‘The Geator’ Rocks the House with Gary U.S. Bonds, The Chiclettes, and Bobby Wilson LIVE! at the PNC Bank Arts Center
By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery
On Tuesday, May 24, 2022, the Garden State Arts Foundation continued it’s Spring season of free live entertainment for NJ residents aged 55 and over with a concert entitled Jerry ‘The Geator’ Blavat Rocks the House with Gary U.S. Bonds, The Chiclettes, and Bobby Wilson at Holmdel, NJ’s PNC Bank Arts Center. The season’s first program starred Las Vegas entertainer Rick Michel who presented his Frank Sinatra tribute, Sinatra Forever, on May 18.
Before the show begins, we go backstage to chat with ‘The Geator’ — aka Jerry Blavat — a Philly/NJ entertainer well known today for promoting classic oldies music. In the 1960s, it was Blavat who introduced the world to artists like The Four Seasons and The Isley Brothers on his popular radio show. He also appeared on TV in programs including The Monkees and in movies like Desperately Seeking Susan. Blavat shares stories about his life and career in his 2011 autobiography, You Only Rock Once.
During our chat, Blavat tells us how he started his career as a teenage dancer on TV’s Bandstand in Philadelphia before Dick Clark took over as host. He also talks about how he went on to become a radio personality and record label owner who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
States Blavat about this accomplishment, “It really is a rewarding, humbling experience to know that your peers appreciate what you’ve been able to do in this business. I never intended to be a disc jockey. I never intended to be an actor. I never intended to be a dancer. I came from a broken family. But if you read my book, you’ll see I always was in awe of show business, and I had wonderful people who nurtured me and befriended me.”
In discussing his many friends in the entertainment business, Blavat recalls, “When Sammy Davis, Jr. died, he was 64 years of age. He was my friend all his adult life and I was his best man when he got married in Philadelphia. I sat with giants at Frank Sinatra’s table. Dean Martin called me when I did The Monkees and asked if I could get his daughter, Deana, a part, and she was on The Monkees with me,” before concluding, “My life has been about wonderful people. And if it ends tomorrow, I’ll have no regrets because I made people happy, and by making people happy, it fulfilled my life.”
We take our seats in the open-air PNC Bank Arts Center amphitheater where Garden State Arts Foundation VP Ron Gravino takes the stage. As the classic “77-WABC” radio jingle plays, Gravino thanks WABC Radio for their help sponsoring the GSAC series of shows, joking, “They gave me a lot of money to say that and I’m going to say it every day!” Gravino also thanks such additional sponsors as PNC Bank and Live Nation Entertainment, along with executive director Cookie Santiago, the NJ State Police, and the staff and stagehands of the PNC Bank Arts Center before giving a special shout out to volunteer Bob O’Brien for his help with the shows.
Following the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Gravino introduces the show’s emcee announcing, “Today, we have a dear friend with us — the ‘Cousin Brucie’ of Philadelphia — Jerry ‘The Geator’ Blavat.” As Blavat takes the stage, he blows kisses, and Gravino and Blavat do a little side step as they sing ‘The Geator’s’ theme song together.
Blavat welcomes the crowd of seniors 55 and over exclaiming, “You look wonderful!” joking, “You’re not seniors, you’re juniors, and this is your junior high school reunion!” before singing, “It Ain’t Nothing But A Party,” backed by the female vocal trio, The Chiclettes.
The audience cheers and Blavat introduces The Chiclettes — Deanna Caroll, Susan Marten, and Sarah Tracey — who start things off with a bang as they dance in sparkling blue dresses while performing upbeat renditions of The Pointer Sisters’ “Jump (For My Love)” and Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love.” As they sing, they’re accompanied by The Coda Band featuring Mary Beth Ryan-Mastropaolo on saxophone, Dennis DiBrizzi on keyboards, Joe DeAngelis on guitar, Paul Page on bass, and Pete Mastropaolo on drums.
Presenting a tribute to their favorite female artists of the past five decades, The Chiclettes perform such classic tunes as The 5th Dimension’s “One Less Bell to Answer” and Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” where their sultry style brings whistles and applause from the crowd.
