PASO ROBLES — I have a little thing for Italians. And I have another thing for concerts where you don’t have to stand or get elbowed in the forehead, especially those with really gorgeous food and wine and darling table decorations. So when I heard the falsetto legend was coming to the Mid-State Fair July 28 for the annual Evening of Music and Wine, backed by his four coordinating dance move stars from “Jersey Boys,” I raised my hand for the swell assignment.
Frankie has been performing since the 60s. He might have taken a minuto for a gelato and espresso, but no basta. He’s 83-years-old and he did a top-rate job entertaining Paso Robles and Atascadero fans.
It was an older crowd, as one might imagine. Valli’s first tour started in ‘62, so his fan base is the Millennial’s grandparents and their folks, the people who actually lived during the good ‘ol days, who used jukeboxes instead of Spotify. Believe me, the only gang activity was memories of Frankie Valli’s acting appearances as mobster Rusty Millio in seasons five and six of “The Sopranos.”
One of my favorite Four Season songs is “Grease,” written by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees. I remember seeing a double-feature of the movie “Grease” with “Xanadu,” which was pretty much one of the best days of my roller skating, bubble gum chewing little girl life. But I think most of this crowd was thinking about “Jersey Boys,” the musical from 2005 and the story of Frankie Valli’s rough and tough life growing up in Newark, New Jersey, when he went by the name “Francis Castelluccio” (How’s that for an Italian name?). You’ve got to love that part of the play when the character based on Frankie’s friend and fellow Four Seasons member said, “If you’re from my neighborhood, you got three ways out: You could join the army. You could get mobbed up. Or you could become a star,” and we all know which path Frankie chose.
The concert had a dining component, so the retro nightclub feel was going on until about 7 p.m. Part of the event was a circular table decorating contest with the concertgoers dressed up in theme as well. The snazzy 60s black-and-red Jersey Boys themed-table won one of four titles for “Best Use of the Fair Theme” from the Queen and her Court, and received one of four gift baskets from the Crushed Grape of San Luis Obispo, with an elegant Parisian dinner-themed table also winning and getting plenty of screams and yells from the crowd.
A few others caught my eye as just a kick in the pants: a goofy Hawaiian group, and a “Welcome to the Circus” themed evening picnic, with it’s creators dressed as circus performers, including a hilarious strong man equipped with barbell. The fare was not of the hot dogs and hamburgers variety. These professionals were whisping around gigantuan banquet trays and unloading thatched picnic baskets like Mary Poppins. It was more of a “you gotta love livin,’ baby,” kind of dinner and the bar was lined with a constant flow of fans– locals, winemakers, musicians, the rest of us – costumed and not — fetching full bottles of local wine with glasses, back and forth from their tables. Like I said, my kind of spread.
I witnessed some beautiful displays of adult child caregivers asking their parents what kind of white wine they wanted from the bar. A couple of ladies sang the National Anthem in a throwback WWII radio style, and my teenage son loved the opening band “Three Martini Lunch,” whose motto is “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happy hour.” My son had it in his head concerts were required to assault your ears with electric guitar and bass, but he relaxed himself into the chair when another opening band, “Mixed Company,” filled in the pre-concert time with cocktail lounge jazz.
Our row was a festive bunch. Kelly Case, a “super Frankie Valli fan” and Director of Food and Beverage/chef at Hunter Ranch Golf Course, had catered the event for a certain table, and made the most lovely repeated meal for her clients four years in a row. At their request, Case cooked them their favorite Cajon rack of lamb with mint chutney sauce, served with shrimp and crab ceviche, homemade chips, watermelon, feta and Serrano chili pepper salad with avocado, roasted corn and black bean salsa, and beef skewer kabobs with fresh vegetables for those declining the lamb. “And that’s what we ate tonight!” Case laughed, as her musician husband, lead singer of the local Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin tribute band “Kings of Cool,” mingled with the row of friends, sharing forked out portions of funnel cake he procured from one of the fair concert snack booths.
Our row was quite festive. It was a polite bunch of food-sharing good timers. A gal was asking for a napkin from her spilled red wine. The show began with an instrumental compilation of Frankie Valli’s work over the decades: “Rag Doll,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” and “Oh What a Night”, and Case jumped up and clapped at every song. She said she remembered her brothers and sisters used to listen to Frankie Valli in the middle of her dining room because it was the only room in the house with hardwood floors, which made it easier to slide across the floor and harmonize. “Because the echoes were perfect,” Case said.
As Frankie Valli reminded us of his flawless transitions from baritone to falsetto, as in the song “Sherry,” he sang a nice string of songs from of the 60s and 70s like “Save It For Me” and “My Eyes Adored You.” He let his Four Seasons do their always impressive coordinated dance moves, snapping and shoulder dips, all at the same time, and I was certain Frankie Valli was still loving life.
I recently watched a documentary called, “If You’re Not In the Obit, Eat Breakfast.” The movie chronicles the lives of show biz stars in their nineties like Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner and Betty White, who are not only sharp and full of energy, but thriving in their later years. It got me thinking that they’re on to something there with doing what you love until you can’t do it anymore. It keeps you young. Frankie Valli could have written the book on this, or maybe, performed the concert on this. He’s one of the youngest 83-year-olds I’ve ever seen. Watching my neighbors and local friends stand up behind their tables to cut a rug, I was thinking, I hope I can go to this same concert next year to hear the “voice of an angel,” as Frankie Valli was once dubbed. And I’m going to order the rack of lamb.
You may contact Reporter Beth Giuffre at [email protected].
Photo by Brittany App/California Mid-State Fair