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Swingin' on the River turns 20

The 20th anniversary of the Hastings show choir competition Swinging' on the River packed the Hastings High School throughout the day. David Clarey / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Hastings Show Choir's Riverside Company performed an exhibition during a home competition on Saturday, Feb. 23. Rick Hardy / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

An army of parents, students and other Hastings Show Choir supporters ensured one of the region's marquee show choir competitions didn't miss a beat Feb. 23.

In Swingin' on the River's 20th year, 18 schools from the Midwest filled Hastings High School with a day-long symphony of synchronized singing, dancing and harmonized sound.

"It's regarded as one of the best competitions in the Midwest, we get really quality groups and people here all day," said Luke Warren, director of Riverside Company, the varsity show choir at Hastings High School. "It's awesome."

While Warren's choir and the two other Hastings' show choirs don't compete — in show choir culture, competition hosts only perform on an exhibition status — each of the roughly 175 students in the program had a job to help run the event. Paired with parents and other supporters, the event this year had more than 400 volunteers that ensured it ran smoothly, estimated Julie Illa, the event's two-time chairperson.

The competition's origins started as a program fundraiser and as a way to bolster the program's reputation, said Lin Warren, the program's former director for 33 years and Luke's father. Plus, there were only two other competitions in Minnesota and starting one in Hastings offered more local choirs an opportunity to compete close to home, he said.

The event was originally held in the old high school, what is now Hastings Middle School, and could only host about eight to 10 teams, he said. Moving to the new high school in 2001 opened the door for it to become a regional competition with almost double the amount of teams.

"(Hosting) brings notoriety to your school all over the Midwest," Warren said. "There's no other fundraisers that we do, it's kind of what a tournament does for sports teams."

The event still acts as the group's main fundraiser and is needed, Illa said. While popular and well regarded, participating in Hastings Show Choir is not cheap.

It costs $1,000 to participate in the varsity-level Riverside choir, which pays for costumes, shoes, makeup and other things, and roughly $350-$450 for the two other choirs, Upstage and Divas.

The fundraiser helps keep those costs from raising any higher, Illa said. It's so important to the program that it even has event insurance to maintain funding if inclement weather or other constraints potentially cancel the event, she said.

"If we didn't have this fundraiser our cost per student would be substantially higher," Illa said.

For Hastings show choir members, they said they are competitive, and even though they don't get to compete, they still relish playing hosts.

"I think everyone is super excited because since we're hosting, we can show off that 'this is our show' without people being more critiquing," said Sawyer Schmitt, a member of Riverside.