First of all, the Band at sea doesn’t refer to any uncertainty its players may sometimes feel when they’re learning a particularly difficult new piece of music, even though they may occasionally feel like they’re “at sea” at such times! Rather, this history moment answers the question of whether the Band has—literally—ever performed while on a sea voyage. The answer is yes, if only a short one.
Some readers may remember from days gone by that, before the Hampton Roads tunnel was opened in 1957, the quickest way to go from Hampton to Norfolk and Virginia Beach was by ferry. The Band made that crossing on a number of occasions when traveling to and from Virginia State Volunteer Firemen’s conventions and other events to play and march. The story goes that on one notable occasion as the ferry made its way across the water, the Band members got the bright idea to give an impromptu concert on the vessel’s top deck. Naturally, their music attracted the attention of all the other passengers on the boat, who quickly gravitated to the side where the Band was playing. This in turn caused the ferry to develop a distinct and noticeable list to that side! Fortunately, the vessel didn’t capsize and everyone enjoyed a spirited and unexpected concert on their way to Norfolk.
While not exactly performing on the waves, the Band also has performed various concerts over the years near the ocean in places such as Virginia Beach, Newport News, at Old Point Comfort, Colonial Beach, Hampton, and even on one occasion as far away as Jacksonville and Tampa, Florida.
There is, however, one other notable nautical occasion in which the Band participated, although not an ocean-going one. That voyage took place in June of 1924 in Memphis, TN. While there, the Band took an excursion trip on the Mississippi River on the riverboat Idlewild, a paddlewheel steamer built in 1914 to ferry passengers across the river from Memphis to Arkansas and also to carry cargo up and down the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. While on their excursion aboard the Idlewild, the Band performed a concert in the boat’s saloon.
But wait—there’s more. Are you from Louisville, KY, or have you ever visited that city? And while you were there, did you take an excursion on the Belle of Louisville riverboat? If so, you were following in the illustrious musical footsteps of the Charlottesville Municipal Band, because after a long and varied career plying the inland waterways of America the old steamer Idlewild—the very same boat on which the Municipal Band sailed and performed in 1924—was in 1963 refurbished and rechristened the Belle of Louisville! So, if you’re ever in Louisville, take a ride on the Belle and after its steam calliope has gone silent, listen carefully and you might still hear in the faint distance of history the echoing strains of a jaunty march being performed by the Charlottesville Municipal Band!