Steve Sutherlin Interview
Circle City Sidewalk Stompers Clown Band
They’re colorful. They’re entertaining. They’re outrageous.
And that’s just their costumes we’re describing!!
The Circle City Sidewalk Stompers Clown Band has to be seen to be believed.
After seeing them at the 2005 Edition of the New York State Fair in Syracuse, New York we talked to founding member Steve Sutherlin about his group.
Q – I see your band as a cross between the Mummers and
The Harlem Globetrotters.
A – Oh, really. (Laughs).
Q – The costumes of The Mummers and the joking of the
A – I never heard it put quite that way.
Q – Where did you get the idea to put a band like this
A – I started the group back in the fall of 1975, early 1976.
Q – What were you doing before then?
A – I was working for a co. which is now Rolls Royce. I had been with them 2 years prior to starting the group up. The way this all came about is, it all started from a dream I had, years ago, when I was about 21 years old I guess. I had seen a group similar to this. It was at an amusement park. I left to go home. I was single at the time. I went on, driving home. That evening, when I had gone to bed I dreamed about forming one of these (bands). A lot of it worked out in that dream as to who I was going to get as a lead person, a choreographer, where I would get the music. I had contacts even prior to this. I’d been in the Scout Band for 21 years, before I’d given that up. I knew they used to get music from Pepper’s music. Then they also got some out of Chicago. At least I had those contacts thought in my mind, as to where I could get the music. And then I had to work on getting a seamstress. You know, one thing led to another. I thought well, a couple of thousand bucks to get it off the ground. I was living at home with the folks at the time. I had some money to get the thing started. I woke up and told my folks about it the next morning. I said, “Hey, I’m gonna start a clown band”. The first thing they said was, “Where you gonna play at?” I said, “Shopping Malls”. Well, there’s only so many shopping malls in the city of Indianapolis (Where Steve Sutherlin is from) and we’ve done show after show in every one of ‘em, from time to time. It’s just so happens that Mel Simon And Associates are big owners of these shopping malls. Their legal dept. guy had seen us play around town. He told Mel Simon and Associates, “Hey, let’s get them involved with the Indiana Pacers.” Have them play behind the goal, little 20-24 second tunes for the NBA. So, we did 17 or 18 games the first year. After that, they wanted us 36 of the 41 home ball games, the second year. It just snowballed after that. Finally the guy who was in the Marketing Dept. in Mel Simon And Associates, in the Pacers, that guy left to go to Indianapolis Ice, which was a hockey team at the time. He went over there and got that promoted. He used our services for that. He left there and then the Colts found out what kind of a marketing guy he was. He brought us over and now we’re the official band of the Indianapolis Colts.
Q – How are you traveling with this group?
A – We’re going commercial airlines, most of the time whenever we go out of state, or in-state. If it’s 4 or 5 hours and it looks like we can make it by driving, we’ll drive it.
Q – Is it hassle taking that equipment on the airlines?
A – It goes right with us as we go on the airline. We check it in right when we show up. It goes right with us. You know we’re over-sized and over-weight on the Sousa-phone but most of the other stuff can make it within that 50 pound limit they give us.
Q – Where did you find all the players for this group?
Not only do they have to be musicians, but, dancers and entertainers as well.
That’s a unique combination.
A – Yeah. The way I did that was basically by word of mouth, and then I set up an audition. Once I found out about that person, either they’ll give me a call or I’ll give them a call. I have an audition for them, and I explain to them how everything operates. I show them one of our DVD’s that we have. This is what you’re looking at. This is what you’ll be doing. All the music’s gotta be memorized, and if you miss practices repeatedly, you’ll be out of the group. I’ll find somebody else that’ll be there and wantin’ to do what we’re doing. I just lay it all out on the line to ‘em.
Q – Who makes the costumes?
A – I’ve got a seamstress that makes those, but we’ve used the same basic idea all the years we’ve had the group together. It’s the same basic uniform. There’s been minor changes. We used to have button-up pockets. Now we’ve got jackets that have Velcro on the outside to make it look like it’s buttoned up. Little changes like that, so we can strip out of it, ‘cause it’s hot at these fairs. When everybody gets back to the breakroom, that’s the first thing you hear, zip, zip, zip, pulling apart that velcro.
