This past weekend I attended the 45th Anniversary celebration of the day that Scottish pop-rock band Bay City Rollers appeared in their namesake city of Bay City, Michigan.
This weekend was filled with meeting new friends, Roller games, and so much more; this is a long post with a lot of pictures, so get comfy.
Bay City Roller Day Celebration Back In The Day
I was there on August 24, 1977 when the Rollers signed the mural, put their hands in cement, and were awarded the key to the city.
At the time it was an absolutely momentous occasion: I’d never seen any of my teen idols in person and here they were all the way from Scotland and practically in my own back yard.
Bay City is about an hour from where I grew up and, although bands definitely came to the area, it’s mostly rural with farms and fields within easy reach of any town.
So I was there with my friend, Gena, and her mom and little brother. We sat outside in front of city hall all day waiting for the Rollers.
We were there with an estimated 3.000+ fans and the band was at the height of their US popularity. The song “You Made Me Believe In Magic” was running up the charts.
Fans chanted “B-A-Y-B-A-Y-B-A-Y-C-I-T-Y with an R-O-double L-E-R-S, Bay City Rollers are the best” and “S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y NIGHT,” “We want the Rollers,” and more.
Then, after what seemed like forever, they were in front of us, live, almost so close you could touch them. Or, could try to touch them – they were on a raised platform and security was very tight.
I don’t remember much of what actually happened that day. To be honest, sitting in the hot sun with a crowd of people is one of my least enjoyable activities ever. We did see the newly signed and painted mural on the way home.
A couple days later, my parents took Gena and I to see the Rollers at the State Fair in Detroit. And, after that, I went home to that tiny town and blue bedroom, and kept writing letters to Roller fans around the world.
The Rollers quickly dropped from the charts and from most people’s minds. And, to be honest, they were out of my thoughts for a long time, too. Definitely by the end of college I’d found other musical interests and the pen pals had dwindled.
Still, that time being in love with the boy band from Scotland has never left my tartan heart. And this weekend at the Bay City Roller Day Celebration, it all came roaring back.
BCR Fan Events
I learned about this weekend because I follow the most excellent BCR Fan Events. This group offers “internationally fan-driven, fan-funded, and fan-produced events that celebrate the Bay City Rollers and the lifelong friendships that have resulted and endured for nearly fifty years.” Here is their Facebook group.
The group also is behind the podcast, “Dedication – Fans Remember The Bay City Rollers.” Hosted by Suz and Laura, the podcast has featured original Rollers Derek Longmuir and Nobby Clark, other key people in the history of the Rollers, and (oh my!)- fan stories.
This Bay City Roller Day celebration weekend was not hosted or sponsored by BCR Fan Events. However, without that group, I wouldn’t have learned about this weekend.
Rebel, Dawn, Cathy, Becky & Jan
This weekend organized and hosted by the amazing
- Rebel D’Elia,
- Dawn Scroggins,
- Cathy Rice,
- Becky Hall, and
- Jan Zalewski.
The weekend was held at the Comfort Inn, Bay City, which is right by the events of the Bay City Rollers day in 1977. That also makes it just a short walk from downtown Bay City with shopping, food, and more.
Walking into the hotel I was greeting almost immediately by (I think) Jan who said, “You must be here for the Roller event.”
How could she tell? Any Roller fan could because I had on a tartan shirt, was carrying a tartan purse, and was wearing a t-shirt from Bay City Roller Fan Events that says, “Girls Gone Plaid.”
Right away, this introvert felt welcomed and appreciated; those awesome feels kept coming all weekend.
Bay City Roller Day Celebration – The First Day
I checked into my room, unpacked and made myself comfortable. Then I scooted downstairs for the first (non-Roller related) event: a walking tour of Bay City’s historic “Hell’s Half Mile.” A good size group of Roller fans participated in this walking tour.
The history of the Saginaw valley is rife with stories from the lumbering era. Lumber was big business back in the 1850s-1890s and this area boomed because of the vast expanse of old growth forest.
Rugged men spent winters chopping trees in tea-totaling camps and then, come the first spring rush, delivered the felled timber to sawmills that lined the Saginaw river. Then, as it were, they’d party like it’s 1999 – or maybe 1899.
Seriously, though, they’d whoop it up like something you probably can’t imagine. Bay County Historical Museum educational coordinator Sam Fitzpatrick gave us an absolutely fascinating peek into that raucous history. Just think notorious, dirty, robberies, fights, stabbings, and vile wickedness and you’re about halfway there.
The Hell’s Half Mile refers to an area of downtown Bay City that run along Water and Saginaw Streets. These days it’s a lovely area for shopping and dining.
There was plenty of free time this weekend, and I spent more than my fair share at the superb My Secret Garden and clothing store Uptown Girl. Of course I bought a fluffy tartan shirt for winter.
