EXCLUSIVE: The Police Pipes and Drums of Bergen County pulled out the stops (pun intended) for its 20th anniversary concert, staging its first-ever headlining performance at bergenPAC with a big assist from some out-of-town counterparts, a moving tribute to our armed forces and a few surprises from their local brethren in red.
Celebrating the special occasion the way their city-based counterparts do — with a grand performance on a large stage — the Bergen’s Police Pipes and Drums made this year’s “tattoo” memorable from the start.
Four Druid-like figures holding torches led the 50-plus band members out to the strains of “The Gael,” augmented by a rock quartet in a makeshift pit in front of the stage:
The set also featured a drumline straight out of “Blue Man Group”: On a darkened stage, the players snapped their snares with glow sticks, in memory of Doug Connell, a drummer and founding member of the NYPD’s Emerald Society Pipe Band.
Closely-guarded surprise selections included a rousing version of U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” which rode the sweet violin of Cady Finlayson, a guest artist of the band for nearly a decade.
The accompaniment also included retired Bergen County Sheriff’s Detective George Kellinger, one of the band’s co-founders, on bass.
One of the night’s more stirring moments came when the Bergen officers played stanzas from the theme songs of the four armed services branches.
Attendees applauded and cheered as a quartet of uniformed servicemen at the front of the stage each saluted when his branch’s tune was played:
“The Army Song” (“Cassion Song”), “Wild Blue Yonder,” “Anchors Away” and “The Marine Hymn.”
Performing with polish and precision, as always, were the NYPD Emerald Society Pipe and Drum Band — the inspiration for Bergen’s outfit — and the New Jersey State Police Pipes and Drums of the Blue and Gold.
Among the out-of-towners who arrived Thursday for the blow-out weekend and performed Saturday night were the Bagpipes and Drums of the Emerald Society Chicago Police Department and the Cleveland Police Pipes and Drums.
(Also performing, at the after-party under a tent outside the theater on North Van Brunt Street, was A Band of Rogues, a hard-hitting, seven-member Irish group.)
One of the night’s wildest surprises, though, was the raucous Bergen County Firefighters Pipe Band, who brought along the Shots, the Clifton-based rock band, to pump up the energy.
Where the other bands adhered more to regiment, the firefighters kicked out the jams — red scarves covering their heads — with a playful, hard-driving set that included a rave-up of Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child of Mine.”
Guest performers popped onstage — Can-Can dancers, a juggler on stilts — as band members bounced, spun and danced in time.
The audience responded in kind. Some of the biggest whoops came during the 1948 country classic “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky,” which featured an alternative-Chippendale’s-universe dancing cowboy who apparently lost a bet.
On a more solemn note, the Bergen police band’s Brian McKeever recalled the four members of the group who’ve died the past two decades.
They include Steve Dunne, who collapsed as the band led the 2009 St. Patrick’s Day Parade up Fifth Avenue. He later died of a heart attack.
McKeever also paid special tribute to the members’ wives and children.
“It is their support and dedication to the band that has allowed us to reach the 20-year milestone,” he told the crowd to cheers.
“We hope you have enjoyed it.”