Dion (almost) goes home again

Reader Edward Van Bomel was the winner of the tickets we offered for Dion’s show at the North Fork Theater on Long Island last night. Dion is touring in support of his new “Bronx in Blue” recording, about which I have raved here previously. Mr. Van Bomel has filed the following report on the show:

In fine fettle just three days before his 67th birthday, Dion hosted a gathering of “Bronxites” at the North Fork Theater at Westbury in Jericho, Long Island last evening. Loyal fans of this son of the Bronx who turned out for the event were not disappointed.

About 25 miles due east of his old stomping grounds of Belmont Avenue, Dion held court and basked in the palpable loving embrace of those who had come to enjoy his music and join him as he sauntered through his musical legacy. Dion came on to the stage the dressed in black and wearing his now signature beret as the band began playing the intro chords for “Eyes On My Baby” as the guitar tech handed Dion his electric Fender Telecaster. With that we were whisked into past lives of teen angst, young love and stories about listening to country music and rhythm and blues music on A&M radio.

He segued into “Donna the Prima Donna” – one of my personal favorites – the girl who “always wears charms, diamonds, pearls galore pearls galore” and wants to look like “Zsa Zsa Gabor even though she’s the girl next door.” How can you not love a rock ‘n roll song that zings Zsa Zsa. Dion then announced “I got a song here” and performed “Love Came to Me.” The “I got a song here” became something of a refrain throughout the remainder of the concert as Dion used it several times more introducing songs.

Coming right out of “Love Came to Me” he ventured straight into “Ruby Baby” by announcing “here’s a song Elvis Presley liked.” Again, this technique – alluding to famous stars of the past – became part of the theme in introducing songs to the audience. “Ruby Baby” was highlighted by a killer guitar middle break and two dynamite sax solos during the song. Dion then informed the audience “someone requested this song as I play this song as I was coming in” before playing “Always in the Rain.”

After welcoming his family – naming cousins and husbands of cousins – “who all live in Long Island and are here tonight” Dion proclaimed “if I live to be 150 years old, I’ll always be ‘Teenager In Love.'” After a funny recounting of how the “new, innovative technique” in the intro of “I Wonder Why” wasn’t meant to be anything new or radical, Dion said, it was just that as a 17 year old’s thoughts about love revolved around “knockers, knockers and knockers,” it was the only thing they could think of.

The concert then shifted to Dion solo. As the tech took away his Fender Telecaster and replaced it with a Dion Edition Wanderer Limited Edition Martin acoustic guitar. The North Fork Theater (formerly the Westbury Music Fair) is summer stock theatre in the round set up and proved to be most conducive to this portion of the concert. Dion was a solitary figure sitting amongst a group of friends, regaling them with stories of listening to country radio and blues music from “a strong station in the south in the 50’s” because “there was no rock ‘n roll to listen to.”

It was evident in his voice how he was affected by these experiences. He talked of telling everyone in the neighborhood of this guy who could “rhyme buzz with was!” He launched into “You’re the One.” This was followed up with “I Let My Baby Do That.”

Dion then drifted back into his raconteur mode, relating a humorous anecdote about meeting legendary blues musician Howlin’ Wolf. The meeting occurred at an Alan Freed Brooklyn Fox rock ‘n roll show in the 50’s. Dion related that he was in his dressing room playing some finger picking blues on his acoustic guitar when Howlin’ Wolf – “you remember Howlin’ Wolf,” Dion asked the crowd – “he’s a huge dude and he howled at me, where’d you learn to play like that?” Dion continued with the story, “I told him from listening to you on the radio.” Dion smiled and said this answer seemed to placate Howlin’ Wolf and I “let out a sigh of relief and said, wow…I’m still alive!” Then he played Wolf’s “Built For Comfort.”

Dion also used this juncture to pay homage and give thank to a local mentor and soul mate Willie Green. Green was a superintendent in a Crotona Avenue building as Dion was growing up. He helped Dion learn the finger-picking blues style he adores.

Using both the “I got a song here” and name dropping introduction formats, Dion eased into “My Blue Heaven” following a story about “often sharing a piano bench” (with Antoine “Fats” Domino). He told of how the most memorable thing about Domino was his “stubby little fingers and about 20 big gold rings on his hands!”

With that the band came back on stage and Dion told the audience “I recorded this song in 1968.” In anticipation and appreciation of Dick Holler’s “Abraham, Martin & John” the audience applause began…causing Dion to interrupt the audience and applause for the only time of the night, stating “I’d like to dedicate this song to the most wonderful, brave, heroic, outstanding military people protecting our country.”

“King of the New York Streets” was next followed by “Drip Drop,” “Run Around Sue” and the finale – “The Wanderer.”

With that, we were back in the present and the memories of youth, love and music were gone, but not forgotten. Dion left those who attended the concert better for their investment of 205 minutes of their time. And looking at the smile of contentment and the aura of calmness and peace on Dion, it seems he felt the same way. Long live rock ‘n roll. Long live The Bronx…and Long Live Dion.

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