published Friday, August 10th, 2012

Phillips: How a kazoo became more than just a kazoo

Last week, I witnessed one of the most awe-inspiring musical events of Chattanooga's recent past, and if you don't believe me, I have the kazoo to prove it.

With the last notes still ringing at the conclusion of Strung Like a Horse's set at Nightfall, lead singer Clay Maselle asked everyone to join the band on a parade to Rhythm & Brews for an EP/video release show.

That invitation was a make-or-break moment and the culmination of weeks of planning between the band, Chattanooga Presents marketing and media director Jonathan Susman and Rhythm & Brews manager Mike Dougher.

None of them expected what happened next.

Maselle anticipated about 100 people to join in for the walk up Market Street, which Susman had arranged to be blocked off for the occasion. The response was decidedly more enthusiastic than expected.

"There must have been 600 marching down the street," Maselle said. "I've never seen something like that happen in town before. It all went exactly as we hoped, except ... huger."

Flanked by stilt walkers and fire jugglers and surrounded by a crowd of hundreds stretching down the street, the band members rode atop a car like campaigning centurions returning in triumph to Rome.

I can't remember how it happened, but somehow, I ended up holding one of 200 kazoos they handed out, but like many people, I was far too swept up to play it.

The event was simultaneously surreal and incredible, as if the Bessie Smith Strut picked up two months later and decided to proceed, in unfettered glory, up Market Street.

While the kazoo went unused, I've held onto it because it represents what Chattanoogans are capable of when they put their minds to something. After all the hullabaloo surrounding this year's Strut, I didn't think we would see an event on this scale again, certainly not so soon.

Yet it went off without a hitch: no stampeding, no gun scares, no brawls. According to Dougher and Susman, the police were pleased as well and never had to step in to calm things down. That, almost more than the music, is an accomplishment worth celebrating, especially considering how greatly the turnout exceeded expectations.

"To be perfectly honest, I wasn't sure it would work," Susman said. "As I saw it taking off, I thought, 'Oh no, I'm going to be on the front page tomorrow. This is either going to go really well or really horribly.' "

Fortunately, nothing went wrong and, like the kazoo, the parade was more than just a parade. I've long encouraged support for local bands, but the overwhelming response last week proved I was wrong. They clearly have plenty of support. Hopefully, musicians will recognize that and follow Strung Like a Horse's example.

Now we know the city won't get in the way of bands going the extra mile, but Strung Like a Horse's approach was just one of many, Dougher said.

"There are a million ways to do it," he said. "It's like, 'Let's just see what can happen.' It happened, and it was great."

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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