SPECTATE OR PARTICIPATE?
The Groundhog Goal Extravaganza
One picture to represent each month of 2019...
I call it "Pic A Dozen 2019"
Wow. A dozen days already went by in 2020 and I haven't yet posted my annual Pic-A-Dozen post. I challenge you to do this for yourself... Can you choose just one picture for each month of 2019 to represent a special moment, doing something fun, seeing family or friends? Use either a picture of you or a picture that you took. When you take a look back, I'm sure you'll see it really was a good year... maybe that's why you're feeling a bit TIRED! Ha! Good Year Tired... Get It? WARNING: This a lot harder than it seems. I'm stressing out and getting frustrated trying to pick that one shot that highlights that month. But then to put it all in perspective I just recite this mantra to myself... "You think you got problems? Be glad you're not a math book!" Here is my year in review:
We finally did it! We hosted a Surprise Barbarian Spaghetti Dinner- Spaghetti with no plates and no traditional utensils. We did let our surprised guests pick out totally worthless utensils and they didn't know what the utensil would be used for. We took turns trying the 3 levels of Barbarian: 1) no hands 2) hands only 3) worthless utensils. To add even more fun to the night, our guests Brock and Whitney brought their 4 year-old son!
The Trojan Rabbit Rides Again! In 2018, Our friend Nicole Nigh Hondros built (and crashed) this Monty Python Trojan Rabbit for South Haven's Cardboard Sled Race. Just over a month later, Nicole unexpectedly passed away. In February, we rebuilt and reinforced the same Trojan Rabbit to race in memory of Nicole. Our friends Joyce and Frankie from Ohio piloted the rabbit down the hill and were quite grateful that they didn't crash. I think the most fun we had was watching Barb drive her truck with the giant cardboard rabbit towering above her truck!
What a unique experience this was... Barb and I got to ice skate on Lake Michigan! The South Haven Lighthouse is behind me in this picture. The conditions actually made this activity much safer than it sounds. That big iceberg/snow drift behind me separated the dangerous part of the lake from this shallow beach water that froze. It was a bit bumpy but flat enough to skate on. It was a very fun winter experience!
On Thursday, April 4th I got to experience a happy collision of two of my worlds. The Association For Applied and Therapeutic Humor (an organization that I've been somewhat involved in since 2003) was having their annual conference in Oak Brook, Illinois and our Beatles Polka Band, Sgt. Sauerkraut's Polka Band
got to entertain the conference participants (and some of my favorite people on the planet) at their opening night party. Such a fun time and a GREAT AUDIENCE!
In August of 2018, I semi-retired my famous Yellow Submarine and planned a new Beatles contraption... The Abbey Roadster- a 7-headed Beatles automated scooter built to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the iconic album cover. Three styrofoam wig heads on each side were the heads of John, Ringo and Paul and I played George. The arms and legs moved like they were walking across the street and I would sit inside on an electric scooter and drive around. I made the front and back look like the VW Beetle that is also on the album cover. I like this work-in-progress picture. It's like the cartoonist's pencil drawing before it gets inked in.
In June, Barb and I got to take an awesome trip to Austin, Texas. We had a great visit with my aunt in Fredericksburg, then went back to Austin where I attended a 2-day Filmmaker's workshop. We couchsurfed with a really cool family and met a bunch of great people. In this picture, Barb and I got to be reunited with Elisa, the Singing Telegram Girl (an awesome friend from Chicago) and got to enjoy the company of my new filmmaking friend Sheree.
One of my favorite annual summer traditions is Pierogi Fest in Whiting, Indiana. This is the first year I wasn't in The Yellow Submarine for the parade. Instead, Sgt. Sauerkraut's Polka Band
got to play Beatles polkas in the back of a truck. Here's a post-parade shot with two of my favorite Polish gals, Barb Chartier Raudonis and Suzy Brack. Michalene Korosa is in the background getting ready to play drums in The Eddie Korosa show.
So many great pictures and memories from our annual Fest For Beatles Fans in Rosemont, Illinois. This picture won out though! The splash of color and smiling faces wraps up the weekend perfectly, our new friend "Juicy In The Sky With Diamonds" fit right in! I love how Susan Ryan's blue hair in the background even adds to the shot!
I finally got around to building the Polka Car I've been wanting to build. There were lots of trials and tribulations, small victories and big defeats as I test and tuned until we got it workable. Our late night test drives were super-fun memories- especially while Barb drove and I rode in the barrel on the drum trailer keeping the beat as we entertained the neighbors!
Barb and I got to attend our first Hippie Fest at Val-du-Lakes in Mears, Michigan which is right by our one-room schoolhouse. It was so fun getting to hang out and soak in the freak show as a spectator. Our friends, Magic Bus gave us the perfect soundtrack for a groovy day!
I spent Thanksgiving weekend building my 3rd motorized contraption of 2019... a horseless sleigh that we used in the filming of Sgt. Sauerkraut's Christmas video (which you can watch HERE
) I used the lower frame and scooter from The Abbey Roadster and built a cardboard sleigh body. I did the whole thing at my mom's house and it was fun having her help me out- just like old times!