Dinner the first night was at Tavern 101 where more Roller fans joined, and then we all went back to the hotel for fun and games.
Bay City Roller Day Celebration Party
So imagine your teenage bedroom filled with all sorts of Bay City Roller stuff: pins, shirts, tote bags, albums, fan magazines, pictures, and posters – oh, the posters. Now turn the volume up and that’s what walking into the party room at the Comfort Inn resembled.
(You might need a Bay City Roller musical background to accompany the next part. Go find them on Spotify or here’s my playlist on YouTube. I’ll wait…)
Here’s a quick video of the room as it was being readied for the party. It starts with a BCR shower curtain (yes – shower curtain) that was auctioned off later in the night.
- There’s another shower curtain (don’t you just love these men in kilts?)
- Then you see a prize table,
- a participants table,
- some yummy snacks,
- some of the organizers,
- the auction table,
- one of the posters we all had in our rooms,
- and a memorial table for Alan, Ian, and Les.
Sally of Hope and Help for Sal’s Tribe and Bay City Rollers Memorabilia Auction (and a former pen pal of mine) organized an amazing auction. Look, if you were a Roller fan, you’d be drooling at all that was on offer!
I won a tartan tote bag and, while playing a game, won a Eucalyptus candle. Other goodies that all attendees received:
And this t-shirt!
Bay City Roller Day Celebration Games
You had to be quite the Roller fan to play any of these games, let me tell you. And I was so busy talking, laughing, and eating a cupcake (and turning my mouth blue) that I wasn’t playing to win. I don’t think anyone really was: this weekend was all about comradery.
I mean, how could it not be about fun and friendship if both Woody and Eric knew we were gathering in Bay City? Woody posted a picture of his key to the city and wondered what the key opened. Eric wrote a note on a post-it that said,
Hi, Hope that everyone heading to Bay City, Michigan this weekend has a great time – well done Rebel, Becky, and all the organisers. As I’ve got the key to the city and if you are locked in – I’m your man.”
So those games I mentioned… there was:
- Roller bingo,
- name that song based on a super short music clip, guess the BCR song based on lyrics,
- a word search,
- and even a “Spot The Errors” copied from 16 Magazine back in the day.
Another game was “What’s in your phone” where each participant received points for things like
- a Bay City Roller lock or home screen,
- a contact named Alan, Derek, Leslie, Woody or Eric,
- a photo of the Rollers or a Roller,
- a Scottish recipe, a selfie in Roller gear,
- a Roller Pinterest site,
- and for every contact beginning with a B, C. and R.
Here’s a glance at the prize table and some of the games. I found that last word in the word search (Arista -as in Arista Records-) just after I snapped the picture.
Bay City Rollers Celebration Day Two – City Hall!
Day two of the celebration weekend we gathered on the steps of the City Hall of Bay City. That’s where the Rollers put their handprints into cement and where they were granted the key to the city (and that’s where I was that day in 1977.)
We took several group shots then moved over to the historical museum to tour the Michigan Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit. Founder of the hall of fame Gary Johnson gave us a brief introduction to how the exhibit came to be at the Bay City museum and talked a bit about some of the things we were about to see.
I spied a pencil drawing and postcard of the City Hall nearby.
And then we climbed these steep stairs…
And turned to the right.
Bay City Roller Day Celebration – The Handprints
For years, Rebel d’Elia had been working to get the handprints on display somewhere in Bay City. The handprints were on display years ago, then disappeared, then historical society members just didn’t respond…the usual drama.
But through the years, Rebel has persistently called and finally – finally! The handprints are on display!
When you turn to the right at the top of the stairs there is a blue hallway. And along the right side of that blue hallway is the Rollers.
Below that black and white photo are the handprints. You’d better believe many a Bay City Day celebrant held her hands up to her favorite Roller’s hands – and yes, they sure would fit together nicely.
We were all in awe.
After spending time looking at other exhibits we had plenty of free time. Some of us went to have lunch. My new friend Jan and I went to Gatsby’s (and ended up seeing other Roller friends there, too.)
Later that day some people went to a Rick Springfield concert while others hung around the hotel or went to eat. I had a delicious dinner and conversation at Old City Hall. There was also tiramisu, too.
Bay City Roller Day Celebration – Goodbyes
All too soon it was Sunday morning and we said goodbyes over breakfast in the hotel lobby. On the way home I reflected on the weekend.
I spent so many years trying to forget that I’d ever been a fan of the Rollers – being cool and liking cool bands was more important. And it’s a shame, really, because the women I met this weekend were incredible. Some of them have been friends since waaaay back in the day. And the stories?
