Woodworking: Sixty years ago, we played our own version of American BandstandAsh Wednesday, the beginning of Lent is an opportunity for little dance bands in western Wisconsin.
By: Dave Wood, columnist, River Falls Journal
Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent is an opportunity for little dance bands in western Wisconsin.
I thought about those little dance bands when I read in my hometown paper that Ove Junior Bergerson, 85, had died at the Pigeon Falls nursing home. Sixty years ago, my pals and I used to journey to York to dance to the musical stylings of Ove (pronounced OH-vee) and the “Scandinavians.”
Ove was a very handsome fellow with blond curly hair, a ruddy complexion and a fiddle that was white with resin. He was accompanied by Norma Nelson, soon to be his bride, as well as champion banjo player Leroy Blom and his brother James on the piano.
Ove and his pals played schottisches, waltzes, polka and Norwegian dance called “shaga lopa,” in a very fast 3/4-time hop.
Then, of course, we all grew up and went away to work and college.
Not Ove. According to the obit, he stuck close to York, pronounced “Jork” by many of its Norwegian residents.
Years later, I went to my cousin Edward Peterson’s 50th wedding anniversary at the ballroom in Osseo.
Who was playing?
Ove, of course, his wife Norma and two of his kids. Schottisches, waltzes, polkas and shaga lopas.
But what were we doing in York back 60 years ago?
Folks have been going there for years. My Grandma went to dances there when she was a young maiden learning the dressmaking trade in Whitehall. She once danced with a man who asked her where she was from.
She said “Whitehall.”
He, remembering the county courthouse was there, said, “Are you a typewriter?”
“No,” replied Grandma. “Do I look like a machine?”
My father recalled bitterly of the time he and Hans Klundby and cousin Paul went to a dance at York, danced with three lovely girls from Hixton and got their clocks cleaned by the Humphrey boys, who had first dibs on those lovely girls.
My father came home in his underwear.
So what were we doing back 60 years ago in York during Lent?
It wasn’t much of a town. There was Larson’s bar and general store, which served underage kids; there was York grade school built out of bricks made at my grandpa’s block factory; there was, of course, a creamery; and there was a little town hall, where the dances were held.
And that’s why we were there. Why hold dances in a little wooden shed, with a creaky floor and a potbelly stove in the corner? One certainly wouldn’t want to be slammed into that red-hot inferno during a lively circle two-step.
Why not stage dances at one of the many pavilions around the area, like Midway Ballroom in Independence, Lakeshore Pavilion in Hixton, the Silver Dome in Neillsville or the Acorn Ballroom in Centerville?
You needed waders to make use of the men’s room in Neillsville or Centerville, but otherwise they were just fine.
No, we went to York because it was Lent. During Lent, the big-time dance pavilions closed down for the duration and the popular orchestras in the neighborhood took a much needed rest.
Some of them rested so well that they’re still able to play today at dance halls. I speak specifically of Conrad Johns, who holds forth in the Eau Claire area and Howie Sturtz, the acclaimed Neillsville trombonist.
Along about 1952, a bunch of us at Whitehall High School thought it was time to get into show business, so we started an old-time band with a view to renting York Hall and playing during Lent.
Of course we had no money, but we made do. Dance bills were thoughtfully provided by the father of our vocalist and drummer.
Iver Ulysses Johnstad, longtime local orchestra leader, had recently retired from the stage. He had lots of dance bills for his Idlewild Orchestra, which became the name of ours. And we didn’t have a bus like Whoopee John, or even a car.
So clarinetist Elaine Jacobson’s father hauled us — it took two trips — to York. The owner of Larson’s bar convinced the town council we could pay the $25 rental fee AFTER we got some tickets sold.
We attracted a sizeable crowd, some of whom weren’t even relatives of the musicians. We paid the rent and we each had 10 bucks to spend as we liked.
The next month we rented the Whitehall City Hall. And so it went, our professional showbiz careers, until the high school principal found out I was using the school’s tuba, and closed us down.
But that was long before “earn while you learn” became a fashionable byword.
Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.