Nick & Owen

A benefit is being planned for area musician Nick Schwebach, pictured here with fellow musician Owen DeJong during a gig at Gayville Hall. The rural Wakonda resident has been an active musician in the area for more than 40 years, serving as a member of the popular Poker Alice and Public Domain Tune Bands, among others.

Friends and fans of rural Wakonda resident Nick Schwebach are rallying together to raise money for the long-time area musician.

A benefit for Schwebach, who has had five open abdominal surgeries over the past 19 months to combat intestinal issues, is being organized to happen Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, at the Wakonda Legion Hall (snow date is Jan 7). The event will feature a free will donation supper beginning at 4 p.m., a silent auction beginning at 4 p.m., and a live auction beginning at 7 p.m. Area musicians will entertain crowds before the live auction.

“Nick has been an integral part of the community,” said Pam Bernard, one of the benefit organizers. “We would like to take the time to give back to Nick and Ellen. Nick is unable to work as he fights to heal and get his strength back.”

Everyone is encouraged to attend the benefit. Donations for the silent and live auctions are needed, said Donna Henriksen, who is helping to organize the event.

“We really need more live auction items,” she said.

Schwebach is one of the founding members of the popular group The Poker Alice Band and is also a member of The Public Domain Tune Band, which plays informally at Carey’s Bar in Vermillion every Friday night. Schwebach, along with fellow Poker Alice and Tune Band member Owen DeJong, also appears regularly at local music venue Gayville Hall.

Schwebach came to Vermillion in the 1960s to study at the University of South Dakota, where he earned a degree in English. During college, he supported himself by working as a local musician.

Explained Schwebach in an interview for Gayville Hall in 2009: “Back then [in the 1960s], you’d make $50 for a weekend of playing music, and believe it or not, you could pay for most of your college that way. I think it cost about $12.50 a credit hour.”

Schwebach met fellow musician and band mate DeJong in 1976 or 1977 when Owen sat in with The Totally Amazing Bitsko Band, a group playing country-rock and rockabilly, of which Schwebach was a member. Schwebach and DeJong played together as part of the Bitsko Band until the group broke up in 1979. Then, the two formed the duo “The Public Domain Tune Band.”

The name for the band -- and the inspiration behind the music they play -- came from two local men whom Schwebach and DeJong say were their mentors. The two credit learning “everything they know” from these “wise men who were like gurus. We’d just sit at their feet and try to absorb their knowledge,” Schwebach said.

These masters of music were Chet Olsen and Williard Lindstrom. Olsen, a farmer in rural Wakonda, was an old-time fiddler and violin maker. Lindstrom was a retired professional dobro musician who also played the jazz and blues fiddle.

“We would get together with them and record every conversation,” said Schwebach. “We would sit around playing with them and listening to ‘78s. ... Williard used to say, ‘I love those public domain tunes,’ and that’s where the name came from.”

Schwebach and DeJong have always been the heart of the Public Domain Tune Band, performing at many venues, just the two of them, during the 38 years of the group’s existence. For the past 22 years, musician Larry Rohrer, whom the two know through their other group, The Poker Alice Band, has played with the Tune Band occasionally. Local saxophonist C.J. Kocher has joined the group in the past five years as well for jam sessions at Carey’s and for performances at Gayville Hall.

As a child, Schwebach grew up in a home where his love of music began.

“I remember my Grandma would play Turkey in the Straw on the piano,” said Schwebach fondly. “She was this very old woman, but she could really play. I remember her loosening up her hands before she sat down.”

Schwebach began playing his signature instrument -- the guitar -- early. Schwebach was 13 or 14 when he got his first guitar and taught himself to play by picking out melodies from popular songs of the time. He has never had any formal musical training, he said.

Schwebach is known for his great voice and guitar riffs. Fans particularly love when Schwebach plays his steel guitar. Until health problems sidelined him recently, Schwebach could be found playing a gig every weekend. Until recently, he worked a “day job” in the Facilities Management Department at USD. He also served as a substitute rural mail carrier in Wakonda for many years.

Monetary donations for Schwebach may be mailed to: Nick Schwebach Benefit, First Premier Bank, PO Box 326, Wakonda, SD 57073. If you have a silent or live auction item you’d like to donate, please contact Pam Bernard at 605-670-6245 or Gwen Nelson at 605-638-0933.

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