Review: Midcentury Hitmakers Come Together for Magical 'Happy Together Tour' in Dayton

The acts change year to year, but the staple remains The Turtles (featuring the legendary Flo and Eddie) who started the "Happy Together" concerts back in 1984.

Aug 15, 2023 at 5:02 pm

The “Happy Together Tour” made its yearly summer stop at Fraze Pavilion, the amphitheater tucked away in a park among fountains and the Midcentury buildings and houses of suburban Kettering, on Aug. 10. The acts change year to year, but the staple remains The Turtles (featuring the legendary Flo and Eddie) who started the Happy Together concerts back in 1984 and then revived the tour in 2010, continuing every year from then on except for 2020.

Every name on the bill has been around for decades, spanning time through, eras, fads, styles, ten or more presidents, world crises encountered and overcome, evoking the feeling that everything between then and now disappears, in some way, and all that matters is the fun of listening to this music that is still so potently sublime, exciting and enjoyable.

The show starts with the summer sun still shining down as The Cowsills, the famous '60s family band who inspired The Partridge Family TV show. They open with the luscious and dreamy “The Rain, The Park and Other Things,” with its rich harmonies and near-pop symphony movements backed by an effective band that acts as the tour’s house band. By the time they reach the “I love the flower girl” chorus, more is seemingly right in the world. Now in their ninth year with the tour, the three active Cowsills members seem to be having the time of their lives. They pop up here and there throughout the show in the dimly lit wings of the stage dancing and singing along with their tourmates. Bob Cowsill explains the three siblings toured as kids, but under strict supervision from their parents. Now free to meet their contemporaries and do as they please, Cowsill tells CityBeat, “It’s a lot of fun. You can’t get in trouble with your dad anymore. I know it’s crazy all these years later, but it’s a big difference.” Their joy is contagious and only adds to the energy and communal feel of the show. 

The Classics IV come on next with just a vocalist and a saxophone player to the backing band and ease through the band’s soft and saxophone-heavy hits which complement the summer breeze blowing through the crowd. The Vogues, a ‘60s vocal group, bring the energy with songs like “Five O’Clock World” and the dynamic and upbeat “You’re the One,” along with a touch of humor. 

After a welcomed intermission and chance for a beer run, the sun sets as Gary Puckett takes the stage. He’s wearing a jacket reminiscent of the one he wore in the ‘60s on record covers and shows like The Ed Sullivan Show, belting out his tender but anthemic singalongs like “Lady Willpower” and “Young Girl,” with the crowd singing along under the bright stage lights.

R&B legend and Happy Together first timer, Little Anthony walks on stage next, to a round of applause dressed strikingly in a rich blue suit over a deep red button down. He’s amiable and light, coming off like Redd Foxx, at times, almost in juxtaposition. He famously sang in a soulful tenor on now-classic hits like 1958’s “Tears on My Pillow” and 1964’s “Going Out of My Head,” and when he goes to deliver his first line it's a total shock when he slips right into the spot-on tone that poured out of transistor radios 65 years ago — and the crowd responds accordingly. He jokes about disliking the incredibly popular “Shimmy, Shimmy Ko-Ko Bop” but provokes the crowd between lines with a smooth dab-like shuffle. When it comes to “Hurt So Bad”, he revs it up even further with a chill-inducing raw soul delivery proving why he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 

“He’s been great, a consummate professional entertainer. He’s so good,” Cowsill says of Little Anthony. Vocalist Ron Dante spoke about starting his career on a package tour much like this one on Dick Clark’s “Caravan of Stars” tour in 1965 with Little Anthony. “It’s an amazing occurrence to go all my career, all my life and at this point in my life, to go back on the road with Little Anthony. It’s amazing.”

On a new high, the audience is ready for the headliners as the announcer introduces The Turtles. The ever-entertaining wildman Mark Volman, AKA “Flo,” is the remaining original in The Turtles after Howard Kaylan, AKA “Eddie,” retired due to health reasons in 2017 and Ron Dante took over. Dante is no stranger to huge pop songs, having served as the vocalist for some of the biggest songs and commercial jingles of all time and as co-producer of Barry Manilow’s reign of hits.

“I jumped at the chance, because I’ve always loved their songs, especially ‘Happy Together,’ ‘Eleanor,’ all the hits,” Dante told CityBeat. “I can cover those high notes and bring the songs to life and not destroy them and sound really like the records and that’s why I’m so happy to do it.”

Not only does he bring those songs to life, but since Dante was the voice of the fictional 1960s cartoon band The Archies, another highlight of the night is a spirited run through the remarkable and effervescent “Sugar, Sugar” — nearly worth the price of admission itself.

The connections you can make with these acts and their songs are seemingly endless: Your grandma listened to this on the radio on sunny days in the kitchen, that song was in the background of a famous scene of a favorite movie — the list goes on. These songs and voices were floating through the air on radio, TV shows and movies all your life and even a generation or two before, and here they are, back to back to back with the people who helped create the original spark that caused the big bang that sent them floating through time and space, collective memory and all our lives.

They end, of course, with The Turtles hit “Happy Together,” backed by the entire crowd before spilling into a review of the show with each performer coming up to the stage one by one to do a medley of the night’s show with a growing crowd of legends, each backing the other until culminating into the rapturous chorus of “Happy Together” and a full stage bow and much afterglow.

The tour’s title rings true, too — the performers’ camaraderie is palpable. Vogues vocalist Troy Elich referred to them being like family on the road, adding, “We all get along. In fact, we’re talking about a bowling night on an off day in Appleton, Wisconsin.” Which is a curiously entertaining thought — twenty or so legends of popular music, straight out of the pages of a ‘60s Teen Beat huddled around the lanes of a Wisconsin bowling alley. That would be a show in itself I say and suggest they film it, to some laughs.

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