In the summer of 2015, Connor Devlin and Matthew Woodson decided on a whim to perform in the Lancaster city streets with one of their fellow Hersheypark resident musicians during First Friday.
The extent of their rehearsal was a quick chat in the car on the way into town.
“We figured, oh, we’ll go out and play a song and people will go, ‘Oh that’s cool’ and then we’ll just leave and go home,” sousaphone player Devlin says.
To the band’s delight, they had a crowd for their entire performance. Devlin and Woodson figured they were on to something.
The pair are the only constant members in Big Boy Brass, an ever-changing collective of brass musicians who reimagine popular songs in a New Orleans-style sound. The band will perform Friday as part of Celebrate Lancaster, and have a Sunday night residency at Tellus360 throughout the summer.
Devlin says many of their Hersheypark bandmates are from out of state and leave Pennsylvania when the summer season ends. Devlin and Woodson kept performing on the streets with Hersheypark bandmates in the summer of 2016, but as the band began to gain traction at the end of the summer, they recruited friends from Millersville University.
Devlin graduated from Millersville with a degree in music education in May. Woodson, also studying music education, will graduate in the spring.
The band performs everything from songs by the Beatles to polka to the Super Smash Brothers brawl theme song.
“That is the beauty that we see of this band,” Devlin says. “We’re able to play some jazz standards. We’re able to play pop songs. We’re able to adapt.”
Big Boy Brass also has a few original compositions. While the setlist is diverse, Devlin says all of the music has a New Orleans brass band sound.
“We want to do stuff people will like, but we want to maintain a little bit of that traditional New Orleans second-line deal,” Devlin says.
In December, Big Boy Brass performed a variety of Christmas songs on the now-defunct podcast Friday Live Lancaster. Woodson says Tellus360 owner and podcast cohost Joe Devoy mentioned the roof’s upcoming renovations and invited the band to perform on it throughout the summer.
Plans for the residency were finalized in May and the performances began June 11. Big Boy Brass plays from 6-8 p.m. every Sunday on the roof of Tellus360, weather permitting.
“It’s just a beautiful turn of events,” Woodson says.
While coordinating a band with 10 or more members can be challenging at times, Woodson says it’s worth the extra effort.
“It’s a certain feeling that at least I get when we perform that is like no other feeling,” Woodson says.
Devlin agrees, and hopes he can spread that feeling to budding musicians through a career as a music teacher.
“My main drive to be a music teacher is I want to give my students the feeling that I’ve gotten through music … So, I need to cultivate my own in order to do that the best way,” Devlin says. “Becoming a better musician is only going to help my teaching, which is going to help my students.”