Thursday, August 5, 2010

1976 All-Ohio State Fair Band

With the Ohio State Fair currently underway in Columbus, I've been thinking all week of one of my most memorable experiences: being a member of the 1976 All-Ohio State Fair Band.

The All-Ohio State Fair Band was founded in 1925, and has entertained fairgoers ever since. It has also provided high school musicians from all over the state with a unique educational experience.

To get into the Band, the student musicians must be recommended by their hometown band director. It was originally an all-male group, but the organization welcomed females for the first time in 1975.

Rhodes Center was our home away from home on the fairgrounds and served as the barracks. The operation was very disciplined, like the army. Each day began with Reveille and inspection of our bunks. There was also a lights-out ritual at night.

We first arrived at the fairgrounds a few days before the fair opened. For many of the kids, it was the first time they had ever been away from home. Soon, however, we were too busy rehearsing the music to have time to be homesick. We learned dozens of concert pieces and many short marches that we would perform while parading around the fairgrounds.

Often, we would split into two bands for separate assignments around the fair. But the best time was when the whole band played a concert, such as at the Coliseum or at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources area. Considering the fact that we only had a few days to rehearse, the sound was quite impressive and a tribute to the director, Omar P. Blackman.

Two weeks was a long time to be at the fair back then (it's much shorter now), and we did get some free time now and then just to have fun. I remember hitting some of the freak shows with a few buddies. We also got to see some of the Grandstand shows; I remember a Fair employee allowing a few of us to sit in the front row for both Bob Hope and Red Skelton.

Other sights and sounds of the fair are etched permanently in my mind.

There was the annoying Bobo the Clown, perched above one of those ubiquitous dunk tanks, constantly heckling passers-by and "looking for a ballplayer" to take a chance and try to hit the target that would drop him into the water. Although there were a few different Bobo's at the Fair, there was one that was particularly nasty; quite a few bandsmen tried to dunk him!

There was a Dutch Apple Pie stand that was right next to Rhodes Center. A tape recorded message describing this delicacy was looped to blast continually through a loud speaker, and after hearing the description for the 100th time, apple pie was the last thing you wanted to eat.

During one of our marches around the fairgrounds, we stopped and played "Happy Birthday" for Colonel Sanders! I remember being pretty excited but shocked at how short he was.

Living in close proximity to cows and goats made sleeping a challenge. I'll never forget trying to fall asleep in my bunk, lying there listening to the various animal sounds coming from the barns nearby. (There was no air conditioning so the windows were open.)

We also got to be on TV several times, performing on several local Columbus and Cincinnati shows, including the Bob Braun Show! We made a record too (at right).

But the thing that I remember most about the All-Ohio State Fair Band was how sad it was when we played our last concert. I remember many kids bawling; we had enjoyed it so much that we didn't want it to end.

I still get goosebumps when I hear the Stars and Stripes Forever, the traditional closing tune at our concerts.

The All-Ohio State Fair Band has its own website and a facebook page too. So, if you were lucky like me to be a part of this organization, then there are plenty of online resources for you to enjoy. Better yet, join the alumni association and consider playing on Alumni Day next year! I'm thinking about it!


Ken said...

Holy cow (so to speak), that post could have been written by me! I still remember when the wind would blow through the barn, right into the Rhodes Center at night, how everyone would groan at the country stench. I also still can hear that recording, "...what's that on top? Is that cinnamon?" And, "Bobo needs a ballplayer!" How we detested that jerk! The Arch Nemesis of the Boy's Band. I had the honor of being in it the last year it was the Boy's Band and the first year it was the "All Ohio State Fair Band". I hate to say it but it was a lot more fun when it was the Boy's Band! Much rowdier. When the girls came, we had to mind our p's and q's. But there was a good side too...

Ken said...

Also, Omar P. Blackman (who we called "Ramo") passed away just a few years ago. A fine man, well remembered by all.

Anonymous said...

Dan...thanks for the post and pics! It was another good year at The Fair. We discussed Bobo and many other great memories...even we looking over the album you have pictured above.

We have air conditioning so the kids "miss out" on the farm sound. However, they are still cry through the last concert . . .right up to the stinger on S & S ...Ed Gallagher

Dan Brady said...

Thanks for the comments here and on the Alumni Band's Facebook page as well, Ed! I appreciate it!

Jay Heiser said...

