The Reunion of Unity
It was a year in the making but it finally happened. Unity Bluegrass performed at the 50th Anniversary of the Green Lake Baha'i Conference. Unity performed there only once, back in 1977, but during that time we performed in many cities and locations in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, South Dakota, Indiana, and others. I have not performed with them since the early 80's.
The idea for the reunion came after Green Lake in 2008 when my wife Nancy and I gave our friend, Valerie Smith, a ride from the Green Lake Conference to Midway Airport on the south side of Chicago. During our conversation we rehashed what had gone on and of particular note was the announcement for speakers, performers, pictures and anything else that would be of interest for Green Lake Baha'i Conference's 50th Anniversary. During this time Valerie made the comment that it would be nice if Unity Bluegrass could get together to perform.
This got me to thinking that it would be a great excuse to get everyone together after all these years. I had been in touch with most from the band after putting together UnityBluegrass.com, a website that I built after I rediscovered a packet of memorabilia David Neidig had given everyone in the band before he moved to Tennessee. (The reason I found that packet was because we had a flood in the lower level of our house in August of 2007.)
So once we got home I crafted an email to send out to everyone. Here is a copy of it:
How’s life treating everyone? I remember the idea of having a reunion was being kicked around a few months ago. There was some thought of the House of Worship, I received an email from the owner of the Highwood Bowl who stated he would love to have us back to perform there. Anyway, Nancy and I attended Green Lake this last August (for the first time in about 6 years) and were very surprised at the changes there. Well, to make a long story short it was announced that next year would be their 50thAnniversary. This got me to thinking that it would be a great place to get together for a reunion. What do you think?
If there is enough interest I will approach the committee about the possibility. I would love to perform with everyone again and to do it at Green Lake??? Well, that would be a big turn on as well.
Write me back so we can decide whether this is a possibility of not.
Talk to you soon.
I received a lot of positive feedback from everyone. Everybody was able to commit to this initially except Haydn Mohr, who would rather go spend time with the kids and grand kids at a beach front home than come play bluegrass (just kidding). So the next step was to contact the Green Lake Committee.
They were very excited as well to have us on the program. We went through several performance variations throughout the year as plans and personnel changed. Of those who initially were planning to attend, Mark Harries and Dave Rohling had to back out. This could have been catastrophic if I had not been in touch with Richard Staller (he was a former member of the original Unity Band and had been performing Bluegrass with Doug in Colorado in a Band known as the “No Longer Boys Bluegrass Band”).
When I first asked folks who was interested in coming to the reunion, I extended Richard an invitation to join us. I found out later that he had not considered it because it was looking as if we were going to be *guitar heavy* with both Mark Harries and Dave Rohling participating, but with both of them having to bow out we were going to be left without a guitarist (I would have preferred to play bass since I was SO out of practice). I asked that Richard reconsider joining us and he graciously accepted (I could then breathe a sigh of relief). This all happened within a few of months of the Green Lake Conference.
Now that the personnel had been finalized, all we had to do was get the performance schedule set. Originally when we were asked when we would be available, I told the committee we would be available Friday, Saturday and Sunday figuring people were going to come in a couple days early to rehearse, but that was not to be the case. Since committing to them I learned that David Neidig would not be arriving till Friday evening, and Richard, Doug and his wife Pia would not be arriving until Friday as well, so I informed the committee that we would not be available on Friday.
For this reason we made plans to get together Friday evening to rehearse. (Talk about baptism by fire) David Bragman arrived late Friday afternoon (as Nancy and I did) and had dinner together. When we finished dinner we received a call from Doug, Richard and Pia. Since it had been a while since they had been there they took a wrong turn and ended up in the town of Green Lake instead of the Conference Center. I was able to give them directions to get them on the right path (and who says GPS’s don’t make mistakes). We then ordered coffee for the travelers as they would be in dire need of caffeine by the time they arrived from their detour (the server got a kick out of our getting coffee ready for them and was introduced to them the next day).
The trio finally arrived and had their coffee, then the last to arrive was David Neidig. As it turned out David had been on the road since about 3-4 am and got caught up in the Chicago and Milwaukee construction season, having taken the worst way through the city. With Neidig's arrival we had everyone together for the first time in many years.
When Nancy & I arrived at Green Lake we setup, with the committee, a place to rehearse Friday night. It was one of the rooms off the lobby in Roger Williams Inn (which was perfect for me since I get around with a cane now). We went there to rehearse. The room turned out to be the nursery but there were no children there to traumatize so we got setup and started getting reacquainted.
David Bragman was totally ready and psyched as he had been preparing a plethora of jokes to fire at Mike Urbano (who we used to get a great many *groaners/material* from and who was at the Conference). It was fun being together again and playing music. We ended up playing, talking, rehearsing, talking, playing, joking, making a ruckus, repeating this until security finally came along and kicked us out of the room at 11pm.
We made plans to rehearse in the morning in Nancy's and my hotel room at Roger Williams Inn so we would not be too far from where we were to perform.
Our performance schedule was 1:00 pm at the Coffee House and 8:00 pm on the Main Stage.
Our rehearsals went very well as we went over songs, figured out keys, and arrangements. It was almost like we had not been apart, things fell together so easily. The performances went really well too. Even though we had not performed at Green Lake in 32 years, people still remembered us and our performances were received really well.
There was some hardship at Green Lake while we were there. 10 minutes after we finished our evening performance the conference center lost power. The evening program continued to the light of glow sticks and cell phones. The committee asked us if we would close the evening session acoustically, which we happily did (though I had to play David Bragman’s guitar since my bass was electric and I had given the squirrel the night off). The crowd loved it, especially when we sang “I Saw the Light” to the darkened hall.
We were also asked by the committee to perform at 10 am during the Sunday program. We were more than willing to oblige them but as it turned out, because the program started running late they moved us to the end of the conference. All in all it was a wonderful event.
During the weekend we all got to spend a good deal of time together and I will not hesitate to say that I did not realize how much I missed everyone till we were all together, socializing, performing, joking together. It was also very warming to see the “Band Wives” doing their thing. Nancy, Pia and Janie Frye all there together with their support and help, this was Nancy’s first time in that role and I could see how much fun she was having. She has been more excited about this weekend than I have. And getting together for pictures, we were definitely doing the “Bahá'í Shuffle (this is where the friends try to say good bye but it just doesn’t happen as we move slower and slower towards the door).
All and all it was one of the best times I have had in a great many years, while we were all saying our goodbyes there was discussion of another reunion…