Lawrence Welk turned 100 last night, and even though he couldn't personally be there for the party due to circumstances beyond his control, about a thousand people showed up to celebrate anyway.
No one was late.
No one left early.
Unless you count that guy in the balcony who nodded off just after intermission.
You haven't lived until you've gone to a Lawrence Welk concert.
Well, you haven't lived long.
Hundreds of the old accordion-playing bandmaster's fans showed up last night at Abravanel Hall for what happened to be the 100th anniversary of El Dubya's birth. The traveling "Live" Lawrence Welk Show, featuring half-a-dozen people who once performed with the TV Lawrence Welk Show, was in Salt Lake City for the century observance. Today, if the bus held up, the show moved on to St. George. Just before Salt Lake it was in St. Michael's, N.D., not far from the small town of Strasburg, N.D., where, on March 11, 1903, Lawrence was the sixth of nine children born to Russian immigrants Ludwig and Christina Welk. Young Lawrence learned to play accordion before he learned English, so the legend goes, which is why he sold about a million polka albums and why he always pronounced wonderful "wunnerful."
Exactly why the "Live" Lawrence Welk Show did not stay and observe its not-so-live namesake's birthday in his home state is anybody's guess, but no one was complaining at Abravanel Hall, where the choir was preaching to the choir.
If you closed your eyes and ignored the predominant lack of hair color, it was V-E day all over again. The men wore jackets and ties and the women wore dresses and exactly nobody's cell phone rang.
I went to the birthday bash out of loyalty to my dad, who would have been there personally if not for circumstances beyond his control. He died almost 10 years ago, a year after Lawrence Welk died, but up to the end he checked the TV listings and made sure he was in his favorite chair, cutting up an apple, whenever LW, as he called it, came on the air. He became an LW junkie about the same time the Lawrence Welk Show first appeared on network TV in 1955 and never missed a show if he could help it until it went off the air 27 years later in 1982. He cut up a lot of apples watching LW. He was on a first-name basis with the entire cast. If there was something on the other channel anybody else wanted to watch, there was about as much chance of that happening as Dr. Richard Kimble finding the one-armed man.
Then, when the Lawrence Welk Show went to syndication in 1987, he started watching what he'd already watched all over again.
My brothers and I spent a lot of time making fun of LW music, but Dad was as impervious to the smack as if you'd suggested Mickey Mantle couldn't play baseball. He didn't even respond; just laughed it off and turned up the volume.
I saw a bunch of people who reminded me of him last night, sitting stoically in their seats and having a good old time. Occasionally they rose to their feet for some of the slowest standing ovations in music history.
They applauded everything and anything, including the tap dancer with the bad back.
And when singer Raina English, a longtime LW fan favorite, said, "I bet there are some of you out there who might remember this song," everyone nodded in unison.
Well, except me.
But I bet I know someone who did.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and faxes to 801-237-2527.