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Missing the retro-cool of Dustin Hopkins, a Lafayette classic
With the Big Swing Band, Lafayette Citizens Band and Moonshine Mason, Dustin Hopkins’ smooth baritone, easy personality were hard to miss. Friends, fans share memories of a Lafayette music scene great
Thanks this morning to Lafayette Rotary, sponsor of today’s Based in Lafayette reporting project edition. Lafayette Rotary presents its 5th Annual Ice Cream Crawl on Saturday, Aug. 20. Participants who purchase a passport in advance may visit ice cream shops – Budges, Culver's, Freddy's, Igloo (Tazer Drive), Original Frozen Custard, Silver Dipper and Sweet Revolution Bake Shop – between 1-4 p.m. Aug. 20 to enjoy a sample at each location. Passports are $10 for individuals and $25 for a family up to five within the same household. Lafayette Rotary promises it will be #onesweetafternoon. Money raised will support projects of the Girl Scouts and Imagination Station. Get your tickets by clicking the links below.
Today’s features this piece from Based in Lafayette correspondent Tim Brouk, who collected thoughts and memories after the recent loss of one of Lafayette’s great singers.
MISSING THE RETRO-COOL OF DUSTIN HOPKINS, A LAFAYETTE CLASSIC
By Tim Brouk, For Based in Lafayette
Dustin Hopkins, 43, died July 29, just days after the discovery of a brain tumor. The Rossville native was a longtime singer in The Big Swing Band and Lafayette Citizens Band. Many fondly remember his years as lead vocalist of Moonshine Mason and the Rot Gut Gang, a popular band that paid tribute to country music’s golden age.
With his trademark silky-smooth baritone, Hopkins won over audiences of all ages. At Moonshine Mason shows, it was commonplace to see punk rockers and senior citizens in the same venue dancing to Hopkins’ takes on George Jones, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, as well as the band’s handful of originals.
On-stage, Hopkins was a throwback – not only in classic styles like him channeling Frank Sinatra during Big Swing Band shows, but also his polite, confident and often informative banter between songs was unmatched and so old-school. He could entertain and educate with just a couple of Louvin Brothers tunes.
As phenomenal as Hopkins was on stage, he was an even bigger star off it. For many of his friends and fans, Hopkins’ voice got their attention, but his kind nature, infectious smile, dedication to his family and friends, and his unique interests won hundreds – heck, thousands – of supporters over the last 20-plus years. He could talk to you about vintage jukeboxes, classic cars and, of course, music for hours. And when you did strike up such a conversation, you didn’t want to talk to anyone else. You knew you were in the presence of someone so original, so authentic.
A product of Purdue Musical Organizations and the Varsity Glee Club, part of Hopkins’ greatness was that he actually knew how to sing, read music and take on tunes that most Greater Lafayette singers would butcher. During his years in Moonshine Mason, Hopkins brought music fans a real show. Always the best-dressed on-stage and off, he carried himself as someone you wanted to cheer for. From the boots to the cowboy hat, he stood out, and with that voice, he was truly a star.
During the last couple of weeks, an avalanche of tributes to Hopkins flowed on social media. True to form, most wrote about his singing first, followed closely by heartfelt experiences of talking with him away from the stage. The impact he left on people was powerful. He will be forever missed.
Local music scene participants shared their love of Hopkins and his multifaceted life and personality. While Hopkins’ song has ended, his music and memory will play on.
Steve Cotten, bandleader, The Big Swing Band: “Dustin was a rare mix of talent and showmanship. He loved the songs he was singing. He knew the back stories of the singers, arrangers and bands that the music came from. He put all of that into his performance. … You knew looking at Dustin that he was going to take you to another place and time through the music.”
Bill Kisinger, former director of Lafayette Citizens Band: “The audience loved him as did band members. He was a hit from the get-go. Dustin was always fully prepared, so we could run his tunes once or twice, and we were ready to perform them. While we mostly performed Sinatra songs, we also did cover tunes from Bobby Darin and Dean Martin.”
Jeff Clark, guitarist, Moonshine Mason and the Rot Gut Gang: “He was a talented singer of all sorts of music styles. In Moonshine Mason, he embraced the country music we set out to play. I don't think he listened to much country music prior to Moonshine. However, he took it upon himself to learn the music and take on the role of front man.”
