For the pub crawl, the new Gulfport Gecko Amalgamated Marching Band will do a single-file sidewalk march starting on Beach Boulevard either near the Art Village Courtyard or Isabelle’s restaurant at the Peninsula Inn, said Toffer Ross, co-founder of the band and sousaphone player. The band will also appear at locations along Beach Boulevard.
Michael Wilson, a tuba player and board member in the New Horizons Band of Gulfport, is the other co-founder of the Gulfport Gecko Band. The marching band is a separate entity and will soon form its own board of directors, said Ross.
“We want this to be a fun way to express Gulfport’s performing talent,” she said. “I’m amazed at the response we’ve gotten from my old-time Gulfport peeps. They tell me, ‘Oh my God! We’ve needed this forever!’”
The idea was a long time in the making.
In 2018, Ross is celebrating her 25th year as a member of the area’s Second Time Arounders Marching Band. When she moved to Gulfport in the early 2000s, she decided to join the local 4th of July parade as a solo sousaphone marcher playing the melody part to songs.
“It was very Gulfport,” she said.
At the time, Mayor Mike Yakes welcomed her and told her to fall in place behind him.
“Poor Mayor Mike didn’t have any idea” about the volume level of a sousaphone, she said. Ross has been marching in Gulfport’s 4th of July parade ever since, most often behind either Mayor Yakes or current Mayor Sam Henderson. Organizers annually would ask her when she was going to form a marching band.
At the Founder’s Day celebration on October 14, 2017, Ross met Wilson who was playing with New Horizons, a sit-down concert band. Soon, the two agreed that Gulfport needed a marching band. Now, she had help.
Ross has also played a tuba for 33 years with the now defunct Fallopian Tubes, a women’s band that she founded. So, she knows how to run a band.
Ross approached what is now the Gulfport Merchants Chamber and pitched the idea that the city needed a marching band as a promotional tool. Members of the chamber agreed and provided the seed funding to pay for things like music.
Next, Ross approached Karen Keaton, a Gulfport-based lawyer who in an earlier life was a band director.
Keaton also plays the bassoon, a difficult orchestral instrument, said Ross.
“I knew she was passionate about bands, and she said, ‘I’d love to,’” said Ross.
Wilson worked at recruiting volunteer musicians from New Horizons who also wanted to march and Ross approached a few of her local musician friends. It is common for local musicians to play in multiple bands, said Ross.
In late June, band director Keaton published a video on her Facebook page of the 15-member inaugural group rehearsing their marching skills on 27th Avenue South in Gulfport: facebook.com/karen.keaton.52/posts/10217662439259620. Keaton even trained the drum major. And, by the 4th of July, the band was a crowd favorite.
The marching band plans to expand its volunteer adult membership and will soon include a group of ukulele players along with additional percussionists playing items like cow bells, triangles and slide whistles, said Ross.
“Twirlers are going to have to be a must in Gulfport,” said Ross.
If needed, adults who are interested in joining can learn to play an instrument with New Horizons and the new band group will teach marching techniques, said Ross.
“If you use a wheelchair, we’ll find a way to push you,” she said. “If you drive a scooter, we’ll include you too.
“We’re going to figure out a way to make this band represent the population demographic of Gulfport.”
The Gulfport Gecko Band will also perform an evening sidewalk march for Geckofest on Saturday, September 1.
The theme for the 11th annual Gecko Crawl and 18th annual Geckofest this year is GeckoCon.
“We’re working up some music that is in the theme of cartoons,” said Ross.
To find out more about volunteering for the marching band, contact Ross at 727-480-0987. Soon, the group will also have a Facebook page.