artist - musician - craftsman
and furniture maker
[May 9, 2021]
NDSU spring blast talent show (1974)
It was March of 1974. I was two months shy of my 21st birthday, and my 2-year stint at the cemetery was in my rear-view mirror. It assuredly wasn’t a waste of my time, by any stretch of the imagination. It notably expedited my journey toward potential manhood, as well as granted me a front-row seat to the “death in the family” experience. After burying more than 100 community souls, my mindset unquestionably switched gears, fostering the realization that we only get one, at times somewhat brief, bite of the apple and that the Funeral March was the ultimate “grand finale" ... all the while hoping it occurred after a life well lived. One shot. That’s it. I now realized that I could tip over on any given day, and that we are all granted a singular opportunity to get it right, and ideally, leave behind a legacy.
So there I sat …. writing tunes in our dilapidated 5-bedroom home on Third Avenue South, shared by four of my likeminded friends, all post-teen social misfit stoners. Birds of a feather flock together. My only excuse would be that we were all products of the 60s. [Apologies will not be forthcoming.] That being said, on any given day, a smoke ring could magically appear above the peak of our roof, as the proverbial “bong” was our tool of choice. We called it our “Oboe” as it was crafted from a lengthy section of 2-inch PVC pipe. Enigmatically, we lived directly across the street from the AA clubhouse, something we considered relatively ironic, under the circumstances. We kept a running tab for every middle-fingered gesture that came our way.
One benefit from working at the cemetery, was it gave me an abundance of time to write music.
...were just a few, predominately performed at our “kegger” parties at 1105, our $100-a-month homesteaded den of iniquity. As soon as I witnessed my legal age, I could expand my repertoire at our local pubs. Until then, we live in the moment.
This night, however, was the pièce de résistance, the signature dish, or in plain English: the real deal. It was the night for NDSU’s annual “Spring Blast Talent Show,” emceed by the legendary Ted Mack, host of CBS’s Ted Mack Amateur Hour. I had been preparing for this for months, and had written an original song to unveil: “My House.” This song was my ammunition, but I really had no visions of grandeur, and only hoped to create another adventurous episode for myself and my fortuitous friends. I always kept my expectations low and within reason, but was also aware that the $100 grand prize would keep me in mac and cheese for at least a month. Customarily, we had a pre-party, as well as a post-party, for being identified as healthy, strapping young men of leisure, we invariably hoped that a bevy of young opposite-sexed beauties would be in attendance.
Ted Mack (1953) / Wikimedia Commons..
The talent show event was being held at NDSU’s historic “Festival Hall,” one of the oldest buildings on campus, constructed in 1897 for $1,500. The list of performers there throughout the years had Who’s Who credibility, especially from the “Big Band” era: Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, and Bennie Goodman had graced the hall, in a building renowned for its tremendous acoustic value. Because of that alone, my exuberance was off the charts.
The performing contestants were told to arrive an hour early to meet Mr. Mack and do mic checks. Once there, the nerves kicked in, and I starting obsessing about having a brain freeze about the words and chords required to present my corny song, even though I’d rehearsed it a thousand times. But who’s counting?
All my friends were there for encouragement and, by curtain time, the place was filled to the gills, including the side balconies. Twelve performances, and I was the last to perform. Before me, and I’ll never forget his name, was Scott Brandenburg, who tickled the ivories with one of his original compositions. After hearing that, I actually was wishing I could sneak out the back door. But within minutes, I was called to close out the night. I recalled that my fingers were stiff and clammy as I sidled up to the microphone. I looked out at the humongous crowd of young people, heart racing, and plucked the steel strings of my Gibson guitar, hoping the instrument was still in tune. (Another obsession.). As the first words of my song trickled off of my lips, I suddenly felt at peace with myself, since the acoustics and sound system within the auditorium were beyond exceptional ... something remarkably fresh in all my newness. This was a life-altering moment for me, and I didn’t want it to end, especially after the crowd stood and roared when I finished the final chorus. I clumsily bowed before heading offstage to join the others awaiting our fate.
Written and performed by Steve Revland
... at the NDSU Spring Blast Talent Show with Ted Mack in the Spring of 1974.
I don’t think I had ever felt so relaxed, just knowing this was finally behind me. Certainly not expecting to win, Ted Mack first announced the third placed winner, who went on stage to collect her handshake and a $25 prize. Understanding the odds, I either won, took second, or headed to a post-party with my tail between my legs. I conveniently shifted closer to Scott, who I saw as the winner, and was prepared to congratulate him. As soon as his name was called as the second place winner, I went numb. He quickly went on stage for his handshake and $50 prize, and graciously came backstage to root us on.
It was exceedingly intense backstage standing with the other ten performers, none of whom I knew personally. There wasn’t much for eye contact, and you could hear a pin drop between us collectively, all anticipating the same result. Then, the announcement came from Ted Mack:
“And the winner of this year's Spring Blast Talent show is ...”
I don’t quite know how to explain how I felt at that moment ... walking on stage to thunderous applause in front of my friends, while simultaneously wondering how I could possibly explain to them later how I didn’t actually bribe the judges. All I knew was this was MY moment: a giant bite off that previously-mentioned apple, $100 richer, and an indelible, fleeting moment with the incomparable Ted Mack.
And yes. There was a post-party.