Bud Light Brigade: Making music since 1985

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Pictured, the Bud Light Brigade marches in this year’s Porta Westfalica Festival parade. 

A few weeks before the 1985 Valmeyer Mid-Summer Celebration, the village was having a familiar problem: finding a band to perform in the parade. 

It was always a challenge, with local bands already being booked and school bands being disbanded for the summer. 

Then, Dennis Knobloch and Bill Reheis, who worked at the same bank at the time, had an idea.

They called a few friends together who were part of the Waterloo Municipal Band and asked them if they would like to play in the parade as a makeshift group.

Thirty minutes before the event, the 13 men practiced a few songs then performed as the Basic Generic Band while clad in white shirts, black pants and plastic foam skimmer hats. 

Knobloch said the group benefited from its members playing at least somewhat regularly. 

“It wasn’t like we grabbed anybody who hadn’t played for 20 years,” he noted.  “I think we sounded pretty good because we caught the ear of John Koerber (of Koerber Distributing) and within a few days we had a sponsorship arrangement with them.” 

Thirty-five years later, the band, now known as the Bud Light Brigade, has become a staple of local parades and events. 

That was not something the original members anticipated when they decided to continue the band because they had fun. 

“When we first started we all sat around and talked about the group and the future of the group,” Knobloch, who has been the band’s director for much of its life, recalled.
“And we thought ‘this is fun now. Let’s just plan that we may last five years for this group and have fun and see how it goes.’”

In addition to Knobloch and Reheis, original Bud Light Brigade band members were Glen Lutz, Russ Wolf, Jule Boyer, Charlie Janson, Dennis Rippelmeyer, Keith Mechler, Jeff Vogt, Bill Schmidt, Jim Dillenberger, Jerry Berry and Doug Berry. 

Soon after securing sponsorship from Koerberg Distributing, the band increased in size. It also changed its uniform to fit a more structured and military theme and got a new name. 

About five weeks after its first performance, the Basic Generic Band – so named because its color scheme resembled that of many generic products’ packaging – performed as the Bud Light Brigade at a chili cook-off hosted by the Columbia Women’s Club. 

Knobloch said the group decided on the name, which references the Charge of the Light Brigade, to fit with the military theme and because Bud Light was a relatively new beer product in 1985. 

“That was kind of the hot item at that time,” Knobloch explained, noting it was Koerber’s suggestion. 

From there, the group kept expanding. It carries 70-75 musicians on its roster, with 25-35 participating in most events. 

“That’s one of the things that has helped keep us going,” Knobloch said. “Everybody doesn’t feel like they have to be at every job.”

About 250 people have played in the band during its existence.

Those individuals have learned dozens of songs, as the band started with about 15-20 pieces of music in its repertoire but now has around 100. It has about 250 in its total catalog. 

It has played those tunes at a variety of events, primarily in the area. 

It has also been able to branch out because it has been sponsored by distributors like Koerber Distributing, Illinois Distributing and Grey Eagle Distributing throughout its life. 

Those opportunities have included performing at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, Busch Stadium and at the VFW National Convention in St. Louis in 2014. 

Knobloch said that performance was a highlight of the band’s history. 

“It was a great venue, parading down the streets of St. Louis with all of the veterans who were there,” he said. “We played the military salute song that we do throughout the entire parade route and the people were so appreciative of hearing those songs.”

Knobloch said the sponsorship has helped it in other ways, too. 

“People have found us to be a very unique group because of the sponsorship,” he said. “It’s helped because its given us a venue for helping with the kinds of things we need for purchasing equipment, music, uniforms and things like that so we can go out on the street with a more polished look.”

At least in part because of that help, the Bud Light Brigade donates proceeds from its performances to local charitable and educational causes. 

Knobloch estimated the band has donated more than $75,000 in cash since 1985 and well over $100,000 when benefit work is included. 

That does not look like it will stop soon because the group is still going strong. 

“We’ve got four of those original 13 members and a good nucleus of folks who became involved with the group during the first five years,” Knobloch said. “I think it kind of proves we’ve got a good thing going.” 

To learn more about the Bud Light Brigade, attend Knobloch’s presentation on the history of the band on Aug. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Monroe County History Museum in Waterloo.

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