Keeping the music alive

Craig resident stays young,

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He sits quietly at the front of the room, eyes slightly closed, listening, enjoying the music of his youth, which was more than half a century ago.

Next to him on a table sits a box of cassette tapes, and a boom box in which those tapes are played for the small group of listeners who have gathered, also enjoying the music that they can remember, but a majority of the general population today cannot.

"Hello Vern," people say as they pass by the man seated at the table, playing the old time tunes.

This has been the scene every Wednesday morning for 12 years at the Valley View Manor in Craig.

Every week Vernon Blevins, 85, goes to the home and plays the music the clients grew to love many years ago, before Elvis Presley, before the Beatles.

"I play the old time stuff that these people understand," Blevins says. "I can't do this new stuff."

At one point a Valley View Manor employee leads one of the Valley View clients in a dance.

Then the music stops, and silence falls over the room. Blevins stands up, hits eject, and flips the tape over. The lobby, once again, echoes with the same sounds that filled the dancehalls of Northwest Colorado, more than 50 years ago.

  • •••
  • "This keeps me active," Blevins said of his weekly visits to the home. "I'm always taping music. I have quite a library of tapes."

A library of more than 400 tapes, mostly music that was recorded before any of the employees at Valley View Manor were probably born.

Blevins likes to talk about the generation gap in musical tastes.

"I have three kids and they can't stand this music," he said. "I don't like their's and they don't like mine."

But like a teenage garage band today with its electric guitars plugged into pawn shop amplifiers, Blevins did more than just listen to the music in his youth, he made it.

He played saxophone in several different bands during the 1940s, and he loves to tell the stories of playing Northwest Colorado, parts of Wyoming and Utah.

He can still recall his band's first ever gig, which he said was for a local political dance.

"We only knew three songs and I thought we would just play those three songs over and over," he said. "But those politicians were so winded we never got through the three."

He also recalled shows his band used to play in Dixon, Wyo., at which they would play into the night, and sometimes wouldn't pack up their equipment and leave the dance hall until 5 a.m.

"We'd walk out of the dance hall, change our clothes in the car, and go fishin'," he said.

Blevins wife of 65 years, Margaret Blevins, shares her husband's love of music, but not his talent, she said.

"I couldn't carry a tune in a basket," she said.

But she had other ways of enjoying the music back in her husband's playing days.

"I went to his performances and I danced," she said.

Then she took a playful jab at her husband, which seems to be common with old couple.

"He played with his eyes shut so I could dance and do anything I wanted," she said laughing.

While she is proud of her husband's weekly visits to Valley View, Margaret said unlike the days of when he used to play, she doesn't accompany him anymore as he shares music with others.

But if she did, she would witness the sense of joy Vernon is able to bring to people every week, and the impact he has on everyone there.

Celia McConky, Valley View Manor administrator, said when she was first hired on at the home six months ago, one of the first things people told her about was the man who came and played music for the guests every week.

"He's great," she said. "The residents respond not just to him but his music. It's important to our residents to know that people from their community enjoy spending time with them."

He's a friend who knows what the residents want and like, she said.

"He doesn't ask for anything," she said. "He simply comes as a friend. He really knows the music they like. He's their contemporary."

There's probably not a very good chance that the residents will ever get a live performance from Blevins, who said his saxophone was retired with his group in the early 1950s.

"In 1951 hard rock came in," he said. "That's when we disbanded."

But Blevins has kept that music alive, and kept a sense of his youth, taping and playing the music he has always loved.

In addition to going to Valley View Manor every Wednesday, he visits Sunset Meadows and plays music every Tuesday night.

"I always figured when I got old the days would really drag," he said. "But boy, I get up in the morning and it's time to go to bed."

The way he and his wife still kid one another, one might mistake them for two teenagers on their second date.

"Soon we'll have been married 65 years," he said. "And what's amazing is, we're still speakin'."

The couple's anniversary is on the Fourth of July.

"It will be 65 years that I've listened to him say that he gave up his independence on Independence Day," Margaret said with a laugh.

Blevins doesn't plan on quitting his visits to Valley View or Sunset Meadows anytime soon.

"When this group passes away and the next generation comes in I'm going to be a dead duck because they're not going to like it," he said. "I'm going to be without an audience."

He and his wife laugh, but she reassures him of his concerns.

"I think your audience will last as long as you do," she said.

They laugh again.

The Blevins -- a life filled with music and laughter.

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

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