Monday, Mar 27, 2017
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Kirk Baird

COMMENTARY: CULTURE SHOCK

Bringing the boogie back to Toledo

Denny Schaffer to host fund-raiser for homeless veterans

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    People dance during a disco party at Centennial Terrace in Sylvania.

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If you grew up in the disco era of the ’70s and early ’80s, you remember the radio hits, the fashionable clothes, and those dance moves.

You also remember the intense backlash to that music and its culture. The disco record burnings and the “Disco Sucks” T-shirts, which are still available for purchase online.

But what if the power of disco was used for good?

That’s the intent of The Original Denny Schaffer Summer Disco Party today from 8 p.m. to midnight at Hensville Park, a fund-raiser for Veterans Matter, a grassroots movement to end homelessness among our veterans.

The 21-and-older event is sold out — no tickets are available — and could gross as much as $50,000, said Ken Leslie, advocate in chief of One Matters/Veterans Matter.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for several standpoints,” Leslie said. “Bringing the community together to rally around homeless veterans ... and [showcasing] the beautiful community space that is called Hensville.

“And also heralding the return of Denny’s disco party, which has always been the premiere party of the year.”

Ah, the famous/infamous Denny Schaffer disco parties.

The radio host, heard weekday mornings on The Denny Schaffer Show from 6 to 10 on WQQO-FM, Q 105.5, was on another station further down the dial when he first thought of having a disco party in the early 1990s.

Having been an entertainer at a disco for several years before making a career in radio, he was partial to the boogie music and the dance-floor fun.

He wasn’t the only one. In 1994, for his inaugural disco party at Club Bijou in downtown — a space now occupied by Huntington Center — between 800 and 900 people turned out for the event.

“It was crazy,” he said. “I knew I was onto something.”

So Schaffer hosted bigger disco parties — including a Halloween event in 1999 at the University of Toledo’s Savage Hall that drew 4,000 boogie revelers — that became significant fund-raisers.

By his estimates in 2000, the disco parties raised $750,000 in total for local charities.

“It was huge,” he said. “It was a juggernaut.”

So what happened to the party?

Well, Schaffer left the market in the mid-2000s, and the disco fun died, just as it had in the early 1980s — with the exception of a 2011 MS Society benefit he hosted at Erie Street Market that drew about 1,300 people and raised about $20,000.

But his listeners didn’t forget.

Once the radio host returned to the market in mid-2014, the questions about another disco party began. With bad knees and a lower overall energy level, Schaffer, now 57, was resistant to resurrecting the disco parties. Then his physical condition improved in part due to weight loss and treatment on his knees and Schaffer called Leslie to tell him he was ready to start the tradition again.

“It’s all on him,” Leslie said, “and his compassion for the community and his compassion for the homeless veterans.”

In early June, the Original Denny Schaffer Summer Disco Party was announced, and depending on how well things go, it may become an annual Toledo event again.

As for those disco party newcomers attending tonight’s fund-raiser, expect about one-third of the patrons to be dressed in their finest disco wear; smoke, lights, and a mirrored disco ball; and a full dance floor with music by the usual suspects: Donna Summer; the Bee Gees; KC and the Sunshine Band; Earth, Wind, and Fire; Rick James; the Village People, and the Gap Band.

“You’ll see people in their 40s and 50s and even 60s running around like teenagers again,” Schaffer said. “This music is just that fun.”

Just don’t expect to hear “Disco Duck.”

While disco may no longer suck, the same, apparently, cannot be said of Rick Dees and his 40-year-old novelty song.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.

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