Brass Band Fest needs community support for innovation and growth

Published 6:58 pm Friday, February 28, 2020


Guest columnist

As the 2020 Chairman of the Great American Brass Band Festival Board of Directors, I want to clarify some issues about who we are and where we are going.

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Looking back, we are lucky to have had the leadership of our founders in making this the signature community event that it is now our honor to serve. Likewise, the contributions of logistical wizard Jerry Boyd and his loyal crew, many of whom are now preparing for their 31st consecutive year of service, cannot be overstated. 

It requires a lot of work to bring in the talent and make it all happen, while being conscientious with money that comes entirely from the charity of others. We are blessed to have some bands perform for basically only the costs of production.

In a festival that prides itself as the personification of an American experience, our military bands such as the Airmen of Note or The President’s Own Marine Corps Band featuring marches by the likes of John Phillip Sousa understandably overlap in sound or genre. But these servicepeople are also some of the finest musicians in the world. Many of our patrons come specifically for them, especially veterans.  

The first festival following 9-11 saw New York’s singing policeman and a fantastic fireworks display, but the most poignant moment I saw was an older man in a wheelchair wearing his USMC hat directing those around him to PICK HIM UP for the playing of the Marine’s Hymn.

Nancy Caudill, an early and stalwart supporter of the festival who was laid to rest in a Brass Band Festival T-shirt, had passed away two months prior and I personally was moved to tears recalling her words after that horrible September day, knowing the warmth she must have had looking down to see how we rise as a community to spread positivity and pride in the face of hatred and violence.

We would like to explore other genres along with our crowd favorites such as the Storyville Stompers and the Stooges, who will again perform this year at Bayou and Brass. We have been thrilled by Grammy-nominated acts like The Soul Rebels (featured during ESPN college basketball ads), and Grammy winners like the Canadian Brass. We have played host to the iconic Doc Severinsen. We are always blessed to feature the virtuosity of our own Vince DiMartino.

Visitors of all ages come to see bands collaborate in the parade. Based on the marketing of the city and our economic development partners, it certainly looks like that event is as popular now as ever. It’s the consummate postcard for Danville and a big part of how we present ourselves to bring in other events, businesses, and yes, tax dollars.

But to keep our image vibrant and growing, we need continuing and growing revenue. This free event is not free to produce. We meet regularly with our vendors, our logistics people and our accountant to make sure that we put on the best event possible, while staying within our means. This year’s contracts are out, our vendors are lining up and our donations continue to arrive weekly. Our goal would be to have enough cash reserve at the end of the 2020 festival to cover many of the costs we will incur this fall in early planning for GABBF 2021. Unfortunately, our revenues have been down during the actual weekend of the festival due to weather in two of the last three years — particularly merchandise sales. 

The picnic has always been the pinnacle of the weekend, but actual table rentals have declined recently. While the creativity of many participants continues to shine, keeping the festival as entertaining as always, we encourage those who have never participated in table decorating for the evening to try it out this year, and hope that some of those who have dropped off will come back with enthusiasm.

The cost of tables has not changed in decades, but we need more of them. The spirit seen in the themed tables, patriotic displays, and downright entertaining, over-the-top presentations has been a highlight of the whole summer. Please contact us soon to make those reservations as we really hope we run out, and that we again marvel at the great things you do to add wonder to the festivities.

We welcome new ideas and their challenges, and pursue them as we can within our current budget. To that end, many of our business leaders will also be getting a letter from me personally explaining the need for this year’s sponsorships to hopefully be paid sooner than in prior years; to encourage those who have given in the past but have for whatever reason fallen off the radar to come back; and to seek out new investment from the many new businesses that have come to town recently, especially our small businesses who keep us thriving with their irreplaceable personal commitments.

Meanwhile, we are actively and aggressively seeking grants to greatly restore and improve our cash reserve. Perhaps most innovatively, some new members to our board are approaching various community partners who have expressed desires for a certain band or style. The idea is to create a new “band sponsorship” program where businesses or families can work with our music director to financially bring their influence to what we all hear during festival.

We think many of the suggestions we have already received are wonderful. However, these things cost money and require an enormous amount of goodwill and community volunteerism to see through to the outcome we all want: one of the most robustly impactful and marketable aspects of our community in our efforts to attract new residents, new investments and new jobs. I invite anyone to come to us with ideas, suggestions and — when possible — their time, but also to visit to see what we are about and contribute in any way you can to what is year after year identified as the best community festival event in the commonwealth.


Patrick McClure is the chair of the Great American Brass Band Festival Board of Directors.