As a musician — well, drummer — I’ve performed in many settings, from concert venues to dive bars, and at many events: from a wedding reception to a burlesque show. But until last week, I’d never played on the back of a moving pickup truck in a Fourth of July parade.
I think it may be my favorite setting. The audience can’t really walk out on you. You leave them behind — at the stately pace of 2 miles per hour.
The setting was Takoma Park, Md., which for nearly 130 years has been celebrating Independence Day as only that independent place can: with a marching mixture of small-town Americana and funky free expression.
It’s Cub Scouts in uniform and the Intergalactic Female Motorcycle Federation. It’s a police color guard and a group of marchers dressed as squids. It’s perennial candidate Robin Ficker and “Vanadu,” a tchotchke-encrusted van that could be sunk as an artificial reef.
My band, the Airport 77s, was there with the Silver Spring Yacht Club. There are no yachts in Silver Spring, Md. There is no water. The SSYC is a social/drinking (and social-drinking) club that meets at the American Legion post next to the Greyhound station.
Our little three-person combo had agreed months ago to provide entertainment for the club’s parade debut, understanding in an abstract way that this would require figuring out transportation and power. (The Airport 77s require a lot of electricity.)
Chuck the bass player provided the juice, investing in a nifty gas-powered generator that was both smaller and quieter than those beasts you hear droning after a derecho.
I said I’d get our wheels. What we envisioned was a big flatbed truck groaning with amplifiers, like the kind that carried the Rolling Stones when they announced their 1975 U.S. tour by driving down Fifth Avenue playing “Brown Sugar.”
I settled for a pickup truck from U-Haul. I also rented a small utility trailer for the generator and PA speakers.
On Wednesday morning, we found our place in the parade staging area and readied our equipment: drums, amps and microphone stands shoehorned into the eight-foot bed and held fast with bungee cords and cinder blocks.
Yacht Club members hung patriotic bunting and double-checked that the ship’s wheel lashed to the truck’s grille wasn’t going anywhere.
The Airport 77s had gone with a nautical theme: matching sailor hats and blue-and-white striped shirts. We looked like three Gilligans who had come together over their love of Cheap Trick.
At a little after 10 a.m., our “boat” pushed off with the Yacht Club’s Mitsi at the tiller. We began our set with that old sea shanty “Sheena Was a Punk Rocker.”
I’d never seen the Takoma Park Independence Day Parade before. I still haven’t seen the Takoma Park Independence Day Parade. What I saw was the people watching the Takoma Park Independence Day Parade.
The folks we passed at a ceremonial crawl were all smiles. No sourpuss is going to bother going to a parade. Some people stood with flags in their hands. Some were sunk into folding chairs. Some clapped and danced and sang along.
We passed bungalows whose shaded porches offered respite from the sun. We passed independent shops full of free-trade merchandise. We passed a lot of people holding signs saying immigrants were okay with them. Seeing the rich variety of Americans turned out for the red, white and blue, it was hard to disagree.
We played pretty much nonstop, stopping between songs only long enough so Andy the guitar player could refute the claims of the 9/11 “truthers” who had a truck a few spots ahead of us. The Takoma Park Independence Day Parade is the First Amendment on wheels — and with music.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.