Friday, November 2, 2012

Asking for your prayers and good wishes for our friend, John L. Opager, Jr.

We’d like to take a minute to ask a favor of our Buckinghams’ friends and extended family to join us in prayers of healing for our dear friend John Opager, who is currently battling cancer and being such a trooper during the treatment process.

As many of you know who have known us since the beginning, The Buckinghams owe our deepest gratitude and thanks to John. In essence, he gave us our name. We were first known as The Pulsations when we auditioned for and won the battle of the bands, and the right to perform for 13 weeks on the “All-Time Hits” TV show on WGN-TV back in 1965. The producers didn’t like our name and wanted us to change it and have it sound more like the British groups hitting the tops of the record charts at the time.

During our first days of rehearsal, we’d made friends with John Opager, a young man about our age who was the security guard at the TV station. He gave us a list of names he’d thought up and we picked The Buckinghams from his listing. It made good sense. There was Buckingham Palace in England and Buckingham Fountain in Chicago. From that day on, The Buckinghams is how we’ve been known for 46 years.

We were thrilled when John and his friends joined us at Bolingbrook in August, 2011, as we returned there to celebrate Mayor Roger Claar’s annual Jubilee, and we were delighted to introduce him to you, the crowds that filled the lawns of Bolingbrook, and give him some long-deserved kudos.

Today we ask you, our friends and family, if you’ll share John’s name in a prayer and thought for healing against cancer. If you’d like to send him a get-well card, that would certainly make the time go faster between radiation treatments, to which he seems to be responding as best he can. The following address can be used to reach out to him.

Even if you’ve not met him or know him as we do, if you’ve ever bought a record or seen a concert by The Buckinghams, you have been touched by the life of John Opager, just as he touched ours, and continues to, as we journey forward in this life, together. Thanks so much for reading and for well-wishes and prayers you can offer in John’s name.

We send him our love and prayers today,

Carl, Nick, and the entire Buckinghams extended family

Cross-posted on Facebook here.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Ohio's Camp O'Bannon celebrates 90 years in 'Birthday Bash with The Buckinghams'

One of the most anticipated events for Newark, Ohio’s nonprofit Camp O’Bannon is the upcoming celebration of their 90th anniversary. The camp serves the needs of over 400 Licking Country children, ages 9–15, each summer. Given the longevity of this Ohio children’s destination, and the special anniversary, Camp O’Bannon’s Board of Directors, headed by civic leader Bob McAleer, has something very special planned. The group will host a dynamic musical celebration in the recently restored, historic Midland Theatre on Sunday, September 30. Granville is home to prestigious Denison University.
The 90th anniversary Birthday Bash for Camp O'Bannon is the brainchild of Bob McAleer, board president, and Mariano Longo, Orchestral Events CEO, and the extremely dynamic Newark-Granville Symphony Orchestra. For full story click here.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Baby Boomers flock the Pacific Amphitheater for The Happy Together Concert Tour

Ella Batalon, LA Photojournalist Examiner gave the 2012 Happy Together Tour a 5-star review on July 16, 2012.
"The 'Happy Together Tour' concert showcased the best in live 1960s classic rock, bringing excellent entertainment filled with fun memories for the entire family." To read Ella's full story, click here. Here are 3 of Ella's photos of Carl and Nick Ella posted 14 photos of the entire tour on her story, so be sure and check out her slide show there, too.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

FlashBack 2012: Happy Together Tour 2012 Resumes and Heads West to California

"Tonight, after 15 successful concerts in June and a two-week hiatus, the Happy Together Tour 2012, the ultimate classic rock and roll road show, resumes in California. The first 15 shows, featuring The Turtles, The Buckinghams, Micky Dolenz, Gary Puckett, and Grass Roots, spent the first part of the anniversary tour in the eastern United States. The week ahead includes seven shows across the western United States—with four in California, and one each in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah."

Carl Giammarese, The Buckinghams' lead singer and guitarist at the Keswick Theatre. (Marie J. LoPrete, used with permission)

Nick Fortuna, The Buckinghams bassist and vocalist at the Keswick Theatre. (Marie J. LoPrete, used with permission)

Concert reviews from the first leg of the tour have been consistently positive. Writers have remarked how true the artists’ voices are still today to the original records from the 60s and 70s. Also noted is the high energy that the artists show on stage, individually and together, make revisiting those decades like a ride in a time machine.

Of course, each of the groups had multiple chart hits on Billboard’s Top 40 for years. Audience members have been flooding YouTube with videos from each stop on the tour, and maintain the best of classic rock can be found in this artist grouping.

Shows feature Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna, The Buckinghams, best known for “Kind of a Drag,” “Hey Baby, They’re Playing Our Song,” “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” and “Susan.” The Buckinghams performed in concerts with their full band during the hiatus and are scheduled to do so again later this month.

Singer/bassist Mark Dawson and guitarist/vocalist Dusty Hanvey bring Grass Roots hits to life (“Temptation Eyes,” “Midnight Confessions,” “Two Divided by Love,” and “I’d Wait a Million Years”). A special part of the shows is Dawson and Hanvey singing and playing, while a film of Rob Grill plays in the background on the video screen, which audiences always appreciate. Even more poignant will be tonight's performance, as it marks one year since Rob Grill's passing. Dawson and Dusty Hanvey have carried forward the music of the Grass Roots with the blessing of Rob's wife Nancy.

Gary Puckett’s baritone rings on “Young Girl,” “Woman, Woman,” “Lady Willpower,” “Over You,” and “This Girl is a Woman Now.” His favorite songs from the days of Gary Puckett and the Union Gap provoke audience singalongs almost instantly. Some who attend the concerts bring their well-worn Columbia 45s for Puckett to sign. His discography is extensive.

