VINTON–The annual Dogwood Festival Parade is scheduled for April 26 in Vinton. The festival has been a staple in the community for 59 years, first established for the purpose of raising money to buy band uniforms for William Byrd High School.
This year, due to the timing of the Roanoke County Schools Spring Break, the WBHS band will not be marching, but quite a few members of past Byrd bands have stepped in to take their place at the front of the parade as an alumni band.
Initially the Dogwood Committee attempted to move the date of the annual festival to the first week of May, but faced too many logistical issues, and settled on April 23-27 for the festival.
The band will be carrying the old familiar “WM BYRD” wooden sign from years past, and wearing t-shirts in the school colors instead of band uniforms. Actually most members won’t be marching—they’ll be riding on a float decorated in maroon and orange, and playing the school fight song.
Between thirty and forty past band members have said they are coming to reunite for the parade, some from as far away as Maine, South Carolina, and Florida. Many were members in the 70’s and 80’s.
Bootie Chewning will be there. She was the drum major for the “Tootin” Terriers, graduating in 1954. Leslie McCormack Puckett was another drum major at WBHS in 1987. She will be directing the alumni band.
Cindy Gardner got the ball rolling to organize the group. When she found out about the scheduling glitch via Facebook and suggested the alumni band, the idea spread like wildfire, both through social media and by word-of-mouth. She says it has taken a couple of months to put together.
Since many members are coming from quite a distance to participate, there is limited time for rehearsing; the band is planning on Friday night and Saturday morning practices to be sufficient to put on a memorable performance.
Gardner says there is a good variety of instruments from trombones, to piccolos, flutes, trumpets, saxophones, baritones, drums, and clarinets—“a little of everything”—although they are still in need of a tuba. Some majorettes will be twirling batons. Color guard members have been invited.
Gardner says that those who have signed up for the alumni band were good musicians in high school, although some haven’t played since then. Others have kept up their skills.
The William Byrd band is especially significant to Gardner and her husband Rick. They met in band at WBHS, and all three of their sons played in the band. She played flute and piccolo. Her husband played tuba.
The Gardners were active members of the WBHS Band Boosters for twelve years, holding the positions of president and treasurer for several of those years. They were presented with a plaque of appreciation when the last of their sons finished up about five years ago.
Gardner is a member of the Roanoke Valley Community Band and the Pantasia Flute Choir. She frequently performs at Vinton Baptist Church.
Gardner is hoping the alumni band will become an annual event and entry in the Dogwood Parade.
The newly formed band welcomes any alumni who would like to participate. Just email Gardner at firstname.lastname@example.org for the specifics.