By Starrla Cray
NEW GERMANY, MN Turn back the clock and turn up the tunes.
A tribute to the acclaimed Travelin Band Grease Band of the 1970s will take place at New Germany Hall Saturday, Sept. 24 from 4 to 9 p.m.
Travelin Band’s songs will be played throughout the evening, and four of the six band members will be in attendance.
“I haven’t seen a couple of [the band members] for years and years, so it should be a lot of fun,” Travelin Band drummer Mike Tesch said.
There is no cover charge, but all donations will be used to pay for three days of live bands at New Germany’s 125th anniversary celebration in July 2012.
Refreshments will be available for purchase, as well as “memory/missing you lights.”
“If you purchase one of the white lights, it will have your special person’s name on it,” said Mayer resident Karen Leuthner Johnson. “At the 125th celebration, all the lights will be lit on a memory tree.”
Travelin Band made its debut in March 1970, and Tesch was hired as drummer that September, when he came home from military duty.
“We started out with country and old rock,” Tesch said, explaining that he never expected the band to become so popular.
“I thought we’d gradually build up an audience, but it was like a rocket taking off,” he said. “I couldn’t even absorb it all.”
They played three or four nights per week, mostly within a 60-mile radius of Mayer, at places like the Red Eye, New Germany Hall, Blue Note Bar and Ballroom, Sherman Station, Dockside, Paradise Ballroom, Pla Mor Ballroom, Waverly Hall, and many more.
“We went as far as Fort Dodge, IA, but Mayer was our home port,” Tesch said.
Band members who will be attending the tribute in New Germany Saturday include Mike “Beater” Tesch, Al “JC Cool” Wendorf, Ron “Spike” Lindner, and Steve “Punk” Hahn.
Keyboard and saxophonist Steve Mueller has passed away, and lead singer Phil Wabbe resides in Florida.
Throwbacks to the 1950s were wildly popular in the 1970s, and eventually, Travelin Band’s concerts included three hours of ‘50s entertainment, and one hour of modern rock.
“We did the whole ball of wax,” Tesch said. “There was a big demand for Elvis stuff.”
Hahn did a “super great job” as Elvis, according to Tesch, and concerts were often sold out.
“Finally, we couldn’t even play in the bars,” Tesch recalled. “There were people standing outside because there was no room to get in.”
“They sort of outgrew the place,” said Jim Lynch, who owned the Red Eye bar in New Germany, which is now Down South Bar.
“We were young all in our early to mid-20s and we went for the gold,” Tesch said.
He recalls the band’s first night at Paradise Ballroom in the fall of 1971 (later known as Waconia Lakeside Ballroom, and now, Lake Waconia Event Center), when 1,200 people showed up to hear them.
“It was kind of a shock,” Tesch said. “I was shaking like a leaf on a tree.”
The band continued until 1979, when Hahn was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“We could have found a replacement, but we didn’t want to do that,” Tesch said. “We were kind of like a family.”
Tesch and Lindner then joined another band called Showdown, which focused on country music.
“That was a five-piece group,” Tesch said. “That lasted four or five years.”
Then, Tesch spent a few years with the band Clover before joining his current group, the Prairie Rose Band.
“I’ve always been fortunate to have good bands to play in,” he said.
Tesch’s first band began in 1964, with musicians from his neighborhood.
“I was only 14,” he said.
Tesch said he’s looking forward to reconnecting with band members and fans in New Germany Sept. 24.
“Who would have thought, Travelin Band getting together for a reunion,” he said. “I think it’ll be exciting.”
The event will include a twist contest and Hula-Hoop contest, and local restaurants Down South Bar, T-Road Tavern, and Heimey’s Place will be open if concert-goers would like additional food throughout the evening.
To learn more about the event, email firstname.lastname@example.org.