Growing up in Mattoon, Illinois we had a park not far from where I lived and my neighbor’s dad played in a municipal band there on weekends during the summer. We would go and watch him play sometimes. When I visited Mason City, Iowa on a hosted trip and learned I was going to the North Iowa Band Festival, I sort of envisioned this scene like when I was a kid. I pictured older gentlemen sitting in chairs playing tunes from the turn of the century and folks sitting on blankets and chairs and swaying to the music. The only thing I got right was the night time band fun where with the crowd sitting in chairs and on blankets! This really wasn’t even what the festival was all about,. It was really about the competition during the HUGE and I mean HUGE parade!
The Evening Bands & Dinner!
Mom and I arrived Friday morning in Mason City. We were blessed to stay at the beautiful Historic Park Inn. Right across the street from park where each evening was the heart of the North Iowa Band Festival activities. The hotel was not only historic and beautiful, but it was perfect to park the car and walk do everything on foot. Both Friday and Saturday night, we placed ourselves on a park bench and watched some of the grand entertainment. The first night, Friday evening, we ate a wonderful meal right at the hotel at the 1910 Grille. Kaylian Claussen, the front of the house supervisor served us up a wonderful meal. I had the chicken marsala, a serving a naan bread and some mashed butternut squash and broccoli that was amazing!
After dinner, we headed to the park to listen to the fun upbeat sounds of Betty and the Gents. . We listened a bit to the sounds of the Dweebs before we hit the hay to get up the next day for the parade. Saturday night we dined around the corner from the hotel at Lardo’s for fun Mexican fare. Mom said she had the best chimichanga ever and I had a good taco. Lunch State Street Deli on Friday which was awesome.
On Saturday lunch was at the Quarry. Saturday and Friday lunches we split meals so we could try a little of everything. Saturday night we again parked on “our bench” and enjoyed the music of Brad & Kate then called it a night!
The Parade and the “real” North Iowa Band Festival
We felt like royalty with our reserved seats with the float judges on Saturday morning. Seated in front of the Trinity Lutheran Church, we were almost front row. On the sign out front we read that there was a Saturday evening service and decided to make the service since we attend a Lutheran church at home. FYI, the church is quite beautiful and the service was great!
This year the 2018 North Iowa Band Festival marks 80 years. I visited with judge Mike Blunt who said he has lived in Mason City all his life. Mike said that the parade lines up on Pennsylvania Avenue and marches to the Highschool. “It’s about a 3 mile march to Illinois. This is the first time they are not wearing uniforms due to the heat.”
The 90 plus degrees made that an easy decision. “This parade has been going on for 80 years,” Mike said. “I have been a judge for 15 or 20 years. The gals judging are related to my wife. The only way out is to die,” he joked.
Mike added that they take the judging seriously. While the bands were being judged a bit down the road they were judging the floats and they were looking for originality, how close they followed the theme which this year was “Totally 80’s” and crowd appeal. The bands were amazing. My favorite was the rendition of “76 Trombones” and the military vehicles and floats. The crowd stood and applauded for each and every military group that came by. The parade lasted almost two hours although we faded before the end because of the excessive heat.
This is a true “parade”! I am so thankful to have been part of this amazing festival that is the largest free marching band competition in the Midwest. According to the Mason City Chamber of Commerce, “Tourism related expenditures contributed an estimated $78.6 million into Mason City’s economy last year. In Cerro Gordo County, tourism generated an estimated $191.37 million in visitor spending, a record for the county and the 11th highest County level in the State. Tourism related jobs employed nearly 1,500 people in Cerro Gordo County.”
The festival brings great joy to this wonderful community that began honoring Meredith Willson, the hometown boy that composed and wrote the Music Man. If you haven’t been before, consider adding the North Iowa Band Festival & Parade to your 2019 calendar of events!