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A FINE OLD TRADITION

The band Party Squad has become as much a New Year's Eve ritual in Buffalo as champagne, hats and horns.

For 13 years, Party Squad has been the featured band at the 97 Rock midnight ball drop at the Niagara Mohawk building at Roosevelt Plaza. It will be that way again Friday night starting at 10:30, when thousands of people will crowd their way to the makeshift stage to welcome the year 2000 while listening to them.

"We've done this a lot but nothing will be typical about this year," said Dave Elder, the band's guitarist and lead singer, part of a trio that includes Mark Dixon on drums and vocals and Rick McGirr on keyboards. "It's an overwhelming rush to play this show."

The ball drop is the showcase event for the city. For Party Squad it's become an all-day gig.

"We start (hours earlier) with sound checks and rehearsal," Elder said. "The sound company takes over and the workers are like a colony of ants working to build the stage and check everything out. We have 24,000 Watts of power. In a club, you might have 300 to 1,000 Watts. When I'm up on that stage, I can play a chord on my guitar and you can hear it for blocks."

The biggest obstacle is the weather. The forecast for this New Year's Eve predicts frigid temperatures.

"It's always a struggle with the wind and cold," Elder said. "We've got heaters on stage and sometimes the hot air blows right in your face, against the cold. It's hard to keep in tune with all this going on, and the crowd noise."

The audience, though, makes the event, Elder believes. "The people respond to all the music," he said. "They sing-along, they dance and they party all night long."

Elder says this millennial year celebration ought to be one to remember.

"We're all charged up for this year," Elder said, adding he's not worried about the specter of Y2K. "I can't be motivated by fear. This night is too cool for us to worry about anything but music."

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