Van Dykes Reunion Is Rejuvenating For Aging Rockers


April 05, 1992|By Dolly Merritt

Some 30 years ago, a local rock 'n' roll band called the Van Dykes reigned at the Maidenchoice and Arbutus teen centers in Baltimore County.

On those weekend nights, my crowd and other kids packed the centers. The dancing -- to songs like "Keep Searchin' " and "Shout" -- was frenetic, the apron of the stage was mobbed with fans, boys linedthe walls scouting for suitable dance partners, and girls converged in the bathrooms to apply more lipstick and compare notes about theirdates.

When I heard in January that the band would be performing at TurfValley Country Club, I knew I had to go. My second thought was: "Howold are these guys anyway?"

Last weekend, 752 of us proved that you don't have to have acne to enjoy rock 'n' roll. It was a meeting of kindred spirits.

About half the crowd at Turf Valley was county residents who have migrated from communities like Catonsville and Baltimore' Edmondson Village, said the club's assistant marketing director, Dina Evans.

Many arrived well before the dance, hoping to bumpinto former dance partners and friends they hadn't seen for 30 yearsor more. Turf Valley's lobby became the spot to watch people arrive.

I got there a little late with my good-sport husband, who doesn'tshare my enthusiasm for dancing or my reunions with people he never knew.

Then came the familiar sounds of the nine-piece band, and I felt a tug of anxiety in the pit of my stomach that I hadn't experienced since my prom days.

My mind ignored the growing girth and graying temples on the dance floor -- I could see only teen-agers. I discovered a former flame who was wearing a diamond stud in his ear. I was happily surprised to meet again the 40-something man whom I last remembered as a 10-year-old kid growing up on the same street I did.

Even the Ocean City beach-bum-turned-lawyer and the guy who was partof three straight senior high classes before finally graduating werethere.

The experience was similar for Donna Feher, 49, an instructional assistant at Running Brook Elementary School in Columbia.

"When you go to something like this, it does one of two things," she said. "You look at everyone in a similar setting like the dances from 30 years ago and you think age is only a state of mind. Or, you notice the changes and come to the realization that we are all getting old. I prefer to think of the former.

"The music never changes. You can dance to it. Besides, it's a lot better than rap," she said.

Out on the dance floor, I discovered she was right -- some things neverchange. The floor was so crowded it seemed to allow each dancer onlya square foot to move in. But that wasn't enough to deter the 40-ishto 50-ish crowd from rock 'n' rolling.

Old songs brought back oldtimes, and handshakes and hugs were exchanged whenever people recognized one another.

The reunions produced a din in the room that kept Regina Ford, marketing director at Turf Valley, from capturing the crowd's attention long enough to give away a door prize. The planned twist contest also fell by the wayside.

Most people had reserved seats, but there was no point.

"People were standing and talking the entire night," said Turf Valley's Evans. "We didn't need to assign seats."

In the women's room, friends talked about who they had seen, how they looked, compared notes and applied lipstick.

"Someone hollered out my name and when I turned, I recognized a friend of minewho had been in my eighth-grade class," said Barbara Marriott, 47, abank teller administrator from Columbia who lived in Catonsville as a teen. "It was exciting. You could feel it in the air."

Her husband also had been a Van Dykes fan.

"I felt that they were the best band around," said Carroll Marriott. The 51-year-old Westinghouse Corp. manager grew up in Baltimore and has maintained friendships with several of his friends who, on occasion, still follow the band. The Van Dykes' "groupies" came together again at the band's latest gig.

"You don't realize, unless you have moved around, the importance of still being able to socialize with people you grew up with," he said.

Van Dykes manager and keyboards player Lonnie Brown says eight of the original nine band members are still in the group. All are Annapolis residents -- four are brothers, and Brown is their cousin. Since their heyday, during the '50s and '60s, band members have played together on and off. Some are now in their 40s and 50s and sport graying hair.

Brown said the band reformed two years ago to raise money for a family reunion.

"After hanging around together, we decided to play again," he said. Instead of playing four or five nights a week at colleges and teen centers from Pennsylvania to North Carolina as they used to, the group is playing one or two nights a week mostly at nightclubs in the Baltimore area and on the Eastern Shore.

The group appeared at Turf Valley as part of an oldies series that also will feature The Lettermen (July 3), Brenda Lee (July 17), and Chubby Checker (Sept. 4.)

The band still packs them in with crowds in the "35and on up" age bracket, Brown said.

Last weekend, the group was mostly of the "on up" variety, but we never showed our age on the dance floor. We bopped and Watusi-ed unabashedly.

After all, rock 'n' roll is here to stay and this crowd, who discovered it, proved it.

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