Ending their set with Ike and Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary,” The Chiclettes start off by rolling slow and steady until the band kicks it up a notch. Then, the singers sing and dance to an enticing groove that has people dancing in the aisles before the amphitheater erupts with applause and cheers and ‘The Geator’ returns to dance the group off the stage.
After acknowledging The Coda Band, Blavat brings out entertainer Vinnie Mendugno who performs an a cappella rendition of “Volare” as a tribute to the late teen idol, Bobby Rydell.
Declaring, “We live in the greatest time in America where the music will keep you happy and this guy will keep you rocking,” Blavat introduces his long-time friend, singer Gary U.S. Bonds.
Bonds takes the stage along with his two backup singers — his wife, Laurie Anderson, and their daughter, Laurie Anderson-Tobias. As Bonds greets the audience with an energetic “Are you ready to rock and roll?” the crowd responds shouting, “Yeah!”
Launching into his 1961 hit, “New Orleans,” music lovers in the house echo Bonds’ catchy “I said, a-hey-hey-hey-yeah/(I said a-hey-hey-hey-yeah)” refrain on this upbeat rocker which features a vibrant tenor sax solo and a rockin’ guitar solo.
Bonds takes the crowd back to the early 1960s with a medley of his hits including “Twist Twist Señora,” “School is Out,” and “Dear Lady Twist,” before announcing “The Orlons had a hit with this record,” at which point he performs the upbeat “Not Me.”’
Confessing, “We did this song many years ago and we never officially recorded it, but I penned it,” Bonds and the band perform “Caught in a 1950's Kind of Mood.” On this nostalgic tune, Bonds smoothly handles the lead while his wife and daughter capably add their voices to the mix.
A highlight of Bonds’ set is his rollicking rendition of the Bruce Springsteen-penned “This Little Girl” which has the audience clapping along to a wailing sax solo.
‘The Geator’ retakes the stage to join in on the fun as Bonds performs his 1961 hit, “Quarter to Three.” Audience members clap along on this upbeat rocker where the stage heats up with the sound of a lively sax, rockin’ guitar, percussive keyboard, and rolling drums and bass.
After thanking his singers and band, Bonds takes a bow to the crowd’s standing ovation. To conclude Act I, ‘The Geator’ retakes the stage and expresses his gratitude to the people of New Jersey declaring, “For 63 years, you’ve made my life happy and I thank you!”
During intermission, we chat with two notable musicians in the house who share their opinions about today’s performance. Remarks singer Vito Picone, who wrote and recorded the #1 1958 hit “Little Star” with his group, The Elegants, “We’re enjoying the show! It’s an excellent performance. It’s just like the 1950s all over again.”
Comments Elvis Presley tribute artist Richie Santa, “This is a great show! There’s great talent on the stage, and an amazingly tight band,” before concluding, “It’s so good seeing everyone back together on stage again. This is something we all need!”
Act II begins with Bobby Wilson taking the stage with The Chiclettes and The Coda Band. Looking sharp with his stylized hair and wearing a black and gold ensemble complete with a gold watch and jewelry, Wilson gets the crowd clapping along on his opening number, “I’ll Be Satisfied.”
His energetic performance brings smiles to the audience who marvel at how much he looks and sounds like his father, Jackie Wilson.
Launching into his next number, Wilson Pickett’s “634–5789,” keys tinkle on the keyboard as The Chiclettes sing the famous phone number in the background to Wilson’s compelling lead. Audience members cheer as they recognize the next tune, Sam Cooke’s’ “Twisting the Night Away,” where Vinnie Medugno duets with Wilson and the pair twists as the sax solo growls. Audience members twist in their seats and in the aisles before responding with whistles, cheers, and applause.
“Are we having a good time?” asks Wilson before he performs a soulful interpretation of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”
Members of the crowd wave their arms in the air on this stirring performance.
After recognizing and thanking all of the military veterans in the audience, Wilson performs his interpretation of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” where he and saxophonist Mary Beth Ryan-Mastropaolo come together as her sax wails to the sound of cheers from the crowd.
Asking the audience, “Who remembers Jackie Wilson?” Bobby gets the audience to clap along with him on his father’s 1959 hit, “That’s Why (I Love You So).” As he sings and dances, the audience joins The Chiclettes in singing the song’s catchy “That’s why I love you so” refrain.
