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June 14, 2013     Post-Gazette
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June 14, 2013

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POST-GAZETTE, JUNE 14, 2013 Page13 by John Christoforo Babb onno A Nostalgic Remembrance Before I begin this week's column, I would like to ex- tend a happy birthday to Uncle Gino. Lou Contini, whom we affectionately call, "Uncle Gino," just turned 96. He is the one remaining off- spring of Mike and Jenny Contini, Nanna and Babbo- nonno, Mom's youngest brother was a product of East Boston who just happened to be at the right age for World War II. He joined the Army Air Corps and fought with the 5th Air Force in the Pa- cific. While on leave, he met a New York based Flamenco dancer, Ninna Ravel. (real last name Romeo). After the war, they were married and both settled in East Boston. Instead of following the same musical path as his brothers, he decided to try the business world, became successful and resettled in Belmont with his wife and infant twins, Richard and Donna. It is now many de- cades later and he and Ninna are retired but stay quite active socially. Fortu- nately, he has inherited Babbononno's genes and is in good health in spite of being in his mid 90s. To you, Uncle Gino, Happy Birthday from me, Loretta, young John and Michael. When June would roll around and I 'was out of school, Dad would bring me to the Boston Musicians' Union on Mondays. Monday was the day musicians would congregate at the union to socialize, play cards, shoot pool, but more importantly, meet with the contractors and band lead- ers to book in future work. As Boston's social functions would slow down during the months of July and August, Dad's concentration was on playing music for the county fairs that were so common in most states back then. Dad, early in his career, had been on the road with a musician/band leader named Chet Nelson. Chet was a Mason and connected with officials who ran the county fairs in many rural parts of the northeast. Most were Masons and Chet, early on, connected with them. When the fairs were booked, he and Dad would hire the best musicians who were willing to travel during the summer months. When the bands were organized, Chet and Dad would tell them which town or county fairs they would be playing, where they would be staying, how much they were going to make and whatever other information was necessary to convince them to travel. Of course they had to be crack- erjack readers when it came to music. Here's how the en- tertainment for the county fairs used to work: each fair- ground had a race track. In the middle was a grandstand where people could sit and watch sulky races during the day. Across from the grand- stand would be a stage that was for announcing or enter- tainment. Between races, Chet and Dad's band would play music that kept the folks entertained until the horses were ready to run again. At night, acts of all different types would entertain and the band would play the scripted music that corre- sponded to what the enter- tainers did. There were dog acts, chimp acts, juggling acts, singers, dancers, acrobats, wire walkers, high wire acts, magicians, unicyclists and occasionally, Las Vegas or TV entertainers who would headline the rest of them, some of whom were left- overs from the Vaudeville days in America. During those Monday meetings at the union, the men would be hired who were versatile enough to handle the jobs and when all was said and done, Dad would socialize with musicians he was friendly with. Back then, a musician could make a living at his craft and the union hall was often filled to capacity all day Monday At about this time in my life, Uncle Nick was the vice president of the union and I would spend time with him in his office, then at lunch time, Dad, Uncle Nick, Uncle Paul, maybe Babbo- nonno if he was with us and I would go to lunch When a final Monday meeting would take place between Chet, Dad and the rest of the band that would be on the road for the fairs, last minute instructions would solidify the bookings and remove any questions concerning any person's part of the equation. Along with the musicians would be the booker, scenery man, light and sound team and whoever was part of the group from the Boston area. One of the men, the scenery man, was a cigar chomping old timer named Louie who was from South Boston. When I first met him, he asked me if I was going to be at the fairs seeing I would be out of -- FOR YOU WHO APPRECIATE THE FINEST -- THE MUSIC FOR ALL OCCASIONS 781-648-5678 school. I replied that Dad was taking Mom and me with him. He then offered me a job staging the scen- ery that would be needed for the evening entertainment performances at the fair- grounds. He told me that he would teach me how to put up backdrops and remove them quickly working as his assistant. Dad was OK with it, and when Louie offered me $35.00 a week, I agreed to be his assistant. The year was 1950 when we started working the fairs. That year, we headed to upstate New York for the first fair of the season, the Boonville County Fair. Don't ask me where Boonville, New York is, but I know it must have been in the Adirondack Mountains be- cause Wrigley was located in those parts and you could smell chewing gum for miles around. The 4u~ of July week- end would kick off the fair and as I listened to Dad, Chet and the band rehearse the acts that had written arrangements, I also lis- tened to Louie explain the operations necessary for se- curing the scenery to the stage behind and aside of