POWNAL — The North Pownal Plastic Pipe Players certainly march to their own beat.
Alan Bradstreet started the group about 10 years ago. He said it’s “not a band of any sorts,” but rather “cheesy entertainment.”
Once a year, the players, who harp on their spirit and ability to entertain rather than their sound, suit up in Hawaiian shirts and wacky accessories, grab a plastic horn and take Freeport’s Fourth of July parade by storm.
Although they’ve been doing this for a decade, their set list, year after year, consists of one song and one song only: “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Five white, PVC horns, all of which play a different tone, lead the “arrangement.”
“You can play the song with just (five) notes and we simulate the (five) notes,” Bradstreet said. “Everyone else chimes in around (the quintet). In reality, it’s organized chaos.”
Most of the time, Bradstreet laughed, parade-goers can’t tell what song they’re playing, but love the “entertainment value of it all.”
“In the parade, there’s nothing too unusual, so we fill that need,” he added. “We make up for a lack of talent by having a lot of fun.”
A retired woodworker, Bradstreet founded and ran Wood Wizard, which specialized in hand-crafted Cherrywood bookmarks, for 26 years before selling the business to Michael Nichols.
A tinkerer at heart, Bradstreet still loves to hone his artistic side. He and his wife Susan (also a plastic-pipe player) live in a North Pownal home filled with wooden knick-knacks and trinkets. Their two-story garage, on the other hand, is filled with recycled plastic, which Bradstreet has collected from the dump.
Player Jamie Welch said most of the stuff Bradstreet finds is perfectly good material that otherwise would go to waste.
“A lot of things that people typically dispose of, you can make into something really fun and creative,” Welch said.
On the ground floor, you can find pipes made of everything from old lawn ornaments to a windsurfing mast ready for the NPPPP to use. Above are bins on top of bins of “future projects,” or plastic that has potential to be turned into a pipe.
Like the instruments they play, the NPPPP itself is made up of an assortment of characters. Some are 9 years old, some 75. One is a professor at the University of Southern Maine, another works for a biotech company.
“We are nondiscriminatory, that’s for sure,” Bradstreet said. “Whoever has a pulse can play with us.”
Membership invitations travel through word-of-mouth. Some members, Bradstreet said, he met throughout his career, like newcomer John Bowdren, whom he met through Bradbury Mountain Arts. He plays pickleball with another once a week. But NPPPP’s annual performance, and practice the night before, are the only times he sees them all in one place.
“It’s a bunch of local connections you make when you’ve been somewhere for 43 years,” Bradstreet said.
Craig Dietrich, known as the maestro, has been with the group since the beginning.
“We are dedicated the the furtherance of fine arts. In particular, music,” Dietrich joked. (When speaking with the players, its important to take everything they say with a grain of salt and a whole lot of sarcasm.)
Although Welch said he dabbles in playing the guitar and mandolin, his musical pursuits aren’t what keep him coming back to the group year after year.
“You can create a lot of laughs from the crowd when you’re in a parade that consists mostly of traditional types of floats and such,” he said.
Heidi Richard, a school social worker, said she’s also “rhythmically inclined” – enough to “stick to the beat” – but is more interested in the community-centric aspect of the NPPPP.
“This is the best community on earth,” she said.
All-in-all, Bradstreet said NPPPP does not possess “significant musical talent.” Neither is “likely to be invited to perform at the White House or Carnegie Hall.”
But it is “an enthusiastic, fun-loving group of friends.”
“People have fun,” he said, “and that’s what it’s all about.”
Members of the North Pownal Plastic Pipe Players typically only convene twice a year: the night before Freeport’s Fourth of July parade to practice their “rendition” of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and again on parade day.
John Bowdren, left, pushes and plays one of the North Pownal Plastic Pipe Players’ largest horns, made of recycled pails.
Alan Bradstreet started the NPPPP about 10 years ago. To this day, he still builds all of the horns out of plastic material he finds at the dump, proving that one man’s trash, no matter how odd, is another man’s treasure.