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Pavilion memories: Building on a tradition while building homes
By Jason Lesley
Billy Don and Ann Wilson sat in beach chairs beside the dance floor at the annual Pawleys Pavilion Reunion on Saturday as the old familiar music carried them back in time to the night they met — at the pavilion.
That was 51 years ago, said the Wilsons, who married in 1964.
Billy Don said making the trip from Georgetown to the Pawleys Pavilion was “an every weekend deal” during the summers of the early ’60s. He said he danced the Bop as well as the Shag. The big wooden structure, the fourth to carry the Pavilion name on the island, had booths around the perimeter with a dance floor in the middle. “It was awesome,” Ann said. Though she was underage, she didn’t remember being carded. “Once you got in,” she said, “you were good to go.”
Others remember the place as being more strict about the drinking age of 18 at the time.
Rick Gilmer was a 14-year-old bouncer at the pavilion, working for his brother Stewart. An imposing figure, Rick said his job was to stop youngsters from carrying liquor into the dance hall. A big country boy from Taylors, Rick was tall for his age and could handle the door.
“They would try to smuggle it in every way,” he said as he looked over the reunion scene on Saturday night at the Nature Park on the North Causeway.
“A lot of memories,” he said. “A lot of fun.”
Jeanette Rosenbaum of Sumter said she and her friends made the drive to Pawleys Island on summer weekends and for vacations, hoping to meet boys at the Pavilion. Her husband, John, was there to meet girls. “He met plenty,” Jeanette said, “but he didn’t meet me until later.”
The chance to meet someone from another town was only one of the pavilion’s allures. The music itself was risqué. Its roots were in juke joint rhythm and blues that mainstream radio would not play. Teens couldn’t wait to come to the beach to hear it on jukeboxes and in live performances. Youngsters could emulate the shag, with its gliding steps and a few basic twirls well enough to impress fellow dancers on a crowded floor. The few who had taken lessons would sometimes betray themselves by counting the six steps aloud: 1 and 2, 3 and 4, 5, 6.
Saturday’s reunion band, the Mark Roberts Band, covered the classic shag tunes from beach music royalty like The Drifters, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, The Rivieras and The Embers. The reunion music cut through time and brought the steps back for dance partners. The smooth nature of the shag has kept it popular. As beach music lovers age, they can rely on rhythm rather than technique.
Bubber Snow, 82, and his twin sister, Sissie McAllister, were among the few at Saturday’s reunion who had danced at more than one of the previous pavilions. Snow said he saw the shag at Myrtle Beach in 1942 and danced at the Lafayette Pavilion at Pawleys Island the next year. That building burned in 1957 and was replaced by the fourth, and final, pavilion in 1960. It burned in 1970, ending the era but not the memories.
Snow introduced a bill in the legislature in 1984, and Gov. Dick Riley signed it, making the shag the official dance of South Carolina. Snow, from Hemingway, is a member of the Shag Dance Hall of Fame.
The reunion was a Habitat for Humanity benefit. Proceeds will be used to build a house for Lori Brown and her family on Church Street in Georgetown. She was at the event along with her children, grandchildren and a orphaned niece she took in. Brown said she has already put in 400 hours of work toward her new house. Georgetown County youth will build it this summer.