You can hear them before you see them — the big bass drum, boom da da boom; the tuba, oompapa; the trumpet, the flute, the clarinet, the French horn and the cymbals. Human voices join the melody and soon spectators lining First Street in Nederland can make out the chorus of “She’s a Grand Old Flag.”
If it is the Fourth of July and if it is noon, then what you are hearing is the Barker Brass Band, red-shirted and wielding gleaming brass instruments while balancing on a flatbed trailer.
For 20 years, the BBB has brought music to the annual Fourth of July Parade in Nederland. It has brought smiles and cheers to the young people and families, and the sounds of days gone by have brought tears to the eyes of many old timers. Nostalgia, joy and excitement are rolled up into patriotic anthems.
Bands are the backbone, the rhythm of a parade, and this brass band sprang from the tradition and determination of John Whitlock, his father, John Whitlock, and his son John Whitlock. The Whitlocks live in St. Paul, Minnesota, and John senior played the trumpet for fun. John junior not only learned to play the trumpet but most other brass and percussive instruments as well, and went on to teach both elementary and middle school band classes. Of course, John the third, being a Whitlock, also was a musician.
Whitlock Family History
Thirty-three years ago, the family bought a cabin on Wedgewood Road in Gilpin County and the Whitlock children spent summers in the Nederland and Gilpin area. It was a treat to attend the Fourth of July Parade in Nederland, except for one big glaring absence: no music. No marching band, no band at all, so, in 1993, 20 years ago, the Whitlocks called their musician friends and put together the Barker Brass Band, a rag tag bunch of about 15 talented locals who couldn’t wait to blast Yankee Doodle Dandy in front of a patriotic crowd on First Street.
Whitlock found musicians who answered the call to arms in the Cracker Barrel of the Mountain-Ear. In the next 20 years about 100 people came and went and some are still here. Whitlock said the best kept secret was having Brian Nevin, the drummer for Big Head Todd, as part of the BBB.
Over the years band performers have come from all over the country. Some have continued with the BBB for many years while others have often been “one-year-wonders.” The band welcomed all wind instruments, and because the group started with more brass than other instruments, the name just sort of made sense.
Each year, the band members meet at the B&F Mountain Market parking lot for their annual half-hour practice before show time. Acknowledging this lack of rehearsal time, the band’s motto became, “Keep It Simple Stupid,” or K.I.S.S.
Whitlock said, “Half an hour prior to the parade start, we play a couple of tunes to work the bugs out, then play the parade. Spectators will notice that we often go through the parade route two or more times.
When you only perform once a year, everyone wants to play as much as possible. The record was the year “licensed, professional driver, Scully,” now retired, managed to swing us around through the parade route four times. Needless to say Nederland’s “men & women in blue” weren’t particularly overjoyed with us that year.”
The BBB has had performers from grade school through senior citizens. Many of the band members have had their children performing alongside their elders. Whitlock remembers when Hannah Baumhover returned one Fourth of July, “all growen up” and joined the band for the parade.
Legendary Brownlee Guyer was the oldest member of the band, hoisting his tuba with his usual mischievous grin. Whitlock remembers the time that a bird pooped on Brownlee’s baseball cap while the band was in the middle of a song. At the end of the tune, Brownlee remarked that he was happy cows couldn’t fly.
Whitlock also remembers the time, “While lining up for the parade start one year, Scully kept inching toward the front of the parade line-up, eventually placing us ahead of the mayor, who was more than a little miffed at our boldness.”
A couple of years ago parade announcer Dave Felkley, trying to get the microphone close to some band members on the flatbed for comments, got too close and the trailer ran over his foot. Not just one, but two of the wheels. Felkley didn’t scream, at least in public, and was mostly alright.
The BBB had a number of band directors over the years, including Whitlock and his daughter-in-law, Loren and Les, both band directors at Centaurus High School in Boulder. A few years ago they brought some of their marching band color guard members to Nederland. It snowed before the parade that year and the girls wrapped themselves in their flags and tried to stay warm.
Jeannie Sonnleitner, a long-time member of the BBB, was band Director at Gilpin High School and encouraged her students to help out in the band. GHS graduate Emma Berg still plays with the band.
Whitlock remembers when the band participated in Coal Creek Canyon’s parade because Nederland decided to charge $50 per parade entry. BBB musicians from many states were participating that year, and it was estimated that with musician trip expenses and instrument values, the band was probably worth in the neighborhood of $20,000.
Charging the band to participate in the parade rankled many of the parade entries and the plan fell by the wayside the next year. Whitlock recalled a letter from Mayor Hugh Pitzer to the editor of The Mountain-Ear deeming the proposal as dumb.
Some of the local potential band members hadn’t played an instrument in many years. When they showed an interest, Whitlock said, “I would give them a band instrument and they’d ask how much I wanted for it. I’d invariably reply either five or ten bucks a year for five years, hoping they would keep returning to play with the band every year. It seems to have worked for both Jack Filer & Hughes Moir.”
Some of these long-time BBB members will be part of the 20-year celebration parade performance on Thursday as well as new musicians just beginning the tradition that began 20 years ago. Whitlock looked back on his Fourth of July parades on First Street and said it has been a great time because of the loyal musicians.
“I can’t thank our local band members enough for sticking with us all these years. Without them we’d be lost.” What would the Nederland Fourth of July Parade be without music.