by Jim Bagby, faithful reporter
Photos by Keith Richmond
As Charlie “Pitch ‘Em Up” Dickens might have said, “It was the best of times, it was the best of times.”
The Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in the United States celebrated its second annual convention the third week of January, 2020. And from the first 14 over-achievers who arrived in San Antonio on Wednesday, to the 135 SPPB members who closed out an unbelievable dinner party and show Saturday night, singing and fun prevailed. Then the fellowship, singing, tagging, woodshedding and story-telling went on into the wee hours, as it had all weekend in the Airport Hilton Hotel. In fact, the hotel made its ballroom, lobby, bar, side rooms and hallways all within reach of the endless beer keg throughout SATX II.
“It was another wonder-filled gathering with a room full of smiling faces,” was the first post-convention reaction of SPPB founder Montana Jack Fitzpatrick.
The force of nature whose official title is temporary assistant chief cook and bottle washer was aglow at the 32 percent hike in attendance and what it could portend for the future. Jack told the Saturday night crowd, “We don’t need a long-term commitment from anyone. We just ask a year or two, or three, where you can be the sparkplug to start a lodge in your area and then continue to
mentor some of the young men we need to replace us.”
Fitzpatrick’s appeal came just after the board presented the first SPPB lodge charter to the South Texas Friends in Harmony.
Our San Antonio hosts again performed 90-strong for us at the Saturday dinner.
That was just one of the many highlights for the weekend. Those included, but were not limited to:
Performances by Boardwalk and the original Cincinnati Kids; an emotional special presentation to Montana Jack, who less than two months earlier had emphatically declared himself weaker than a tide pool after his open heart surgery (which he was) and definitely a no-show for Santone; announcement of Paul Cohen as the well-deserving Barbershop Leader of the Year;
Steve Delehanty’s iconic “B-Flat Songs Medley” presentation and its pitchpipe accompaniment; the 2nd annual Old Codger Quartet Contest, this time complete with costumed mic testers.
Then there were the breakfast buffets (all part of the registration price) that spread sumptuously before us daily – I’m not kidding – and did I mention the endless beer keg? Two hotel bars/lounges provided reasonably priced lunches and suppers Wednesday and Friday that included wunnerful $5 soup specials. (I filled up on a bowl of the tomato bisque and I never heard of a bisk). The Hilton also made its vans available to take us to nearby restaurants.
Speaking of transportation, SPPB chartered a bus on Friday that took several dozen of our gang to the Alamo and San Antone’s famous River Walk.
Anyone who attended the 1964 or 1988 BHS conventions will remember the sidewalks, shops and especially delightful Mexican restaurants flanking the river, where boats of sight-seers float up and down stream.
We sang to them while we sipped margaritas (well, one of our number – no names! – gulped) and waited for tasty dishes. It was in ‘64 that two top quartets from the San Antonio Chordsmen stood on the banks of the River Walk and sang to Lady Bird Johnson as she floated past on a Presidential boat. Their song was “If the Lord Be Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise.” The then-First Lady Bird had helped popularize the phrase.
Back at the hotel, harmonizers from 30 states and British Columbia, Canada, were doing a pretty good job of keeping the chords ringing almost around the clock. Among the host of Gold Medalists and repeat convention attendees, Revival’s Bill Myers summed it up well: “What a great time, what fun tag singing, tremendous fellowship...such enjoyment. Can hardly wait until next time. I’ll be there good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.”
A first-time attender, Keith Schweer from Kansas City, was equally enthusiastic. “Had a great time! Everyone was friendly and got to sing with lots of my heroes: Chuck Olson, Don Barnick, Jim Kline, Bill Biffle and on and on.” That’s Chuck Olson of Evergreen District’s famed Aliens, who were wildly popular before they became classic by lip syncing the Boston Common – on the contest stage! Chuck was accompanied to Santone by former BHS Director of Music and Education and arranger Mel Knight
Barnick’s legendary tag-teaching skills continued in evidence through the weekend, and he was joined by another of the tag gods, Lee Plaskoff (see “Spring Brought Me Flowers,” Hi-Lo’s).