Facebook Twitter



As we hiked up Cottonwood High's front steps with the last-minute arrivals for the Lettermen concert Friday night, we overheard middle-age men discussing whether the original group had three or four members.

The answer is three. And the answer to the next question is that only one of today's Lettermen, the silver-maned Tony Butala, was among them back in the early 1960s.But Friday that didn't matter - what mattered is that Butala and the younger Lettermen, Ernie Pontiere and Paul Walter, harmonized wonderfully, both with those oldies and some '90s sounds.

The Lettermen were in Utah to help raise money for Cottonwood High's audio-visual department.

They made no bones about the fact that the two replacements are relative youngsters. As Pontiere joked, part way through filling a request for the classic "Moments to Remember," he said, "That's all I know - I was 3, lady."

Backed by a competent trio of bass, drums and piano, the revamped Lettermen were a delight, with everything from "Our Day Will Come" to something from the new musical "Phantom of the Opera."

However, at times the volume was a bit much and toward the end the microphones grew buzzy. "My ears just popped," said Sky, 10, holding them against an especially generous outpouring of sound.

Nearly 29 years after he launched his career, Butala's voice is mellow, fine, husky, melodious. Sequins glitter on the shoulders of his charcoal suit.

As they sing "Beautiful Balloon," they invite people to pose with them on stage and get photographed. Kids and older women take their turns, smiling as friends flash away and the Lettermen sing, "Up, up and away!"

Next routine: The stage goes dark, we're told we're heading back to 1962. Suddenly the recorded voice of Jack Benny booms over the loudspeakers, introducing the Lettermen, complaining about the cost. The lights come up and there they are with Lettermen sweaters over their vests, singing "Someday."

Then they sing "Theme from a Summer Place." They're really cooking now - this is what the crowd came to hear, the oldies. They launch into "When I Fall in Love," then "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing."

They get the audience singing and clapping in time to "Celebrate good times - come on!" One of them urges that everyone should be singing, even those "back there in those cheap seats."

Again they circulate through the crowd, getting people to sing it. Some are pretty awful.

It's Danny Jackson's chance to become a star. An accountant from Bennion, he's at the concert with his wife, celebrating their eighth anniversary.

Standing beside him in the audience, Butala asks, "Do you ever fantasize (pause) - fantasize you might have been a singing star instead?"

"Impossible," Jackson says.

Butala has him sing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." He's actually all right. Although Butala said he'd help him with the words, he knows them.

They get him on stage, still singing. They have him take a bow, and when he bends over, the drummer raps out, "kaboom."

"You should see the fear in this man's eyes," says Pontiere. He gives Jackson a towel that "we stole from the Marriott" and has him swing it above his head at the finale and toss it to the crowd.

Later, they pretend to be winding up, and the audience is on its feet, clapping. "You want to hear more?" asks Pontiere. "More!" some yell.

"We're going to give you `More,' " and they sing that oldie.

Finally, Pontiere sings "My Way," and it's way too loud, but the audience loves it. They end with that chestnut, "I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows," and the audience loves that, too.