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Annual barbershop contest to yield memories, crowds

Forest Grove High School hosts 68th contest this weekend


by: NEWS-TIMES FILE PHOTO - The Tualatones, of the Tualatin Valley Harmony Masters, will also compete in Forest Groves signature barbershop contest. The Aliens are coming.

A group that sang and toured together for 35 years — the Aliens Tradition Quartet — will be the featured entertainment at the 68th annual All-Northwest Barbershop Quartet Contest in Forest Grove Friday, March 21.

The two-day competition has been drawing both local groups and those from around the Pacific Northwest for almost 70 years, making it a spring tradition almost as familiar as daffodils in this area.

For more than three decades, the group secured bookings all over the U.S. and Canada, but left the weekend open every year for the annual contest in Forest Grove.

Chuck Olson of Forest Grove has competed in the contest 43 times — 32 of those with the Aliens.

Their namesake stems not from extraterrestrial creatures, but from the foreign countries from which they borrowed songs that made them an in-demand act.

“We didn’t sing funny songs, we just sang songs funny,” said Olson, who described a typical costume change — kimonos first, Mexican attire, Russian garb and finally swimsuits. “By the time the last guy exited the stage, the first guy was back on with a new costume.”

The group members — Jim Richards, Walt Haight, Jay Thornberry and Olson — perfected their comical act. “We did it well,” Olson said. “We became pretty popular.”

They began to compete internationally, and were invited to go on a USO tour during the Vietnam War to entertain U.S. troops in hospitals and drug-abuse wards, on bases and in field auditoriums.

“It’s really easy [for a] quartet [to travel]. You don’t have to lug around any instruments or equipment,” Olson said. “That trip really solidified us as a team. We knew what each other was thinking before we even said it and we knew what each of us wanted to do.

“That cohesiveness is what makes a great quartet. That’s one of the keys. If you love each other, you become a unit.”

The group broke up after their lead, Bob Wiggins, moved to Bend and eventually died after battling cancer. But about a year ago, the three remaining Aliens got together to “rekindled the fire and fun we used to have together,” Olson said. “We don’t sound exactly the same as we used to, but it all comes together. We still had that desire to entertain an audience and be on stage.”

Olson, now 79 and retired from a 22-year teaching career at Forest Grove High School, has more time for the group. He graduated from FGHS himself and went on to attend Pacific University.

“I’m a local boy. I often wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t grown up here. Barbershop has been a big part of my life for a long time,” said Olson, who started singing with a barbershop group as a junior in high school. “I grew up with barbershop and with this contest. It’s an honor to be chosen as the guest.”



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