By Sonya Vartabedian
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Wanted: A rousing replacement to put the opening pop in the annual Yankee Homecoming fireworks display.
After a decade or more of hosting the U.S. Air Force Band of Liberty on the Newburyport waterfront, the Homecoming committee now finds itself in need of a new musical act.
The popular military ensemble, which in recent years has become the traditional lead-in to the annual fireworks show on the final night of Homecoming, has announced it is disbanding in the face of budget cuts. The musicians with the Band of Liberty, who have been stationed at Hanscom Air Force Base, are being reassigned to other bands around the country.
Jason Lacroix, president of the Yankee Homecoming board of directors, said organizers learned the fate of the Band of Liberty immediately following last summer’s concert when it went to book the group to return for this year’s festivities — something his board typically did to ensure the annual date would be kept. The news was bittersweet, he said.
“There’s something about watching a military band, I don’t know what it is, call it American pride or whatever you want,” he said. “There was a huge sense of tradition with them — a military concert, fireworks and a parade the next day. What better way to wrap up a tradition like Homecoming. It was a storybook ending in our mind.”
But Lacroix said the board soon saw the loss as an opportunity and began working on bringing in someone new even before last year’s Yankee Homecoming celebration was over.
Lacroix said there has been no shortage of interest among performers seeking to take the outdoor stage at Market Landing Park for the evening show the first Saturday of August. In fact, his committee has been flooded with inquiries.
“We’re very fortunate in that we have a huge following and a lot of bands and acts want to play our venue,” he said. “There’s definitely not a lack of options. There’s almost too many to choose from, which makes the decision harder. But we want to find the right fit.”
Geri Dorr, a past Homecoming chairwoman and member of the board of directors, said given that the public enjoyed the patriotic program performed by the Band of Liberty, Homecoming organizers have looked into possibly attracting a band from another branch of the military or from a military organization as a replacement.
But nothing has come to fruition as yet. Although the possibility for signing a military ensemble still exists, Lacroix said uncertain governmental financial times may make that difficult this year. Plus, he said, many of those units are booked a year or more in advance.
“The reality is if we can’t find one to take (the Band of Liberty’s) place, we’ll have to do something else,” Dorr said. “Things change and we’ll have to go with the flow.”
Another consideration is that given the Band of Liberty was a military organization, it performed for free. Yankee Homecoming, however, had to feed the 70-odd visiting members and provide some accommodations.
Lacroix said his group has narrowed down the choices and he expects the new waterfront performer for “Super Saturday,” as the final Saturday of Homecoming has become known, will be announced soon.
“Change isn’t always bad,” he said. “Who’s to say the next one won’t be better, bigger and more enjoyable.”