Jumpin’ and Jivin’

 Kristi Kates – February 27th, 2016

WITH THE UP NORTH BIG BANDTwenty years’ worth of a twenty-piece musical outfit is a lot of history to keep straight. There are so many past members of The Up North Big Band (The UNBB) that current band leader Joshua Raber, for all his diligence, can’t even name them all. Still, it’s safe to say that all the musicians who have been part of The UNBB have contributed to a distinctive swing dance and big band scene in northern Michigan, helping the art forms make recurrent comebacks, as the genre proves its longevity.


“The band was founded in 1996 and was led for a time by Frank North,” Raber said. “John Barendson took over leadership for a year or two, then Karl Gilewicz took over and led for the next 15 years, with the band rehearsing in what was then Karl’s Pastry Shop in Charlevoix.”

A few of the original members are still with The UNBB, but at their very first rehearsal, only about a half dozen members actually showed up.

“Bob Bellaris didn’t even have a drum set at the time,” Raber chuckled.


The inspiration for the band was to give a group of former band students an opportunity to play the swing music they grew up loving.

“Along with former teachers and musicians who also loved the music of that era,” Raber added. “That, in turn, started the monthly dance series, so the band would have the chance to play out once a month.”

Their vintage sound caught on fast; the group was invited to play at weddings and other special events, as well as at Traverse City’s National Cherry Festival. Today, the Charlevoix-based group continues to perform swing music from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s at their weekly dances and other appearances, with the occasional waltz, Latin tune or couple of polkas thrown in for good measure.


Raber was invited to join the band as a saxophonist in the summer of 2006, and he’s been in The UNBB ever since.

“About five years ago, Karl [Gilewicz] approached me and told me he was going to step down from the band and he wanted me to take over leadership,” he explained.

This year marks Raber’s 10th year with the band; he agreed that 20 years is a long time.

“Being truthful, there have been some down times in the band where I thought maybe it’d be our last year,” he said, “but it seems after every passing year, the band just grows stronger.”


Remarkably, for all the support of local music and the music festivals and events that abound in the region, there are still local folks who have no idea that there’s a 20-piece big band going strong right here in northern Michigan.

“I still run into people who don’t know we exist or have never been to a dance,” Raber said, “but we do have people driving up from Traverse City and down from the U.P. to hear us. I attribute that to all the passion the band members bring to each event; they really do love this music and it shows with how they perform.”


While swing dancing goes in and out of fashion, with its last big comeback roughly 10 years ago, it never really goes away, which is good news for both The UNBB and diehard fans of the genre.

“Nationally, I’d say that big band music hasn’t gained any more momentum, or lost any,” Raber said. “Here in northern Michigan, I find it goes through four- to five-year turnarounds. We’re at a special time right now where we have lots of kids coming to enjoy the music and the live band and dance setting. I was one of those kids at one time; that’s how this band has lasted 20 years.”

CUTTING A RUG Attending an Up North Big Band show is definitely a fun listen. The band even kicked off their 20th year with — what else?— a big 20th anniversary dance, with more swing music celebrations on the way throughout 2016.

If you’re at one of their shows, you’ll probably find that your feet want to get moving, too, even if you don’t know how to swing dance. Never fear — The UNBB is here to help.

“We offer free dance lessons at the beginning of each show,” Raber confirmed. “The lesson is 45 minutes long and teaches basic swing steps and a few other moves. Aside from that, there are a lot of regular dancers who love to help beginners and show them how to cut a rug!”

For more on The Up North Big Band and a current schedule of shows and dances across northern Michigan, visit

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, YOUR UP NORTH BIG BAND!On saxophones: Russ Clubine, Tom Harder, Dr. Tim Ismond, Carl Mumma, Gus Paz and Karen Williams

On trombones: Larry Flynn, Aaron Hotelling, Tony Malkowski and Al Soloman

On trumpets: Roger Bashore, Tyler Melke, Dave Sawtelle and Rich Wagner

Your singers: Joann Beemon and Bill Tribble

And your rhythm section: Rick Beemon, Bob “Pops” Bellaris, Bob Lahti and Mark Muniak

Petoskey News Review article 12-7-12

Have a swingin’ good time

UNBB Dance PNRCouples enjoy swing dancing in October of this  year at the North Central Michigan College cafeteria. The next swing dancing  event takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 14, at North Central Michigan
College in Petoskey. (file photo / December 7, 201

Once a month, from October through January, the college cafeteria transforms into a swing era ballroom out of history complete with a live big band ensemble.

“Honestly, you don’t hear music played like this nowadays,” said Josh Raber, member of the Up North Big Band. “That’s why it’s so important to keep this history alive.”Live big band music, explains Raber, showcases raw talent and depends on human proficiency. Alternatively, modern  music relies on digital correction and electronic manipulation.

Featuring the Up North Big Band, these dances capture the magic and energy of the bygone swing era. The 18-piece orchestra has been performing for almost 20 years; it aims to preserve the sounds of the big band era and specializes in music of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s.

The next swing dancing event takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 14, at North Central Michigan College in Petoskey. The latest dances have averaged 80 to 100 attendees.

Beginners are encouraged to attend a free instructional portion at 6:45 p.m., before the main event starts. Band members instruct attendees in the Lindy and jitterbug dance styles.

“Don’t be afraid to show up and look stupid trying to learn,” advises Raber. “It doesn’t matter what your skill level is; everyone is out there having fun.”

Blissfest Music Organization sponsors this dance series. The group strives to share the cultural significance of big band music and swing dancing, as well as provide an exciting outlet for socialization.

Big band music, commonly associated with jazz and swing music, originated in the 1930s and quickly gained popularity with teenage and young adult audiences. Its upbeat rhythms gave way to iconic American swing-dance styles such as the Lindy Hop, Lindy Charleston and jitterbug.

The series ends its winter season with a dance on Jan. 25; the spring season begins in March. Each event is $10 for adults, $6 for those under 18 years and free for children under 5.

Blissfest Music Organization also hosts country dances at various locations.

For further information about either dance series, visit To learn more about the Up North Big Band, contact Josh Raber at (231) 675-8311 or visit the website
Copyright © 2012, Petoskey News

Ladies and gentlemen…Mr. Dave Pugh