They traveled to the Berlin Wall, the Gaza Strip and nearly everywhere in between, believing that a song in their heart could battle lonely American soldiers’ homesickness at USO shows — and build bridges with foreigners who knew no English.
“Part of it comes back to that age-old idea of music as a universal language,” said musician and singer Roger Banister. “When you fire up the bluegrass, people often seem to be able to understand.”
The longtime Columbus artist reminisced about his days with a onetime Chicago-based band, Buck’s Stove and Range Company. The group’s lineup from 1973 to 1988, including Banister and his Columbus sister, Denise Kocur, will reunite for the first time in 30 years for a concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Harlequin Theatre inside FairOaks Mall.
The foursome, which consisted of Indianapolis native Brad Hevron and Seymour native Charlie Brown besides the local siblings, became established enough in the folk genre to open shows for such household names as John Hartford, Tom Paxton and Bill Monroe. And they were patriotic enough to take their tunes to more than a few remote, desert stages where armed military personnel had to allow their entrance into an area.
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In a number of places, military leaders were prohibited from giving them exact details of where they were because of sensitive locations in demilitarized zones.
“Some of the stories sound like things I’m making up today,” said Banister, a well-known banjo and mandolin player with the Banister Family Bluegrass Band with Kocur on acoustic guitar.
But Kocur, also an art teacher at Columbus East High School these days, will play the same instrument she played with the former group — electric bass. She still laughs about the reaction she got as nearly the only 30ish woman at the USO shows in the mid-1980s.
“There were an awful lot of men — I’m not going to lie,” Kocur said. “And our mission was to help them forget their problems for a little while.”
She has saved soldiers’ berets and other personal gifts grateful military personnel bestowed upon her.
“They truly made us feel like stars,” Kocur said.
The band recorded three albums from the mid-1970s to the late 1980s and hopes to include enough original material for about a 90-minute concert. Some of those numbers include songs from the local pair.
Banister and Kocur already have heard from old acquaintances from Chicago aiming to make the trip for the performance. Band member Hevron will travel from his current home in Colorado for the reunion.
“To say I am excited to get us all together to play our music (again) is an understatement,” Banister said.
What: Reunion concert of the band Buck’s Stove and Range Company, once based in Chicago and traveling worldwide from 1973 to about 1988. Featuring current Columbus residents Roger Banister and Denise Kocur.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Where: Harlequin Theatre inside FairOaks Mall, 2380 25th St. in Columbus.
Tickets: Adults, $15 in advance at the mall and $20 at the door. $10 for students. Cash bar available.
Information: 812-343-4597 or theharlequintheatre.com.