Oh my! The stories they could (and did) tell. Some had met the Rollers multiple times, Many had never seen the Rollers in concert. Some were pulled into the phenomena of Rollermania by friends and others, like me, saw them on Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell and were smitten. Lord knows it was a bad show, but the Rollers were on twice and I was glue to the TV both times.
The other very cool thing about liking the Rollers was having pen pals. And I mentioned that Sally (at the time going by “Sunshine”) was a pen pal of mine…but I had pen pals from around the world. Here are some of them:
Pen pals opened the world for me. I’d get a letter from Japan, one from Germany, and another from California on the same day. A week could bring twenty or more letters.
We shared news from our lives and -of course- the Rollers. We shared cassette tape recordings of the radio, clippings from teen magazines, photos, photo negatives – so much.
At this Roller event, I took a big book of letters that I’d saved. And several people sat down and looked through those letters and look at the names. Those names brought up memories and sure enough, I was reconnected with THREE of old pen pals. That’s just amazing after 45 years!
This was such a fun weekend and everyone – and I mean everyone – was so warm and welcoming. I’d love to come to other events in the future.
Maybe someone will bow out of the Tartan Day event next year so I, too, can march up Sixth Avenue in NYC with a whole slew of other Roller fans. I’d have to be sporting both Wallace and Leslie tartans, mind you.
Did you have pen pals? Were you infatuated with a boy band?
The main character in the novel I’m working on loves the Bay City Rollers!
After this post was out in the world, I was contacted by one of the organizers of the event. I quite literally did not realize that the event hadn’t been sponsored by Bay City Rollers Fan Events, and have changed the post to reflect my new understanding. My apologies for the confusion.
A spot opened up on the Tartan Day walk, and I will now be going to New York City in April! I’m so excited about this and already starting to think about how to represent Clan Wallace and Leslie. I may even throw in something for Cameron as that’s my great-great grandmother’s Clan on the paternal side of the family.
BCR Fan Events had their original Facebook group taken down for copyright infringement; in what sounds like a personal vendetta, one of the organizers also had their personal page and more removed from Facebook. This is wrong. I’ve updated this blog to show the NEW link for the new and renamed group and I fully support BCR Fan Events.
Loved this account of your time in Bay City! I was there in front of city hall in 1977 too! I should have come to this event but couldn’t make it. So glad everyone had such a great time!
Julie Wallace says
Thank you, Wendy. Where were you at city hall in 77? I was to the right of Eric sitting along the wall. Hope you can come to the next event!
Lorrie Crossfield says
Great blog, Julie! It was a pleasure to meet you. Seeing a school mate’s name on your penpals list made me realize even more what a small world this really is.
You never truly grow out of your adolescence. At least I never did. It’s a very special part of you life. It’s when you started making some of your own choices, and the music you loved at that time never really leaves your heart. It becomes a part of your soul.
Thank you for sharing this. Hope to see you again in NYC.
Julie Wallace says
Thank you, Lorrie! It really is a small world – in so many ways 🙂 My Roller years were very special indeed.:)
Helena Dixon says
This was such a fab post. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for such an amazing account of the weekend! I wish I could have been there! I hope you make it to NYC!! KOR!
Julie Wallace says
Thank you, Kym 🙂 I’m glad the blog post made you feel part of the weekend. KOR!
Suzanne Osterwisch says
Loved reading this! You summed up the weekend very well. Sorry I didn’t get to talk to you more. I love that you were pen-pals with Sally and got to meet her.
Julie Wallace says
Thanks Suzanne, I’m glad you enjoyed the weekend. I’m sure we’ll get to talk at the next event – whenever that is.
Thanks for the lovely article! We had great fun planning the event, I especially had fun making the Roller phone game and Roller Bingo. I hated that I could not be there Friday night but I had a blast once I got there. I also loved sitting and chatting Sunday morning! Once a fan girl always a fan girl, whether it be Donny Osmond, the Rollers or more recent groups. KOR
Julie Wallace says
You guys did such an amazing job, and it was so much fun – I just had to share with the world! And now we know who to blame for that Roller phone game 🙂
Wow! Thanks for the great blog and account Julie, of your fabulous weekend in Bay City!! Would have loved to have gone! A bit far from Australia though. In saying that I am off to the UK next month to go to see Les’ bench and pay our respects, to the Scottish Music exhibition in Liverpool, then 4 fabulous days (mostly) in Hawick doing lots of Eric things and meeting BCR fans that we’ve only talked to online, video chat, etc. I’m sure it will be as fun as your weekend and make lifelong friends.
PS. Would’ve loved to have been penpals back in the day. I did have an American pen pal from Pittsburgh but it was before we both knew about the BCRs.
Bea Wallace says
What a great description of your exciting weekend. How I remember to the Detroit State Fairgrounds and all the excitement.