Bethany Beach Jazz Funeral a swinging farewell to summer

Date Published: 
September 2, 2016

Crocodile tears are encouraged at this funeral, as visitors and locals will “mourn” the end of summer at the 2016 Bethany Beach Jazz Funeral on Labor Day Monday, Sept. 5.

Starting at 5:30 p.m., three New Orleans-style Dixieland bands will lead the tongue-in-cheek funeral procession from the north end of the Bethany Beach boardwalk (at 2nd Street) to the bandstand.

Carrying a casket and mannequin effigy of “Summer,” the mourners sob underneath black umbrellas, dark sunglasses and Mardis Gras beads. Spectators can wear whatever feels appropriate: mourning attire, feather boas or flip-flops. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people attend each year.

The Jazz Funeral is “family-friendly, free to the public, and all who attend are encouraged to participate in the event,” according to organizers Carolyn Bacon and Marie Wright.

The Jazz Funeral began with former town council member and entrepreneur Moss Wagner, who began hosting parties to celebrate the closing of the season. In decades past, “The Quiet Resort” was practically deserted by Labor Day afternoon.

“Nobody was left in town,” stated Ken Cloud, former resident, entrepreneur and “pastor” of the event. “So we all got together to give ‘Summer’ a proper burial.”

Some 30 years ago, Bethany “was a fraction of the size it was now. Yet we still are a true summer resort. When the kids go home, you can tell when the season’s over simply by the parking situation,” joked organizer Paul Jankovic.

The party marches toward the bandstand for more live music and guest speakers, including NPR host Liane Hansen.

Musical director John Strawley will lead a dozen musicians coming from Dixie Cats, the Downtown Dixieland Band and the Jazz Funeral Irregulars.

The playlist includes “When The Saints Go Matching In,” “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans,” “A Walk Closer to Thee,” “Amazing Grace,” “God Bless America,” “In the Mood,” ”Hello Dolly,” “Darktown Strutters Ball,” “In the Good Old Summertime” and more.

Afterward, spectators are encouraged to spend the evening dining at local restaurants.

Silent auction kickoff

Since 2005, the Jazz Funeral has also been dedicated to those impacted by the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina.

“Since New Orleans experienced so much devastation from Hurricane Katrina and since the recovery process in New Orleans still continues to this day, our lighthearted Bethany Beach Jazz Funeral celebration is meant to show respect and admiration for the Jazz Funeral tradition that was born in the Big Easy,” Wright stated.

That year, with all the attention they get, the “Friends of Summer” decided to give back with the Bethany Beach Jazz Funeral Silent Auction, which benefitted the American Red Cross, in honor of the group’s efforts after Katrina. Now, each year, the silent auction benefits a non-profit organization. Every dollar raised goes to Sussex County Habitat for Humanity this year.

People can drop in at the free event on Friday, Sept. 2, from 3:15 to 4:45 p.m. at Bethany Blues restaurant (6 North Pennsylvania Avenue in Bethany Beach). It is designed as a casual, fun affair, where guests can buy drinks and find something to nibble while placing bids.

Dozens of items up for bids include vacation trips, rounds of golf, jewelry and gift certificates to local restaurants, shops, salons and spas.

“There’s something for everybody, pretty much,” Jankovic said. “We just simply want people to be involved. … We raise some money, we get some publicity for those wonderful folks helping out the community.”

“Habitat for Humanity’s philosophy is simple and straight-forward,” Wright stated. “Habitat provides a ‘hand-up, not a hand-out.’”

For 25 years, SCHFH hasn’t just built free homes for those in need. It’s created partnerships with each of the 109 families so far.

“It prepares partner families to be successful homeowners by requiring at least 200 hours of sweat equity and attendance at monthly pre-and post-homeownership classes that provide instruction in budgeting, insurance, predatory lending and foreclosure avoidance, and home maintenance, for example,” said Jay Gundy III, SCHFH development director.

That’s inspired the Jazz Funeral to donate funds to Habitat for three out of the 11 silent auctions.

Anyone wishing to volunteer with the Bethany Beach Jazz Funeral or the Silent Auction is being asked to email jazzfuneral@comcast.net or leave a phone message at (302) 537-1585. Details are online at www.jazz-funeral.com.