This week's concert
It was “Last Call” for the El Dorado Community Concert Association on Tuesday night after 81 years, but the final stand didn’t go out with a whimper but a profound bang.
That was provided courtesy of the Doo-Wah Riders, a five-man group whose selections were primarily upbeat, a necessity to counter the somber occasion.
The southern California-based group kicked off the program with “The Boys Are Back in Town,” putting a peppy start on the night.
The group’s offerings are primarily country with a splash of Cajun Zydeco thrown in. But they weren’t afraid to travel outside of that box with rock songs such as “Proud Mary,” the Creedence Clearwater Revival hit that also paid off for Tina Turner.
However, there were a few necessary liberties taken to get it into the Doo-Wah Riders framework.
Lead singer Kenny Lee Benson had a humorous message for purists who might object: “If you don’t like it, it’ll be over in a couple of minutes.”
On this selection, talented fiddler Aaron Castilla took a break to apply his flying fingers to the mandolin. And Al Bonhomme, the newest member of the group, also soloed on the acoustic guitar, going high on the bridge for his notes.
Benson handled most of the primary vocals while deftly playing a beautifully studded accordion. He would occasionally set it down to accompany on the electric keyboard.
The Doo-Wah Riders are roughly half the age of the concert association, celebrating their 41st year in 2019. Benson is the last original member, having started the group with the recently retired Lindy Rasmussen. It is said that the two formed the band “just for laughs,” and the group carries on that tradition impeccably.
During the toe-tapping concert, thoughts of the concert association’s demise took a back seat to an enjoyable couple of hours of homespun congeniality.
“The Doo-Wah Riders have always been a ‘feel-good band,’” Benson said.
Afterward, Benson reflected on the genesis of the group. A New Mexico native, he said he moved to California to get involved in doing music for the entertainment industry.
“I always loved country music, and I especially loved Western swing,” he said. “We put together a band for fun (and) I didn’t realize it was going to be my vocation for the next 40 years.”
The next-longest tenured member is bass guitarist/string bassist Freddie Johnson, who provided infectious enthusiasm as he alternated between his instruments, once holding his bass viol aloft!
Castilla, 23, is the youngest member of the group, a three-year veteran who joined around the same time as drummer Peter Kaye. He was showcased on traditional fiddle selections like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “Orange Blossom Special.” Along with the group’s smoke machine (which sported red lights during “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”), Castilla’s bow had red horsehair, rather than the usual off-white.
“It’s synthetic hair, so it just happened to be colored red when I got it,” said Castilla, who said the synthetic is more durable than natural horsehair and less likely to break.
“I haven’t broken one (hair) since I got the thing (six months ago).”
Over the years, many of the association’s artists have brought some unique instruments to the El Dorado performances. One that will forever stand out was Kuba Kawnik of Kubecca playing the theremin, which creates sounds by the artist’s hand manipulating the soundwaves.
Tuesday’s concert was no different. But instead of the very large theremin, one of the Doo-Wah Riders’ friends brought his “bones.”
Barry “Bones” Patton made the short trip from Winfield to sit in during the second half of the performance on the “bones,” actual rib bones of a cow that sometimes are referred to as “cowboy castanets.” And the sound is somewhat similar. Patton proved himself a master of these, and his contribution enhanced many of the songs.
Patton said the history of the rhythm bones dates to about 1400 B.C.
“They’re probably one of the oldest rhythm instruments that man has known today,” he said. “They played them a lot in Civil War times. They were called ‘rhythm sticks’ or ‘rhythm bones,’ because a lot of the time if they didn’t have bones, they took sticks and made bones out of them.”
He said he’s been playing them more than 43 years, Patton said.
“I picked them up when I was about 5, but I really learned to play them when I was 13,” he said.
Benson said the unique nature of the bones was one reason they brought Patton onstage.
“They’re (the bones) are so entertaining and so unique, and so few people (play them) … it’s a lost art,” he said.
Benson said it was sad that the concerts were ending.
“If I lived here, I’d jump in and get involved, and try to bring shows in that would bring people in,” he said. “My mom did community concerts for many years.”
The volunteer-driven nonprofit community concert organization took its final bow and faded away, hopefully not for good. Those who have served on the board of directors since its 1937-38 inception deserve a salute for providing artists whose talent far outshone their name recognition.