The Summer Of Love: A Celebration of the Music of the Woodstock Nation
Glen Burtnik and The Summer of Love Experience
The Count Basie Theatre
March 12, 2011
RED BANK, NJ—The Summer Of Love is a homegrown collective from the mind of New Jersey’s own beatnicked Glen Burtnik. Burtnik’s experience with the varied roles of songwriter, performer and arranger for his own compositions, published co-writes and other themed musical performances put him right in the comfy chair for this tributary culmination of ‘60s hits. The Summer Of Love is a family-oriented offering with humble beginnings and steadily growing aspirations. It’s a show that Concerts East promoter Tony Pallagrosi envisions as “going on the national road and beyond.”
Glen Burtnik and friends (around 30 of them) kicked off this groovy “love fest” with over two solid hours (over 37 songs) of hits from the Woodstock era of rock. Beginning with themed sitar (with tabla accompaniment) for the pre-show and also the intermission, the mood was set. I’m simply mentioning highlights here, but truth be told, everyone performed admirably tonight and should be applauded for their stellar contributions.
Glen kicked of Summer Of Love intuitively, ushering in six-string slinger Joe LaFragola and his blazing interpretation of “The Star Spangle Banner” before belting out Hendrix “All Along the Watchtower” and spiraling into “San Francisco” with guest vocalist Vinny Daniele. The Count Basie Theatre was filled to capacity with over 1500 good-natured fans showing up for this summer themed groove.
“Don’t take the brown Tums,” quipped the 55-year-old Burtnik to the generation X/baby boomer audience before breaking into an organic glazed version of Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone.” The psychedelic action continued with The Youngblood’s “Get Together,” featuring guest vocalist Byron Smith and the gravel-voiced Joe Cerisano was out next to rip it up on CCR’s “Born On The Bayou.”
Christine Martucci came out dressed to the nines as Janis as the whole crowd went nuts for her Joplin-esque rendition of “Piece Of My Heart,” one of the early high points in the show with the crowd on its feet for the entire tune as Martucci stalked the stage and got them crazy. This standing ovation stampede had Burtnick scratching his head and comically confiding to the crowd, “Okay, so how do I follow that?”
Up next was the West Coast style of The Beach Boys and “Good Vibrations” featuring Chicago powerhouse transplant Anthony D’Amato on vocals. D’Amato takes no prisoners when he’s in the zone, as he was tonight. And it’s infectious. Sarah Tomek’s drumming was just insane as she dervished from drums to percussion and back. You could see that everyone was having a real blast onstage. Rob Paparozzi covered the upstate Levon Helm role in “The Weight,” and secret weapon Patti Smyth showed up to blast out her version of “Ode To Billy Joe,” which included the SOL strings, percussive elements, the SOL singers and much more. She stayed for Ike and Tina’s “River Deep Mountain High,” a tune on which she proceeded to once again bring the crowd to a fever-pitched state. Let me tell you, if you haven’t seen Patti in a while, you should check her out when she’s around. Vital, powerful and drop dead gorgeous, she belongs on that stage.
”Hey, are you guys tripping out there or something?” joked Burtnik to loads of audience laughter, before heading into “She’s A Rainbow” with awesome backing vox courtesy of the SOL singers (Emily Grove, Anjelia Pelay and Christina Shafer) and some arabesque SOL string arrangements. Even the dissonance at the end was picture perfect. Bob Burger commanded the stage on “I Am The Walrus” and the SOL strings were once again dead on scary. Bob got a standing ovation on this great performance highpoint. Glen was definitely in the moment all night long, bouncing around from player to player, bringing in orchestrated sections and, basically, just being the psychedelic ringleader of the entire troupe.
“Happy Together” came next, complete with video screened images of the era (the videos were constant throughout the show), together with a massive audience sing along led by Burtnik. The SOL horns brought back the days of Wine and Roses—I mean daisies. Anthony D’Amato was back up to do Joe Cockers “Little Help From My Friends,” complete with soprano-pitched vocal wails and massive crowd arm waving. Truly another major portion in the show that had the spaced out crowd on its Earth shoes wearin’ feet for days.“Gimme Some Lovin” with Vinny Daniele and the SOL horns brought us into the end of session one along with the Latino rock and roll shoot out of “Jingo/Soul Sacrifice.”
After a short intermission and a couple of glasses of whatever magic potion everyone was imbibing, the gang was back with a ‘60s tinged tirade from the area’s own Gregory Schwartz, who proceeded to use his top hatter prose to daze and disarm even the staunchest Republican in the smoke-filled theater before giving way to Rick Barry and his rebel rousing rendition of “Feel Like Fixing To Die.” Barry is like the poster child for rebellion and the song fit like a glove. Vinny Daniele (one of the nights mainstay performers) was back with Procol Harums “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” and Tara Elliot socked it to us on Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love.” Tara always brings the house down with her passion and power and tonight was no exception.
Vinny Daniele tackled Chicago’s “25 To 6 Or 4,” my all time favorite song, handled amicably by long time SOL guitarist Joe LaFragola. Terri Kath isn’t an easy player to follow but Joe blazed on this intricate tune for days. Horns were DEAD on! Curtis Jones guest starred on “Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay” and he also cut deep on “I Was Made For Love” and “Higher” with Emily Grove, who really helped just, boil the tune. Glen was up there pointing and conducting like a possessed Svengali before heading into the grand finale “Love The One You’re With,” where the entire cast came out to get in the final mix.
Glen is a natural entertainer that puts a crowd at ease with his laid-back neighborhood style and easygoing banter. The Summer Of Love is secure in its annual placement along the shore and I can only wonder what new ideas and performers will join the communal family next year. Wherever Glen and company choose to hang loose, you can rest assure that it will remain the quintessential love fest scene here in the Garden State of delight. Glen sums it up when he said to me, “This was all just such fun for me. It really felt like the audience was with us every step of the way and really took part in the intimacy of our show. I love the passionate music of that era, when experimentation, discovery, war and revolution were everywhere you looked. The music was joyful and I feel that transcended for all of us here tonight.”
As I walked around and watched reactions and overall feel at the Count Basie Theatre, I couldn’t help but agree with his view on the night. The Count Basie is an awesome venue with a super friendly vibe and no drama for folks looking to enjoy a great night of entertainment while feeling right at home.
In closing, I try to think what Gregory Schwartz might say about it all, and I came up with: ‘May your microbus be fill with beautiful tranquility and conscience enlightenment of your favorite muse, aligning the “Lucy In The Sky” planets and igniting the very incense of your karmic journey to the center of your mind, man.’ Yeah, apparently, I did eat the brown Tums after all. Go check out the Basie for more Jersey delights over at countbasietheatre.org.