The town of Ulen is no major metropolis. About 800 people between Hawley and Twin Valley (or Hitterdahl and Syre if you want to get more technical). Growing up, I knew it for three reasons.
First, the Syre Fertilizer Company used to have its annual customer appreciation supper/hog roast in Ulen. It wasn’t held in Syre because…well, there just wasn’t much in Syre. A fertilizer shed, an old elevator, a cemetery, and the famous underground church (aka – a steeple).
Second, Ulen had a great city park that the hog roast was held in. It crossed the river, not just once, but twice, and had some great trails and playground equipment.
Finally, they had a town band. The Ulen Centennial Band was formed in 1986 to celebrate the town’s 100th birthday. It played with equipment bought from a defunct band in southern Minnesota and made the rounds to most small town celebrations. The first time I saw them was on a semi trailer in my local town’s parade.
So it was hard to pass up the invitation from my brother and his family. Well, less an invitation, and more a point of information. Which is how things are done in this part of the world. An invitation is being just a little too exuberate for most folks.
“The Ulen band is playing in the band shell on Tuesday.” My brother commented.
“I’ve wanted to hear them play. You going up there.” I commented back.
“Well, we were thinking about it.” He replied.
“Well, I might have to make it up there.” I replied.
“Yeah, well, free country I guess. See you there.” He replied.
An hour before go time came a reminder from my niece, “they start playing at 7pm.”
Settling into our chairs, I surveyed the motley crew that made up the Ulen Centennial Band, about thirty in numbers. “Do they call it the centennial band because that is the average age?” one of my nieces pondered…
But in truth, they were on average middle age – some youngsters (my niece has played with them before) and some seasoned veterans. But one thing stood out, the laughing and joking made it clear they were there to have fun – and the tune ups and sound checks also meant that they were there to entertain.
The director, my old high school band director – and the man that taught all five of us kids how to read music, was an animated as ever. As a kid, he used to drown out the younger bands and his exclamations could be heard over the din, “Blow #$%# it! Blow!” could be heard throughout rehearsal as he would coax a song out of us. With Mr. Kuhn at the helm, it was bound to be entertaining.
And entertain they did.
Starting with a rousing rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” and moving forward to a series of marches, waltzes, polka’s, and rock and roll classics, it was a rollicking good time. The Hogan’s Hero’s March, the March from the Bridge on the River Kwai, and a host of other classics filled the perfect summer evening along the lake front.
Closing it out was John Phillips Sousa classic Stars and Stripes Forever. Old Mr. Sousa had to be looking down and smiling – other bands might do it with a little more style, but not many with as much spirit.