LUMBERTON — Although the present is a gift, the Carolina Civic Center and Historic Theater is giving locals the chance to see a blast from the past in a riot of music that will pack as much of a punch as it does a sense of nostalgia.
“The band really maintains the old standards and plays them in such a way that it’s just the way they did in the 50s,” said Lumberton businessman Bo Biggs, a trombone player with two musical groups. “You’re getting pretty much the real feel of a 1950s big band.”
Biggs is talking about the Glenn Miller Orchestra, a band he adores so much that he personally pushed for their appearance at the Civic Center — just as he did at Robeson Community College in 2005.
The orchestra, named after its creator, Glenn Miller, innovated jazz in 1938 during the pre-World War II era, introducing saxaphonists, as well as piano and base players to a genre that until then utilized only clarinets, trombones, trumpets and a rhythm section.
The orchestra still boasts the same sound as it did from 75 years ago.
The Glenn Miller Orchestra is known for songs like “A String of Pearls,” “Tuxedo Junction,” “In the Mood” and “Moonlight Serenade,” all of which will be performed on Saturday at the Civic Center starting at 7 p.m.
Biggs, who got his start playing trombone as a “proud member” of the Lumberton Senior High School marching band class of 72, is a self-described “big band follower, worshipper, groupie.” Nick Hilscher, music director and vocalist for the Glenn Miller Orchestra, knows why.
“The music has a nostalgia to it, without a doubt,” Hilscher said. “It’s an American treasure, big band music.”
Big band music is a combination of jazz and swing.
“Glenn knew what the public wanted and was able to take his music and have his arrangers write things that struck a chord with the mass populous,” Hilscher said.
The band, which has seen many music-chart successes, grew in stature in 1953 with the release of “The Glenn Miller Story.”
The band leader died in 1944 after his aircraft disappeared while en route to perform for U.S. troops in France during World War II. Following his death, the orchestra has performed under various leaders.
“Our personnel changes often,” Hilscher said. “We try to recreate this music as true to Glenn Miller and his sound as we can, because that’s what the public latched onto back then and that’s what our audiences still want to hear.”
Audiences like those in Robeson County, who are so enthused, the band is selling big.
“We’ve sold 300 tickets — and we seat 440 people — with a week to go,” said Richard Sceiford, the executive director for the theater.
Added Sceiford: “The theater was built just 10 years before the original Glenn Miller Orchestra had their first performance.”
With both the theater and the orchestra being born in the same era, attendees will enjoy a trip back in time —as will the band itself.
“The Civic Center certainly matches well with a lot of older venues built in the 1930s,” Hilscher said. “In the same way that a lot of people are realizing throughout the country that these old theaters are treasures and they’re spending a lot of money to bring them back to life, that’s kind of how our music is as well.
“We’re finding a lot of baby boomers who come because they haven’t heard this music since their parents played it. They walk away new and reinvigorated fans, and will hopefully keep this going.”
As for fans like Biggs — a member of the Myrtle Beach, S.C.-based big band, Stardusters, and the Lumberton-based band Second Time Around — he’s hoping a little talent might come his way, but remains tight lipped as to whether or not the music will put a bounce in his step.
“Depends on how brave the crowd is,” he said.