Sgt. Sauerkraut's Polka Band decided to dress up as our favorite Christmas Special stars for our performance at our annual Fundraiser and Glove Drive, Christmas With The Beatles. In case you haven't figured it out, that's me on the right dressed as Snow Miser.
Ok, well there's a dozen pictures. But bakers have been throwing in an extra donut for years, hence the term "baker's dozen" Here's my bonus picture from May of 2019...
Here's me in The Abbey Roadster at Abbey Road On The River in Jeffersonville, Indiana. If you like the picture, you should see it in motion! I'll have it with me at my 50th Birthday party this May. Hope you can come celebrate with me! More Info HERE
Have a great 2020 filled with fabulous pictures and amazing memories! -Danny
One picture to represent each month of 2018...
I call it "Pic A Dozen 2018"
I challenge you to do this for yourself... Can you choose just one picture for each month of 2018 to represent a special moment, doing something fun, seeing family or friends? Use either a picture of you or a picture that you took. When you take a look back, I'm sure you'll see it really was a good year... maybe that's why you're feeling a bit TIRED! Ha! Good Year Tired... Get It? WARNING: This a lot harder than it seems. I'm stressing out and getting frustrated trying to pick that one shot that highlights that month. But then to put it all in perspective I just recite this mantra to myself... "You think you got problems? Be glad you're not a math book!" Here is my year in review:
The Percussionation Station! Already, right out of the blocks this photo exercise is working. Without looking at the pictures I couldn't tell you when I built my homemade instruments but my photos showed me that January was a very creative month for me. Last January I built this instrument and the Polka Sound Pole (see September's pic). I played this at some open mics, the halfway to the Fest party and at Pierogi Fest. It has 3 washboards, some assorted bells, a cymbal, a license plate, a kazoo and a tin can. It's a lot of fun to play!
South Haven's Ice Breaker Festival is a great winter party which always takes place the day before the Super Bowl. Here we are on top of the cardboard sledding hill and as you can see, there isn't much snow, but we had the event anyway. On Friday night, Barb, Karan and I all entered the snowsuit fashion show. We wrapped Barb in bubble wrap and she won first place in the "Don't Laugh, It's Warm Category" On Saturday we get up early and go curling at the outdoor rink Check out the entertaining video I put together for that: CLICK HERE and then we run around town for a few hours for the great chili cook off. At 3pm we have the cardboard sled race. Barb has a flower on her head because she was racing in the Garden Club sled, which won best design in the business category. Karan in the orange tutu went down in her own sled as did I in my surfer dude sled. Nicole and Joyce had one of the best wipeouts of the afternoon in the Monty Python Trojan Rabbit. You can watch that entertaining video HERE I'm really thankful we had such a great time. As you can see we were all smiles but then just four and a half weeks later, Nicole unexpectedly passed away. We saved the Trojan Rabbit and we're going to fix it up and run it again in Nicole's honor one month from today.
Oh Danny Boy! It must be the luck of the Irish for me to have struck gold when I found this beautiful Irish lass and asked her to be me wife. Barb and I got to go to two awesome St. Pat's parties in March this year. Eddie Korosa was having a polka party at Joe's in Brookfield, Illinois. Gintas, Dylan Dawson and I got to do a few numbers on pogo cello with the band. The following week we traveled to Maquoketa, Iowa for the Sandberg's legendary St. Pat's Party. I got to play harmonica with the house band in Iowa on a handful of numbers which was a blast.
I find it quite fitting that the first time I get my name on the family egg-cracking contest trophy is when Easter falls on April Fools Day. Here I am pictured with my winning Easter Egg and the painted wood trophy that my dad made in 2015. He won in 2014 and the contest has been dominated by my mom's side of the family ever since. The good-looking folks in the pictures behind me are my proud grandparents on my dad's side. It's their Lithuanian tradition that we keep alive. Well, we actually take it to the next level. March Madness brackets are nothing compared to our egg-citing bracket. The reigning champ usually gets a first-round bye and then it's the youngest vs. the oldest in the skinny end and fat end competitions. If need be, we have a playoff but my egg went undefeated in 2018 and now my name is wood burned on the trophy!
I get to have the best birthday party every year. Abbey Road On The River is a 5-day festival over Memorial Day that almost always falls on my birthday. So yes, it's rough... I have to "work" every year on my birthday. And this shows me working late at the office. I'm up on the main stage, doing my job as an emcee, about to introduce my good friends, the incredibly talented Classicstone from Bogota, Colombia. The reason there are two of me is because the images of me and Javier are being projected on the enormous jumbo screen at the back of the stage. This was a hard year but a healing year. We lost Scott Carlson in January and Nicole in March. We filled the weekend with tributes to Scott and Nicole. Scott was in Meet The Beetles and The Yellow SubMorons and Nicole was in The Yellow SubMorons and managed Meet The Beetles. It was great that Meet The Beetles played three tribute shows for them over the weekend, we played a tribute video for them on the main stage. The kid's playground was named "Nicole's Playground" and we even put on an unannounced unofficial parade for them to carry on our tradition.
