Soon after Gering was founded in 1887, the town’s young business owners were discussing ways to make their little cluster of stores a more attractive town center. They wanted to showcase their new town as the place to be.

The town then was part of Cheyenne County and any discussion of a county fair had been lacking. So some businessmen decided to organize and the first Cheyenne County Fair was staged in Gering in September of 1887.

The town remained the home of the fair even after Scotts Bluff and three other counties seceded from Cheyenne County in 1889.

One of the most popular events during the fair’s early years was horse racing but, as with any fair, music was also an important part of the celebration.

Fair organizers set up a music pavilion and George Luft, the first druggist in the valley, gathered a band of 12 musicians to play in the pavilion. However, that wasn’t their first gig.

When Gering was founded in April of 1887, one of the town’s first planned events was the Independence Day celebration fast approaching in July. Many of the town’s founders felt the event would not be a true celebration without a band to herald in the festivities with music.

Fortunately, Luft was an accomplished cornet player and had led bands in Germantown and Seward in eastern Nebraska before opening his drug store in Gering.

So, they had a cornet player but needed more players with other instruments. Gering Courier founder and publisher A.B. Wood sent for his snare drum, which he’d left back in Iowa. It arrived just in time for the Fourth of July event. Others had to borrow instruments from various people around the county.

Wood recalled that during this first Fourth of July celebration, square dancing was most popular with music provided by the Shobar family from Horseshoe Bend. Edson Gering, son of the town’s namesake Martin Gering, did the calling.

As for the band’s performance, Wood later wrote, “The band functioned at the celebration, how well had better not be mentioned.” At least they were showing some enterprise in getting a band started at all.

Now that the town of Gering had an official band, instruments were ordered from Chicago in 1887—1888. Wood turned his snare drum over to his brother Shan, who had arrived in Gering to open a jewelry store.

Side note: The back room of Shan Wood’s jewelry store was used for the first Gering Public Library. Shan was also an avid collector of Native American artifacts. His arrow points collection is now housed at Legacy of the Plains Museum in Gering.

After turning over his snare drum, A.B. Wood took up the baritone horn, which he played in the band for the next 35-plus years.

Following their first county fair performance, the band became a permanent organization, playing at events around the region.

In his book “Pioneer Tales,” A.B. Wood recalled a humorous anecdote from the band’s performing days when they played in the new town of Torrington.

“One player was unable to go,” he wrote, “and in order to make a showing and get the pay based on the number of members, his aftertime horn was handed to a youth who couldn’t blow a note but took his place in ‘the circle’ and on the march simply going through weird and fantastic motions of working the valves, but instructed that if he made a note he would be canned right now.”

Over the years, the Gering band had a number of excellent directors. One was Clarence Bonham, whose glass plate negative photographs chronicled the valley’s early history. Early newspaper publisher Harry I. Wisner and other directors included Claude Westervelt, who later became mayor of Scottsbluff; Edson Gering, who operated the Pastime Theater; and Oscar W. Gardner, one of Gering’s founders.

The tradition of the Gering City Band continues today under the direction of Randy Raines, retired director of bands from the Gering school system.

Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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