Surf's Up! The Beach Boys in La Crosse

Posted by Anita on July 16, 2023

(written by Anita Taylor Doering, Archives Staff)


The Avalon Ballroom facing Copeland Avenue with the street car tracks, pictured here in the 1940s or 1950s. This Spanish-style building was constructed in 1927 on the site of the old Monitor Brewing Company and still stands, although it ceased being a ballroom in 1968. The building has survived several devasting fires and since 2008 has been the home of the Super Buffet serving Chinese cuisine. In the mid-1960s, the Avalon served as the venue for a number of dances featuring national up-and-coming musical artists such as the Everly Brothers, the Beach Boys, Chubby Checker and Roy Orbison.

60 Years Ago…the new surfer-style West Coast pop band calling itself “The Beach Boys” came to La Crosse for the first time thanks to Lindy Shannon, La Crosse deejay, music columnist, record store manager and rock and roll band promoter.  Lindy and another deejay Pete Lakin were excited to be master of ceremonies of the dance that took place at the Avalon Ballroom on La Crosse’s Northside on August 29, 1963. The Avalon Ballroom today still stands on Copeland Avenue and is the site of the Super Buffet restaurant.


La Crosse Tribune 25 August 1963

The Beach Boys was the headliner band for the second dance Lindy arranged that summer with a teenage audience in mind, and it was advertised in his weekly column as “…the last teen affair before school starts. See you there.” The first of the dances that season at the Avalon Ballroom, the Everly Brothers, drew an attendance of 1,700. Rick Pervisky, a 15-year-old Aquinas High School student and a member of the just-then emerging local band “The Marauders,” recalled the dance that night and meeting the band. Pervisky and his bandmates were guests of Lindy Shannon that evening:

My memories of that night are still very vivid... The Beach Boys were young and very cool, a cool we never saw here in the Midwest. They had the coolest clothes, coolest guitars, coolest sound we ever heard. They had a sophisticated stage presence.

Dennis Wilson, the drummer, was having trouble with his drum setup, and our drummer, Terry [Gardner], helped him fix something on the floor tom that was broken. The entire time Dennis was bragging about beating acclaimed drummer Sandy Nelson in a 'drum battle' the prior evening. Sandy Nelson was a national star drummer with his hit “Teen Beat."

Brian Wilson was not with the band that evening. Their personnel that August night was a young David Marks, aged 15, on rhythm guitar, Carl Wilson on lead guitar, Dennis Wilson on drums, Al Jardine played bass, and of course front man Mike Love.

Marks had a black Fender Stratocaster guitar. Carl Wilson played a Fender Jaguar. We had never seen the Jaguar guitar much prior to that evening. They also had dual Fender Showman amps. They were loud and clear. Most of their songs that night were instrumentals. They played the new “surf sound” very much inspired by the likes of Dick Dale. It was still a dance, not a concert, and the kids danced and really didn’t pay too much attention to the band.

It was such a “low key” event that Lindy opened the dance himself spinning records and didn’t arrange for an opening band.


La Crosse Tribune 24 August 1963 Showtime section

Rick Pervisky further recalled:

This was a historic night in La Crosse, Wisconsin, for the young band called the 'Beach Boys.' Why? Because David Marks got in an argument with Dad Manager Murray Wilson driving to the next gig in Chicago, and quit the group. Murray Wilson held him to it. The original five guys from the first album cover pictures would never be again - Carl, Dennis, Brian, Mike and David. The fact that Al Jardine was with them in La Crosse, while Brian missed, maybe forecasted changes were coming.

We exchanged small talk with them thanks to Lindy Shannon. It was our first brush with celebrity. In those days, the stars drove their cars to the gig and set up their own equipment. There were no control boards, no monitors, no roadies, it was a simpler time. Dad, Murray Wilson, was one tough boss to this young group.


The Mary E. Sawyer Auditorium was the public auditorium that served from 1955-1980 when it was replaced by La Crosse Center which opened in 1980. La Crosse wanted to compete for big events and conventions as well as national entertainment acts, and by 1975 officials already realized that the Mary E. Sawyer was too small for La Crosse’s tourism industry to grow.


La Crosse Tribune 18 July 1964

The Beach Boys came to La Crosse again the following summer as part of a Dick Clark Review at the Mary E. Sawyer Auditorium on July 25, 1964, with 3,000 in attendance. Other bands who opened for the Beach Boys that night were Lynn Easton and Kingsmen (famous for their song “Louie Louie”), Jimmy Griffin and Eddie Hodges. In those days, a 45-minute performance was common for any band as well as two shows in one evening – one starting at 7 pm or 7:30 pm and the next at 9:30 pm. Chuck Bailey hosted the first show and Lindy was master-of-ceremonies of the second.

The Beach Boys with the original band members returned to perform at the La Crosse Center on Nov. 7, 1980, with an attendance surpassing 7,000 fans. Aug. 11, 1982, their performance at the Center had an attendance of 4,000, and they performed without an opening act for nearly two hours. With only one original band member remaining, Mike Love, the Beach Boys performed last at the La Crosse Center on June 7, 2018.