50 years later, Marvin Lee plays Thomasboro again
THOMASBORO — Country music has changed a great deal in the last 50 years.
Marvin Lee Flessner, who performs under the name "Marvin Lee," calls today's version "rock and roll country."
Flessner has stuck with the old-time country music of Hank Williams and others of that generation.
He played music of that ilk when he performed 50 years ago at Thomasboro's centennial celebration. And he'll play it again, Sam, when he performs Saturday night for the town's sesquicentennial.
"It's amazing that the old country we played then is still popular today," Flessner said. "It's what the older folk like."
Flessner said he doesn't remember much about that performance in 1964 — other than that it took place on a flatbed trailer in an open area near where Hoveln Heating and Cooling is now located. There was also a tractor pull in that area.
"There was no community building then," Flessner said. "People brought their lawn chairs. That was a long time ago."
The retired rural St. Joseph farmer does remember that a performer named Tony Hill also played dance music for the centennial.
Now 81, Flessner will play from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the TIA Hall downtown.
Flessner had his own TV show from 1968-75 on WCIA Channel 3. For a decade, he did a show on Sunday nights at the Champaign County Fair.
He plays the guitar, accordion and keyboard and received a Pioneer Award from the Illinois Country Music Association for outstanding leadership and his longevity in the business.
Flessner has helped a number of young artists get started. One of those was multiple Grammy Award winner Alison Krauss, who played the fiddle and sang with the Marvin Lee Band for three years.
Flessner said he heard about this 10-year-old Champaign girl, Krauss, after she won a contest.
He went to her house, about four blocks from the old Virginia Theatre, and "I asked her mom if I could hear her play. She was very good for 10 years old.
"I asked her if she could sing, and she said she hadn't tried," Flessner said, so he left a couple of 45 rpm records of Hank Williams singing "Your Cheatin' Heart" and "I Saw the Light."
She learned the songs, and he added her to his show.
"A 10-year-old girl can steal the show," Flessner said.
When Flessner performs Saturday night, 17-year-old Armstrong resident Maria Rademacher will be a special guest on stage.
Telling jokes will be a friend of Flessner's, Ed Hoveln, who goes by the stage name "Hardly Can."
Also on tap
— The day's events get under way at 7 a.m. with registration for the 5K and fun run in West Side Park. Opening ceremonies are set for 7:45, followed by the race at 8 a.m.
— One of the day's big events is set for 1 p.m. south of the park. The Hall Brothers, based in rural Thomasboro, will hold a Raminator monster truck car crush demonstration.
— From 8:30-11:30 p.m., area favorites Ryan Ideus and the Feudin' Hillbillys will perform on stage under the tent, downtown. People must be 21 to enter the gate.
— Thomasboro Fire Chief Paul Cundiff, the sesquicentennial chairman, said the fire department will sell food downtown.
— Sesquicentennial T-shirts will also be for sale. People who buy one for $20 in advance can also attend the street dance at no extra charge.
— Mayor Brad Morris said commemorative coins are also being sold. He originally ordered 100 of the coins, and they quickly sold out, so he ordered more. A friend traded Morris a Thomasboro centennial coin that the friend had bought at the Gordyville flea market for a sesquicentennial coin.
What: Thomasboro's 150-year celebration
Where: Downtown and in the village's West Side Park
When: All day, all night Saturday. The fun begins at 7 a.m. with a 5K at 8.
Who: Performing will be the Marvin Lee Show (5-6:30 p.m.) and Ryan Ideus and the Feudin' Hillbillys (8:30-11:30 p.m.).
Dave Hinton is editor of the Rantoul Press, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit rantoulpress.com.