Lack of pipes at Greenport parade hits a sour note

Greenport Christmas Parade
KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | There were no bagpipers at this year's Greenport Christmas parade.

No bagpipers joined the line of march for Greenport’s Christmas parade Sunday afternoon, at least not officially, and for a variety of reasons that cast a Grinchy pall over a beloved local holiday tradition.

As he’s done for previous village celebrations, including the Maritime Festival parade each September, part-time Greenporter Roy Morrow agreed to pick up the tab to bring several pipe and drum corps to the village for the Dec. 11 parade.

At first the organizers, two Greenport Fire Department companies, were pleased, but later concerns that the event could become a de facto St. Patrick’s Day parade led the department to limit the music to Greenport’s high school band and Cutchogue Fire Department’s glockenspiel group.

Undaunted, Mr. Morrow still brought out three pipe bands and a fife and drum group and placed them in parking lots along the parade route. When some of the pipers took to the street, including a band led by Mr. Morrow, toward the end of the parade, they were stopped by the town police.

No charges were filed.

Mayor David Nyce criticized Mr. Morrow, who he said tried to co-opt the parade.

“I’m a little upset that Roy couldn’t back down,” he said. “Enough, already. It’s all about him wanting to be in a parade and I’m fed up with it. There shouldn’t be aggravation around a kids’ Christmas parade.”

Mr. Morrow said he’s the victim of poor communications between the fire department’s leadership, which welcomed the pipe bands, and the two companies that decided against them six days before the parade.

“It didn’t stop the fire department from cashing my check” for $500 toward the cost of the toys given to children at the firehouse at the end of the parade, he said. “What happened this time was their own fault.”

This year the responsibility for organizing the parade fell to the department’s Phenix Hook and Ladder Company and the Relief Hose Company. Jennifer Grilli, captain of the Phenix company, said the issue wasn’t about having pipers, but the fear of having too many.

At first Mr. Morrow said he’d bring in three bands, which the department approved, she said. He later mentioned eight bands and then upped it to 11, she said, including a group from New Zealand.

The fire department held an emergency meeting on Dec. 5 and decided to limit the music to the two local groups.

“We decided 11 bands was way too much,” she said. “The idea was to keep it a local parade for our kids. Our department was only including six vehicles.”

Mr. Morrow was angry at learning of the decision, Ms. Grilli said, and said he would no longer support village celebrations.

“We were going to cancel the whole parade because a few of the members said it isn’t worth it,” she added. “But we decided no, we have to do this.”

People who booed the police for preventing the bands from marching were off base, said Ms. Grilli.

“The police didn’t do anything wrong,” she said. “It wasn’t the village, it was the members of the fire department who said no.”

One pipe band gathered behind St. Agnes R.C. Church on Front Street and others played in commercial parking lots on Main Street.

“Everybody knew a big spat was going on,” said Police Chief Martin Flatley. “A lot of people were not happy about it.”

The chief added that the bands stood off to the side and did not interfere with the line of march. But the mayor says the pipers at the church continued playing, even as the other bands passed by.

“You don’t co-opt someone else’s parade and make it something that it isn’t and then hold it over everyone’s heads,” said Mr. Nyce.
But Mr. Morrow says he’s the one who’s been ill-used and in spite of the criticism lodged against him he’s already been approached to bring pipe bands to the fire department’s yearly Washington’s Birthday parade in February.

“It hasn’t stopped the village from asking my wife and I to sponsor a class-A tall ship” for the Tall Ships of America visit next Memorial Day weekend,” he said. “It becomes bothersome when people pick and choose how they would like to spend your money.”

The dispute aside, Ms. Grilli said the parade went off without a hitch and “Mr. and Mrs. Claus” gave out nearly 600 toys, candy and fruit to local kids at the firehouse.

“The kids had a great time and the adults saw the kids had a great time and that’s all that matters,” she said.

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