Barker Dam Brass Band plays on

Barbara Lawlor, Nederland.  When John Whitlock, the Barker Dam Brass Band director, heard there was going to be no parade in Nederland, he and his band of musicians determined that they would play as usual, as they have for the past 25 years. They contacted the Carousel of Happiness and the Train Cars and made arrangements to play at the patio in the shopping center parking at 11 a.m.
Since learning of the recent plans to go ahead with the parade, they figure they can perhaps do both, play at the shopping center and then join the parade.

The Whitlocks live in Minnesota, but have had a home on Wedgewood, off of South Beaver Creek, for 39 years. John says they now come here annually to get shots for their cat because it is cheaper than in Minnesota. They also come to reunite with members of the band and make their annual appearance in the Nederland Fourth of July Parade.


They have brought nostalgic, patriotic melodies to an otherwise music-less event. The beat of the big bass drum has set hearts to thumping a little faster as the band breaks into “She’s a Grand Ol’ Flag.”


The brass band tradition was born with John Whitlock’s dad from St. Paul who played the trumpet for fun. John junior played the trumpet and most brass and percussion instruments and taught elementary and middle school band classes.


Thirty-nine years ago, the family bought their cabin in Gilpin County and have spent their summers in the cool Rockies. They loved the Nederland Fourth of July parade except for the fact that there was no band, so 25 years ago, the Whitlocks contacted musician friends through the Cracker Barrel in the Mountain-Ear newspaper and the Barker Brass Band, a bunch of 15 talented locals, put their lips to their instruments and the band was born.


The performers have come from all over the country, some for a one-year show, others for many years. The average play time was twice around town, although the parade did go around four times once. Ages of performers have been from grade school to those, like Brownlee Guyer, who played into his 90’s.


One year the band reunited in March to play in the Frozen Dead Guy Parade and they all dressed as Vikings seeing as they were from Minnesota. “That was a hoot.”


John says the people playing in this year’s parade have been loyal throughout the years. He says that one year the town decided to charge people who entered the parade and Marshal Hugh Pitzer “went nuts”. We all decided not to play because it was the principal of the thing. We all spent a lot of money to come here and we didn’t need to pay a parade fee on top of that.”


The flute player is coming from Minnesota; a guy is coming from Casper, Wyoming and the trombone player and his wife are arriving from Chicago.


One year it snowed as the parade participants waited at the ball park. It was a cold wait. That won’t happen this year.

John says it’s getting harder and harder to keep the parade group going. “We’re getting sort of tired, but we love doing it. The problem is there is no new blood. Many of our group have died or moved on. We have gone through almost 100 musicians since we started.”


It’s been fun, says John. “The Fourth of the July is the biggest holiday of the year up here. The things that go on in this town are unbelievable and I am so busy keeping people on the trailer, it gets tougher the older I get.”


The audience pleaser songs are, “In Heaven there is no Beer,” and “Just Because You Think You’re So Pretty.”


Although the parade is still in an iffy position, there is no doubt that from somewhere in town, around mid-day, the sound of Barker’s Dam Brass Band will ring out loud and clear and proud of its heritage.

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.