Micky Dolenz brings back the hits of The Monkees, including “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone,” “I’m a Believer,” and “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.” A video tribute to Davy Jones accompanies Dolenz’s performance in poignant memory of Jones’ passing earlier this year. Micky has generously performed in Davy's place in concerts such as Walt Disney World in the past months, in tribute to his fellow Monkee, in addition to his regular full solo concert schedule.

Then, the music (and comedy) of The Turtles, featuring Flo and Eddie, comes to the front of the stage. Each night is different as headliners Mark Volman (Flo) and Howard Kaylan (Eddie) combine fast-paced ad libs with dead-on vocals that showcase some of the most popular singalong hits. The Turtles are the driving force that maintains the high energy of each show.

In fact, audiences are welcome to sing along and they do, and from many of the early venues in the tour, fans posting pictures show the audiences on their feet, not just for a standing ovation but for the entire show. Dancing in the aisles is permitted, when there’s space as many venues such as the Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater were filled.

Video by YouTube user BigDaddy1958: Happy Together Tour at the Plaza Theater Orlando June 12, 2012

Last year, the Happy Together Tour -- which featured five incredible artists performing some of the greatest pop rock of the sixties -- took to the road in celebration of the tour's 25th Anniversary with many of the same artists that shared the stage together in 1985 including The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie, The Grass Roots and The Buckinghams. The Happy Together Tour 2012 promises to be another good time had by all.

The highlight of the show is the grand finale, where all the artists come on stage together and sing “Happy Together,” thus concluding the evening’s return to the 60s. Meet and greets with the artists are popular parts of the show and Facebook traffic shows the popularity of these sessions, as evidence by fans posting pictures with the artists on their individual Facebook pages after each show.

Ahead this week:

Wed. July 11 San Diego, CA Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay

Thur. July 12 Santa Ynez, CA Chumash Casino

Fri. July 13 Sacramento, CA California State Fair

Sat. July 14 Costa Mesa, CA Orange County Fair, Pacific Amphitheatre

Sun. July 15 Fountain Hills, AZ Fort McDowell Casino

Mon. July 16 Santa Fe, NM Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino

Tue. July 17 Sandy, UT Sandy City Amphitheatre

Tonight’s show at the scenic Humphrey’s by the Bay is sold out, just another indication of how Baby Boomers are embracing these high energy shows.

Later this month, the tour will return to the northeast United States before concluding with 17 shows this August.

Fri. July 27 Bangor, ME Waterfront Park

Sat. July 28 Asbury Park, NJ Paramount Theatre

Sun. July 29 Vienna, VA Filene Center at Wolf Trap

Mon. July 30 Bethlehem, PA Musikfest Café at ArtsQuest Center

In total, 43 audiences will have the opportunity to see the Happy Together Tour this summer, almost twice as many as in the 2011 tour. And the hits just keep on coming.

Here's a pic of Marie with Grass Roots' lead singer, Mark Dawson

Thanks to Marie J. LoPrete for all these photos

Gary Puckett at the Keswick Theatre on the Happy Together Tour. (Marie J. LoPrete, used with permission)

Mark Dawson, Grass Roots vocalist and bassist at the Keswick Theatre on the Happy Together Tour. (Marie J. LoPrete, used with permission)

Dusty Hanvey, Grass Roots guitarist and vocalist at the Keswick Theatre on the Happy Together Tour. (Marie J. LoPrete, used with permission)

Micky Dolenz of The Monkees at the Keswick Theatre on the Happy Together Tour. (Marie J. LoPrete, used with permission)

Micky Dolenz sings and plays the guitar at the Keswick Theatre on the Happy Together Tour. (Marie J. LoPrete, used with permission)

Not Lady Gaga, but it is Howard Kaylan of The Turtles featuring Flo and Eddie at the Keswick Theatre. (Marie J. LoPrete, used with permission)

Mark Volman, aka Flo, aka Professor Flo, at the Keswick Theatre on the Happy Together Tour. (Marie J. LoPrete, used with permission)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana Girl Scouts announce first Cookie Classic

Many of you know that Susan Rakis, Concert Coordinator for The Buckinghams has also been with the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana and so this event is close to her heart in two ways. The Buckinghams headlined the 100th Anniversary of Girl Scouts Birthday Celebration in Chicago's Grant Park on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. "Mark your calendars for Saturday, September 8, for the first Girl Scout Cookie Classic, to be held in Chicago’s Grant Park, in a celebration that starts with a 5K Run/Walk race to begin a day that features first-class music entertainment, food, fun and more. The nationally acclaimed pop-rock band, The Buckinghams will perform, as will Girl Scout music legend, Melinda Caroll, and teen favorite pop band, Savvy. And that’s just for starters."
To read the rest of the story and check out the photos, click here.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Happy Together Tour 2012 Begins Tonight in Georgia, 43 Cities Strong

Classic rock is alive and well and on tour in 43 cities nationwide, beginning tonight in Columbus, Georgia, much to the delight of all baby boomers who want summertime entertainment. The tour gives audiences another chance to relive some of the greatest classic rock music of the summers of their youth. Five musical acts comprise the Happy Together Tour this year, anchored by The Turtles, whose invitation to The Buckinghams, Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, Gary Puckett, and Grass Roots guarantees great music and some really fun onstage antics, courtesy of Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan’s ad libs and zany senses of humor.
2011 Happy Together Tour at the DTE Center, with The Buckinghams on stage. The Buckinghams' FB page, used with permission.

This year’s tour is the 3rd anniversary of the 25th anniversary tour of the Happy Together group, anchored by the familiar beloved anthem by The Turtles, and the audience invariably sings along when the entire group of entertainers comes back on stage for the closing number. In 2010, the 25th anniversary tour took the music to 23 cities; the 26th anniversary tour of 2011 saw the group in 24 cities; and, this year’s tour is the best ever, with the acts traveling across the United States and into Canada for 43 separate concerts.

