Ashland City Band: Rain dance parade & other stories (Part 4)

The couple who moved to Ashland to play in the City Band.
Guanajuato “Rain dance parade!” 

Who told me these stories?

This series of four articles about the Ashland City Band is based primarily on a 2019 interview with three men (Don Bieghler, Ed Wight, and the late Raoul Maddox) who between them have 164 years of experience with the Ashland City Band. 

The couple who moved to Ashland to play in the City Band

Band director Don Bieghler shocked me when he said: “We’ve had people move to Ashland so they could play in the Ashland City Band.” He was talking about Peggie and Herb Greuling. They had been living in Florida, where Herb had just retired from the U.S. Air Force band. 

As Peggie told the story to a Seattle Times reporter, she and her husband wanted to retire in a college town with four seasons, but not too cold. They hoped to find “the kind of place where they have band concerts on Sunday afternoons.” The couple flew to Portland, rented a car there, and drove thousands of miles exploring the West Coast. They were frustrated. Nothing struck them as a new “home.”

When they returned the rental car in Portland, they expressed their frustration to the rental car clerk, who responded: “You should have tried Ashland.” Former band director Maddox remembers receiving a letter from the Greulings, and responding with detailed information about Ashland and our City Band. That sealed the deal, and the couple moved to Ashland.

They lived in Ashland for more than 26 years. Yes, both played in the Ashland City Band, Peggie on saxophone and Herb on bass clarinet. 

Ashland City Band
Peggie Greuling playing saxophone with the Ashland City Band.
(still from the RVTV YouTube video, no date)

Peggie was an especially accomplished musician. In addition to playing in the band, Peggie was a school music teacher for many years. She played 11 instruments in order to be able to work with all the students! Her specialty instruments were saxophone and violin. She even volunteered to teach violin, by the Suzuki method, to Talent Elementary School first graders. And she bought the first violins to get them started.

I was happily surprised to find a YouTube video of the Ashland City Band in the 1990s playing several songs that Peggie Greuling wrote. Leona Mitchell was the vocalist and Peggie played saxophone solos.

Peggie passed away in 2018 at the age of 93, just weeks before the couple’s 60th wedding anniversary. 

City Band uniform colors through the years

Have you ever gone to an Oregon Ducks home football game and checked the team’s uniform color schedule to see what color you should wear to the game?  I learned that the Ashland City Band did something similar many years ago.

Prior to 1977, the band’s uniform colors were black slacks with a white shirt. In Raoul Maddox’s first year as conductor that year, he decided to change the uniforms to brighter colors. According to Maddox, “Every week we would change the color of our shirts, and so would the audience. So if we were wearing red, most of the audience was in red. If we were in yellow, they were in yellow. It got so they kind of liked it.”

The next year, Maddox decided on standard uniform shirts that included a swan, then the symbol of Ashland. 

Ashland City Band, 2008
The Ashland City Band marched in Ashland’s July 4th parade in 2008. They still wear teal color shirts and white pants. (photo by Peter Finkle)

In 2011, when Bieghler was conductor, it was time to buy all new uniform shirts for band members. He couldn’t find the same green color they had been wearing for a number of years. Bieghler agonized about the decision, to the point of having sleepless nights. He finally chose a teal color, and was relieved when band members told him they liked it a lot. They still wear teal color shirts to this day.

I asked for more stories. Bieghler and Maddox came up with two from the band’s trip to our sister city Guanajuato, Mexico.

Thunder in Guanajuato

Guanajuato, Mexico
This is the Teatro Juarez in Guanajuato, where the Ashland City Band played.
(photo provided by Don Bieghler)

One interesting story was on our trip to Guanajuato,” Bieghler said. “We were on stage in the opera house, and we were doing this dramatic-sounding song. There was a period of silence in the song, and all at once there was a tremendous crash of thunder and lightning outside that just filled that gap. It was like an act of God.” 

The “Rain dance parade” in Guanajuato

According to Maddox, the band was drenched as it marched in a parade in Guanajuato. But not just any parade. He laughed as he told me, “It was a parade to bring on the rains to fill the reservoirs. Halfway through the parade it started to rain, and by the time we got through, the rain was bouncing ten inches off the ground! Everybody was just soaked. So we came around this place avoiding all the gargoyles that were spitting water out from the freeways and the buildings, and went into a parking garage. A lot of the other companies that were in the parade [Mexican bands] were already in there when we came in. We were all like drowned rats; we were wet! They greeted us and then pretty soon we were all entertaining each other, and it was just like a wonderful homecoming. There were probably a couple hundred people in the parking garage trying to get out of the rain. It was a lot of fun. And it was a successful parade!” 

Supporting school bands

Band members are proud of their cooperation with Lions Club of Ashland, which sells ice cream at the evening band concerts. 100% of the proceeds from ice cream sales are donated to the Ashland Middle School and High School band programs. According to the Lions Club website, “Over the period of 2008-18 we donated $28,265 in support of the [school] bands.”