The Spence Family Reunion. It was great to see my mom's Spence Bakery family this summer. My Aunt Rosie from Texas wasn't able to come up but the other four Spence siblings were there. Here's me with my Uncles Tom and Joe both in their 80's.
In July I had the opportunity to be involved in my first South Haven summer festival. They do a Harbor Fest in June (we had a garage sale that weekend) and a Blueberry Fest in August (same week as Beatlefest) so when Lotte from Foundry Hall invited me to be a part of the Rhythm On The River Music Festival, which occurred the week before Pierogi Fest, I jumped at the chance. We brainstormed and came up with two events. On Friday I would be involved in the homemade instrument petting zoo where I showed off all my homemade instruments and on Saturday I led the community-wide "Foundry Hall Music Makers Experimental Instrumental Orchestration Creation Station" It's pretty cool to see my original idea, 4 upright pallets connected to make a cube and watch the creativity take off from there. One youngster said, "You took garbage and made something beautiful out of it."
The look of happy exhaustion outside the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in Rosemont, Illinois. Although I have a blast at The Fest For Beatles Fans, I have a lot of pressure and stress and deadlines to meet in order to bring laughter and smiles to the Fest attendees. This is my Sunday night relief look. I wanted one last picture with The Yellow Submarine before putting it up in dry dock. Right after this picture, I disassembled it so I could transport it and when we got home and hung it from the rafters, I declared that my Yellow Submarine is now in semi-retirement. I say semi-retirement because if someone hires me to bring the Yellow Submarine to their festival, parade or event, I'd be bringing it down faster than you can say Jeremy Hilary Boob, Phhhd. But at Abbey Road On The River and The Fest For Beatles Fans in 2019, look for a brand new Danny Donuts-built contraption. I know a lot of people will be mad at me for not bringing The Yellow Submarine, and a few years back they were mad at me when I unveiled Yellow Submarine 2.1 (pictured) which replaced the original I built out of playground equipment, but I have to keep challenging my creativity and not spend all my time riding around on past successes.
We had a riot in Milwaukee... a polka riot that is! I found out about the first Milwaukee Polka Riot, an alternative polka festival right after it happened in 2017. I knew we had to be a part of the second one. If there was a festival meant for our Beatles polka band, it was the Milwaukee Polka Riot and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to open up the festival. Even blowing 2 circuit breakers didn't slow us down- we simply grabbed the pogo cellos and went out into the crowd to entertain until the power came back on! I'm shown here singing, playing the pogo cello and the polka sound pole. This was also the first show we played in our new red and white polka-dotted vests that Barb made. We're excited to announce that Sgt. Sauerkraut's Polka Band will be playing the 3rd annual Milwaukee Polka Riot in 2019!
This might surprise you, but I'm not really in to Halloween. I guess I'm lucky that I don't need to wait for a holiday for permission to wear a costume. Back in March, The Sandberg's hosted their final St. Patrick's Party and that meant our Irish Village People act broke up. I ended up with both the Indian and Sailor costumes. Barb and I got invited to go to Ludington Art Center's Halloween Party with Jewelya and Mark so we went as Popeye and Olive Oyl. You should have seen what Barb went through to get her Olive Oyl hair just right. It's amazing to see what she did with a wig, a wire and a black sock! Oh and the best part was that the costume contest was actually broadcast on the radio! Now that's entertainment there!
The 50th Anniversary of The Beatles White Album occurred in November so we put on a show at The Karolinka Club. Sgt. Sauerkraut's Polka Band opened, and then BeatleJam, an all-star jam proceeded to perform The Beatles double album in its entirety. We tried to sound like The Beatles on every song except one. Gintas said, "I'm going to perform, 'Don't Pass Me By' as the Saddleman." Gintas has a country music project, writing and performing country songs as the Saddleman. I asked him if I could play harmonica on the number. It was my favorite song we did that night. It was a fresh take on a classic song. It was slowed down and countryfied and as you can see in the picture, Phoenix, Gintas and I put a lot of emotion into it!
The 5th Annual Christmas With The Beatles Fundraiser and Glove Drive. This year we moved to Dubin's Pizza of Burbank, Illinois. There was no room at the Inn so we moved our little party to the heated beer garden behind the restaurant and bar. This is one of my favorite pictures from my Danny Donuts Musical Comedy set. I'm surrounded by amazing talent: Phoenix Beach, Jim Hondros, Kandalyn Hahn and Winona Patterson. This was my first Christmas With The Beatles without Nicole but her legacy is represented here. Her handmade Meet The Beetles banner hangs from the back wall. The back line Phoenix, Jim and Tony Giangreco (on drums - not pictured but he was back there) I know because of Nicole and I'm wearing my grandpa's #1 shirt for Nicole. My grandpa died in 1978 so this shirt is at least 40 years old. I would often wear it during The Yellow SubMorons shows when they would perform the Rutles song, "Number 1". When Terri Hemmert did her tribute to Nicole on her Breakfast With The Beatles radio show, her sister Julie picked out the perfect song, whose chorus goes, "Number 1, number 1... you're my number 1!"
