Big Band wins Fair gold

Eve Thompson
Conductor and musician Clarence Barger led Siskiyou Big Band to first place during Siskiyou County Golden Fair's Battle of the Band. “It was a great honor for our Band to win. We weren't sure how we'd do since Fair audiences are used to hearing country or rock music, but they loved us!” he said. “I appreciated all the bands; we're keeping the music and arts alive and vital in our community and that's great for everyone.”

Going for the Gold! For the last two weeks many of us were glued to our TV sets, mesmerized by athletes from around the world vying for the gold in the London Olympic Games. Wednesday, Aug. 10, the fight for gold occurred right in our backyard when six groups competed for first place in Siskiyou County Golden Fair's Battle of the Bands.

Like those vying for Olympic medals, Evelyn Horner's Front Porch Swing Band, St. Angus and the Blues Band, Repentive Heart, Thunder in the Shade, Sofa Kings, and Siskiyou Big Band played their hearts out to an adoring crowd.

Siskiyou Big Band took the gold.

"People came with air horns, whistles, and cow bells. Throughout our performance, they stomped, shouted, and cheered non-stop. Everyone in the Band was awed by the response," conductor Clarence Barger said.

Participants were judged by a sound meter that rated audience response. "Our score was 104 decibels!" Barger laughed. "One audience member, a scientist, told me that's the level of sound made by a jet engine!"

"It was exceptional to realize how much the community supported us," Barger noted. "I worked in tandem with KSYC, 93.1 FM, and Jefferson Back Roads to get the word out about our performance, but I never dreamed we'd get the response we did."

The annual Battle of the Bands was anything but typical this year. Usually, contestants for the first place prize of $1,000 are rock or western bands. This year, the Siskiyou Big Band, which plays music from the 1920s to 1960s, entered the fray.

"Siskiyou Golden Fair CEO Cliff Munson and I talked about how wonderful it would be if a big band would enter this year's competition," Barger said. "How original, unique, and just plain fun it would be for everyone. So I signed us up."

The Band, which included seven saxophonists, five trombonists, four trumpet players, and four rhythm players on drums, bass, and guitar, played a variety of big band music. "Pieces like Sweet Georgia Brown, In the Mood, Sing, Sing, were great favorites," Barger said. "All of the pieces gave a good example of that type of music."

"We've had great response to all eight of our performances," Barger smiled. "We've had three standing ovations and have always been asked to perform an encore. We've been popular and successful; it's been a great first season for us."

The Band played to a sold out audience at Avery Theater and was a popular favorite at Scott Valley Bank's free summer concerts at the park. "I understand we drew the largest crowd ever," said Kerry Mauro, a band trombonist.

"We've gotten lots of enthusiastic support, from individuals as well as businesses," Barger added. "That's very special to us."

"All of the musicians, and I do mean all, are wonderful," Barger insisted. "They have a wonderful spirit of giving to the community. They have fun working together, creating a nice, enjoyable, healthy performance. The Band's a special blend of all ages; all are Siskiyou County residents."

Barger created the Band in the spring of 2011. "I noticed there was a large number of retired people and instrumentalists who had no platform," he observed. "I wanted to see more instrumental music in our community, so I brought people together who wanted to perform."

Barger, a member of the Karuk tribe and a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam era, is passionate about bringing big band music to Siskiyou County. An accomplished musician who started playing trumpet in 6th grade, he plays all concert band instruments, including trumpet, B flat tenor sax, E flat alto sax, flugelhorn, baritone, flute, clarinet, and Native American flute and drums.

For now, the Band plans to store its gold – the $1,000 prize money – in Scott Valley Bank. "We're keeping the funds while we decide what equipment and music to buy. We also want to provide relief for musicians, like help paying for gas to get to rehearsals and performances," Barger said.

The group has big plans for the future. "We'll develop scholarships for young instrumentalists," Barger said. "We want them to play with us and get an education, too. We've also set our sights on playing in Mount Shasta and the rest of south county. This year, all performances have been in north county, but next season we hope to go county-wide."

"We're taking a month break; we'll start rehearsals for our second season as soon as we come back. We always welcome new members," Barger smiled.

Those interested in joining the Band may call Clarence Barger at 842-4665 or show up at a rehearsal at 415 Evergreen Lane at the Church of the Nazarene in Yreka Monday nights from 7 to 9 p.m.