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Big Band X-Press. / Laura Austin file

They’re Back! Big Band X-Press returns to the stage

By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer– For the first time since their Sweetheart Ball in 2020, Big X-Press (BBX) returns with two performances. On January 28 they are in concert in a fundraising event at Grace Lutheran Church and on February 11 the Sweetheart Dance is at the Historic USO Building.

Pastor Madsen, Grace Lutheran Church,   tells us that after the COVID shutdown, Big Band X-Press was no longer able to rehearse at the Burroughs High School band room. A wife of a band member is a Grace Lutheran Church member and soon BBX was using the church facilities for rehearsals. “When they learned that we were ready to break ground for our music room,” says Madsen, “they decided as a thank you for the use of our facilities to put a fundraiser concert on for us.” The concert starts at 6 pm and will last about an hour and a half. There is no cover charge; however, “It’s a free-will offering with a minimum suggested donation of $10.”

Big Band during a past concert.
/ Laura Austin File Photo

The idea to build a dedicated music rehearsal room came about 20 years ago. The rehearsal room is designed to be large enough to facilitate rehearsals for their annual Figgy Pudding concert series which started as a fundraiser for the building.  “The first weekend of December, we have a three-day handbell concert – kind of a kickoff to the holidays,” explains Madsen. “It’s called Figgy Pudding; we actually serve figgy pudding.”

For folks who want to donate to the building fund can write a check, give cash or donate online at Madsen wants to be clear that this performance is not a dance; it is a concert. 

For those who want to dance, the Sweetheart Dance at the Historic USO Building is the ticket.    As per BBX tradition, the evening starts with a free dance lesson at 6:30 pm led by The Groove Ballroom. Tickets, which benefit the Historical Society and local music students, are $10 at the door. 

Regulars will notice some new faces on the bandstand. Some players have moved away, there are new folks, and some musicians are coming out of the woodwork to join in again.

Guitarist Greg Velicer tells us,  “People do come down just to hear the music because it’s good music; but, we put on dances at the USO Building.” The energy and enthusiasm around swing dance is contagious. “There are ladies and gentlemen in the band that are interested in learning swing dance,” says Velicer. “I see some of the group going out there taking the free dance lessons before we play. 

Big Band playing during a concert. / Laura Austin File Photo

“As musicians, it’s fun to see people responding to the music you’re playing. So if you’re up there playing and you see the people swing dancing to the music you’re playing, it’s just goodness, it’s a win-win. It makes it much more fun to play which makes it sound that much better. The dancers are enjoying it that much more; the whole circle feeds on itself. That’s great.

“It’s neat to see the older people that know how to swing dance because those folks have been doing it for a while. And you’ll see the new folks that are just learning and enjoying good music and it’s fun. You get the whole variety, even younger kids.”

“We are happy to have a chance to dance to live swing music,” says Anna Webber, Co-Instructor at The Groove Ballroom. Her husband, Co-Instructor Chris Millett adds, “We are so pleased that after a couple of seasons off, the Big Band X-press are once more playing at the USO building. Their music lends authenticity to ballroom and swing dancing that most small towns don’t get to experience; it is a true gift for the high desert.” To learn more about The Groove Ballroom read “Get in the swing of things with the Groove Ballroom” in the November 4, 2022 edition of The News-Review at

Velicer is not the first person to note that Ridgecrest has a wealth of talent. “It is a cool thing to have in the town this small. You see towns even larger than Ridgecrest that don’t have things like that. You’ll see towns with great music communities, but not putting together a big band. It’s also cool that it’s integrated; we have the talent here in town – dance studios that teach swing dancing. And so we have swing dancing, a venue to go swing dancing, a venue to learn swing dancing, a venue to go practice your swing dancing.” 

BBX has over 300 song choices plus over 100 Christmas songs. They rotate around 50 favorites but draw from their broad selection from time to time. You can even reach out to them in advance to place a request. 

   Big Band X-Press is a non-profit organization. Nobody gets paid and any income generated goes to operating costs; sheet music, uniforms, music folders. If any money is leftover, it goes into scholarships.  “We’ve given money to send students to band camps over the summer. We’ve also given money to support kids who go off to college, but who want to continue their musical education while they’re in college,” 

New players are welcome. “I would encourage anybody to join who plays horn and are interested,” invites Velicer. “We have had all levels of players, from beginner to pro-level. We are a community band. BBX takes the same approach to adding members as other community bands, we chat with you first to see if you have experience and then you sit in with us at rehearsal and see if it is a fit.” 

“The Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert (HSUMD) who owns and operates the original USO club building in Ridgecrest is immensely happy to again welcome Big Band X-Press to its stage,” says Tex Hoppus, President of the Board of Directors of the HSUMD. “They will provide music and the opportunity to dance in a continuing effort by the Historical Society to offer the public ways of learning and entertaining itself.” He adds, “There will be refreshments for sale, including beer and wine, to those who wish to enjoy it at the event.”

You can join in the fun by listening and tapping your foot, or you can venture onto the dance floor. It is a delightful evening welcome to the entire family.

  Contact the band via their Facebook page: search for Big Band X-press.  There you can put in a request for songs before their next appearance, arrange to join the band, book the band or just follow them to keep informed of their performances. You can also reach The Groove Ballroom on Facebook.