Everly Pop-Up Museum Premieres At Winter Dance Party
In anticipation of our Everly Brothers Pop-Up Museum at the Surf Ballroom's Winter Dance Party on January 31st, my twin sister Sheryl and I arrived in Shenandoah a few days beforehand to assist our colleagues Bill Hillman and Shelly Warner with preparations. From the moment we arrived, as has been the case on previous visits, it was total immersion in the best way imaginable.
After an exhausting day of travel, there was a welcomed sight: The Everly Brothers Childhood Home beautifully illuminated in the snow. When settling into our room at the Shenandoah Inn and Suites, we looked out the window only to find the childhood likeness of Don and Phil smiling back at us from across the street. Little did we know that Shelly had temporarily placed the stand-ups for our pop-up museum in her front office window at the Chamber. Welcome to Shenandoah!
The next morning, we discovered that The Valley News had featured our pop-up museum as a front page story over the weekend which included Sheryl's logo design and a few quotes from me. We requested a few copies from the wonderful Hotel Clerk Becky before our work was underway.
Our team was tasked with a laundry list of items which all came together to bring the pop-up museum to life. For my part, I created a detailed outline for the layout and elements, designed exhibit banners and Everly Heritage Day postcards, folded brochures and wrote caption cards for artifacts among other things. There were a few unexpected challenges which made the whole process more of an adventure, but I think I'd be more worried if things went too smoothly. After all, operating off-script is a comfort for arts professionals like myself who otherwise think of routine and predictability as the Twilight Zone!
Sheryl and I had to create Don's birthday card which we didn't anticipate, because we had planned on buying one from a local store. Surprise! While gathering artifacts, Bill unearthed some gems from his collection which we incorporated into the exhibit just before leaving town. And at the same time, we were also preparing for Zach and Dylan Zmed (The Everly Brothers Experience) to arrive and film select performances from Songs Our Daddy Taught Us (1958) in the former Everly residence.
We were on different schedules, but our paths crossed long enough to meet briefly at the house and gather at Bill's roundtable at The Depot for dinner. In this group photo, I'm seated between Bill and Shelly on the left in blue. As always, the food and conversation were delicious. Thanks, Bill!
Our organization's first event at the Winter Dance Party was in 2017 with Phil and Don Home Again! at the Clear Lake Arts Center. Sheryl worked with Executive Director Laurie Lietz to arrange the two sessions which included presentations by Bill. Following its success, Sheryl proposed the idea of a pop-up museum for 2018, but we didn't pursue it until this year. The stars aligned in November when Sheryl secured our place at the historic ballroom itself (Cypress Room/Lounge) instead of the Clear Lake Arts Center. Laurie said it was the first time they'd scheduled an event for Thursday afternoon, so we were especially excited about this next-level opportunity!
The bitter, record-breaking cold from the polar vortex made us a bit nervous about transporting precious cargo for the 4-hour drive to Clear Lake, but thankfully, there were no issues. Bill's wife Deb along with Dustin Jackson and Corey Whitehill of Wabash Entertainment joined our quartet to transport artifacts, set up the room and tech and document the event. We arrived the evening beforehand so we could be rested for an early start to assemble everything. The roads in town were horrendous. Temperatures dipped to -30 below. I took this photo when we were on our way to the Surf Ballroom that morning.
It was truly a joy for us all to be together in this team effort for which we owe immense gratitude to Bill and Deb. It all began when they took on the momentous task of organizing Don and Phil's inaugural homecoming event in 1986 and then saving their childhood home 30 years later. This is a scanned photo of the inspiring power couple with the Everlys in 1986 from my copy of Phil and Don Home Again! Bill gave it to me and signed it on my first visit to Shenandoah in October 2016. I took the other photo of them with "the boys" at our pop-up museum:
While we were unloading exhibit pieces and arranging the space, we could hear Jay and The Americans and Robin Luke soundchecking in the ballroom. As if there weren't enough perks already, this delightful preview of the concert we'd experience that evening transported and prepared us for the afternoon ahead. Watch my video of Robin Luke singing his 1958 hit "Susie Darlin'!"
I'd like to give a special mention to our friend, Dan Borland, who arrived early and then again later with his wife Linda. We were all heartbroken to hear that he unexpectedly passed away on February 24th. Dan was a central figure in the Winter Dance Party community and played a significant role in its preservation through photography and videography. He was generous in gifting others those special moments and memories he captured through his lens, including those he chronicled for our projects. Known for expertly working his way around a room to snap candids ranging from zany to charismatic, Dan would often catch me off-guard. We'd inevitably play a game of cat and mouse, with me trying to avoid the camera, but I'm so glad he persisted because his photos have given me so much insight. I'll treasure them always.
