Piccolo Spoleto kicks off with families, fun

Drumbabe Klang, Seed and Feed Marching Abominable, performs with the rest of the band during Piccolo Spoleto's family fun day Saturday, May 24, 2014 at Marion Square. Paul Zoeller/Staff

An offbeat marching band playing brightly colored instruments, wearing elaborate hats and using a feather duster instead of a conductor's baton helped kick off this year's Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Marion Square on Saturday.

The Seed and Feed Marching Abominable, an Atlanta-based band with members of all ages and skill levels, put on a lively show for the children and parents gathered downtown for attractions including face painting and bounce houses.

"We come out every year to see them," said Amy Sargent, who brought her daughters Susanna and Layna to the Marching Abominable's performance. "I love the wide age range of the musicians."

The Marching Abominable has performed at Piccolo Spoleto for more than 20 years. When the band plays in Atlanta, it is often spontaneous; their audience doesn't know when they'll pop up, or where. But when they come to Charleston, people seek them out.

"Here, we have fans," said Karen Parker, who served as the "broom," or drum major, for Saturday's performance. "They're always waiting for us. The energy here is amazing, and the reception we receive is thrilling."

The band is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and a few original members still play with the band every week. In one of their many quirks, the drum major is called the "broom" because, during most performances, a broom is used instead of a baton. On Saturday afternoon, Parker used a neon multicolor feather duster adorned with flowers. She said it was too hot to lug around a heavy broom.

Parker joined the band six years ago. She knew other members and wanted to start playing the clarinet again after many years.

The band has fun not only with its repertoire - "from John Phillip Souza to Lady GaGa," according to one musician - but its appearance. Each musician goes wild with bright colors and accessories. Parker wore a floral pinwheel on her head and elbow-length sequined gloves. One musician dyed his beard blue, and another wore a large plush goldfish as a hat.

The Marching Abominable will play a patriotic concert at the U.S. Custom House on Sunday at noon as their last performance of Piccolo Spoleto. Admission is free.