Summer Carnivals

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The Humboldt State University Marching Lumberjacks.

While I was growing-up in the 1950s my father was a member of the New York State Musician's Union. His primary profession was sales, and through most of this period he sold business machines, adding machines, cash registers and mechanical calculators. He has long since retired.

When school let out for the summer, many of our weekends became a time of bazaars and carnivals. Many small private schools would hold a bazaar as a fund-raiser and the Union would pay for a certain number of musicians at scale as a donation. Many local towns and neighbourhoods sponsored their own carnivals. The biggest event each year was the Erie County Fair (near Buffalo, NY, USA).

My father played clarinet, and my grandfather saxophone. Many years they played together in the same band, sometimes they would each go their own way. My grandfather's sister, aunt Stella, played piano for the silent films (Long before my time).

For most of this period they played with a marching band sponsored by a local volunteer fire department. The band had about 50 to 75 members, woodwind, brass and percussion were all well represented. The official opening was usually preceded by a short parade through the nearby streets to draw an audience. Depending on the size of the event, several bands might be invited.

After reaching the carnival grounds each band would be given an area to perform on folding chairs and their own folding music stands. Father's band had a skill for being assigned to perform just outside the "Beer Tent" at any venue where there was such a thing.

Most of the fair rides were 25 cents, Ferris wheel, carousel, roller-coaster and bumper cars, to mention a few. My brother and I were traditionally given a single dollar to split for the evening.

While it would have taken far too much cooperation to stand together in a line for a ride, there was almost always a small stand with floating ducks or a fishing rod you could lower over a curtain. For 10 or 15 cents you were sure to bring home a cheap souvenir. We would take turns and fight if our right was questioned. Whoever picked the "duck" got the prize, any change and one quarter, the other got 2 quarters to spend as they pleased. The next time the roles were reversed.

When the money and excitement of the midway were expended, which did not take long, we returned to the band and our parents. Soft drinks and pop-corn were usually given to us as we listened while the band played.

Most of the music played were popular tunes from the World War II era. Every time a keg of beer was tapped, with a loud unmistakable whooshing sound, the band would strike up the "Beer Barrel Polka" ... Roll out the Barrel, and We'll have a barrel of fun...

The final song at almost every concert was "My Wild Irish Rose". The families and regular fans of the band would all join in singing as loudly as possible.

In my eleventh year the family moved to Florida and the regular weekend carnivals became only a memory.

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