By Teresa Stowell
for the Daily Times
The golden oldies band, Big Al and the Hi-Fi's, may be new to the Riverfest stage this year, but they are no strangers to the Watertown area.
The Oconomowoc natives will perform Saturday, Aug. 10, at 3 p.m.
"Watertown is kind of like our adopted city," Cheech Counsell, band leader, said. "We're all from Oconomowoc, but over the years we've played in Watertown almost more than Oconomowoc. One of the guys in the band said he's always wanted to play at Riverfest, so we actually passed on some other shows just to do this one."
The family friendly band promises to get folks up and out of their seats dancing to music rarely heard on the radio anymore. Most of the songs they perform are from the 1950s and '60s including songs by the Beach Boys, The Dave Clark Five and Chubby Checker.
"We play a good mix of fast type of dance songs sprinkled in with a few newer ones," he said. "Even with that, the younger crowd always seems to enjoy the older songs. They may not know the original artist but they usually have heard of the songs."
Big Al and the Hi-Fi's started out as a one-night stand back in 1975, playing for a birthday party.
"After the party someone approached us and said if we could learn to play four hours of music they'd hire us," Counsell said. "And the rest is history."
The band went on to play together traveling around the Midwest opening for a lot of bigger bands at the time, including Ricky Nelson, Hoyt Axton and The Coasters. They continued doing their full-time jobs during the week and they'd travel to their shows on the weekend. The band kept nearly all of its original members over the past 44 years. The band members include Charlie Darnell as the bass player, Bill Reuter on lead guitar, Les Phillips on drums, Tim Counsell as lead singer and Cheech Counsell on guitar. It's been the same five band members for the past 36 years.
Although they've never played Riverfest, they've performed in Watertown at Turner Hall and several street dances. They've also performed at the Wisconsin State Fair and Summerfest.
"Now that we don't do a whole lot of shows anymore people probably haven't seen us play in Watertown in eight years or so," Counsell said.
In the past few years they've performed in Ashippun for crowds with upwards of 3,000 to 4,000 people. While they've slowed down on the number of shows they perform in the past years, they still have fans that will follow them.
"We used to play for three or four hours, but now we do 1 1/2- to two-hour shows usually during the middle of the day so we can play for the family crowd," Counsell said. "It's a lot of fun. It's that type of music from a great time in life that was a lot simpler. Hopefully we can bring that back for folks."
For more information on Riverfest, visit www.watertownriverfest.com.