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Barbary Coast Dixieland Band Embarks on Farewell Tour

March 16, 2018

After more than 50 years of entertaining, the band known as the Barbary Coast Dixieland Show Band is mounting their farewell tour in 2018. Don’t miss a chance to see the group that got its start near the river in downtown St. Paul and rose to claim a place in the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. This summer, you’ll have a chance to catch one of their last shows here at the Heritage Center.

A Brief History

early picture of the Barbary Coast band on a paddleboat
Early picture of the band on a Mississippi paddleboat.

The way the band tells it, Doc Wesley’s Barbary Coast Banjo Band was created in 1967 to perform at a new place called “Jimmy’s on the LeVee.” It was a popular spot back then and the band drew standing room only crowds for five years.

Since most of the band members had full time careers and families by the early 1970s, life after Jimmy’s included more short-term gigs like the Minnesota State Fair, Paddlewheel Boats on the Mississippi River, and Diamond Jim’s—a night club that operated on Sibley Memorial Highway in St. Paul during the 1960s and 1970s. They also worked a few corporate events.

When Dick Peterson, one of the original band members, retired in 2000, he began to promote the band full-time. With new energy and interest, the band began touring more extensively, frequenting jazz festivals across the nation and hosting many other performances. It was in 2001 that the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame added the Barbary Coast Dixieland Band to its induction rolls.

The Conversion

Perhaps you’re wondering how Doc Wesley’s Barbary Coast Band became the Barbary Coast Dixieland Show Band. In truth, the band’s name changed several times over the years. Just a year after starting, the band became Doc Wesley’s Banjo Band. In 1976, after Dave (Doc) Wesley retired from the band, the name changed to Barbary Coast Banjo Brass.

Then, in the 1980s, the band took up a musical ministry. In 1984, members decided to hold Dixieland church services—a practice that has since extended to more than 40 Sundays each year. By the middle of 1986, the band had turned into the Barbary Coast Dixieland Band. For more than 30 years now, that has been their formal name.

The Band

Picture of current members in the Barbary Coast bandThe band is currently composed of six multi-talented musicians. Dick Petersen (far left), who plays banjo and guitar, is the only original band member and the band’s chief administrator and booking agent. Jim ten Bensel (far right) joined the band in 1970. He’s a lifelong musician who has taught vocal and instrumental music at all levels. His specialties are trombone, cornet, and vocals.

In 1976, the band welcomed two current members, Tom Andrews (on drums) and Russ Peterson (on trumpet). Tom is the head drummer for the band and plays clarinet too. Russ is a talented wind instrumentalist (clarinet, flute, saxophone) and sings too. For the band, though, he’s mostly on trumpet.

The two youngest band members were in high school together but joined the band at different times. Steve Pikal (center, playing trombone), who joined the band in 1996, plays trombone and string bass. Fred Richardson (second to left) is the newest band member. He joined in 2009 and contributes to the good of the order on clarinet, bass, sax, banjo and vocals.

The Music

“Toe-tapping” is the descriptor the band favors when asked “what kind of music do you play?” From their albums and CDs, it’s clear that the band borrows from animated musical genres associated with jazz, including big band/swing (think Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and Duke Ellington) and Dixieland (a form of New Orleans style jazz). “If I Had You” (composed in 1928 and featured in the 1948 movie You Were Meant for Me) is the song the band is playing in the video clip below.

Happily, it’s a style of music that’s both fun to play and to hear. In fact, it’s hard to keep from smiling when this band plays. The musicians are born entertainers and really enjoy each other’s musical talents and personalities.

The band has committed to four weekday matinées at the Ives Auditorium: June 13, July 26, August 16 and August 22. Guests can choose to attend just the show or enjoy a home cooked southern-style luncheon beforehand too. To reserve your seats, please call our box office at 952-948-6506 or visit this ticketing link.

Barbary Coast Dixieland Band Embarks on Farewell Tour

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