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Summer guide: Sit back and enjoy the Bristol Town Band

BILL BOWERS, LEFT, and Ken Weston (pictured in 2019) have been keeping the Bristol Town Band alive for the better part of four decades. This 154-year-old institution is a key part of the Bristol community and will play concerts every Wednesday evening this summer. Independent file photo/Steve James

BRISTOL — A summer tradition continues in Bristol this summer as it has for many summers.

Many, many summers.

Many, many, many summers.

We’re talking about Bristol Town Band concerts on the green in the center of the village.

The concerts will take place every Wednesday evening, 7-8:30 p.m., at the bandstand all summer, from June 12 to Aug. 28. If it’s raining, the concert will be given in Holley Hall, across the street.

The music will be paired with some other events via the Bristol Rec Department. In conjunction with the June 19 concert there will also be a Fourth of July barbecue. June 26 will see the Masons barbecue prior to the concert. July 17 will be a game night, and Aug. 14 will see the St. Ambrose barbeque.

The band is comprised primarily of woodwinds and brass instruments, with a few pieces of percussion.

“It’s a good old-fashion band,” said Carol Weston, who currently manages the band, and plays baritone sax in it, as well.

She’s not the first manager of the town band. 

Hardly.

The Bristol Band is said to be the second-oldest town band in Vermont. It was started in 1870 by Smith Hatch. It became the Bristol Coronet Band in 1884. A few years later, some of the instrumentalists split off and became the Citizens Band. Then the two remerged in 1895 as the Bristol Military Band, according to the Bristol Historical Society.

Along the way, a bandstand was erected in the town park. Then a new bandstand was built in 1895. The gazebo got a “roof” in 1937, but since “roofed buildings” were not allowed on the park, the topper was technically a “sounding board” for the band that played there.

After Roy J. Clark became band director in 1955, band membership grew. When Clark resigned for health reasons in 1983, Mount Abe band director Bill Bowers took over as conductor of the Bristol Town Band and long-time member Ken Weston became manager. 

Carol Weston relates that her father — yes, the same Ken Weston — and her mother, Vivian, moved to Bristol in 1960 and started playing in the Bristol Town Band in 1961. They brought up their six children performing with the group each summer.

“My mother was probably up there on the bandstand playing in a concert while pregnant with me in her belly,” Carol Weston said.

There are currently 40 or so members, depending on the night. That’s a pretty good number, but “We could always use more brass,” Weston noted.

The band is comprised primarily of woodwinds and brass instruments, with a few pieces of percussion. It plays tunes in a variety of styles, Weston said: jazz, contemporary, pop, and a lot of medlies.

“It’s a good old-fashion band,” she said.

The group has over 300 pieces in its repertoire, but it would be no surprise if much of what is played by sight-reading. The band practices a few times before the season starts, but once mid-June rolls around, band members show up at the time of the performances and they play what is set before them. Bill Bower, the band leader, picks out which dozen or so tunes the band performs each week.

Westons’s favorite pieces include “Port Au Prince,” which was popularized by Nelson Riddle in the 1950s; Citizen Cope’s “Caribbean Skies”; and a medley called “Instant Concert.” She explains that all the band members audibly grunt at one point in this final number.

“I always remember liking that as a kid,” Weston said.

The players today range in age from 10 years old to 92. The senior player is Ken Weston, who lured his family and many other musicians into the Bristol Town Band. With his vision not perfect anymore, and thus difficulty reading the music, Ken now plays a little percussion and acts as an announcer for the Bristol band, his daughter said.

This summer she and Bowers would like to coax a few more new musicians into the town band. It’s an open invitation, but she’s particularly looking for younger members. How young?

“We would like to get more high school and even elementary school players,” Weston said. “Even if you only play one note for an hour, we want you. Even if you are from out of town.”

The songs that people will play this summer are pretty familiar, she added, so lack of familiarity with the repertoire should not hold any musicians back.

If you are interested in joining the Bristol Town Band, then call Carol Weston at 802-281-2315 and she’ll get you started.

If you just want to enjoy a relaxing evening or two listening to music created by your neighbors, head to the Bristol town park one Wednesday night this summer. 

Bring a blanket or a folding chair, spread out on the lawn around the bandstand, sit back and enjoy the music.

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