The following are photos Dan took of me working at the pop-up museum and then taking a break with Sheryl and our mutual friend LaZanne Wetrosky who has volunteered at previous events, including Shenfest (Does holding the "Little Donnie" sign next to "Baby Boy Phil" make me entirely impartial? Hmmm...). In return, I took a photo of him signing Don's birthday card. Dan's memory will live on at the Surf Ballroom through his "February Family."
At the 1 o'clock hour, the pop-up museum officially opened! We showcased new artifacts, video and audio that have never been exhibited before publicly, including our new documentary featuring interviews with Everly classmates and neighbors, Ed May, Jr. and Albert Lee, a full 1950 KMA Broadcasting radio program of The Everly Family and 1940s KMA attire owned by Emil "Bud" Paul Kesterson, an Everly peer and fellow musician who also performed on KMA and KFNF radio stations. With 2019 being the 60th anniversary of "The Day The Music Died" and the Surf Ballroom being the last place where Buddy Holly performed before boarding the ill-fated plane, we emphasized his friendship with Don and Phil, noting Iowa as the place where his career ended and theirs began.
Fans from all over the US, Canada and the UK were in attendance. Our photo booth with stand-ups of "Little Donnie" and "Baby Boy Phil" as well as our birthday card for Don Everly were popular interactive features. The pop-up museum filled in the blanks for those attendees having some basic knowledge of Don and Phil's Iowa heritage, while for others it was an entirely new and inspiring discovery. "I have every record they ever made, but I had no idea they grew up in Iowa and got their start here," exclaimed one guest.
The pop-up museum engaged, educated and also excited guests with the prospect of journeying to Don and Phil's former hometown. Fans gathered at the information table to collect brochures, showing interest in visiting The Everly Brothers Childhood Home and attending Everly Heritage Day in June. They were also generous with donations to support our cause. The following are a few photos I took of the scene just before opening time:
Sheryl and I were elated that so many of our Winter Dance Party colleagues and friends, particularly those we met through The Surf Speaks project during the 2016 Winter Dance Party, were there to support and visit with us. There are too many names to mention, but a few come to mind: The Yaun family, Ryan Sheeler, Beverly Atwell, Doug Thompson, John Young and John Cumberland (Bopper and Me), Jim McCool and Sevan Garabedian (The Winter Dance Party Tapes), Margaret Majerczyk and Amy Hopkins (British Buddy Holly Society Luncheon and dance lessons).
Members of the Valens family were also among those to attend, including Ritchie's sisters Connie and Irma. Connie lives in Iowa and has become a friend and supporter of our work since we met in 2016. While working as Interim Museum Director for the Iowa Rock and Roll Music Association, Sheryl organized a 75th birthday party for Ritchie with a special exhibit, music, cake, refreshments and giveaways. It was the organization's first birthday celebration for the rock and roll pioneer. Connie attended this event as well as our celebration for Buddy Holly's 80th birthday and now, our pop-up museum! This is a photo Sheryl took of Connie (left) and Irma (right) that afternoon:
Edan Everly (Don Everly's son) was unable to join us, but Bill and Shelly gave him the latest information about our organization as well as a 1986 homecoming commemorative t-shirt after his performance at the Surf Ballroom the following evening. This is my video of "Wake Up Little Susie" from the show! Edan shared fond memories of being in Shenandoah in 1986 and expressed interest in returning for a visit which we look forward to hosting!
Edan left a rewarding comment on our Facebook post that featured photos of the pop-up museum: "Was a wonderful exhibit. Love my T-shirt. Thank you so much for keeping the Everly name alive." Validating, indeed! We're excited about building a relationship with Edan and his family as our organization evolves. Check out Shelly's action shot of Bill and Edan at the Surf Ballroom after his show along with photos Edan shared with us of his 1986 t-shirt and a news clipping on his living room wall:
Sportswriter Jeff Metcalfe of The Arizona Republic attended our pop-up museum and interviewed Sheryl and I about The Surf Speaks project for his article. John Naughton, former sportswriter for The Des Moines Register, brought me a delicious bag of local kettle popcorn which I took to the premiere screening of Bopper and Me. His colleague Matthew Leimkuehler, an entertainment reporter for The Des Moines Register, had given us a mention in his article published prior to the event. When Larry Jindra of KCHK Radio approached with interest, I arranged for his on-air interview with Bill that afternoon.
We had a surge of visitors around our scheduled closing time at 3pm so we did gain some additional time, but soon had to start clearing the space so the staff could prepare for the evening concert. A great deal of work was involved in presenting this history for just a few hours, but the value was immense and well worth the investment. Now that our pop-up museum has been created and inventoried, it has the potential to travel and reach broader audiences to create awareness of Don and Phil's Iowa heritage and our related programming as well as generating renewed interest in their music.
I'm grateful to our dedicated Everly team, the Surf Ballroom, friends and fans for making the premiere of our pop-up museum a memorable success!
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