For the first time in more than 30 years, the Vikingland Band Festival – a summer highlight in the Alexandria lakes area that brings in an estimated 20,000 people for the weekend – is being canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ken Martinson, one of the co-founders of the event, said the band festival committee regretfully made the decision to cancel the 36th annual event that was scheduled for June 28.

He said the committee started discussing contingency plans in mid-March due to COVID-19, but as time passed, the circumstances became clear that it would be impossible to hold the event this year.

The decision to cancel the event, albeit an extremely hard one, was based on a couple of different factors, said Martinson.

One is because schools will remain closed through the end of the year, which Martinson said means most, if not all, summer marching band programs will be canceled.

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In addition, he said the large crowds at the parade and awards ceremony would make social distancing impossible and would also exceed the governor’s guidance on crowd size limits.

“The decision was clear and unanimous, but that didn’t make it easy,” said Martinson. “There was a quiet pause as we made the decision. Our hearts are broken, especially for the band students.”

Martinson said the Vikingland Band Festival is regarded as the state championship for summer marching bands and the performers rise to deliver their best on that day. He said band directors can always see the intensity and commitment in their eyes while performing in the prestigious Vikingland Band Festival.

“It was inevitable, but I still got choked up during the virtual committee meeting when we made the decision,” said Martinson. “In 35 years, the event had never even been canceled due to weather. Maybe this is the year it pours on that day and we let the weather get it out of its system to guarantee clear skies next year.”

During the virtual video conference, Martinson said four music educators from Alexandria Public Schools were a part of the call, including Rhonda Blaser, festival coordinator; Greg DeGier, committee chair; and Alexandria Marching Band directors Casey Skalbeck and Derek Ziemer.

As for the economic impact of canceling the event, Martinson said the event reaches into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is again another reason why it made it so hard to cancel.

“I frequently hear comments from people at the restaurants and service stations that the band festival Sunday is their biggest day of the year,” said Martinson. “Many families come a day early and stay overnight at our hotels, and some bands come early and stay overnight in area school gyms.”

In its 35 year history, Martinson said even the weather has cooperated and although it has wreaked havoc, it has never been a factor for canceling the event. Since 1985, only two parades experienced light rain and one, in 1991, was interrupted by heavy rains. That year, the parade route was shortened, but the event was not canceled.

Martinson said the committee members extend their heartfelt thanks to the bands that had registered for the 2020 event and to the many sponsors that have kept the festival strong since it was founded in 1985.

He said that bands that currently hold a traveling Class Champion or Grand Champion flag will have the chance to defend their title and flag at next year’s festival. He explained that when a band earns a flag three years in a row, the flag is retired in the band’s honor and the band can keep the flag.

“Even though summer marching band will not exist this year, we are optimistic that next year, the marching activity and the festival will be even stronger and more special,” said Martinson.

Martinson was a co-founder of the Vikingland Band Festival as a band student, along with then band director John Anderson and the director of the Chamber of Commerce at that time, Jim Clayton.

“As I look back, I’m thankful that Jim insisted I still perform with the band that first year, even though I had committee duties as well,” said Martinson. “It’s a special memory to have marched in the first festival.”

Since that time, Martinson has officially served on the committee for 16 years. However, in some way, shape or form, he has had an active role in all 36 years of the Vikingland Band Festival. And he has marched with the Alexandria Alumni Band every time it gets together, which so far, has been six times.

Plans are already underway for next year’s Vikingland Band Festival, which is set for Sunday, June 27, 2021.

People can follow the event on its Facebook page or by visiting its website, vikinglandbandfestival.com. Tributes will be shared on June 28 and throughout the summer and people are invited to participate or just watch.