Franklin County

Battle of the Bands marks 150th anniversary of the Civil War

Camp Case Fifes and Drums played at the festival's battle of the bands. Sunday's event ended the four-day festival, which included lectures and performances.
Camp Case Fifes and Drums played at the festival's battle of the bands. Sunday's event ended the four-day festival, which included lectures and performances. Mark Ashley

FRANKFORT — More than 200 people packed into the new Ward Oates Amphitheatre on Sunday afternoon to jam and groove to the music of the '60s. The 1860s.

Brass bands dressed in costumes of the Civil War era serenaded the crowd with such Civil War tunes as Battle Cry of Freedom and Washington March.

The Sunday Battle of the Bands was part of the four-day Cornets and Cannons Civil War Sesquicentennial Music Festival in Frankfort to celebrate the music of the war.

Nicky Hughes, the curator of historic sites for the city of Frankfort, said last year that he and others were debating how to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, but they felt uncomfortable with a celebration.

"You can't really celebrate a war," Hughes said. "So we looked at what we could celebrate, which was the music."

Hughes is a longtime member of Saxton's Cornet Band, a local Civil War-era band. Hughes and Saxton's Cornet Band had been on the Civil War band circuit for years.

"We knew who to call," Hughes said.

The four-day festival included a combination of lectures and performances, and it culminated in the Sunday afternoon Battle of the Bands concert, which attracted music lovers and history buffs to the new amphitheatre behind the Kentucky Bar Association building.

Hughes said he was astonished at the size of the crowds for all of the events. "All of my expectations have been exceeded," Hughes said Sunday after performing with Saxton's Cornet Band.

"We didn't know if anyone was going to come," Hughes said. "On Wednesday, I was terrified. I looked at my boss and said, 'What if it's just the two of us?"

But the amphitheatre was packed on Sunday, and lectures and other concerts during the four days were well attended, Hughes said.

"The crowds have just fit the size of the arena," Hughes said.

Saxton's Cornet Band, based in Lexington, began in 1989 and has played all over the United States and even Taiwan.

David Goins, a member of the band, said the group was named after a Lexington sign painter named Henry Saxton who had a well-known band in the 1860s. Goins said the group tends to play at concerts and music artists series but does not do Civil War re-enactments.

Sherman Good, of the Wildcat Regiment Band, also shuns the title of re-enactor.

"We do not re-enact," Good said, as leaned against his saxhorn dressed in the blue wool coat of the 105th Pennsylvania, a volunteer infantry regiment of the Civil War. The Wildcat Regiment Band, based in Pennsylvania, is the go-to band for historic sites including Civil War battle fields at Gettysburg, Pa.; Harpers Ferry, W.Va.; and Antietam in Maryland, Good said.

Terry Cornett, of the Olde Towne Brass from Huntsville, Ala., not only plays the drums in the band; he also makes 1860s-era wooden drums for other Civil War bands.

Olde Towne Brass was founded 25 years ago but began to focus on Civil War music about 18 years ago. A Civil War-era band was supposed to perform at a nearby Civil War re-enactment but couldn't make it because of car problems. Olde Town Brass was the replacement band and has performed Civil War-era music ever since, Cornett said.

They do perform at several Civil War re-enactments each year. But they are not re-enactors, Cornett said.

"I'm a musician in a costume," Cornett said. "We don't live in tents. When the fight starts, we go shopping."

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