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Village People show on Aug. 9 a homecoming for band member


The star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame honoring the Village People is situated between Betty Grable and Liberace. That seems appropriate: In American pop culture, the band resides somewhere between a cool classic and an extravagant amusement.

Helping to keep the band’s fans amused is a member with ties to the north country, J. Eric Anzalone.

The iconic group of six Village People, all men, formed in 1977 and became known for wearing costumes depicting American cultural stereotypes. There’s an Indian, a soldier, a construction worker, a police officer, a cowboy and a biker. Their hits have included “YMCA,” “Macho Man,” “In the Navy” and “Go West.”

The party band opens for KC and the Sunshine Band Aug. 9 at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds Arena in a concert that’s part of the Disabled Persons Action Organization/Toyota/Car-Freshner Summer Concert Series.

Mr. Anzalone, speaking from New Jersey, where he lives and where he was relaxing on the Jersey Shore, said the Watertown gig, like all their shows, will be lively.

“It’s a high-energy party,” he said. “If people want to come to our shows and think they’re going to come and sit and watch a nice concert, they are coming to the wrong show. But if they do come and watch the show, well, they’re going to watch us do one hell of a workout.”

Mr. Anzalone, 47, has played the part of the biker/leatherman in the Village People since 1995. He replaced original member Glenn Hughes, who left the group that year for a solo career. Mr. Hughes died of lung cancer in 2001.

The Village People also consists of Felipe Rose, as the Native American; Alex Briley, as the soldier; David Hodo, as the construction worker; Ray Simpson, as the cop, and Jeff Olson, as the cowboy. Mr. Rose, Mr. Briley and Mr. Hodo are original members.

Mr. Anzalone was born in Ohio, where his father, Watertown native Philip L. Anzalone, was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. His father and stepmother, Patti Anzalone, now live in Hilton Head, S.C. His mother, Miday Kuhn Anzalone, lives in California.

Philip Anzalone moved back to the north country in 1968 to help operate a family business, Anzalone’s Village Inn, in Black River. He sold his part of the business in 1975 and studied to become a registered nurse. He moved to Florida in 1978, where in 2007 he retired as a nurse practitioner.

Eric Anzalone attended schools in Black River and Carthage before his parents moved to Florida. Eric and his brother, Kevin, relocated to Watertown later that year to live with their grandfather and grandmother, Samuel F. and Lillian M. Anzalone, on Michigan Avenue. In 1980, while a ninth-grader in the Watertown City School District, Eric moved to Santa Barbara, Calif., with his mother.

Mr. Anzalone, who has several relatives in the Watertown area, said he first became seriously interested in performing on stage while playing the role of Huck Finn in the musical “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” at Carthage Middle School.

“That really solidified it for me,” he said. “I was in the sixth grade.”

Mr. Anzalone spent two years at the University of Miami in Florida, where he studied music and theater. He left college to pursue a career in California.

He played the role of Berger in the European tour of “Hair,” was the guitarist in the New York City punk band SiR and was a singer for Princess Cruises. From 1991 to 1993, Mr. Anzalone starred as Donatello in the world tour of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Coming Out of Our Shells” and later as Raphael in the videos “A Turtles Christmas” and “Turtle Tunes.”

In 2012, Mr. Anzalone graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in film and media.

He is also the author of the semi-autobiographical novel “Collision Course.” It concerns a group of friends who in 1984 make a pact, promising to reunite 20 years in the future.

He is also co-producer and host of the “What Matters Most Show,” seen on several public television stations. It was created “to promote awareness of holistic, spiritual and metaphysical choices that are available to mankind.”

But as a Village People member, he has toured the world. The group’s music can be heard anywhere from Major League Baseball stadiums to the closing moments of the new movie “Despicable Me 2” — sung in the language of the Minions, characters from the movie.

Among the group’s highlights are performing in 2008 at the last All-Star Game at the old Yankee Stadium and providing half-time entertainment in 1991 for Australia’s Rugby Grand Finals, seen by more people in that country than the Super Bowl in America. But there’s one concert that stands out for Mr. Anzalone.

“The largest crowd I’ve ever played to was on a beach in Finland in the middle of summer,” he said. “It was 11 o’clock at night and the sun was pretty much up. There was over 200,000 people on this beach watching us. I’ll never forget being up there, where you could not see the end of people. When they put their hands up to “YMCA,” that was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I actually stopped singing for a second. My jaw hit the ground.”

The Village People have maintained popularity, Mr. Anzalone said, because of a few key factors.

“The music is party music,” he said. “There’s nothing serious, nothing political or religious. We’re not trying to make any social statement. It’s just about having a party and a good time.”

Another factor: “The group has the iconic characters which are recognizable to people — kind of like a fun toy that maybe you play with for a while and put away in a closet somewhere but find it and say, ‘I remember this. That’s cool!’”

Mr. Anzalone laughed when asked if he fears the group will become a parody of itself.

“I don’t think so, because we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” he said. “We’ve sort of evolved. We try to keep some things new.”

However, he added, “But you know? Parody is a form of flattery. If you come to our show dressed like we looked 37 years ago — fabulous! We love it.”

The details
WHAT: The Village People and KC and the Sunshine Band as part of the DPAO/Toyota/Car-Freshner Summer Concert Series
WHEN/WHERE: 7 p.m. Aug. 9 at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds Arena, 600 William T. Field Drive, Watertown
COST: Reserved tickets are $54 and $48. General admission is $44. Tickets may be ordered at or by calling DPAO at 782-0044. The DPAO website notes there are higher fees for ordering online than if you call. General admission tickets also are available at most Kinney Drugs locations.
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