St. Patricks Grab-bag 

Keller changes beloved La-Z-boy float to a one-man pirate ship

Most St. Patrick’s Day parade goers recall a giant reclining chair zoom by in recent years. Last year it was decorated with shamrocks. In earlier years the chair was covered in a cow-like print and topped with steer horns. 

The chair may look different from parade to parade, but the driver has always been Hubert Keller, the colorful owner of Keller’s Flea Market on U.S. 17 and Georgia Highway 204.

The chair is one of several components of the Keller’s parade unit, which has won parade awards year after year.

This year change is in the air. Hubert Keller is trading in his Irish Barcalounger-on-wheels for a one man pirate ship.

In the past, Keller drove the chair in circles around the centerpiece of the Keller’s ensemble -- a party trailer with a front façade replica of the Flea Market building, a roof, tables and seats. Other necessary amenities include a stereo room and a potty sporting the time honored outhouse symbol, a cut out moon. 

A giant grill on wheels is towed behind the party float, with two Keller cronies walking beside it cooking lunch for the 50 or more family and friends riding in the parade as part of Clan Keller. 

A smaller version of the famous Keller’s Flea Market fiberglass cow is towed behind the float, decorated with shamrocks and wearing St. Patrick’s Day beads.

Each year Keller fine-tunes his parade entry, but the chair gets the most attention.

“About eight years ago I saw one at Bike Week in Daytona,” says Keller. “I had seven days to build that first chair,” mounted on a lawnmower, which wore out after five years of parades.

“This new one will do wheelies. It has rear supports,” says Keller, a lifelong gearhead who builds race car engines for fun.

A few years ago, NASCAR driver Kyle Petty drove the chair around the staging area while he and the Keller gang were waiting to step off to march in the parade. 

“He drove it like an old woman,” says Keller.

This past February Keller was invited by friends to enter a float in a Mardi Gras Pirate Parade in Florida. What began as a chair conversion project resulted in the creation of a brand new vehicle—an eight-foottall and six-foot-wide ship that fits over the John Deere lawnmower after the chair has been removed.

“It’s hard to take a chair and make it look like a pirate ship,” says Keller. “Once I get to doing something I just can’t let go of it.”

The ship is ten feet long including a three-foot-long cannon that fires off the bow. A crow’s nest and a skull and cross bones will top off the vessel. Keller, as ship captain and driver, will be decked out in full pirate costume, including a hat and long black wig.

The ship was a hit on the Florida panhandle, but some Savannahians will miss seeing the big chair.

“I love the chair,” says Jay Burke, chairman of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. 

“Keller’s is always a great unit. The pirate ship is probably going to be a neat addition. You just have to remind people the overall theme is to be Irish that day. I am sure he can put some green on it."


Kilt Trip: Nassau County Pipe & Drum band to march again

Seven years ago, the Nassau County Firefighters Pipes and Drums were looking for a change of scenery for St. Patrick’s Day.

“In the past we’ve marched in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade,” says Bobby Hughes, pipe major for the all-volunteer bagpipers group from Long Island.

“It’s the biggest parade in the country, but you kind of get lost in the shuffle. At last count there were 70 pipe bands in that parade.”

In 2000 “we decided we would go to a different city every year for St. Patrick’s Day,” says Hughes. The next year they came to Savannah, “and we’ve never left because we love the place.”

Volunteerism is the foundation of the Nassau County Firefighters band—most members are volunteer firefighters from among the 70-plus fire departments in Nassau County, the closest county to New York City on Long Island. 

All work full time jobs and then use their remaining spare time to rehearse and perform over 36 band events per year. Fifteen of the group’s approximately 30 members will make the trip to Savannah this week.

“We have two brothers in the band, and I also have my two sons,” says Hughes. “The 19-year-old is a firefighter, and the 17-year-old is a junior firefighter. They’ve been playing since they were 9 and 11 years old. The younger one is not coming. I had a rule you had to be 18.”

“Some of the guys bring their wives but not many,” he says.  “At one time some guys had wives in the band, but it turns out that just through attrition and for no other reason we’re an all-male band now. One guy had his wife, his mother, his sister and two aunts in the band at one time.”

Each band member pays his own expenses for the Savannah trip, averaging $800 for transportation and hotel costs. In addition to footing the bills for travel to all band performances, group members provide all of their own instruments and uniforms. 

A typical set of pipes runs about $1000 and the full kilt, jacket, belts and sporrans average another $1000. 

The Nassau County band designed their own tartan for their kilts, bucking the Irish tradition of wearing solid colors. 

“We selected different colors for different reasons,” says Hughes. “We chose red to represent the fire department, white for our officers, black for our deceased members, and green for Ireland. Then we have some thin lines of blue and orange. They’re the Nassau County colors.”

The band’s set list for Savannah will be no different than for New York area events.

 “We did play ‘Dixie’ a few years ago, but that’s a tune we only play in Savannah, and we don’t practice it so we don’t do it any more. The rest of the stuff we’re playing all year long,” he says.

“So far we’ve had everyone make the parade every year. They want you signed in at the parade check-in at 8 a.m. That’s kind of early if you’ve been out the night before. We send our newest members, what we call our Savannah virgins, to go down and check in,” Hughes says.

 “The best part is the weather! Except for the year it rained and we marched through ankle deep water,” says Hughes.

