Students who entered the Rathskeller on Tuesday night might have thought for a moment that they were witnessing a reenactment of the famous “Enchantment Under the Sea Dance” from “Back to the Future.” What else could make perfectly sane college students dress up in ’50s era clothing and do the twist? The real cause, however, was The Devotions, a doo-wop group from Long Island, New York that performed for “Oldies Night at the Rat” on March 23.
John Williams, Joe Spano, Al Vieco and Neil Keefe, clad in matching maroon suit jackets, serenaded the crowd with classics such as “Teenagers in Love,” “Under the Boardwalk,” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” much to the delight of listeners who identified it as “that Lion King song.” The group also sang its own song, “Rip Van Winkle,” which was a No. 3 Billboard Hit in 1964, ranked just below two Beatles songs.
“Not too bad,” Spano joked.
Backed by a band that included drums, electric and bass guitars, keyboard and horns, The Devotions kept the audience entertained for almost three hours. Regardless of the generation gap, the students responded enthusiastically to the music, clapping and cheering the group on. A particularly energetic fan, Ken Potis, sophomore communication studies major, even went on stage at one point, singing and dancing along with The Devotions. By the end of the night, the area in front of the stage was packed with college students trying out their best ’50s dance moves, much to the delight of the singers.
Besides showing off their still-impressive vocals, The Devotions also amused the audience with their synchronized hand motions and sways. If they were a little off beat at times, the audience cut them some slack — the guys are approaching their fiftieth year of performing together, having started out in April 1960.
“It’s great that we’re still doing this after all these years,” Spano said. “We’re having a ball.”
Some of the guys have been together even longer than that. Vieco and Keefe have been performing together since they were 14. “It’s a wonderful thing,” Vieco said about their ongoing friendship. “It’s a trip. Keeps you young!”
Looking perfectly comfortable amidst the pictures of Elvis, records and muscle cars decorating the Rat, Spano and Vieco discussed why continuing to play together is important to them.
“This, to me, is the beginning of what you hear now,” Vieco explained, relating the music of his generation to the type more commonly listened to by college students today.
“We want to keep it alive,” Spano added.
The Devotions perform mostly in the tri-state area. They’ve sung at colleges, weddings and parks, as well as in bigger venues, such as Madison Square Garden. In May, the group will be performing on a doo-wop cruise alongside fellow ’50s and s’60s singers such as Frankie Avalon.