A small slice of Webster’s musical history

28 Apr

Over the last several weeks I’ve been having a very interesting email conversation with one of my readers, a gentleman who lives in San Diego.

Mark Peacox is a former Webster resident who first wrote to me back in early March in response to a blog I wrote about all of the live music available in the Village of Webster. The email began,

It’s great to hear about the growing musical scene in Webster, although I’m saddened that I can’t partake in it as I’m living in San Diego. You may not be familiar with some of Webster’s musical history, so I’ll tune you in.

Mark then proceeded to share with me some of the wonderful memories he had of Webster’s music scene when he was a teenager. In the following weeks, Mark followed that original email with several others, all long and well-written, painting a detailed and very entertaining picture of what village life was like for kids back in the 1950s and 60s.

With Mark’s permission, I’d like to share some of his stories with you today. I think you’ll be as fascinated as I was. He began with his memories of musical Webster:

When the Beatles made their first appearance on the Sunday evening Ed Sullivan Show, America was transformed. My friends and I raided our newspaper route money and bought guitars and started to teach ourselves how to play. Our first few gigs were house parties. Eventually, the town started to warm to the idea of long-haired teens playing loud rock music and soon, we were playing at all the churches: Webster First Methodist, Webster Baptist, Holy Trinity, Webster Lutheran, and more. The churches would sponsor weekend dances. We expanded to the Teen Canteen at the Webster Town Hall, the basement of Empire Lanes, the golf course on Salt Rd. and other venues in Fairport, Penfield, Ontario and Sodus.

A young man convinced the village to allow him to develop a center for teens to hang out. Somehow, the village was convinced that teens needed their own place away from home and school, and the “Rec Center” or “Rec Hall” was born. They converted the town’s maintenence and vehicle repair center (site of today’s Webster Museum) on Lapham Park into the Webster Recreation Center, and held concerts and dances for the local teens. The Rec Hall became THE PLACE to go. Later, the Rathskeller and other teen musical venues popped up on Main St. and Commercial St.

One of the more amazing events to ever occur during my early teen years was when the village shut down the four corners of Main St. and Route 250 to sponsor a musical streetfest. The band, “Wale” (with lead guitarist Mike Marconi of East Rochester – years later he played for the Billion Dollar Babies, Alice Cooper’s band) were setup on a large stage in front of the Marine Midland Bank (formerly the Webster Hotel) and entertained a packed crowd on Main St. with music from the Beatles and other British Invasion groups.

Mark was born in 1950, in a house on Doran St. in the city of Rochester. His family moved to Iroquois St. in the Village of Webster before he turned 1.

In Webster, I lived the bucolic life, playing with my neighborhood friends in the Cape Brothers’ (farmers) field behind the house. We helped to bale hay, feed pigs and cows on occassion, build tree houses and snow forts for snowball fights, and sled down the hill in the farmers’ field. We swung from vines in the woods at the end of the street, playing Tarzan, and we caught tadpoles in the creek. If we weren’t climbing or hiking and exploring, we were riding our bicycles everywhere. We would camp out in a tent in our backyard during the summer and gaze in awe at the twinkling stars. …

I think one of the things I miss most is the Firemens Carnival. Its arrival always brought so much anticipation and excitement every year. From the Kiddies Parade to the Firemens Parade, the rides (the Round-Up was a terrifying rite of passage) to the steamed clans and ultimately, coming of age to pass through the gates of the Beer Tent.

Mark served as an air traffic controller during the Vietnam conflict and three years in Korea. Afterwards, he spent a short stint at Kodak before landing a job as an air traffic controller in Newport Beach, CA. He and his wife moved there in 1981. He remembers when he came back for a visit and showed his kids around his old home town.

Around twenty years ago, my wife and I were on another annual (or more) visit with family in Webster (she is from Webster, too) while our sons were somewhere between 8-10 years old. I took them on a tour of my old neighborhood and into the deep, dark woods at the end of the street.

These two California boys were terrified of the woods. The trees blotted out most of the sunlight and they had never seen such dense foliage. But what most impressed me was that NOTHING HAD CHANGED since the ’50s. So many features of Webster were still the same, which stood in great contrast to Southern California where every patch of dirt is quickly developed in a tract of homes or an industrial park or a strip mall. For me, it was refreshing and reaffirming that Webster was Where Life Is Worth Living.

Mark’s emails brought me back to my own youth, growing up in small-town Owego, and all of the simple fun we had riding our bikes, going to the community pool, sneaking into the County Fair. They’ve helped me picture what life must have been like growing up here. I long for the simple days we had back then.

It’s so neat to hear that folks are using my blog to keep in touch with their hometown. One day I hope to meet up with Mark when he comes back into town, so I can spend a whole afternoon reliving the old days.

* * *

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