Announcing, “This next one is for Ron Gravino. It’s my father’s first big hit,” Wilson performs a rollicking rendition of “Reet Petite.” The audience happily echoes Wilson on the rhythmic “Oh, oh, oh, oh” chorus as he twists, swivels his hips, and dances across the stage.
A highlight of Wilson’s set is his version of his father’s 1959 smash,“Lonely Teardrops.” The audience happily sings along with Bobby and the Chiclettes on the song’s famous “Say you will” refrain. Getting down on his knees as he cries, “Lonely teardrops/My pillow’s never dry of lonely teardrops,” Wilson feeds off the crowd’s energy and the audience responds with cheers for his dynamic performance.
Slowing things down, Wilson demonstrates the versatility and control of his voice on “To Be Loved.” Then, rockin’ and rollin’ around the stage, Wilson performs an electrifying rendition of “Baby Work Out.”
Audience members dance in their seats and in the aisles to the irresistible beat as Wilson energetically sings and dances his heart out, proving to the audience why he’s earned the nickname, ‘Mr. Entertainment.’ The crowd shows its love for Wilson and his music with animated cheers and applause.
Wilson tells the audience a story about how Smokey Robinson once confided in him saying, “If it wasn’t for Jackie Wilson, I wouldn’t be here.” Then, he dedicates his performance of “Tracks of My Tears” to Robinson. He follows up with another highlight number of his set — “(Your Love Keeps Liftin’ Me) Higher and Higher” — where The Chiclettes come downstage as Wilson exclaims, ‘We’re gonna go to church!” Audience members can’t help but stand, sing, and dance, their arms reaching higher and higher, during this rousing performance which inspires an extended standing ovation.
Medugno asks the audience, “Do you want one more from Bobby?” and the crowd responds, “Yeah!” Couples slow dance in the audience as Wilson serenades them with Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves A Woman,” crooning with power and style before the crowd rises to its feet one last time for this talented entertainer.
As audience members make their way out of the PNC Bank Arts amphitheater, we chat with several music lovers who share their thoughts about today’s concert. Says Gene, a self-described “‘50s fanatic” from Monroe Township, “‘The Geator’ was entertaining, and I was quite impressed with The Chiclettes, who were excellent,” before noting, “Gary U.S. Bonds really exceeded my expectations” and “Bobby Wilson was amazing — this was my very first time seeing him.”
Exclaims Helen from Spring Lake, “This was an awesome show! Everyone was so good. Gary U.S. Bonds was excellent, and although I didn’t know Bobby Wilson before this show, I thought he was phenomenal.”
Kathy from Lakewood comments, “What else can I say? This show was fantastic! The Chiclettes were very good, and Bobby Wilson is a real showman who is as cute as a button,” before confessing, “I was a big fan of his father, and he looks so much like him!” Annie from Hillside agrees, explaining, “I loved this show! I saw Jackie Wilson when I was 17 at the RKO in Newark. Now I’m 70 and I’ve just seen Bobby Wilson who moves just like his father and looks exactly like him, too!”
Carol from Manchester calls today’s performance, “Fantastic!” acknowledging, “There was a good variety of music which had me dancing in my seat.” Continuing, “I love concerts. I saw ‘The Geator’ 17 years ago in Wildwood, NJ,” Carol notes, “I come almost every year to the concerts here at the PNC Bank Arts Center.”
Al from Manchester concurs, exclaiming, “This was a wonderful show! All the performers were excellent” before concluding, “We’ll be back here to see Tommy James and the Shondells on June 9th!”
For information on upcoming GSAF shows at the PNC Bank Arts Center — including Cousin Brucie presents Tommy James and the Shondells, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and The 1910 Fruitgum Company on June 9, and The Letterman with Comedian John Pizzi on June 23 — please go to gsafoundation.org.
To learn more about Jerry ‘The Geator’ Blavat, please go to geatorgigs.webs.com. For more on The Chiclettes, click on chiclettes.com. For further info on Gary U.S. Bonds, please navigate to garyusbonds.com. For more info on Bobby Wilson, check out facebook.com/BobbyBrooksWilson.