It spread quickly from Serafini to the streets. I was dining at Serafini with Magistrate Phillip Kring and his wife, Cathy, my lifelong friend, when the word got around. Something big was afoot.
“This is going to be something you don’t want to miss,” said Rick Pogrotsky, a Farmers Bank executive.
“This is the coolest group,” he said to anyone around him on the street.
It was Friday night and Eleventh Hour was already playing music on the stage of the Farmers Bank Summer Concert.
What was to come had everyone buzzing.
More than a thousand had gathered, stretched across the lawn of the Old Capitol in chairs and on blankets. Others spilled onto Broadway. St. Clair was dotted with folks as far as the eye could see.
It was, after all, a beautiful summer night.
As word spread around 9 p.m., folks congregated on St. Clair as though waiting for a parade. Others lined the railroad tracks on Broadway. So we, too, hung around waiting to see what others anticipated.
Suddenly the sounds of horns, drums and voices rose from Main Street. As the crowds parted to the sidewalks of St. Clair, there appeared the March Madness Marching Band – unlike any I’d ever seen.
People cheered and laughed at the jubilant group that came toward them led by a batman-like figure. What’s more, there were a half dozen girls twirling hula hoops in costumes reminiscent of can-can girls.
Behind them came men and women carrying horns and drums both playing and singing – roughly 50 strong in the most untraditional band uniforms of band I’d ever seen on Frankfort’s streets. Think Mardi Gras; think the Mummers Parade. They were all that and more.
As the band reached the railroad tracks, folks fell in behind as though the pied piper had come to Frankfort. It proceeded up the brick sidewalk toward the Old Capitol and the crowd followed.
The group – far too big for the Frankfort Plant Board stage on the grounds – took to the grassy area between the steps and the fountain. The crowd encircled them. People abandoned the comfort of their chairs and blankets to get a closer look.
I have never seen attendees of summer concerts so intent on watching a musical group. Teenagers even stopped their visiting to sit on the Old Capitol steps to view the spectacle. Younger, smaller children encircled the group. Phillip, Cathy and I were as mesmerized as everyone else.
The riotous, rowdy, outrageous group of musicians danced, sang, marched and played music, while the hula hoopers and that masked costumed man performed stunts and acted to the music.
Instruments bedecked with Christmas lights blinked in the night.
This was a treat brought by Downtown Frankfort Inc.
“How are we going to top this,” DFI Board member Jim Pierce said after the concert.
“The credit goes to Brittain Skinner,” Pierce said as he praised the executive director of DFI.
Skinner stood smiling a Cheshire cat-like grin in the audience.
“I have been trying to get this group for some time,” she said.
“My first try was for Candlelight in November, but they were not available. So I finally pinned them down to a date for the summer concert.”
People who passed by Skinner congratulated her for the feel-good, entertaining event they’d just witnessed.
From tiny children to 90-year-old Mary Ann Hockensmith, they stayed through the performance and many followed the band off the Old Capitol grounds – just like they came, marching back up St. Clair.
The March Madness Marching Band is a group of diverse musicians who live in Lexington. Many thought they were an extension of the University of Kentucky marching band or the pep band.
But they have no affiliation with the university. They are computer programmers, dental hygienists, lawyers, doctors, teachers, artists and professors. Some even lack musical training.
Their director is snare drummer Tripp Bratton, a professor at Berea College. Called the “Kahuna” of the band, his legitimate musical talents and abilities are known throughout Lexington.
According to Frankfort attorney and Western Hills High School grad Natalie Lile, Bratton arranges every piece of music for the band and its members according to their abilities.
“He is an incredible leader who instills inspiration and finds ways for all the members to be part of the band,” Lile said.
She should know. The former WHHS majorette marched with this band for about three years while she lived in Lexington. She made a cameo appearance as the Statue of Liberty in one concluding number.
“I was a feature twirler at one time,” said Lile, who joined the group shortly after it was formed.
Now mind you folks a feature twirler in this group could mean anything from the hula hoop to a broom; but for Lile it was a baton.
According to its website, the band actually formed as Local First Lexington to do what was thought to be a once-only performance in the Lexington Christmas parade in 2008.
But they won best band of the parade and people clamored for more. Since then the group performs in parades and at live fundraisers at Busters and other places in Lexington, coming up with costumes to suit an event whether it’s St. Patrick’s Day or the Fourth of July.
But she stayed on them until she found Friday’s open date on their calendar. Soon the group will go to Michigan for a Boy Scout Jamboree, not their first traveling gig out of state, according to Lile.
Most in Frankfort, except possibly Skinner and Lile, were not familiar with the band and its antics. So Friday night came off as a surprise, which had its merits.
But as someone who wanted everyone who enjoys the concerts to be there, I wish I had known so absent readers might have enjoyed the festivities as well.
There were also multiple events to draw people, including the local production of “Annie” and the re-enactment of Frankfort’s role in the War of 1812.
Note to DFI – call me next time before you surprise the bejebbers out of us with a group this incredible.
And by the way, the word on the street is Skinner and DFI have a few more surprises under way for our entertainment.
Locals Laura Penn and Jason Keeler of the newly renamed Eleventh Hour have their own following, and earlier they performed for them. The crowds filled the Old Capitol grounds and across downtown, enjoying everything it has to offer.
Pizza boxes were carried by many from Buddy’s Pizza. Patrons of Capital Wine Cellars enjoyed its outdoor seating and, of course, its food and beverages. Kentucky Coffeetree had its tables full as well, and many carried cups of coffee and cold teas as they walked on the streets.
Assistant manager Carlos Ceballos was on hand to greet the guests of Serafini, where servers were busy inside and out, with more patrons opting for the umbrella tables.
Franklin County Attorney Rick Sparks and his family were some of those who opted for dining al fresco as did Magistrate Don Sturgeon and his wife, Pam. Actually, there did not appear to be an empty seat on the streets.
As usual on these concert nights, it was the opportunity for all ages to see and be seen. Many parents, like Tom Bennett and Richard Taylor, had their young adult daughters with them, and the girls were patient as their parents stopped to chat and proudly introduce them. There is no age limit. Old and young mingle in perfect harmony.
Even though the temperatures had climbed to the high 80s earlier in the day, the evening seemed comfortable with no humidity, and people had dressed in cool clothes for the evening. No one appeared to be sweating except Pogrotsky who had been running hither and yon fulfilling the concert obligations for Farmers Bank.
If you have never attended one of the summer concerts, it’s one of the nicest events sponsored by community-minded businesses like the bank and the Plant Board. Frankfort Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites, the Kentucky Historical Society and Frankfort Convention Center are also sponsors. They all play a critical role bringing these concerts to fruition on Friday nights.
It is one event that even people visiting from out of town think is incredible for this town we call home.
The next concert is scheduled for July 6. And when Skinner and DFI give up its next surprise, I promise yours truly and The State Journal will let you know.
For those who missed it, Frankfort Cable was there taping. Watch your local schedule for its airing date.