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Footprints of Fayette

Blume’s Orchestra, ”The Big Band” of Fayette County – Part II

By Carolyn Heinsohn

One of the most popular dance halls in the area where the Blume’s Orchestra frequently played was the Fair Pavilion Hall in La Grange. For a number of years, V.A. Hrbacek, the owner of Cottonwood Inn Restaurant and Motel, leased the Fair Pavilion and hired the orchestra to play on the first Saturday of every month.

Built in 1925, the hall is now an iconic relic that still serves the community for a variety of purposes. Tables and chairs were placed around the perimeter of the dance floor, and lighting was subdued for a romantic ambiance. A slightly raised platform on three sides of the hall offered space for additional seating. The only cooling features during warm weather were large fans in a rectangular cupola in the roof of the hall, welcome breezes that came in through unscreened windows that opened with cantilevered shutters, and fluttering hand fans. Eventually, more electric fans were added to provide additional comfort, but air conditioning was never feasible due to the hall’s old-style construction. Nevertheless, lovers of good music were not dissuaded by the lack of creature comforts.  

During the big band era, patrons could bring their own liquor and order mixers and “set-ups” of crushed ice, lemon wedges and maraschino cherries that were served by Emmett Johnson, who worked for years as a waiter at the Pavilion. He always wore a white uniform and cap and provided his services with a smile and impeccable manners. The band members, however, never drank alcohol or smoked while playing, so that they could maintain a respectable reputation.

Ads for dances featuring Blume’s Orchestra were published in area newspapers and on placards that were distributed to various businesses and dance halls. In 1956, an ad in the Bastrop Advertiser stated that Blume’s would be playing at the Fair Pavilion in La Grange for a New Year’s Eve dance. Admission was $2.50 per person, but advance tickets had to be purchased at the Cottonwood Inn Restaurant in La Grange in order to reserve a free table. In 1958, Blume’s Orchestra was again playing at the Fair Pavilion for a Christmas dance with a $2.00 admission. In the early 1960s, the orchestra played at the American Legion Hall in La Grange for Christmas dances for four or five years.   

In 1978, the orchestra produced a 33 1/3 rpm recording of some of their favorite tunes to celebrate their 50th anniversary. The musicians who played for this album were Les Blume, Wilbur Zapp and Rudolph Ryza, sax and clarinet; Floyd Nicholson and Andy Anderson, trumpet; Roy Giesalhart, bass; Lucien “Sarge” La Course and Bob Pratka, sharing drums; and Claude Marty, piano, accordion and vibes. Some of the musical selections were: “White Sport Coat,” “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain,” “Spanish Eyes,” “Love Letters,” “Bill Bailey,” “San Francisco,” and a “Strauss Waltz Medley,” all of which had been popular tunes for years.

Throughout the years, there were many fads and styles of dance music that were popular with the different bands in the area, but the style of Blume’s Orchestra changed very little. The orchestra had a loyal following who preferred it that way! Why change a good thing?

In the early 1980s, the Blume brothers decided to retire, so there was a period of dormancy when their style of music was not being heard in the area. So when the Fair Association asked for a band that could play “modern” music at an upcoming fair, Gus Lindemann, who joined Blume’s Orchestra as a trumpeter in 1958, decided to organize a combo band that he called “The Once In A While Band.” He utilized many of the Blume’s original arrangements and introduced newer ones for a mixture of old and up-to-date sounds. Les Blume, the leader of the former Blume’s Orchestra, played with the group for a short time, but then retired again due to health reasons.  After several years, Gus decided to organize a full band that he re-named “The Gus Lindemann Orchestra.” His musical and business acumen attributed to his orchestra’s continued success. 

Mike Gest, a musician and vocalist with the Gus Lindemann Orchestra, acquired the orchestra and became its leader in 2005. The name was changed to the Moonglow Orchestra, and it continues to be one of the more successful and popular dance bands in southeast Texas, especially in the Houston area. The orchestra features a variety of music that ranges from ballroom, big band, jazz, pop rock, country and a selection of Latin tunes and rhythms.     

Ultimately, Blume’s Orchestra somewhat morphed into three other bands that continued to play some of the original band’s old familiar arrangements – music that kept people happily dancing for over five decades. The memories of their music can still be mentally conjured up by many of the senior citizens of the county as they reflect upon the “good old days” when attending a dance with the Blume’s Orchestra meant a night of dancing and romancing with a favorite partner, as well as socializing with friends. Nostalgic recollections seem to be a favorite pastime with age, when fond memories resurface from the depths of our gray matter, stay with us for a while and then fade away again.

Sources: 

Interview with Gus Lindemann, Nov. 16, 2015

Moonglow Orchestra website

The Blume’s Orchestra Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary, album cover story; 1978

 

 

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