Hit the Beach

Beach cities invite tourism year-round. What better way to be a tourist than to travel with your band to perform in a parade or festival next to the ocean?

Photo by Gary Thomas Byrne Photography

Summer may be over, but it’s not too late to enjoy the beach. Many coastal cities host festivals involving marching bands year-round, giving ensembles a chance to perform outside of their usual fall or summer seasons. Some events involve competition, inviting a wide range of schools to march in competitive parades while others are simply a time of celebration and pageantry. From Florida to Hawaii and other major cities along both coasts, these beach parades all have one thing in common: surf’s up.

Fun in the Sun

Originally conceived to take advantage of Virginia Beach’s excellent weather in late summer and early fall, the Neptune Festival has become a major tourist attraction for the state of Virginia. One of its greatest attractions is the Grand Parade, a 16-block route filled with floats, balloons and the exciting sound of many marching bands.

“We’re always looking for something that will add a little more excitement,” says John Ickes, director of operations and logistics with the Neptune Festival. “The spectators just love the sight of marching bands going down the street. The Grand Parade is one of the biggest attractions in the Festival.”

Groups from all across the East Coast travel to participate in the Grand Parade, held this year on Sep. 27. Eleven local high school marching bands as well as bands from states as far as Pennsylvania have approached the Neptune Festival to join the parade. On occasion, even bands from different branches of the armed forces, such as the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Forces Band, Army TRADOC Band and the Air Force Heritage of America Band, march the parade.

“There’s a nice synergy between us and the parade participants,” Ickes says. “If anyone wants to be part of our end-of-summer fling, we’d be delighted to have them.”

On the opposite end of summer, the Virginia Beach Surf and Sound Parade will make its inaugural showing on May 2 of 2015. Hosted by Music Festivals and Tours, the event will allow marching bands from across the country to participate.

Besides performing in the parade itself and participating in an awards ceremony, band members have plenty of fun opportunities, such as visits to the beach and boardwalk and a day trip to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg.

“What’s unique about this parade is that it’s happening in spring, rather than along with the winter holidays,” says Ron Simmons, executive director with Music Festivals and Tours. “Marching bands can both take a fun spring trip to Virginia Beach and perform in a great parade.”

The Spirit of Competition

Competitive parades along the boardwalks and beaches of Hawaii and Santa Cruz, Calif., will also keep bands’ competitive spirit up without an undue amount of stress. The Hawaii Invitational International Music Festival and Santa Cruz Band Review give musicians the chance to compete in front of massive crowds and afterwards enjoy some great times at the beaches.

Part exciting band competition and part spring break vacation, the Hawaii Invitational in early April invites marching bands to participate in the Salute to Youth parade along Waikiki Beach. The festival also features concert bands, orchestras, jazz bands and choirs.

“There are so many great things for people to experience in Oahu and Waikiki,” says Thomas Philips, the parade adjudicator as well as a band director at both the Azusa (Calif.) Pacific University and Mayfair High School in Lakewood, Calif. “We just want to make this a great, memorable trip for everyone involved. We want to give the students some great memories with their friends.”

The festival offers plenty of options for the musical ensembles that can make the trip. Noncompetitive groups can simply put on a performance and take a vacation, performing in venues from Waikiki Beach to the U.S.S. Missouri. Bands seeking the thrill of competition can perform in adjudicated festivals and win awards at the end of the week. “The trip can be anything you want it to be,” Philips says. “My band always wants to come back to Hawaii.”

Slightly closer to home for many, the Santa Cruz Band Review offers similar competitive opportunities along with plenty of attractions and beaches to make for a memorable trip. Originally organized by Santa Cruz High School and the local junior colleges, the Band Review currently involves 55 bands from primarily Northern California. Judges from the Northern California Band Association (NCBA) adjudicate the performances, so the scoring is familiar to many of the participants who compete in the NCBA circuit during their fall seasons. The Band Review takes place on the third Saturday of October every year (Oct. 18 in 2014).

“What really draws people to the Santa Cruz Band Review besides the performance is the boardwalk,” says Christina Latham, band director at Santa Cruz High School. “It’s the combination of being able to [share] your passion of performing with your peers and celebrating afterwards by going to the boardwalk.”

Along with the parade, which takes place along several streets and on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk itself, participating students get to spend a day on the boardwalk and the beach, celebrating their performance in front of huge crowds of other student musicians and anyone who wants to enjoy a parade. At the end of the day, local students have the honor of presenting awards to the victorious bands at the awards ceremony on the boardwalk.

“There are 3,000 or 4,000 students lining the beach at the awards ceremony,” Latham says. “It’s such an intense and awesome feeling to have that many people cheering while the students present the awards to each other.”

International Celebration

For bands who want a cultural exchange right in their own backyard, check out the Norfolk NATO Festival—from April 24 to 25 in 2015—which celebrates the NATO Alliance and invites groups from its member nations to participate in the Parade of Nations in cooperation with the Virginia International Tattoo. Twenty-eight floats represent different member nations. Most recently, the parade included bands from Sweden, Oman and Scotland.

“Our parade is the only parade in the U.S. that recognizes and celebrates each of the NATO countries,” says Sarah Jordan, operations manager with the festival. “It’s really an opportunity for people from different countries to meet and share their culture with the community.”

Formerly known as the Norfolk International Azalea Festival, the event changed its name to the Norfolk NATO Festival in 2009 to celebrate and recognize the long-lasting influence of the NATO command in the city.

Alongside the NATO Festival, the Performing Arts Consultants and Virginia Arts Festival hosts the Virginia International Music Festival, which brings high school bands in for the parade. All groups in the parade can get a taste of the beaches and events such as the NATO flag-raising ceremony. “The events give everyone so much opportunity to learn a little bit about all the different countries represented in the NATO Alliance,” Jordan says.

Make Way, Mateys

In a parade, one can reasonably expect to see marching bands, floats and maybe even a skateboarding bulldog, but a pirate invasion? Sightseers can check that one off their list at the Gasparilla Parade of the Pirates in Tampa, Fla. Since 1904, a 168-foot pirate ship has dropped anchor in Tampa Bay where a crew of pirates “invade” the city, holding celebrations throughout two weeks in January.

Participants include various themed “krewes” that perform alongside local high school marching bands and the U.S. Naval Academy Drum and Bugle Corps. In 2015 the Universities of South and Central Florida may join the parade as well. The Parade of the Pirates has the distinction of being the third-largest continuous parade in the United States after the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“We showcase about 60 different krewes on an annual basis, and around 9,900 people participated in the last year alone,” says Donald Barnes, executive officer of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. “We think we have the best variety of any parade you could see. It’s a great chance for everyone there to showcase the unique talents that they have to offer.”

Once the parades are over, people can stick around for more music, festivities and a fireworks display at the end of the day.

And the Going Is Easy

No matter what season, there is always summer weather somewhere. Even as band camps and classes resume for the fall, events across the country give marching bands lots of chances to enjoy the beach and musical celebrations all year long.

About the Author

Samuel Sweetnam is a junior at the University of Southern California (USC) majoring in mechanical engineering. He played trumpet for three years in the Palos Verdes Peninsula High School Marching Band in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., and became a drum major in his senior year. Sam continues to play trumpet as a member of the USC Trojan Marching Band.

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