Last Friday, offices and workplaces around the country were closed in observance of Independence Day, and most Americans celebrated their day off by sleeping in.
My alarm went off at 5 a.m., which gave me just enough time to hit the snooze button once, then get dressed in my Baltimore's Marching Ravens summer uniform, eat a quick breakfast and drive from my Baltimore City apartment to the Ravens Training Facility in Owings Mills by 6.
Our caravan of seven busses rolled out half an hour later, destination: Dundalk, for the 74th Annual Dundalk Heritage Parade which was scheduled to begin at 8:15. We got off the buses and loitered in front of a nearby strip mall with "No Loitering" signs to take shelter from the rain until it was time to line up.
The two-mile route is the longest parade of the four Maryland Fourth of July parades we marched over the weekend. This is my fifth time as a member of the Marching Ravens and I don't ever remember seeing so many spectators.
The crowds cheered us on during the Ravens Fight Song and a jazzy rendition of "You're a Grand Old Flag." We also played Alice Cooper's "School's Out for Summer" for the first time on the street and it got a huge reaction in every parade. I could see people (mostly in their 20's or older) singing along, some throwing up devil's horns with their hands in true hard rock fashion.
We hopped back on the busses and rode up to Towson where the day's second parade stepped off at 10:30 a.m. The parade's official start was marked by a fly-over of four National Guard A-10s. Charm City Cakes owner and Food Network Star Duff Goldman brought the star power as the Grand Marshall.
Towson's parade route is the shortest by far, but with two reviewing stands, our progress was slowed by frequent stops and starts.
My boss was in the crowd at Towson and he jumped in front of the band while we were stopped at the second reviewing stand to take pictures. He later asked if he embarrassed me, but of course he didn't. The great thing about doing these parades in the Baltimore area is that all of us band members have friends and family in the crowds, shouting our names, waving, taking pictures. While marching in the Macy's parade last year was a once-in-a-lifetime event and a true honor for Baltimore's Marching Ravens, few of the parade goers actually knew who we were.
Our final appearance of the day was in Catonsville for the town's 61st annual 4th of July parade that took place along Frederick Road. This one didn't kick off until 3 p.m., giving the band some much needed downtime.
We stopped in a nearby parking lot to recharge with lunch and some rest. Bus 5 - home of the trumpet section - was loaded down with food. We all coordinated ahead of time to bring Gatorade, chips, veggies, cupcakes and more. One member of the section brought about five varieties of cookies he'd baked himself the night before.
Happily fed, hydrated and full of sugar, we were ready to march on.
Over the past several years, the band has built a relationship with the Fields family of Catonsville. Their house is located right off of our staging area, and every year we stop by their party and play a short concert. In return, they generously provide us with water and candy. Remember when you went trick-or-treating as a kid and there was one house that handed out full-size candy bars? That's this house.
The percussions started off the concert with a few new exercises that proved popular with the crowd, and then the band joined in with a collection of classic rock favorites including "Iron Man," "Crazy Train," "Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap)" and "Enter Sandman."
We moved along to get in line for the parade after wrapping up the concert and thanking the Fields family for their hospitality. We followed Ravens Roost #73 , who was invited to march after winning the Art Modell Award at the Council of Ravens Roosts Convention parade in Ocean City last month. The end of this parade brings a big sigh of relief, and our bus is silent on its journey back to Owings Mills. This makes me happy, because that means everyone worked so hard they don't even have the energy to talk.
After a full night of sleep, we're at it again on Saturday for the parade in Havre de Grace. The parade kicked off at 2 p.m., and while it was stickier on this day than on Friday, there was a comfortable cloud cover - right up until the parade began. This is a trend I noticed all weekend long. The Marching Ravens bring the music, the spirit of the Ravens organization, and a ray of sunshine all across the state of Maryland.
On Wednesday night, the Marching Ravens were back to work in Owings Mills to rehearse music and marching, getting ready for football season. You can catch us again on August 3rd at the Howard County Fair, and then during pre-game and halftime of the preseason game at M&T Bank Stadium on August 16.