From fieldworker Joseph O’Connell:
I made the trip from Bloomington to Pekin this weekend to catch the 181st consecutive Pekin 4th of July Celebration. The parade was even better than last year’s, featuring classic entries (the Spirit of ’76 Band, the Bucking Model T car) as well as quite a few creative surprises (ex: a team of patriotically-dyed poodles).
Afterwards, crowds made their way to the Pekin Park, where Steve “the Spoonman” Tankersley and family were poised for their bid to lead the largest-ever musical spoons ensemble. By the time I got to stage area, the sound of spoons-playing was already in the air, as people gathered in small clusters to teach and learn basic spoons technique. When participants overwhelmed the registration booth, impromptu volunteers (ex: my parents) augmented the effort by circulating with clipboards and armloads of spoons.
Paoli-based string band Grease Gravy warmed up the crowd, performing old-time favorites like “Rubber Dolly” and “Ill-Mannered Man.” Soon, the Spoonman himself took the stage to the wild cheering of his audience-ensemble. Tankersley reported that the initial numbers were in: the Pekin ensemble was poised to break the standing Chinese record of 888 performers. We had only to play our way through a single song to claim the bid as a success.
Grease Gravy broke into the tune Tankersley designated for the occasion, “Ragtime Annie,” and the rest of us quickly fell in time. Tankersley took center stage, improvising advanced rhythms over the crowd’s basic downbeat. His daughter, Jasmine, and son, Dennis, flanked him on either side of the stage, each occasionally taking the role of lead performer. After five and a half minutes, the band ended the song, and Tankersley claimed victory for Pekin (and the United States in general). According to a message I received this morning, the final count of performers totaled 1,352, a number comparable to the population of Pekin itself.
I’ll be posting more media from this year’s Pekin 4th in the coming days. For now, click below to hear the final portion of the record-breaking performance, and the near-deafening cheer that accompanied Tankersley’s announcement of victory.