Articles by Louis Hoglund and photos courtesy of Tammy Magnusson, both employees of the Pelican Rapids Press

Interest in show biz inspired Nelson to promote ’Classics in Pelican Rapids

Dick and Diane Nelson aren’t exactly a hometown boy and girl couple; but they have longtime connections to Pelican Rapids and Dick will be boosting the old hometown June 7, with the Classics Music Festival.

"Everyone involved with the music recognizes that it could be a great opportunity for Pelican Rapids and its trade area," said Dick Nelson. "This opportunity extends to enhancing local arts, culture, and economic interests in a city that has a rich tradition in supporting such endeavors."

Nelson’s background as a music promoter dates to his many years in Grand Forks, where he produced musical shows. But Dick and Diane’s ties to Pelican Rapids date back even earlier, to the late 1960’s.

After graduating from Concordia College, Diane applied for a teaching position with the Pelican Rapids School District. Diane was offered the position and taught eleventh and twelfth grade English from 1967 to 1969. Diane and Dick were married in 1969 and resided in Pelican until Dick entered the US Air Force. She enjoyed her experience in Pelican Rapids and has many fond memories of her students and colleagues. Dick spent most of his adult career as an attorney and U.S. Department of Agriculture Hearing Appeals officer, retiring in 2009.

In 1983, Dick and Diane returned to the Pelican Rapids area by purchasing a seasonal cabin on Pelican Lake. Many good times were spent at the cabin, said Dick. In 2003, they realized their dream of building a year–round home on the property. Now, after retirement, they spend much of their time at their Pelican Lake home and enjoy giving their five grandchildren the experiences of "the lake."

After completing service with the Air Force and graduating from the University of North Dakota School of Law, Dick practiced law in Grand Forks for several years before joining the Department of Ag. He also served as the Walsh County Veterans’ Services Officer in Grafton, ND, after retirement. During this time, Diane was employed at the Grand Forks AFB, the US Department of Energy, and the University of North Dakota. She retired as UND’s Director of Human Resources and Payroll Services last year. They raised their sons, Matthew and John, in Grand Forks.

It was during a conversation with his son, John, in 1998, that the idea surfaced to write and perform in a summer musical show in Grand Forks. Dick offered to "produce" the show by finding the venue, lining up sponsors, ensuring an audience, signing up musicians for a live band, etc.

In August of that year, "Tune in Tonite," a revue of 1940’s and ’50’s popular music, was performed before nearly sold out audiences at the Empire Arts Center. "Those enthusiastic, young performers were rewarded with great support from the community," said Dick.

Excellent music and theater programs are offered by the Grand Forks Public School District, and John and his friends were all veterans of productions presented by Red River High School, Grand Forks Central High School, and the Summer Performing Arts Program (SPA).

At the time Dick posed the question, there were no summer musical opportunities in Grand Forks after students graduated from high school. The enthusiastic response to Dick’s question grew into the formation of the "Crimson Creek Collegiate Players" which, for nine summers, presented over a dozen different shows, many to "sold out" audiences, with hundreds of singers, actors, dancers, musicians, technical and support staff participating. That first "home grown" show, produced on a shoe string, developed into "professional level" shows, the most successful being "Chicago", "Jesus Christ Superstar", "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat", and "Damn Yankees."

With the "Classics Festival" June 7, Dick Nelson is continuing with his interest in show biz in his new "hometown" of Pelican Rapids.

Classics Music Festival June 7
Oldies will be golden, both rock and country, at Pelican event

Remember when you listened to music on round, black discs that spun round and round on a turntable? Music from that bygone era will be back–but live, in concert–in Pelican Rapids on June 7. Promoter Dick Nelson is bringing a two phase show, with country and rock and roll, to Sherin Park.

"Music for both shows is what might be called ’Vinyl Classic,’" said Promoter Dick Nelson. "The music is truly 50s and 60s classic performed like we love to hear it performed. Someone said, ’We will perform the music that Nashville used to perform.‘"

The sounds of Roy Orbison, Bobby Vee and the Everly Brothers will drift through the riverside park at "The Classics Music Festival."

A varied line–up of country–western performers, with Dick Dunkirk’s "Shadows" tribute band as the headliner, will perform June 7, with music beginning at 3:30 p.m.

"Pelican Rapids seemed to have a need for a summer musical event," said Nelson, a retiree with longstanding connections to the Pelican area. Nelson discussed the matter with various coffee buddies and the idea seemed to flourish. He pointed out that one person cannot do this without the support of other volunteers–strong business sponsorship, a very receptive mayor and City Council, and a Chamber of Commerce willing to help launch a new event for Pelican Rapids. In fact, Pelican Mayor Ben Woessner has been touting the music festival regularly–including an appearance on a regional radio show.

Outdoor stage planned at scenic riverside park in Pelican Rapids

An outdoor stage will be in Sherin Park, with reserved seats for 400 people. Promoters will sell only about 400 advance tickets, and in case of inclement weather the show will be relocated to the Pelican Rapids High School fine arts auditorium.

"We want to emphasize the show goes on even if we have bad weather; we just will be inside at the high school theater," said Nelson.

Headlining the show are Dunkirk and Wayne Luchau, who together with the Shadows band perform tributes to Orbison, Vee, the Everlys, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper. The Symphony Strings will also back up the band.

Dunkirk’s tribute show has performed frequently in the region over the past several years, including a packed-house show at Cormorant Community Center last summer.

Former Pelican resident Merrill Piepkorn to serve as Master of Ceremonies

Master of Ceremonies is former Pelican Rapids resident and North Dakota public radio broadcaster Merrill Piepkorn, who will interact with the audience and also conduct prize give–aways–with merchandise donated by various businesses.

Prairie Doves, Bruce Nelson featured during classic country segment

Local and regional artists will highlight the country classics line–up. Among those performers: "The Prairie Doves," Renae Fuchs, Laura Hagen and Nita Velo; and Bruce Nelson, a local favorite from Erhard. Rounding out the country slate are Janine Sherry, Jodi Weber and Alex Parenteau. From Anoka is Betty Rydell, a Minnesota Rock and Country Hall of Fame inductee known for her fiddling and yodeling.

According to Nelson, advance ticket sales assure seating–whether or not the weather forces the event to the auditorium.

"On event day, ticket sales will be nearly unlimited if we can be outside, but walk–ups need to bring their own chairs. Tickets may also be purchased at Pelican Drug and at various Pelican Rapids businesses. Music starts at 3:30 p.m.

The Country Classics segment will begin at 3:30 p.m. on June 7, with all performers backed by the Country Classics Band. The Country segment closes at about 6 p.m. There will be a one–hour break for the Shadows Band, with the second part of the show starting at 7 p.m. The Shadows Band will close at about 9 p.m.

Various food vendors will be on-site. Lead sponsors for the Event are Nelson Auto Center and Bell State Bank.