the musicians. Boonville was the first of the fairs, then came three more in New York state, then one in Pennsylvania, two in Ohio, one in Indiana, one in Kentucky, West Vir- ginia and Virginia. Most of the fairs were only a few days long and with travel time worked in, we were able to sight see those states as well as work in them. When the middle of August would roll around, Dad would drop Mom and me off at our cot- tage in Winthrop, Maine, stay a few days, himself and then head to the next fair, wherever it might have been. By the time we got to Maine, I was rich. Making 835.00 a week and working for 6 weeks prior to heading north, I had 8210.00 in my pocket. If Nanna and Babbo- nonno were with us on the fairs, they would stay in Maine once we got there. If they weren't on the fairs and wanted to join us, someone would drive them up to Maine. Years later, Dad would work it out so that he had most of August off. The exception to this was county fairs in Maine which he would book without Chet Nelson. There was one on the Maine coast, the Blue Hills County Fair that he played for years and a few others inland but farther north in Penobscot, Piscat- aquis and Aroostook Coun- ties. Louie was not with us at these fairs and, as a re- suit, I didn't work. But, I had 8210.00 from all the other fairs and that made me rich. I don't know ff they still have county fairs throughout the country today, but they were a great learning experience and a heck of a lot of fun. GOD BLESS AMERICA Socially Scene (Continued from Page 9) (1993), Mortal City (1996), End of the Summer (1997), The Green World (2000), The Beauty of the Rain (2003), My Better Self (2005) and Promised Land (2008); one live DVD -- Live at Bearsville Theater (2007); and Many Great Companions (2010). In 1995, two years after self-re- leasing The Honesty Room, she signed with Razor & Tie Entertainment, beginning a relationship now in its 16th year. This epic performance in the most peaceful of settings takes place June 15th, at 8:00pm at the First Baptist Church in Newton, 848 Bea- con Street, Newton, MA. For tickets call 617-527-9717 or visit Comedy at the Vault .... Coming to Dick's Beantown Comedy Vault on June 23rd will be Dan Crohn and Steve Donovan will make his way to the Hub June 28th and 29th. Dan Crohn has been per- forming standup comedy in and around Boston for the last seven years. A recent semi-finalist in the Boston Comedy Festival, his stories of family and friends have entertained audiences from all over New England. Dan has opened for a number of well-known headliners and has played shows all over the country. His daytime job of teaching 4th graders has provided him with endless amounts of material. He has wanted to be a comedian since the age of eight when he stumbled upon his Father's Henny Youngman records. Dan Crohn is a force to be reckoned with and is quickly becoming one of the funniest comics in Boston, and with good reason: he's hilarious. Stephen Donovan doesn't know what to do. He's been doing morning radio since 2003 the #1-rated "Jen & Steve Show" on 104.5 WXLO. He's hosted television shows, earning three Emmy nomi- nations for his hosting of "The Batter's Box" (NESN) and "Community Auditions" (syndicated). He has acted on stage ("Shear Madness") and has appeared in several local TV commercials. But he just can't seem to keep away from the standup com- edy stage, be it here in New England or around the coun- try. Apparently, he'll just do everything. Dick's Beantown Comedy Vault @ Remington's Res- taurant is located at 124 Boylston Street Boston, MA. For over 24 years the Com- edy Vault has been Boston's Most Fun Comedy Club. They are Boston's only full service, seven nights a week comedy club. With great food, drinks and shows Steve Donovan makes his way to the Hub and plans to leave you in stitches on June 28th and 29th. (Photo courtesy of at great prices. National Headliners with a Boston connection and local come- dians are joined by Boston's next superstars. Dane Cook had a show there every Fri- day for two years in the 90's. Located in a renovated bank at Remington's Restaurant between "Gypsy Bar" & "The Alley" across from Boston Common and The Boylston T-Stop just down from the Colonial Theater. If you're looking for a good laugh, move quick before Dan Crohn and Steve Donovan sell out! Call (800) 401-2221 for tickets or visit for information on acts and show times. A Tasty Treat to Compli- ment Your Time in the City .... Under the glow of a Cam- bridge landmark and in the heart of Harvard Square, Nubar restaurant and lounge is a chic neighborhood hang- out, serving local and out of town guests while empha- sizing a comfortable bar and dining experience. Named after the hotel's owner Edward Nubar Guleserian, the Guleserian family has owned and operated the hotel and restaurant for three gen- erations, and have lived and worked in Cambridge for over 60 years. Serving smart, seasonal and approachable neighborhood fare, Nubar's Chef combines a modern approach applied to classic dishes. Working with local vendors as often as possible, fishermen, farms and neigh- borhood bakeries that en- rich the Boston and Cam- bridge culinary community are prominently positioned. An eclectic wine list, classic cocktails and rotating selec- tions of local and regional craft beers are on tap. Nubar is located at 16 garden street Cambridge. You can reach them at 617-234-1365 for reservations or visit them at to get a peek at the menu. Fully Insured Lic #017936 Heating & Air Conditioning Sales, Service & Installation Ken Shallow 617.593.6211 kenskjs @