The Hook and Ladder Company drew their usual crowd on Sept. 18 in front of the Disneyland Fire Department. Donning old-timey firemen uniforms, the piano-drum-and-brass band entertained onlookers with Dixieland jazz, adding to the whimsical wonder of Main Street USA. Little did parkgoers know that it would be the musicians’ swan song.
Disney creatives have trended toward a drum-and-bugle-corps sound nowadays, giving the Hook and Ladder Company the shaft. With the beloved group founded by former members of the original Disneyland Band now gone, there’s an adage that comes to mind: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Live music overall at the Disneyland Resort has been undergoing some changes. The new Disneyland Band, which debuted during the park’s diamond anniversary in 2015, is pretty popular with parkgoers, but all is not harmonious. Shortly after the Hook and Ladder Company layoffs, musicians with two full-time bands in New Orleans Square had their shifts cut down, all but ensuring hours and benefits would disappear by year’s end.
“Some of them are scrambling, trying to bridge the gap with their sick time and vacation days to retain benefits,” says Edmund Velasco, vice president of American Federation of Musicians Local 7.
It’s a scenario that’s all too familiar for Disney California Adventure musicians.
“They don’t really want to have full-time musicians,” says Velasco of DCA’s operations team. “There’s nobody there who’s scheduled five days a week in the same band.”
Velasco started playing tenor sax with the original Disneyland Band before retiring from the company in April, so he knows live music is an essential part of the magic. It gives parkgoers an experience that a loop blaring from a speaker—or an animatronic DJ R3X at Oga’s Cantina—cannot.
“When people go to the park, they’re just thrilled to be able to see somebody actually performing live for them,” says Velasco. “There’s a connection that a musician can achieve with the audience that can’t be replicated any other way.”
Hook and Ladder Company, play us out one last time…
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!