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The Doo-Wah Riders LIVE! at the Grunin Center

By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

Fans of country music are ready and waiting inside Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center for the Arts this Saturday, May 14, 2022 evening for a live concert by The Doo-Wah Riders.

The Doo-Wah Riders are a country band with a Cajun twist. Founded in Southern California in 1978, the group has recorded seven albums including their latest, Obstacles. They have appeared in concert with Garth Brooks, Keith Urban, Dolly Parton, The Oak Ridge Boys, and LeAnn Rimes, and also served as a backup band for performers such as Chuck Berry, Charlie Daniels, Glen Campbell, Martina McBride, and Lee Ann Womack. In addition to appearing on TV on The Nashville Network, they can be seen performing their original song, “Glowing in the Ashes,” in the film Basic Instinct starring Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone.

Inside the Grunin Center auditorium, the crowd applauds as the members of The Doo-Wah Riders — Kenny Lee Benson on accordion, keyboards, and harmonica; Al Bonhomme on guitar; Daniel Blank on fiddle; Freddie Johnson on bass; and Jeff Sorenson on drums — take the stage wearing black cowboy hats and black Western-style outfits with white shirts accented with colored vests and ties.

Founding member Kenny Lee Benson greets the audience with a friendly, “Hi there! Are you ready for a good time?”

The audience reacts with an enthusiastic “Yeah!” to which Benson replies, “I’m ready for a good time and I ain’t gonna wait no more!”

Launching into an upbeat Cajun version of The Busboy’s “The Boys are Back in Town,” lead vocalist Benson sings with a country twang, “Tell Fat Jack to jump back and give you a shot of some booze/So you can party to some stomp-down butt-bumpin’ rock and roll, rhythm and blues” before the rest of the band joins in on the catchy “‘Cause the boys are back in town/The boys are back in town” chorus. Daniel Blank plays a sweet and fancy fiddle solo and Benson squeezes out a toe-tapping accordion solo that has audience members nodding their heads in rhythm to the catchy beat.

“Good evening, everyone!” exclaims Benson. “We’re The Doo-Wah Riders. We’ve been busy in the studio. We’re going to do a new song called, ‘I Can’t Take Me Anywhere.’” Benson sings lead on this fun and catchy tune which features bassist Freddie Johnson singing harmony and guitarist Al Bonhomme picking out a twangy solo on his Fender Telecaster.

Benson introduces the group’s next number — George Jones’ “You Can’t Get the Hell Out of Texas — by telling the crowd that even though the group is based out of Southern California, they spend much of their time in the Southwestern United States. Standing center stage playing keyboard, Benson cries, “Lord, you can’t get the hell out of Texas/‘Cause it’s the hell raisin’ center of the earth,” on this driving country tune which features a Daniel Blank fiddle solo, an Al Bonhomme electric guitar solo, and Freddie Johnson strutting around the stage playing his electric bass.

Following their interpretation of a new original song, “Gone Daddy,” Benson announces, “We bluegrass-ed this next one up a little bit,” joking, “We hope you enjoy it — and if you don’t, it will be over in about three minutes!” Here, Benson switches back to accordion for a foot-stomping rendition of “Proud Mary” which features Jeff Sorenson beating out the rhythm of a train on his drumset.

The crowd joins in on “Proud Mary’s” ubiquitous “Rollin’/Rollin’/Rollin’ on the river” chorus, Al Bonhomme’s fingers fly across the neck of his guitar, and violinist Daniel Blank plays death-defying fiddle-sawing runs.

The crowd applauds and Benson exclaims, “We love that Cajun kind of music! We’re gonna take you down Louisiana way right now.” Here, The Doo-Wah Riders perform a Cajun-styled interpretation of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Down at the Twist and Shout.”

In the middle of the number, Benson tells the audience a story about how after the band arrived in Toms River they stopped over at a nearby diner, Sandy’s Cozy Corner in Lakehurst, for Cajun omelettes. He asks members of the audience to imagine themselves enjoying Cajun omelettes and then has them echo-singing “Hey” after him, first low then high. The crowd enthusiastically responds before the band segues into Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya (On the Bayou).” Audience members happily join in on the famous “Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and filé gumbo” chorus before the tempo quickens, the fiddle whirls, and Benson and the band circle back “down to the Twist and Shout” for a spectacular finish.

The crowd cheers and The Doo-Wah Riders respond with their version of Buckwheat Zydeco’s “Hot Tamale Baby.” On this upbeat Zydeco number, Benson makes his way down into the audience and squeezes out a lively accordion solo directly in front of members of the crowd.

“We’re going to slow things down a little,” announces Benson, as they perform a song by The Mavericks entitled “In My Dreams.” On this country ballad, Daniel Blank’s fiddle cries in response to Benson’s heartfelt vocal and Al Bonhomme plays a lyrical guitar solo.

Benson tells the audience how he was asked to write a song for — and ultimately appear in — the movie, Basic Instinct. Here, he and the band perform Benson’s original number, “Glowing in the Ashes,” an upbeat country two-step, which was featured in the film.