Dave Mason, drummer, Moonshine Mason: “In close to 40 years of music, I was never more proud of anything than the music I played with Dustin and Moonshine Mason. He was only 24 when he started. He was a little reserved in the early days. I told him, ‘This is all about you and send this over the top and be a presence.’ It was really fun seeing him come out of his shell. Halfway through that band’s run, he was out front and in charge.”
Pat McClimans, former Lafayette guitarist and songwriter: “Dustin has such a smooth style, and his voice was obviously great. The most notable thing about Dustin as a performer, to me, was his confidence and ease standing on a stage with a (really fancy) microphone in his hand. I can see it right now. He made performing appear effortless. That’s his spirit.”
Joy Waltman, vocalist, Moonshine Mason: “It was a great experience singing with Dustin. When I started singing with them, I hadn't had much experience in front of big crowds. My first show with them was the Taste of Tippecanoe. Dustin was very patient and could see that I was terrified, and he took the time to make me feel confident at that performance. He was quite a perfectionist in rehearsals, and it showed on stage. Dustin always commanded such a presence on stage; he made my job of backup vocalist much easier. I will cherish those memories.”
Paul Addison, keyboardist, Big Swing Band: “I loved his singing style, which was smooth and rich in all ranges, high to low. He was the perfect singer for songs that had been recorded by Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin. Dustin was easy to get along with musically, never criticizing my keyboard playing, but he often had good suggestions on how I could help us both sound better.”
Amy Paget, fan: “I first experienced his musical personality and skill at a Leadership Lafayette event that featured the Purdue Glee Club. I next connected with him when he was part of Moonshine Mason and the Rot Gut Gang. I was amazed at his ability to perform in the country swing style and totally inhabit his country persona. I then started to attend his local shows with whatever ensemble he was working with. Just so talented. He inhabited every musical style he used and was such a professional performer.”
Chris Foresman, former Lafayette music scene photographer and supporter: “I was impressed how his vocal style fit so perfectly. I was already somewhat familiar with his singing with the Big Swing Band, and his buttery smooth baritone was classic yet distinctive.”
Jennifer Wilson, karaoke host and friend: “His vocals were like a shock and awe experience, especially after you fell in love with him during a Sinatra serenade.”
Javin Rusco, fan, friend and DJ: “That smoooooooth baritone! He nailed every note, and charmed audiences with a lilting rhythm, always injecting a subtle style into everything he sang. Ever the smooth performer, his stage presence was relaxed and cool, always putting listeners at ease while making us swoon to his showmanship.”
Jennifer Wilson: “The style and grace that Dustin had on- and off-stage was undeniable. I loved watching the look on guests’ faces when he would bust out a classic country tune by Johnny Cash, and allow those bass and baritones to reverberate through their being. Dustin was the kind of person who was a king among men, in my opinion. I noticed he held himself with an elegance and composure that didn't turn you away but rather drew you in. He was kind enough to share any interesting tidbit that was relevant to a topic at hand and give you a piece of his story one juicy bite at a time. Such a fascinating man, in my opinion, that I will always long to know every lifetime.”
Jeff Clark: “Dustin was truly a one-of-a-kind person. … Being a serious performer, he also had to look the part of a country singer. Dustin spent as much time working on the music as he did working on his outfits and wardrobe. I always appreciated and admired how he went ‘all in’ for the band. He was always very proud to show off his new Moonshine Mason wardrobe and accessories that he sought out.”
Pat McClimans: “He has a style. That’s the telling thing. Dustin brought a performance to the table. He didn’t just get the words and the notes, he performed.”
Chris Foresman: “He was very much a ‘cool cat,’ like he stepped out of a 1950s film. Very friendly and all for a good time.”
Steve Cotten: “Dustin had a little get-together at his apartment before our first gig this summer. I was astonished by his craftsmanship in restoring antiques. His jukebox is a thing of beauty, but what I really loved was an oval bar cart that opened up. It was like something Nick and Nora (Charles) would’ve rolled out to serve martinis from in ‘The Thin Man’ movie.”
Javin Rusco: “Absolute class and style. He personified cool effortlessly and had inimitable taste. A stranger to no one, he had an easy way about him that was always approachable and friendly. A charming conversationalist, he always asked personal questions, and remembered things that were brought up in previous discussions in a way that always let you know he was thoughtful and cared.”
Chris Foresman: “Like me, he was always interested in the history and context of objects and art. Learning about who made a thing, or where it came from, or how its meaning might have been interpreted differently and different eras. Few people care about these details, but they mattered a lot to him. And I loved this about him.”
