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American Pop concert at Pala Casino – A night for remembering...

Nathalie Taylor

Special to the Village News

"Hey baby, they're playin' our song..." – The Buckinghams (1967)

Strobe lights created rays of misty light as guests filed into the venue at Pala Casino and Resort on May 14. It was a night of remembrance for the audience in the packed concert venue. I was there to remember the late sixties, and I am confident that most of the guests came for the same reason.

As we age, one of the great joys of life is to revel in the wonderful music of our youth. Three classic rock bands, the Grass Roots, the Box Tops, and the Buckinghams, entertained a crowd of mostly gray-haired guests. The expressions on their faces betrayed the joy they were feeling as they remembered the music of their youth.

The three bands each gave a stellar performance infused with energy. Each band's sound was slightly different, but each performance was remarkable. The audience had a great time singing along with the hit songs from their youth, and remembering... An outside observer would have thought the concert was billed as a "sing-along."

The concert brought back memories of those same songs blasting from the radio of my boyfriend's '57 Chevy, or my Emerson transistor radio. I remembered the Grass Roots' 1968 hit, "Midnight Confessions," and the Box Tops', "The Letter," a hit from 1967. The Buckinghams 1967 hit, "Don't you Care," evoked even more memories.

The upbeat and inspired concert included these three songs and many more! I found myself tapping my feet; and when I scanned the room, I saw a lot of foot tapping going on! It was nice to know that I wasn't the only one with "happy feet."

The Grass Roots was the first band to take the stage. Even though all the original members of this folk-rock band have passed away, the sound was remarkable. I once had a Grass Roots vinyl record, then graduated to an 8-track tape, which I still have. However, to hear all the amazing Grass Roots hits performed live, was truly a treat.

The Box Tops have two original band members – lead singer, Bill Cunningham, who also plays the bass guitar and keyboard; and guitarist and vocalist, Gary Talley. During one of their songs, the screens at either end of the stage flashed late sixties photos of both musicians.

When they sang the lilting, "I'm Your Puppet," some in the audience swayed to the rhythm. The song, "The Letter," invoked a more animated rhythm.

The Box Tops' "Cry Like a Baby," was a #2 song in 1968. Its soulful, Southern beat made me want to get up and dance!

The last group to sing, the Buckinghams, have two original members - Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna. The song, "Kind of a Drag," was sung with heart and a lot of emotion. Lead singer and guitarist Giammarese told the audience that this was the song that dethroned the Monkees hit, "I'm a Believer," from the number one position in 1967. "Kind of a Drag" then attained Gold record status.

When the group sang the smooth, "This Boy," the audience was subdued out of respect to this lilting song.

Fortuna, the Buckinghams' bass guitarist, played and sang each song with boundless energy. His ponytail was flipping about as if it had a life of its own.

Giammarese told the audience that when the Buckinghams were to perform on the Smothers Brothers show, the set was decorated with several British Union Jack flags. The producers of the show mistakenly thought that the Buckinghams were a British group, when in reality they were from Chicago. Since the set was already created, the group performed with British flags as a backdrop.

Dave Zane is the ultimate showman. He has been with the Buckinghams for 12 years, and appeared on stage with them, but also made a guest appearance with the Grass Roots. From my front row center seat, I could watch his fingers flying over the guitar strings. He is an animated and extraordinary performer.

Highlighted by colorful strobe lights, each band member played with gusto. I had to remind myself that these remarkable performers weren't in their twenties any more. When I took that fact into consideration, the performances seemed even more remarkable.

The last note was sung, the strobe lights were switched off, and only great memories remained. The American Pop concert whisked the audience back to the sixties, and for most of the guests, that was a wonderful thing.


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