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If you go
What: Tippy Dance Hall Reunion and Family Night
Where: Tippy Dance Hall, 293 Ems T25 Lane, Leesburg
When: 8 p.m. today
Admission: $15 adults; 12 and younger free; for information, call 765-744-6214
Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
The Tippy Dance Hall is on Tippecanoe Lake about 50 miles northwest of Fort Wayne.

Tippy still gives reason to dance

Lake Tippecanoe hall once hosted legends; now it’s having a reunion

The hall has been in operation since it opened as the Arcadia in the early 20th century.
Michigan-based band Sixth Generation will provide entertainment Sunday as it frequently did at the Tippy almost 50 years ago.
Posters show the names of some of the bands that came to the hall in the ’60s.

The Tippy Dance Hall on Tippecanoe Lake opened as the Arcadia roughly 25 years before Embassy Theatre opened as the Emboyd.

And, unlike the Embassy, it has been in continuous operation ever since.

Total destruction by fire barely slowed it down. Legend has it that when fire annihilated the venue in the summer of 1934, co-owner “Pappy” Crooke had a new dance floor built in time for opening night and patrons danced under the stars.

Today, the Tippy Dance Hall, aka “the Tippy,” will host a reunion show that will commemorate one of its many heydays, the ’60s.

It was a time when the venue, through prescient booking, managed to host a number of acts and performers that were just about to break big, including Eric Clapton.

The Sixth Generation, a recently reunited and largely Michigan-based band, will provide the entertainment today as it frequently did at the Tippy almost 50 years ago.

Even when entertainment at the Tippy was provided by gramophones and nickelodeons, a certain trend was established that has hardly been deviated from since: The Tippy has been a place for summer people, mostly teens, to enjoy nights of distinctively summery entertainment.

Robert Paton is the third generation of Patons to own the Tippy. He said his Indianapolis-based grandfather George H. Paton traveled from town to town in the early 1900s trying to convince drug stores to sell Sherwin Williams paint, and he “would always try to end up at the lake when he could.”

Paton said his grandfather sold the first outboard motor that was ever used on Lake Tippecanoe. He later serviced such motors on the lake, opened the Patona Bay Marina and Resort (still in operation after more than 80 years) and bought the Tippy with his son in 1956.

For a while, the Tippy made the most of the twilight of the big-band era, as many similar vacation spots were doing at the time. The orchestras of Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Louis Armstrong and Ray Charles performed there in the ’50s, Paton said.

“Down at Indiana Beach, they had a ballroom just about the same style,” he said. “Several of these bands would tour the Midwest in the summer, making their way all around all the ballrooms at that time.”

After a number of years during which DJs from Fort Wayne and Chicago would host record hops at the Tippy, Paton said his family connected with a booker out of South Bend named Ken Morris.

Popular music would break from the past several times and in several ways in the ’60s, and Morris was on top of all of it, Paton said.

“He knew what was up,” Paton said. “He always seemed to catch them right before they’d scored their first gold record.”

According to Paton and several sources, the Tippy hosted such historically significant and enduringly frivolous acts in the ’60s as the Royal Guardsmen (“Snoopy and the Red Baron”), the Kingsmen (“Louie Louie”), Strawberry Alarm Clock (“Incense and Peppermints”), the Byrds (“Turn! Turn! Turn!”), the American Breed (“Bend Me, Shape Me”), the Ventures (“Wipe Out”), the Buckinghams (“Kind of a Drag”), the Tremelos (“Here Comes My Baby”), Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, the McCoys (“Hang on Sloopy”), the Spencer Davis Group (probably without member Steve Winwood) and the Yardbirds (almost certainly with member Eric Clapton).

The opening act for many of these proto-legends was the Sixth Generation, out of Niles, Mich.

“It was a very exciting time,” said the band’s keyboardist Ron Hamrick. “It was a well-known place. All sorts of people were drawn to the Tippy, not just people around the lake. They’d come in from all over. The crowds were enthusiastic. It was all just non-stop dancing and fun.”

After scoring a modest hit with “This is the Time,” the Sixth Generation disbanded in 1969 when its members went off to college, Hamrick said.

More than 40 years later, the bassist’s daughter asked him why the band hadn’t considered reuniting.

“He couldn’t think of a good reason not to, and it took off from that point,” Hamrick said.

The band surely must have known it was on the right track when 40 fans motivated by word-of-mouth showed up at the first practice in four decades.

Since that day two years ago, the Sixth Generation was inducted into the Michigan Rock Legends Hall of Fame and played its first Tippy Reunion Show in 2011.

Even though the Tippy has been a teen dance club specializing in electronic and urban music since the ’80s, Hamrick said the kids who showed up to the reunion last year seemed to enjoy the Sixth Generation.

“It was very interesting,” he said. “All the old fans came back, of course. When the younger kids started coming in, it was amazing how they were drawn out to the dance floor. They were having such a ball with the music of the ’60s.

“I don’t know if any of them were really familiar with it. It was wonderful to see all those kids out there thoroughly enjoying themselves.

“A couple of young men came and asked my wife to dance,” Hamrick added.

The Tippy is apparently the sort of place where old folks can teach young ones a thing or two, and young ones can be moved by encounters with older ones.

Current manager Jeff Hill recalled a day about three years ago when an elderly gentleman dropped by the Tippy.

“I want to say he was in his early 90s at the time,” he said. “His son looked to be in his 60s, and he’d brought his dad in there. They had knocked on the door and said, ‘Can we come in and take a look at the club?’ His dad was pretty much on his death bed and was just getting out to go revisit things he did as a kid.

“He walked around the ballroom, stopped, looked at the ceiling and the wall and said, ‘This is exactly where I met my wife.’

“She’d passed away a couple of years before,” Paton said. “I think they’d been married 63 years before she passed away.”