Barry Saunders

Saunders: Without other musical acts, NC may be ready for a DeFranco Family comeback

Tony DeFranco, center, and the DeFranco Family perform in a television appearance from the 1970s.
Tony DeFranco, center, and the DeFranco Family perform in a television appearance from the 1970s. Courtesy of Tony DeFranco

Anybody got a phone number for the New Christy Minstrel singers? How about Chad & Jeremy?

That group and that duo were both the cat’s pajamas in the mid-1960s, but I’ll bet they’re available to put on a groovy show at a North Carolina venue if contemporary performers continue canceling appearances here over House Bill 2.

Many of us are nostalgic for performers, cars and clothes from bygone eras; some North Carolina legislators seem nostalgic for an era when it was legal to discriminate against those who don’t fit their narrow definition of who deserves to have their rights protected. That’s why we may have to start going way back into time to find performers desperate enough to entertain in our state.

Grammy-winning folk singer and feminist icon Ani DiFranco is one of those who nixed an appearance here, canceling her scheduled July 4 performance at the Festival for the Eno.

I’m nothing if not civic-minded, so since one DiFranco is a scratch, I decided to see if perhaps we could get five DeFrancos.

You have to figure that anyone silly enough to fall for the cynical political ploy that is HB2 won’t know a DiFranco from a DeFranco from a Frango mint.

That’s right, the DeFranco Family – no relation to Ani DiFranco’s family – was huge in the 1970s. You have to figure that anyone silly enough to fall for the cynical political ploy that is HB2 won’t know a DiFranco from a DeFranco from a Frango mint.

Cool cats do, though. Surely you remember “Heartbeat (Is A Lovebeat),” right?

If you do, you’ll be humming it the rest of the day.

Listen to my heart pound

Listen to my love sound.

Feel it getting stronger

Can’t hold back any longer.

You’re welcome.

I recently reached Tony DeFranco, the lead singer of the group, at his office in Westlake Village, Calif., where he sells really expensive real estate. After I got through being a fan – gushing about being one of the two million people to buy the group’s most identifiable song in 1973 and humming it all day still whenever I hear it on the radio – I asked if his family and he were still performing and if they’d be interested in coming to North Carolina.

I’m the only one who sings, off and on. The last time I sang was last summer. I sung the national anthem at a Dodgers game, and that was a huge blast. ... We get approached a lot, but it’s really about the economics of it.

Tony DeFranco, now a California real-estate salesman

“I’m the only one who sings, off and on,” DeFranco said. “The last time I sang was last summer. I sung the national anthem at a Dodgers game, and that was a huge blast. ... We get approached a lot, but it’s really about the economics of it. When you have five people, band members and a production team – most of the producers and promoters who are contacting us really don’t have much of a budget. Then, it really doesn’t make sense.”

Hear that, DPAC? If current performers are turning their backs on you, for the right amount of moolah you can book the DeFranco Family. I’ll be first in line for a ticket.

Bruce Springsteen and Ringo are two bold-letter performers who’ve canceled appearances in the state lately, and chances are great that even more will do so.

When I called the Durham Performing Arts Center to find out if any acts had canceled concerts, Jennie Lanning, DPAC’s assistant director of marketing, directed me to the glittery venue’s Facebook page.

There, I got the most perfunctory and non sequitor of responses. “DPAC welcomes all guests and events in an open, friendly and respectful setting. We stand committed against all forms of discrimination,” it read.

“That’s all we’re saying right now,” Lanning said.

Joe Student, marketing manager for the Carolina Theatre in Durham, said that “just this week, we have had one artist ... who has opted to turn a booking down. That artist has not given us permission to make public” his, her or their identity. “We’ve had that artist here in the past and hope to again in the future, once this is addressed. That was our first experience with someone citing (HB2) as the reason for not coming to play at the Carolina Theater.

“It’s a concern,” he said, “but we’re very glad that the City of Durham, which owns our venue, passed a resolution against the bill.”

Cirque du Soleil last week canceled scheduled appearances in Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro. Although its statement cited HB2 as the reason, I’m guessing it had more to do with the circus’s clowns feeling they couldn’t compete with the ones making laws here.

Just a few years ago, North Carolina was regarded as a – perhaps the – progressive Southern state.

Looking at the international negative attention HB2 is focusing on us leads one to a sadly sobering conclusion: our beloved state is the new Sun City, the South Africa resort boycotted by conscientious performers during apartheid in that country.

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