Marching bands play to enthusiastic crowds in Three Rivers parade

J.P. Morgan, from left, Juju Gough and cadet guard member Nina Ly rehearse with the Bishop Dwenger High School band. Younger, cadet members will be part of the show when the Marching Saints present “Sweet, Caroline” in the Three Rivers Festival parade July 13. (Garth Snow)


FORT WAYNE — The New Haven Mighty Marching Bulldogs will play one song during the Three Rivers Festival parade. Then they will play it again, and again, as the procession winds from Rockhill Street to Superior Street from 10 a.m. until almost noon Saturday, July 13.

”The parade theme this year is ‘The Summer of ‘69’ so we’re playing ‘I Want You Back’ by the Jackson 5, which was recorded in 1969,” said New Haven High School band director Todd Caffee. “We’re trying to train these kids to be performers and there’s nothing like (an estimated 60,000) people watching you show off what you like doing.”

The Bishop Dwenger Marching Saints will perform “Sweet Caroline,” which is one of the band’s favorites. Band director Don Cochran shared similar appreciation for the parade as an opportunity for development.

”It’s a wonderful event. There are so many people who come out for it,” Cochran said.

This year’s lineup includes the Concordia Lutheran High School Marching Cadets, North Side High School Marching Legends, the Heritage Marching Patriots, South Side High School “Green Machine” Marching Band, Norwell Marching Knights, Snider Mighty Panther Marching Band, Wayne High School Marching Generals, Bishop Dwenger Marching Saints and Northrop Big Orange Pride.

Concordia H.S. will include cadets — younger students — among the Cadets corps. Bishop Dwenger H.S. also will include middle school students in the learning experience.

Three Rivers Festival Executive Director Jack Hammer said the bands lend a special feel and pageantry to the parade.

“We have a wonderful friend in Chuck and Lisa Surack at Sweetwater Sound in providing the funding for these high school bands,” Hammer said. Each band receives $1,000.

“Chuck knows how important these high school bands are,” Hammer said. He said he performed with the Northrop band, while Surack was part of the Elmhurst band.

“His love for music and his overall caring for this community show in programs like this,” Hammer said.

New Haven High School band members warm up just before the 2018 Three Rivers Festival parade. (Melissa Amstutz)

Three Rivers announced its 2019 parade theme in January, calling attention to the year of the first manned moon landing, such films as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” the summer of Woodstock, and the summer of the first Three Rivers Festival.

“We are inspired by our past and excited for what our future holds,” Hammer said in that announcement. “We can’t wait to see the creativity from our parade participants celebrating all of the historic events and pop culture moments from ‘The Summer of ‘69.’ “

The parade of 110 entries will begin at Wayne Street and Rockhill Street in the West Central neighborhood just west of downtown, proceed east on Wayne to Fairfield Avenue, north on Fairfield to Berry Street, east on Berry to Calhoun Street, and north on Calhoun to disband at Superior Street.

New Haven’s Caffee said his band has marched in two parades so far this year, New Haven Canal Days and Hoagland Days. This one is bigger.

”When there’s pressure like this it invites the kids to rise to the next level. ‘Oh, boy, that’s a lot of people. I’d better look good.’ And that’s nice for me as a director,” he said. “It’s not often we get covered on TV. I graduated from Harding High School and I had a blast trying to catch myself on TV, and I want to pass that on to these kids.”

“It’s a lot longer than any of the other parades we do,” Caffee said. “Physically it gets them ready for what we’re going to expect from them in the fall.

”We have a very large parent group that comes out and looks out for them and keeps them watered and makes sure they’re not giving out in the heat and it gives the families a chance to be involved. It is a production, even with a smaller band, to get all the parts moving.”

The Marching Bulldogs will rehearse after school and on Saturdays and will perform at Friday night football games.

The band boasts 32 members as fall approaches. This year’s show it entitled “The Greatest Show,” using music from “The Greatest Showman,” Caffee said.

The $1,000 from Sweetwater also makes the parade a fundraiser for the band’s fall ambitions, Caffee said.

“It’s amazing to see all the hundreds and hundreds of people as you’re passing in the street,” said Bishop Dwenger’s Cochran. “They all come out to watch the parade. They all clap for you. You see families that are set to go early in the morning. It’s one of the best parades in my career.

“They love it. The kids absolutely love the parade for the same reason.

”It’s just a great crowd and the kids enjoy performing in front of such enthusiastic groups.

”This is the first performance of the year and you get a lot of young kids there and (the spectators) are not up in the stands far away from them, they’re just beside them in the street. They get over their jitters and see what it’s like to march.”

”Just attending the parade takes a few weeks of rehearsal,” Cochran said. “We have a great piece arranged for the kids with percussion music. Just to move a marching band is expensive, and the help from Sweetwater to underwrite that really helps us financially.”

The Marching Saints will draw about 55 students this year.

Their marching season show will be entitled “Citizens of Two Worlds.”

Concordia Lutheran High School band director Adam Friedrich said the Marching Cadets will share the outing with the younger cadet corps. The Cadets will play “The Liberty Bell March” by John Philip Sousa.

Concordia will bring about 70 students together this fall to present the show “How Great Thou Art.”

“What we love about the 3 Rivers Parade is two-fold,” Friedrich said in an email. “First, we get to experience and enjoy the rich heritage that Fort Wayne has to offer and be a part of the celebration of the community. Secondly, we get the opportunity to march with some of our 5th-8th-grade students and see the future of the program!”

“I love seeing my students perform,” he continued. “Their talents are spectacular and well deserved of recognition from the wonderful folks of Fort Wayne. I’m so grateful for these students, their talent, dedication, and pursuit of excellence, but most grateful for their hearts for God and using these amazing gifts to glorify Him!”

New Haven, Concordia, Bishop Dwenger and most other area bands will see their first competition of the season on Sept. 7 at the On the Banks of the Wabash Marching Band Festival at Bluffton High School.