low humidity create the perfect evening for enjoying tonight’s Doo Wop Extravaganza presented by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association in celebration of the organization’s 150th anniversary.
Taking place at the historic Great Auditorium and hosted by NJ 101.5 Radio DJ Big Joe Henry, the concert features the talents of such legendary classic doo wop and rock and roll artists as The Belmonts, Barbara Harris and the Toys, Sonny Turner of The Platters, Bobby Brooks Wilson, and The Brooklyn Bridge.
As we make our way inside the Great Auditorium’s historic wooden structure, we chat with emcee Big Joe Henry who tells us, “This is possibly the best venue in the United States — and maybe the world — for doo wop music. There are no better acoustics anywhere; the wood takes the sound and it rises up and bounces off the rafters, so a lot of performers turn off the amplification and sing here a cappella.”
Henry also talks about the artists featured in tonight’s musical showcase starting with The Belmonts, whom he calls “historic,” acknowledging, “They’re a great part of doo wop and rock and roll history.” Continuing with Bobby Brooks Wilson, Henry says, “His father — the great Jackie Wilson — was the epitome of soul,” before exclaiming, “The DNA is the DNA!”
According to Henry, “Sonny Turner joined The Platters in 1959 when he was only 19 years old — over 100 people auditioned for the spot, and he got the job.” Noting, “And Barbara Harris and The Toys are still going strong,” Henry confesses, “I can’t wait to hear their hit, ‘Lover’s Concerto,’ performed live in this great space.”
Lastly, Henry discloses, “I’m a huge fan of The Brooklyn Bridge — I was a big fan of their late great lead singer, Johnny Maestro, and I still am,” before adding, “and the fact that The Brooklyn Bridge was able to find a new lead singer — Joe Esposito — who’s helped them to continue to replicate their sound, is a beautiful thing.”
The lights dim and Big Joe Henry takes the stage. He thanks the crowd for coming out and introduces tonight’s opening act — The Belmonts.
Originally from The Bronx, NY, The Belmonts open up their portion of the program with “I Wonder Why.”
The group gets the crowd going when they sing this upbeat song from 1958 with backup vocal harmonies which leap frog over each other as they support the tune’s melodious lead vocal.
Moving on to the 1959 hit, “Teenager in Love,” The Belmonts encourage the audience to sing along saying, “We think you’ll know the words. Sing it loud and clear!”
The audience happily complies as they clap along crooning, “Why must I be a teenager in love?”
Next, the group performs Rodgers and Hart’s “Where or When.” Couples slow dance in the back of the Great Auditorium on this love song which features multi-part vocal harmonies.
Moving on to a rockin’ version of 1960’s “Tell Me Why,” The Belmonts get the crowd moving in their seats. Then, couples swing dance in the aisles as audience members tap their toes and clap along to the classic 1961 hit, “The Wanderer.”
Lastly, The Belmonts perform another hit from 1961, “Runaround Sue,” with the entire audience joyfully singing along on the famous “She goes out with other guys” lyric.
Announcing, “We want to form a rock and roll group, so, guys — you’re gonna sing the ‘Hey, Hey bomba-daydee-daydee, hey hey’ part, and ladies — you’re gonna sing the ‘whoa woah-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh part,’” The Belmonts conclude their portion of the evening’s festivities with the audience singing along before the crowd rewards the band with a standing ovation.
As audience members retake their seats, Henry exclaims, “That’s the right stuff! I love The Belmonts!” before introducing tonight’s second act — Barbara Harris and The Toys.
Opening with a peppy cover version of The Rascal’s 1968 chart-topper “People Got to Be Free,” Harris and The Toys get their portion of the concert off to an lively start.
Harris tells the crowd that, despite what some people may think, The Toys were never a “one hit wonder” because, as she explains, “our second record was a Top 10 hit.” Here, the group segues into “Attack,” a number which they perform with gusto.
Explaining to the audience that in order to honor “the ladies from the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s,” The Toys will perform a “girl group medley” which features such classic tunes as The Chordettes’ “Mr. Sandman,” The Bobbettes’ “Mr. Lee,” and The Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” The talented singers switch between songs with ease and have the crowd singing along to classic hits like The Cookies’ “Chains,” The Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron,” and the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine.”
Lights spin over the audience as the singers snap and groove on stage, their gold outfits shimmering, before the medley concludes with cheers and applause to The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ “Dancin’ in the Street,” and The Supremes’ “Stop in the Name of Love.”
