Spotlight Central
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Spotlight Central

The Oak Ridge Boys LIVE! at BergenPAC

By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

Country music is playing over the loudspeakers inside Englewood, NJ’s BergenPAC auditorium this Thursday, March 7, 2019 as fans enter and take their seats. Before them, the stage is adorned with silver towers holding sets of lights, and projections of different colors can be seen on the walls. A drum kit sits center stage behind four microphones; on the right, there is a set of keyboards and a bass, and on the left, a fiddle, a pedal steel guitar, and a collection of eight acoustic and electric guitars.

But just who is all this musical equipment set up here for tonight?

An iconic country music group which, in its long history, has never once performed in this North Jersey setting — The Oak Ridge Boys.

As we wait for tonight’s show to begin, we chat with several members of the audience, all ready to experience a rare New Jersey performance from this famous foursome.

Relates Phil from Oceanside, NY, “I’ve loved the Oak Ridge Boys since the ’70s, and I’ve seen them 10 times! I really like all of their music. Originally, I had all of their albums on cassettes and then CDs, but now I have them on my iPod.”

Continuing, “I work from my car so I listen to their music all the time,” Phil concludes by proclaiming, “The Oak Ridge Boys are one of the few acts I can see where I’ll know the words to all the songs!”

Ron from Lodi remarks, “This is our first time seeing The Oak Ridge Boys. We’ve been waiting a long time to hear them in concert since they don’t play in North Jersey very often.”

Ron’s wife, Nancy, agrees adding, “We’re especially looking forward to hearing ‘Elvira’ — we became fans when that song first came out,” before smiling and singing out loud, “Giddy-up ah-oom poppa oom poppa mow mow!”

Michelle from Port Washington, NY reveals, “I’ve been following The Oak Ridge Boys since I was nine years old, so I’ve known them now for over 41 years! I’ve seen them hundreds of times — at least, once or twice a month for years.”

Recalling, “When I was young, I saw them on TV on The Barbara Mandrell Show and I just loved them. My parents started to bring me to their shows because I was so into them. Over the years, The Oak Ridge Boys have watched me grow up, to the point where I now bring my own my kids to the shows.”

Michelle’s friend, Christinanne, concurs noting, “I’ve attended close to 100 shows with Michelle myself — thanks to her, I’ve become a fan.”

The lights dim and Oak Ridge Boys’ tour manager, Darrick Kinslow, greets the Garden State crowd announcing, “The Boys are in New Jersey!”

At this point, he introduces the four members of the quartet — baritone William Lee Golden, leader Duane Allen, bass singer Richard Sterban, and tenor Joe Bonsall.

Lights flash and swirl on the audience as the foursome takes the stage along with their back-up group, The Mighty Oaks Band, featuring Roger Eaton on electric guitar, Jeff Douglas on acoustic guitar, Ron Fairchild on keyboards, Austin Curcuruto on drums, Scotty Simpson on bass, and Rex Wiseman on pedal steel, fiddle, and more.

Opening the show with the catchy country ditty, “Come On In,” the quartet intricately harmonizes to the audience’s delight.

Spotlights shine on each of the singers as they are featured on their tribute to American girls, “American Made,” an easy country rocker which has the Boys trading off lead vocals and eliciting cheers from the appreciative crowd.

Four-part harmonies fill the air on “No Matter How High” as the quartet croons, “I’ll always look up to you no matter how high I get,” a number which is supported by the tight Mighty Oaks band and driving drumming by its talented percussionist, Austin Curcuruto.

Joe Bonsall takes the microphone to greet the Jersey crowd exclaiming, “It’s a long way to come for good pizza!”

“Last week, we were in Florida eating strawberries,” continues Bonsall, joking, “Then we were in Louisiana eating gumbo before we were in Mississippi still eating gumbo!”

Promising, “Now we’re here to sing,” Bonsall announces, “This one is for all you beautiful ladies,” as William Lee Golden starts things off on the country two-step, “You’re the One (In a Million).”

The group follows up with Bonsall handling the lead on “Gonna Take a Lot of River,” a boot-scootin’ rockabilly number which has the group’s four-part harmonies chasing the blues away.

Duane Allen is featured on “This Crazy Love,” a power country rocker which features a swirling guitar duet accompanied by swirling lights overhead. Then pedal steel guitarist Rex Wiseman starts off “Beautiful Bluebird,” a song with a shuffle feel which spotlights singer William Lee Golden joined by his colleagues on harmony vocals.

Bass singer Richard Sterban’s powerful voice is featured on “Dream On,” a country rock ballad on which alternating colors resonate and pulse in the background.

Country music lovers dance in the aisles on “Saloon” as others clap and sing along on the song’s “She played tambourine with a silver jingle” lyric. Lights go up on the crowd on this gospel-infused number which features a Rex Wiseman fiddle solo and a Roger Eaton electric guitar solo which get audience members clapping, shouting, hooting, and hollering.

Wiseman’s fiddle is featured along with Austin Curcuruto’s drums on “Leaving Louisiana,” a country reel which builds in intensity and ends in some good old-fashioned country yodeling. Then, the group shifts over to an up-tempo rockabilly feel on “Roll Tennessee River,” a number which boasts pedal steel guitar, barrel house piano, driving drums, and members of the audience up and dancing in the front row.

