June 9, 2011 —
GREELEY, PA — You might just see your neighbor, wailing on a saxophone or blowing a brass horn up there, on that time-tested stage saturated with a sense of history. Across the wide wooden dance floor, the powerful sound of nearly 20 musicians and several vocalists will take you back to the days when the Swing Era big band sound was all the rage.
With over 2,000 charts in its musical library, the Moonlight on the Poconos Big Band is likely to know your favorite tune, and only too happy to perform it—for free—at its weekly Tuesday evening rehearsal at the Historic Greeley Inn in Greeley, or at one of its upcoming gigs (see sidebar).
From the “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” to the “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” the band does its best to keep the music loved by many alive. Maybe you’re “In the Mood” for Glen Miller’s classic, or are yearning for some “Summertime.” Either way, it’s likely you’ll be tapping along in no time, particularly when they bust out the Pennsylvania Polka.
The non-profit organization is led by saxophonist Hank Grilk, whose wife Ann Marie is one of the band’s vocalists. Their son, Andy, also plays sax in the band. Hank’s love of big band music hearkens back to the days when he ran the Sound of Swing Big Band in Rhode Island. The Grilks retired to Lakeville and Hank began looking for a local big band opportunity. Finding none, he placed some ads and contacted local music stores to reach potential players. Word got around, and musicians from surrounding communities in Pennsylvania and New York began showing up to sit in on the Greeley sessions.
Skill levels range from average to exceptional, and members range in age from teens to seniors. All of them aim to recreate the big band sound that won hearts from the 1930s to ‘50s. “We’re trying to perform this music the way the original artists intended it to be performed, so the charts we have are taken from the original charts that, for example, Count Basie used,” said Hank.
“This is not easy stuff. Every single person in the band is playing a different part, so every musician is important. There’s opportunity for some people to improvise and do solos. Just feeling it, telling the story through your music, through your horn. That’s the way it was back in the days of the Swing Era.”
The band is always looking for places to play and welcomes all to their rehearsals at the inn. “Have a great meal, enjoy the music, do some ballroom dancing or just listen,” said Hank, who will partner up for a go at the fox trot if you ask. “These people have been so gracious here. The room was filled with junk, but when they cleaned it out, they discovered the backdrop and the silhouettes of musicians on the stage.”
The band plays for free, but respectfully accepts donations to cover expenses such as transportation. “There aren’t too many big bands around anymore, but people still love it,” said Hank. “We intend to keep it alive as long as possible.” Visit www.moonlightonthepoconosbigband.com  for more information.