One of the highlights of the evening takes place when Harris and The Toys perform the first song they ever recorded — a number which, in 1965, went straight to #1 on the charts — “Lover’s Concerto.”
After Harris and the Toys sing — in a performance where Harris sounds identical to her original 1965 recording — as a thanks for their efforts, they’re given a heartfelt standing ovation from the crowd.
Revealing that the group, The Platters, “sold over 80 million records,” Big Joe Henry welcomes The Platters’ vocalist Sonny Turner to the stage.
Backed by a trio of singers, Turner opens his set with The Platters’ “With This Ring.”
Dancing as he croons, Turner charms the audience with his impressive vocal range and his entertaining personality.
After welcoming the crowd, Turner invites a lucky lady in the house to come up to the front of the stage where he gives her a kiss, much to the audience’s delight. Turner reveals to the crowd that he will be 80 years old in September. Then, accompanied by his backup vocal trio, he serenades the music lovers in the house with the timeless ballad, “Twilight Time,” before knocking their socks off with his rendition of The Platters’ 1955 smash, “The Great Pretender.”
Impassioned and crying, as he nears the end of the song, Turner stops for a dramatic pause, but the audience keeps singing the song anyway — eliciting much feigned consternation from Turner who repeats the song’s coda after jokingly admonishing the crowd.
Bringing back memories for many, Turner performs The Platters’ 1956 recording, “(You’ve Got) The Magic Touch,” before launching into one of the group’s biggest hits, 1958’s “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”
As this legendary showman tips his hat and throws kisses to the audience, the crowd stands and applauds for this consummate performer. Dedicating his next number to all of the veterans in the audience, Turner performs a moving interpretation of “My Prayer.”
He concludes his set with a dynamic rendition of The Platters’ 1955 smash, “Only You.”
Singing, “Only you can make all this world seem right/Only you can make the darkness bright,” audience members rise to their feet for this gifted performer.
As the crowd cheers and applauds, Henry declares, “I love it. He’s still got it!”
During a short intermission, we take a moment to chat with several members of the audience who share their opinions of tonight’s Doo Wop Extravaganza thus far.
Ken from Tinton Falls comments, “I really liked Sonny Turner — I’m amazed how he can hit all those high notes.” His wife, Joyce, adds, “The Platters’ songs brought back so many wonderful memories of high school dances. Sonny Turner was just excellent!”
Taya, 17, from Bayville remarks, “The doo wop experience is awesome — The Belmonts, Barbara Harris and The Toys, and Sonny Turner were all amazing!” before acknowledging, “My grandfather is the one who introduced me to this music.”
Comments Tara’s grandfather, John from Beachwood, “This is one great show — we come every year to the Great Auditorium to see it — and, in between, we listen to doo wop music on 91.9 FM and Sirius XM 50s on 5 radio.”
John’s wife, Pat, agrees adding, “Sonny Turner was so entertaining, but The Belmonts are my all-time personal favorites. I just love their songs — I guess you could call me a ‘forever fan!’”
During the intermission, we also get a chance to chat with several of tonight’s performers, including Stan Zizka — in reality, a member of the Del-Satins — who is here tonight with The Belmonts, taking the place of one of the group’s singers, Dan Elliot, who recently passed away.
Says Zizka about tonight’s experience, “It’s a true honor to be asked to replace him.”
We also chat with The Toys’ Barbara Harris, who says, “This has been such a great audience tonight — so receptive,” adding, “And this is such a great place — I wish I could have been even closer to the audience,” before concluding, “We’re gonna keep doing this music for as long as we can!”
The lights dim and Big Joe Henry introduces entertainer Bobby Brooks Wilson who takes the stage performing his father, Jackie Wilson’s, 1969 Top 20 hit “I’ll Be Satisfied,” before segueing into a rollicking rendition of Berry Gordy, Jr.’s “Reet Petite.”
The audience happily echoes Wilson on the song’s rhythmic “Oh, oh, oh, oh” chorus.
Asking the audience to clap along with him, Bobby Wilson rockets the audience straight back to 1969 with his father’s hit, “That’s Why I Love You So.” As he sings and dances, The Chiclettes accompany him with three-part vocal harmonies, and the audience even joins in singing on the song’s catchy “That’s why I love you so” refrain.