“We love the hospitality. Everybody down there is very nice.  Of course in New York we’re very nice too!  It’s a good time. It’s a great party.”ƒnƒç


New meaning to term Big Band

When you have an exceptionally large marching band it helps to have an exceptionally large band name to go with it. With over 400 musicians, flag bearers and auxiliary members, the Awesome Original Second Time Arounders Marching Band of St. Petersburg, Fla., makes sure their band is big in every way.

 The “Rounders” band comprises marching band alumni—adults who want to keep their glory years from high school or college marching band alive even as they embark on career, family, and other “grown up” pursuits. Most of the band’s members are in the 45 to 60 year old age range.

“This is our silver anniversary year,” says Mike Shear, a St. Petersburg area physician who’s played alto sax with the Rounders for 19 years. “The band was founded by two guys who were sitting around one day and said, ‘What about all these people that used to play in marching band and have no venue to play in?’”

“The first year 75 or 80 people showed up. The most we’ve ever had was 496 members. We still have a few charter members—fewer than ten.” About 250 marchers will come to Savannah for St. Patrick’s Day.

“Our oldest member who used to march, she is 98,” says Shear. “She last played a few years ago on a float. She doesn’t march anymore but she comes to the parties and drinks beer. She is the matriarch of the band.”

Shear began his marching band career as a student at Roosevelt High School in Yonkers, New York, in the early 1970’s. He performed in a show band while in medical school at Columbia University. In addition to playing in the Rounders he’s also the webmaster for their website and has served on the band’s board of directors.

“My medical practice is cutting into the time for my hobbies,” he says.

The band performs a several-week season each year, usually in the spring, to coincide with annual events in St. Petersburg. 

By necessity they hold only five rehearsals per season. “If we ask for too many more, we start losing people because of the time commitment,” says Shear. “If we have fewer it doesn’t sound as good.”

The Rounders are fortunate to have a professional music arranger among their members who arranges tunes to accommodate the unique orchestration of the band.

“We take whoever shows up,” says Shear.  “It’s well balanced this year. I always count the number of tubas. This year we’ve got nine.”  Other popular instruments include clarinets, sax, and drums. “We always have a lot of trumpets. I don’t know how many we have—they are all out of tune anyway.” The band also boasts majorettes, a dance line, and a rifle squad.

The Rounders play a variety of charity benefits in the St. Petersburg area and every few years take a major band trip. In 2001 they traveled to Ireland. This is their first visit to Savannah and they have even higher hopes for next year.

“We’re waiting to hear from the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade for 2008,” says Shear. ƒç


Big Dig? Big Brother

The Ellis Square construction site -- aka “The Big Dig” -- is getting fresh paint just in time for the St. Patrick’s Day party, and it doesn’t take Irish luck to guess the new color of the security fence.

“Of course it’s St. Patrick’s Day green,” says Susan Broker, capital projects director for the City of Savannah. “Between a Kelly green and a Savannah green.”

Project managers hope that the paint will “minimize the opportunity for graffiti” both during the celebration and beyond.

The Big Dig was three months underway by St. Patrick’s Day 2006, and contractors proceeded with business as usual on the festival day.  This year they won’t be working “because it’s a Saturday,” says Broker. 

Last year the construction presented no unusual problems for area partygoers, according to Marcie Hill, director of City Market, Ellis Square’s next-door neighbor.

“I don’t think we noticed much of a hiccup. Most people who come to City Market for St. Patrick’s Day, come to City Market for St. Patrick’s Day.  It’s what they do,” Hill says. “The fact that there was construction work going on, I don’t think that bothered anybody.”

The Ellis Square project will have security on site over the party weekend. Additional monitoring will be handled by the 24-hour webcam that’s been digitally recording the progress of the square’s construction since day one.

Anyone can watch the progress of the project, and activities near the project, with a few mouse clicks on www.theellisproject.com/.

“People should remember that we have a webcam and to not do anything crazy,” says Broker. “I’m hoping that the camera will spark some interest in the project. In a safe way.” ƒç


Yuck of the Irish

Hungry River Street revelers should keep close watch on their lunches Friday and Saturday afternoon.  Spike TV and Major League Eating ™ is bringing a roster of professional eaters to town for the Saint Patrick’s Day Chowdown, Savannah’s first national-level eating contest, held on River Street. Top eaters will consume over 50 pounds of corned beef and cabbage, beef tongue, and green doughnuts in hopes of being crowned Chowdown champion. 

Every sport has its superstars, and competitive eating is no exception. Among the high profile eaters appearing in Savannah will be Takeru Kobayashi, the 27-year-old Japanese six-time winner of the Coney Island hot dog eating contest. Also in the line up is Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas, who is not only the sole woman in the top echelon of competitive eating but, at 105 pounds, is by far the smallest.  The Virginia resident is considered by many eating-watchers to be America’s best hope for knocking Kobayashi out of his perennial top spot.

“Competitive eating is considered by some to be the largest growing sport in the world, which means I could be an athlete I guess,” says Kenny Hill of the Savannah Waterfront Association, organizers of River Street’s St. Patrick’s Day festival.

Hill notes that medical personnel will be on site through the contest to avoid any scary health situations. “As absurd as it sounds, they take health considerations very seriously,” he says.

So why no green grits in the contest? After all, this is Savannah.

“They were on the list of possible foods for the contest, but it came down to something that could be weighed more consistently,” explains Hill. ƒç


The St. Patrick’s Day Chowdown ™ will begin at 4:00 p.m. on March 16, with delayed broadcast on Spike TV at 7:00 p.m.  The finals are scheduled for 2:00 – 2:30 p.m. on March 17, with delayed broadcast at 7:00 p.m.







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Robin Wright Gunn

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