A hot band. A warm audience. A cool breeze.

Seymour musician Ron Duncan remembers previous experiences headlining the summertime outdoor Donner Park Variety Shows at the venue’s shelterhouse near 19th and Lafayette streets in Columbus. At those appearances during the past several years, he performed with Columbus ensemble Too Hot To Handle, which drew crowds estimated at more than 300 listeners.

“The people were laid back but very appreciative,” Duncan said. “So I consider this next show a little bit of a homecoming.”

Duncan’s foursome, Elements of Jazz, headlines the 7 p.m. June 25 free concert at Donner. His group, with him on drums, Don Klaes of Seymour on piano, David Stout of Seymour on saxophone, and Eric Jarboe of North Vernon on bass, will present tunes including jazz standards, Frank Sinatra classics, material from Dave Brubeck and others in a set list stretching 45 minutes to one hour.

WCSI radio announcer Sam Simmermaker will emcee. David Rodgers’ Jazz Inc. group from Columbus East High School will open the new season for the 17th consecutive year, organizer Tom Pickett said. He has praised the group in the past for playing “at a level beyond their maturity.”

Also on tap are Jalen Peak, a guitarist from Columbus East High School, and vocalists and guitarist Craig Thayer, a frequent performer at Donner and the grandson of Fuzzy Sewell, one of the pioneers of the Donner Park shows. Thayer plans to present a few folk tunes and ballads plus the lighthearted number “I Wanna Be a Dog.”

“Tom (Pickett) always wants to hear that one,” Thayer said.

The shows began in 1926 but reached a peak of popularity in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Area singers, musicians, dancers, bands and other performers entertained in an age before TV or air conditioning. The shows ended for a number of years before Kiwanians revived them in 1988.

Duncan is uncertain what size crowd to expect next week.

Elements of Jazz has played a variety of Columbus functions in recent years, from the Columbus Regional Hospital Foundation’s Reverse Raffle fundraiser to the St. Bartholomew Catholic Church concert series.

“At this (show), we get to try out some new stuff with an audience,” Duncan said. “And we all believe in taking an opportunity to give back (to the community via the Donner show).”

Plus, he’ll weave in some chatting with the audience.

“I’ll bring with me a few stories about some of the music,” Duncan said. “I have come to realize that a lot of people don’t know those stories.”

Under the shelterhouse, under the stars

What: First Donner Park Variety Show of the summer. Sponsored by Columbus Parks and Recreation Department, the Evening Kiwanis Club and WCSI radio.

When: 7 to 9 p.m. June 25.

Where: Donner Park Shelterhouse near 19th and Lafayette streets in Columbus.

Admission: Free.

Remaining schedule: July 16, Aug. 13 and Sept. 24.

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.