Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, May 29, 2005


Memorial Day week-end, it’s Northwest Folklife, Seattle’s “folk” music festival. Yesterday was the first day in a month my beloved spouse & I both had off together, so we made a day of it, and went to the festival. We saw some guys I know who play in a steel-drum wedding band. It was hot yesterday, and they were playing in the grassy shade, so we stayed for a while. Three steel drums and a kit drummer; intricate, showy, entertaining arrangements. The 2-year-old danced.

“Now we’re going to do a song by a little known recording artist. Anybody ever heard of Barry Manilow?”

My wife and I shook our fists in the air and yelled, “Barry! Barry!”

A 55-ish white woman standing behind us, standing with the aid of two canes, said to me, “Barry rocks!”

It was a welcome answer to my question of the other night.


The high point yesterday was The Ballard Sedentary Sousa Band. (For those who’ve never lived around here, Ballard is one of Seattle’s more self-regarding neighborhoods.) The BSSB lit up those Sousa standards and other brass band fare, and the be-sandaled folkies sitting on a lawn at the Seattle Center dug it. Sousa’s music in the park, where it belongs. Folk music -- the people’s music. At one point someone put their sandals on their hands and marched them in the air; soon the whole lawn was doing it, almost all sandals, and a couple pair of tennies, and my docksiders. (My ethnicity is WASP, middle-class WASP, more specifically, Lake-WASP. I grew up wearing docksiders, well before the brief fad for things “preppie” in the late ‘70s, and I never stopped. My high school band once got fired after the first night of a 3-night gig, ostensibly because of my docksiders. We were playing, roughly speaking, punk rock. In 1981, docksiders were Not Punk. I had made the Romantic mistake of thinking that rock and roll was an avenue for personal expression. Do I still have ISSUES about this?)

A lot of the BSSB members wear their old high school or college band uniforms -- the ones that can still fit in them. The middle-aged drum major sits in a chair, wearing shorts and her high school uniform, and twirls that baton like a pro, always seated. The crowd went nuts and demanded an encore; the band complied with “Stars and Stripes Forever.” The drum major stood up and sang, in a powerful church-soprano voice, this stanza only, during the march’s third strain.

Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

The march’s third strain plays thrice. The drum major sang during the first and third go-throughs; the piccolos nailed the obliggato in the 2nd & 3rd. I had never heard the words before, and damned if the condemnation of despots and the rousing music didn’t bring a tear to my eye, and damned if the whole crowd didn’t give them a Standing O.
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