It’s been a long, cruel winter. Ever since Hurricane Sandy knocked us for a loop, the weather has been unforgiving in its constant bombardment of our coast. Flood-related repairs have been breathing at our neck for months and it’s driving people to the edge of sanity. But with the arrival of brighter, longer days comes the realization that the sunny season of summer will be upon us soon. With a sigh of relief, we know that things will be returning to some semblance of normalcy.
For many music lovers, that signal came in a unique call from the sounds of the golden past. Asbury Park resident Glen Burtnik has been hailing in the season with his Summer Of Love concert series for a few years now, and there is one word to describe the experience: anticipated. Anticipated for its timing, its transporting abilities of taking folks back to a better time, and the anticipation of the outcome. I’ve watched the way it makes people feel, laughing excitedly on their journey back to their vehicles after a show. It’s a building, growing, rotating piece of life, and this year’s show was one of the most anticipated yet.
I think of Burtnik’s offering as less of a set-driven show consisting of mere songs, and more of a real life actor’s portrayal, not unlike the Civil War reenactments or of a staged theater production.
With poetic MC introductions by the “Wavy Gravy” of Monmouth County, Greg Schwartz, Burtnik took the audience through a wild, two-hour ride of costume changes, rotating musicians, and some of the popular hits of the ‘60s’ best artists. It was exciting to be backstage watching people hustle in and out of dressing rooms as axe slingers anxiously squeezed guitar necks and awaited curtain call cues. The excitement was intense, and it could be felt throughout the theater.
There were so many resplendent performances that made up this night, and of course I can’t list them all, but other stand outs included Glen and his army of gorgeous ‘60s clad girls on the Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon classic, “Happy Together.” The trippy romp into complex harmonies and piping hot horns grabbed the attention span straight into The Association’s smash single, “Windy.”
I remember Glen’s 2011 “I’m getting old” joke to the crowd when he said, “Don’t take the brown Tums,” and this year’s rendition was just as funny, as he quipped back about the use of marijuana, “These days I just take ibuprofen.”
Rick Barry also brought his own rebellious party attitude to Country Joe & The Fish’s hit “Vietnam.” The stark portrayal combined with minimalistic lights (courtesy of Fillmore East guru Marc L. Rubinstein) helped make this performance a particularly memorable one.
“All Along The Watchtower” featured the Burtnik band on fire. Burtnik and Joey LaFragola did a bang-up guitar job and at times reminded me of that other guitar god (Robin Trower) as they ripped blistering, tube-fueled pentatonic lines in and out of the song. The double guitar attack was immense and Joey is the backbone of the entire show when it comes to pulling off lead lines and chords in smooth fashion along with Burtnik.
I know I’m out of performance order, but I have to mention the Lance Larson takes on “Eve Of Destruction” and “A little Help From My Friends.” Lance is one of New Jersey’s true rock and roll sons, and I’m glad to see him up on a stage of this stature. Powerful and gritty vocal performances brought the house down in rapid fashion.
The Rolling Stones double shot of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Gimme Shelter” featuring the veritable Peter Schulle (Cats On A Smooth Surface) was also a high point. Schulle led the anthem charge, joined by the small but vocally giant Emily Grove. Grove ripped it up in wide, bell-bottomed, bare mid-riff flower power style as Burtnik slashed away at a banged up Strat like a kid in a candy store.
Burtnik has always been associated with this style of theatrical performance. He learned all about it when he got his start in the early ‘80s, logging time as Paul in the immensely successful Beatlemania before going on to his own songwriting direction.
And those influential songwriting directions have served him well. The later ‘80s saw Glen signed to A&M for his 1986 disc, Talking In Code, and 1987’s Heroes And Zeros, which I distinctly remember seeing performed to sold-out crowds along the shore at places like The Stone Pony. Heroes And Zeros also featured the charted single “Follow you.”
His time with the rock band Styx is also well-documented, as are his writing contributions with the group. His collaborative composition “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” with Patty Smyth was next, and it reached number one on the pop charts after being recorded with Smyth and former Eagles member Don Henley.
In 1998, Glen had his second chart-topper when Randy Travis took his song “Spirit Of A Boy, Wisdom Of A Man” to number one on the country singles charts. A 2004 record, Welcome To Hollywood, followed, as well as numerous projects with other Styx members and at least two different renditions (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the White Album) of all things Beatles.
And Burtnik has continued to do things that not only bring him notoriety, but focus on the moments he deems most memorable from his past and present. Charities, concerts, and collaborations remain as part of his ongoing musical journey.
Special kudos go out to Liberty DeVitto (Billy Joel) on supersonic drums, as well as Sheri Gilmore, Christina Shafer, Emily Grove, Freedom Bremner, Peter Schulle, and Bob Burger, whose vocal contributions were standouts of the night.
Glen summed up the night as he came off stage: “What I really liked was the audience. It was such a great vibe and everyone treated this as a family party. By the end, it was like a celebration. They made me feel as if it was my birthday.”
With close to 30 different talented guests, the Summer Of love had something for everyone. From the Beatles to The Youngbloods, no stone was left unturned in discovering the true meaning of the Summer Of Love.
I’m cramped for space but, what the hell. Here is the whole gang that made this night spectacular:
Joey LaFragola – guitar, Vinny Daniele – bass, Dave Nunez – keyboards, Dusty – keyboards, Liberty DeVitto – drums, Dana Marchioni – Violin, Linda Heffentrager – Violin, Taylor Hope – violin, Mark Bassett – Cello, John Ballesteros – percussion, Ed Vasquez – percussion, Rick Brunermer – saxophone, flute, Tommy LaBella – saxophone, flute, John Berry – trumpet, Tommy Meares – trombone, Roger Lipson – sitar, Stephen Cellucci – tabla, Sheri Gilmore – vocals, Christina Shafer – vocals, Lance Larson – special guest vocalist, Freedom Bremner – special guest vocalist, Rick Barry – memorable guest vocalist, Peter Schulle – special guest vocalist, Gregory Schwartz – special guest poet, Bob Burger – surprise guest vocalist, Jamie Hannigan – dancer, Pig Light Show – lighting.
At this point, you might say, “So, where can this go next?” Well, according to inside sources, it’s going on the road. The first presentation will be May 3 at William Paterson College before the show heads south into Florida and beyond. For more information on the next installment, head over to wpunj.edu and check out their calendar. For more on Glen Burtnik, drop him a peace sign line over at glenburtnik.com.