BY LARRY DEKLINSKI

SHAMOKIN - The Our Shamokin Band is back.

With the swish of a conductor's baton, the eight-year hiatus of the community band ended Tuesday evening with a concert at Claude Kehler Community Park. The revival is part of a week of festivities celebrating Shamokin's 150th anniversary.

Under the direction of Mayor William Milbrand, who directed the band's last performance in 2006, 32 area musicians - both young and old - played more than 10 songs during the 75 minute performance, which drew dozens of people.

"My gosh. I could have cried," Milbrand said about directing the band. "It was such a great thrill to have the band back together."

Band's early days

The Our Shamokin Band was formed at the time of the 1964 centennial in a merger of two community bands, Our Band and the Shamokin Band, both of which were suffering from declining membership.

Through the years, the band was a welcome addition to area parades and was known for its series of free outdoor concerts presented in Shamokin, Coal Township and neighboring communities.

The highlight of the band occurred in 1975 - the 100th year of existence - when the band grew to more than 75 members under the direction of long-time director Frank Rovito. Many of those members also marched in that year's Anthracite Heritage Parade.

Jack Schankewiler, a Shamokin native who now lives in Pottstown, attended Tuesday's concert in memory of his late father, John, who played the drums with the band between the 1930s and 1950s. With a camera and old photos of the band in hand, Schankewiler was thrilled to hear music flow from the variety of instruments.

"I think it's fantastic. I think it's great," he said of the performance. "When I was a kid, I remember going to the Capital Theatre to their practices."

Classic marches

Tuesday's performance opened with "The Star-Spangled Banner" followed by "National Spirit March," which Milbrand said was always played in the early years of the band when members marched from their headquarters on Second Street to the West End Fire Company on Pine Street prior to a Memorial Day parade. The song was dedicated to members of the West End Fire Company and the late Eddie Mack, a former member of the band who would always request it be played.

The patriotic songs were followed by "Instant Concert" and "Spirit of Shamokin," an unpublished march by Harley Hastings, a former director of the Shamokin High School Band. The concert concluded with a rendition of "God Bless America."

"The Our Shamokin Band is a valuable part of the city," Milbrand said. "I can't say enough for the musicians that came out and helped."

Several members of the band are expected to march in this Saturday's grand parade.