So there you have it. A dozen pics painfully picked out by me. I wish I could show you 12 more that were equally awesome, but there's something powerful keeping it at an even dozen... Aw, what the heck, if my grandma who ran the bakery taught me one thing, it was to be overly generous. This is why the baker's dozen exists. Throw in an extra donut and the customers will keep coming back. So with that, here's my baker's dozen bonus pic and it happens to be of my grandma's granddaughter and great-granddaughter...
BONUS JULY PIC
Picking up my sister and niece from Midway airport on a Sunday night in July. I loved surprising them as I waited by baggage claim at the bottom of the escalator. I even had two female Chicago cops come by asking me what was going on. I told them I was going to embarrass my niece and one of them said, "She'll be embarrassed alright!" I had just as much fun doing the costume change at Gintas's. Karan, Joe Wood and Gintas were all sitting outside and when I came outside in my clown costume they lost it! Joe, a lawyer even offered to help me out if I got thrown into jail. I would have loved for Jaime and Kylee to have timed it better and have them come down the stairs WHILE being interrogated by the cops, but judging by their smiles, the costume brightened up their Illinois vacation!
Have a great 2019 filled with fabulous pictures and amazing memories! -Danny
Nicole Nigh Hondros was much more than a
friend… she was a creative partner of mine for the last 15 years… and we were
just getting started. I remember seeing Nicole at my first Beatlefest in 1997.
We were both in the very popular Sound-Alike contest. I remember loving her
high-speed rendition of “Help!” I later found out she was fairly new at playing
guitar and her accelerated version wasn’t intentional. Now 21 years later our
high-energy Beatles polka band plays a speeded-up version of “Help!” and it
saddens me when I think about our future without her. We had so many traditions
and annual events that we did together and we were always striving to make them
bigger and better… but we also had other plans in the works. Only a few people
knew about the surprise we were working on together… Nicole was learning the
accordion and was going to someday join Sgt. Sauekraut’s Polka Band or at least
come up on stage to join us for a few numbers. The last picture I took with
Nicole was a posed picture of us with our matching accordions. The reason we
even got to see Nicole three weeks before she died revolved around an
accordion. She met Barb and I in Benton Harbor, Michigan at an Eddie Korosa
Polka Party because she was purchasing a small accordion from Eddie. We talked
her into staying the night so we could have a Funday Sunday together the next
day. I’ll always remember my last day with her. Even though we both were
working on projects, we didn’t have the pressure of overwhelming deadlines that
we usually have when we’re together. We actually had a relaxing day, which is
rare for both of us. Barb got called in to work so Nicole and I started our day
by watching Spanish-speaking broadcasts on YouTube of the 1994 World Cup
Our last picture together February 18, 2018
There’s a perfectly logical train of
thought that led us to this activity. We were talking about a video I made of
Barb’s monarch hatching out of its chrysalis. I was unable to upload it to
YouTube or Facebook because I set the video to Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” song
and copyright issues prevented me from posting it. That led us talking about
Diana Ross’ appearance at The World Cup Opening Ceremonies 24 years ago. Being
a huge soccer fan, I was in the stands with my dad, but how did Nicole know
about this event? I found out she was ON THE FIELD, one of four high school
kids holding the Netherlands flag. I asked if she had it on tape (VHS still
existed in 1994) She never got to see herself because the TV coverage in the
USA was preempted by the O.J. Simpson police chase. I figured the Opening
Ceremony footage has probably surfaced by now. We found several poor-quality
versions from Spanish-speaking broadcasts and we were able to watch her
flag-carrying team’s international blooper from the Goodyear Blimp’s sky-cam.
As the flags from the 24 competing countries were revealed, the Netherlands’
flag was unfolded into a bow-tie and Nicole’s crew had to quickly run back to
the center to exchange corners.
After watching all the broadcasts we could
find, and basking in Nicole’s satisfaction that the Opening Ceremony she was
involved in was ranked amongst the all-time worst opening ceremonies (not
because of the Netherlands flag blooper, but because of Diana Ross’ terrible
attempt at scoring a close-range goal) we settled in to get some work done. I
wanted to make a proper video to highlight our Trojan Rabbit cardboard sled
disaster and Nicole was hard at work wood burning a Jeremy Hillary Boob
character which was going to fit into a giant art piece she was creating for
the Beatlefest art contest in August. I told her if she sits here with me we can
get this video done but otherwise it will probably go on the backburner. She
sat on the floor giving me constant feedback and suggestions as we pieced
together a very entertaining video. (Watch it here: https://youtu.be/7QGeOlId8hE )
Ice skating was still on the agenda. Two
weeks earlier, Nicole and I were the only ones who wanted to go ice skating
during the very busy Ice Breaker Festival. I suggested we wait and go when she
comes back for a visit. Barb gave us her blessing to go without her but Nicole
insisted that we wait and convince Barb to go with us when she got off work at
four. We were all glad that Nicole convinced Barb to come with us. It’s
especially meaningful for us now as our ice skating adventure was the last time
we got to play with Nicole. Ice skating was one of our annual traditions.
