Oak Ridge Boys to harmonize at Hudson Gardens

Signature vocals will entertain crowd as part of summer concert series


Summer concerts fill the grass slope at Hudson Gardens in Littleton through the season, and at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 3, it will be with the country, gospel and patriotic a capella harmony of the Oak Ridge Boys, a longstanding quartet that travels across the country year-round. The group brings a trail of awards and three decades of charted singles putting its distinctive sound to a huge repertory of songs. There have been 12 gold and three platinum albums, plus one double-platinum single.

“We traditionally work a lot,” said bass player Richard Sterban, adding that they had just finished recording their annual Christmas album in their “hot and humid” hometown, Nashville, on the day before we spoke. “We’re on the road about 150 days a year, but the only long trip is our Christmas tour … Usually it’s three days out, three days in, then three days out again.” From mid-November on they’re on the road — not around much at Thanksgiving.

Sterban, who began his singing career as a 6-year-old soprano on his New Jersey Sunday school, went on to sing bass with groups that included a spell with Elvis. Then, an invitation came from the Oak Ridge Boys, who were seeking a bass. He wanted to be part of a group, with the accompanying “family feel” that such a connection brings, so he left the big-time stage appearances. He tells his story in an autobiography called “From Elvis to Elvira,” co-written with Steven Robinson.

The group’s new Christmas album was produced by Dave Cobb, whom Sterban praised enthusiastically as a major Nashville name. Having his name on a project, such as the group’s recent “17th Avenue Revival,” is really important. Songs from that album will be a good part of their Hudson Gardens program, he added. Cobb “wanted us to go to church — return to our roots a bit,” Sterban remembers. And, Cobb chose most of the songs on the recording, “It took us down roads we musically hadn’t visited.” It took old-time rockabilly, Elvis, Ray Charles, gospel songs, “marrying them with new material. (“He also had some contempt for other songwriters …”) Cobb has access to young songwriters, so the Oak Ridge Boys said “we’re in your hands.” He selects most of the content for an album.

One song they will certainly perform is the old hymn, “Amazing Grace.”

They are known for singing it at George H. W. Bush’s funeral in 2018, but the connection between the Oak Ridge Boys and the Bush family is a long one. “We met Bush in 1983, when we sang at the White House for President Reagan.”

Regan invited them to sing at the annual barbecue at the White House. “We were doing sound checks on the lawn when a tall man appeared. Saying he had to go to China and would miss the concert, he asked if they could do a mini concert then and started naming favorite songs — he was a fan of the band. We got to know him and his wife and went, with our wives, to visit them in Kennebunkport, Maine. We sang for them and he always requested `Amazing Grace’ and in advance, asked us to promise to sing it at his funeral.

“We were in Spokane, Washington then and flew in a private plane to Houston, took a quick shower and sang. Then, we returned to Kennewick, Washington, for a concert that night … We were able to keep our promise.”

What, aside from “Amazing Grace,” will they sing at Hudson Gardens?

“We make up our own set list each day, Sterban said. “Joe Bonsall makes a set list up daily when we’re on the road, after a look at social media. He sends it to us and to the band.”

“We have 23 Number One country records,” Sterban adds. “Every night is different — a promoter may want a longer or shorter show … for example, a casino will want it shorter so people have plenty of time to gamble.

“When we come, we sing a lot of our hits, including `Elvira.’”

The most requested song, he said, is “Thank God for Kids.” It will be a good country music show, he said, family oriented, “one that touches lives and is also patriotic.”


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