With an outstanding backing band, three members of whom are repeating this tour with the artists for their third year, the shows stars are able to each share all their hit songs for the audience with no “down time” for band gear changeout. Tour producer Ron Hausfeld has found this system to work each year and the audience is guaranteed 2.5 hours of continuous entertainment. Tickets range from $25-$50, depending on the venue. Some venues provide VIP seating; check the links to each show provided in the list here.

The public is invited to start their summer vacation with some of the best music of the 1960s and 1970s in the pop-rock celebration of harmony. The Happy Together formula for fun is anchored by Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan of The Turtles, Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna of The Buckinghams, Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, Gary Puckett, and Mark Dawson and Dusty Hanvey of the Grass Roots.

The Turtles, The Buckinghams, and Grass Roots are making their third consecutive appearance celebrating the (now) 27th anniversary of the 1985 tour, of which they were they were a part. That 1985 Happy Together Tour was named one of the Top 10 grossing tours of the year nationwide, comprising 190 concerts and lasting 7 months. This year’s tour will conclude August 30th at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, NY.

Happy Together 2012 Schedule—43 cities

Fri. June 8 Columbus, GA River Center

Sat. June 9 Dothan, AL Civic Center

Sun. June 10 Chattanooga, TN Riverbend

Tues. June 12 Orlando, FL Plaza Theatre

Wed. June 13 Hollywood, FL Seminole Hard Rock Live

Thur. June 14 Jacksonville, FL Florida Theatre

Fri. June 15 Clearwater, FL Ruth Eckerd Hall

Sat. June 16 Hiawassee, GA Anderson Music Hall

Sun. June 17 Montgomery, AL Montgomery Perfoming Arts Center

Tues. June 19 Glenside, PA Keswick Theatre

Wed. June 20 New Brunswick, NJ State Theatre

Thur. June 21 Tarrytown, NY Tarrytown Music Hall

Fri. June 22 Lancaster, PA American Music Theatre

Sat. June 23 Westbury, NY NYCB Theatre at Westbury

Sun. June 24 Hampton Beach, NH Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom

Wed. July 11 San Diego, CA Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay

Thur. July 12 Santa Ynez, CA Chumash Casino

Fri. July 13 Sacramento, CA California State Fair

Sat. July 14 Costa Mesa, CA Orange County Fair, Pacific Amphitheatre

Sun. July 15 Fountain Hills, AZ Fort McDowell Casino

Mon. July 16 Santa Fe, NM Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino

Tue. July 17 Sandy, UT Sandy City Amphitheatre

Fri. July 27 Bangor, ME Waterfront Park

Sat. July 28 Asbury Park, NJ Paramount Theatre

Sun. July 29 Vienna, VA Filene Center at Wolf Trap

Mon. July 30 Bethlehem, PA Musikfest Café at ArtsQuest Center

Wed. Aug. 1 Cleveland Hts., OH Cain Park

Thur. Aug. 2 Kettering, OH Fraze Pavillion for Performing Arts

Fri. Aug. 3 Windsor, ON, CA Caesar’s Windsor “The Colosseum

Sat. Aug. 4 Waukegan, IL Genesee Theatre

Sun. Aug. 5 West Allis, WI Wisconsin State Fair Park

Tues. Aug. 7 Bemidji, MN Sanford Center

Thur. Aug. 9 Effingham, IL Effingham Performance Center

Fri. Aug. 10 Des Moines, IA Iowa State Fairground Grandstand

Sat. Aug. 11 Manatee, MI Little River Casino Resort

Sat. Aug. 18 Windsor, CT SS&C SummerWind Perf. Arts Ctr.

Thur. Aug. 23 Louisville, KY Cardinal Stadium

Fri. Aug. 24 Aurora, IL Paramount Theatre

Sat. Aug. 25 Baraboo, WI Ho-Chunk Gaming, Black River Falls

Sun. Aug. 26 Mitchell, SD Corn Palace

Mon. Aug. 27 St. Paul, MN Minnesota State Fair Grandstand

Wed. Aug. 29 Homestead, PA Carnegie Library Music Hall

Thur. Aug. 30 Syracuse, NY New York State Fairgrounds

Here's a video from the encore of the Happy Together Tour 2011:

Monday, April 30, 2012

A Meaningful Event for Children's Musical Futures

Last evening, the Secret Agent Foundation hosted their annual tribute dinner at the lovely Victoria Beau Jolie restaurant in Schiller Park. Our friend Phil Vaughan, the group's founder, went to great lengths to make us all welcome and very honored to be there. Phil's brother, Tony, served as emcee and introduced a musical lineup of entertainment, including the wonderful band Hip-Noz, and music by Tony Ocean, Rick Lindy, Mark Inlow as "Roy Orbison", and Star David Brooks as "Jerry Lee Lewis" direct from Branson, MO.

Music philanthropist Lester Trilla, who has been key in supporting the Northern Illinois University Steel Drum Band for more than 10 years, surely sets the pace for support youth and education. We had a wonderful evening from start to finish. It was an honor to be named their 2012 Man of the Year and be surrounded by so many people expressing love and best wishes.

As I said last night, the focus of the evening, and rightly so, is the fund-raiser that makes it possible for children to have musical instructions and lessons, early in their lives so they might be excited enough to want to continue in the future, maybe even on toward a career in music. I want to thank everyone for their e-mails, calls, as well as financial contributions to the Secret Agent Foundation in my honor. As Nick said when he was honored, and I have said, especially of this event, it's not about us, it's about the children.

Who knows--your donation of financial support and even musical instruments that are in your basement, not being used, could truly make a difference in the future of Chicagoland's brightest young musicians, just waiting for a chance to learn, grow, and shine. Donations are accepted year-round (see

Again, thanks to everyone for making it an unforgettable evening and celebration,


Cross-posted on Facebook at:

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Note from Nick about a Special Honor for Carl

Two years ago I received was surprised and honored to learn that I'd been named Man of the Year, by the Secret Agent Foundation in Chicago. This charity organization was started by Phil Vaughn of Nation Records, who produced our "Terra Firma" CD in 1998 when we first met him.