Nicole actually had the honor of the only person to have perfect attendance at
Donuts On Ice, our annual costumed ice skating party in downtown Chicago. One
year Barb and I had van trouble and missed our own party… but Nicole was there.
It’s really hard to get adults to dress up in a costume when it’s not
Halloween, but Nicole was always game and put a lot of thought and work into
her Donuts On Ice costume. We always held it in December and we were both super
busy with Christmas shows and activities. I think Jim and Nicole also had
perfect attendance on our annual Holidaze Trolleydaze Lights Tour of Chicago.
Nicole would move mountains to attend events that brought her joy and this was
one of them. Jim and Nicole once got home from vacation and less than an hour
later they were on the trolley.
Our annual Christmas show was also a joint
effort. For the past five years we partnered up to produce “Christmas With The
Beatles” but before that when I was putting on my own Danny Donuts Christmas
Extravaganza, Nicole was usually involved. I found a picture of a Christmas show
we did at The Underground Wonder Bar in Chicago in 2003. As you can imagine, I
have a lot of memories of performing Christmas shows with Nicole. In fact, our
first creative project was working on a Danny Donuts Christmas Music Comedy
album in 2003. I invited my friend Angeline King to the studio to record some
background vocals and Angeline invited Nicole to join us. I mentioned earlier
that I first saw Nicole in 1997, but she was just one of the Beatlefest girls I
would see every year. I’m sure we had a few conversations, but I didn’t really
know her until that one night. Jim Marlowe and I arrived at the studio and
found Nicole already there. We showed her Jim’s arrangement of “Santa Claus is
Grooving Thru Town” and showed her where we wanted the simple background
vocals. We went downstairs to lay down some tracks and finish up some songs as
we waited for the always late Angeline to show up. It was getting late and
there was a chance we would have to record without Angeline. To our surprise
Nicole, having just heard the song an hour or two earlier, created an entire background
singing arrangement that really elevated the song to new heights. Once Angeline
showed up, we recorded the song live, which Jim Marlowe insisted upon, and it’s
by far the best recording on the album. It was in that moment I realized just
how talented Nicole was.
Our first picture together... 2003. Rallis, Bob Dobro, Angeline, Nicole and Danny
In 2009 when I was recording my second
Christmas music comedy album, “Crabby Road” I drove over to Jim and Nicole’s
condo for Nicole to lay down some background vocals. We recorded her parts in a
few hours and I took them back to Gintas to work his magic. Even though Nicole
laid down just a few tracks, she quickly became the glue that held the medley
together. It’s a very difficult piece to play live. Crabby Road is a 23-minute
non-stop medley that has a lot of surprising stops, starts, song changes and
left turns. Many Beatles musicians can play the entire Abbey Road medley in
their sleep, but throw in changes and it all goes out the bathroom window.
Nicole jumped in and instantly became the music director. She knew where all
the changes were, she knew what was coming next and she knew how to communicate
all this to all the other musicians. We performed it live each of the last nine
years and I can’t imagine performing this annual medley without her.
There are many great impromptu Christmas
memories too, like the time she made a game up on the spot where everyone in
the audience took an item out of their purse or wallet and threw it in a basket
and then we raffled off these crazy prizes. That same night she started singing
Jingle Bells over “Twenty Flight Rock”. But perhaps the most impressive
improvised performance was at Fitzgerald’s in 2016. Late into the night, after
the main show is over we would do BeatleJam and after awhile we would usually
stray from Beatles songs and do some blues or original songs. Jim Marlowe
wanted to do an impromptu blues jam. Jeff Fronczak is a very accomplished blues
guitarist and I had my harmonicas. Karl Sperling was on bass and drummer Tony
Giangreco will play forever if you let him. Nicole had the microphone and for
the next 10 minutes straight sang Christmas lyrics to this blues jam. Now this
is a great example of how gifted and talented Nicole was and those of us who
knew her were always blown away by her amazing mind. Most of us would have a
hard time naming 10 Christmas Carols without getting stumped. There are even
fewer people who could remember all the lyrics to all the Christmas songs…. but
to think of a new song each verse, remember all the lyrics and then sing them
live to a different melody that was being improvised… almost impossible, yet
Nicole did it without breaking a sweat. I lovingly would call her a freak of
nature and this is a good example why. Thanks to Gintas for catching this
amazing moment on camera. You can watch it here: https://youtu.be/Sqtijz5lZJU
The impromptu Christmas Carol blues jam, Fitzgerald's 2016
My first Abbey Road On The River music
festival was 2006 and the only one I attended as a fan. I heard of this
Beatles/60’s music festival from other Beatlefest friends back when it was in
Cleveland and then it moved down to Louisville. I made it down late on Thursday
night and went out to explore the grounds on Friday. In the elevator I met
Mike, The Yellow SubMorons first bass player who was inviting everyone to their
show. Nicole was the only band member I knew. I can’t remember for sure, but
that might have been the day I first met Jim. I had my video camera and tripod
with me and I recorded all of The Yellow SubMorons shows that weekend.