Dave Mason: “He was interested in restoration his whole life. He had an extensive collection of Art Deco design pieces that he restored. He cared deeply about the history and meaning behind the things. He researched what he was working on. He’d select a part or make a decision based on the significance of the piece. He respected the history of effort others put in and he was about preserving that effort. He was a custodian of these historical items, essentially. People would give him things because people trusted him to care for and preserve those items. Preserving a disappearing art form was important to him, which made him a natural fit to be in a vintage country band because we were preserving a music that was disappearing.”
Paul Addison: “I thought his love for jukeboxes was fascinating.”
Amy Paget: “We talked several times and then became friends on Facebook where I learned about his passion for Art Deco and other style pursuits. It was fun to follow his interests, especially as I am a design freak and enjoyed seeing his finds and following his restorations.”
Javin Rusco: As a fellow tinkerer, motorcycle and car enthusiast/restorer, antique collector/restorer, and mid-century modern lover, we had a lot to talk about. We spent countless hours ruminating over the particularities of design and engineering of our mutual objects of desire. The fact that we shared so many common interests was why we were so eager to indulge in lengthy, animated conversation, to the point of annoyance of whoever we had arrived with. I ran into Dustin at antique shops countless times, and it was always humorous to share our finds, and cheesy grins, with each other upon accidentally meeting at these places. I don't think I've ever met someone that was so meticulous in their restoration efforts, regardless of what the object was. His Honda 90 bike probably took him seven years to restore, and it was better than showroom-new when he was done, no exaggeration at all. Every detail was absolutely perfect, and he took efforts to improve any element of the machine that he could, while respecting the original design.”
Bill Kisinger: “Dustin and I shared a love for the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Art Deco design. He loved vintage cars, motorcycles, bikes, clothes, furniture, jukeboxes and appliances like radios and lamps. My wife, Susan (Kisinger), once tipped him off about a jukebox for sale, and he bought it and repaired it until it looked brand new. It was always interesting to see his posts on Facebook showing his latest interest. It seemed like Dustin was constantly on the go. He loved to travel, often to seek sales of vintage items and he also took full advantage of big cities like Indy, Chicago and New York City. He enjoyed dining in fine restaurants and finding vintage bars. Dustin lived life to the fullest.”
Shined even brighter off-stage
Paul Addison: “Dustin was one of the most easy-going people I have ever met. His personality matched his voice: soothing and relaxed.”
Pat McClimans: “The best. Hilarious. You could be silly with him; you could deeply nerd out with him about music, gear, cars, on and on. I’ll always have a shiny memory of road-tripping with Dave Mason, Chris Foresman, and Dustin to Memphis to be tourists and party.”
Steve Cotten: “Dustin was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known. … I think more than anything Dustin always brought a smile to people’s faces. When he came to the mic, they knew they were going to have a good time.”
Jeff Clark: “I will always remember Dustin as the guy who loved his mother (Ann Ohl) the most. The special relationship the two of them had was unique, loving, to be admired. His mother was at all of his performances. I always appreciated how they would arrive together — Ann often carrying in some (most) of his gear. Ann was Dustin's No. 1 fan. The love he showed his mother was evidence of what kind of person Dustin was.
Bill Kisinger: “As a person, Dustin was one of the nicest individuals I have ever known. Always positive and never a cross word. He was the most unique in many ways.”
Jennifer Wilson: “He was the person who acted like he knew he was the center of attention in a room and held himself with a decorum that I admire and strive for. … I like to say that being around him was like being in a room with Cary Grant, and it was undeniable who the brightest star in the room was. He made anyone and everyone feel seen and heard if you just gave him the chance and said, ‘Hello.’”
Chris Foresman: “His smile was infectious. Though I wouldn’t say he was insincere, over time I came to see he definitely modulated his personality in large crowds versus more private or personal settings. I’m glad I got to see both sides of that. His warmness came through even more.”
Javin Rusco: “Never a cross word, always kindness that never felt forced or lacked authenticity. Everyone he came in contact with was instantly a friend, and he had thousands of friends.”
Dave Mason: “I think most people are going to remember the music, but I hope people remember and recognize the person he was. He was so considerate and generous, and he never asked for anything in return. His heart and actions reflected that.”
Thanks again to Lafayette Rotary, sponsor of today’s Based in Lafayette reporting project edition, as it presents its 5th Annual Ice Cream Crawl, 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20. For tickets and more details, scroll back to the top of the page or click the link here.
THANKS FOR SUPPORTING INDEPENDENT, LOCAL REPORTING.