Drumline New York City
FOGO AZUL MARCHED IN NYC’s 44TH ANNUAL VILLAGE HALLOWEEN PARADE!
by Shelley Smith, FogoAzul Drummer
Fogo Azul NYC, drumline New York City closed out the month of October marching in two Halloween parades: the NYU and Community Board No. 2 annual Children’s Halloween Parade and, the piece de resistance, the largest Halloween parade in the United States, New York City’s 44th annual Village Halloween Parade. The parade theme this year was “Cabinet of Curiosities.” The curiosities were hybrid creatures that one might imagine the new emerging gene-splicing technologies rendering. Horns and tails unified the Fogo Azul curiosities although no two creatures shared the same horn or tail. As Halloween is our artistic director, and “Fire Chief,” Stacy Kovacs’ absolute favorite holiday of the year, her costume, weeks in planning, was a constructed curiosity indeed, and top secret until call time, and what a curiosidade it was! Three Fogo dressers were required to get Stacy into it. Can you guess the name of her hybrid creature?
Excitement and anticipation about this huge celebration had been mounting for weeks. Stacy even created a new and very dynamic drum pattern for the band and, distributed strings of tiny blue and white lights for us to adorn our drums with in order to add extra visual pizzaz to our performance. The event was of such magnitude that some members took the day off from work to prepare!
As is the habit of many of us who travel to and within NYC, before we take off we check the weather and traffic report to make any last minute garb or route adjustments to accommodate the elements, roadway detours or changes to subway or bus routes. About 45 minutes before I planned to leave my apartment I did just that. In between national news and the weather report I heard a news item about a lone motorist who had driven onto a bike path less than a mile south of our meeting venue. Later it would be determined that this had been an act of terrorism… What a tragic irony that at the end of our last rehearsal before the parade, Stacy reminded us, with regret, of the very public nature of the parade and, given the state of affairs in our early twenty-first century world, should the parade be subjected to attack, we should immediately seek safety. And, adding a bit of levity to such a dark possibility, she added: “Drop your drums and do whatever you have to protect yourselves; I’ll pick up the drums!”
For minute or two after hearing the news I hesitated about leaving. As per usual I was rushing so I didn’t have time to check my email or Facebook for any messages from Stacy as to our parade status. I hadn’t received any text messages from my drum sisters so, I assumed the show would go on. For the first time, in a very long time, I was reminded of the power of momentum and how, as it gains speed, it becomes increasingly difficult to stop it. Like everyone else, I’d spent time and effort preparing a costume for the parade and was looking forward to participating in it. I’m not sure whether it was a sense of commitment to my Fogo family and loyalty to our director, curiosity, vanity (I’d spent hours decoupaging my mini deer horns with glitter, adding tubular piping and lights to my panther ears headband and purchased decals and cosmetics to add a few more features to my purple panther-deer costume and didn’t want to forgo the satisfaction of wearing the get-up in the parade), or fear that giving into fear would diminish the quality of my life, or all of these reasons, but, I watched myself as I packed my Fogo Azul backpack, pick up my drum and make my way to the subway. With the exception of one high school student who was informing a classmate of the attack, and her incredulous counterpart saying he was on his way to the school that was very close to the attack, no one else seemed to be aware of, or otherwise concerned about the senseless violence and stolen lives. The subways appeared to be running as per usual, and the straphangers were as self-absorbed as always. Surprisingly, I made excellent time and arrived at our designated meeting place on time (still a stunning experience for me), and without incident.
The parade organizers had reserved recently vacated space on the ground floor of a building that had been long occupied by a paint retailer, and now a likely victim of a ridiculously unaffordable rent increase. Thus, on a dusty, chipped concrete floor, quiet, but excited clusters of marching band members gathered at designated spots along the walls and columns of the large, open space. As I scanned the space looking for my Fogo tribe, I was happy to see the familiar blue flame-adorned drums, Madame Fire Chief (a.k.a. Stacy), and a few of my drum sisters near a column close to the middle of the space. Some were in full costume, others adding finishing makeup touches, or admiring each other’s unique horns and tails.
