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The Royals return to Riverhead with sold-out show at Polish Hall

The Royals

More than 50 years after they played their first show, one of Riverhead’s most popular local bands will return to the stage next month.

The Royals, whose members were in their teens when they made their 1963 debut, are all in their late 60s and early 70s today. But that hasn’t stopped them from reuniting the band every so often.

The group, which plays about two gigs a year but hasn’t performed since 2014, has a sold-out show scheduled for Aug. 6 at Polish Hall in Riverhead. That’s right: The Royals are still in demand.

“They have a big following and they give you your money’s worth,” said Polish Hall president Ziggy Wilinski. “It sold out through word of mouth.”

While the Royals mostly play cover versions of hit songs, Mr. Wilinski said he’s heard some instances in which their version was better than the original.

The Royals — John Schaefer (from left), John Czygier, Bob Dunkirk, Butch Langhorn, Bill Dunkirk and Butch Cavoulo (partially hidden), rehearsing last Saturday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)
The Royals — John Schaefer (from left), John Czygier, Bob Dunkirk, Butch Langhorn, Bill Dunkirk and Butch Cavouto (partially hidden), rehearsing last Saturday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Aside from one member, none of the Royals have retired from their day jobs, so they’ve been practicing every Saturday for the past two months. They have about five more Saturdays to go before the Aug. 6 concert.

The band has a list of about 50 songs to rehearse, mostly R&B and rock songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s like “Knock on Wood” by Eddie Floyd, “In the Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett and “I Can’t Explain” by The Who.

“It’s not a reunion, it’s a celebration,” said founding member and lead guitarist John Schaefer, a retired union carpenter who grew up in Riverhead and has spent the past 12 years living in New York City. “It’s a celebration that this band is still alive and playing.”

“People keep asking us when we are going to get together,” said Bob Dunkirk, another founding member who sings lead vocals on some songs and also plays guitar.

The Royals’ last concerts took place in November 2014, when they played at Polish Hall and the Riverhead Moose Lodge.

“It’s a lot different than when we were kids,” Mr. Schaefer said. “We had nothing to do but homework then. But as you get a little older, everybody gets married, they have families and vacations. It’s very hard to get the band together at this age. We’re thankful that we can even manage this. Between the obligations of each person, you have to figure out a workable date for all of us to be able to play, and still give us enough time to get the songs together.”

Lead singer Butch Langhorn said that when the band is ready to play, he determines a date and finds a concert venue.

Mr. Langhorn said the main reason they keep playing is simple: “It’s fun.”

Mr. Langhorn, who lives in Calverton, is retired from the Air Force and currently works as an assistant to the Suffolk County sheriff. He sings lead vocals on many songs and also plays percussion instruments, like the tambourine and cowbell. In addition, he’s a former Riverhead Town Democratic leader.

But the Royals are a bipartisan band. Organ player John Czygier is a Suffolk County surrogate judge and former Southampton Town Republican leader.

The group’s newest member, Butch Cavouto, is the only one who actually plays music for a living.

“I play in two other bands,” he said. “I teach, I record, I play every day. I play drums for a living. That’s my only income.”

Mr. Dunkirk, who lives in Riverhead, works in trucking with his brother, Bill, who happens to be the Royals’ bass player.

Some of the band’s former members, such as Ted Jasinski, Eddie Gatz and George Palmer, have passed away, Bob Dunkirk said.

Mr. Czygier has a scrapbook filled with old pictures and newspaper clippings about the band beginning in 1963, when the group performed one its first concerts at Bishop McGann-Mercy High School. At the time, they just played instrumental songs.

Today, the band can rattle off a list of venues they’ve played over the years. Many no longer exist, like The Barge on Dune Road in East Quogue, the Pink Panther in Southampton and the Apple Tree in Mattituck.

One the groups they played with at The Barge in 1966 was called Sparrow, Bob Dunkirk said. Its members went on to become Steppenwolf.

While many of the Royals’ concerts are fundraisers, their Aug. 6 show is not, Mr. Dunkirk said.

“This one time we’ve got to pay off some of this equipment,” he said. “So it’s going into the kitty for that, and then after that, we’ll go back to doing fundraisers.”

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Top photo: The Royals in 1963 at Mercy High School. (Credit: John Cygier, courtesy)