Editor’s Notebook column
By Rick Palsgrove
Our ancestors would have been pleased to hear the music and laughter that recently filled the Groveport Town Hall auditorium.
In the 19th century, one way a small, frontier town could show the world it was “civilized” was through the construction of public buildings and theaters.
Groveport and Madison Township achieved this in 1876 with the construction of Groveport Town Hall, located at 648 Main St. While Town Hall includes meeting rooms, a museum, an art gallery, and offices, the jewel of the building is its second floor auditorium.
The auditorium is elegant and beautiful in its plain design. The stage is not ornate. There are no garish decorative flourishes in the auditorium. I like to believe this simple elegance is reflective of the Midwestern sensibilities of the people who built it to be a functional place that is attractive in its own graceful, unpretentious way.
Throughout its 141 year history, the Groveport Town Hall auditorium has fulfilled its role as a space for the arts, music, theatrical plays, orators, exhibitions, historical events, political debates, and social gatherings. The auditorium further showed its versatility by serving as the home basketball court for the Groveport Madison High School Cruisers’ boys and girls varsity basketball teams from the early 20th century until 1923.
But it is when it hosts musical concerts that I think the auditorium shines the most. The acoustics are wonderful and the space is comfortably intimate enough that the audience is close to the musicians. This closeness enables the audience to not only hear the music fully, but also to see the playing skills and emotions of the musicians. The space allows for art on a human scale.
This was most evident on March 11 when The Bob Ford and Friends Band performed Irish tunes, reels, ballads, humorous songs, and other folk music in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day for a large crowd in the auditorium at Groveport Town Hall.
The band – which includes Ben Jones Hayes on fiddle, Bob Ford on guitar and banjo, and Beth Ford on bass – warmly and happily interacted with the crowd, especially with a group of friendly Red Hat Ladies seated in the front rows.
Hayes’ performance during the song, “Ashoken Farewell,” was a highlight as the melancholy sounds from his fiddle swirled through the auditorium and enveloped the crowd.
Beth Ford laid down smooth, warm bass lines and sang passionate, soaring lead and backing vocals. She also held her own in her expressive reactions to Bob Ford’s jokes and on-stage banter.
Bob Ford’s rich voice and nimble musicianship excelled on both up tempo numbers and ballads. Bob Ford good naturedly talked directly with the audience throughout the concert. It was like he and the audience were old friends. He was quick with many jokes, such as: “What’s Irish and sits outside all summer? Paddy O’Furniture!”
When the concert ended, the crowd gave the band a standing ovation.
I closed my eyes and listened to the applause. Applause is a sound that is the same now as when it was first heard in the auditorium in 1876. The sound of the music and applause in this historic place connects us to a very real past that touches both our hearts and our minds. It remains a place of music and laughter.
Rick Palsgrove is editor of the Southeast Messenger.