Ever since the 1940s, families have gathered during the warm summer months on the gently sloping green of Kate Gould Park to attend the Chatham Band Concert. From 8 to 10 p.m., on Friday nights only, forty band members ranging in age from teens to octogenarians, all dressed snappily is red and blue uniforms, squeeze into the bandstand with their instruments in hand. As dusk settles over the town, the bandleader turns to face the crowd and shouts, “Hi-De-Ho!” and the audience merrily replies, “Hi-De-Ho!” and it is that call and response which begins every Chatham Band Concert, a tradition beloved by generation after generation.
According to this wonderful post by longtime (and second generation) band member, and now band manager, George W. Goodspeed Jr., the band was originally formed in 1931, shut down after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and restarted in 1945. My own family has been coming to the Chatham Band Concert for almost as long – ever since my grandparents took my mother when she was a little girl in the 1950s.
And like any other tradition, my family has a long-held ritualistic preparation for the Chatham Band Concert. First and foremost, it is crucial to get to Kate Gould Park early in order to stake claim to a patch of park grass. Blankets begin popping up on the green as early as 10 a.m. My family is not quite that organized. Last Friday night we got to the park by 6 p.m. and were lucky enough (because the weather was flirting with thunderstorms all day) to get a perfect spot not too far from the bandstand.
Once you have secured your perimeters, it is necessary to forage for sustenance. And the best place to go is The Chatham Candy Manor on Main Street, which is just a two minute walk from the bandstand. Established in 1955, The Candy Manor is a classic Cape Cod institution. Though they are best known for their wonderful homemade chocolates and fudge, they also have lots of penny candy, jelly beans, and salt water taffy. This place was the closest substitute to heaven for me as a sugar-addicted child. That my mother (who forbid me to eat sweets most of the year) would allow me to fill up a little paper bag with whatever ridiculously unhealthy treats my tiny hands could grab, made my annual visit to The Candy Manor an awe-filled and much anticipated event. And even now that I’m an adult and am legally entitled to eat myself straight into a diabetic coma whenever I want to, when I visit The Candy Manor I still have a vestigial childhood desire to shovel candy into my mouth as if the whole world was on fire and it was only my consumption of large quantities of sweets that could quell the flames.
So, picnic blanket: Check! The Candy Manor: Check! It is now time to buy several balloons. Each child gets a balloon tied around his or her wrist in order to avoid the tantrum-inducing experience of the child accidentally letting go of the balloon, and then woefully having to watch it slowly and painfully drift into the sky. Balloon escape must be avoided at all cost because not only is the child traumatized, but the balloon can wind up anywhere and none of us want our bit of brightly-colored fun to choke Mr. Sea Turtle. After a short spell of being mesmerized by the balloon, all children will grow weary of this now slightly cumbersome thing which is preventing them from showing off their cartwheels, dance moves, and/or ninja kicks. When this happens, the string is carefully untied and the balloons are then tied onto each other and anchored around a beach chair armrest – making a delightful daisy chain of helium-filled goodness.
And, as 8 p.m. rolls around, the crowd settles into their spots, the band readies their sheet music, and the bandleader steps up to the microphone to kick-off the night. For over forty years, local maestro Whit Tileston, Mr. Music himself, was the always wonderful bandleader for The Chatham Band Concert. But now, Ken Eldredge, who started off playing in the Band as a drummer in the 1930s, is capably filling Tileston’s shoes.
The Band plays a wide variety of songs – from classic marches, tangos, waltzes, and patriotic sing-alongs, to not-so-classics such as YMCA and the theme to the TV show The Simpsons. On the night we went, there were a few technical difficulties. Someone forgot the bandleaders microphone, so he was forced to shout his mostly unheard words out into the night. And also there was a problem with the speakers, which amplified the music in fits and starts before eventually smoothing itself out. But we didn’t care. All of us had been coming long enough to know the routine. We knew when we were invited to dance around the bandstand – to march, to waltz with whoever would have us, and to shake, shake, shake our limbs during the Loop-Dee-Loo – and we knew when to sit back down. Whit Tileston had trained us well.
As much as we all fight it, life is governed by a ruthless flux. Arthur Schopenhauer once wrote, “Change alone is eternal, perpetual, immortal.” And no truer thing has ever been said. Well, at least, no truer thing has ever been said by a German philosopher whose only friends were a succession of pet poodles named Atma and Butz. But each year, as everything changes around us, this event remains, essentially, the same. So, with my hands wrapped around my cousin’s waist, her hands gripping her sister, whose child was sitting upon her shoulders, while my mom happily watched all of us from the less raucous comforts of the park green, we all ecstatically danced the Bunny Hop together – an annual ritual we have each long honored and cherished on these warm Friday summer nights in Chatham; just like our parents and grandparents do and did; just like our children and grandchildren have and will. It may not be the greatest act of courage in the war against the eternal forces of change, but it sure is fun. Hop, hop, hop.