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O'Boyle: The legend plays on 

He sits down at the electric keyboard, which he could make sound like almost anything in an orchestra of instruments, and he plays song after fascinating song from his incredible memory.

You might hear something from Henry Mancini, Frank Sinatra, obscure hits from the early 1900s, all kinds of jazz, college fight songs, old Irish sing-a-longs ... literally anything.

Tom O'Boyle could go on seemingly forever without having to play the same tune twice.

Then he takes a break during his weekly Saturday night gig (7 to 9 p.m.) at Castaways in Manitou Springs, sits down and talks about his 40-plus years in Colorado Springs, qualifying him as an unofficial historian for the city.

Most locals know O'Boyle as the gifted showman who spent a quarter-century banging away on the upright piano at The Broadmoor's infamous Golden Bee, or playing in the more relaxed Terrace Lounge. At the Bee, whatever anybody wanted to hear, he would play and everyone would sing, as they still do with others at the piano.

The audiences usually included hotel guests from everywhere and innumerable celebrities staying or performing at the resort hotel. He rattles off a list that ranges from John Wayne and Liberace to Jack Benny, Ferrante and Teicher ... it's endless. O'Boyle remembers comedians Dan Rowan and Dick Martin of "Laugh-In" fame on NBC, standing by the piano and leading the crowd.

O'Boyle has countless other celebrity stories, almost all spellbinding. Like the day he decided to go up the Manitou Incline and shared the ride with none other than Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, "back when they were married." Or playing Mancini music at The Broadmoor's former Lodge in Vail, with the composer himself an appreciative regular.

Then there was the night he came to work at the Terrace Lounge and wound up going through a security check to play for none other than Dick Cheney (when he was secretary of defense for the first President Bush) and his family.

This weekend O'Boyle will be constantly busy. He'll perform or emcee at various St. Patrick's Day-related occasions, along with an extra hour Saturday night at Castaways.

Then, at 2 p.m. Sunday, comes the capper. O'Boyle will present a program of Irish music and history, ragtime and other surprises at the Mount St. Francis auditorium. The organ there, for those who don't know, is the largest in Colorado that the public can access, with more than 1,500 pipes.

"It's the most fabulous organ," O'Boyle says. "You can't help but be amazed to see and hear how it works. It's so sweet, so beautiful, yet so powerful. "

Aside from the music, anybody who cares about Colorado Springs and its past would be fascinated just to hear some reflections from O'Boyle.

He grew up in South Dakota and still goes back periodically. His music education took place at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He landed here in 1964, started out playing at a Furr's cafeteria downtown and later the old Embers on Wahsatch. He hooked up with The Broadmoor in 1969, where he became an institution while befriending everybody who was anybody in the Springs.

"But a lot of 'em are dead now," O'Boyle says, estimating he has played 300-plus funerals.

If you're assuming O'Boyle might be over the hill in his mid-60s, you couldn't be more wrong. He's an encyclopedia of music knowledge, and he has watched this city's entertainment scene since the old Cotton Club days. He's also dedicated to helping preserve the City Auditorium, and not just because of the historic organ there that still draws crowds for concerts.

He's at his best, though, sitting in front of any keyboard, preferably upright. For hours on end, he pulls out songs from his huge repertoire: classic standards to movie themes and everything in-between.

This weekend, he'll play his all-time, most-requested Golden Bee favorite wherever he goes. That would be "Danny Boy," which he makes sure to emphasize is much more than just a bar song. To the Irish, he says, "it's right up there with the Lord's Prayer."

And whenever Tom O'Boyle finishes performing it, there's only one word that's appropriate.

Amen.

routon@csindy.com

Tom O'Boyle presents Irish music, ragtime and more, sponsored by Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society

Mount St. Francis auditorium, 7665 Assisi Heights Drive (off West Woodmen Road)

Sunday, March 18, 2 p.m.

Tickets are $10 each;

call 488-9469 for more.

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