WAVERLY --- When Jeff Franzen joined the local municipal band in 1997, he hadn't touched a french horn since high school. And Franzen had just attended his 25-year reunion.
Undaunted, he borrowed an instrument and before long, the finger work came back. But getting his lips in shape, that was a different story entirely.
"I never had so much fun failing in my whole life," Franzen said.
He stuck with it and 14 years later, Franzen still shows up each summer to play a set of concerts with the Greater Waverly Municipal Band. The all-volunteer group performs on Thursday evenings at Kohlmann Park in Waverly.
"I'm just really proud of our group, to have 70 people show up every week (to play)," said Jim Vowels, a director with the municipal band.
Music lovers from Bremer, Butler, Black Hawk and Chickasaw counties make up the ensemble. Adults and students play side by side, some recruited by Vowels, who also is the high school band director for the Waverly-Shell Rock School District.
"I say every concert we have eighth-graders to octogenarians," Vowels said.
Band members strive to put on a good show but don't take themselves too seriously. The band puts out a call for members at the start of each season, no audition required. Members gather on Wednesdays to practice once before each performance.
"We are just kinda laid back with it. And we just have a really good time," Vowels added.
On Thursday, Matt Anderson, 14, of Waverly, carries a tuba as he waits for the night's opening gig, a roots rock band called Twelve Bar Booze, to wrap up.
"It's a lot of fun. ... It's a good way to keep playing your instrument," Anderson said.
The unpretentious attitude seems to be working. The band --- a fixture since at least the early 1920s and revived in the mid-1980s --- has added 20 members in the last decade, Vowels said. Attendance is on the uptick, too.
"It's really grown as an event in the last couple years," said Tiffany Kudron, tourism and special events director for the Waverly Chamber of Commerce.
When the weather is warm, it's not uncommon for several hundred residents and out-of-town visitors to swing by the park for a little live music along the Cedar River, she said. On concert night, vehicles line streets near Kohlmann Park and a recreational trail feeds bicyclists and walkers into the area.
"It is a beautiful backdrop to have the band set up there and play," Kudron said.
The front lawn at the Bremer County Courthouse used to host the summer concert series until three years ago. Organizers switched to a venue with more shade trees, more accessible rest rooms and a playground for kids, Vowels said. He thinks the new location appeals more to young families.
The summer series also took on a new name: Concerts in Kohlmann. The Waverly Chamber of Commerce puts on the concerts with assistance from businesses that take turns sponsoring the weekly events. Members of the Greater Waverly Municipal Band have petitioned the city for permission to build a permanent band shell in Kohlmann Park but the effort has hit resistance.
In the meantime, band members keep serenading audiences with everything from Disney to Dvorak. On Thursday, the musicians played a medley of songs from the hit TV show "Glee." The band also plays its share of marches, ballads and overtures and saves a place for the national anthem and a song devoted to state pride.
"The last song we always play, no matter what, is "The Iowa Corn Song." Even if it's raining," said Ashley Kohagen, 17, of Waverly. Typically, Kohagen is right up there with the band but this summer, the Bremer County Dairy Princess attends concerts to promote dairy products with the Bremer County Dairy Promoters.
"We wouldn't miss a concert," said Waverly resident Geneva Liebau.