The legendary quartet of vocalist bring tour back to the East Coast
The NYCB Theatre at Westbury turned into a location-warping Way Back Machine last night (Thurs, May 17th) thanks to The Oak Ridge Boys.
An evening that played with one’s senses of time and space, the Oaks dug deep into their image-rich catalogue of hits. Long Island never felt so much like the bayou of Louisiana (“Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Day Light”) or the rivers of Tennessee (“Roll on Tennessee River”) or the mountains of Missouri (“Ozark Mountain Jubilee”).
Perhaps the reason the show felt so transportive can be attributed to the uniquely defined roles each play in this foursome. Joe Bonsall, the sexagenarian with boundless energy and a surprising social media savvy-at one point speaking in hashtags-acted as the evening’s emcee. Duane Allen, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a grin that almost communicated, “they broke me out of the Home for this,” dug into his role as lead vocalist on most songs.
There was Richard Sterban, the cool Jersian whose deep bass voice could literally be felt via a building-wide vibration, his resonance causing the seats to move with his words. Then there’s William Lee Golden, the quiet legend with the high voice hidden behind an Indiana Jones hat, sunglasses, and his trademark yeti-white beard and locks. Though he’s been with the group the longest, he seemed the least interested in the fame his tenure has brought.
During the first few songs, the group experienced some audio issues as their backing band overpowered their harmonies. However, by the fifth song, the audio had equaled itself out and the crowd was right there with the Oaks, singing as much as they could. The quartet was most successful when they took some of their mid-tempo classics and kicked a little rock into them, pulling up their pulse. A rousing rendition of “Y’all Come Back Saloon” exemplified this. The same goes for night-closers “Elvira” and “Bobbie Sue.”
Known for playing more than 30 dates a year in country music entertainment resort town Branson, MO — and even having their name on a theater there at one time — some elements of the show come strictly from the Bible Belt. Hawking your wares at intermission is common place in Branson. Though this 110 minute show was performed without such break, an announcer came out and pitched some merch before introducing the band.
Also evoking middle America, the Oak Ridge Boys dedicated the last segment of their main set — before the aforementioned two closers — to religious music from their new album, 17th Avenue Revival. And a revival it was. While they stopped singing and Bonsall spoke in between each song — a departure from the driving non-stop force of rest of the main set — it worked to acquaint the audience to the new material. One song, “There Will be Light,” inspired the name of this year’s outing as the “Shine a Light Tour.” Revival dropped in March of this year.
At the heart of the show for this reporter was nostalgia. I believe I have chronicled my love of older country music quite frequently on this site. But what makes The Oak Ridge Boys so unique is their ability to pace a show. Starting out with “Everyday,” an energetic opener, the band built their rapport with the crowd. And — thanks to the tent inspired thrust stage and intimate theater that melted away the forth wall — that rapport quickly grew to a party, and then a friendship. And suddenly, hundreds of people felt like they had been a part of the band for nearly five decades themselves.