A lanky South Pasadena singer-songwriter, Serby had been asked to sit in with the aging house band and play a few of his own honky-tonk numbers.
In the last few years, the 43-year-old troubadour had gone from playing open mike nights at local coffeehouses to kicking off a country music festival in the Coachella Valley last spring featuring such stars as Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson. So it wasn't the venue that drew him to this dingy hall 40 miles outside of Phoenix.
It was the man with the bad back, weak heart and bass guitar in his hands, who Serby had recently learned was his biological father. In the audience sat his biological mother, as well as an aunt, an uncle and a few other relatives that for more than 40 years Serby never knew existed.
As he strapped on his Gibson guitar, the surreal scene enveloped him. His quest to learn more about himself and his passion for music was turning into an emotional journey with consequences beyond his control. This heartwarming get-together, he knew, was more complicated than it seemed.
In 1962, Evie Hagle and Pete Canton were two Midwestern teenagers trying to make it on their own in California. Evie, a slender 5-foot, 5-inch blue-eyed girl, worked at a clothing store and lived with a couple of girlfriends in a North Hollywood apartment. Pete, a 6-footer with a cleft chin and blond hair, played guitar in a country-western band.
Though he was engaged to a woman in North Dakota, Pete was drawn to Evie. She, likewise, adored Pete's adventurous and rebellious attitude toward life. They were young, carefree -- and ultimately careless.
Evie learned she was pregnant shortly after Pete decided to move back home to marry his fiancee. When Evie wrote him with the news, Pete panicked. He called off his engagement, but also withdrew from Evie, thinking he didn't want to be a husband or a father.
Evie debated raising the child on her own, but at the urging of her mother and social workers, she gave the baby boy up for adoption.
Weeks after the child's birth, Pete moved back to California and reunited with Evie. Two months later, Evie was pregnant again.
This time, Pete stayed by her side. But the outcome would be the same. They agreed they were too young and immature to be married, let alone be parents.
As Evie signed the forms giving their second son up for adoption, she wept.
Where Pete and Evie were a bit free-wheeling or even reckless, Arvene and Verna Serby were stable and responsible. After 14 years of marriage, they were ready to adopt, having been unable to have a child on their own. According to adoption records, they were overjoyed to find a son who came from the same Norwegian stock as Arvene.
"That cinched it," he jokingly said to the social worker finalizing the adoption.
Baby Boy Hagle became David Allan Serby.
Two years later, the Serbys moved to Illinois, with David and his baby sister, whom the couple, to their surprise, had conceived on their own.
Although neither Arvene nor Verna was musically inclined, David loved music. He played violin in elementary school and saxophone in middle school, sang in a band in high school and taught himself the guitar while in college.
By then, the family had moved back to California, settling in Placentia. David married his high-school sweetheart, followed his father into the insurance business and bought a Spanish-style home in Highland Park.
At age 30, though, David's comfortable life started to crumble. His marriage ended in divorce about the same time his father died after a prolonged fight with colon cancer. In the sadness of those days, David turned to music. He dusted off his guitar, which he hadn't touched in nearly a decade, and practiced constantly. Soon, he started writing his own songs.