On Saturday, March 17, the Shepherd Union Building Ballrooms echoed with sounds from the 1930s and 40s, courtesy of the Junction City Big Band. Although the band plays songs from the past, it is currently looking into its future.
The Junction City Big Band has been performing at Weber State University since 1987 and has experienced a significant change this school year. With the passing of Earl Ericksen, founder and director of the band, Steve Ericksen has stepped in as director.
“I told him, ‘I will be glad to carry this through at least one more year, and then we will see where it goes from there,’” Steve said.
Steve is son of Earl Ericksen, former professor of music at WSU. Steve said that just before his father passed away last July, they had a discussion about the future of the Junction City Big Band.
“It was something he really wanted to continue. He devoted his life to music, and I think that the part he really liked the best was the big band music and organization,” Steve said. “I think that is where he got the most joy out of his music.”
While Steve put down his baritone saxophone and took over as director, he noted that the band has faced a number of challenges. Back when the band first started, Steve said the number of participants ranged anywhere from 250-300 people per dance. However, he said the numbers appear to be declining today.
“We had a real good attendance when we first started back in the ’80s,” Steve said. “Now I am seeing what I can do about building the attendance back up.”
According to Steve, one large setback was the renovation of the Shepherd Union Building because the band was unable to play at WSU during that time. The other challenge that Steve described is that big band music does not lend itself to individuals.
In order to raise the attendance at dances, Steve has introduced a new incentive this year. Those in attendance will be placed in a drawing for a free dinner for two ($30 value) and a free movie gift card for two ($25 value).
Donald Keipp, WSU professor of music and drummer in the Junction City Big Band, said the dances are a great activity.
“I think it is a great place for a bunch of students to just do something out of the ordinary and say ‘Hey, let’s get four couples and go dancing!’” Keipp said. “I think that they would really have a blast.”
The band has a total of 18 members: five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets, the rhythm section (piano, bass, drums), vocalist and the director. Keipp said that despite the challenges the band has faced, the members still enjoy the opportunity that they have to play.
“The fun thing about the Junction City Big Band is that we all just love playing so much,” Keipp said. “It is kind of like a jazz club.”
He said the band plays together at least once a month and performs at various functions, including wedding receptions, military functions and church activities. Keipp has been the drummer in the band since it was first organized.
A few of the numbers featured on Saturday included “Moonlight Serenade,” “In the Mood” and “I’m getting Sentimental Over You.” According to Keipp, these songs are made for couples to dance to the sounds of the big band era and just have a good time.
Margene Anderson has provided dance instruction at these dances for the past 10 years and this past Saturday was no different. She taught participants how to swing, fox-trot and waltz to the big band numbers.
“It’s fun to see them dancing what they just learned in class,” Anderson said. “The lessons give students the confidence they need to get up on the dance floor when they might not do so otherwise.”
Anderson owns a dance company called “A Dance Scene” and has been teaching since 1985 all over the Wasatch Front. She also said that the $1 fee is more than a great cost for a fun date night activity.
“When you are familiar with some of the basic dance moves, you can have a blast on the dance floor in any social setting,” Anderson said. “Dancing is a great way to exercise, and with its many social and health benefits, everyone should be dancing!”
The next Junction City Big Band Dance will be on April 7, from 7 to 10:30 p.m. in the Shepherd Union Building Ballrooms. The cost is $5 for the dance and an additional $1 for dance instruction.
After April 7, Steve said that the band will get together in order to vote on whether or not they should keep the band going.
“Usually the band is in favor of trying to keep the group together because they like creating music and it is a great time for the people that attend,” Steve said. “It would be great to have as much support as we could so that we can keep the group going and keep this great opportunity for the students.”