The band played two sold out concerts at the Lancaster, PA venue
Are the Oak Ridge Boys the original boy band?
Think about it: Four handsome men, a compelling collective stage energy, and an enthusiastic crowd that knows every word.
However, unlike the manufactured pop-dream-teams of today, the changes in the Oak Ridge Boys lineup have been organic over the last eight decades. That’s right, this group, it was said before their show Saturday afternoon (March 9th) at the American Music Theatre, traces their roots all the way back to the 1940’s.
The oldest member, William Lee Golden, joined the group in 1965. The “rookie” is Joe Bonsall, who came aboard in 1972. William Lee still hits those Golden high notes, and Joe’s boundless energy betrays is age — he just 71 in May. Richard Sterban’s bass is still powerful enough to rock seats with an almost thrill-ride like vibration, and Duane Allen time-warps the crowd with his voice, delivering those nostalgic lead vocals.
So woven into the fabric of country music is their catalogue, this setlist proved vastly different from the first time I saw the Oaks on Long Island, about this same time last year. (Interesting aside, I was leaving a few days after that show for Vegas. This year, I will be visiting Sin City in just a few days as well. The more things change, the more they stay the same!)
I guess the latter could be said about the Oaks and their music. As country has evolved from the steel-driven to the Strat-driven, the Boys have evolved their sound. Their electric guitarist featured heavily on songs that, when listened to on record, don’t have the “oomph” (poppa mow-mow…sorry, had to!) of a driving electric string. “Leavin’ Lousiana (In the Broad Daylight)” started with a heavy drum solo before launching to the the fiddle-driven classic.
Despite a stellar band, The Oaks’ a capella rendition of “Amazing Grace” stole the show and earned a mid-set standing ovation. It was the same arrangement they performed at the December 2018 funeral of the late former president George H.W. Bush. As emcee Bonsall told the crowd, “We are not talking about politics. We are talking friendship. A friendship of 35 years.” Though they were all the way in Washington State, the Boys called on a friend to let them borrow a private jet, flew in to do the funeral, and flew right back to Washington to perform a show that night. “It was a promise kept [that we would be there for Bush’s funeral],” said Bonsall
I try to treat each show as its own — especially when seen an artist twice, such as Billy Joel in 2017 and in 2018. However, I had a theory about the audio that proved correct: The intimate venue I saw them at on Long Island, a theater in-the-round with a ground-level stage, had a sound system incapable of accurately mixing the Oak Ridge Boys and their six piece band, The Mighty Oaks. On that show, Richard’s voice did not even register until much later in the evening.
Saturday night at AMT, the mix was much better, with the ability to hear the intricacies of each man’s voice. While the band could have been quieter, I have nowhere near the complaints of my previous experience. It was truly a great concert, with a better lighting production rig that set the mood exactly right for each number. The crowd — admittedly skewing older ate up the Oak Ridge Boys’ perfect blend of classic and contemporary.
The matinee on Saturday was one of two sold out shows at the Lancaster, PA venue. At the beginning of the show, the venue’s general manager promised that next year, “As long as the boys are breathing, they’ll be back.” And so will this fan.
Laurie Bailey contributed to this review.