Yesterday, I woke up with a simple plan: Enjoy the holiday weekend. At the time, “enjoy” would have been defined by cutting the grass, doing the laundry, helping Rachel further summer proof the home, and slacking. Heck, it’s a holiday weekend, after all, and a chance to reflect on those who have protected our country and what it stands for throughout it’s long history. Little did I know, however, that my plans would change and I would find myself two states away from home, sweating away in 80 degree heat before 10AM this morning, and LOVING IT.
It all started when I was sitting at home yesterday afternoon. Rachel and I were fooling around on our respective computers when I call came in over my Google Voice line. I didn’t recognize the number, although I did recognize the area code as Erie, PA. The caller was Gary Matczak of the Erie Thunderbirds and he left a message asking about my intentions for Memorial Day. The T-Birds were performing in the Dunkirk, New York, Memorial Day parade and, even though it would be “a long haul”, as Gary put it, for me to attend, he wanted to know if I would be there.
I had known about the parade, having been involved on and off throughout the winter and spring with the corps, but hadn’t planned on going as it’s a three hour drive and, as I mentioned earlier, I was looking forward to slacking. What caught my mind, however, was the fact that Gary was checking to see if somebody located as far away from Dunkirk as I was would be at the parade. That made me wonder if maybe the horn turnout wasn’t that large and Gary was looking to fill it up as much as possible. After talking things over with Rachel, I decided I would take part in the parade after all. A quick stop at Priceline to grab a cheap hotel room, a run upstairs to pack, and I was Off On the Road to Dunkirk!
I got to my hotel, the Days Inn in Fredonia, at about 12:15 AM, got checked in, and pretty much flopped over as soon as the door closed to my hotel room. I will say that, while the Days Inn – Fredonia won’t win any awards for contemporary design or decor, it is a functional hotel if all you need is a place to crash for the night, especially if you’re only paying $60 total for the night. They even had two self serve waffle makers at the continental breakfast table the next morning! That’s a great way to start your day!
I headed over to the meeting site for the corps and found a few people had already arrived. It turned out that the parade step-off time was 11:30, not 11:00, so we were basically gathering early and had plenty of time to kill. That wasn’t an issue as it gave us all time to catch up since the last time we saw each other, which, in my case, was over a month ago. All in all, we had a pretty good turnout, with a strong drum line and 15 horns. We also had time to talk to some of the Western New York Drum Corps Alumni members who were also marching in the parade, including Steve Cooley, a baritone player and instructor with WNYDCA and a drum corps legend. He and I both prefer playing on two-valve horns, so we tend to hype on that whenever we’re in the same place.
When the time came to move the corps towards the parade route and warm up, a fun thing happened. As we were walking to the warm-up site, we passed by the WNYDCA horn line. A few of us stopped to watch and listen. Before we knew it, Steve had invited us to join in the warm-up. It was a blast standing with fellow drum corps fanatics and performers, at least until they started playing their music, which I knew none of, but I at least got to listen to it and enjoy it.
The T-Birds then moved to a shady spot in front of a building and warmed ourselves up. Apparently, nobody told us that this was the first time the corps had played outside all year. The horns really tuned up and listened to one another well and were ready to go real fast. Mr. Cooley even snuck over and joined in on the warm-up. For playing on a chrome horn, Steve has a sweet tone quality. I’m going to have to find excuses to play with him again.
Now it was time to head over to our starting point for the parade. As we waited our turn to join in the festivities, both the Thunderbirds and the Western New York Drum Corps Alumni members made sure to applaud the parade units passing in front of us, including another drum corps and the Dunkirk High School and Middle School marching bands. There was a lot of enthusiasm from the units, which meant, to us, that the crowds were going to be ready for us to blow their faces off!
Our turn to step off came, and we quickly got into performance mode. We formed up our parade block and started marching down the street to the T-Birds’ street beat. Our parade songs, two of which I learned this morning as I didn’t have the music before today, consisted of Grand Old Flag, Stars and Stripes, and This Is My Country, patriotic charts guaranteed to entertain the parade crowd. We alternated between the street beat and playing one of those songs while on the move, which was for most of the parade as the units kept moving pretty consistently throughout. Before we knew it, we were at the reviewing stand. Here, we stopped and played a couple Thunderbird standards: Jezebel and Magnificent Seven, which were great excuses to play loud and blow people away. We left the stand playing Stars and Stripes and quickly found ourselves in a nearby park, finding the first shade we could get under. The parade was a complete success.
Now the fun really begins. After walking back to where we all parked, we were treated to a great cookout by the Dunkirk Firemens’ Exempt Club. Hot dogs, hamburgers, and drinks galore were had by all. I had my share, wolfing down two dogs and a burger, along with a beer for good measure. Hey, it’s Memorial Day, all three of those food items are required, aren’t they? Before long, though, it was time for me to hit the road and head back home. I said my goodbyes and promised both the corps and myself that I would look at the summer schedule and see when I could play again with them. It feels good to play on a bugle and, unlike a lot of drum corps performers, I like parades, even if they are glorified basics blocks, since it’s another opportunity to perform and entertain, and I can’t wait to do it again.