Saturday, June 14, 2008

Saturday, 14 June, 2008 - Brass Bands and History

The Great American Brass Band Festival -- Danville's biggest event of the year -- should have begun for us last night with the Hot Air Balloon races. Unfortunately, we were under a severe thunderstorm warning, and smart people don't go up in hot air balloons during a thunderstorm. So it was postponed until Sunday night, same time, same place, at the Junction City "International" Airport.

Today was the day of the bands. There were easily over 20 different brass bands, brass quintets, bagpipe bands, and other combinations of brass instruments playing in 4 different venues, all within easy walking distance of the new downtown parking garage, where we smartly chose to park. The day really began with the parade, down Main Street to Centre College. The parade had the usual Shriner's mini-vehicles, firetrucks and the mayors of area cities and other political types. But many of the bands which were playing around town were also in it.

We watched the parade then wandered down to Centre College, only about 6 blocks away, where the main stage was set up, and where there were street vendors selling everything from blackened Louisiana catfish to funnel cakes, and everything in between. We got a pulled pork sandwich and a glass of "sweet tea." "Sweet tea" is common around here -- really nothing more than already-sweetened iced tea, but it saves the trouble of adding sugar. Even McDonald's advertises it here. We wandered around the campus for a bit, and got our first close-up look at "Old Centre," the original college building, built about 1820. Today it houses admissions and, I think, administrative offices. More on Centre later.

The band that was playing shortly after we got to the main stage was the Eastern Kentucky University brass quintet. They played some modern classical (if there is such a thing) music, and were very nice. Not what I was hoping to hear, but good nonetheless. Then along came the Excelsior Cornet Band. Hailing from Syracuse, NY, the Brass Band Festival is their only performance this year out of New York State. They play original arrangements of Civil War era music, on original instruments, some nearly 200 years old. THIS is what a brass band used to sound like in the 19th Century. Later I bought their CD, and we've already listened to it. It's great!

At 4 PM, in Weisiger Park in front of the Boyle County Courthouse, there was a four-person presentation dealing with Lincoln's connections with Danville, accompanied by a renewed Kentucky brass band, the Saxton Cornet Band, active from about 1840 to about 1900. After Lincoln moved to Illinois, he met John Todd Stuart, Centre graduate, 1826, who convinced him to go into the law and lent him a set of law books. The rest, as they say, is history. Stuart introduced Lincoln to his cousin, Mary Todd, whom Lincoln eventually married. After Lincoln's assassination, it was Stuart who spearheaded the group that erected the Lincoln monument in Springfield, IL.

Incidentally, Lincoln ran for president in 1860 against three others, one of whom was 1839 Centre graduate, John C Breckinridge, and of course opposed Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, also Kentucky-born. Much mention was made of Mr. Justice John Marshall Harlan, of the US Supreme Court, Centre, 1852, and native of Danville. In the great case of Plessy v Ferguson, Harlan, of a slave-owning family, dissented in an 8-1 decision upholding segregation as the law of the land. Harlan said in 1896 that the Constitution was "color-blind" and that segregation was inherently unequal. It took 60 years for the Supreme Court to realize that Harlan was right, in Brown v Board of Education in 1954, a case that was brought to the court by Mr. Chief Justice Frederick Vinson, Centre, 1912. Beginning after he died in 1953, Centre College's opening football game always reserves a seat for Vinson's portrait, known as "Dead Fred." So he's never missed an opening game since his death!

All in all, it was a great day, with lots of good music and good history, and you KNOW how I love music and history! Tomorrow, more bands and some balloons! The camera is charged and the memory stick is cleared for take-off!

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