Jack Randall, director of the Gwinnett Community Band leads band members during their peformance to kick off the Memorial Day weekend festivities at Town Center Park in downtown Suwanee on Friday evening.
SUWANEE -- The crashing cymbals during "Stars and Stripes Forever" brought the patriotic crowd to its feet on a warm kickoff to Memorial Day weekend.
The Gwinnett Community Band, which drew a crowd of about 1,000 to Suwanee Town Center Park on Friday for the ninth annual Gwinnett Daily Post Memorial Day Weekend Concert. The finale drew rhythmic clapping and toe tapping, as director Jack Randall turned around to rouse the crowd. It was a close to an evening that began with four Silver Wings parachuters from Fort Benning descending into the park, as event-goers craned their necks to see.
"It's a chance to give back to the community that supports the military so much," said Hollis Collins, the second parachuter out of the plane, and who carried the American flag. "Suwanee we always say is one of our favorite towns. The outpouring of love they show the military, and those who, unfortunately, paid the ultimate sacrifice."
Collins said the group "draws straws" to see who holds the flag from the plane to the ground, and he always feels lucky if his straw is chosen. Collins said jumping out of a plane is like sticking your head out of a car window when the car is going 100 miles per hour.
Collins has served three deployments overseas as a member of the Air Force, and said he and his colleagues remember friends they lost.
"It's a nice way to pay tribute," Collins said.
The band also paid tribute during its 13-song playlist with the Armed Forces Salute, as members of the military in the crowd were asked to stand and be recognized during the song.
Ed Jorgensen stood as a veteran of the Army, and for his son, a member of the band and who attended the Air Force Academy. Jorgensen's wife, Ruth, said the concert was a reminder of relatives who served. Ruth said she had uncles in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.
"That means a lot, it took me back 50-some years," Ed said of the Armed Forces Salute.
The man who directed the band was Randall, who said the park had some of the best acoustics of any venue where the band performs. Randall said the band enjoys audience participation, and he implored the crowd during the finale.
Randall was nervous because the associate director of the band typically conducts four pieces, including "Battle Hymn of the Republic." But the associate, Richard MacLagan, instead attended his daughter's graduation, and Randall had to conduct "Battle Hymn of the Republic" for the first time.
"I was crossing my fingers, and it came out pretty well," Randall said.
Canned goods were also collected at the event for the Gwinnett Municipal Association's Can Do project. The food will be donated to the North Gwinnett Food Co-op.