I’d had an opportunity to witness the Fire Chief build her costume and try it on. We decided she would need assistance getting into it, so I accepted her invitation to be her dresser. So, as soon as I found the group and put my drum down, it was on to helping Stacy into her costume! Halloween costume-crafter-extraordinaire that she is, Stacy had transformed a Care Bear suit into a curious hybrid that featured huge ears, brown wrapping paper and wire sculpted branch-like antlers, and a kind of stunted blue raccoon tail. The interior of the costume hid a brilliant system of wooden dowels that supported the ears, loops attached to a soft neck brace that stabilized the dowels, and headbands that would keep the hood to which the ears were attached, securely on Stacy’s head. The overall affect of the white face paint, large bunny muzzle, blue, see-through dealer’s visor, large blue framed shades with tiny blinking blue lights, and shiny silver high-tops with translucent soles illuminated with little LED lights in rainbow colors topped by a Fire Chief’s unique, Elvis-meets-Liberace-meets-Joseph-and-the-Amazing-Technicolor-Dreamcoat fabulous Fogo tuxedo tails—exquisitely stitched and detailed with hand cut flame and letter appliqués by our own surdo 2 drummer and fabulously talented seamstress, Suso Pinozo—rendered our conductor a kind of human Las Vegas strip! And ultimately, it took three of us to get her into her costume and ambulatory!
While we waited to be called to take our place in the parade we posed for photos with each other and other wandering curiosities. We admired the extravagant costumes and makeup of other participants and watched out of the floor-to-ceiling windows as an inspiring drum line of young men practiced their routine as they waited to join the parade. Amazing floats slowly passed by and a block of glowing orange paper Jack O’Lanterns appeared to eerily float high above the heads of several rows of paraders that slowly processed along Spring Street and around the corner on to Avenue of the Americas. My Fogo sisters, eager to get out there and join them repeatedly asked our harassed Fire Chief when we would start. The requests became so frequent that she had to call a huddle to inform us, in no uncertain terms that, like us, she knew only what our scheduled start time was, and then kindly implored us to stop asking her when we would be called. All praises to Madame Fire Chief for maintaining composure while having to watch and respond to parade personnel and, single-handedly, manage fifty excited, impatient Fogo Azul drummers, chaffing at the bit to join the biggest Halloween parade in the country!
Eventually we got the call and were rushed into a single line to file out of the building and onto the sidewalk that was crowded with other excited groups, queued and waiting for their turn to step off. In short order we took our places. For the last time we secured horns and tails, then turned on our drum lights and stood at attention, taking in the scene and listening for the Fire Chief’s drum call: chaa-cha-cha-chaa-cha-chaa-cha-cha-chaa-chaa! And off we went, rocking our samba-reggae beats! As I was playing dobra in a parade for the first time, I was so focused on coordinating my stepping with the choreo and song patterns that I may have missed some of the activity happening in the bands in front of us and among the spectators. What I do remember, however, are the crowds of invincible New Yorkers, native and tourists alike, lining either side of the avenue us cheering us on. A happy crowd is such a powerful energy source, and the energy we exchanged was high! As always, Stacy engaged the crowds with her boogie and comical antics, raising the level of excitement even higher.
About half-way along the route we marched into very bright, white television lights, cameras and booms. And, guess what? We made it into footage aired by a local news channel. For some of our newbies this was their first parade, first time marching in the dark, and first time being filmed for television. Quite a memorable initiation, I’d say! Shortly after that moment I remember feeling proud of myself as I thought I’d noticed that muscle memory had taken over the stepping choreography, leaving me only the drumming and upper body choreography to focus on. I think I slipped into a kind of zone. I don’t remember what brought me back to our three-dimensional world but when I returned, horror of marching horrors, I realized I was out of step and Stacy was discretely gesturing me back into the groove. Well, the bliss I experienced in that zone was sweet even if short.
As we approached 14th Street, near the end of the route, the parade marshals seemed to suddenly appear instructing us to stop playing and directed us to the parade exit for performers. We were corralled into a crowded, narrow lane of 16th Street and slowly processed eastward. Most of the band members made it to a corner where they posed for group photos taken by excited family members and friends who’d formed a large semi-circle around them. (A few of us, however, got swept up in the current of revelers and found ourselves beached across the street before we realized we’d become separated from our sisters. By the time we made it back across the street the moment had passed. Guess that’s the way the drum mallet bounces some times.)
A New York Times article on the parade opened with the statement, “There are fewer sounds more defiant than beating drums.”1 For this 2017 Village Halloween Parade, we did indeed defiantly beat our drums—for peace, for healing, and faith that our better selves will continue to prevail. We finished feeling equal parts exhilaration and gratitude.
Fogo Azul extends condolences and deepest sympathy to the families who survive those innocents who lost their lives in the terrorist attack in NYC only hours before the commencement of the Village Halloween Parade. May their souls rest in peace.
PS: As mentioned above, we were thrilled to receive television coverage by a local news program. We were very excited when one of our sisters found a photo of our front line dobras in a Gettyimages photomontage called, “The Most Ghoulish Pictures from Around the World”
But we were especially moved to find a photo of us posted in what turned out to be the very last issue of Gothamist” .
It’s absence is already sorely missed.