Grand Forks Herald
RYAN BAKKEN COLUMN:
Drum line blown away about opening for Midler?
At 1:30 p.m. Friday, Devin McCleary was in his drafting class at Grand Forks Central when an PA announcement ordered the school’s drum line members to an “emergency meeting.”
“I thought, ‘What did we do now?'” McCleary said.
The meeting wasn’t about what the drummers did. It was about what they were going to do.
The drum line had the chance to perform for Bette Midler when she stepped off her jet at the airport.
Some of the teenagers responded with “Bette who?” But, when shown her photograph in that day’s Herald, or when told of her role in the old horror movie “Hocus Pocus,” they all eventually made the connection.
“I said, ‘Guys, this is a big deal, a really big deal,'” said Christie Aleshire, the drum line advisor.
It soon got to be even a bigger deal. A really bigger deal.
The invitation came from Midler’s stage manager, who was playing one of a series of practical jokes on the star. She thought it would be a hoot to have Midler met by a musical group and then be driven to town in a bus, not her customary limousine.
“She came off the plane dancing, with a big smile on her face,” junior drummer Eric Papp said. “She was happy to see us.”
Then came the much bigger deal. She asked if they would open her show that night at the Alerus Center. How impressed must have Midler been? This impressed:
“Her manager says she never does this; she never has an opening act,” Aleshire said.
Needless to say, at the invitation of one of the world’s greatest performers and with a chance to perform in front of 9,000 or so people, they leaped at the chance.
So, after dropping off Midler at the Alerus Center, they sped back to Central, every cell phone on the bus on overdrive, rearranging work schedules and social plans, alerting parents to the out-of-the-blue opportunity. Back at the school, the 13 drummers picked the cadences and practiced for an hour.
“The kids were freaking out; they were flipping,” Aleshire said.
Yeah, but were they excited?
Six hours after that PA announcement, they were on stage, wearing matching Bette Midler T-shirts. And they weren’t nervous at all, they said. Maybe that’s because they didn’t have time to think about it.
Backstage after the show, photographs, autographs, hugs, kisses and more conversation with Midler lasted until almost midnight.
“She was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” McCleary said. “She’s extremely energetic. She loves to interact with people.”
Aleshire commented to Midler’s staff members about their boss’ good-heartedness.
“They said she’s always like this, always a kind of person,” Aleshire said. “I can’t even begin to tell you what a nice lady she is. Sometimes, those people don’t have a lot to do with others.”
Midler even invited them to perform in New York City, where she lives. “She said she’d get us there if we wanted,” Papp said.
McCleary and Papp used the same description – “blown away” – of their experience. “Awed” and “insane” were some of their other descriptions.
Even their teacher was reduced to teenage expressions, even if they are outdated.
“Golly, it was a whirlwind of a day,” Aleshire said. “It was the coolest thing ever.”