In 2007 I wanted to celebrate my birthday at
my one-room schoolhouse in Michigan so I didn’t go down to Abbey Road, but I
did miss it so I went back in 2008. Thanks to Nicole, my life was changed
forever. No matter what happens in the future, the experiences I’ve had at
Abbey Road On The River and with the Yellow SubMorons certainly are life
highlights. I remember the brainstorming call I had with Nicole. I was walking
my dog Blossom southbound in my Bridgeport neighborhood in Chicago. I can
remember these details but I can’t remember if the idea of me parading around
in a home-built foot-powered Yellow Submarine was my idea or hers. I remember
pitching the idea of me being involved with The Yellow Submorons… maybe as
their T-shirt and merch guy and the guy who helped them throw cheese out in the
audience, which they did at Beatlefest. But that’s how things went with Nicole…
one minute you’re asking if you can help with anything and the next you’re
parading around in a very heavy costume passing out postcards and inviting
people to come play with The Yellow SubMorons. You might think that Nicole and
I sat down and planned what activities we could do which each song, but I can
assure you this conversation never happened. How most of The Yellow SubMorons
fan activities got started was like this… as soon as a song ended, Nicole would
say in the microphone something like, “Now Danny is going to get in his Yellow
Submarine and we’re going to have a Yellow Submarine Conga Line.” I’d be
hearing these activity announcements for the first time right along with the
I think 2009 was the first year of The
Yellow Submorons Parade. There must have been some sort of planning for this
because I brought down my alley bass drum (a bass drum I found in the alley)
for this epic event. I think the idea was that we (the band and the fans) would
parade to the stage before the Yellow SubMorons evening show. We had so much
fun that Nicole announced we all had to get up early the next morning and
parade to their noon show. Eleven a.m. is considered very early at a music
festival where the sing-alongs literally go all night long. Being the first
show of the day, we knew no one would be on the grounds and we were delighted
to think that our spontaneous parade was helping wake up the festival-goers in
a fun way. We heard many accounts of people looking out their windows and
seeing a small group of paraders marching throughout the empty festival
grounds, led by a guy in a Yellow Submarine. Although I didn’t know too many of
the not-yet-named SubManiacs (super fans) at the time, it’s great to look back
at the picture and see the original gang who laid the foundation for all of the
fun The Yellow SubMorons became known for.
The first unofficial Abbey Road On The River parade, 2009
The Official Abbey Road On The River
Parade became a festival highlight for many years. Festival promoter Gary Jacob
liked the idea and gave Nicole a budget to buy lots of wacky parade props,
noisemakers and parade handouts. We always did the parade on Saturday night.
The Love Show was always a huge draw and we would be playing at the same time
at the small pool stage or at the Ali Center. While most of the festival goers
were caught up watching the show, all of a sudden a HUGE group (sometimes what
looked like hundreds of people) would come marching by. Many people would jump
right in behind us and blow noisemakers and dance along to the ukulele and
marching drum music. Maniac Mike would lead the way pushing a cart with a
professional bubble machine creating a ridiculous amount of bubbles. I was
always in The Yellow Submarine. We had flags and banners, a giant inflatable
peace sign and a huge octopus that took up to 10 people to operate. Ben even
followed us with a push broom like the guy at the ending of Mr. Peabody’s
Improbable History cartoon. One of my favorite parts of the parade was showing
up to the Fountain stage. While the main stage was packed, the Fountain stage
usually had a small crowd. We would show up and triple the size of their
audience. Our group brought so much energy with them and we would stick around
and dance to a song before moving on. Nicole put so much work into the parade.
She would come up with a new theme each year (peace signs, tie-dye, hats,
masks, pirates, glow-in-the-dark, royalty, 60’s TV shows) and organize a craft
around her parade theme. She usually had to make a bunch of costumes for the
band and she would spend every available moment operating a crafting area for
kids and adults to make a souvenir craft to be used in the parade. The lives
Nicole infected with joy just from the Abbey Road On The River parade is
staggering. She invited everyone to participate and was very successful in
getting people to change their plans of leaving early to give their kids an
opportunity to be in a real parade. The magical part was that it was often the
adults who had even more fun! Nicole was a master at bringing the kid out in
all of us.
Nicole told me about this wacky festival
in Northwest Indiana that The Yellow SubMorons got involved with. She told me
Pierogi Fest in Whiting would be perfect for me and my unique brand of musical
comedy. She couldn’t be more right and I owe it all to Nicole for opening that
door for me. In 2006 The Yellow SubMorons first performed there and continued
to make it an annual tradition for 12 straight years. In 2007 I showed up to
film their show and was immediately caught up in the zaniness of this festival.
In 2008 they were given a two-hour time slot but they only had about an hour of
songs so with Jim Marlowe backing me up on guitar, I got to be the opening act!
