The small group of excited youngsters perched on their bikes at the top of the slope where the road climbs into Forest Grove. They were sticky with sweat and dust but they never noticed. They were going to be the first people to see the beginning of one of the main events in the Grove summer.
All of a sudden a flash of sun on a heavy chrome bumper announced the arrival of Evan Kemp! It was really him! Evan Kemp, famous radio and recording star. All the way from Vancouver. The Golden Voice of the West is what they called him.
His long white convertible purred up the rise, its hardware spectacular. Never mind that it was coated with grit from the gravel road. And there he was, looking exactly like he did in the poster tacked up at Felker’s Store and on telephones poles as far out as the resorts on Canim Lake. When the posters were sent out in the spring, it was with the promise that any business that displayed a poster would be given a free ticket to the show.
His oiled hair was slicked back under his cowboy hat, his black shirt snapped up the front with mother-of-pearl buttons. He saluted his young fans and tossed a handful of candies their way like an emperor with gold coins.
And there in the front seat beside Kemp sat another star, the lovely Shirley Field, a protege of Kemps’ who performed on his show, singing and yodelling with him. Kemps’ band, The Trail Riders, followed in a separate car, grinning and waving through the cloud of dust from the star’s car ahead of them.
As the cars crawled past the store, the gas station and the racetrack on the corner, the welcoming committee increased. Teenage girls in rolled-up jeans waved back at the star in a flutter of giggles. Mothers with scarves covering their bobby-pinned heads jiggled their babies’ hands. Boys showed off, wobbling on their bikes close to the cars.
When the procession pulled into the parking lot at the community hall more enthusiastic fans waiting on the high steps cheered and applauded. The star and his entourage climbed out of the cars, wiping sweat from their faces with back pocket handkerchiefs and began unloading instruments and bags.
The bike riders headed home for suppers they could barely sit through. Afterward, the children’s faces were swiped clean and mothers with nicely curled hair walked with them to the hall.
The parking lot was jammed and the road was lined with cars as far as the corner.
Inside the hall, the air was thick with excitement. Although everyone had been listening to Evan Kemp and The Trail Riders for years on the radio, the reception was often limited in some areas, so in communities scattered across B.C. and the Prairies the opportunity to see such well-known stars in person was a major highlight of the year.
For a couple of hours, Kemp’s familiar smooth voice filled the hall as he sang his standards, such as The Jessica Waltz and The Beautiful Nicola Valley. The music drifted to the folks who stood outside. He sang duets and yodeled with Shirley Field who delighted the audience with her hit, Ski Rock. The Trail Riders ran through a few instrumental pieces and their steel guitar player rocked Midnight Ryder.
When the show was over, the hall slowly emptied. The crowd, the cars and the pick-ups disappeared into the night. Quiet settled over the Grove like the afterglow from a star. Evan Kemp would be back the next summer.
During the late 1950s and into the 60s he continued his summer tours. Eventually, his name was enshrined in a star in Vancouver’s Entertainment Walk of Fame.