The Foundation has one mission--to make sure musical instruments are available for free to children who can't afford to buy their own, but who want to play music. You might remember how long you had to wait or save up for your first guitar, or piano, or drums. This foundation also accepts donations of musical instruments, in addition to raising money to buy them.

This year, I'm proud to announce that my music partner, Carl Giammarese, has been named the 2012 Man of the Year by the Secret Agent Foundation and they're holding their annual awards banquet in Chicago on Sunday, April 29th, at the Victoria Beau Jolie restaurant on Schiller Avenue. If you're a Chicago-area Buckinghams fan and would like to be there on a night when Carl is being honored, I'd encourage you to buy tickets today. The info on how to get tickets is in the attached poster here.

Wish I could be there in person myself, but I've got commitments that night here. Also, if you'd like to donate one of your music instruments that's sitting around in your basement or attic, do that in Carl's name and they'll let him know that you did that. It's all about helping children who need our help.

We've been lucky to be musicians all of our careers and yet we had to save up for our first instruments too. I'm very proud of Carl and it's been a great honor that both of us have been recognized by Phil Vaughn and the Secret Agent Foundation because we all care greatly about children and their futures. Take care and see you on the road soon,

Nick To Order Tickets: Buy online at or call 773-308-6120. All tickets must be purchased by April 27th.

Cross-posted on Facebook here.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

In Loving Memory of Marty Bilecki

We'd like to ask you to take a moment today to lift up in prayer the family of our longtime friend, and Chicago sound engineer, Martin (Marty) Bilecki, who collapsed while mixing at the sound board at the Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville last evening. He was taken quickly to a nearby hospital, where he passed away. We’d just finished our set, in our 15th year for the Salute to the 60s concert there, a very special night, together with our friends Peter Noone and Herman's Hermits, and the Grass Roots. Marty’s passing leaves us solemn and missing a man we considered an important part of our musical family.

We'd just spent the previous week together with Marty, as he ran sound for all of us on the Concerts at Sea tour aboard the Grand Princess. Of his many wonderful qualities, he was a man who cherished his family. Poignantly, his parents were also aboard the cruise ship, and they were so happy to be there to see their son doing his great job mixing each group, for all the shows. It’s an unforgettable joy when your parents can see you in your workplace, having them know you among your peers as respected, beloved and the best in your field.

In 1991, Marty founded his own company, Performance Recording and Sound, in Chicago. For all these years, we’ve had the pleasure of being at so many shows where Marty mixed our sound, coordinated our stage lighting and essentially made everything just perfect for us. We have long regarded him as the ultimate professional, a warm and gracious man. Personally, he was our good friend. He was one of the hardest-working men we’d ever met, and we always knew we could count on him.

It’s surreal and shocking to have been with him two weeks ago on the ship, all week long, enjoying the work that he did for everyone, sharing some great times and personal memories together, and then realize that last evening’s show, which felt like musical magic onstage last night, would be his final work here on earth.

We appreciate the love and support you showed to us all evening long, during our show and afterwards. We share that love with Marty’s family and ask for you to pray for their comfort and peace.

It takes a full team of professionals to bring music to the crowds who gather to hear the songs they love, and Marty Bilecki was a gentleman who did his job well, and was so well liked by all of us in the music business. We are better for having known him, and may God bless his family at this time of loss.

Thank you for your prayers,

Carl Giammarese, Nick Fortuna, Bruce Soboroff, Dave Zane, Rocky Penn, Carlo Isabelli, Charles Morgan, Rich Moore and Susan Rakis

Cross posted on Facebook here.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

2012 FlashBack: Cruisin’ the Caribbean with the Best in Classic Rock Entertainment—Part 2

[Second in a series of articles chronicling the 7-day Southern Caribbean tour, ‘Where the Action is’ cruise, featuring Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Buckinghams, Charlie Thomas’ Drifters and Davy Jones of The Monkees.]

Continuing on this journey, you’re on the Concerts at Sea Rock and Roll oldies tour cruise, a passenger aboard the Grand Princess sailing vessel, which is making its way down the eastern U.S. coast headed for the Caribbean Sea. Admit it. Now aboard, you think. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you are humming the theme song made famous by the cruises of the Pacific Princess, another jewel in the fleet of the Princess Cruise lines, made even more famous in the 1970s as a superbly successful CBS TV series.

With the QE2 docked right next door, the Grand Princess was our ship for Concerts at Sea, promising a fun adventure.

The strings swell and the horns blast, and the familiar theme music can’t help but pop up in the back of your mind. Hear Jack Jones sing now, ‘Love, exciting and new; come aboard, we’re expecting you, andddd love, like sweetest reward, let it flow, it floats back to you. The Love Boat soon will be making another run, the Love Boat promises something for everyone.’

Port Everglades, our destination for check-in, immigration, and boarding. (West Communications, used with permission)

True, that the memories of the simplistic, slightly cornball nature of the predictable TV show can make you go ‘ohhh yeah’ as you remember simpler times of even the 70s. In present-day economics, luxury vacations are often the last thing on anyone’s mind. All the more reason to embrace Charles Fox’s theme (he of 70s classic theme TV fame, and the lyrics were by Academy Award and Grammy winner, Paul Williams.

The back view of the Grand Princess, our ship for the week. (West Communications, used with permission)

But, the almost 600 Concerts at Sea travelers who boarded the Grand Princess came from all across the United States and Canada. Some hadn’t thought twice about the costs of the passage. Others had taken extra jobs and saved for an entire year to be a part of this journey. No one measured the other by income or attire aboard the ship. Fun was measured in the joy shining through the eyes of everyone who had a chance to slip back in time to when they were 16 again, when all of life was just ahead of them, and nothing but good times were promised for a week.

