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Laurel Lambert Loves Parade

My introduction to Arcadia’s annual Festival of Bands Parade came in the early ‘80s when my mother called breathlessly from my parents’ Huntington Drive condo on a Saturday morning in November.

Having recently returned to Arcadia after 10 years in Orange County, she had been awakened that morning at dawn to the sound of pounding drums and cymbals. “Hurry over,” she said. “There are thousands of kids in spangled costumes with flags, horns, trumpets, ….I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s amazing.” I, too, had just returned to Arcadia and was living on Duarte Road. I grabbed my five-year-old daughter and we rushed over. It was our first exposure to the parade, an annual event down Baldwin Ave. in which almost 50 local high school and middle school bands compete, some of them even being considered separately for selection to march in a future Tournament of Roses Parade.

We assisted my ailing father to a seat on the sidewalk and watched the show.  It was magical. We never missed a parade after that. (Continued below following video…)

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(Arcadia’s Best video highlights above from 2008 Festival of Bands – click to play.)

My sister eventually moved to a condo near my mother where we could actually watch the hoopla from her second-floor balcony. And the attraction grew when my daughter marched for the first time waving a tall flag for Temple City High. My daughter had already demonstrated the family’s lack of musical talent, but her dancing lessons won her a place at the front of the band, strutting and throwing poles into the air. 

Last year, my sister and I escorted her four-year-old grandson for the first time. Up and down Baldwin we strode, carefully pointing out the various instruments that he might learn to play (with, we hope, a new infusion of musical talent from his mother’s family) in order to march in the parade. And darn, wouldn’t he look adorable in the tall hat blowing the drum major’s whistle? Where can we get him baton lessons?

Every time the host band, Arcadia High, launches the parade, my heart swells and my eyes get teary. It’s not just the memories of own family, but the ability to share such a unique experience with so many others. (Continued below following video…)

Get the Flash Player to see this content. Click image above for Arcadia’s Best video highlights of 2007 Festival of Bands.

In the last twenty years, my hometown and its population have changed in many, many ways. But on the day of the Festival of Bands Parade, all parents and children come together to share the excitement of this group endeavor. Bedecked proudly in “supporter” jackets, parents rush around pulling water jugs in red wagons and carrying suplus costumes and instruments. Kids in all shapes, sizes, and races are carefully rehearsed, dressed to a glittering hilt and polished to perfection. They’re short, they’re tall, they’re pre-pubescent to almost fully-grown, and they’re all bursting with energy and purpose.

After the parade, these eager participants, already up since dawn, will meet at the bus, be filled with food and drink lovingly supplied by band boosters and head for the afternoon field competition. Late in the evening, they’ll arrive back home exhausted but still bursting with the magic of a day in which they actually enjoyed seeing their parents yelling on the sidelines rather than being mortified.

And what is the point of all this hard work and effort? Let’s face it: Being in a band parade probably won’t do that much for the college applications and pounding the cymbals does not contribute to higher SAT scores. Once in awhile my daughter, under nostalgic duress from family, will resurrect her practice broom stick at our 4th of July picnic, for a brief demonstration, but she hasn’t found any other benefits of flag twirling in he career as an economics reporter. Except for potentially earning a spot in the Rose Parade, there really isn’t much in terms of tangible results.

But every year, at the Festival of Bands Parade, magic happens. From all over the LA area, we come together. And together, we watch our kids — our future — strut their stuff. Our hearts swell with hope. And, most important, everyone has a darn good time. It doesn’t get any better than that.

by Laurel Lambert (Editor’s note: Until recently, Laurel Lambert was longtime director of advertising, promotion, and publicity at Los Angeles public television station KCET.)

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