Organizers: Festival was glitch-free

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 19, 2001

After its second year, the Albert Lea Festival of Bands is already being mentioned among some prestigious company in Minnesota.

Tuesday, June 19, 2001

After its second year, the Albert Lea Festival of Bands is already being mentioned among some prestigious company in Minnesota.

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&uot;One judge’s comment was that this parade was just as good, if not better, than what they do in Alexandria,&uot; said parade operations director Phil Bartusek.

Alexandria is home to what is widely considered the premier marching competition in the state. But going on its 19th year, the Alexandria competition is starting to get a challenge from Albert Lea.

Visiting band directors agreed, Bartusek said. After arriving at the Central Park staging area with his group, the Monticello director was surprised to learn his band was next to march. He told Bartusek he was used to waiting up to an hour in Alexandria.

Full of testimonials like those on the day after the parade, organizers were celebrating the success of a festival they say went off without a single major snag.

Spaced at seven-minute intervals, the bands were able to stick so close to the schedule that the final group started marching a mere five minutes later than projected, Bartusek said.

&uot;We kept a tally sheet of when the bands arrived at the judging area,&uot; Bartusek said. &uot;It’s amazing – almost all of them were seven minutes apart.&uot;

Volunteers used radio communication to coordinate each band’s start and controlled the parade flow to keep the groups evenly spaced.

While the logistics were impressive, the crowd didn’t disappoint, either, said founder and organizer Dick Hench. He estimated that between 15,000 and 18,000 people lined the streets for the show.

&uot;We saw rows of people seven deep in a few places along the route,&uot;

Hench said.

The crowd was well behaved, and the only problem worth noting was a couple of cars that drove around barricades and entered the parade route, Bartusek said. Four police officers on bicycles patrolled the route all afternoon, but encountered little trouble, he said.

Good attendance meant economic benefit for Albert Lea, organizers said. The festival, which cost about $25,000, likely brought in 10 times that in economic impact, Bartusek said, adding that the Alexandria parade has been said to bring $1 million into the economy of the west-central Minnesota town.

After the festival’s successful sophomore effort, Bartusek and Hench are already thinking about the future. This year’s lineup of 22 bands is around the maximum a marching parade can have without being too long, they said. They expect to continue attracting around the same number of bands, but may work on ways to expand the festival in other ways.

Bartusek’s dream is a drum and bugle corps competition held the Saturday before the band festival. Those competitions draw bands from around the country. That goal is at least two years away, he said.

For now, Hench said he’d like to solicit help from civic and tourism organizations to help organize the event in the future. He envisions a committee that would handle the preparations and ensure the festival survives. This year, Hench and his wife Jan have shouldered a major share of the work.

But it has paid off.

&uot;Last year nobody knew who we were or what we were about,&uot; Hench said. &uot;The concept of a band festival in this part of the state was completely foreign.

&uot;My goal is to have people enjoying this event 20 years from now with no memory whatsoever of who got it started.&uot;