The Oak Ridge Boys
Sept 8, 2018
The Harv at Mountaineer Race Track and Casino
New Cumberland, West Virginia
There are few musical acts that can still perform and sound great after a certain age. Those that fall into this category are Alice Cooper, Sammy Hagar, and Barry Manilow.
Then there are The Oak Ridge Boys.
To say that these four singers can still go while in their 70s is an understatement, because even with a degree in English, I can not fully put into words how great of a show these legends put on. They combine classic country, gospel, pop, and mix it into a show filled with humor, pride, and excitement.
On this rainy day in West Virginia (it rained constant all day, and the forecast called for more rain next few days due to effects of a tropical storm on the way), singer Joe Bonsall mentioned that this year’s tour has been filled with so much rain that they are known as “The Soak Ridge Boys,” and was thankful that this show was indoors.
The show started with 1984’s “Everyday,” 1983’s “American Made,” and 1977’s “You’re The One.” The band fired off song after song , keeping the audience singing along, and with as many hits as the act has, the band doesn’t want to disappoint in not trying to get as many songs in as possible.
One of the rare aspects of seeing the Oaks in concert is that they embrace the whole history of the band, from their gospel roots, to the time when other members were in the band (they still play songs from the Steve Sanders years, when William Lee Golden left the band for a while). Unlike some other musical acts, who ignore their past, especially when it comes to member changes, The Oaks showed that they are not erasing their history by performing songs like “It’s Gonna Take A Lot Of River,” which Joe Bonsall took the lead parts that was originally done by Sanders, and the last time I saw them live two years ago when Duane Allen took on “No Matter How High I Get” (again from the Sanders years).
The set list featured some of the classic songs older fans of the band know, such as the Rodney Crowell cover “Leaving Louisiana in The Broad Daylight,” “Y’all Come Back Saloon,” “(I’m Sittin) Fancy Free,” and “Thank God For Kids,” which ended with William Lee Golden stating not to forget “grandkids too.” Bonsall, when introducing the band, stated that drummer Austin Curcuruto “wasn’t even born yet” when these songs were hits, being the young guy on the tour. Nonetheless he, and the rest of the Mighty Oaks band, were given a nice response for their hard work.
Since the Oaks never do the same set list twice, rare gems were featured as well, including one of my favorites, “Dancing The Night Away.” I used my contact with the band on Twitter to suggest the song, since I’d never seen them do it live. Bonsall made a comment to the crowd to send their pictures of the show to their Twitter page, and the band embraces social media because “they are cool. ” Humor aside, Bonsall was like a twenty year old on this song, dancing and covering the whole stage, while the musicians brought an energy and fierceness to the song that was as rocking as any hard rock act I have seen.
“Come On In (You Did The Best You Could Do),” another rarer song that casual fans may not have known, continued the hard rocking segment, with Duane Allen showing his energy singing lead on the song. There was a guy sitting next to my girlfriend (wearing a Def Leppard shirt) who devil-horned his way during these two songs, which shows that hard rockers found something to be entertained with the show.
After the fabulous bass man Richard Sterban sang his rendition of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” (Sterban shines on this song), the set turned to a gospel revival, with songs from their latest album “17th Avenue Revival.” The song “Pray To Jesus,” a humorous song from the album (and one of my favorites) has a different feel to it live, with a more rocking side to it, and was interesting to hear how the band interpreted it in concert. The lead single “Brand New Star” continued the session, with Bonsall stating that it was a positive take on dealing with death, which got a great response from the crowd. Allen continued the new music with “There Will Be Light.” Anytime I can sit and listen to Allen’s soulful vocals, it’s a treat. The Oaks performed five songs off of the new album, and did not lose their audience; one of the few bands that can pull off that many songs of new music without the audience heading to the concession stands.
The beginning of “Let It Shine On Me,” the song the tour gets its name from, was Allen and the piano player taking the revival to it’s climax, with “The Ace” Allen taking me back to my early days of playing in black churches with his vocal range singing “Let It Shine On Me” soulfully and with the feeling that made it seem like the only person he was paying attention to was Jesus himself, singing with all his heart. When the other singers joined in, much like the whole night, the harmonies of these icons proved their worth to any critic that may had any doubt left that the gang could still hit the notes after a 90 minute show. The urban gospel feel at the end of the song, was similar to the scene with James Brown in the movie The Blues Brothers , where not only Bonsall was leading the praise fest with his ad-libs, but the band was backing the power like a locomotive glory train. The only thing missing was people doing cartwheels in the aisles like John Belushi did in the movie, but the same energy was there.
One can not end an Oaks show without “Elvira” and Bobbie Sue,” the two hits that made the pop charts in 1981 and 1982. The crowd was on their feet the whole time these two songs were played, singing and dancing along with the band. A highlight of the song is the crowd trying to compete with Sterban’s famous bass line, which the crowd has a fun time attempting. When Bonsall asked the crowd at the beginning of the night who were first time attendees, the majority of the crowd raised their hands. After the two biggest hits, many of the people were still singing on the way to the parking lot and to the casino, leaving happy while venturing back out into the rain.
One thing that I’d like to state here (I pride on this page being honest reviews) is how professional the crew was at the event. Two years ago, I had a problem with the T-shirt I got when I got it home (it shrunk to the point it was un-wearable when I was told it wouldn’t- my review of that show can be found in the archives). With no disrespect to that situation, the people at the merchandise table this time were friendly, telling jokes, and were overall wonderful and pleasant. Not only were the people at the table nice to deal with, but right before the show, they announced that those of us in the bleachers were allowed to come and sit in any empty seats on the floor to fill in the areas. Not many acts would let the fans do that, so we started in the bleachers before the show, and ended up towards the middle section of the floor. These people, from the tour bus drivers, sound technicians, lighting directors, and those working the merchandise table are some of the unsung heroes that many do not see or think of (for non musicians or those that have never played in bands), but the courtesy of the band allowing people to move up was not only great kindness, but a lasting memory for some of us. The underrated on stage band is just as enjoyable to watch as the guys in front singing. From a business aspect, The Oaks are as wonderful and professional at the same time.
To compliment The Oak Ridge Boys on putting a top-notch concert, while mentioning their age, is a double edge sword for fans like me. In one way, I like to show that these guys still put on one of the best shows in ANY genre of music, while combining country, pop, gospel, and American pride all in one show. However, the fans that have followed the band throughout the years already know what this act can do on stage (I have only seen the band live 3 times, so I missed the major 1970s-1980s live act).
The 90 minute (or so) set was pure entertainment and pleasure, with no slow spots, which can be rare in today’s musical events. This concert showed why Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, Richard Sterban, and William Lee Golden are one of America’s finest treasures in the music industry.
- American Made
- You’re The One
- Come On In
- Louisiana Red Dirt Highway
- This Crazy Love
- Gonna Take A Lot Of River
- Y’all Come Back Saloon
- Leaving Louisiana in The Broad Daylight
- Roll Tennessee River
- (I’m Sittin) Fancy Free
- Thank God For Kids
- Dancing The Night Away
- Come On In (You Did The Best You Could)
- Boom Boom
- Pray To Jesus
- Brand New Star
- There Will Be Light
- I’d Rather Have Jesus
- Let It Shine On Me
- Bobbie Sue
To see where the Oak Ridge Boys are touring next, visit http://www.oakridgeboys.com