The Inquirer (Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.)
May 31, 1999

Ex-teenyboppers dust off memories

By Denise-Marie Balona

Bay City Rollers fans will be coming together in Phila.

The five hovered over a copy of 16 magazine, devouring gooey brownies and cooing over the kinds of things that the Bay City Rollers band members said they wanted in potential dates. They giggled over chest-baring pinups of Eric, Les, Woody, Derek, Ian and Alan. They imagined marrying one of the Scottish lads, who sang the 1970s bubblegum hits "Saturday Night" and "Bye Bye Baby." But these women gathered around a Maple Shade kitchen table last week were not teenagers.

They were women in their 30s who remembered what it was like to be 13 years old and crazy about a band that was not, perhaps, always the most popular group with other teens. And they plan to relive the '70s in a few weeks during Absolute Rollerfest, the first East Coast gathering of Bay City Rollers fans. "You have to have a sense of humor," Wendy Marano, 35, of Maple Shade said as she held up a fading album cover she had stained from so much kissing. "Looking back, we loved them, but we know they were goofy as hell." The biggest thrill for these fans -- including a Delaware County freelance writer, a hospital clerk from Philadelphia, and a Chester County preschool teacher who met on the Internet -- would be if any band member makes it to Rollerfest. Donning calf-length knickers trimmed in tribal tartan and silver platform shoes, and with blow-dried hairdos, the Bay City Rollers were precursors to today's youthful music stars such as the Backstreet Boys, Hanson and 'N Sync. The Rollers made their way to the United States in 1975 and recorded 18 top-five hits before the band split up in 1978. Their teenybopper anthems were about puppy love, broken hearts and parties. Magazine articles listed their best friends as their parents and their favorite foods as mother's home cooking. For Marano and other fans, life with the Rollers came in the years before college, careers, marriages and, in some cases, divorces. It was a time before credit card bills and childbirth. It was before they stopped believing a pop band's favorite beverage could be milk instead of whiskey. Absolute Rollerfest 1999, the Philly Phest, will be more about the fans than about the band, these five organizers said. The gathering, scheduled for June 25-27 in Philadelphia, will be about those who want to recall their Roller memories. Susan Sellman, 36, of Philadelphia, is looking forward to a weekend of bonding with others who proudly wore funky Rollergear to school and braved the stares. "We got good grades and got into good schools, but we weren't necessarily invited to the fun parties," said Sellman, who admits that she was considered a bit of a nerd.

So far, no Roller has confirmed that he will drop by the festival, but fans probably will see Ian Mitchell's wife, Wendy Antantaitis -- a fan from Haddon Township who married the guitarist and moved with him to Las Vegas. Marano said that VH-1, a cable music channel, may film part of Rollerfest '99 as part of a Rollers documentary due out this year. About 55 people from as far away as Puerto Rico and Washington state have registered for the event. Tickets are available only by mail for $60 each, a price that includes two meals and snacks. The registration deadline is June 20. The festival will be held at the Holiday Inn at Philadelphia International Airport and opens on a Friday night with a two-hour "Tartan and Stripes Forever" cocktail party. Absolute Rollerfest continues the next day at 3 p.m. and includes games, karaoke, a Philadelphia-style Italian buffet dinner, and a tribute band from New York. There also will be an auction of items such as Rollergear trousers worn by Mitchell, who replaced Alan Longmuir in the band; a stuffed squirrel dressed in tartan; a set of four hard-to-find singles; and a cap worn by Mitchell at Absolute Rollerfest '98. Fans will meet a final time for breakfast Sunday. Marano, Sellman, Debbie Clarke, Erica House and Sandi Preston decided to be hosts for this year's Rollerfest after last year's event. At Marano's house, they planned for the event and talked about how each woman discovered the band, which member was whose favorite, what it would be like to meet lead singer Les Mckeown or guitarist Eric Faulkner, even after all these years. "Their music was happy, and when you're an adolescent, when you've had a crappy day, you need something upbeat," said Clarke, 37, of Philadelphia. "It's like we're 13 years old again."

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