In 1968 when the Snohomish High School Band was touring and the Kla Ha Ya Days Parade was about to happen, Art Schwarzmiller said, “A parade is not a parade without a marching band.” Art, a musician and community activist did something about it. He recruited his brother, Gil, sons, kids, other family members and buddies from the former Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps and overnight put together Schwartzmiller’s Sour-Kraut Society and Marching Band.
Celebrating the 50 years since that first parade, Gil Schwarzmiller, one of the last original members of the Band, leads the Kla Ha Ya Days Parade as Grand Marshal down First Street in Snohomish, Saturday July 21st beginning at 10:30 am.
The Sauerkraut Band will be there, too, dressed like they did 50 years ago with top hats, painted black handle bar mustaches, and red cheeks for everyone including the kids and whatever zany outfits they want. Joining the Sauerkraut Band in celebration of the 50th will be band members from the local schools walking along side and playing.
Yes, the name has slightly changed since the Schwarzmillers retired and any lingering ‘sour’ notes just make people laugh all the more. Now the band goes by Snohomish Sauerkraut Band and Gil prefers his last name without a ‘t’ he says chuckling.
Gil played the drums and percussion instruments for over 28 years. He, too, was a former member of the Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps with his brother Art, competing for top honors in national conventions in California. “We never got first but we tried,” he laughs. Born in 1926 on Avenue F, Gil graduated from Snohomish High School and has lived most of his life in the area.
Humor and a commitment to making people laugh and smile is the main theme of the Sauerkraut Band the Schwarzmillers started. That commitment continues to this day for the Band. “Gil is quieter. Art could come across as gruff but he had a heart of gold, loved playing music, having a fun time and cared about people,” says current trombone player and historian, Brian Mills. Gil, humbly pleased to be asked to be Grand Marshal this year, says the Band will thrive. “There’s always going to be someone to play and wear top hats.”
Today there’s about 50 members. On summer weekends between 30-35 members will be playing in parades around the state and special events. That includes the ‘shimmy girls’ because they wear fringe dresses and cheer the band on as they march.
That first Kla Ha Ya Days Parade the Band played “Beer Barrel Polk” and “Ach du Lieber Augustin” and the children passed out containers of ‘kraut to the crowd. Spectators laughed hysterically and the Band quickly became a crowd favorite taking home First Place. Since then the Band has garnered many awards but they don’t hand out sauerkraut any more. “That ‘tradition’ lasted one Saturday,” says Gil. “We had to stop because we had no food permit.”
A reunion to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Sauerkraut Band is planned after the Parade on the 21st. The Band which is now four generations deep is contacting 125 former members to join in the celebration. The Band plans to ‘hit’ every bar and tavern in Snohomish – a Sauerkraut Attack – play 2 or 3 songs and move on to the next place. Those wishing to celebrate and follow them after the Parade are also encouraged to stay for the other fun family games Kla Ha Ya Days has to offer. You’ll be glad you did.
All Content Courtesy of Kla Ha Ya Days and Matheson Media Corporation