Pitman Hobo Band playing OC Xmas parade for free

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Retail Merchants will donate money saved to OCNJ CARE

OCEAN CITY — Pitman’s Original Hobo Band has been performing in Ocean City since 1946, including in the city’s annual Christmas parade. They will be back to appear once again for the annual procession, which begins at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 7, but this year will be a little more special than most.

This week, the Original Hobo Band informed the city that there will be no charge for their appearance as they are deeply concerned about neighboring communities in light of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

“Performing in Ocean City is an annual thing for us,” said Alan Weinstein, business manager for the band. “Our relationship with Ocean City goes back a long, long time. We perform for the Halloween Parade, the Baby Parade, the Doo Dah Parade and we do a sit down concert for the Seafood Festival before the Night in Venice boat parade. Ocean City has been a good customer.

“We want to give back, we want to help, because we have played in Ocean City for so long.”

The community band dons the garments of the traditional American hobo as they parade down Asbury Avenue, providing a unique experience. Their unconventional dress and lively music has always been a crowd pleaser.

On Oct. 29, Sandy caused nearly three feet of water to fill most downtown stores. While many businesses along Asbury Avenue have since reopened, some have not. Every merchant suffered a loss of some kind, some so debilitating that they may never be able to open again.

Betty Kelly, the bands assistant manager, said the band was very upset that so many residents were displaced and so many merchants devastated.

“The storm left many individuals and businesses at the New Jersey shore in a state of disaster, quite similar to the devastation in New Orleans a few years ago,” Kelly said.

The band, she said, appreciates the decades-long relationship with the city, and the appearances hosted and paid for by members of the city’s Retail Merchants Association. The Hobo Band normally charges $1,500 for an appearance.

“We would like to extend a helping hand to Ocean City and offer our next performance as gratis,” Kelly said. 

She said the city could also use their appearance as a fundraising event.

Sally Huff, who works with the Retail Merchants through the city’s community services department, said the city is very grateful. She said the money saved would most likely be donated to OCNJ CARE, a non-profit organization dedicated to the restoration of the community after the storm.

“I thought it was a very thoughtful gesture,” Huff said, adding that the band has numerous expenses when they travel to perform.

The donation, she said, would be put to good use as there are many needs. 

“I know these are trying times, but we can get through it with help from our friends and neighbors,” Kelly said.

Weinstein said the band has performed all over the Delaware Valley and New York state. They have also traveled to Europe to perform in competitions, but one of their favorite gigs is performing in Ocean City.

“We always enjoy it,” he said. “People love the band and we always get a very good reception from the crowds in Ocean City.”

The band, Weinstein said, got its start when many of the original members graduated Pitman High School in 1934. The musicians wanted to continue playing, so they formed a band.

The Tall Cedars of Lebanon in Glassboro, a Masonic organization, sponsored the band, which became known as the Cedar Chips Band. They wore bright green-and-white uniforms, and practiced wherever they could: in a garage, in the lobby of the Pitman National Bank, even in a vacant jail cell at the Pitman police station.

When World War II started, many of the band's members went off to fight in the war. When they came home in 1946, the returning war veterans could no longer fit into the old Cedar Chips uniforms, and there was no funding available to purchase new ones.

They were asked to march in a Halloween parade, and, unable to utilize their uniforms, decided to wear whatever they could find, which wasn’t much. The mismatched attire caught the attention of a newspaper reporter, who wrote that “they looked like a bunch of hobos.”

Weinstein said they have been known as the Original Hobo Band ever since.

Weinstein said the band practices frequently and enjoys socializing and having fun together. All wind and percussion musicians, no matter what level, are encouraged to participate.

He said the band celebrated its 65th year in 2011, and is looking forward to many more.  

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