The group sings in three-part harmony, “My heart’s still glowing in the ashes/I’ve got the kind of love that won’t expire,” after which fiddle, keyboard, and guitar take turns swinging up, down, and around the catchy melody.

“We’re going to do the title track from our fifth CD,” reveals Benson, recalling, “I moved to Boston in 1976 to go to music school, but I ran out of money. There, I met a guy from Georgia named Rebel. This song is Rebel’s story.” Launching into his original number, “Hillbilly Ranch,” Benson croons, “I’m drinking my life away/At the Hillbilly Ranch” on this wistful country number where fiddle and guitar play as if they’re performing a lullaby.

Following avid applause, Benson announces, “We’re gonna let Daniel Blank loose on fiddle and vocals” as The Doo-Wah Riders perform their dynamic interpretation of Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

Audience members clap in time to Jeff Sorenson’s driving drums as Blank makes his fiddle squeal and cry on this arrangement which also includes country-infused snippets of Edvard Grieg’s “In The Hall of the Mountain King” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The audience cheers for Blank’s inspired fiddle work.

Following a new original song, the country-rocker, “Wheels Beneath My Feet,” Benson dedicates the group’s next number “to all the truckers out there who do so much for all of us.” Here, The Riders plays their “Truck Driving Medley” which features such songs as Joe Stampley’s “Roll On, Big Mama,” The Willis Brothers’ “Give Me 40 Acres,” and Jerry Reed’s “East Bound and Down,” which many recognize from the Burt Reynolds’ movie, Smokey and the Bandit.

Following Buck Owens’ “Truck Drivin’ Man,” the medley ends with the group crying out in a cappella harmony, “Roll on/Roll on Big Mama!”

The crowd cheers and Benson says, “We’re going to slow things down again. This song is from our Obstacles album, and it’s about a conversation with God.” Here, Benson sings lead on “We Need to Have a Little Talk,” a touching song about having faith in the face of adversity.

Following heartfelt applause, Benson exclaims, “Hang on tight! Daniel Blank is gonna take you on a ride on the ‘Orange Blossom Special.’” On this highlight number, Blank plays up and down his fingerboard, his bow and fingers flying as he makes his fiddle sing and whine like a train, while Freddie Johnson stomps and cries out as he accompanies Blank on the bass. Fiddle and accordion play side by side and guitar and bass play side by side until Blank’s fiddle takes off again and leads the band on a wild country ride. Audience members join in clapping to the infectious beat that makes listenters want to move in their seats.

Benson comes down into the audience and solos on harmonica, adding familiar melodies to his solo including Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” He returns to the stage and picks up his accordion as the arrangement segues into a series of well-known songs including “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder and “Take the ‘A’ Train” by Duke Ellington. As the piece continues, Johnson steps up to the mic to ask, “How are we doing folks? This train is going slow, but we can make it go fast!”

Here, the music speeds up and Blank plays at breakneck speed with style and precision to audience hoots, hollers, and cheers.

Benson thanks the audience for coming before adding, “We hope we’ll be able to see you again!” The Doo-Wah Riders conclude their performance with a “Tribute to Cowboy Heroes,” a lively medley which features beloved cowboy tunes including theme songs from favorite TV shows including “The Lone Ranger,” “Bonanza,” and “Rawhide.”

The crowd responds with hoots, hollers, and a standing ovation as the band members tip their hats and exit the stage.

As audience members make their way out of the auditorium, we take a moment to chat with Kenny Lee Benson who tells us, “We loved playing here tonight in Toms River! The venue is beautiful and the people are friendly.”

“When we picked up the car rental and told them we were going to Toms River, the guy said, ‘Oh, you’ll like it there!’” adds Benson, noting, “On the way, we saw beautiful horse farms and countryside driving down here. Now we know why New Jersey is called The Garden State!”

We also chat with several members of the audience who share their opinions of tonight’s concert. Exclaims Jenna from Brick, “The Doo-Wah Riders are high energy! The band is awesome, and the Grunin Center venue is just beautiful.”

Declares Domenick from Nutley, “I enjoyed this show! It was unbelievable! All the musicians were great — just fantastic — I can’t wait to see them again soon.”

Marty from Westfield remarks, “I loved this show! The musicianship was just excellent,” and Greg from Toms River agrees, adding, “I loved the fiddler. He was mesmerizing.”

Mia from Westfield contends, “The Doo-Wah Riders were fabulous — so energetic — and they played a great variety of music,” noting, “I also love how they incorporated bits of other songs into their arrangements, like the snippets of Stevie Wonder and Queen they included within their country tunes.”

Lastly, we chat with Patty from Toms River who exclaims, “This show was outstanding! Once it started, I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage,” before concluding with a smile, “It was just so uplifting!”

To learn more about The Doo-Wah Riders, please go to doowahriders.com. For further information on upcoming performances at the Grunin Center — including Amanda Ann Platt and The Honeycutters on May 27, NYC3 on June 3, and The Bronx Wanderers on June 26 — please go to grunincenter.org.

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