Q – Your website says that you play wedding receptions
and private parties. Have you ever played either event for someone famous
you can mention?
A – The one that comes to mind is there was a gentleman that saw us the very first year, Gary Lee. He works for ABC Sports. He called and wanted to put a birthday thing on for his Dad’s 80th birthday. His dad had never officially received his diploma from high school, ‘cause at that point in time, the service called him to go into war. He missed getting his diploma by about 3 or 4 days I think it was. The guy got this birthday party together and got a hold of the Principal at the school where he was to graduate. He eventually received that diploma, but, it was just a piece of paper that was sent to him after he had gone off to war. He did get it, but, they wanted to make it a more formal type of graduation. He (Gary Lee) brought the Clown Band in to kind of break the ice. His Dad had seen the group and knew about the group, and absolutely loved it. So, Gary surprised him when we came in, doing our routine. We also played the whole pomp and circumstance number, so he could officially get his diploma. That was a neat little job that we did.
Q – Why did you call the band the Circle City Sidewalk
Stompers Clown Band? You could’ve just called it The Stompers band.
A – Yeah. I probably could’ve. Here’s the deal on that, back when I started the group it was in the 70’s, and there was a CB boom. Well, everybody knew Indianapolis as being the Circle City. Then, where we were to perform at was going to be in shopping malls. So, we figured we’ll go out and stomp some sidewalks. So, you get Circle City from the CB boom, back in the 70’s when that was really big. So, that’s where the Circle City came from. Then we’d go out and do dance steps out on sidewalks of these malls, so, it became Circle City Sidewalk Stompers. And of course it was a Clown Band. So, that’s how the name of the group came about.
Q – How many weeks are you out on the road?
A – Well, during the summer we counted up 28 days, within a two and a half month time frame. Actually we had 13 days over in Shanghai, China. The government over there brought us over. They brought groups from all over the world to come and perform at their music Fest, in celebration of their Labor Week. We have Labor Day over here. Over there they have Labor Week, where they let the people out of work for a week as a big holiday. So, we went over and performed that week. We got home and 3 weeks later to go down to the Great American Brass Band Festival. This was our fifth, sixth, or seventh year down there. That’s really nice. They bring in anywhere from 17-18 bands to 22-23 bands and there’s not a one of ‘em that can’t play down there.
Q – How’d you get that China gig?
A – I’m a member of IAFE which is the International Association of Fairs And Expositions. I kept telling my wife, I had been a member of that for 12-14 years, let’s go out to Vegas and see the Fair Convention. Anyway, she couldn’t make it at the time, so I took another one of my band members, our lead trumpet player. He and I went out for 4 or 5 days and we just happened to be going up and down the trade show and they had booking agencies. We hit on the ones we wanted to try and get work through. We had our 3 ring binder with information on us, photos, recommendation letters. We just happened to hit on an agency, John Raymond of Boseman, Montana; I believe that’s the town he’s from. He’s looking through the pages, and he said I’ve got just the job for you guys. We asked him, where’s that? He said Shanghai, China. I said, man, what’s going on over there? That’s half-way around the world!! He said, well, they got a big music festival and they bring in 10 groups and you’d be performing over there, in Century Park. I said, “Is the hotel, airfare, food and all that stuff covered?” He said, “Oh, yeah, even your visa to get in and out of the country.” Plus, they paid us a small amount to come, for our performances. He said if you guys are really interested let me go into the foyer and e-mail the guy over there who’s my contact. So, he e-mailed him and about a day, a day and a half later we were walking up and down the trade show aisle again, and he come runnin’ at us and said, “Hey, I heard back from China. He said there very, very interested in having you guys”. They looked at your website. Can you send a complete promo packet? I said sure. When I got back home from Las Vegas I sent a promo packet by the way of Fed Ex direct over there. About 2-3 weeks later we got notice that we’d been accepted to come, but they wanted to know if we could go down from 13 people to a lesser amount of people. I said best we could do is take off one trombone player and one trumpet player and come out with 11 people. That would be about the minimum we could do. So, we ended up going over there. They accepted 11. We found out at December 23rd at 1:01pm that they had an early Christmas present for us, and they accepted to bring 11 of us over, for that event. So, that’s how that came about.
Official Website: clownband.com