I had my moment of done-it-all jadedness, on Sunday morning. I always turn in at a reasonable hour on Saturday night of Pride weekend, as part of my preparation for the parade on Sunday. There is a ritual predictability to my Pride Sunday mornings: I get up very early, pack a change of clothing, put on this year's band uniform, and head off for a big breakfast. I need to finish breakfast and get to Loring Park early enough to get a space in a nearby municipal lot (the price has DOUBLED since last year, now that the city realized what big bucks they can get from Pride). Since it's then only 8am, I sit in my car and read the Sunday paper before strapping on the drum and walking across town, doing the parade route in reverse. Then I wait for the band to show up, we march the parade, I drop dead from heat exhaustion, I change my clothing, and I limp over to Loring Park. That's my Pride Sunday morning.
Usually this is an exciting morning for me, like getting up early on Mayday and putting on kit in preparation for the big annual event. This year it seemed perfunctory, as if I were going to work. Walking across downtown Minneapolis and passing the smattering of folks gathering for the parade is usually a time of anticipation and excitement. Look at all the gay people out today! But I just wasn't feeling that. I started to think, ok, a few decades of this may be enough.
I was also unreasonably peeved to have discovered, the previous night, that the parade organizers had put the band pretty far back in the lineup. We used to lead the parade, back when it was small, and then we had to move back behind whatever group was being honored in any particular year, but for 25 years we were there taking our place as the gay and lesbian community marching band in the community's parade. Most gay and lesbian bands orginally formed specifically for the parade; it is the core of what we are for. Being treated as just another unit in the parade, with no particularly special value to what the parade would feel like, seemed to reflect a change of sensibility. Plus there's the pragmatic issue of live vs. recorded music: Once a flatbed truck blaring dancing music at top volume goes by, the ears of the listeners are attuned to something different than a marching band provides. But even if you mix live and recorded music throughout the lineup, as is often necessary, it's just a really really bad idea to place the units anywhere near each other (isn't this obvious, even to people with no particular parade experience?) This year our drum major actually had to argue with the parade marshalls to change the order when we discovered, Sunday morning, that a bar-sponsored dance truck was DIRECTLY the next unit behind ours. That's parade incompentence on a grand scale. They moved the units around, but with an air of eye-rolling exasperation.
But even before that, as I arrived at our meeting place, I was musing on our placement in the parade and whether it was true that we have become irrelevant and what that means. But then the other drummers arrived at our meeting spot, and it was a big huggy happy reunion and the handsome goth guy who plays tri-toms gave me a big kiss. At that point two guys I didn't know from Adam walked by and called out my name and talked about how much fun it is to run into people they know and took my picture (causing one of the band folks to ask me who those cute shirtless boys were and I had to cry in desperation, "I have absolutely no idea!"). My guess is they are folks who have shown up once or twice for showtunes at the Eagle on Sunday, where everybody thinks they are my friend. Whatever -- it started to feel exciting, like backstage before a show.
As the rest of the band arrived I started to feel nostalgic. A couple of folks who hadn't marched in many years showed up. The non-sentimental cymbal player said, "It really is nice for us all to be back together again like this." When we were all there we played through our music and by gosh, this really was fun. The percussion section this year was dynamite. We marched several blocks back to our spot in the lineup, for a nice long wait, but then came our turn and we blocked up and the percussion section came alive, improvising as an ensemble as the band marched up the road to the official stepoff point. Despite my misgivings, I decided as we marched that it was just fine to be in the middle of the parade; people seemed very happy to have a band come by at that point, particularly children. That night at the Eagle two people came up to me to say how terrible it was that we were not at the front of the parade -- people do expect to see us in front -- and I was able to say with honesty that I had thought so as well, but in practice it turned out to be fine.
Mostly it was just fun to play. I remembered all over again that the way to march in a pride parade, for me, is to march in a percussion section. I worked hard in the heat -- my clothing down to my pants and socks was dripping drenched at the end -- and of course I'm sore today, but at the core of it all I was glad to remember what great fun it is to play in the Freedom Band for Pride. We may, in fact, be less relevant than we once were, but we still add more than our mere numbers might indicate.
With all the various things that surround it, Pride weekend for me is still about the band.