At the gateway to both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, it’s been unusually quiet this spring. Moab shut the door to visitors for six long weeks during what is usually the busiest time of year. The town is still not fully open, and many locals are dealing with continued unemployment and financial insecurity. All around tensions are high.
But not on Friday night. Friday night the tension eases. Friday night gets a little loud.
That’s because on Fridays in Moab, the Fiery Furnace Marching Band parades through different local neighborhoods. It’s a socially distant march for the community.
“With this band, we just have a special thing,” said Jeff Gutierrez. “I love this band for so many reasons. Like, it’s a super versatile, quirky band. And it turns out this is a really good way that the band performs.”
Jeff Gutierrez is the band leader and sax player. He’s earned money as a musician both in Moab and throughout the region for years. At this point, he said it’s difficult to tell if regular gigs will return anytime soon.
“Musicians just aren’t working now,” Gutierrez said. “It’s crazy like. You know, when the lockdown came in, within a matter of four or five days, my calendar had a nice array of gigs throughout the next six months and then just one after the other-- they all fell (through.) Like – oh, two are gone from May. Oh, that wedding in June isn’t happening anymore. And restaurants aren’t going to be doing music probably for a long time.”
Inspired by musician friends across the country, Gutierrez started brainstorming. How could his brass band play – essentially create their own gigs – while keeping themselves and others safe?
“You know I kinda just threw a hint out there on Facebook – like, ‘what would you people think if there’s a brass band walking down your street?’” Gutierrez said. “And like how would you want that to happen in order to feel comfortable and in order for it to just not be annoying? ‘Cause that’s the last thing we want.”
So they drafted rules. The band keeps their location secret so as not to attract a crowd. They maintain a steady parade pace so people aren’t tempted to gather too close. And two volunteers ensure that neighbors – and the band – keep proper social distance.
“We sort of jokingly call them our bouncers,” Gutierrez said. “They’re like, ‘back off everybody – too close!’ But also like reminding us if we’re bunching up and getting too close, they’re reminding us – ‘keep your spacing.’”
Starting up their next song, the Fiery Furnace Marching Band turns down a new street. Folks heard them coming – they’re already on the edge of their lawns waving, busting out dance moves. Every single person the band passes tonight is absolutely beaming. It’s music acting like a healing balm to collective worries. Something familiar, fun, and communal in an uncertain time.
“I mean I think part of it is just for us to have a community again,” Gutierrez said. “And it turns out the way we have a community – sometimes other people kind of connect with that too. And that’s awesome.”
Thanks to Molly Marcello from KZMU in Moab for covering this story. Visit kzmu.org for more of her coverage.