Austin Living: The Austin Music Man

Published 6:46 pm Friday, April 22, 2022

Austin native Steve Krob is with (and in) the band

 

By Savannah Howe

On a Friday night many decades ago, the brilliant light of the Terp Ballroom marquee spilled across the sidewalk. Opening the doors to the ballroom meant being met with a rush of warmth, bursts of laughter, and music gushing from the stage. It was a musician’s paradise, a lively time when all folks needed for a good time were their dancing shoes and a band who played a mean polka.

Austin native Steve Krob once stood on that stage. Terp had “amazing acoustics,” he recalled, and beautiful hardwood floors. He performed with the Austin Big Band, a longtime local group consisting of 15 musicians, in a revitalized Terp in 2019. He did, however, experience the ballroom in its prime, at his high school proms.

Times have changed, however. Gone are the days that Krob’s grandmother used to dance at the ballroom every weekend in the ‘50s. The Terp’s marquee stays dark and its once-teeming dance floor is now a multipurpose community space. But, ballrooms or no ballrooms, the music in Austin never dies. And that’s thanks to locals like Krob and his two musical partners.

The Opening Number

Krob is now the sax and clarinet player in local trio Reminisce. Austin is the community he knows and loves, leaving in his lifetime only to work in intelligence for the Navy in three Vietnam tours on the USS Blue Ridge. Krob, freshly married to his high school sweetheart, was in Vietnam until the very last day of the American occupation in May of 1975.

Music has had an influence in most of Krob’s life, whether through fate or coincidence. As a child, a basement radio played Elvis, the Beatles, Rolling Stones. High school concert band, 1967: Krob met his wife, Dorothy, a social butterfly and a flutist who got into mischief with Krob by using sign language to communicate from across the room. Years before, Krob was a fifth-grade student being forced into music lessons by his mother, a decision that disgruntled a 10-year-old while also setting the course for his life.

Still a musician over 50 years later, Krob admits that Mom was on to something.

“I never did thank her, I suppose I did in my head,” Krob laughs.

Krob played in the Big Band, called the Austin Swing Band at the time, through college and again after Vietnam, convinced to stick with music by another figure in the local music community, the late Benjamin Bednar.

Reminisce can often be enjoyed at any number of social events around Austin. Photo provided

The Tremendous Trio

In the Big Band Krob met Theresa Iverson (bass) and Sue Hays (keyboard). The three were fast friends and all loved the art of performing, and formed their trio group in 2014. At their first gig, Spruce Up Austin, Reminisce found that performing as a small group was a blast. Especially because they’re playing alongside two of their best friends.

The group has performed at multiple venues throughout south Minnesota, including the Hormel House, the Austin Country Club, Austin Art Center and Artworks Festival, Christmas in the City, Four Daughters Winery, and many private parties and reunions. Their talents range from gentle background music to buoyant swing music such as Glenn Miller’s iconic “In the Mood.”

With every member of Reminisce being a product of the Austin Public Schools excellent musicprogram, the band often recognizes faces in the crowd, something that Krob is thankful for.

“The shows are just fun, they’re just a lot of fun,” Krob says. “… We know a lot of people in town, so if somebody wants live music, I’ve been fortunate enough that they’ll ask us. And that’s been really nice.”

Hays and Iverson have also dedicated much of their life to enriching the musical culture of Austin. Hays teaches music lessons at Apold Music and plays organ at her church. Iverson is in multiple bands between Austin and Rochester, and all participated in community bands and local theater pit orchestras.

“[Teresa and Sue] are really good,” Krob says. “They’re the driving force of the group. They always say it’s my group, and I say no, it’s not mine. It’s ours.

“Hayes can play anything on the keyboard. She’s excellent. And Teresa, her dad was a bass player and she took that up from him, and she’s really, really good too. She plays in probably five or six bands. They’re both very, very very talented. They’re the engines that drive the band and I just gotta make the setlist and show up.”

“I’ve played for so many years. I still get excited, and the nervous juices still start flowing. The switch goes off, it’s time to play, then suddenly as you’re performing it’s all okay. … I don’t really get scared. It’s just enjoyable …” Photo by Savannah Howe

A Grave Intermission

Even dire circumstances could not keep Krob from his love of music: three years ago he suffered a heart attack while practicing the clarinet, and underwent an open heart surgery and hospitalization for complications last year. The road to recovery was rough—and started with a rude awakening about just how much time is left in a life and how it’s being used.

“It was quite the wake-up call,” Krob recalls, tearfully. If his heart attack had a more fatal outcome, he says he’d still be content with how he’s lived his years. He worked at Hormel for 42 years and refereed high school and collegiate ball for 30. “I loved reffing. I got to referee a championship game in the Metrodome years ago. I played in orchestra pits in Albert Lea for a couple plays over there, and I played for “Chicago,” a play out here at the college.”

Understanding the fragility of life, Krob puts meaning in every moment, whether playing pickleball at the Y, enjoying a quiet afternoon with his wife, or having a blast on stage with his band partners.

“I’ve played for so many years. I still get excited, and the nervous juices still start flowing. The switch goes off, it’s time to play, then suddenly as you’re performing it’s all okay. … I don’t really get scared. It’s just enjoyable, really, knowing you can do it in front of a group of people and make mistakes, because even if you do make a mistake it doesn’t matter.”

Standing Ovations and Closing Thoughts

The group recently re-debuted at the country club after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. While Reminisce does not have any gigs on the books for the time being, the crew can be caught playing with the Big Band on June 26 from 6-9 p.m. at the Surf Ballroom.

Krob says that, if there’s any takeaway from his story, it’s that music is important. Both in a community and in the home. He urges musicians of any age or experience level to stick with the practice even when it feels easier not to. And in taking his own advice, even though the ghost of the Terp and what the music scene once was lingers, he will never stop sharing his musical message with his hometown.

“Our advice to parents is don’t let your junior high students quit music,” Krob says. “If you can get them through that rough time, music will become a lifelong pleasure.”

After all, music may bring them to their future spouse, their best friends, their life’s passion — or, as Krob can attest, they just may find all three.