Chatham Band's Elder Statesmen: Nonagenarians Ready To Begin 86th Season Of Popular Summer Concerts

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Chatham Band

Ben “Benny” Goodspeed, left, and his father, 94-year-old Ben Goodspeed. DEBRA LAWLESS PHOTO

When the Chatham Band kicks off its 86th year of Friday night summer concerts in Kate Gould Park Friday, among the many generations of musicians playing on the bandstand will be two nonagenarians – the band's elder statesmen.

Benjamin K. Goodspeed, 94, first began playing the trumpet in the Chatham Band in 1938, 80 years ago, decades before anyone else in the band today.

“Music has been the big part of my life,” Goodspeed said last week during an interview in his North Chatham home. “In my family [on] Friday night and Monday night you didn’t do anything but the band. If I said to my father I didn’t want to go this Friday, it wouldn’t be very popular.” (Monday night is, of course, rehearsal night.)

Goodspeed was just 14 when he began playing in the band that his father George Goodspeed Sr., a mechanic and one-time fire chief of Chatham, had founded with several friends in 1931. Prior to 1941 the band performed in the bandstand which was in what is now the Chatham Town Hall parking lot. George Sr. served as band manager for many years; he was later succeeded by his son George Jr. who managed the band until 2014. In 1968 Ben’s son Benjamin C. “Benny” Goodspeed began playing trumpet in the band, marking the third generation of Goodspeeds in the Chatham Band.

“The tradition part of it is really, really important,” Benny says of his family’s 87-year involvement with the band.

Ben was born and raised in Chatham. As a teenager he showed musical promise and played in several traveling dance bands such as the Nik-Nax to earn money for the family during the hard years of the Great Depression. Later on he served in the Air Force where he again played in a band.

On summer Fridays the father and son have settled into a routine. Benny generally buys lobster rolls at the First United Methodist Church in Chatham and brings them to his father’s house. After they eat, they dress for the concert and by 7:15 p.m. they’re “ready to rock and roll” over to Kate Gould Park for the performance, Benny says.

“People in the band get a kick out of seeing the people have a good time with no money,” Ben says, referring to the fact that the concerts are free.

The Chatham Band has had four conductors, and Ben has performed under all of them. His favorite piece is “Band Time in Chatham” when “the big thing is the crowd response is fantastic,” he says.

Ben Goodspeed is not the oldest member of the band. That distinction goes to Karl Fehrle, who is a couple of weeks shy of his 97th birthday. Unlike Goodspeed, Fehrle is a “washashore.” Fehrle retired from his job as an accountant in a manufacturing company in New Jersey 30 years ago and moved to Chatham.

Fehrle, too, began studying music, choosing the saxophone, at a tender age. He played through high school and college, and then joined a band when he was in the Army. When he left the Army in 1945, just after World War II, he “took a 45-year break” from the saxophone. “I figured I’d marry and it wasn’t much of a life to be out playing every night,” he says.

Swing dance bands were in vogue during that pre-rock era of the 1940s, and it was possible that Fehrle would have been much in demand. But he did marry, and he and his wife raised two daughters. But when Fehrle retired to the Cape, the saxophone beckoned him again. What was it like after a 45 year “break?”

“It was like riding a bicycle,” Fehrle says, meaning that you never forget how to do certain things.

Fehrle has been playing with the Brewster Band since its inception in 1994. That band performs summer concerts in Drummer Boy Park on Sundays at 6 p.m. It was only two years ago that Fehrle joined the Chatham Band as one of two alto saxophones. (He also plays with two swing bands.)

The Chatham and Brewster bands have very different styles. As Fehrle puts it, Brewster “gives a concert” while Chatham “gives a show.” The Chatham Band offers opportunities for participation in sing-alongs and march-arounds. And then there’s the famous “Bunny Hop” song and dance established by the late longtime director Whit Tileston. “We have our bunny ears,” Fehrle says.

Performing outdoors may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. Does it have drawbacks?

“Some of the people get bothered by mosquitoes,” Fehrle says. “They come with bug spray. It never seems to bother me. Sometimes it gets hot, though.”

After two years Fehrle has earned high praise from bandleader Thomas Jahnke.

“One of the highlights of the summer concerts is when Karl plays solos on his alto saxophone,” Jahnke says. “His rendition of ‘Over the Rainbow’ brings the house down during our ‘cheek to cheek’ dance set.”

The band’s 2018 season will kick off with its Patriotic Concert this Friday at 8 p.m., featuring “traditional favorites mixed with some new scores that will delight audience members of all ages,” Jahnke says. “It will get you in the holiday spirit. Highlights will include 'God Bless America' and 'Stars and Stripes Forever.'”


Chatham Band Concerts

Kate Gould Park, Chatham

Friday nights, 8 p.m. June 29 to Aug. 31