ROCKPORT — Two-thirds of the Rockport Legion Band were Finnish when the band was founded in 1932. Eighty-six years later, the cultural roots of the band will be celebrated this weekend.
The Rockport Legion Band will perform a free Tribute Concert from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 21, at the American Legion Bandstand on Back Beach in Rockport.
According to Rob Ranta, producer of the concert and a co-director of Cape Ann Finns, this is the first time in decades that Cape Ann’s Finnish community will gather in one spot at the same time.
“The Cape Ann Finns partnered with the Rockport Legion Band to raise awareness not only about the band’s origins and early years, but also about the historical connection between the band and the Finnish community,” Ranta said.
The concert, co-sponsored by the Lanesville Community Center and the Cape Ann Finns, will feature songs by Finnish-American composers such as "Maamme" by Freidrich Pacius and "Kotimaani Ompi Suomi by Jooseppi Riippa. It will also feature a variety of dance music, including the waltz, polka and tango, as well as songs such as “Anchors Aweigh” and “Trumpeter’s Lullaby.”
Paul Niemisto will perform as the guest conductor of the band and its guest musicians; John D. Hopkins from Finland, Eric Aho from Ohio, and Gloucester High School student Martina Gallo. All former Legion Band members have been invited to attend the event and be recognized for their contributions to it.
“(The concert) will be thrilling for individuals of Finnish heritage, their admirers of Finntastic Finland and visitors to our beautiful Cape Ann alike ...” said Betty Erkkila, whose maiden name is Kielinen. “All these years later the band is still happily engaging scores of folks during July and August at the bandstand.”
The American Legion will sell soda, hot dogs and popcorn before the concert. In the event of bad weather, the concert will be held at the same time and date but move to John Lane Auditorium at Rockport High School on Jerden's Lane.
Parking spots for those with limited mobility will be available around the bandstand and the CATA trolley will operate until 9 p.m. or 9:30 p.m., depending on the size of the crowd.
The concert is funded in part by the Finlandia Foundation National, the Gloucester and Rockport cultural councils and Awesome Rockport. A souvenir program will be on sale for a donation of $3 or more to help defray the costs of the event.
“We want the Cape Ann community to learn about the origins of this 86-year-old community band, honor its original band members and inform the audience," Ranta said, "and importantly, later generation Finnish-Americans, about the Finns who at one time numbered nearly 5,000 here, and their historical connection to the Legion band.”