The crew of the Princess Cruise Lines shuttles passengers from their bus into the terminal for passing through immigration/customs and getting the official cruise card. (West Communications, used with permission)

The line is long but moves quickly. They do this all day, every day, with a smile. (West Communications, used with permission)

It was exhilarating to ride a bus with complete strangers and learn that they were from all over the United States and Canada. The 20-minute ride from the ‘Pink Palace,’ or the Ft. Lauderdale Comfort Inn, was fast, and yet your eyes were drawn to the picture taped to the inside of the headliner of the bus front.

‘Remember to tip your driver,’ it said, above the photo caricature of the $5.00 bill. What’s amazing is that some people must not be regular travelers if they have to be reminded to do that. Even more amazing is when some travelers ‘forgot’ to do it.

Still, a fast mental calculation of 40 passengers per busload; you haul the luggage on and off, and you’re gone 40 minutes and on weekends, Saturday is a major embarcation day, so you could easily make 10 runs a day to the airport between sunrise and sunset, and you wouldn’t have to work the rest of the week, even if you were working for tips alone. Why this thought even registered a tad was likely the result of calculating the potential statistics for win/loss in the ship’s casino in the coming week! Or, maybe it was boredom on the fast, but seemingly endless, ride that would present a view of Port Everglades that no travel brochure could ever capture accurately.

For the first-time cruiser, it’s hard to keep your jaw from dropping open as you survey the view as the transport bus maneuvers its way over to Port 21 where the Grand Princess was parked, or barked, as one of an entire fleet of ships of all cruise lines. Practically speaking, a ship should be barked, not parked. You embark on a journey, and you disembark from a journey, so...the ship was barked. Or not.

No question is unimportant, and the staff is friendly and accommodating. (West Communications, used with permission)

You pile off the bus, ‘identify’ which luggage is yours as it is being deposited into steel cages according to your busload. You’d already stapled the appropriate luggage tags with your cabin assignment onto the handles back at the Pink Palace, so really there wasn’t anything to be done except kiss it goodbye and hope it showed up in front of your cabin door.

However, there was a new group of friendly, and not-so-friendly, luggage ‘guarders’ standing near and by your luggage. Dressed in official uniforms, they reminded you that they wanted you to step forward and identify that your luggage was there, not do anything else, just eyeball it to see it made it off the trailer affixed to the bus.

Realistically, there’s not a snowball’s chance that any luggage would have escaped while all the locks were locked on the bus trailer, but there it was in all its shining glory, the red rolling suitcase and the brown satchel-type duffel (for shoes, of course). I identified it by just seeing it and that was it. Oh, except to be sure and tip the folks watching it along with you. They announced that they did accept tips. And here I was wondering if it would possibly offend them if I wanted to tip them. No worries; tips were welcome!

Rejoicing over yet another chance to use the stack of one-dollar bills I’d secured from the bank the preceding day, I then transferred some to the luggage-watchers, lest they stop watching my luggage in the steel cage make the 20-foot journey on a forklift to the Grand Princess. Not everyone participated in this opportunity to reward luggage-watchers, but to each his own. I knew my luggage was going to be watched for at least the next 20 minutes.

Now, you catch your first glimpse of men and women in uniform. They look rather nautical, but you are not sure who the group is with. They have delightful British accents so you smile as you walk down the long walkway to enter the immigration area, and you pause, along with others, in front of one of two backdrops where your embarcation photo will be taken, in front of the backdrop.

You're not supposed to take pictures inside the terminal, so you don't see this one, but the staff was always smiling at the prospective concert-sailors. (West Communications, used with permission)

Call it the ‘pre-trip pic.’ Little did I realize I’d be seeing the array of travelers in front of the same backdrops soon enough in the photo gallery at midship, with a chance to buy my own ‘almost-happy’ pose. However, I never did see my picture because they likely discarded mine. Had they kept it out for display, they would have seen someone with new boat shoes causing blisters on both feet, while my back was aching from hauling luggage all over kingdom come. So, already I was down one souvenir of what was to be the trip of a lifetime. No worries. Many others would be in store, I thought. I just wanted to get through immigration, board the ship, find my cabin, and all that was awaiting me as the Princess staff gave me my ‘cruise card’ at the point of immigration.

'Walking the plank' is a made-up term and urban myth; here's the path to boarding the ship. (West Communications, used with permission)

Know your captains and crew of the Grand Princess! (West Communications, used with permission)

This little blue cruise card looked like a typical hotel key or credit card, but it held enough information to keep track of all my activities for the next seven days. Put your wallet away (well, sorta) while the little blue card would get you in and out, on and off, and around and over the ship. Ah, life was starting to get simpler, kinder.

On the advice of good friends, the cabin booked was one with a balcony, occupancy for 1 (penalty for traveling as a single is to pay premium price for solitude), but what the heck. ‘I was worth it,’ or at least the L’Oreal commercial and Sarah Jessica Parker said I was. Although it was pricey compared to the porthole or ocean view (restricted), it was a safe bet for a first-time traveler to prevent getting cabin fever to be able to extend the living area beyond the basic room.

Greeting me at the door of the cabin was my name on the ID outside Lucite info holder, and a big Concerts at Sea poster on my cabin door. No hiding from the paparazzi here. Oh wait, no one knew who I was. I was safe! There were helium-filled balloons near the door jams of each Concertgoer and that was a very sweet touch by the Harmon Travel Service staff to make you welcome.

Inside the cabin, a manila envelope with my name on it was sitting on top of the bed. I’d been up late at night for weeks working overtime to try and get enough work done to play for a week and every night the original (before Mr. Phelps) episodes of Mission Impossible (the TV show) were broadcast. So, naturally I had another song worm running into my head....dun dun dun dun, dah dah dah dah,...’Good afternoon, Agent. Today’s mission is...’ Memo to self: get some sleep, soon.