Funny, I just found that record this morning. I took a camera with me in 76, but only seem to have taken two shots: I've got the names and 1976 addresses of those guys from my area of the dorm, and I'm thinking that the adult with the pistol was nicknamed 'Tank' because of an unfortunate incident he had with the national guard.

I'd forgotten about Bobo--there were lots of traditions like that. What was the restaurant from German Village that gave us breakfast one day?

They called it 'ballyhooing' when we split into 2 bands and marched around the fair grounds. They'd coordinate it so both groups would arrive in that cross-shaped commercial building and the piccs and maybe the bones went up to the mezzanine level for Stars and Stripes. EVERY concert ended with Stars & Stripes in memory of the time that Souza had directed the Boys Band.

We'd do sit down gigs on the lawn in front of Rhodes Center, or some other green place on the fairgrounds. Final show of the evening was marching during the intermission at the horse show.

Sheep barn was closest, and stables weren't too far away, and spent a lot of time wandering around there. Saw my first tractor pull. The arcade behind the dorm had a multi-player tank game that was about the state of the art for video games. Bunch of guys went to a nearby tee shirt shop to get an "it's OK, I'm with the band" shirt (visible in my photo).

I went back in 77, which was an even longer stay, because the choir wasn't there that year. Didn't have as much fun in 77. Memory of that year is that the Star Wars theme was constantly playing over the PAs.

Jay Heiser said...

I'd forgotten about playing happy birthday for the Colonel. I'm sure that the band appeared on the Bob Braun show right after an appearance of his. He was walking out of that outdoor studio just as we were walking in, and we practically brushed shoulders. He was carrying an intricate walking stick of ebony, maybe with silver trim, and he seemed very old. My memory is that he was scowling or complaining or something--he didn't give the impression of being a cheerful guy

The adults kept very strict discipline, and the slightest infraction meant that you'd earn 'gigs' and have to work them off by cleaning out the cracks in the sidewalk, or scrubbing the stairway with a toothbrush.

Lights out was super strict, but one night, somebody started whistling Stars & Stripes, and pretty quickly, everyone was whistling their part. We went thru the entire tune, there were some giggles, and then we shut up.

Anonymous said...

I was in the in '74 & '75 the end of one era and the beginning of another. In '74 they filmed us all the time. It seemed to me like we couldn't make a move with cameras rolling. I always thought that it was because it was the last year of all boys. Anyone have any idea where those films could be obtained?

KevinOMReb said...

I too was in the last Boys Band AND first State Fair Band. Marched in the Cotton Bowl Parade. Remember how we all thought Dallas would be WARM? We all froze. Happily, my mother forced a heavy coat into my hands while walking out the door. As the rest of the band sat in the stands during the game in shell windbreakers, I had a heavy winter coat. Ahh.

Also the 74 band of all Boys was a far better band than that of 75. Wasn't quite the same. And who could forget Brass Espanol?

Anonymous said...

I found your wonderful post. It's really a shame that kids today won't know the wonderful experience that AOBB was. I am NOT defending the all-male membership - it was what it was. But - I was a member for Jack Evans' 3 years being director -1967, 1968, and 1969. I was fortunate enough to recently get digital recordings of those albums from a friend - my albums got destroyed long ago. To hear 300 guys playing orchestral transcriptions - stuff that a kid like me, from a little rural Ohio HS would NEVER play - it was a "life experience", that's for sure !!! We opened for Doc Severinsen - and he brought his daughters (GOD, were they hot !!!).

My first or second year, Dr. Louis Pete, the director for decades, was brought in to conduct Stars and Stripes. I didn't understand why the guys around me sprung to attention when "Dr. Pete" got up on the podium. I do now. Great days....great experience....great music.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this! I was a member of the ,76 and ,77 AOSF bands! What GREAT memories! (baritone section!!)

Anonymous said...

We are the Boys Band,
We've got class,
We think Bobo is an a$$.

Anyone remember chanting that one day as we passed Bobo's dunk tank on the way back from a grandstand concert? The percussion stopped their cadence and went to clicks on their rims after which we began the chant. We might have even shut up Bobo for an instant. Oddly, I don't remember the band getting talked to for doing that.

Anonymous said...

I was in the band in '75, the first year the girls played...great memories and wonderful opportunity! I played trumpet...still do!

Anonymous said...

^^^...Oh, forgot to say "girl" trumpet player! ;-)