It was a beautiful June Saturday in the year of 1990. Within the cozy confines of Weisiger Plaza on the historic courthouse corner of Main Street USA in downtown Danville, the inaugural sounds of Brass was first heard to herald in the first-ever Great American Brass Band Festival!
The free outdoor procession of some two-dozen performing concert bands would soon migrate down Main Street by noontime to continue on “Main Stage” on the beautiful campus of Centre College! And, toting lawn chairs, this writer and his wife, Pat was there!
The great weather, which carried over to the second day on Sunday had no doubt been favorably looked down upon by Apollo, the ancient mythical god of Music and Light, as well as the nine female Muses, goddesses of the arts, including music, song and dance, who were believed to especially inspire the male musicians of antiquity to rise to great musical heights; a truism carried forth to now!
Fast forward to the weekend of June 8-9, the Great American Brass Festival (GABBF) celebrated its 30th year in fine musical style; and, Pat and I were there again for our 30th consecutive year, never missing a year of attending both the Saturday and Sunday concerts — a one-hour drive from our Scott County home, west of Georgetown.
Thirty years and counting, and the high level of quality performances continue year-to-year, without one octave of decline, with many of the old regulars on hand, such as the Advocate Brass Band (originators Dr. George Forman, Vince DiMartino, Ron Holtz), the 202nd Army band, Saxton’s Civil War Cornet Band, the St. Louis Brass Band, the Fillmore Wind Band, always an excellent Salvation Army Band, and many others presenting a wide variety of musical offerings (with some surprises and serendipitous performances inside the Norton Center during storms), along with new performers. All to entertain the enthusiastic bounty of visitors temporally at triple the normal 15,000 souls of the picturesque tree-lined small-town host city.
Over the years various new events have been added, extending the Festival to four days, including the GABBF Quilt Show, showcased in the beautiful backdrop of the Main Street Presbyterian Church, a side attraction my quilter-wife Pat especially enjoys.
I have a wide-brimmed straw hat purchased that inaugural year, upon which is attached a “pin” to attest for each year attended, except for 1992. Apparently, there were not enough pins provided for sale that year, and each year thereafter, the bin for 1992 has remained empty in the gift shop section to provide opportunities for purchases of pins of previous years.
But, I purchased a second 1990 pin, to account numerically for all our years in attendance. However, for our planned consecutive year No. 31, I will be wearing Year-1992 — many thanks to Thomas Hensley, a Danville native manning the Information Booth, upon learning of my quest, sent me an extra 1992 pin he had in his possession.
With the realization that we cannot play a note of anything, I am pleased to “show off” our support and attendance with my GABBF hat each year. My old hat, loaded down with the heavy weight of now 30 pins, having survived numerous assaults of sun and sweat, rain, heat and wind — even good weather tempting me to wear it longer — is showing its age of wear and tear — sort of like the many military campaigns survival of our nation’s “Old Glory!”
The pressing question here, “how much longer will this old iconic symbolism of the love of brass band musicality survive, perched upon my head for public view and perusal?” For as long as the old hat continues to survive as a compliment to my attire, it serves — frequently with no spoken words needed — as a walking advertisement for The Great American Brass Band Festival.
It was early in 1990 that we first learned of plans for the upcoming inaugural GABBF, when we received a note from Bill Dishman, a Centre College graduate and long-time practicing attorney residing in Danville.
"Pat, the city of Danville and Centre College is planning a Brass Band Festival for this June," Dishman said. "With you and Don’s love of Big Band music and since you both are great ballroom and swing dancers, I think you all would love attending the Great American Brass Band Festival."
Bill and Pat were long-time friends who had grown up in the small town of Barbourville in southeastern Kentucky’s Knox County, with Bill graduating in 1953 two years ahead of Pat at Barbourville High School. With numerous reunions over the years, Bill and I had also became good friends.
And, Bill was “on tune.” We came, and greatly enjoyed the first-ever festival. I remember Pat and I driving back home late that first Saturday night, planning to return to Danville on Sunday morning in time for the out-door church service, with music provided by the visiting Salvation Army Band, hopeful that “there would be a second year of the Great American Brass Band Festival in 1991!”
Thankfully, there was, and has continued. It can be said that Pat and I, arriving on Saturday before 9 a.m. and departing after 11 p.m., had “opened and closed” the first-ever Great American Brass Band Festival.
Later that year of 1990, Pat and I, along with Bill, and his wife, Janelle, joined The Lexington Cotillion Ballroom Dance Club (five black-tie dinner-dances each year), of which Pat and I were members for 27 consecutive years, continuing our love of ballroom slow belly-rubbing, and fast swing dancing to the refrains of live “Big Band/Brass Music.”
Unfortunately, we lost our friend Bill with his passing a couple years ago. Occasionally, during the early years, and our younger ages, at the GABBF, the “spirit would move us” to get up and dance on the uneven grassy terrain, usually to Glen Miller’s “In the Mood,” possibly inspired by the descent from lofty heights of the invisible Apollo accompanied by the nine female muses.
Indeed, on at least one occasion, there were six to eight couples who were members of the Lexington Cotillion Club, including yours truly, “dancing” on the grounds of the GABBF, in lieu of attending the scheduled Saturday evening Cotillion Club dinner/dance, prompting future scheduling to not be on the same Saturday as the GABBF!
And, as the late Saturday night festive fever reached a heightened crescendo, some of the local young couples, themselves feeling “In the Mood,” perhaps fortified with a bit of Kentucky’s finest libation, might be seen dancing on a table top or two, set up for the evening’s “Great American Picnic!” Three friends who had migrated from my original hometown of Carlisle, Bill Grimes, Von Fry, the late Jimmy Carter, and their wives yearly won prizes for their “themed” decorated tables!
Pat and I have frequently arrived in Danville on Saturday morning early enough to watch the Great American Brass Band Parade. On one such occasion Pat, with a pollen induced allergy, had started the day with a case of laryngitis.
As we stood in the parade line, a man next to Pat began commenting on the variety of participants in the parade. When Pat would turn to reply, words barely came out, as the man would try to listen by cupping his ear next to her.
On his third try to talk with Pat, each time cupping his ear, I said, “Sir, I must apologize for my wife, but she has a severe case of laryngitis and can barely speak.”
Upon which the man replied, “Oh, that’s OK, I lost my hearing aids this morning. I couldn’t hear her anyway!”