Bethany Beach to celebrate end of summer with Jazz Funeral

This Monday, for the 27th year, Bethany Beach residents and visitors alike will celebrate the end of summer by officially “burying” it — at least until next year.

Coastal Point • File photo    : The summer gravestone parades the boardwalk during the 2009 Jazz Funeral. The funeral is held each year on the boardwalk to celebrate the end of the summer season.Coastal Point • File photo
The summer gravestone parades the boardwalk during the 2009 Jazz Funeral. The funeral is held each year on the boardwalk to celebrate the end of the summer season.

The annual Bethany Beach Jazz Funeral on Labor Day Monday, Sept. 3, will begin with a private “wake” about 5 p.m. The “Solemn Procession” follows at 5:30 p.m. This year’s procession, accompanied by the music of three Dixieland jazz bands, will start at the north end of the Bethany Beach Boardwalk.

But the event isn’t just about bidding farewell to the summer season. It also serves as a draw for downtown Bethany businesses, as well. At the conclusion of the event, those who attend the Jazz Funeral are encouraged to enjoy the rest of the evening by dining at local restaurants, said organizers.

“It is just a thank-you to everybody, and then we have a small concert after putting summer to bed for wintertime,” said Bethany Beach Jazz Funeral Chairman Paul Jankovic. “We are happy most people have had a successful summer.”

To start the Labor Day weekend off, the Bethany Beach Jazz Funeral Silent Auction will be held on Friday, Aug. 31, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Bethany Blues restaurant. The silent auction is in its seventh year, and Jankovic said that, each year, an increasing number of people stop by Bethany Blues to participate in the charity event, which has raised funds for five local nonprofit organizations.

According to Marie Wright, assistant chairperson of this year’s Jazz Funeral events, the silent auction offers “gift certificates from some of the finest local restaurants, various bottles of wine contributed by local wine shops, hard-to-find toys and games, beautiful home accessories, very trendy clothing, exciting gift baskets, and lots more.”

And this year all funds raised will go to the American Cancer Society and their Relay for Life program.

“Although great strides have been made in cancer research, much more needs to be done,” Wright said. “Giving support to the local American Cancer Society groups and organizations helps provide funds for cancer research on a national level and bolsters Cancer Society activities.”

“Each of us has our own litany of stories how cancer has impacted our own families and those of our extended family members,” Wright continued. “Even the smallest amount of progress toward finding a cure for cancer would be a great accomplishment.”

In addition, the members of the Dixie Cats, the Downtown Dixieland Band and the Jazz Funeral Irregulars who will play at the Jazz Funeral will also be appearing at the Jazz Funeral Silent Auction at Bethany Blues restaurant.

Located at 6 North Pennsylvania Avenue in Bethany Beach, Bethany Blues has helped out the Jazz Funeral from the very beginning of the silent auctions.

“This is the seventh year that Bethany Blues restaurant has generously volunteered to host the Jazz Funeral Silent Auction,” Wright said. “Among community members, Bethany Blues has always been known as an advocate of local charitable causes.”

While the auction kicks off the annual Jazz Funeral events and the holiday weekend, on Monday, at the Jazz Funeral itself, spectators can go to the Bethany Beach Boardwalk on to join in the funeral procession of mourners that, along with the three Dixieland jazz bands, carry a casket with a mannequin representing “Summer of 2012” to its final resting place at the Boardwalk Bandstand.

The focal point of this year’s Sept. 3 celebration is the funeral procession that starts at the north end of the Boardwalk and slowly proceeds to the Boardwalk bandstand to the Dixieland strains of songs such as “Amazing Grace,” “Basin Street Blues” and “Walk Close to Thee.”

The procession is done with the knowledge that Labor Day is not an actual “end” to anything — Jankovic said he is keenly aware of the lasting power of summer in a beach town.

“Obviously, we are not rolling up the carpets in Bethany Beach on Labor Day,” he said, referencing the Bethany Beach Arts Festival, which is held the following weekend on Saturday, Sept 8, and the myriad of events that pepper the town and surrounding areas in the weeks to come. “There is a lot of great activities in Bethany Beach and all resort areas in September and October,” he said. “We just want to wrap things up and make sure everybody is happy.”

Bethany entrepreneur and former town councilman Moss Wagner founded the Bethany Beach Jazz Funeral 27 years ago to celebrate the end of the summer season. Wagner expressed his respect for the philosophy behind the New Orleans jazz funerals that inspired the event.

“Jazz funerals in New Orleans are considered a positive rite of passage into eternity for those who depart,” Wagner said. “I believe this is so, and when I pass on, I want to have my own jazz funeral.”

This week also marks the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina — an anniversary is in the public’s mind even more this year, with expectations early this week that Hurricane Isaac might make landfall near New Orleans. The 2005 Bethany Beach Jazz Funeral was dedicated to the work performed by members of the American Red Cross, explained Jankovic. In 2005, there was a memorial service to honor New Orleans and those who had perished in Hurricane Katrina.

He added that, since New Orleans experienced so much devastation during the August 2005 natural disaster, the lighthearted Bethany Beach Jazz Funeral celebration is now being held as a particular tribute to a unique tradition pioneered in the “Big Easy.”

For a up close and personal view of past Jazz Funeral celebrations, or more details on what to expect this year, visit