Writer’s Block: Tillotson shines on Anoka stage

Anoka County is becoming a mini hotbed of entertainment.

Elyse Kaner
Elyse Kaner

Take the Anoka Lions Club 25th annual Country Music Show, for instance, performed last weekend at Anoka High School.

This year, the Lions opted for a rock infusion into what is traditionally a country music concert.

Headliner Johnny Tillotson, a veteran cross-over artist, proved he’s still got his singing chops in a fast-paced, entertaining journey through a sampling of his top 40 Billboard hits and more.

The opening act, the Killer Vees, buzzed through a hand-clapping, high-energy set of 50s and 60s songs, giving wings to an unforgettable nearly 90-minute concert that just kept getting sweeter.

The Vees rocked the audience and the audience rocked right back at them, turning into a mass of loudly executed and in-tune backup singers, in a call-and-response Fats Domino tune “Hello, Josephine.”

George Maurer conjured up the keyboard virtuosity of the great Jerry Lee Lewis. Bass guitar player Tommy Vee, an Elvis Costello look-alike in his black hat, gyrated around the stage with deeply-felt music vibes, and his brother, spot-on drummer Jeff Vee, in his crisp and concise delivery never missed a beat. And Coon Rapids’ own Ar Stevens played lead guitar with the ease of a veteran. The Vees are sons of the rock legend Bobby Vee. Stevens is his former musical director.

Then Tillotson, dressed in a black, sequins-adorned, country-style tailored suit took the stage .

With The Killer Vees backing him, Tillotson led the audience through a string of his hits: “Poetry in Motion,” “Without You,” “Dreamy Eyes,” “Heartaches By the Number” and many more. Each song was met with a burst of fervent applause.

Tillotson would announce the first few words of the song title and the audience supplied the rest in shouts of joy.

The more than 350 attention-wrapped audience members (Saturday night), a sea of silver-haired baby boomers and boomers plus, at the suggestion of Tillotson, sang along with him.

Tillotson drew a chuckle from the audience when he thanked them for remembering his tunes and remarked on what a good-looking crowd they were.

A few women rushed to the stage for a hug, while Tillotson sang. He graciously obliged without missing a beat. At one point in the concert, Tillotson stepped down from the stage into the audience and sang a duet with a zealous fan.

So obliging was Tillotson, he promised audience members that if they didn’t hear one of their favorite tunes in the concert, afterwards he would personally sing it to them in the lobby at his CD signing.

The singer, about 5 feet 4 inches in stature, with relatively long hair, shared a quick story about Elvis Presley, his longtime idol. Presley told Tillotson he was recording his song “Keeps Right on a Hurtin,’” but Presley confessed to changing some of the words.

“I wouldn’t care if you changed the title,” Tillotson told him.

Thanks to the Anoka Lions, great, old-time rock ‘n roll was the order for the evening (and matinee concert) right in our own backyards.

The concert ended in, no surprise here, a standing ovation, leaving many of the fans longing for more.

A good time was had by all.