In 2009 the annual tradition almost came to an end. Jim and Nicole were
spending the summer with Meet The Beetles in residence at The Wisconsin Dells
and a communication breakdown led the fest to book up all their stages with no
time slots left. My never-take-no for an answer negotiating skills went in to
full effect. I worked it out to get The Yellow SubMorons booked at back-to-back
shows at two different stages several blocks apart for each other… far from
ideal but I did get them a raise! They played an early show at The Kids Stage
and then we all drove down to the Beer Garden and discovered there was no sound
system there. Between the equipment in my van, Scott Carlson’s van and Steve
Hurd’s car, we were able to piece together a working sound system but Nicole
realized we left a cord and maybe a microphone back at the kids stage. Only two
women could possibly pull off the next feat. Wonder Woman and Nicole are the
only superheroes who could run several blocks in knee-high go-go boots through
slow moving street festival traffic to retrieve the forgotten sound equipment
and make it back in time to join me on stage for my opening-act finale at the
end of my 20-minute set.
It took a few years to convince Nicole
that we had to partake in the world-famous Pierogi Fest Parade. They were
usually busy on that Friday night, but in 2009 we first entered a Yellow
SubMorons “float” in the parade. We hooked a U-Haul trailer up to my van and
hooked my sound system up to my battery. The band played on the trailer while
Alex and Amy drove my van. I’ve always been in The Yellow Submarine and
Nicole’s parents always carried the Yellow SubMorons banner in front of the
float. Steve Hurd accompanied the Morons with his portable uke-and-vocals
portable set-up and the Giangrecos and other SubManiacs always marched and
danced behind the float. We never missed a parade. It was always an exhausting
but thrilling adventure. We will be doing a very special tribute to Nicole and
Scott at this year’s parade.
Yellow SubMorons always performed on Sunday and on several occasions they
closed out the festival. For the past few years we took over The LaPorte Street
stage and filled up a whole day of non-stop performing. It was another day of
exhilarating exhaustion. I could never understand why Nicole wanted to host her
own party that same weekend. There was already a huge party going on at the
festival and Saturday was our only day to rest but she always insisted in
throwing a huge party. There was the house warming party and the outdoor
concert. These parties were always all-nighters for Nicole. Even when someone
else hosted the party, she did so much… like the time she organized the build a
13-foot submarine sandwich party at JoAnne’s. That would be more than enough
work for anyone, but she combined it with a music jam party.
Once in a while we got the chance to see
Jim and Nicole outside of a festival, but we were usually preparing for an
upcoming festival, which is why we made time to get together. The only time I
ever saw Nicole fail at something came during one of these festival preparation
parties. One of Nicole’s more memorable spontaneous ideas came during our first
Pierogi Fest parade. Nicole said we needed to make an octopus to put on top of
the van. Her only explanation was “because an octopus would be fun.” Our first octopus was a very-rushed thrown
together collaboration. Barb and I supplied the giant beach ball and the 8
arms, which were hot water pipe foam insulation (picture very skinny swim
noodles in a dark grey color). We wrapped the beach ball in a black garbage
bag, but Nicole brought him to life. She made giant yellow sunglasses for him
and gave him a beach towel bandana to wear on his head. He probably looked more
like a spider that was stepped on, but to us it was an octopus. We even came up
with a clever title that connected the Beatles, Pierogi eating, and the Bible.
We wrote “The Octopus’s Garden of Eatin’” on the side of the van. If you’ve
ever seen a Yellow SubMorons show, I put those same sunglasses on the submarine
during their original song, “Shining Armor Knight”. The first octopus was not a failure. He even
went swimming in Nicole’s parent’s pool that night. No, the failure came when the
four of us attempted to build a giant paper mache octopus. Instead of doing a
traditional tried-and-true newspaper and glue paper mache project, Nicole
wanted to experiment with a new paper mache idea she came upon. Barb refers to
it as the paper mache recipe from Hell! We burned up a blender trying to mix up
this concoction which combined toilet paper, glue, drywall joint compound and
mineral oil. We did make some of this paper mache clay but we realized it was
going to take forever and it was going to be super heavy. After several hours,
Jim and Nicole left us with one-fifth of the beach ball covered in this thick
goo. After it dried Barb and I were to finish the project but we never got the
chance. Before Jim and Nicole made it across the state line we heard a big
splat. The weight of the paper mache rolled the ball right off the table.
Nicole had a great sense of humor and re-told the story of Splat, the octopus
A wise man said, “failure is only
temporary”. Although none of us ever attempted a paper mache project again, it
seems like just weeks later the four of us were now gathered in Nicole’s
parent’s basement for a serious octopus building project. Our failure led us to
a much better design that is lighter and easy to store. I bought a giant
weather balloon which would ride inside a hula hoop. The three ladies were hard
at work with yards and yards of green material. They whipped up an entire
octopus in the same time Jim and I took to make giant cartoon eyes. The octopus
went on to be a star in several parades. I remember looking back at the Abbey
Road On The River parade and was blown away by what we created. What started
out as a little parade with about 11 people now had hundreds of people marching
in it and about 100 people back I saw 10 people operating a giant green
octopus. It was our own version of a Macy’s Thanksgiving parade giant balloon.
