And the band played on — in this case, the Elm Street Band.
"Everyone has a job, and everyone is a star in each show," said Roger Douglass, the music director and only Elm Street Band member with experience as a professional musician. "It's been 35 years, and nobody has punched anybody yet. We still have fun on stage."
What started as a Friday night jam session in a friend's garage has turned into what some call the sound of Long Beach. The same four musicians have played countless shows for weddings, birthdays, fundraisers and more in Long Beach and surrounding cities.
But where most people have been introduced to the Elm Street Band, at least in the last couple of decades, is the concerts in the parks.
Twenty years ago, the city's Municipal Band had to cut its summer schedule due to budget issues. But officials, particularly City Council members, were afraid people still would come to the park that last week, and be upset when there was no music.
Then Seventh District Councilwoman Jeff Kellogg was the first to step up, Douglass said, hiring the Elm Street Band to play that last Wednesday at Los Cerritos Park. Then neighborhood associations, Alamitos Heights Neighborhood Association at Marine Stadium and the El Dorado Park South Neighborhood Association at El Dorado Park, argued for and ultimately won Elm Street Band concerts on Thursday and Friday, respectively.
And on Friday, Aug. 9, the band will put on a 20th Anniversary show at El Dorado. It will mean a lot to the band and its fans, Douglass said. A Wednesday, Aug. 7, concert at Los Cerritos Park will be big, Douglass said, but El Dorado is the band's "home park."
"We're graduates of Millikan High School," Douglass said. "The El Dorado concerts always seem to bring out the Millikan alumnae. And sometimes, our sons even play with us. It's a party."
In 1985, Douglass was 13 years removed from a music career that included a decade in Las Vegas working with the biggest names in the business. In addition to playing guitar, he learned the ins and outs of being a music director, arranging and scripting a show.
Roger Peterson, a friend, asked Douglass to come over and play with some friends in Peterson's garage — just some beer, some tunes and some fun, he said. After a few months, Peterson asked the group to play for a party he was throwing, and the Elm Street Band was born. (Peterson's home was on Elm Avenue, but Elm Street sounded better.)
Some players floated in and out, but a core of four quickly became the real band. Bob Hirschhorn, a co-founder, plays bass guitar and sings. Roland Misajon plays both keyboards and guitar while singing (and doing a little Hawaiian dancing). Johnny Navratil handles the drums, harmonica and adds his voice, including a mean Johnny Cash.
The repertoire includes a song list of more than 100 at any given time, with rock & roll, surfing and California style dominating, with some dance and even a little country thrown in.
"The key is we have to like the song," Douglass said. "Somebody might say, ‘Let's play this,' but if we don't all like it, it gets thrown out."
Almost every Long Beach concert includes the band's own song, written by Douglass, "The Long Night In Long Beach."
"Friday's going to be special," Douglass said. "Good times with good friends. That's what the Elm Street Band is all about."
The music starts at 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9, in El Dorado Park East, Willow Street and Studebaker Road. For more information about the band, go to www.elmstreetband.com.
Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.