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“I Loved Every Minute of It!” Gary Puckett and The Association LIVE! at the PNC Bank Arts Center

By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

It’s a breezy September 14, 2021 afternoon at the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ. Music lovers enjoy the summer sun as they picnic at tables outside the gates or relish tasty snacks purchased inside the modern facility while they wait for a free performance of ’60s and ’70s music. Presented by the Garden State Arts Foundation, today’s show stars Gary Puckett and the Union Gap and The Association.

We take our seats inside the spacious PNC Bank Arts Center amphitheater as Garden State Arts Foundation VP Ron Gravino welcomes the crowd. “Thanks for coming out! We’re going to have a really great time today,” states Gravino before thanking several of the sponsors of today’s concert: Live Nation Entertainment, PNC Bank, and MusicRadio 77-WABC.

The crowd of several thousand music lovers rises for the singing of the national anthem and then welcomes the members of The Association to the stage: Jordan Cole on keyboards, Paul Wilson on guitar, Bruce Pictor on drums, Jules Alexander on guitar, Del Ramos on bass, and Paul Holland on guitar.

The Association gets audience member’s toes tapping on their 1966 #1 hit “Windy.” Jules Alexander sings lead with five-part backup vocals on this happy tune which features a baroque recorder solo by keyboardist Jordon Cole.

Alexander greets the audience stating, “Hello! We are The Association, established 1965,” joking, “We’re glad you stopped watching Gunsmoke reruns to join us!”

After acknowledging, “We haven’t worked for a year and half,” Alexander and the band launch into their second number, 1970’s “Just About the Same,” a breezy island-influenced pop tune with a message of unity which reminds everyone, “Hey, everybody is/Just about the same/Just about the same/Hey, when you finally see/From where we came/From where we came.”

Jordan Cole — the son of late Association founding member and bassist Brian Cole — and drummer Bruce Pictor are featured together as lead vocalists on The Association’s Top 10 hit from 1968 called “Everything That Touches You,” its message of “Love, love, love, love, everything is love” delivering good vibes on this sunny day to the Jersey crowd.

Following avid applause, Alexander recalls, “We opened the Monterey Pop Festival with this song — and then we got to see the rest of the show,” before Cole sings lead on “Enter the Young,” the opening tune of the band’s best-selling 1966 debut album, And Then…. Along Comes the Association.

Guitarist Paul Holland handles the lead vocal on a cover version of one of the band’s favorite songs from the 1960s — The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee” — as the audience joins in, singing and clapping along on the memorable “Don’t walk away, Renee” chorus.

Bassist Del Ramos — brother of late long-time Association guitarist and singer Larry Ramos — dedicates the next song to his mom, revealing, “She will be 102 years old tomorrow!”

Smooth vocals cry out over the crowd on this song, recognized by the music licensing organization BMI as one of the 100 most-played songs of the last 100 years. The audience responds with cheers, applause, and whistles for “Never My Love.”

Ramos invites the audience to “Jump in any time you feel like it!” on the band’s interpretation of The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’.”

After Alexander asks, “Do you remember the 45? You had to have that little thing in the middle to play the records!” The Association launches into the B-side to “Never My Love” entitled “Requiem for the Masses,” a song which became an anthem to soldiers in Vietnam. The strumming guitars, vocal harmonies, mournful keyboard solo, and underlying military drum cadence bring a burst of applause from the crowd at the conclusion of the band’s emotional performance.

Additional highlights of The Association’s set include such songs as “Learn How to Land,” a tune which features tight vocals and a fiery instrumental exchange from Jordan Cole and Paul Holland on electric guitars, and “No Fair at All,” a number written by founding member Jim Yester who, according to Alexander, “is recovering from COVID” and unable perform at this time,” but is still “doing well at the age of 81.”

Ramos introduces Association founding member Jules Alexander, who created the vocal arrangement for the group’s 1966 #1 smash “Cherish.” As the group performs the number, members of the audience are willfully transported back to another time as they sing along on the well-known “Cherish is the word I use to describe” lyric.

The group follows up with a number which, according to Alexander, “when it was first released, half the stations wouldn’t play it.” The crowd reacts with cheers and applause to the band’s performance of their 1966 debut single, “Along Comes Mary,” and the group concludes its set with a reprise of “Windy,” lifting the crowd to its feet as the group takes a bow together center stage.

During intermission, we chat with several members of the audience who share their thoughts on The Association’s performance this afternoon. Whereas Andrea from Manalapan remarks, “I really loved it when they played their hits — their music brings back a lot of great memories and makes me happy!” Ilene from Manalapan jokes, “For their age, The Association is really good!”

Comments Gary from South Brunswick, “They sounded exactly like they did 50 years ago — just like their records,” adding, “I have all their records, and I play them with that little thing that goes in the middle,” before concluding, “I came to see Gary Puckett this afternoon and didn’t even know The Association would be here, but it was a really nice surprise getting to see them perform today.”

