It was an all-American small town evening on the green grass commons of Irvington in Virginia’s Northern Neck where the United States Air Force Heritage of America Concert Band came for an annual tune-up preceding its Independence Day celebration performance.
It was 6:42 PM. The food line finally ushered me to within two steps of getting a hot dog when the cooks announced, “That’s if folks. The last dog is now being picked out of the pan.” A glance at the now empty pan and the vacant grill confirmed that the crowd far exceeded the 1000 dogs, 500 flags and 4 sheet cakes the sponsors has estimated sufficient for a weekday audience. With that sad news delivered to my spouse that we would have to beg elsewhere for food if we were going to eat, cheeses and crackers were graciously offered from nearby friends. After a long day at work, cheese and crackers were a feast.
With the Band tuning their instruments and the overcast sky threatening, Mayor Alexander Fleet stepped to the microphone to open the event. A splatter of sprinkles could be felt. “This is the 19th year that the Air Force Heritage of America Band has come to Irvington,” he announced, “And in that time, the event has never been rained out.” As if on queue, the sprinkles stopped, the clouds lightened and eventually the sun came out. The Mayor was off to a good start.
“We are celebrating our country’s birthday, but it’s also the 100th birthday of our very own Zoe Nelson Stancer. Please stand up.” Surely this is an extraordinary Mayor, for not only he can get the rain to stop, he can a 100 year old woman to stand up in front of a crowd of 1000. Isn’t America great!
Turning the microphone over to Captain Matthew J. Reese, tonight’s conductor, the concert got underway with the announcement of the promotion of Technical Sergeant Bob Newlin to Master Sergeant. Newlin had appeared on the Irvington Commons just days before as the head of “Vector” a new 6-8 member brass quintet making its inaugural appearance. Many in the crowd recognized the new Master Sergeant from the earlier performance with a strong round of applause in recognition of his future potential evidenced with increased rank. Fittingly, the presentation of colors followed - the crowd giving strong voice to the words the National Anthem.
The initial music was a piece that has been played at every Presidential Inaugural since Richard Nixon in 1972, (unfortunately I didn't get the name of the piece). As the Band played a fare of patriotic music and songs, I surveyed the crowed. It’s always fascinating to see the extent that groups prepare for the pre-concert “tail-gating”. I was told the first spots were staked out in front of the bandstand around 2:00 PM. Wandering around one had to be aware of assorted ropes, poles, flags, blankets, yellow & black barricade tape, and small fences that event goers had used to stake off their party’s reserved space. I think in the 20th year, I will get there the night before with some of that florescence line paint from Miss Utilities and claim a location before dawn.
There were tables with crystal, patriotic flag and flower arrangements, linen table clothes, silverware, and catered fares. All that seemed to be missing was recognition for outstanding initiative: Most Colorful, Best Table, Most Sophisticated, Most Patriotic, etc.. After missing out on the hot dogs, I volunteer next year to be the judge for Best Feast, which, of course, will require sampling all the contestant offerings.
My wandering eye also spied a clearly marked Village Cleaners van strategically placed on the street in back of the band stand. Obviously they had come early to claim a prized advertising spot for their employer. All eyes focusing on the bandstand could not help see and read "The Village Cleaners" emblazoned on the van in the background.*
As the evening drew to a close, the concert finished with the Band's traditional recognition of the Services and Service Veterans in attendance. Each Service’s song was play in order of linage with the Army’s leading the way. David Mower (69-89), was the Army flag bearer; Pete Ginocchio (62-70) presented the Marine Corp Flag; Greg Kirkbride represented the Coast Guard; and Paul Lassanske (67-92) and Larry Elston (60-64) both held Air Force flags.
As we folded up our chairs and picked up our packs, an Army vet, Joe Davis, 304th Signal Battalion from the Korean War stopped by and shook hands. Thanks USAF Heritage of American Concert Band; Irvington Development Association; and Thanks also to all who have served in the Military Services and did their part for preserving the Day we call Independence.
POSTSCRIPT: I got this note from the Village Cleaners. “Thanks to all of the northern neck and the Air Force for the great concert in Irvington on Tuesday. I am the driver for The Village Cleaners and was invited by several of my customers to come and check out this wonderful event. My daughter came to work with me that day and when we finished my route we stopped to pick up some snacks at Wal-Mart and then parked near the
gazebo at the Irvington commons to sort the cleaning while waiting for the concert. It turned out to be the perfect parking space to watch the show, especially since we forgot chairs. I really have loved doing deliveries on the Northern Neck. The people I have met here are great. We recently moved here from Maryland/ DC area, but feel like we have lived here much longer. Most of my customers love to chat with me and have even been known to offer me a cup of tea or a cold soda. Thank you all for the hospitality!”