Photo Credit: Delmarva Now
As we bring the summer season to a close, there’s a very special send-off that only happens here – the Bethany Beach Jazz Funeral. Like New Orleans jazz funerals, mourners in the thousands, from up and down the eastern seaboard and dressed in outrageous garb, attend this singular, two-part event to bid farewell to Summer. They cry together, laugh together – it becomes a part of them.
It all started in 1985 when former Bethany Beach Town Councilman and business owner Moss Wagner decided he wanted to have a party to celebrate the closing of the summer resort season – back when, at 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon, Bethany Beach was a ghost town. Joined by Ken Cloud (who became the unofficial pastor) and a few others, they became what is now known as ‘The Friends of Summer’ to share their memories of the season, cry a little, laugh a lot and officially say ‘good-bye’ and ‘give Summer a proper burial’. And it drew attention…and grew. For locals and vacationers alike, the idea of being part of something so unique and fun (not to mention family-friendly) appealed to a lot of folks…so much so that visitors, who used to leave early, now stay and are actually drawn to Bethany Beach just for this event.
Part One is on the Friday of Labor Day weekend – a silent auction held at Bethany Blues (on Pennsylvania Avenue) to support our local non-profits. Past beneficiaries have included the Red Cross of Delmarva, Sussex County Habitat for Humanity and Sussex County Big Brothers and Sisters. You’re able to bid on items from our local businesses who have always been generous in their donations.
Part Two is the actual funeral procession, beginning at the north end of the boardwalk and ending at the bandstand. At the head of the procession is the decorated casket with ‘Summer’ (a mannequin) and all follow her to the bandstand where the Dixie Cats, Jazz Funeral Irregulars and Downtown Dixieland Band perform. Fun fact: the bands, combined, have about 18 pieces making this event one of the largest regularly scheduled Dixieland band performances on Delmarva!
To find out everything you need to know about the Jazz Funeral so you can plan your trip to Bethany Beach to become a Friend of Summer yourself, visit their website. And if you need costume ideas (because who doesn’t want to dress up for this?!?), check these out: