G is for Gene Pitney and the Caravan of Stars #AtoZChallenge

G is for Gene Pitney and the Caravan of Stars. Seventh of 26 posts in the April 2021 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: “Endwell: My Early Teen Years”— adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey.

Each summer during my early teens, Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars would stop in the Binghamton, N.Y., area as part of a huge nationwide concert tour of the performers we watched daily on American Bandstand.

That’s how I saw the Supremes, Garry Lewis, the Crystals, the Hullabaloos, Major Lance and others — and that’s how I ended up kissing Gene Pitney when he came to town in 1964!

The Fountain Pavilion

That summer I was 14, and the concert was scheduled for May 5 at the Fountain Pavilion, an indoor venue with a huge, open dance floor. The hall was once the George F. Pavilion,  where I had learned to roller skate in Girl Scouts the year before.

Gene Pitney program cover (1964). Not sure why it’s “Shower of Stars” instead of “Caravan of Stars” — but this is the program from the Fountain Pavilion concert I attended. Scan by Molly Charboneau

According to the blog A Rock n’ Roll Historian, “Clark would routinely use high school gyms, National Guard Armories, and State Fairs as venues and not always in large population centers as his bus of stars bounded across the country.”

Here is the lineup of Dick Clark’s 1964 tour, headlined by singer Gene Pitney, 24.

Talent: Gene Pitney, Dixie Cups, Dean & Jean, Mike Clifford, Rip Chords, Coasters, Brenda Holloway, Crystals, Brian Hyland, Kasuals, Major Lance, George McCannon, Reflections, Round Robin, Shirelles, Supremes.

A lively concert

A Press & Sun Bulletin report of the concert (below) describes several girls swooning, fainting and having to be carried out of the steamy concert hall. Oddly, I don’t remember any of that.

What I do recall is a packed pavilion with young teens dancing away to the pounding music and having a fantastic time — myself included!

I remember going with some of my Junior High girlfriends, and I recall seeing other Endwell teens there, too.

Finally, near the end of the concert, we made our way out a side door by the stage to get to the parking lot where our parents would pick us up.

I end up backstage

And that’s when the miracle happened! Outside in the cool night air I first noticed the bus, then saw some of the performers milling around — and then I realized that Gene Pitney was just standing there, with no one near him.

I had my autograph book with me in the vague hope of getting it signed. Now was my chance! So I walked over, handed Gene Pitney the little book with its pastel pages open and asked for his autograph.

He smiled and obliged — and when he handed the book back I leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. That was it, no screaming, no fainting, no ambulance to the hospital — even though it was the first time I had kissed a guy!

After that, I moved on to the bus — where Major Lance (father of Atlanta’s Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms) was just as nice about signing his autograph when I passed the book up to his window.

Wow, I had gotten backstage — what a story this would make at school!

My five minutes of fame

The next day at the Junior High I had my five minutes of fame as the Endwell girl who had kissed Gene Pitney. Everyone wanted to know every detail.

Zippered autograph book. My early teen autograph book had a turquoise zippered cover,  but otherwise looked much like this. Photo: diplomacoversource.com

How had I done it? How had I gotten backstage when thousands of others had not? Where was the autograph book? Could they see his signature? So I told the story over and over to anyone who hadn’t heard it.

But what I didn’t tell was how surprised I was that his cheek was so soft.

Before Gene Pitney, I had only kissed my dad and my grandfathers on the cheek. But after Gene Pitney — well, a whole new world opened up.

Up next, H is for Halloween Hijinks: Teen Version. Please leave a comment, then join me as Endwell: My Early Teen Years unfolds one letter at a time!

© 2021 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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35 thoughts on “G is for Gene Pitney and the Caravan of Stars #AtoZChallenge”

  1. Molly,

    Your flash backs to your youth are simply delightful and always makes me smile. I can only imagine how thrilled you were to steal that scared kiss from Gene Pitney’s cheek. 😀

    Whenever it’s convenient, I hope y’all will stop in today for a peek at my Looney Tunes’ Granny art sketch. Happy A2Zing!!

  2. I enjoyed this trip down memory lane! At first, I couldn’t place the songs, but all it took was a couple of notes. Too bad about the autograph book. Even with one in hand, I might have been too shy. Good for you!

  3. Great story! Isn’t YouTube a great resource for blogging about culture? It adds so much to hear an old song that instantly transports the reader to another time and place. However I am just a little disappointed that you didn’t save your autograph book. :–)

    1. I am also heartbroken about the autograph book. My family moved after my freshman year of college and it got lost in the shuffle when my parents packed up my stuff. Still, the memory of meeting those stars far surpasses a mere autograph! And yes, YouTube is an incredible cultural resource!

  4. Boy! What memories! What a great chapter of music history and you’ve got your own super experience, your brush with fame.

  5. Quite the experience – even if I don’t remember anyone named Gene Pitney. I was in my 20s then by way of explanation. My big thing, at age 12, with getting an autograph in my brand new autograph book was getting Kurt Herbert Adler’s autograph. We was the director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. I, along with eleven other chosen students, had just sung with the orchestra in front of a huge audience and I was so anxious to get his autograph I handed my book to him upside down & backwards. Oh well. ‘Small world’ stuff – seven years later I attended a music camp with his daughter!

  6. How exciting was that! That is an experience you will never forget, though I suppose when you tell your grandchildren they will pobably say “Who? What’s the big deal?”

    1. I know. I keep thinking about how different those times were — local performance venues, stars traveling in a tour bus, no security. A far cry from today’s highly technical and heavily guarded shows.

  7. A nostalgic and touching memory! How well I remember Gene Pitney’s hit songs…and seeing some of the other 1960s stars in person at the Freedomland theme park (in the Bronx, New York) and Palisades Park amusement park (in New Jersey). You were one lucky young lady to kiss him.

    1. Glad you remember him and got to see some of those shows. The Dick Clark Caravan of Stars made an incredible number of stops every summer — when you look at the old itineraries, you wonder how they did it.

  8. That is definitely a memorable first kiss. I don’t think I would have been brave enough at fourteen to even ask for the autograph let alone go in for a kiss.

  9. Wow, this sounds like such a fantastic experience! Being able to enjoy a concert at such a young age is already great and then ending up backstage, wow.

    1. That’s one reason I posted the video — so those who aren’t familiar with Gene Pitney could see how darn cute and talented he was. And the entire show was excellent as well!

  10. I don’t know this Gene guy, but congratulations on meeting and kissing him! You were one brave young girl!

    Wow, an autograph book, I heard about those. Do you still have yours? What other encounters left a memory in there?

  11. Wow and wow! My small town teen years saw nothing this exciting at all. I don’t believe I ever attended a concert that wasn’t local talent until I was in college. I remember having an autograph book, but it never saw the signature of anyone famous.

    1. The concert I went to was one of the smaller stops and isn’t listed on most of the itineraries. Thank goodness for the news article and the program I’ve hung onto all these years.

  12. That was some adventure Molly! You would have been top of the pops yourself at school. I wanted to ask what years the Junior High covered…how many years of school and what teen years?

    1. It was great fun — and still memorable all these decades later! Junior High covered three years (1963 -1965) and for me it was ages 13-15.

      1. Thanks Molly. It sounds like it crossed the end of primary school into high school for me (1962-64). These days our kids do Middle School across those ages so I guess it’s the same, just a different name.

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