Saturday, July 30, 2016
The Jimmy B Orchestra plays its final Omaha dance today, celebrating the 53-year music career of its bandleader-drummer. But before hanging up his sticks, Jim Bochnicek wanted to make one last road trip, just like the old days.
So last Sunday at the Tara Plaza in Papillion he loaded up his drum set, instruments and other equipment and joined fans and bandmates on a bus to the Lake Robbins Ballroom, northwest of Des Moines.
“I remember when we played in Canada one weekend,” said Bochnicek, 70. “We left Omaha on a Thursday morning, played Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and got back late Monday or early Tuesday morning.”
Jim Bochnicek performs with his band, The Jimmy B Orchestra, at Lake Robbins Ballroom on Sunday, July 24, 2016, in Woodward, Iowa. Bochnicek will be retiring after the band and their final performance will be held today at the Sokol Hall.
Lots of big bands once traveled widely to play at ballrooms, often in small towns and drawing good crowds. Now attendance is dwindling, and an era is passing.
Last week’s trip, each way, was 150 miles and 2½ hours. On the bus, just as he is on the bandstand, Jim was a genial host. Bus riders got a bit more: He passed out fruit, sausage and crackers and engaged them with wisecracks and his cackling laughter.
“Jimmy is gregarious, always connected with his audience, said Janet Staley, in her 15th year as his band’s female vocalist. “He is one of the most honest, genuine people I’ve ever known, just a really good soul.”
There’s much more to being a musician than playing music, especially if you’re the leader of the band: booking gigs, lining up musicians, creating playlists, setting up the stage and more. And if there are any problems or questions, they come your way.
For a year and a half there’s been no question that Jimmy B was winding down — he kept it no secret — and he planned this trip well. The bus arrived more than two hours ahead of the 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. gig at Lake Robbins, where his band in recent decades has played about three times a year.
The unloading and the setup began. And there was Jim, on his hands and knees, hooking up sound wiring. Others helped set up loudspeakers and places for members of the 11-piece band.
As showtime neared, the leader changed into a tux, adjusted his bow tie and made sure everyone was ready. Drumsticks in hand, he told the band: “OK, let’s hit it!”