The Holidazzle parade was the brainchild of the Minneapolis Downtown Council. It began right about the time the Mall of America opened just south of the city, for obvious commercial reasons. Much as the parade bills itself as magical costumed fairytale fun, the actual purpose of the parade is to get Christmas shoppers downtown.
The Minnesota Freedom Band has been playing in this parade since the first year, when I was band President. I have played even during the years when I was on leave from concert band, which is one of the ways I have stayed connected to the band even as its personnel changed. The parade used to take place almost every night between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, but now the parade is held Wednesdays through Sundays only. Different local bands wear the Holidazzle light-up band costumes each night, and the Freedom Band usually plays for three of those nights (some years more). Lately we've opened the parade season by playing the first three nights, including the televised opening night. This means that I don't really have much of a Thanksgiving holiday, as each day revolves around the evening marching commitment.
The Minneapolis Police Band is playing the parade later in the season, but I have a Freedom Band concert that night and won't be able to help them out.
This is us two years ago, with me, unidentifiable, on bass drum. This year the harnesses over the arms have been replaced by light-bedecked capes draped over our backs, which makes for a less dramatic nighttime view but is far more comfortable all around.
It can get pretty cold on a December evening in Minnesota, so much so that there is a wind-chill cancellation formula for the parade. One early year, before this formula was devised, we marched on a night that began cold (18 F) with a temperature that plummeted over the course of the parade. It had gotten down to zero (yes, zero) F by the end. What I learned: First the flute players can't manipulate their fingers, then reeds become physically unplayable, then brass mouthpieces don't form the sounds the players expect, and then the cymbals become too stiff to ring. By the end of the parade it's just some thunks on the drums, that's all you hear.
One year we marched through freezing rain, which meant that by the end of the parade my drum was covered with ice. But we've been fortunate for a while now, and we've learned a few tricks about layering. On the coldest nights we swear by those little temporary heat packs you can buy at hiking stores (and which I used to stuff into my shoes on minus 15 and minus 20 F mornings when I still drove my previous car with poor heat around my feet).
Last weekend we had an uncomfortable night in the cold rain, an uncomfortable night in the cold wind with slippery snow and ice along the ground, and one relatively pleasant very still night of 31 F. The whole thing is starting to seem like a job rather than a celebration. Even on the nights when the streets were packed many layers deep the whole way with shouting and cheering families, I couldn't muster my happy feelings about making this happen. But the band gets a nice donation for playing the parade, and I like feeling needed on the drum.
On the whole I am glad I do this parade, and on the third night this year my friend Tom (on cymbals) and I sang through the songs of Oklahoma while blocked up waiting for the parade to begin, which is something of a tradition and was great fun. But I have to figure out a way to feel the happy magic again.
I wonder how the professional musicians at Disneyland feel.