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Mason City & The Music Man

Seventy-Six Trombones Led the Big Parade


There’s nothing quite like the sound of a marching band.  The toot of the trumpet.  The deep timbre of the trombones.  The cadence of the drumline as they pass by in their perfectly straight lines. 

The rich history of marching bands runs deep in Mason City. In fact, over Memorial Day weekend, there was an entire weekend celebration dedicated to these bands.

The first Band Festival was held in 1928 to celebrate Mason City’s 75th anniversary.  While few high schools had marching bands back in those days, they were able to procure five schools to attend.  Little did they know how the tradition would grow to the level it has over the years.

A lot of that growth was due to the smashing success of the 1957 hit Broadway show, The Music Man.  Written and composed by Meredith Wilson, a Mason City native, this cheeky comedic treasure was his attempt to pay tribute to his home state. 

It took Wilson eight years and approximately 30 revisions to complete the musical.  The show was a resounding success, running on Broadway for 1,375 performances over three and a half years.  The Music Man was adapted for film twice, in 1962 and then again in 2003.  It has won an outstanding number of awards for both the play itself, and the actors who portrayed the characters. 

Most recently, the musical began a new stint at the Winter Garden Theater with Hugh Jackman at the helm.  Jackman plays the lead role of Harold Hill, a con man looking to make a quick buck before blowing town.  His plan is foiled, however, when Marion the Librarian catches on to his schemes and calls him out.  It wasn’t until Hill cured her little brother of his lisp that their love story began to unfold. 

The play began its run February 10th of 2022 and has been wildly popular to the masses, selling out night after night.  The New York Times, however, gave it a so-so review stating that “even with Hugh Jackman, ‘The Music Man’ goes flat.”

Well, Hugh, I guarantee if you made an appearance in the REAL River City, you’d be met with only RAVE reviews.  I can picture it now, leading the parade just as Meredith Wilson did after the motion picture premier in 1962.  Marching under the banner secured to an overpass that reads “Welcome to River City” you would be the highlight of the century. 

Just think about it, Hugh. 

Seventy-six trombones might lead that big parade – but you would be the shining star they follow!

In his early years, growing up in Mason City, I can imagine a young Meredith Wilson dreaming up this story.  He was an innovator, something of a musical genius of his time, being a flutist, composer, conductor, musical arranger, bandleader, playwright and writer. 

A few fun facts about Mr. Wilson… he wrote and composed 40 songs for The Music Man.  He’s also the genius behind the University of Iowa’s fight song, as well as Iowa State University’s “For I for S Forever.”  He wrote the fight song for his hometown high school “Mason City, Go!” And I bet you never knew he wrote the music and lyrics for “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas.”

Born 150 years ago, Meredith’s success is a true testament to the music, leaving a legacy to be celebrated in his hometown for years and years.  Today in Mason City, you can visit The Music Man Square and take a walk down Main Street of an early 1900’s River City replica. Through all these years, the city of Mason City has held tight to the success of one of their own, Meredith Wilson.  

Most importantly, Meredith Wilson put Mason City on the map!

He often visited Mason City, especially after the release of the motion picture.  When The Music Man premiered in 1962, it was viewed right here in the real “River City.”  Timed to coincide with the Band Festival, Wilson led the big parade through the town and even included special appearances by the film’s stars, Shirley Jones and Robert Preston. 

I can’t even fathom the buzz of excitement that must have been in the air that day. 

Just think, Mr. Jackman, that could be you next year.

I guarantee they’ll throw a parade upon your arrival – with 76 trombones and everything!

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