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Musicians play for tips, donate funds to SEAS band

Six times this past winter, a group of musicians in their 60s gathered on the second floor of the Onion Grille in downtown Hastings to play music.

Originally, it was a sort of throw-back to part of Hastings' past. Musicians Pat Wagner, Paul Peine, John McGree, Bob Blough and Rick Truax, all of whom graduated from Hastings High School around 1971 and 1972, remembered when local bars had Sunday afternoon jam sessions, during which musicians would come to play, said Augie LaRenzie, one of the musicians.

So they talked to Wendy Agen, owner of The Onion Grille, to see if they could play in the banquet hall upstairs there.

"It kind of evolved into this event," LaRenzie said.

There were no formal bands, just a bunch of duos or trios who like to play acoustic music. At first, they were only going to do two sessions, but they ended up doing six, every other Sunday afternoon. As the event took hold, more people started joining the lineup.

It was just a get-together, LaRenzie said, but they averaged more than 100 people in the audience each session. They put out a hat for donations, and over the course of the six sessions, the musicians raised $800.

"It was really fun, and we were surprised at how much money we made," he said.

While there was some expense to putting on the sessions, the musicians decided to donate the money rather than keep it. They decided to give it to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School, to be used to support its music program and to help provide instruments to students who can't afford their own.

The musicians hope to do a similar event during Rivertown Days and again next winter. LaRenzie said he hopes to do eight sessions next year, holding to the same format.

LaRenzie expressed his appreciation to Agen for the donations she's made through The Onion Grille. Besides giving them the space to play, she donated a dinner for all of the musicians.

"She's been really good about helping us," he said.