Anyone who thinks Bethany Beach is a staid, set-in-her-ways, buttoned-up old girl clearly hasn’t seen her on Labor Day.
For years — 34, in fact — Labor Day has brought out the funk, as well as the jazz, as the town “celebrates” the end of summer with a campy nod to the New Orleans tradition known as the jazz funeral.
The signature element of the event is the procession of “mourners” along the Bethany Beach boardwalk, beginning this year around 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 2 (and we do mean “around” — one cannot rush these things) ending with a proper “eulogy” for Summer 2019 at the bandstand.
Each year, the parade of mourners begins at the north end of the boardwalk, weeping and wailing as it processes, accompanied by the strains of Dixieland jazz tunes, such as “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The musicians are actually members of three different jazz bands who come together each year to give “Summer” a proper send-off.
It is expected that the combined forces of the Dixie Cats, the Downtown Dixieland Band and the Jazz Funeral Irregulars will have about 16 to 18 pieces.
Hundreds of well-wishers line the edges of the boardwalk during the parade, hoping to get a glimpse of “Summer” — actually a bedraggled mannequin ensconced in an open “casket” — before she disappears like a french fry in a seagull’s talons. But anyone who wishes to join the parade is more than welcome to, according to organizers.
“Being able to shed a few tears for ‘Dearly Departed Summer’ is the only requirement for those who join the procession,” said Carolyn Bacon said, assistant chairperson of this year’s observance.
“Visitors and locals of all ages are invited to join in the procession and have as much fun as they want at the Jazz Funeral. We invite those who attend to dress up in their favorite costumes and have a great time.”
“Some may weep and cry for dearly departed Summer, other dress to the hilt in costumes, like they would if they were attending a New Orleans jazz funeral,” Bacon said. “Everyone smiles and laughs at the tongue-in-cheek humor that pervades the Jazz Funeral, and all are encouraged to sing along with the Dixieland bands.”
As has been the custom in recent years, the Jazz Funeral “festivities” will actually kick off earlier in the weekend, with a silent auction at Bethany Blues restaurant. This year, that event will be held on Friday, Sept. 30, beginning at 3:15 p.m., and it will the benefit the American Red Cross of Delmarva.
“Our thanks goes to all those who contributed merchandise and gifts to the Bethany Beach Jazz Funeral Silent Auction,” Bacon said. “We were especially happy to receive multiple donations of valuable gift certificates for restaurant meals, along with a fine collection of original jewelry.” All of the proceeds from the silent auction will go to the Red Cross.
“This Labor Day weekend is our time to thank all those who have visited with us during the Summer of 2019 and encourage them to return again in 2020,” Bacon said. “The Jazz Funeral events are dedicated to both locals and visitors. It is meant to be a universal end-of-season celebration of thanks and the kick off to a vibrant fall season.”
Organizers also hope visitors will take advantage of the summer’s last “official” weekend to visit the resort’s retail businesses, many of whom will be holding special end-of-summer sales.
On Labor Day, once the mourners reach the bandstand, as with many funerals, there are a few speeches — and as with most any funeral, there will be serious remarks, as well as humorous ones. Representatives from the Red Cross will speak about that organization’s mission and what the proceeds from the Friday afternoon auction can help it to achieve. “Sister Marie” Wright will then give some humorous remarks, recapping some of the memorable aspects of Summer 2019.
The host of the bandstand event will be former NPR broadcaster and Bethany Beach resident Liane Hansen.
This year, there is a contingency plan for the Jazz Funeral in case the weather is less than cooperative. In case of bad weather, the “funeral” will be held under the cover of the Bethany Town Center on Garfield Parkway.
For more information on the weekend’s events, go to www.jazz-funeral.com.
Anyone interested in helping out with the Jazz Funeral and the Silent Auction can email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message after five rings at (302) 537-1585.
By Kerin Magill