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Updated on Thursday, July 20, 2022 at 5:01 p.m.
The Swiss were marching down Main Street in Buckhannon Wednesday afternoon in anticipation of the opening ceremonies for the 2023 World Association of Marching Show Bands Competition later in the day. Marching and concert bands from across the world are in Buckhannon this week for an international competition.
Drummers tapped out a booming beat, punctuated by cries of “Do that funky groove,” as majorettes carried Swiss flags, all led by a baton-wielding band leader.
The WAMSB event, which also includes concert bands and drumlines, has attracted bands from 19 countries, including Colombia, Nigeria and Taiwan.
Randy Sanders, president of the WAMSB Buckhannon Host Committee Inc. said it’s only the second time in the competition’s 27 year history to be held in the U.S. The previous U.S. host was Palm Springs, California in 2017.
“This really is a big deal,” he said. “If you can buy a ticket, come to some of the events, support this. It’ll be a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Sanders said the international nature, as well as the music format, add to the unique experience.
“That’s why this is such a phenomenal competition, the different countries bring a little different flair to the way they present their marching band programs,” he said. “Marching show bands, they really put on a show.”
Buckhannon is no stranger to big events. The town has hosted the West Virginia Strawberry Festival for almost 90 years.
“When we put on an event, it’s always more of a festival than anything else,” Sanders said. “So we have a carnival. We have an entertainment stage with a lot of food vendors in the heart of our downtown in Jawbone Park.”
But Sanders says the marching bands are bringing international attention.
“You’ll be able to see all the competitions for free on the internet on livestream, so it’s gonna put the eyes of the world on our small town here Buckhannon West Virginia, USA,” he said.
West Virginia Wesleyan is hosting many of the musical performances and competitions, as well as a few of the bands, on its campus. One of those is the concert band Twistmen Winds from Hong Kong.
The band’s leader Kel Law was leading his band in a rehearsal at the Virginia Thomas Law Center for the Performing Arts. Law says that in Hong Kong, his band wasn’t well supported, with neighbors often complaining when members practiced, especially during lockdown.
“Back in Hong Kong, we’re not really having any support,” he said. “We can’t, not really having like a venue, a grand hall, no, we can’t.”
But Law said his passion for music guided him to form the band, and continue growing it to the point where they could travel internationally and share their music.
“I love how people get together playing music, share the joy, and then travel around together because of music, come to West Virginia, tell the world that I’m here with my music,” he said.
Law had some of that passion returned Tuesday evening. He and others recounted how as bands arrived in Buckhannon, they ended up putting on a sort of showcase for each other, each band from across the world playing and in turn listening.
“They just show it all the way to you with their music, this really wonderful, really nice experience,” he said. “We are not need to talk. We can just feel it. You can feel the power of the story. This is really, really amazing.”
Law says he hopes attendants of the festival can experience something similar.
The competition events run through Sunday night July 23.
***Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include additional quotes from Randy Sanders, as well as the portion about the Twistmen Winds.