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Aber Day concerts recall fond memories of youth 

The stories, like the fables the Aber Day concerts produced, have traveled through the decades. 

Though some of the luster has faded, memories of the crazy days of our youth endure. 

It’s been 38 years since the last beer was consumed as part of Aber Day up Miller Creek west of Missoula. The event was named after William Aber, a beloved professor who was one of the University of Montana’s first five faculty members. 

University of Montana students, many of whom are still around, were intelligent enough to earmark profits to go to the library while still throwing the biggest kegger around. They eventually established the Guinness record for beer consumption, all under the guise of great music and fundraising. If you asked attendees, real or contrived, the formula worked to perfection with a grand time enjoyed by all without a serious injury and few if any incidents. 

By the end of the event’s eight year run, about $400,000 was raised for the University library and other campus needs. 

As a Spokane lad in his thirties, I attended Aber Day celebrations early on and often, driving over the hill in a customized show-ready 1975 Blazer. It was the fellowship that happened during the event that attracted me, and yes the party and the bands too. The Mission Mountain Wood Band always over-performed a kind of music I wasn’t initially attracted to but soon adopted. 

No, I didn’t attend every year and I never brought my fledgling family with me, but on the KO Rodeo grounds in the upper Miller Creek area of Missoula, (now mostly covered with a housing sub-division), I witnessed stage camaraderie like never before … associations that produced lifetime friendships. The initial kegger was held east of town up Deer Creek. 

During those times in the late 80s, I was spinning a disc or two at Today’s Country, KGVO, and chasing the music in one of some seven Missoula clubs where people like Julie Bug, Sugarfoot with Tim Ryan, Jan Dell and the Ranch Band, Louie Bond, (Elllie Nunne), Rob Quist, Steve Riddle, Christian Johnson, Ray Riggs, Jay Straw, Cindy Myers and Gary Thorsen, Dave Knight, Steve Larson, Jeff Haberman, and Ron Wise toiled their wares to fans’ delight. 

Sure, go right ahead – you can call me a groupie and being slightly older than those folks, I confess to still being one. 

Some things have of course changed. 

Founding member Terry Robinson died in a plane crash that killed the Montana Band near Lakeside on July 4, 1987. 

Several times the band went separate ways only to reunite - usually for a reunion much like the one scheduled on the Flathead River Aug. 12. Outside influences, you know the ones, have sometimes forced group members to their separate corners but when things were right… wow. I hope you get to experience that at the Aber Day reunion this weekend. 

For former Aber Day committee chairmen Bob McCue and Jeff Naughton, returning the musical event to prominence after it was cancelled by UM President Robert Panzer with encouragement by then County Commissioner Barbara Evans following the ’79 party is redeeming. 

“It is gratifying to have it come back,” said McCue, citing numerous stressful challenges to organize such a massive and successful event. 

Notable are the list of bands which played in previous Aber Day concerts including: Bonnie Raitt (76) with Jimmy Buffet (75), Heart, Elvin Bishop and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, often dominated by home-grown favorite Mission Mountain Wood Band. 

The Aug. 12 event is a Mission Mountain Wood Band Reunion, M2WB as they like to be called. 

You’ll notice a new face and a new vocal here and there that don’t compromise the favorites, the lyrics of which we all recognize. While the band’s offspring could easily form their own groups and solo acts and have often performed together, there might be a bit of passing of the guard at this concert. Sam Riddle, the son of bassist-vocalist Steve, who takes the stage in the anchor spot of three acts, is on the same bill as his father for the first time. 

“I don’t even feel like I have scratched the surface,” said Sam Riddle about a string of successes in Vegas. I hear you can get a taste of his “blow-off-that-Stetson” music on Friday night, Aug. 11, outside the Red Lion, where some of his band members will join the local music group Highway 93 for a couple of hours. 

“I’m honored and humbled,” he said, in reference to the significance of Aber Day especially after hearing about it most of his life which included playing basketball at the University of Montana. 

Andrea Harsell and Luna Roja open Saturday’s show at 3 p.m., right after the Car Show. 

It’s a special occasion for Harsell as well. Andrea’s dad, Rod, played on the river site with his band Northern Freight in 1973 and his appearance on stage isn’t out of the question. 

“We’re really excited,” said Harsell, an area mainstay in her 25th entertainment year who often appears at the Blues Festival in Hot Springs. 

Luna Roja is a diverse quartet with strong vocals, awesome chemistry, a new coming album. The band knows all about Aber Day. 

“I grew up with that name, hearing stories,” she said. “(We’re) so grateful for the opportunity.” 

And talk about a family-time opportunity, what with dry camping, motorhome parking, loads of food vendors and other types of entertainment available. If you’re a gambler, you might even think of dropping anchor – in the river, I mean. 

The last time M2WB played at this spot, I was dancing my life away when I realized my ride – which shall remain unnamed, (Mike from KGVO), had left me to find lodging for the night without an oar or even a creek to paddle in. A kind young soul wouldn’t let me share her obvious one-person tent so I opted for a spot in her hatchback (Luann) on that mighty chilly night. 

I have held that memory for many years and I’ll be looking to get even … just sayin.’ 

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