Piper's swings to big-band sounds

VIRGINIA CITY - Brian Farnon lifted his baton Saturday evening and Glenn Miller's "Moonlight Serenade" eased across the crowd in Piper's Opera House.

Hundreds filled the 125-year-old auditorium for wine tasting, auctions and swing music in a fund-raiser for Piper's Opera House Programs, the foundation restoring the Comstock's cultural center.

Farnon's Tahoe Dance Band also accompanied Lorraine Hunt, Nevada's lieutenant governor, and her husband Blackie in some favorite swing tunes.

Along the sidelines were arranged dozens of donated treasures that were up for silent and live auction. Included were original oil paintings, antique wall cabinets, tickets for box seats for the upcoming performance of Annie Get Your Gun at Piper's, baskets loaded with wines and gifts, an ostrich egg hand-painted with wild horses running across the Virginia Range of Storey County, and the first case of Piper's Opera House champagne.

Wine sampling alternated with cold shrimp, hot won-tons and smoked-beef hors d'oeuvres.

Out on the dance floor, Bill Shelly, an Irishman who landed in Virginia City in 1983, spun his bride of 50 years, Annabelle, to the strains of "String of Pearls."

"The band sounded wonderful," Annabelle said. Bill said he wasn't too sure of the tempo, but was happy making his own.

Hunt, a former member of the Mary Kaye trio that sang on Las Vegas and Reno stages in the 1960s and '70s, had been looking forward to the performance since volunteering to help with the benefit event.

"I know a bunch of the band members," she said before taking to the stage.

The audience was dressed in everything from black-tie evening wear to vintage outfits from several decades of the past century to boots, jeans and bolo string ties. And that was entirely appropriate for the event, since performances at Piper's have always drawn the whole range of Comstockers from formally attired millionaires to muckers fresh from their shifts in the mines.

An architect's model of how Piper's will look after the five year restoration project helped remind attendees of the final goal, while charts pointed out the need to cover the on-going operational costs of the opera house.

Though major grants are helping fund specific aspects of the restoration, day to day operational costs must come from donations. For instance, it was only $8,000 donated by Bernie Carter, T.J. Day and the Willametta K. Day Foundation that allowed buying propane to keep Piper's open this winter. Without it, the new fire sprinkler system would have had to be drained to keep it from freezing.

The first two phases of the restoration are completed and a variety of performances from Shakespeare to Vaudeville are scheduled in the opera house from April through next December.

Farnon and the Tahoe Dance Band, meanwhile, will be playing for Sunday afternoon dances at Carson City's Ormsby House on March 12, April 9 and May 14.


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