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WOSTER: A good, old-fashioned fundraiser

Terry Woster

The benefits of grandchildren are far too numerous to count, but at the Vivian Dance Hall last Saturday evening, I discovered one more.

I had the rare opportunity to sing a rock and roll tune with Mogen's Heroes, the zany, multi-talented musical trio that joins with my big brother Jim for shows, fundraisers, fairs and hoe-downs across a wide stretch of South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota. More a bit later on why Mogen's Heroes and Jim were in Vivian on a Saturday evening in early April. First, the granddaughter.

I sang with a dance band for several years, but that is going on two decades ago. My big brother, Jim, said Mogen wouldn't object if I sat in for one song, and I leaped at the chance. We did an old rocker called "Matchbox,'' a piece with a standard beat and chord pattern and a simple melody line. Not even a mediocre vocalist (no names mentioned) could do it too much damage in an unrehearsed outing. Plus, it's my all-time favorite rock 'n' roll tune. Carl Perkins did the version I like best, and that Daddy Cat never in his life cut a bad song.

I did my one song with the band, had a rollicking good time and left the stage to the real musicians. Later, when my son asked his daughter, Sage, who was the best, she said one word, "Grandpa.'' I'm a bit out of touch with reality, but even I wouldn't make that claim in the company of the folks in the Vivian Dance Hall the other evening. I don't mind if my granddaughter says it. At age 5, she says what she believes, and after she said I was best, the tires didn't touch the road all the way home.

I wrote last spring about the Vivian Dance Hall, a storied place that used to draw carloads of cats and chicks off Highway 16 and up the gentle hill through the town's main street. The dance hall itself was inducted into the South Dakota Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a year ago. The hall has a category for the ballrooms, gymnasiums and converted barns that were essential to the rock 'n' roll scene of the 1950s and 1960s.

Myron Lee of Myron Lee and the Caddies has many stories about the dance halls of those days. Music promoters who had been booking big bands into ballrooms found themselves booking three or four or five-piece guitar-driven rock bands for dances. Some of those promoters may not have liked the music, but they could see the direction the young adults were heading. They went with it.

Out in Vivian last Saturday, I heard another of those "kid-buys-a-guitar, starts-a-band'' stories, this one featuring a couple of Lyman County boys who became DJ and the Kats (also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.) Terry Hutchinson and his brother Travis were the driving forces in that band. The way Terry told it between songs as he sat in with the Heroes for a few numbers, his band formed in 1957, while he and his brother still were in high school. A music promoter more comfortable with horn bands took a chance on a four-piece combo of school kids. It's been a while since DJ and the Cats played, but Terry was impressive. I'm pretty sure if Sage weren't my granddaughter, she would have found another musician besides her grandpa to call the best.

The point of the evening was to raise some money for the Greater Lyman Foundation. The foundation has created a fund that directs money to worthwhile projects all over the county. It's a fair-sized county, but it's getting to be a fair-sized fund, and it's doing good things.

For me, the evening was a lot like being a kid again. If you grew up in a small community half a century ago, you know what I mean. Every major event meant a gathering at the gym or the church basement, a substantial meal served by volunteers, some down-home entertainment and a ton of shared memories.

They still do it up right back in the old home country.