Laughing, I opened the envelope to find an official ‘Concerts at Sea’ souvenir t-shirt, program guide for the 19th Annual Rock and Roll Caribbean Cruise, my orange wristband to provide access to all the concerts by Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Buckinghams, Charlie Thomas’ Drifters, and Davy Jones of the Monkees. Then, there was a notice telling you that an orientation for new travelers was set for 2 pm in the Princess Theatre and lunch was being served on the Lido Deck ‘now.’ Lido Deck? Were they serious?

For weeks, I’d been re-running episodes of ‘The Love Boat’ in my mind, hearing all the catch phrases and mannerisms of the cast and crew of the Pacific Princess, whose voyages lasted exactly 60 minutes, with commercials, and whose voyages also produced mended romances, new romances, and which launched the movie, TV, and political careers of many of the show’s cast, and which gave new life to every TV and movie star who needed a job that week. Wait a minute...this boat was the Grand Princess. I was on the Princess Cruise lines. Could it be?

I opened the map they gave us to hold our blue cruise card to see all the names of the decks. The Fiesta Deck, the Dolphin Deck, the Baja Deck and...wait for it...the Lido Deck! I studied the phone system on my desk and went looking for how to call friends in other cabins on other decks.

Another reminder of an adventure in store: when you pick up the phone to dial a fellow passenger, and you hear the strains of ‘the’ Love Boat theme (after all, you are on the Grand Princess), your mind naturally drifts back to Gavin McLeod as Captain Merrill Steubing (who pronounced his Pacific ship: ‘the Prin-cess.’ Gopher was your Yeoman Purser, Isaac, your bartender, and Julie, your cruise director. That was then, this is now, which is, coincidentally, a 60s song made famous by The Monkees, albeit one sung by Micky Dolenz rather than Davy Jones, one of the four headliners on this concert tour.

The view from outside on the Lido Deck. Where is Gopher, my Yeoman Purser?? (West Communications, used with permission)

Ran up to grab a quick bite of food from the most efficiently run food service team poolside, where I discovered that others had boarded before my tour group and were already in swimsuits, working on tans, while watching an outdoor movie theatre broadcast of “Paul McCartney: Good Evening, New York City,” and that was the first gentle nudge back into the wonderful days of the 1960s and 70s, when music drove all of our daily lives, for the better.

Then, 2:00 pm came fast so it was off to the Princess Theatre to meet the Concerts at Sea team. Impressively, tour producer Tammy Selee led the announcements and welcomed us, introduced Bob Harmon and Eleanor Harmon of Harmon Travel Service, and ‘Big Jack’ Armstrong, primary emcee, and other deejays from across the country who had worked hard to promote the cruise. They offered that any single travelers, new or returning, could meet up with Eleanor if they wanted a group to sit with, another nice gesture so people would feel welcome quickly. Then, they took the audience through the program booklet and explained that later today we’d be at sea, continuing on through Sunday and on Monday afternoon.

They also furnished part of the weekend’s musical entertainment with Boise, Idaho's dynamic party band, JR and the Stingrays, and an added treat, Stacey Wayne as Elvis. Before you turn your nose up and say, ‘who?’ and ‘Elvis! Not another one,’ you have to understand that this was a back-by-popular-demand booking and a popular return engagement. Harmon Travel started these rock and roll cruises 19 years ago with a small group of travelers from Boise Idaho. This year’s cruise numbered almost 600 and included travelers from almost all the 50 states and Canada.

And, as it turned out, this wasn’t just any ordinary ‘Elvis’ either. He was a talented man with the heart of an angel, as one traveler would find out very quickly. With the orientation over, it was time to return to the cabin where our luggage (having been very carefully watched all the way to the ship) was in front of our cabin doors. That’s the joy and magic of disappearing and reappearing luggage for you. It was about to get a lot more magical than that, and quickly so.

We were about to be introduced to our team of British sailors who were going to provide a week’s respite from the dull, ordinary, predictable lives we all lead, when we were not on this cruise. The dynamic, efficient, and rather witty group of the Grand Princess sailing crew was led by Captain Roger Bilton. A copy of the ‘Princess Patter’ newsletter was already in the holder by the front cabin door, a four-page introduction to the first day and night of the cruise with schedules for shipwide entertainment, meals, and promises of an ‘enchanted evening’ for all.

A quick glance at the useful newsletter noted that the Movie under the stars would be ‘Moneyball’ with Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, and uh oh, we were to have a General Emergency Drill at 3:15 pm.

Sure enough, about 3 pm, the Captain’s smooth voice comes over the loudspeaker and with a crisp British accent, he makes a series of announcements about a voluntary (as in voluntarily mandatory) emergency exercise. Instructed that ‘ALL PASSENGERS must attend’ the drill, it was change course to explore the ship and instead head back to the cabin to get the life jacket that the cabin stewards were all busy in the hallway making sure each passenger in his or her charge would find.

You just can’t say enough about the wit of the British. Especially during serious times, like emergency rescue drills, they shine at being ‘funny.’ Keeping in mind the tender state of my feet breaking in new shoes (designed for comfort, built for torture) and failure to pack flip-flops, I groaned as I saw the three flights of stairs I’d have to traverse downward to reach the Muster point on Deck 7, midship. However, we were (literally) on the same boat and so the faces of the other passengers ranged from perplexed, to bemused, to somewhat starstruck, depending on whom you were standing next to. As fate would have it, all the rock stars were taking the same emergency drill training we were.

It was to be the first sighting of Paul Revere (sans Raider hat) and his lovely wife, among other entertainers from all the bands. Smiling, Paul went right along with the rest of the group and did his training thing without complaint. The Buckinghams’ Bruce Soboroff had already explored every inch of the ship from the time he’d boarded, and Nick Fortuna’s muscles needed a life jacket of their own, but this was their fourth concert cruise and they already knew the drill.

