School’s out, which means that The Turtles’ Mark Volman, or “Professor Flo” to his students at Nashville’s Belmont University, where he serves as a professor in the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business, is ready to embark on The Turtles’ annual Happy Together Tour.
Celebrating the package tour’s 30th anniversary, Happy Together Tour 2014, which is named for The Turtles’ 1967 chart-topping evergreen, is shaping up to be the biggest and best since Volman and his eternal Turtles partner Howard Kaylan commenced it in 1984.
It’s now in its fifth consecutive year after a hiatus and restart in 2010. Besides The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie (“Flo” being the post-Turtles heyday moniker of Volman, “Eddie” of Kaylan), last year’s edition starred Paul Revere & the Raiders’ Mark Lindsay, Union Gapper Gary Puckett, Gary Lewis & the Playboys and and Three Dog Night’s Chuck Negron–and was accompanied by the publication of Kaylan’s acclaimed memoir Shell Shocked.
Negron and Lewis are back this year and are joined by Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels and Grand Funk Railroad frontman Mark Farner—with all acts again using the same house band. The 56-city summer tour kicks off June 7 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Biloxi, Miss. It runs through the end of August, and includes its annual stop at NYCB Theatre at Westbury in Westbury, N.Y. on June 21.
“It’s sizing up to be the strongest and most rocking summer we’ve had so far,” says Volman, at home in Tennessee but preparing to head out for tonight’s Turtles show with the Fifth Dimension in Shippensburg, Penn.
“The artists who are with us make us excited to get started and the audience is in for a great night of music and memories,” he adds.
This year’s package, Volman notes, will offer “a little less Gary Puckett and more Mitch Ryder. We love working with Mark and Gary, who were both very slick. This year we’re going a little bit more ‘rock,’ I guess you could say, and hopefully it will work out. We haven’t worked with Mark Farner a lot, but we go back with Mitch Ryder to a 1965 tour, and we’re excited that we got him: He’ll play all the hits, and Mark’s going to play ‘American Band’ for the first time in years on this tour.”
Volman looks to pick up a few extra one-off Happy Together Tour dates after the summer, including a few casinos in September and October, “so it’s probably going to end up more like 60 cities than 56,” he says. “We’ll supplement them with other artists if they ones we have now can’t do them.”
Here he cites Gary U.S. Bonds in particular.
“We worked with him in Florida for two days and really like him,” says Volman. “His songs are upbeat, and he’s an excellent addition to the show: With Mark Farner and Chuck Negron you get late ‘60s early ‘70s, and with Bonds you get the early ‘60s feel—and then into the songs he did later with Bruce Springsteen. So you get a real widespread generation with Gary, which we like.”
But the flexible Happy Together Tour format “allows us to stick anybody in there,” notes Volman.
“That’s what the whole thing sort of implies,” he says. “As long as the songs work in the show, everybody in it works, too–and we prove that every year.”
Clearly, promoters love the tour.
“It’s not a new idea–combining groups and putting them out on a tour,” says Volman. “The way this one works has a lot to do with the whole attitude of hit songs and a house band, and everybody being really keen on making sure that the show is loved by fans first and the bands second–and that’s really a big thing. It’s become something that when people hear that Happy Together is coming, they’re excited about it no matter who’s on the tour–and that’s sort of been the idea: to brand the name so when you hear Happy Together’s coming, promoters get excited about putting the tour on and know they’ll get a good audience—and that’s really important.”
You just have to “commit to the time,” says Volman, “and do it the way it needs to be done. It’s worked out, and we’re seeing a big upswing—and there’s already talk of next year.”
Volman looks back at the many years of playing the last week of December and New Year’s Eve at New York’s Bottom Line club, immortalized by the two-disc set New York “Times”: 1979-1994 Live At The Bottom Line Featuring Flo & Eddie (2009).
“Those fans matured and stayed with us through a lot, and they like the spirit of the Happy Together show and they get their money’s worth,” he says. “Our live shows have always been, ‘You can’t show up and not do a show for the audience.’ That’s always been a big thing for us: We come at it form the old school of Martin and Lewis, Louis Prima and Keely Smith–and making fun of ourselves. The Turtles built up a really good reputation for people getting their money’s worth—same with our agents and the people we work for. You can’t pull the wool over people’s eyes–you either put on a good show or they’re not going to book it.”
He and Kaylan, Volman notes, “have been very fortunate with the bands we’ve put together on these tours. They all understand that it’s getting harder and harder to get people to spend the money to come out.”
The current Happy Together Tour artist roster, he says, “makes us excited to get started. The audience is in for a great night of music and memories.”
Aside from tonight’s show, Volman has been enjoying the break between Belmont’s graduation and the Happy Together rehearsals beginning June 3.
“The kids are joining us again for the third year!” says Volman, who two years ago started an on-the-road internship program where he brings 10 or so Belmont students along on the first leg of the Happy Together Tour, holding makeshift classes at venues and giving them hands-on experience in all aspects of the music touring business.
“We’ve taken it a step farther this year,” he says. “I hired two from last year’s group and we’re paying them to do the tour! So we’ve gone from 10 interns to add two former ones who are now mentoring, with one also doing merch and the other is our tour photographer.”
“It should be a fun year,” concludes Volman.
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