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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Turtles' 'Happy Together Tour' a training ground once again for Mark Volman's Belmon

Happy Together Tour 2017 grand finale

It's one of the most remarkable tours on many levels, the annual Turtles Happy Together Tour, not the least of which is Mark Volman's continuing practice of taking 10 or so of his Belmont University Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business students out on the road—on their own tour bus--for the first leg of the tour, which began June 9.

The Nashville-based students talked about the experience last Friday afternoon (June 16) at the tour's Westbury, N.Y. stop, pausing only when Susan Cowsill (on the tour again this year with brothers Bob and Paul in The Cowsills, along with The Association, The Archies' Ron Dante, Three Dog Night's Chuck Negron, The Box Tops and headliners The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie) came in to schedule her own time with the group, and when Volman himself stuck his head in to announce dinner.

Of course, to the kids he's Professor Flo—the name he assumed during the period after the original Turtles broke up and he and partner Howard Kaylan (Eddie) were prohibited from using the band's name.

"I came with no expectations," said Arianna Giggy, "not knowing what I was getting into but ready to learn and ask questions and see what each and every person does and how it all comes together for the big picture. We take the show for granted, but don't think about all of the work that goes into it, from the sound to the lighting and video projections."

Kaitlin Barnett, being an audio engineering major, said that she didn't "want to set the bar too high or low but come in with an open mind and attack the monitors in front of the house and see how they work together. It's one thing to study textbooks in a classroom, but it's a different thing to see it all in action and connect with the real world."

Alex Karroll sought "a hands-on learning experience."

"I came on knowing nothing about the concert touring industry, and now being able to pick and choose what I want to do gives me a huge advantage over others," he said. "I've seen what the stage manager does every day—and it's unreal! Also, setting up drums and getting the sound when I know nothing about audio! The whole thing is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity no other schools offer. You pretty much get a feel for a day in the life of a concert production crew member, and it's up to you to figure out what you see yourself doing."

Student Brock Steele is also a singer in a band, and said he had started writing songs again since the tour started.

"I have a lot of mixed emotions," he related. "It's humbling meeting these lifelong fans of The Turtles, who have come to the concerts not so much to see the concerts but to relive their childhood. And it's strange to realize that they're not just spending $50 on merchandise but buying something to take them back and help them remember."

Referring to Susan Cowsill and The Cowsills' huge hit "The Rain, The Park and Other Things," he added, "And I'm on tour with the [song's] 'flower girl!'"

The students invariably praised everyone on the tour for their kindness and helpfulness.

"They're all so willing to teach," said Barnett. Noted Kayla Henry, "It's unique to be on tour as a student and be behind the scenes and ask any questions and get thrown into the show, running cables and plugging stuff in."

"The front-of-the-house guy gives everybody a hug and makes sure we're having fun," added Isabelle Talledo, an audio major who plans on producing an outdoor show at Belmont inspired by the tour.

Like Giggy, Callista Milligan brought no expectations to the Happy Together Tour.

"I didn't do my research before tour, but was just so excited to be on the road in the first place!" she said. "But the first night, [after] hearing the artists belt out songs that I didn't even know that I knew and then meeting them in person, they wanted to know my name and joked around with us! I'm not even 20 and it blows my mind."

Nicole Sherwood noted that while "we might be here to learn from the artists, they say they're learning from us as well." She mentioned The Box Tops, who told stories about growing up in Memphis and filled them in on their late legendary frontman Alex Chilton, while at the same time, she helped them improve their Instagram ability.

Sherwood also echoed Barnett in her appreciation of the "real life experiences" gleaned from the tour and from Volman in class.

"Instead of a textbook, we learn the way he handled things in situations and on tour with all these artists," said Sherwood, who was particularly impressed by The Cowsills' stories of being in the music industry essentially their entire life, not to mention Susan's recollection of playing Westbury's rotating in-the-round stage—"the coolest thing ever!"—when she was nine.

"We're watching them doing things they did when they were 20!" marveled Sherwood, while Karroll couldn't get over seeing Volman first in the classroom and now on stage.

Allie Gray likewise related that the education she and her fellow touring students were receiving on the road is "not something you can learn unless you're out here."

"To learn a bit in the classroom at a school that teaches the music business, and then have this opportunity to do it for real—especially when we're so young—is really great," Gray added. "And it's the safest place to learn how to do it: The show won't fall apart if I mess up because I'm not officially part of the crew, whereas a tour intern might get fire. And the artists are the greatest: Mark is an amazing celebrity and a phenomenal piece of music history."

Giggy said that she'd told a friend's mom that she was touring with The Turtles, and the mom asked if it was a new band named The Turtles or the one that she was a fan of. Barnett noted that even though Volman and Kaylan were regulars in the Billboard Top 10 of The Turtles' hit-making prime, "people our age don't know who they are—but Mark is now working directly with the future of the industry, and that's really special."

But Courtenay Gleason really did grow up listening to The Turtles.

"I was flabbergasted when I finally met Mark," she said. "Whenever I see him now, he puts a smile on my face."

But most important, perhaps, was Sherwood's final observation.

"Mark shows us how much confidence he has in us," she concluded, "and puts his trust in all of us."

And to top it off, she said, Volman also "downloads '60s music—and then ours!"



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