Thursday, August 4, 2011
Tonight, vacationers and residents of Springfield, Missouri will gather at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds to welcome the five bands comprising The Happy Together Tour, celebrating 26 years since the series debut. In concert are The Buckinghams, The Grass Roots, The Association, Mark Lindsay (former lead singer of Paul Revere & the Raiders), and The Turtles, featuring Flo and Eddie.
Remember the 1969 classic movie, "If it's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium"? That's pretty much what the Happy Together Tour is like this year. Since it's Wednesday, it is Springfield, MO. As much as Tour Producer Ron Hausfeld has done his best to route concert dates for maximum efficiency, there's still some major miles to be flown, driven, and shuttled, all within 24 hours' time.
This year's tour began July 8th in Westbury, NY, and toured across Connecticut, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey, back to Pennsylvania, Florida, and Georgia. So, after three straight weeks of shows, the tour broke for a week's rest. That rest was short-lived for Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna because The Buckinghams traveled, with their full band, to Ocean City, NJ and then to Pensacola, FL for a private party.
From Springfield, Missouri's concert tonight at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds, the group will travel to perform in Kettering, Ohio, the next day at the Fraze Pavillion for the Performing Arts. Friday's show is in Sylvania, Ohio at the Centennial Terrace; Saturday brings the show to The Buckinghams' home state of Illinois, at the beautiful Genesee Theatre in Waukegan. Sunday, the tour arrives at West Allis, Wisconsin for the Wisconsin State Fair.
That's four states in five days, but to these seasoned musicians, being on the road is more a joy rather than a pain. Carl Giammarese says, "Logistics can be a challenge, but everyone associated with the tour has done their best to make this a great experience." The Buckinghams' Nick Fortuna said, "we're returning to several of the same venues we played last year on the 25th Anniversary tour, and it's been good to see so many of our fans return again this year." Plus, they've met new fans and gained more friends this year.
Giammarese agrees, "It's humbling and heartwarming to have fans come up after every show and share how far they've traveled to hear you that night. And then they share their photos of the evening on our Facebook pages, which is nice." Indeed, Facebook postings on many of the artists' Facebook pages show people traveling to multiple Happy Together concerts, some shows as many as 300 miles apart. But for classic rock music lovers, that's just part of summer fun. With loyal fans making efforts to be there, the musicians feel less like road warriors and more like appreciated artists with every show.
Grass Roots bassist/vocalist, Mark Dawson concurs. He says one of his favorite things about seeing friends on the road "is how the conversation always seems to drift toward the subject of a mutual friend, or some kind of event we had shared in the past." He adds, "For me, the stories can sometimes conjure up great moments that I may have forgotten over time...and it always puts a smile on my face because we did some pretty ridiculous things 'back in the day'". Good times, shared memories.
What also helps on long journeys between shows is the camaraderie between the musicians, many of whom have known each other since "back in the day" and traveled these same roads together for many years. The Buckinghams and The Association had done a mini-tour together 10+ years ago, plus The Grass Roots and The Buckinghams have frequently shared concert billings at favorite venues such as the Star Plaza Theatre, over the past 10 years. So, for Dusty Hanvey and Mark Dawson of the Grass Roots, it's "old home week" to be with Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna.
The Association was part of the 1984 Happy Together Tour launched by The Turtles, so they're good friends. Mark Lindsay is easygoing and blends a great sense of humor into group dynamics, so everyone assuredly has fun. Topping off the combination for zany antics are the penultimate purveyors of humor extraordinaire, owned and operated by none other than Flo and Eddie, The Turtles. There's never a shortage of 'funny' with these guys.
YouTube videos of some behind-the-scenes joking that goes on (see the accompanying YouTube video created and crafted by John Montagna, bass player/vocalist for the tour, about a simple jacket he brought on tour last year). That purple velvet coat took on a life of its own as Mark Volman's indefatigable fun-loving nature determined to vex Montagna about 'who' was actually entitled to wear that jacket, and who was not. Here's John on the bus:
In which my snazzy purple velvet waistcoat gets hijacked by a rock legend, but for some reason I don't mind too much. Special appearances by Carl Giammarese and Mark Lindsay. From 2010.
An important part of the tour is an outstanding backing band on stage for the shows. Once again, Tour Producer Ron Hausfeld decided to keep the show flowing, having a single group of professional musicians would make it easy for the five acts to get onstage and off quickly without the audience have to wait for the eternal set changes and the overdone "test, test" "check, check" sound trials, often endured by crowds at festivals where crews change setups between bands.
So, where do you find a group of musicians who know all the 60s songs that comprise some 54 chart hits, most of which are performed in the evening's concert? Fortunately, Hausfeld had worked before with Godfrey Townsend (guitar, also The Turtles' regular guitarist), John Montagna (bass), Manny Focarazzo (keyboards) and Steve Murphy (drums) in other tours he'd produced, such as Hippiefest. When it comes to touring, this quartet, who also provide spot-on backing vocals for all the artists, are pros, having traveled internationally as Alan Parsons' tour band for several years. This is the second year for these four men to back the artists on the Happy Together tour. Their stage presence shows they're having just as much fun as the artists in entertaining the crowds.
And yet, it's not been all fun and laughter on the first part of the tour. On July 11th, all artists faced the most difficult challenge of the tour. Only hours after they'd learned that Grass Roots founding member, Rob Grill, had passed away after a long illness, the bands had to put on a show in Bethlehem, PA at the Muskifest Cafe. That was where entertainment professionals had to forget their personal feelings and shift into a different gear because "the show must go on."
Bethlehem audiences watched in awe as Grass Roots singer/bassist Mark Dawson and guitarist/vocalist Dusty Hanvey gave an inspired performance, as they dedicated their work to Rob's memory. Professionalism always rises to the top, and each of the artists sang their best that night, despite having to work through their personal loss. And, as the tour begins again, audiences appreciate even more the precious gifts of music shared by the bands.
Next week, the tour heads west: Aug 10th, Chandler, Arizona at the Wild Horse Pass Casino; Aug. 11, Santa Ynez, California at the Chumash Casino, and another break. Then it's back east to Louisville, Kentucky on Aug. 24 at the Kentucky State Fair, Effingham Performance Center, Effingham, Illinois on Aug. 25, Paramount Theatre, in Aurora, Illinois, Aug. 26; to Mitchell, South Dakota on Aug. 27 at the Corn Palace, Altoona Iowa on Aug. 28 at the Meadows Ballroom, Prairie Meadows Casino, and concludes in St. Paul, Minnesota, Aug. 29 at the Minnesota State Fair.
The first leg of the Happy Together 2011 tour spurred overwhelmingly positive reviews, as audiences continued to flock to hear the artists. There's clear appreciation for those who perform the hits, beloved by baby boomers across the country. In 1985-1986, the first year of the Happy Together Tour proved to be one of Pollstar's designated Top 10 Concert Tours. This year, all signs are pointing towards similar regard. For concert schedule and ticket information, check Pollstar or visit the artists' web sites.
Editor's Note: This article first appeared on examiner.com.