On a warm fall evening, notes from that discordant, circa-1980 B-52s song drift down North Street in Harrisburg. Interpreted through horns, woodwinds and percussion, it sounds even stranger than the strange original.
Little by little, the sound gets closer to the restaurant where you’re dining al fresco. Before you know it, a large group of youngish, middle-age-ish musicians gathers around you, dressed in eclectic outfits that can best be described as high school marching band meets Mad Max.
You’ve unwittingly been sucked into the vortex of Harrisburg’s only “hit and run” street band, No Last Call. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll end up having half the fun that they’re having.
“There’s an edge to [hit-and-runs], not knowing what to expect from either side,” said Doug Wilburne, a No Last Call founder who also happens to be vice president of public relations at industrial giant Textron. “We’re building its momentum with a focus on routine and choreography as it becomes a permanent fixture in the landscape.”
On the “other side,” listeners greet No Last Call with a mixture of enthusiasm, discomfort, delight and puzzlement. Should you sing along? Ignore them? Tip them?
No Last Call is made up of 32 members identified as professionals by day and performers by night. Band members include doctors, attorneys, former music teachers, computer programmers and one-time band geeks, to name a few.
It all started about five years ago, when a rowdy group of musicians stumbled out of a bar in Providence, R.I., awakening Wilburne, who owns an apartment there. The ruckus later inspired him to team up with Ted Reese (also known as the director of development for the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra) to replicate that band’s loud, spontaneous, ragged performance for greater Harrisburg.
A few years ago, No Last Call—not knowing what to expect—hit the streets of the city for the first time. They chose a busy night, when there were lots of outside diners along restaurant row on N. 2nd Street.
“While we were waiting to be chased away by the police, people were so surprised to see a marching band in downtown with fairly decent musical quality,” Reese said. “When money started coming into our bucket and people were hiring us to perform at events, Doug and I realized this was not a joke.”
On a recent evening, I attended a band rehearsal on the second floor of the Hummelstown American Legion. Members were preparing for the winter season of parades and holiday honks, their sounds mixed in with the rattle and clash of pool sticks and balls from downstairs.
Without warning, a thunderous BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR erupted from a trombone in the left corner. Immediately, sounds from tubas, clarinets, trumpets and saxophones filled the room among chatter and laughter between friends and acquaintances. There was an energetic and contagious vibe with full camaraderie, like a stadium of sports fans during a rival game.
“Our relationships are strong,” Wilburne said. “We’re building friendships that provide support and reinforcement with exposure in front of a lot of people.”
Musical Director Brant Kenny, a satellite office support specialist at Lincoln Intermediate, gave the band credit for becoming more polished over time.
“There are different playing levels with a variety of skills that add to the diversity of the group,” he said. “Some people take lessons just to be in the band, so we encourage those interested in playing, as well as new, experienced musicians.”
Typically, the band purchases arrangements, but trumpeter Jim Neidinger and soprano sax player Jamie Mosher have arranged a few songs to supplement No Last Call’s unique style. The band finds ways to reinterpret the tunes of performers like James Brown, Lady Gaga and the B-52s. On the night I heard them, the roundup featured familiar melodies like “Thriller,” “Timber,” “Centerfold” and “Dance to the Music.”
After a break, Kenny stepped back into his role, fortifying a circle of musicians awaiting cues from his lead. His talent in matching and correcting tones unfolded as the overall music quality improved through balance, sound and rhythm with each song. There was discipline and creativity during sets, as the band became more discerning but also friendly and collaborative.
“I didn’t expect how much I would enjoy adults rediscovering music and instruments,” Reese said. “For some, it’s been 10 to 20 years since they touched an instrument. It’s gratifying.”
This sense of gratification shows in their impromptu street performances, which fuels the passion behind No Last Call. The band, though, has found it an increasing challenge to live up to its reputation as a “hit-and-run” band.
“We can’t bolt anymore,” Reese admitted. “It’s more of a ‘meander away’ when you have 20 people come out and play.”
In addition to its signature street act, No Last Call performs at booked events like the Dillsburg Farmers Fair in October and Palmyra’s Holiday Parade in November. The band relies on its Facebook page and website to connect with its members and fan base. For “hit-and-run” shows, they notify followers the day beforehand with a general location of their expected whereabouts.
So, don’t be surprised if you see and hear a rambunctious street band playing outdoors once the weathers warms up. No Last Call is just adding to the music of the city.
Learn more about No Last Call by visiting www.nolastcall.net or the band’s Facebook page.