Who are the guys with the cannon in the Memorial Day Parade?
They stride out in bare feet, shrill flutes playing their bouncy, little tunes. Red and white stripes. Ragged pants like pirates. And then, boom! The cannon explodes.
Every year, the Ancient Mariners are one of the highlights of Fairfield’s beloved Memorial Day Parade. Richard Walter, the group’s business manager and one of their drum majors, mentioned they participate in events all over the state and other parts of New England but Fairfield is always a top destination. “We really enjoy going to Fairfield. It’s rained the last two years and we’ve really missed it,” he says. “Fairfield is the one parade we’ve done the most consistently. The crowd is so welcoming. It’s just a warm, classy event. We look forward to it every year.”
Founded in Guilford nearly 60 years ago, their nautical work songs, or “chanties,” on fife and drum delight everyone, and their dress is based on a colonial sailor from around 1812. The group usually does about 15 performances annually. However, their “high season” typically centers around holidays like St. Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July. The Mariners have also appeared in events in Ireland, France, and Switzerland. In 1970, a “brother unit” was formed with the Mariners from Basel.
“A bond grew and a brotherhood formed when we traveled to Switzerland to see them perform,” Walter says. “The ancient style of drumming in Basel is a big tradition. We’ve been going about every other year to get together. We’re planning on a trip in 2020 for their 50th anniversary.”
So, why keep this tradition alive? “It keeps us alive,” he claims.