When conductor Colin Holman first dabbled in music as a young student in England, he never would have guessed he eventually would be the primary organizer for a festival hosted in Illinois and inspired by a concert in Kentucky.
"There's certainly some diversity going on here," the Fox Valley Concert Band conductor said. "And we pride ourselves in that."
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If you goWhat: Wheaton Band Festival
When: 7:15 p.m. Friday, July 18; 6 p.m. Saturday, July 19
Where: Memorial Park, 208 W. Union Ave., Wheaton
Holman's group will be one of five to perform over two nights at the 15th annual Wheaton Band Festival, a free music program in Wheaton's Memorial Park. The music showcase takes place Friday and Saturday, July 18-19, with performances starting at 7:15 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday.
The catalyst for the festival's founding was a trip taken by organizer Glenn Arnold of Wheaton to the nationally renowned Great American Brass Band Festival in Danville, Kentucky.
"From there he realized he could put something on of similar quality in the Wheaton area," Holman said. "He recognized Wheaton as a town that could be very supportive of and conducive to this kind of festival."
Arnold soon reached out to fellow musical acquaintances and the festival began to take shape, with committees specializing in selecting area groups and providing other entertainment to make the festival family friendly.
"That's how I got involved initially," Holman said. "Glenn was a member at the time of the Fox Valley Concert Band I conduct and he reached out to me, asking if I wanted to help. And I've been doing it ever since."
Holman, who immigrated to the United States in 1983 after studying music at the University of Birmingham, works to bring in exciting regional acts in addition to teaching and lecturing at schools like Northwestern and Loyola universities. The festival premiered in Memorial Park in 2000, and remains a summer highlight for residents each year.
Concertgoers are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets and sprawl on the grass, or come on the early side and grab precious bench space facing the park's amphitheater. Antsy kids or musically inclined children can explore the festival's "instrument petting zoo," where young participants play and experiment with instruments.
Holman attributes the festival's success and age range of attendees to the variety of its lineup.
"We've had everything from some of the great military brass bands in the country to a complete bagpipe band one year, so you could definitely say we have some very different performances," he said.
In addition to more traditional concert bands, this year's festival will feature the Nite Hawks, a blues and country group that puts a fresh twist on the Great American Songbook, and Swing Low Sweet Cadillac, which blends swing and jazz with a Latin twist. But no matter the performer, Holman says the festival's strength lies with the players behind the scenes.
"I think that it's been run this smoothly and consistently over the years is a testament to the efficiency of the organizers and the taste of the audience in Wheaton," he said. "It's really a great and accessible experience for the whole family. And it being free doesn't hurt as well!"
For information and full lineup, visit wheatonbandfestival.org.