Casual collection of musicians salutes Fourth
By Stacy Trevenon--Half Moon Bay Review
Fog or shine, they're out at the corner of Kelly Avenue and Main Street every
Fourth of July, lustily playing patriotic favorites. And that's about the
only time you'll see them.
That's because the Fourth of July is the only time they get together. And
then, they only rehearse once or twice before they perform.
Folks know their music better than their name, for one very long reason:
The group is called the Half Moon Bay Marching Band that Used to Ride on
a Flatbed Truck but now Sits at the Corner of Kelly and Main, Otherwise Known
as the HMB Fourth of July Band.
And there they sit, with a lightheartedness that belies their passionate
"If you can read music, and play, sort of, you're in," says musician Bill
Bates, who has been with the band since about 1988.
That sort of tongue-in-cheek homespun humor is what has endeared the band
to their public just as much as their sparkling renditions of good old-fashioned
Some of them are professional musicians, but for many, the Fourth is the
time they dust off their instruments. Those are the ones for whom the Fourth
is their "once-a-year music thing," said trombone player Andy Michael.
When they do get together, they pull up chairs at that street corner and
play a variety of well-known and not so well-known marches and patriotic
songs. The ones everybody knows, like
"The Star-Spangled Banner," "America the Beautiful," "Stars and Stripes Forever,"
and standard John Philip Sousa marches, along with ones you've never heard,
but which get your toes tapping anyway.
The players add a new one every so often, and may add a couple more on this
post-Sept. 11 Fourth.
The old favorites and patriotic songs aren't easy pieces.
"It's very challenging music, actually," said Michael, who is also a member
of the Coastside Community Orchestra.
Challenge and patriotism are not all that keep The Band together. Fun is
a big part of it, too.
"We do this for the sheer joy of doing it," said Bates. "I realized it was
a fun hobby that allowed us to think of things other than the day-to-day."
As near as band members can place it, the band originated in the mid-1980s.
That first group of about 15 or 16 players gathered at the home of Isabelle
and Bob Mascall. Neither of the Mascalls, who are now divorced, were musicians.
"They just felt there needed to be a local band playing for the Fourth of
July parade, and set about seeing that there was," said euphonium player
Valerie Kruger, another founding member and former percussion player.
As word spread, more players came along. The group has always been a melting
pot of people: educators, writers, hightech workers, health care professionals,
salespeople, students, parents and grandparents, of all ages. Their common
denominator has been the music.
The rehearsals migrated to the home of clarinet player Chris Gleichman, who
showed an aptitude for handling the band's mailing lists and organizing the
When they had mastered four or five tunes, they began to think about the
Fourth parade. "We thought, 'Why not get together and see what we can do?'"
They did march in a couple of parades, but found that playing and marching
at once was quite a trick.
"We could play OK, but to walk at the same time didn't work well," said
Gleichman. "Nobody said anything, but we got some looks."
But they did try. "I remember one of the clarinet players marching along
in flip-flops carrying his baby in a backpack, and me marching along playing
the field drum with one hand in a cast because I'd broken a finger playing
volleyball," said Kruger.
Then the band tried walking a few steps then stopping to play. That worked
only a little better.
Then, somewhere in the mid-1990s, Gleichman worked out an arrangement with
Half Moon Bay construction company owner and pilot Eddie Andreini for the
band to use his flatbed truck. Andreini got into the spirit of the whole
"We were very grateful," said Michael. "He would decorate the truck and
The day before the parade, Gleichman would nail two-by-fours to the truck
bed to stabilize the folding chairs he had obtained. And all the band had
to do was sit and play.
Until they got too big for the truck. Musicians from over the hill had heard
about the band, and many were coming over to play on the Fourth.
So band members talked to parade organizers, and it was decided that the
band would set up chairs at the corner of Kelly and Main, and play while
the parade passed by.
The band had no formal conductor; it relied on members who were music teachers
or the first trumpet or percussionists to call the count to start the pieces.
Then, about four years ago, tuba player Steve Chandler said he'd give conducting
a try. He did, and stayed.
The band means a lot to Chandler.
"He loves that thing," said his wife Emily Chandler. "It's a bit of Americana."
Today, the band's roster contains about 65 names, said Bates, and every year
about 50 of them perform. The band had crowded into the Half Moon Bay High
School music room to rehearse, but when insurance costs for the room skyrocketed,
they relocated to the building at the back of Cameron's Inn.
As a gesture of thanks to inn owner Cameron Palmer, some band members repair
to his inn and play for a while for customers after the parade.
Now, roughly 15 years after its beginnings, the band has matured. Its many
experienced or professional musicians help out the others, and the music
"With people who read (music) well, good musicians, (the band is) able to
pull performances together quickly," Andy Michael said.
This year on the Fourth, as always, the band will be at its customary spot
at the corner of Kelly and Main, striking up just a little before the parade
begins at noon.
AT A GLANCE
What: The Half Moon Bay Fourth of July Band.
When: Thursday, July 4, starts just before noon.
Where: Corner of Kelly Ave. and Main St.