PHOTO: From left, the Oak Ridge Boys are Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden, Richard Sterban and Duane Allen.
GREEN BAY, Wis., (WFRV) – Four rocking chairs are gathered near a fake fire in a fake fireplace on a stage. Four guys talk about their childhood. One is from Philadelphia, one from Texas, one from Alabama, one from a New Jersey town not far from Philadelphia. They talk about their parents. They talk about this and that about themselves. Singing. Being in a group. What stuff means to them. The audience is enthralled.
What the guys say seems one-on-one personal. Of the moment. Warm, open, friendly.
But they’ve been saying it over and over for more than a month in 27 cities, starting from the Wisconsin Dells and on to California and Washington and swinging back to Wisconsin to end up in Green Bay. And they have been saying it for years in shows, time after time. This time, they’re on the last day of their 24th annual Christmas show tour in their 40th year – FORTY YEARS! – as a group. It’s Sunday afternoon, and there’s one more show Sunday night. Then they head back to Nashville and home.
What the guys say doesn’t seem forced or phony. It’s what you can do if you’re really, really good and have been entertaining for a really, really long time and are comfortable and confident in what you do.
That slice from the 2013 “Oak Ridge Boys Christmas” is precious. Not every act can do something like that, but individually and collectively Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban can.
And so the Oak Ridge Boys returned Sunday to Green Bay and Cofrin Family Hall in the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts. The Oaks been swinging through since the days of the Carlton West, and they’ve got lots of fans here. Many people brought their grandchildren Sunday afternoon, and now there’s another generation singing “Elvira” and its “Giddy up, oom poppa, oom poppa mau mau, heigh-ho Silver a-way” – and a lot of Christmas tunes most already knew.
The Oaks, as usual, split their Christmas show in half.
“Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” sung by way of recording by an unseen child with no one on stage
“Christmas Time’s A-Coming”
“Come On In”
“Gonna Take a Lot of River”
“Louisiana Red Dirt Highway”
“No Matter How High”
“”Down Deep Inside”
“Y’all Come Back Saloon”
“Thank God for Kids”
“Santa Bring Your Elves,” animation projected on screen
“Let It Snow”
“Happy Christmas Eve”
“All I Want for Christmas is You”
“Sure Do Like Those Christmas Cookies”
“Santa Claus is Coming to Town”
“Here Comes Santa Claus”
“Beautiful Star of Bethlehem”
“Joy to the World”
“Getting Ready for a Baby”
“Mary had a Little Lamb and Jesus was His Name”
“Mary, Did You Know?”
“Christmas Time’s A-Coming”
Of course, the voices of the Oaks show their age a bit, but they’re still pretty darned good for 40-plus years of wear and tear of singing harmony all over the United States and beyond.
It was a top-shelf show (5 stars out of 5) that was able to draw a throng (on Sunday afternoon opposite a Packers game just after a healthy snowfall).
My favorite song: “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem,” with William Lee Golden leading the way. The song rang with true gospel feel – gospel being the root of the Oak Ridge Boys’ existence.
The stage was nicely dressed with Christmassy stuff – six white Christmas trees and red-and-green light displays. Joe Bonsall kidded about bringing fake snow to Green Bay. One of the reindeer wore a cheesehead – Green Bay being the only place where a deer wore something from an NFL team, Bonsall said. A bit with Santa arriving on a Peterbilt truck prop was fun, plus he gave out little Santa hats to a dozen or so kiddies in the audience. Songs in the first act came with projected scenes or artful images. The second act was played out in front of a huge drop of a snow scene. The six-man band was right on. Bonsall got a big rise from the audience when he said, “This is a Christmas tour, not a holiday tour.” Such is the Oaks’ personality.
THE VENUE: Cofrin Family Hall is one of three performance spaces within the Edward W. Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. At its maximum capacity setup, the hall seats 2,021 over its three levels of maple-and-burgundy seats. Opened Jan. 15, 1993, the hall was built to adapt to the needs of orchestra concerts, operas, musicals, plays and organ, band and choral concerts. For acoustical properties, wood is emphasized on the seats, mezzanine and balcony surfaces and walls near the stage. Many surfaces are curved to help shape the sound. Wood is featured for an aesthetic reason, too – a “from here” aura of woodsy Northeastern Wisconsin.
THE PEOPLE: The name Cofrin relates in great degree to A.E. Cofrin, founder of Fort Howard Paper Co., and his son, Dr. David A. Cofrin, who was instrumental in building the Weidner Center through multi-million-dollar donations. A friendship developed between David A. Cofrin (1921-2009) and Edward W. Weidner (1921-2007), the beloved founding chancellor of UWGB. Weidner arrived when there were no buildings on the present-day campus on rolling hills near the shore of Green Bay. His interests ranged from academia to birding to sports. He loved building projects. It was in his blood. He guided the building of the Weidner Center, so named from early on in construction. Weidner liked to attend many events at the Weidner Center. He had broad tastes, though he once said, “I don’t like avant garde country music” (meaning the Oaks were OK).
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