Bill Boletta

Congratulations on the 20th Anniversary. How time flies! As one of the original charter members of the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Marching Band and Twirling Corps (as it was called back then), I send my congratulations from Tokyo, Japan, where I now live and where I happened by chance upon your website today.

I knew Jon, of course, and he, Fred Terranova (now also deceased), Allen Young (still very much alive), and I along with a few others had breakfast often in the Norse Cove (now Cove Cafe) on Castro Street, where we planned the organization of the band. While Jon was certainly the inspiration and driving force behind the Band, many other volunteers were involved even at the earliest stages of distributing fliers. Allen Young worked at Byron Hoyt. He is an oboist, but his major contribution back then was to organize the (all male) Twirling Corps.

At our first rehearsal (held on a Sunday afternoon at the old Trocadero Transfer, a late night disco south of Market which gave us free rehearsal space for a while), nobody, including Jon, had any idea who would show up or how many people would come. When well over a hundred musicians assembled (around 17 flutists if I recall), nobody could believe it. When we discovered that a large number (around half) not only had been high school and college musicians, but also had degrees in music, we were dumbfounded.

Jon had chosen just a couple of numbers for the upcoming parade, and had gotten hold of Jr. High versions from Byron Hoyt in easier keys because he had no idea what the abilities of the musicians would be. Well, that day´s rehearsal was the first of many surprises that awaited all of us. The first read-through of the pieces knocked us all out because the band sounded like the Univ. of Michigan Marching Band or The Eastman Wind Ensemble. I am not exaggerating. The musicianship was really amazing, much to our amazement.

We had no uniforms and no money, of course, so one of the band members who had a design studio (Tandy was his first name and he played Baritone) designed a red logo for the band (which also appeared on the recruitment posters) and silk-screened a hundred or so t-shirts. At that time, cloth military belts were popular as part of the macho Castro “clone” look, and we decided to wear levis with red army-style belts with our t-shirts. We also wore little red-billed cloth visors. That was our first uniform. I´m sure you must have pictures of all this in your archives.

I am a trombonist, so I was in the front row as we turned onto Market Street in front of the Hyatt Regency with the straight tourist crowd lined up on either side of the street, and I will never forget the feeling of simultaneous chills and warmth I had then as we struck up Sousa´s _High School Cadets_. (I´m not sure whether it was a stroke of genius or mere serendipity that led Jon to choose this March, but for those of us who grew up in the closet and found our solace in what was often considered years ago as the sissified atmosphere of bands, it was a juicily symbolic piece to be playing).

As we marched down Market Street that morning, playing “California Here I Come” and “High School Cadets”, I and many others knew that we were making history, that we were in fact building a community that would never perish.

There was at that time no marching band arrangement of “San Francisco”, so sometime later, I bought a copy of the sheet music and made a band arrangement, which we played for as long as I was in the band. I´m sure you have much better arrangements than mine, but I hope the original score is floating around in your archive/library somewhere. I donated the score to the Band and inscribed a dedication to the Band.

This is all very nostalgic for me, of course, and as I´m sure you know that many political squabbles later marred the early history of the lesbian and gay musical groups, but the important fact is that they have survived–and for twenty years!!!

I am delighted to have been part of that early history, and I truly cherish these memories that I have shared with you here. I once talked to Lon (?), a flutist in the original band, about doing some oral history depositions, but we lost contact. I come to San Francisco once or twice a year, however, and would love to visit the center (which I have never seen) and look at whatever archival materials might be there.

Best wishes again on our 20th Anniversary.

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