Having a 'barrel' of fun
Larson's Barn celebrates 30 years of dancing
by Cynthia Brekke and John Grones | July 17, 2001
One day long, long ago, someone wanted to have a good time and invite a whole lotta people to share it. The house was too small, and the pasture – well, it wasn't quite right. But wait... the barn was big enough! And the acoustics were great in the hay loft! So everyone brought a kerosene lamp, and they hung them on pole barn nails pounded into the massive beams. Let the dancing begin! Okay, so that's a fictional account, but it's possible that it could have begun that way...?
The emergence of the barn dance...
Here's some trivia to start your day: Back in 1924, radio station WLS in Chicago began broadcasting a live program on which most of the music was country. The program was later called the National Barn Dance. In 1925, WSM in Nashville began a similar radio program called the WSM Barn Dance. George D. Hay hosted this program, which he renamed the Grand Ole Opry in 1927. Today, the good-old-fashioned Barn Dance is almost a thing of the past. Except...
In May of 1971, Lowell and Alice Larson bought a barn. Not a big deal, until you consider that they turned that barn into a widely-known, successful business. Larson's Barn is situated across from Rat Lake, north and west of McGregor on Highway 232. "My dad had barn dances, way way back," Lowell said, explaining how it all began. "I always wanted to have a ballroom. This was the closest I could come."
The Larsons' son, Lenny, remembers the day his parents purchased the barn. "We came up through the trap door," Lenny explained, "climbed to the top of the hay, and Dad said, 'This is our new dance hall.'" The rest, as they say, is history. Thirty years later, Larson's Barn still holds dances, Music Fests, and hosts 'Polka Fest' complete with Polka Mass.
What'sa Polka Mass?
Glad you asked. I was curious about this, so I asked Lowell about it. "I started that," Lowell replied. "I went to other Polka Festivals and they had Polka Masses. So I talked to Father Fleischhacker and he said he'd love to do that. We always have nice weather for Polka Masses." Must be divine providence. So what is a Polka Mass? The Polka band plays, singing hymns to a polka beat. "People just love it," Lowell said. Amen.
All in the family...
The Barn was a family affair in the early years. "Dad was the only band back then," recalled Lenny. "My mom was the hostess and waitress, my sister, Linda, waitressed, and I helped bartend. From there it grew and grew and grew." The whole family remembers sweeping the old dance floor. "We had to repair some of the boards after each dance," Lenny added. Later on, the Larson's decided to put down tongue-and-grooved pine, but it wore out. The present dance floor is maple and many of the dancers comment that it's the nicest floor around.
The quarter story...
"This was a long time ago," Lowell began. "When we first started the barn dances, we had a leak in the roof. I didn't have time to get up there to fix it so I put a can up there to catch the leak. So the kids would throw quarters up there and try to make them hit the can." After a while, this 'bucket', of sorts, had a rather important purpose. "Whenever we'd get going, I'd look up at that bucket and if it was rocking, I knew it was time to play a different tune and tone it down some." Lowell chuckled with the remembrance. "We'd have about 300 people in there then and the place really got rocking."
The Larsons celebrated their 30 year anniversary – 30 years of rolling out the barrel and having a barrel of fun – on Saturday and Sunday, June 7 & 8. It was a time to remember, reflect and share the success story. Old friends, past employees, relatives and even dancers from all over, gathered to share memories and exchange stories from way back when.
One couple, Margaret and Charles 'Chub' Weston, have been attending dances at the barn since it opened in 1971, coming back every year. "We enjoy the old-time music," Margaret commented. "We've had a lot of great times and met a lot of nice people. Alice has been the perfect hostess and with Lowell's music..."
Yes, Lowell's music. Lowell Larson has been playing the accordion for 50 years, weaving a wonderful legacy with his music. Even with other businesses, the music still played and the dances went on. "It's getting to be pretty rare," Lowell commented on the state of Barn dances. Finally, the day came when Lowell and Alice were ready to retreat from the business. "I was going to just sell it straight out and just quit having barn dances," Lowell said. But when Lenny and Kathy found out, they stepped up to keep the tradition alive.
Alive and well...
The old barn has had it's share of fix-ups, remodels and additions over the years, but it's strong, sturdy and hangin' in there. Old and young alike head for the 'Barn', building more memories and having more fun. Kathy Larson pointed out that there is a misconception of the variety of music played there. "Somebody would say, 'lets go over to the barn', and the other would say 'they just play polka music', which isn't true." Yes, you may have to sit through a polka, but the music is also contemporary. There's something for everyone. So, plan on taking a trip over there and finding out what a good, old-fashioned barn dance feels like – and congratulate the Larson's for keeping the tradition alive.