The North Iowa Band Festival is this weekend, which includes fun, food, festivities, fellowship (I'm running out of f's) and, of course, the Saturday parade.

The festival has always been an event to showcase the youth of North Iowa and that, in itself, makes it worthwhile.

It also is an example of two traits that make North Iowa great -- traits that are not tangible like schools and parks and libraries -- and yet are profoundly felt by those of us who live here: generosity and volunteerism.

It takes thousands of dollars and hundreds of volunteers to put on the Band Festival. That's why it's free for everyone to enjoy.

The Band Festival has no political agenda. We can put all of that stuff aside and just enjoy the entertainment and each other's company for a weekend.

There are those among us who say the Band Festival isn't what it used to be, that it has lost its luster, and that that there are fewer bands in the parade.

Each year, hundreds of people experience the festival for the first time -- new band members at each school and their mothers and fathers and grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters who come to watch them perform. Believe me, they see the luster in it.

And there are fewer bands because Sheffield-Chapin-Meservey-Thornton used to be four bands instead of one, just to name one example.

I was the Band Festival coordinator for five years -- 1993 through 1997 --so I have some degree of familiarity with what it takes to bring it about.

The late Al Zook, who also headed the festival for years, used to say, "It's a festival three days a year because it's a business the other 362 days." And he was right. The day after the festival ends is when planning for next festival begins.

It's been a long time since I've been directly involved with the festival, but I'm sure some things have never changed.

• Small schools often request to be placed in the first half of the parade because many of their band members are on school sports teams that are competing in the afternoon. The problem is with the growth of the parade, with 150 units or more, a band can be 75th and still be in the first half, which doesn't solve their problem much.

• Band directors often request that their be no musical entries in front of them or behind them in the parade so as not to drown out their band's music. The problem with that it that most parade units now have some type of music so the bandmasters' request is increasingly difficult to fulfill.

• It's easier to start a parade than to stop one. One year during my helm, the parade started in sunshine but, about 15 minutes later, a downpour occurred that lasted a couple of hours. Many in the parade scurried to the cover of front porches along the parade route, creating disorder in the parade that was hard to rectify.

One year, when Lorris Long and I were in charge, all the power went out in the concession area in Central Park. Neither one of us has an electrician's license -- and we had vendors staring at us to get the power back on before their food spoiled. We found a box on a pole that had a lever. One of us pulled the lever, knowing that if that didn't work, we were out of ideas. It worked.

One other memory I have of those days and this is a confession of sorts: Each year, the media would ask me to estimate the crowd. And each year, I would check to see what I had said the year before -- and add 2,000!

Enjoy the weekend, everybody. Lots of volunteers have worked lots of hours to make it happen.


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