2017 Great American Brass Band Festival

The 28th annual Great American Brass Band Festival was held on June 1–4, 2017.

David Goins leads the Saxton's Cornet Band (Photo credit: Marty Steiner)

Danville, Kentucky is one of those charming small towns in the mid-south that has a wealth of historic sites and structures, and also contributes to a rich quality of life for its residents and visitors. One event that has added to the vitality of this well-kept, bucolic community for twenty-eight consecutive years is the Great American Brass Band Festival, most recently held on June 1–4, 2017. The event celebrates band music, especially brass band music; and it provides free, family-friendly entertainment for its audience, members of which hail from all over. Since its inception the event has featured a variety of activities, but in recent years it has become even more multifaceted, this year including a brass symposium, a New Orleans-style street party (called Bayou and Brass), a parade, a picnic on the lawn, a balloon race, a Kids Art Fest, the Great American Swing Dance, a quilt show, and the Great American Art Festival.

This year’s GABBF theme was “The Roaring 20s”: jazz, bootleggers, the Charleston—remembering that decades-long celebration between the reality of the trenches of WWI and the stock market crash of ’29. On years that a theme is established, local interest can take interesting turns. To wit, on Wednesday, May 31, Jane Barleycorn’s Market & Bar held a reading of the 1925 novel that represents and symbolizes the excitement, glamour, and tragedy of the era; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the second-most-read American novel of all times. (Only Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is more widely read.) The Great Gatsby takes five hours to read aloud, from its opening line, "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice," to its closing sentence, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly to the past." When Jane Barleycorn’s hosted a Gatsby reading three years ago, thirty Danvillians read aloud 10-minute sections, each section having being specifically selected for the personality of each reader by a secret committee. Many who knew the novel well were surprised at how different and more interesting it became as they heard its poetic prose read aloud by fellow Danvillians.

A smattering of performances and events were held around the area on Thursday, June 1, and on Friday, June 2, brass scholars and aficionados attended the Brass Symposium, a daylong series of lectures and performances held in the Norton Performing Arts Center on the Centre College campus.

From the beginning, the heart of the festival has been a sequence of outdoor concerts by British-style brass bands, concert bands, jazz bands, brass quintets, and instrumental amalgamations of various sorts. Concerts are performed at two venues: the Main Stage, a specially constructed temporary performance arena at one end of a lovely outdoor commons within the Centre College grounds known as the “Festival Lawn,” and Weisiger Park, a public area adjacent to the county courthouse, only a few blocks from campus. This year, as usual, these performances were presented on Saturday, June 3 at both venues, and on Sunday, June 4 only at the Main Stage. A regular feature of the festival has been a stunning interdenominational church service on Sunday morning at the Main Stage (think Easter sunrise service) with a Salvation Army brass band providing the music.

Each year the festival invites guest artists to perform at the symposium and on the festival stages, and it bears mention for the ITG audience that trumpeters featured this year were Jens Lindemann; Gabriel DiMartino; Ashley Hall, Tim Hudson, and Rodney Marsalis, (with the Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass); and Jeff Conner and Jose Sibaja, (with Boston Brass). Ensembles featured, listed alphabetically, were:

100th Army Band
202nd Army Band
Advocate Brass Band
Boston Brass
Circle City Sidewalk Stompers
Dick Domek and the Chicago Footwarmers
Grant County High School Brass Choir
Limestone College Tuba Euphonium Ensemble
London Citadel Band
Lowdown Brass Band
North Fulton Trombone Cartel
Powerhouse Brass Quintet
Saxton’s Cornet Band
Southern Stars Symphonic Brass Band
The Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass
University of Alabama Trombone Choir

Gabriel DiMartino performs at the 2017 GABBF in Danville, KY (Photo credit: Marty Steiner)

Since the close of the festival, the staff has begun discussions about the next year's festival, to be held May 31–June 3, 2018, with a goal to meet if not exceed the quality of this year’s event.

Source: John Stroube, Executive Director of the Kentucky Music Educators Association







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