Joe Bonsall takes a moment to introduce the members of The Mighty Oaks Band before being featured on the country ballad, “Never Hurts to Hurt.”

Bonsall’s voice cries out on this number which also spotlights Ron Fairchild’s Fender Rhodes keyboard sound, Jeff Douglas’ acoustic guitar, and a nifty electric guitar solo by Roger Eaton.

Duane Allen takes the lead on “Fancy Free,” a country rocker which features dynamic four-part harmonies that fill the theater while lights shine brightly on the audience.

His voice sounding true and strong, William Lee Golden is spotlighted on “Ozark Mountain Jubilee,” a tender ballad, before Duane Allen leads the upbeat gospel number, “Come On In (You Did the Best You Could Do),” a tune on which audience members’ heads bop to the infectious beat.

Following an enthusiastic response, Bonsall introduces a new song, “Pray to Jesus” — a humorous ditty on which the group sings, “We load our kids up in our new used car/And after church we hit the mini mart/Behind the counter up there on the wall/It reads 200 million on the power ball/Six little numbers that could change it all/So we pray to Jesus and we play the lotto.”

The audience cheers its approval and the group responds with the poignant, “Did I Make a Difference” a song about all kinds of people — notably moms and teachers — who spend their lives helping others.

Following the performance, Bonsall tells the audience, “That song was a deep cut on one of our albums. Last October, we were invited to perform at a benefit for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America where we were specifically asked to sing the song, and ever since, we can’t stop singing it.”

Adding, “Some of you may recall we recently sang at President George W. Bush’s funeral,” Bonsall emphasizes, “We’re not talking politics here, we’re talking friendship. We promised the family we would sing at his funeral,” before concluding, “Promise kept.”

At this point, the group launches into a poignant a cappella rendition of “Amazing Grace.” The union of their clear powerful voices in sync with one another creates a dynamic wall of sound which instantly brings audience members to their feet.

Then, William Lee Golden leads off on “Brand New Star,” a lively gospel tune.

Featuring slide guitar playing by Rex Wiseman, audience members love this number and many show it by dancing in their seats.

Blue lights dot the back of the stage as Duane Allen sings lead on “There Will Be Light,” a ballad which features a Ron Fairchild piano solo. Lights stream up and over the audience as Allan sings the lyric, “There will be light” one last time.

Another audience favorite is The Oak Ridge Boys’ rendering of their hit, “Thank God for Kids.” After crooning, “The nearest thing to heaven is a child,” lead singer William Lee Golden exclaims at the conclusion, “And thank God for grandkids, too!”

The audience rises to its feet yet again before the group launches into their ‘50s-style rocker, “Boom Boom,” featuring bass singer Richard Sterban.

Singing, “You got to shake it for the bass man!” the crowd stands and cheers on this rockin’ number which features Sterban’s low, low, low vocal talent. Afterwards, Bonsall takes the mic and points to Sterban while exclaiming, “We are the only act that even has one of ‘these’!” before adding, “He’s from South Jersey but he’s still accepted!”

Shouting, “Let’s sing ‘Elvira!’” the house lights go up in the theater and everyone stands and sings along on the ubiquitous chorus, “Elvira/Elvira/My heart is on fire/For Elvira” as all clap and sway.

Smoke rises from the stage as the group performs their final song of the evening, “Bobbie Sue,” a ‘50s-style doo-wop number which rocks the BergenPAC auditorium before the The Oak Ridge Boys say goodnight to this country music-loving crowd!

As we make our way out of the theater, we chat with several members of the audience who share their opinions of tonight’s concert with us.

First, we chat with Michelle, the fan with whom we spoke before the performance. Comments Michelle, “It was an hour and a half where people could be happy and forget about life for awhile — it’s pure entertainment everyone could just enjoy.”

Leon from Queens agrees calling The Oak Ridge Boys “fabulous” and stating, “I traveled two hours each way for this concert and it was absolutely worth it!”

Bruce from Teaneck remarks, “The Oak Ridge Boys were great — they are super talented — and there is no one around like bass singer Richard Sterban!”

Bruce’s wife, Janet, concurs adding, “They were all just wonderful!”

Cubby from West Milford acknowledges, “I have to admit — I was never a big fan of The Oak Ridge Boys, but I am now,” before exclaiming, “The older country music is so much better than the young country!”

Lastly, we converse with Sharon from West Milford who calls The Oak Ridge Boys “just awesome!”

Revealing, “This concert was a ‘bucket list’ thing for me,” Sharon explains, “I was a kid who loved Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, and The Stones, but my father liked country music. He used to tell me to turn off my music while trying to get me to listen to country. Well, it worked because, now, I absolutely love it — it’s timeless, and it’s real music.”

Continuing, “The Oak Ridge Boys sing from the heart and from the soul and you don’t have to be religious to enjoy them, but when you hear them, you feel like it’s a religious experience,” Sharon concludes by looking up and uttering with a smile, “Dad — here’s another one of your icons I came to see!”

To learn more about The Oak Ridge Boys, please go to oakridgeboys.com. For information on upcoming concerts at BergenPAC — including The Doobie Brothers on April 9, Foreigner on May 3, and The Temptations & The Four Tops on May 9 — please click on bergenpac.org.

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