The instructions over the loudspeaker continued when the group assembled and you’d have to laugh at the group of adults assembled who couldn’t wait to put their life jackets on, despite the captain’s specific instructions to wait for his command to do so. These were those same kids in elementary school who would open test booklet before told to do so, all grown up—you know the ones.

As Staff Captain, Michele Tuvo, oversaw our specific group’s training, one passenger started to try to cut up with her and thought she wasn’t as official as she indeed was. Smiling coyly, she said, I captain this ship through certain waters, and I have my eyes on you, sir, to the mouthy passenger. Then, she did the Robert DeNiro move from ‘Meet the Parents’ and showed the guy ‘I have my eyes on you.’ He shaped up quickly. Don’t mess with the captains, any of them!

The exercise completed, many of the passengers found old friends among the fellow travelers, and a period of reuniting and reacquainting had officially begun. By the time you got back to your room to return your life jacket, there was just enough time at last to take the final pictures from shore before you set a course for adventure on the high seas.

Does life get any better than this? (West Communications, used with permission)

As we pulled out from port, Captain Bilton’s voice came over the loudspeaker and announced that we’d be embarking and that there would be a series of horn blasts, plus two extra long ones because there was a group of Florida residents in nearby condominiums and he wanted to make sure they knew we were leaving. British humor; gotta love it. Tally ho, and away we go.

Tammy Bettencourt-Selee (top), and Big Jack Armstrong (below), Master of Ceremonies, welcome all the Concert at Seas cruisers in the Concert Theatre aboard the Grand Princess for the 2012 Where the Action is Tour.

Find them on Facebook:

Concerts at Sea

Harmon Travel Service

J. R. and the Stingrays

Tips for newer travelers:

1) You can’t ever have enough $1.00 bills. Even if you have to go to the bank and get a giant stack, get used to the fact that every person you see between your home and until you reach the cruise ship is working for tips only. No salary, just your tips. It’s embarrassing to see a family, couple or single person who doesn’t tip their drivers, luggage handlers, or cart drivers in the airport. Be prepared and if you’re not sure how much to tip, ask a fellow traveler for guidance.

2) Have a strong folder ready for just your most important travel identification. International travelers need a passport for any cruise; don’t leave home without it.

3) Ask your travel agent if he or she has a blog to help with frequently asked questions. Concerts at Sea’s Tammy Selee has a very helpful blog that saved her answering the same question 600 times. Look for online resources to help.

4) As you are newly onboard the ship, make it a priority to use the map they give you in the case with your room key to get a mental picture of where your primary areas you’ll move around in are located. Foreward is front; aft is behind; starboard is right, and port is left. Midship is, yup, the middle of the ship, and each deck will have a name for the particular level. If you’re on a Princess ship, you learned every deck’s name when you watched ‘The Love Boat’ on TV.

This article cross-posted from author's story on

Monday, January 30, 2012

Concerts At Sea Caribbean Cruise Jan. 21-28, 2012

The Buckinghams would like to thank all our friends and fans for joining us and making The Concerts At Sea Caribbean Cruise such a major success! We had a great time meeting and hanging out with all of you.

Paul Revere & The Raiders were fabulous as always and it was the first time we had the opportunity to see our long-time Buckingham and close friend Tom Scheckel perform with The Raiders and what a special performace it was. Charlie Thomas and The Drifters put on a fabulous show; Charlie is a real pro and entertainer.

Speaking of entertaining, Davy Jones put on a fabulously entertaining show! I don't know where he gets it from, but his wit and humor is never ending. Davy, just like Paul Revere, Peter Noone and The Turtles Flo & Eddy have that rare talent to go way beyond just performing their songs...They are true entertainers with their spontaneity and humor. Stacy Wayne as Elvis was superb as were JR and the Stingrays, who kept us rockin' all week!

We also want to thank Harmon Travel, especially Tammy Selee and Bob Harmon and their entire crew, they are responsible for making the Concerts At Sea Cruise such a huge success. Thank you Ron Lemen for helping to bring us on board this year and your tireless effort to put it all together. Also thanks go out to Marty Bilecki for making us sound good, and Rick Neuber for all you do.

Once again it was a fabulous week of cruising for all!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

2012 FlashBack: Cruisin’ the Caribbean with the Best in Classic Rock Entertainment

Pre-cruise activities for 'Where the Action is Cruise'

Let's get this party started; the night before the cruise, favorite DJ Jimmy Jay offered his "Rewind Show" poolside for the rock cruisers to get into the spirit of the week ahead.
Saturday morning in Ft. Lauderdale, strangers meet and discuss home towns and favorite rock groups they can't wait to hear aboard the Grand Princess ship. (West Communications, used with permission)

[First in a series of articles chronicling the 7-day Southern Caribbean tour, ‘Where the Action is’ cruise, featuring Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Buckinghams, Charlie Thomas’ Drifters and Davy Jones of The Monkees.]

When the news came that January 2012 offered a grand and glorious vacation opportunity to become a first-time passenger aboard the stately Grand Princess vessel and the chance to hear four superb representative bands from the very best days in rock and roll—well, who could resist? Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Buckinghams, Charlie Thomas’ Drifters and Davy Jones of the Monkees—such a classic rock lineup promised great music and entertainment.

Any seasoned traveler already knows the joys of a cruise, but the questions: ‘what’s it like to?’ and ‘and then what happens next?’ indeed begged an answer. Hence, this series will take you through every day on land and sea, with an up-close look at music professionals as gracious as they are legendary.

Harmon Travel’s Bob and Eleanor Harmon, aided by the enthusiastic Tammy Selee and her team, brought almost 600 people together for the sold-out cruise package. Now in their 19th year of this event, the Harmon team managed to create another new circle of friends, many of whom exchanged phone numbers and e-mails to stay in contact, at least via Facebook, with one another.

Typically, the seven-day cruises begin and end on Saturday; first-time passengers who travel more than two hours to Ft. Lauderdale’s Port Everglades departure site are encouraged to arrive a day early, just to get into the decompression mode and start the vacation process gently.