Declaration of Independence every 4th of July in Lithia Park

As many long-time Ashlanders know, the Declaration of Independence is recited in full each 4th of July at the Lithia Park bandshell. That tradition seems to go back more than 100 years.

Ashland 4th of July 1916
1916 4th of July Patriotic Program in Lithia Park, from the Ashland Tidings of July 3, 1916. Note the line: “Reading of the Declaration of Independence…Miss Minnie Bernice Jackson.”
Ashland 4th of July
Barry Kraft recited the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July at the Lithia Park bandshell in 2019 — and in many other years. (photo by Peter Finkle)

Gettysburg Address at 4th of July City Band concert

2013 was the 150th anniversary of the Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. That year, local actor Bob Jackson Miner spoke the powerful words of the Gettysburg address after the Declaration of Independence was recited. 

Ashland 4th of July
Bob Miner (dressed as President Abe Lincoln) delivers the Gettysburg Address on July 4, 2013. (photo by Peter Finkle)

It was a hit with, so the following year, band conductor Bieghler and Miner came up with an idea to add to the emotion of the Gettysburg address. In 1998, the City Band had played a piece called “American Civil War Fantasy” that has a long drumroll during the piece. They planned the timing of the Gettysburg address during the drumroll with only one rehearsal before the concert.  

After the 2014 concert, one of the band members told Bieghler that “I had tears coming down my eyes” as they played the piece. Community members who heard the speech were so moved that Miner has spoken the Gettysburg address each 4th of July since then. 

Closing Words from Director Don Bieghler 

“One of the things I most appreciate about the band is the wonderful audiences that come to the concerts every week. We have good community support. People come up to me that I see every week, to make a comment or give a compliment. They’re curious about what we do and they appreciate that the city supports the band.”

Ashland City Band, 1920s
Big crowd to watch the Ashland City Band play in Lithia Park in the 1920s. They are playing in the original elevated bandstand. (“This image is part of the Stories of Southern Oregon Collection in the Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library digital archives and made available by Southern Oregon University. Hannon Library.”)
Ashland City Band
100 years later, in 2021, the Ashland City Band played in Lithia Park at the ‘new’ bandshell.
(photo by Peter Finkle)

References:

Anon. Peggie Greuling obituary accessed 11/13/2019

Ashland City Band website, accessed November 2019. 

Ashland City Band video, with Peggie Greuling. YouTube. (Accessed online, March 2020)

Author in-person interview with Raoul Maddox, Don Bieghler and Ed Wight, July 7, 2019. Thanks to Ed Wight and Don Bieghler for proofing the article and adding more of their memories in the process.

Godden, Jean. “How Special People Make a Difference,” The Seattle Times, June 25, 1997. (Accessed online 11/13/2019.)   

A WalkAshland VIDEO! (Painted Utility Boxes video tour)

Peter leads a Railroad District art + history walk.
Video by Sailor Boy Media.
Here’s how it happened. Ashland Public Art video.

If you want to go straight to the video, click the image below. If you want to read my story about how the video came to be, keep reading.

In the video, you will meet artist Ann DiSalvo

Ann painted two of the utility boxes we will see on our video tour, including this one showing the swans that used to live in the Lower Duck Pond at Lithia Park.

Painted utility box, Ashland
Utility box on A Street near Fourth Street as it was being painted by Ann DiSalvo in 2009. (photo from Public Arts Commission presentation prepared by RavenWorkStudio, 2009)

In the video, you will learn Ashland history highlights

Here is one of the spots we visited during the video walking tour.

My photo essay led to this video

On February 3, 2021, I published an article about painted utility boxes in the Railroad District. I learned that in 2009 Ashland’s Public Arts Commission had initiated this project to brighten the town by commissioning artists to paint some of the drab, dark green utility boxes. It was a good story. I did research and found “before and after” photos of all seven utility boxes that were painted in July 2009. I walked the streets and took my own photos, then published the story as a photo essay. CLICK HERE to see that photo essay.

Keegan Van Hook said, “Are you interested…?”
I said, “Yes!”

Videographer Keegan Van Hook read my article and was intrigued by the possibility of turning my photo-essay walk into a video walk. After asking him a few questions and seeing some of his work, I replied with an enthusiastic “Yes.”

A graduate of the Southern Oregon University Digital Media program, Keegan founded Sailor Boy Media with his friend Tripp White. They have an active website and YouTube channel that specializes in video interviews with local people on issues of the day. CLICK HERE to visit their website.

Filming the video

I met Keegan and Tripp at 11:00 am on February 24 to film the video. Keegan asked me questions and Tripp did camera work. I had notes with me, but I spoke extemporaneously at each utility box and at our historical sites. We walked and talked for two hours, including having the bonus interview with artist Ann DiSalvo.

After the filming, I sent Keegan several historic photographs that enrich the video’s Ashland history sections. Tripp and Keegan edited the two hours into an enjoyable, educational and interesting 24 minute video. Here, again, is a link to the video on YouTube. Thanks for watching, and I hope you enjoy it.

References:

Sailor Boy Media website