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Stillwater still going strong

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a reprint of an article that ran on our former website. We are in the process of moving everything to one place. We hope you enjoy reading the story again. 

By ELIZABETH SCHAFER, Associate Editor

It’s like the beginning, middle, and end of any epic movie about a small town band in the Midwest during the ‘70s. That’s what the members of Mt. Pleasant’s Stillwater experienced from 1969-1973. Drawing inspiration from bands like The Doors, The Who, and Cream, the young men created a sound that could be mistaken for the bands they desired to be.

Keith Schafer was on rhythm guitar, Andy Spence was on drums, Al Cain played bass guitar and Mike Hendershot played lead guitar. All of them had their turns with vocals. Warren Strubel and Howard Rhiel were also members in the beginning. But the first four would be lasting members of Stillwater.

Starting out, they found themselves playing at local bars, weddings and summer festivals. Since some of them were still in high school, this was an alright setting for the beginning band.

Upon graduation in 1972, the boys took the next step in their musical journey — Battle of the Bands at Island Park in Mt. Pleasant. Stillwater took the stage and won that day, slowly making their own dreams come true.

“I think the more memorable times with the band was when we played concerts in Island Park,” recalled Cain,  “The summer sun, tons of people hanging out on the grass, and us playing our favorite songs.  It was hard to believe that we were getting paid for doing something we loved so much.”

The band played at the National Special Olympics in Mount Pleasant in 1973 as well.

One of their biggest moments proved to be a night in August in 1971. Chuck Berry’s bus broke down in Cleveland and he was due to play at Central Michigan University for the students returning to school in the fall.  Having to leave the bus and find another form of transportation to CMU,  Berry left all his equipment in Ohio.  His manager called the local music store in Mount Pleasant, who referred Berry to a local band with lots of equipment.  Stillwater.

“That was as close as we ever got to stardom,” Schafer said when asked about his days in the band.  “It was the time of my life, or so I thought at the time.”

Spence and Schafer have stayed together as friends and musical partners.  They have played together in bands since Stillwater broke up.  Thirty years have gone by and recently they started an annual music festival in Beal City, which is about 10 miles away from Mount Pleasant.  BealStock was born.

BealStock consists of a whole day of music and food with friends and the community.  While there you can hear a slice of every band that Keith and Andy have been in over the decades.  And they’re not slowing down anytime soon.

“It’s fun to get together and play with all these old faces.  Get it, old?” said Schafer.

The main inspirational thing about Stillwater is not only the talent of the band itself, but the talent that it’s still producing today.  Two of Spence’s and Schafer’s children have now carried on the talent.  Derrick Schafer, who resides in Tampa, Florida plays regular shows in that area. Mike Spence lives in Detroit and has been part of a popular band called Those Transatlantics, and is now playing with Fawn.  Both are very musically inclined, and have a solid fan base.

These guys are all still friends, too. That is also inspirational in its own way.  Hendershot is since deceased, but the original founding members are all still great friends. It’s nice to see the progression through the years and know that through it all friendship is the main thing to prevail.

Cain also met his wife while a member of Stillwater.  “One of my favorite pictures of me and my wife was taken by Andy Spence while setting up for a show in the park.  We met at a show we did for Spence’s future in-laws’ anniversary. I was 18, she was 16. We’ve now been married for 35 years and every now and then think back on our time with the Stillwater family.”

Schafer and Cain also agree that their time with the band has helped them in their future business careers.  Cain said, ”I learned everything I needed to know about business by playing in bands. Practice is important to success as well as having the right tools to do the job. Teamwork is also a must have.  Working alongside people with a common goal, people you respect for their talent and friendship.  Someone you can communicate with without even saying a word, that’s what leads to success.”

Though their hair is shorter today, they are still epically loud and full of funk. Stillwater can still bring down the house, and apparently have managed to build successful business careers along the way.

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