Still Having Fun...Larry Hoppen '71 and Orleans

Larry Hoppen ’71 brings his classic band Orleans to the Ithaca Festival.  by Mbeti Hyess

You don’t have to be a boomer to love the songs “Dance with Me” and “Still the One.” They’ve become standards of American popular music. And when you listen to the original versions of each (not one of the numerous copies or commercial variations), you can’t help but think that the singer must be a pretty nice guy.

Meeting Larry Hoppen in person does nothing to dispel that impression. Larry, the lead singer of the classic pop-rock band Orleans, which turned those tunes into classics, was a business major at Ithaca College for a couple of years in the late 1960s, but didn’t finish his degree.

“The opportunity came up to work in music full-time,” he says, “and I couldn’t pass that up.” The music world can be grateful; he started out with a local Ithaca band called Buffalongo and then formed Orleans with his brother Lance, singer-songwriter John Hall, and (the late) Wells Kelly; the group had those two classic hits and later others like “Let There Be Music” and “Love Takes Time,” which Larry cowrote. In fact he cowrote many of Orleans’ songs, and not only does he provide most of the group’s rich and memorable vocals, but he also plays guitar, keyboards, and a variety of other instruments on some cuts.

Larry did stay in Ithaca for several years working on his music, and although he and his family now live in Florida, he still loves both the city and its namesake college.

“The late ’60s and early ’70s were a fascinating time to be alive in this country,” Larry says. He remembers Ithaca College as an activist campus where students were involved in civil rights and antiwar work. “Ithaca was a caring and happening place,” he says. “There was a lot going on. I felt very much at home there.”

He still feels the same way, and he and Orleans have spent the nearly four decades since then making music, much of it with a socially activist theme. Last summer Larry and the band, which has played more or less continuously since the 1970s, returned to his old stomping ground to headline at Ithaca Festival 2008.

The idea for the Ithaca appearance came from Tom Kallman ’79, a friend and fan of Larry and Orleans who works as a concert promoter. “I thought it would be great to get Orleans back to Ithaca,” Tom says. “They love Ithaca, and I know Ithaca loves them.”

Tom in turn contacted his IC friend Kip Opperman ’79, a working musician who lives in Ithaca, to ask for help in scouting out venues. “I did the initial legwork,” explains Kip, “by sending out feelers to the venues here in Ithaca — the State Theater, the Haunt, the Ithaca Festival. I determined that the Ithaca Festival was the event that could handle an Orleans gig. I then passed things back to Tom,” who made the event happen.

The band currently has five members — lead singer Larry; his brother Lance on bass and vocals; their youngest brother, Lane, on keyboards; drummer Charlie Morgan (formerly with Elton John); and Dennis “Fly” Amero on guitar (who replaced original band member John Hall when Hall was elected in 2006 to his first term as U.S. Representative from New York’s 19th Congressional District; he was reelected in November 2008 on a progressive platform). The five hail from different cities, and all met up in early June on the shores of Cayuga Lake on the day of the Ithaca Festival gig. The afternoon outdoor concert at Stewart Park was followed by a special “moonlight cruise with Orleans,” which was packed with area fans and musicians who had played with Larry during his Ithaca days.

Larry had a great time being back in his old college town and would be happy to return for a concert at his alma mater. “It feels like home here,” he says.