WOSTER: Feeling forever young — no matter what reunion it isYears and years ago, back when I still played in the sensational Standbys, we provided the dance music for a 50th reunion get-together for the Pierre High School Class of 1939.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
Years and years ago, back when I still played in the sensational Standbys, we provided the dance music for a 50th reunion get-together for the Pierre High School Class of 1939.
Do the math and you’ll see that we were playing in the summer of 1989. That was a big year for South Dakota, what with the state’s centennial under way and all. The Standbys found quite a bit of work that year, including a gig at the South Dakota Newspaper Association gathering in Brookings, where we followed the late Kyle Evans, the centennial troubadour for South Dakota.
That was an honor. The only person close to a celebrity like that we’d shared a bill with was my big brother, Jim. He’s a crowd pleaser, to be sure, but Kyle Evans? The Wessington Springs singer, songwriter and musician was something else.
Artistic differences eventually tore the Standbys apart (the bass player could read music), but for a few years around 1989, we were working pretty steadily on weekends in one dance hall or another somewhere in central South Dakota (and when I say somewhere in central South Dakota, I usually mean Pierre or Fort Pierre. When we were asked once if we’d play a dance in Brookings, I said, “I don’t know. I’ll have to check. We’ve never gone out of town.’’)
We played often enough that there’s no reason I should remember the Class of 1939 reunion, but I do. Maybe it’s because our bass player (who besides reading music had some good ideas for entertaining dance crowds) did whatever research people used to do before the Internet and came up with a bunch of facts about the year 1939. He kept the crowd engaged by sharing old memories between songs.
It worked pretty well, too. He had facts about the price of gasoline and bread and flour and yeast and things like that. He had several lists — the most popular baby names that year, the most popular songs and movies and Broadway plays and other general interest attractions.
And he had a deep, booming voice with which to deliver the information, so the crowd listened up when he offered a bit of nostalgia.
What I remember most is that two of the top movies of 1939 were “Gone With the Wind’’ and “The Wizard of Oz.’’ We learned to play “Over the Rainbow’’ specifically for that dance.
I remember playing it live before an audience that evening, and I remember thinking how many times I flubbed a chord or came just a little bit flat on one of the high notes that Judy Garland seemed to handle flawlessly.
I also remember how incredibly old most of the dance crowd looked from the stage in the hotel convention center where we played.
They should have looked old, you say? They’d been out of high school for half a century. That’s a long time to survive in this world, and living through a world war, the Korean conflict, the Cold War, the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, Watergate, a couple of energy crises and all sorts of other crazy events tends to write some pretty deep history on a human face.
To that, back in 1989, I’d have said, well, sure, but I mean, these people looked really old. Never mind that I was 45 at the time and heading into middle age and the time when the AARP would start sending me offers.
I was still a young fellow as I stood behind a microphone and sang of blue skies and birds that fly over a rainbow.
That was then. This is now. I’m writing this on Friday for the paper you’re reading right now.
Later this evening (Friday) I’m supposed to head out to a resort near Chamberlain for a gathering of the Chamberlain High School Class of 1962. Yup, that’s my graduating class, and we’re having our 50th high school reunion.
I know, I know. I’m as old now as those folks from the Pierre Class of 1939 were when the Standbys entertained them.
I wonder if, as they danced by the stage that night, they thought to themselves, as I’ve been doing recently: “I feel way too young to be this old.’’