Tonight, the Lettermen bring Christmas show to Penn's Peak
The Lettermen, l-r, Bobby Poynton, Donovan Tea, and Tony Butala, will be doing a Christmas show tonight at 8 p.m. at Penn's Peak. The Letterman will be singing Christmas tunes, having audience interaction, and will be presenting a taste of their original hits.
Of Christmas concerts, few groups are more experience and display more variety than The Lettermen.
For over 50 years, Tony Butala has been performing on stage with the Lettermen, a group he helped form. They've been doing Christmas shows for over 30 years.
Tonight, the Lettermen bring their act to Penn's Peak in Jim Thorpe for a seasonal concert starting at 8 p.m. Tickets are $27 and $32.
Butala, a Pennsylvanian living in the western town of Sharon, said the Lettermen will be singing both the fun Christmas songs as well as carols. In addition, the trio, consisting also of Donovan Tea and Bobby Poynton, will be doing a medley of their 26 hits.
Those hits include "Going Out of My Head/Can't Take My Eyes off of You," "Hurt So Bad," "Put Your Head on My Shoulder," and "Shangri-La."
In a telephone interview from his home in Sharon, Butala said there will be some surprises during the concert.
He was willing to reveal one of them, in which during the course of the show he slyly watches the reactions of the audience members. From his observation, he eventually selects 12 people to come on stage and perform "The 12 Days of Christmas."
He also noted that after the concert, not only do he and the Lettermen sign autographs, they pose for photos with audience members and will provide an address where the photos can be sent to be autographed.
"We're not just three men standing on stage singing hit records, but we're standing on stage and entertaining," Butala said. "Before we had any big records, we found the value of entertaining."
The congenial artist said he has no problem with audience members bringing their cameras and taking still photos. Videos and audio recorders are prohibited because of licensing.
"We even have a camera song in our show," he said.
Getting good pictures shouldn't be a problem since some of the time during the concert by the Lettermen is spent down with the audience.
The Lettermen, besides recording 32 consecutive albums, which charted in the Top 100 in the United States, have four different Christmas albums.
All three Lettermen are veteran performers.
Butala formed the Lettermen in 1958. The Lettermen name first appeared on the marquee of the Desert Inn Hotel Showroom in Las Vegas, where Butala, Mike Barnett, and Talmadege Russell performed in the record-shattering revue, "Newcomers of 1928, which starred big band leader Paul Whiteman, silent film comic Buster Keaton, and singers Rudy Vallee and Harry Richmond.
Butala played the part of Bing Crosby.
By 1960, the Lettermen now Butala, Jim Pike, and Bob Engemann were signed to Warner Brothers Records and released their first singles.
Tea has been with the Lettermen for 29 years. Poynton originally joined the Lettermen in 1988, then left to raise a family, but has now returned.
Unlike other groups, Butala explained that the Lettermen "are three solo singers who happen to sing together."
He said back in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, many of he groups had a singer in front with the background singers doing "do wha, do wha, do wha."
"All three of us are soloists," reiterated the raconteur.
Butala has an interesting story to tell regarding his high school days. Back then, they had a band called the "Four Most." It consisted of a female, whose name was Concetta Rosalie Ann Ingoglia, and three males. Concetta decided to leave the band and pursue her own career. She also changed her name to Connie Stevens, who went on to acting roles in the movies, including with Elvis Presley, and starring on the TV show "Hawaiian Eye."
Being audience friendly has always been priority for the Lettermen.
Butala recalls that once he considered hiring a New York City publicist. The publicist said the new logic is that entertainers "should never become accessible to people."
"I didn't hire him," laughed the lead Letterman. "I feel it works much better the way we do it. I feel wonderful getting out there and hearing beautiful stories from the people, about how our songs might have affected them."
One thing fans should look forward to, said Butala.
"Donovan wrote a beautiful song, 'Daddy's Girl,' which he will do at the Christmas show."