A trip back to the dance days

Don Karsky, on drums, and his band, The Esquires, were a popular North Branch-based teen band in the 1960s. Photo supplied

Don Karsky, on drums, and his band, The Esquires, were a popular North Branch-based teen band in the 1960s. Photo supplied

For youth growing up in the 1960s in North Branch and surrounding areas, weekend dances were part of the culture.

Those who visited North Branch American Legion Post 85 on certain summer Friday nights during that decade might see a packed house of teenagers, some of them dipping low for The Limbo, flailing their arms at a frantic pace when dancing the Watusi or partaking in a boogie that required slightly less coordination: The Twist.

The same was true at other dance halls in the area, such as at Lakeside Pavilion near Fish Lake.

During the mid part of the decade, The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Bob Dylan dominated the music scene, and subsequently the music that was played by local bands during dances.

Murray Schmidt, 63, a 1967 North Branch High School graduate, is seeking a resurgence of the dance-crazed days so many of his generation fondly remember.

Schmidt, a vocalist, and his band, The Wax-Tones, are playing an assortment of 1960s music Friday at the Legion, 6:30 to 10:30 p.m.

The show is free to attend.

He said he hopes the concert will mirror the former ones held there, and hopefully end up being “an all class reunion” for those in attendance.

Don Karsky’s scrapbook has a page devoted to old Post Review news clippings of his band’s performances.

Don Karsky’s scrapbook has a page devoted to old Post Review news clippings of his band’s performances.

Fond memories 

Schmidt, Steve Mettling, 64, Ray Pittman, 64, Don Karsky, 64, and Candi Hals, 61 – all North Branch High School graduates – got together Monday at the Legion to chat about their memories of the dance hall days.

Karsky was a drummer in the best-known North Branch band of the day: The Esquires.

He and his band would often play at the Legion, the high school, Lakeside Pavilion and other dance halls and parties in Chisago County and other areas during the 1960s. Hals remembered Pittman and Mettling being some of the better dancers at the weekend shindigs.

“I’m not sure I was such a good dancer, but I’d get out there,” Pittman said.

Mettling even met his wife on the dance floor.

“I met her at Lakeside,” he recalled. “She was just at one of the dances and we started dancing together. We started dating six months later, and then we got married about two years after that.”

The dances were certainly a social hub.

Hals recalled how girls would spend time getting dressed up and perfecting their makeup for the events.

Karsky said in the early 1960s boys didn’t spend nearly the amount of time on their appearances as girls, but that changed when The Beatles rose to the top of the music charts.

He noted everybody wanted to emulate their style, and he even recalled – with a laugh – getting kicked out of band class once for “having a Beatle haircut.”

“When The Beatles came in, there was more pressure to look cool,” Schmidt said. “We’d wear the Cuban heel shoes.”

Pittman added, “We just called them Beatle boots.”

Rough and tumble

The group of friends agreed the dances were some of the best times of their youth, but they didn’t all go off without a hitch.

“There were some fights,” Karsky said.

Mettling, agreeing with Karsky’s assertion, added, “There was fighting, for sure. It was usually when the Cambridge guys came in and tried to take over.”

Karsky said the skirmishes were often planned, but bouncers “earned their money to break them up,” and the fights usually didn’t take away from the overall enjoyable times at the dances.

Ray Pittman leafed through Don Karsky’s 1960s scrapbook as the two chatted with friends Murray Schmidt, Candi Hals and Steve Mettling Monday at the North Branch American Legion Post 85 building. Photo by Derrick Knutson

Ray Pittman leafed through Don Karsky’s 1960s scrapbook as the two chatted with friends Murray Schmidt, Candi Hals and Steve Mettling Monday at the North Branch American Legion Post 85 building. Photo by Derrick Knutson

A different time

The group said things aren’t quite the same for kids nowadays as when they were growing up in North Branch.

Weekend dances are primarily a thing of the past, and their perceptions are that partying isn’t just about have a good, clean, fun time anymore.

“I think the kids back then were so totally different than they are now,” Pittman said. “We just had a totally different perspective on the world.”

Mettling chimed in, “We just went out to dance and have fun. It wasn’t to get drunk or anything. It was just to dance and meet people.”

Schmidt said there was an auxiliary reason to attend the dances.

“I thought it was to meet girls, that’s what I went for,” he quipped.

Hals said teenagers probably had closer relationships with each other in those days, and the dances were one of the reasons for that tight bond.

“I think it was just a time that everybody got together,” she said. “If there was a dance, everybody went.”

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