Warsaw Biblical Gardens
Brass is where it’s at this weekend in Iowa.

Will There Be 76 Trombones?

Contrary to the song, there’s no trouble in River City this coming weekend. Or rather, Mason City, the Iowa town that served as the inspiration for The Music Man’s heartland locale. It’s been 50 years since Mason City native son Meredith Willson penned The Music Man, but 84 since the inauguration of the annual North Iowa Band Festival in 1928. As always, the highlight of this year’s festival is the Saturday parade of bands. Between 20,000 and 30,000 people annually convene along the parade route, which runs east on State Street from First Street Northeast and Pennsylvania Avenue to Illinois Avenue. The parade—this year featuring 19 Iowa marching bands—kicks off at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 26.

The parade may be the center of the weekend’s festivities, but the celebration actually starts Thursday, May 24, with a 7 p.m. showcase of the Iowa City Municipal Band at the Southbridge Mall; on Friday night, the music continues with a 6 p.m. performance of the Dweebs at the East Park Stage. East Park, bordered by North Kentucky Avenue to the east and State Street to the south, is the setting for three more highlights: a carnival from Friday through Monday, a vintage car show on Saturday, and the Northern Iowa Band Festival Market, where local artisans will be peddling their wares.

GO North Iowa Band Festival in Mason City, Iowa. 614-422-1663, visitmasoncityiowa.com

While you’re in town: Check out The Music Man Square (308 S. Pennsylvania, 641-424-2852, themusicmansquare.org), where you’ll find a museum dedicated to the composer and the importance of music in American culture from the Civil War through the era of swing bands. The Square is also home to Willson’s boyhood home, open for tours Tuesday through Sunday.

Where to stay: In Mason City, the Historic Park Inn (17 W. State St.; 614-422-0015, historicparkinn.com) was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, completed in 1910 and reopened last August after renovations; nightly rates from $110 to $275. If you want to go the bed-and-breakfast route, head a town over to Clear Lake, where the Larch Pine Inn (401 N. 3rd St.; 641-357-0345, larchpineinn.com) offers luxurious lodging just two blocks from the legendary Surf Ballroom; rates range from $119 to $159 a night.

Where to eat: As the name implies, steaks are the thing at Butcher’s Steakhouse (118 N. Federal Ave.; 641-423-1110), a family owned eatery that also serves hamburgers and chops. Prime N Wine (3000 4th St. SW, Highway 122; 641-424-8153, primenwine.com) also serves steaks, as well as seafood and Mediterranean dishes.


Photograph: Courtesy of the North Iowa Band Festival