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The family that rocks together...

Thursday, June 26, 2003

"We had basically quit gigging, but the kids wanted to play, and we missed the fun of being on the road to all the northwest Iowa celebrations, so we got it back together again," Randy said of the popular band "Nightwatch."

Music lovers gave the group an enthusiastic welcome at the Linn Grove River Jamboree stage last weekend, and before that, they proved the highlight of the Cherokee Rodeo Parade. They played the big Sioux Empire Fair recently, and upcoming gigs include the Wall Lake Summer Farm Festival, LeMars Ice Cream Days, and a return engagement at the Iowa State Fair. The group is also hoping to arrange a first concert in Storm Lake for Labor Day weekend.

"They're just fantastic, a very professional sound. People are really enjoying their show," said Beth Cathcart, one of the organizers of the Jamboree in Linn Grove.

The band shares the good feelings. "The event was a brand new thing for Linn Grove, and we had a ball there. It's really good, down-home fun, and the people we met there were so nice, I hope they keep doing it for a long, long time," Randy said.

Music is nothing new to this clan, a Partridge family with a bit of a bluesy edge. Randy and Donna met in college at Morningside and formed a duet, which became the starting point of the band "Prairie Fire," which was popular for some years in the Denison area. They went on to play in successful bands throughout the Midwest region, such as Tune Town Deluxe, Radio Flyers and the Time Bandits. Randy and Donna also released a couple of albums of their own original material.

After moving to Kingsley, where both parents teach in the school music programs, the band Nightwatch started to emerge, using different lead singers at times, and touring the area during summers.

At age 15, son Ben joined the group, on bass and vocals. Now 18, he's grown into a powerful singer, and judging from the young ladies in the front rows of recent shows, something of a heartthrob.

Ben has been playing the bass guitar since the sixth grade and has won awards playing the bass at several high school jazz band contests as well as being an outstanding soloist at the 2000, 2001 and 2002 Iowa Jazz Championships. Ben was selected to be a member of the Iowa All-State Jazz Choir in 2001 and 2002 and was featured as a soloist with this select group.

He sings in a variety of styles from the edgy unique sounds of the "Cars" and "Third Eye Blind" to the more mainstream styles of Chad Brock..

Daughter Lexi, 13, has now joined the group on sax. Rounding out the tight combo are Jason Heeren, a friend and band director at Aurelia, and Scott Amsberry, a former student of the Washburns and a veteran of the Tune Town Deluxe days, on lead guitar. Randy and Donna handle drums, guitar and supporting vocals.

The band is tough to typecast. "We play classic hits, pop, rock, some classic country and even jazz rock and a bit of ska from the past few years," Randy said. "We like to play a lot of danceable music for people, a real variety of things."

Nightwatch seems most at home with earthy, bluesy rock - from Sheryl Crow to Fleetwood Mac.

The band produced its own multimedia "enhanced CD" - "Love Finds You" - a couple of years ago, and even filmed its own music video. With a new line-up, they are concentrating on cover tunes this summer, but there's no telling what's ahead.

Ben plans on enrolling at Morningside in the fall, with a music minor and a taste for technology. Lexi is leaning toward a career in music education.

"And here after 22 years playing together, Donna and I really don't know what we're going to be when we grow up," Randy laughed.

The band is available for area bookings throughout the summer, and can be reached at 712-378-3668 or randalw@frontiernet.net.