Although a multitude of hotels abound in Ft. Lauderdale, any of which are only 15 minutes away from the sea ports, Harmon had contracted with the Comfort Inn on Stirling. If you booked with them, complimentary transport from airport to hotel was provided on passenger bus hauling an orange trailer. A fifteen-minute wait brought a smiling driver who managed to pack the trailer full of luggage in such an efficient manner that you were on your way to the property in no time.

When 35 passengers all want to check in at once, your best bet is to find a shady spot in the Florida warmth (some of the travelers from Ontario and the northeast were so grateful for temperatures in the plus-category that they reveled in the heat of the 75-degree day. Fifteen more minutes later, you were checked in and given a brown snack bag that had a mini-bottle of water, an apple, and crackers/trail mix to hit the spot, especially when it was too early for dinner.

One of the funniest parts of the arrival was the guidance from your lobby to your room. First, when you get your key, you are directed to an adjacent desk where a fast-talking, smiling salesman wants to offer you all kinds of activities and excursions and then you can also book your departure transport with him. Grr. You’ve been in Florida 30 minutes and have to plan for your departure. Okay. Twenty minutes and twenty dollars later, you get a receipt, a little orange sticker and you know you can get back to the airport from the ship. Check.

Now, to find your room. That’s harder. The layout of the hotel complex, that is immediately adjacent to a Hampton Inn complex, is a bit tricky. They give you a map to your room. Use it. There is going to be a long trek for you and your luggage, bellman or not, and first you have to go to the gate via the poolside walkway. Opening the gate is a sneaky test of mechanical aptitude and it helps to have folks poolside having a drink with a little umbrella to give you the heads-up on how to open it.

Once past the gate obstacle, you’re on your way to the sorta-kinda long trek to find the elevators and your room. You have time to toss your bags in the room and then travel back to the quaint poolside vista to be greeted by a group of concert-sailing veterans, as evidenced by their t-shirts featuring the Concerts at Sea logo and the year of their preceding cruises. Although there were many other first-timers the presence of several seasoned vets was welcoming and warm.

At 5 pm (we’re on Florida time now), the popular deejay, Jimmy Jay was there with his “Rewind” show, playing great songs from back in the day, and an added bonus was Stacey Wayne as Elvis, in his civilian togs but he was pretty easy to spot, with jet black hair and wry smile. You just wanted to go up and say, ‘thank you, thank you very much,’ but better judgment prevented that.

Dinner with friends and a brief walk in downtown Ft. Lauderdale was just a $25 cab ride away. That’s the catch if you go offsite for anything. The private and hotel transportation arena is a money pit, so know that going in. Expect to spend $50 for a round-trip ride to eat anywhere but the walk-next-door Kentucky Fried Chicken or convenience store goods, but if you want fresh seafood, it is so worth the price.

The next morning the private KSA tour buses were set to depart for port between 11:15-11:30 am, so you had time for a leisurely and plentiful breakfast buffet, poolside for that great Florida feeling. The funny thing about gathering strangers together is that some folks tell you ‘too much information,’ even if they’re not part of the tour group.

One gentleman who slightly resembled Tom Selleck started espousing “loudly” how little sleep he’d gotten the night before as he was originally sharing ‘his’ room with two senior couples and they were all snoring like buzzsaws. When it was revealed that one of the senior couples were his own parents, sitting there in his presence, you just had to laugh to yourself and prevent yourself from walking over to announce to ‘Tom’ that if he was so cheap as to be sharing his parents and aunt/uncle’s rooms, that is what he could expect.

His regaling his inconvenience was just plain embarrasing to hear, the first time he told the stranger who was making waffles—she ignored him. The second time he told it was funnier, because you knew the end of his story—two pillows carted down to the hotel lobby, he managed two hours of sleep—awww too bad.

When checkout time arrived, one ironic side note: you know, sometimes folks just don’t pay attention. At 11:00 am as you were standing in a long checkout line (no such thing as use the TV to check out), the most desirable object to use was the one office stapler there. The stapler was to affix your specially printed luggage tags on your bags for transport and carry-on to the Grand Princess.

Meanwhile, the TV was tuned to CNN in the lobby. Not sure how many others saw, or cared, but the network was rerunning details of the tragedy aboard the Costa Concordia vessel of the preceding week. Oops. Not exactly fare for the faint of heart, but oh what the heck. Statistically you’re as safe as ever since ‘that’ was already an incident in the past now. Add in humming to yourself a little chorus of ‘Sailing, sailing, over the bounding main,’ to drown out the Gordon Lightfoot song worm in your head, ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ and you’re good to go.

Ah, the joys of traveling in groups. Fortunately, friends were waiting aboard the Grand Princess, so it would be easy to forget ‘Tom’, and the weird poolside ‘gate,’ the overly painted pink color of the cozy Comfort Suites, the looped-til-you-droop CNN tragedy rerun and just look forward to the boarding procedure for the destination journey of sheer fun.

Find them on Facebook:

Concerts at Sea

Harmon Travel Service

Saturday morning in Ft. Lauderdale, strangers meet and discuss home towns and favorite rock groups they can't wait to hear aboard the Grand Princess ship. Arriving in Ft. Lauderdale a day before embarking on rock and roll oldies cruise is a good idea. (West Communications, used with permission)

Saturday morning in Ft. Lauderdale, strangers meet and discuss home towns and favorite rock groups they can't wait to hear aboard the Grand Princess ship. Arriving in Ft. Lauderdale a day before embarking on rock and roll oldies cruise is a good idea. (West Communications, used with permission)

Never mind! CNN kept repeating the story about the latest in the tragedy of the Costa Concordia as a not-so-perfect prelude to setting sail on a 7-day cruise adventure on another sailing line. Oh well, never mind! Lightning won't strike twice in the same genre, eh? (West Communications, used with permission)