Wilson introduces his backup musicians — the talented Coda Band — along with his trio of singers — The Chiclettes — before proudly announcing that, next week, his father, Jackie Wilson, will be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Slowing things down, Wilson sings his heart out on Berry Gordy, Jr.’s “To Be Loved,” his voice crying out on this poignant ballad.
Taking off his jacket, Wilson gets the audience clapping along announcing, “The problems of the world will go away if we just love one another!”
After asking, “Did you feel the spirit of the song?” Wilson segues into his dad’s 1967 Top 10 hit, “(Your Love Keeps Liftin’ Me) Higher and Higher.” Audience members stand and sing along while dancing at their seats, cheering enthusiastically at the end.
Wilson shows off his vocal ability and versatility on electrifying renditions of Jackie Wilson’s 1965 Top 5 hit, “Baby Workout,” and Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves a Woman.” The audience shows its love for Wilson and his music with animated cheers and applause.
As the crowd continues to clap, Wilson acknowledges “You’ve been waiting for this all night,” before launching into a rendition of his dad’s 1959 smash, “Lonely Teardrops,” and segueing into a upbeat version of “Shout” which gets the entire audience on it’s feet joyfully singing, clapping, stomping, and cheering for Bobby Brooks Wilson as he exits the stage.
Big Joe Henry returns to introduce tonight’s final act, The Brooklyn Bridge. The group opens their set with an a cappella intro on The Crests’ “My Juanita.” With four-part harmonies filling up the Great Auditorium, the instrumentalists join in and the audience rhythmically claps along.
Next up is a brassy version of the group’s 1968 recording, “Blessed is the Rain,” which is followed by the 45 rpm record’s flip-side hit, “Welcome Me Love,” complete with cascading chords and tight vocal harmonies.
The band’s singers are joined center stage by the group’s keyboard player to perform a beautiful a cappella version of “You Gave Me Peace of Mind” featuring lovely five-part harmonies. Then, the crowd reacts to the group’s upbeat rendition of “Step By Step.”
The audience sings along with The Brooklyn Bridge’s masterful take on Johnny Maestro and The Crests’ “Sixteen Candles.”
Moving on to The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody,” the crowd cheers wildly for lead singer Joe Esposito’s stunning vocal interpretation.
Concluding tonight’s show, The Brooklyn Bridge gives it their all on their 1969 Top 5 smash written by Jimmy Webb, “The Worst That Could Happen.” They follow up with a powerful encore of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” that brings the entire crowd to its feet.
As the crowd happily filters out of the Great Auditorium, we chat with several music lovers in the house who share their reactions to tonight’s Doo Wop Extravaganza.
Says Grace from Middletown, “It was a great show,” before noting, “and Bobby Brooks Wilson was fabulous — what energy!”
Carole from Staten Island agrees adding, “The entire show was great — I loved it. The Brooklyn Bridge is outstanding, and Joe Esposito’s voice is phenomenal.”
Sonny from Long Island contends, “Bobby Brooks Wilson’s performance tonight was great. He’s a true entertainer — he’s got the looks, the voice, and the songs,” before adding, “and I loved the Brooklyn Bridge, too — I’ve loved that band ever since the beginning.”
Marisa from Jackson declares, “We really enjoyed this show! Bobby Brooks Wilson was great — his voice was amazing, his dance moves drove me wild, and his performance really touched my heart.”
After disclosing, “I got tickets for tonight’s show as a Father’s Day gift for my dad,” Marisa’s father, Mike from Newark, tells us, “I loved the show. The Brooklyn Bridge was my favorite — Joe Esposito was spot on — but Sonny Turner hit all the right notes for me, too.”
Lastly, we chat with Patrick from Union Beach who exclaims, “This show took me back to a time when music was music — to when music had real meaning.”
Explaining, “Back in the day, music was about relationships, and I just fell in love with it,” Patrick concludes by declaring, “And that’s why it’s still true today over a half century later — I just love this music!”
To learn more about The Belmonts, see thebelmonts.net. For more on Barbara Harris and the Toys, please go to barbarastoys.net. For further information on Sonny Turner, click on sonnyturner.com. To find out about Bobby Brooks Wilson, check out bobbybrookswilson.com. For info on The Brooklyn Bridge, please go to facebook.com/jmbb68. Lastly, for more on events at Ocean Grove’s Great Auditorium, please see oceangrove.org.