As Act II commences, the members of The Union Gap — Jamie Hilboldt on keyboards, Mike Candito on drums, and Woody Lingle on bass guitar — take the stage in military garb resembling the Union Army during the Civil War.

As Lingle announces, “Please welcome to the stage, Gary Puckett!” Puckett’s powerful voice and unmistakable vibrato fill the amphitheater as he makes his entrance looking stylish in a long black Union coat with gold trim and buttons singing his 1968 Top 5 smash, “Lady Willpower.”

The audience sings along on the song’s famous “Lady Willpower/It’s now or never” lyric before erupting into cheers and applause.

“What a crowd! Hello, New Jersey! It’s nice to be back with you!” announces Puckett before following up with his 1968 Top 10 hit, “Over You.” Crooning, “Why am I losing sleep over you/Re-living precious moments we knew,” by the time Puckett reaches the chorus, the audience happily joins him in singing the “Over you” lyric, to which he replies, “I like to hear you guys sing — it’s so good!”

“I hope you’re having fun!” declares Puckett, adding, “The Association sounded great!” After explaining that he’s going to perform a number of hits this afternoon which come primarily from his first three albums, he picks up a gold Les Paul electric guitar to present his version of Neil Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman” and then continues with a rockin’ rendition of The Beatles’ “Lady Madonna.”

Additional highlights of Puckett’s set include his interpretation of Sonny and Cher’s poignant “You Better Sit Down Kids” and his version of The Bee Gees’ melodic “To Love Somebody” which has all of the Union Gap musicians singing the “You don’t know what it’s like” background vocal behind Gary’s lead.

After asking how many people remember the great guitarist and singer, Glen Campbell, Puckett performs his version of Campbell’s hit, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” as a heartfelt tribute to the man who played on many of his recording sessions. He follows up with a lyrical interpretation of Petula Clark’s “Kiss Me Goodbye.”

Explaining, “1969 brought this song to Gary Puckett and the Union Gap — it was a coming of age song for all of us,” Puckett performs a compelling version of his Top 10 single, “This Girl Is a Woman Now,” his famous vibrato ringing out throughout the PNC Bank amphitheater.

The crowd cheers and applauds for this timeless power ballad.

Puckett asks all of the veterans in the audience to stand and as he shakes hands with several veterans in the front, he publicly announces, “It is because of you veterans that freedom lives. We’d like to honor you with this song from the Union Gap repertoire.” On this number entitled “Home,” Puckett sings with feeling, “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,” eliciting audience applause for this emotional tribute.

Moving on to his self-proclaimed “favorite song,” Puckett and Co. perform the powerful 1967 hit, “Woman Woman.” Instructing, “Lift your voices on the ‘Woman’ part!” Puckett invites the audience to sing along with him on the famous “Woman/Woah-oh-oh woman/Have you got cheating on your mind” chorus.

Adding, “Let’s do one more — I want to hear you sing on this!” audience members happily join in on Puckett’s 1968 Top 5 hit, “Young Girl.” After the music lovers in the crowd sing, “Young girl, get out of my mind/My love for you is way out of line,” they’re on their feet giving Puckett a well-deserved standing ovation to which he responds by saying, “Take care of yourself. The glory always goes to God.”

As we make our way out of the PNC Bank amphitheater, we chat with several audience members who give us their opinions of this afternoon’s performance. Exclaims Kathy from Toms River, “Gary Puckett is wonderful! His voice is stronger than ever, which is amazing,” before adding, “My favorite song today was ‘Young Girl.’” Jon from Toms River agrees, adding, “I thought both acts were excellent. These Garden State Arts Foundation concerts are a hidden gem.”

Tony from Denville comments, “I had a really good time! Gary Puckett’s voice sounds great and he looks great, too. I’m really glad he sang my favorites, ‘Lady Willpower’ and ‘Young Girl.’” Carmela from Denville recalls, “I can remember listening to Gary Puckett’s music on my transistor radio at the beach in Seaside Heights as a kid, and I can still remember all the words to his songs,” before pointing out, “You can tell he really loves the vets. His song, ‘Home,’ was a fitting tribute to all the veterans.”

Ken from Manahawkin concurs, explaining, “‘Home’ was my favorite song — I had tears in my eyes — but I also liked The Association’s ‘Requiem for the Masses,’ too. I think they should bring both groups back again in the future.” Ginny from Millstone agrees before concluding, “The entire show was great — I loved every minute of it!”

To learn more about Gary Puckett, please go to garypuckettmusic.com. For more information on The Association, click on theassociationwebsite.com. To learn more about the Garden State Arts Foundation’s series of free performances at the PNC Bank Arts Center, please click on gsafoundation.org.

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