And just for the record, we did look into seeing if we could get it filled with
We were both very busy with The Fest For
Beatles Fans, especially the last three years with both Sgt. Sauerkraut’s Polka
Band and The Yellow SubMorons being booked on The Apple Jam Stage. Each year I
always attempt to do more than what’s humanly possible and it stresses me out
to no end to pull it off. Unfortunately I’m sure I stress out the people around
me and I’m so thankful they continue to help me out. The past two years at the
Fest, Nicole not only helped me out… she bailed me out. I was way behind on my
musical slide show presentations that I was performing in a few hours and Nicole
was there for me. She could have hung out near the art room encouraging folks
to vote for her or have been listening to special guests talk about their
interactions with the Beatles, but the past two years, she spent several hours
in our room throwing together a slide show on one computer while I was working
on the other one. After Nicole won first place with her amazing “Words Of
Revolver” art piece, I offered to make a little 10-minute mini-documentary on
“The Making Of Words Of Revolver.” Nicole contributed so much to me and I
thought this would be a nice way of saying thank you. We first made a little
promo video for her Kickstarter fund so she could afford to get prints made and
then we started in on filming the story of how she made this incredible piece
of art. The stories were fascinating and in-depth. I think I filmed her for 3
hours. We were both slap happy and we always talked about releasing the blooper
reel. There was no way this video was going to be 10 minutes. I decided to make
a 4 part series with a total running time of about 32 minutes. I have a lot of
great stories and back stories and tangent stories that didn’t make the final
cut that I hope to share with you all someday. I’m so glad I did that. I also had the privilege of showing Nicole's artwork at Grand Rapids' huge city-wide art show, ArtPrize. The first video project I did with Nicole was a Yellow SubMorons DVD which also features Jim and Nicole talking about how
the Yellow SubMorons came to be. We sold those at Yellow SubMoron shows in
2009. I feel I was able to give friends of Nicole a chance to experience her
brilliant mind and brilliant talent. You can watch the entire “Making Of Words
Of Revolver” on her website at http://WordsOfRevolver.com
Nicole and Barb posing with "Words Of Revolver" at ArtPrize
in Grand Rapids, Michigan, September 2017
I think we all got frustrated with Nicole
but I’ve analyzed this in great detail and I realized that none of us could
keep up with her. It’s not like we didn’t enjoy what she was creating… it was
all fun stuff. Her life’s work was bringing joy and happiness to everyone. She
had an amazing vision of what she wanted to see in her world and she was a
master at recruiting others to join her in these adventures. And when we got
tired and gave up, she always saw it through to the finish line. Her
determination was unlike anyone else I’ve known. Our last big project was
creating the giant cardboard sled of a Trojan Rabbit. Somehow she recruited us
to drive all the way down to Indiana to pull an all-nighter sled-building party
even though Barb and I were both going to be going down the hill in our own
cardboard sleds. We put a lot of work into it but if you would add up all the
hours that Jim, Barb and I put in, it wouldn’t come close to what Nicole did.
Her attention to detail even on this “throw away” project would make your head
spin. She tried to get more work/play out of all of us, but we just couldn’t
keep up with her.
When Barb saw Nicole at the bottom of the
hill, Barb gave Nicole a sad face because Barb felt so bad how the Trojan
Rabbit was destroyed in the crash. Nicole however was grinning from ear-to-ear.
“The worst thing would have been if it went down the hill and turned 90 degrees
and came to a stop like all the others. It was so much better spinning out and
have the whole body come off the sled!” Nicole was a great competitor and she
really wanted to win. She designed it with the hopes of breaking the distance
record, but after the crash she really really wanted to win a trophy for the
best crash (even though that wasn’t a category… she thought they should create
one). Jim suggested we fix up the Trojan
Rabbit and enter the race again next year. I was thrilled to hear this. Nicole
wanted to build a cardboard sphere for next year. I’m sure I would have
attempted to build such a sled in her honor, but I like the idea of fixing up
the Trojan Rabbit even better.
As Nicole was leaving that night, she knew
that she would be seeing us in a few weeks to pick up her accordion. After
Christmas show adventures in December, sled-building in January, sled racing,
ice skating and a polka party in February, she realized we didn’t have anything
planned the following month. She told me she’s going to have Danny Donuts withdrawal
in March. Little did we know what March would bring. I still feel close to her.
I feel a responsibility to carry on the torch. We played together for so long,
I feel like I know what Nicole would want and she knew what I would want. Barb
made a WWND bracelet. We know that Nicole would go for it. She would say YES
and figure out how later. She would look for the opportunity to have fun and
invite others to join her.
This year will be filled with Nicole
tributes. I can almost hear her giving me suggestions and directions and her
ideas to make these tributes fun for everybody. She definitely imprinted her
way of life on me along with all of her friends. I started a “Remembering Nicole
Nigh Hondros” Facebook group. I invite you to join it if you haven’t already. I
will keep everyone notified on all of these tributes that I know about. When I broke the news to the Fest For Beatles
Fans community I left them with these final words and it feels appropriate to
share them again…
I think Nicole would want her Beatles family to
play hard, sing loud, laugh and parade often, make art with no excuses, be a
dreamer with lofty visions and always remember that LOVE is all you need.
Donuts Raudonis or as Nicole always referred to me…