In the Still of a Cold Rockaway Night, Oldies Bid Goodbye

Sound Check Before the Show--Manhattan Skyline

The Five Satins did not appear.  But their standard, “In the Still of the Night,” showed up twice.  The audience at Beach Channel High School’s 18th Anniversary Doo Wop Spectacular on Saturday, March 26, heard one version of the song from Manhattan Skyline, a tribute group of performers from various 1960’s ensembles. 

The Manhattan Skyline

Then, Rockaway’s own Kenny Vance and his Planotones belted their interpretation as the show came to a close at 12:28 a.m.  Shh… Don’t tell the Board of Ed.  We were supposed to be out of there at midnight!

Rockaway's Own Kenny Vance Ruled the Stage

Rarely do you see hundreds of people peacefully enjoying themselves on the peninsula after midnight–particularly at an event in which alcohol is not involved. When the concert ended, we stepped out into freezing temperatures and a stiff wind off the bay.  Thankfully, the long evening of music had warmed us from the inside out! 

Another rarity–this concert has always attracted Brooklyn and Queens mainlanders to the peninsula in droves.  And they pay a good price for tickets ($37-45), with a portion of the proceeds donated to the Susan G. (Komen) Memorial Scholarship Fund.  Volunteers from Lew Simon’s political clubhouse usually step up to sell the 50-50 tickets, and last night the pot was over $800–Rockaway’s version of the Mega Millions jackpot. 

Yet, the long-running annual extravaganza may be coming to a close after 18 years, a victim of rising production costs, changes at the Beach Channel campus, and shrinking audiences.  Forty-five dollars may seem like a lot for a ticket to anything that doesn’t include a meal. But, you get five hours of top-quality music, plus a chance to buy a cupcake home-baked by the BCHS home economics students, under the guidance of their teacher, local Sheila Murray.   That’s on a par with the Rockaway Theatre Company, which charges $20 for a 3-hour Broadway musical, and also offers yummy home-baked cakes for sale.   

Fireflies Covered R&B Standards With Flair

Three Fireflies Sign Autographs After Their Performance

Back to doo wop.  If you think that a bunch of 70-something guys from Staten Island and Brookyn can’t convincingly carry off the dance moves on an R&B favorite, you would be very wrong.  You haven’t seen the Fireflies.  I learned to dance on the urban playgrounds of 1960’s Cleveland, with an all-R&B soundtrack, so I’m a pretty tough critic of the “white guy shuffle.”  The Fireflies exceeded my expectations on that score, and so did virtually the entire group of performers, from the U.K.’s Gene Pitney/Roy Orbison impersonator, Tony Lee, to the well-known Vito & the Salutations (theirs was one of the more bankable 1960’s recordings of “Gloria”).

Vito & The Salutations Take a Bow

However, the group that got me all misty-eyed was the Quotations, with their rendition of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”   

Kenny Vance is my hat- and sunglasses-clad, Beach 137 Street neighbor who is often seen around the area on his bicycle.  I think he must be close to 70, yet he seems to be a kid at heart.  Kenny achieved fame in the 1960’s, alongside lead singer Jay Black, as a member of Jay & The Americans.  It’s always a treat to hear him spin memories of teen “makeout parties” in a Neponsit basement, back when he was known as Kenny Rosenberg. 

Kenny Vance & The Planotones Prefer to Keep The Lights Low

Last evening, he proved (several times) that he still has the pipes to hold the high notes as well as his more-famous counterpart.  On the stage at BCHS, Kenny and the Planotones gave the group’s signature hit, “Cara Mia,” way more passion and energy than Black did when he performed it with three fairly listless back-up singers on the recent PBS oldies special produced by T.J. Lubinsky.  The Planotones just ooze togetherness, which I find so appealing.  And who can resist the unabashedly romantic ballads of that era, when they transport us back “Under the Boardwalk” or “Up on the Roof?”  Perhaps your 18-year-old heavy metal fan would be a lone hold-out.

Christina of Manhattan Skyline During Sound Check

In short, the last time I saw the stage at BCHS rocked quite so solidly was about five years ago, during one of the final concerts of the school’s gospel choir, under the direction of the late Ronald Kornegay, a phenomenon whose life was cut short in a truly untimely fashion.

So, the peninsula bids goodbye to doo wop, and possibly, BCHS and its memories, this year.

All text and photos are copyrighted by Vivian R. Carter, 2011, or used with permission of the source.

About rockviv

You've entered the cyber-locale of Vivian Rattay Carter. I blog with the username "rockviv," short for Rockaway Vivian. Rockaway (Queens County) is one of New York City's most fascinating neighborhoods. I have owned a home on the peninsula since 1994, and worked there, full-time, for almost a decade. I've been working, traveling, and doing research around the New York metro area since late 2012, but the Rock remains the muse of my writing. With degrees from Northwestern (journalism), Brooklyn College (elementary education), and Fordham Law, I find I have a lot to say about this great planet we share. I am proud to have served, for several years, as a board member of Rockaway Civic Association (formerly Rockaway Park Homeowners' and Residents) and a lay leader of First Congregational Church of Rockaway Beach, United Church of Christ. I'm a member and supporter of many New York cultural, educational, and ecology groups. Although I have produced written work for publication in multiple genres, beginning with poetry in the early 1970's, my first non-fiction book, Images of America: Rockaway Beach, was published by Arcadia in June, 2012. My monthly opinion column, Rock Solid, appeared in The Wave, Rockaway's weekly community newspaper, from April 2009 through October, 2012, and I contributed numerous other articles and photos from 1999-2012. From the home page, click on the "Publications/Press-Links" tab for links to these articles The views expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily coincide with the views of any of the organizations that publish my work, or the groups I assist and support. Here's to independent voices!
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2 Responses to In the Still of a Cold Rockaway Night, Oldies Bid Goodbye

  1. Bonnie says:

    Oh, this sounds like it must’ve been great. Years ago, before I even started kayaking, I was dating a guy who lived in Hell’s Kitchen. He was from West Virginia, but his roommate was born and raised in the neighborhood and one year we all got tickets to the annual doo-wop spectacular that was one of the highlights of the traditional neighborhood events. Tons of fun!

    btw, I should’ve told you, TQ & I went to the Wharf yesterday. Gorgeous day but a good one for an indoor lunch break. Their cheeseburgers were as yummy as always, although we had a mighty slog back across the bay! We were wondering if everybody in the bar was watching us crawl into the wind & laughing at those crazy kayakers – you can see the Paerdegat from there so they could probably see up a lot of the way across. Gorgeous day though, all sparkly!

    • rockviv says:

      Hi, Frogma!
      Thanks for the comment and glad you agree that oldies are cool. My 18-year old son is still a Guns N’ Roses fan; he still remains skeptical! The concert was so much fun that even with a pounding sinus headache, I propped myself up against the side of the auditorium and rocked out to the end. I may start attending more of these type of concerts, even though I’m much younger than the average audience member. Who cares? Fun and talent are ageless!

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