120 Years of Creating Memories
words By Jolen
by Andrew Shinn
Swedish band director Lars Claus led the Kingsburg
City Band consisting of 14 members during their
first concert in 1887, he couldn’t possibly
have known he was beginning a legacy that continues
today, 120 years later.
Kingsburg is rich in heritage and tradition. But
much of what you see is stationery and well preserved.
With the Kingsburg City Band the tradition and
heritage is interactive and alive with people
of all ages and nationalities. Quality musicians
come together to provide an exceptional under-the-stars
experience for the entire region. People come
from far and wide, bringing their chairs, blankets,
picnic dinners and toys for their children to
play with. They tend to come early and socialize
with others to maximize the experience.
As you arrive at Memorial Park, you know immediately
that you are about to be part of something special.
There’s a slight breeze that brushes against
your face as you sit under one of the large trees.
If you close your eyes you can hear all of the
voices chattering excitedly before each concert.
You can hear children laughing, neighbors greeting
each other and friends exchanging stories. You
can smell kettle corn and food cooking. It’s
the kind of experience that makes you feel warm
and safe. Your heart leaps as the musicians pierce
the air with the sounds of their instruments warming
up. Once the music starts you can’t help
but smile. The music is quality with arrangements
ranging from Sousa to Stravinsky and everything
in between. There’s really not a chance
to be bored, yet it’s one of the most relaxing
opportunities around. It’s the kind of atmosphere
that many communities would love to create for
their residents. That’s why hundreds travel
to Kingsburg to enjoy the experience. Each performance
averages about 1,000 people.
Forty years ago the concerts were held on Saturday
evenings in Coffee Pot Park. Residents would travel
from their farms to the park to enjoy the primary
social gathering of Kingsburg.
It continues to be a primary social gathering
today with its slice of Americana. There is homemade
ice cream available at each concert. People will
come at 5:30 for the Farmer’s Market that
takes place in the park prior to the concert which
allows them the opportunity to select the perfect
location to set up their area and enjoy the social
elements of the evening.
What started with a handful of Swedes by the railroad
station 120 years ago has evolved into a high
quality preservation yet modern embrace of Americana.
Enough about atmosphere. Let’s talk about
talent. These 80 musicians come from as far away
as Los Baños just to perform in the Kingsburg
band shell. Director Dale Engstrom selects 14
pieces every week. On Tuesdays during the six-week
season the musicians gather to practice the selections
for the first time together. About 48 hours later
the band plays those selections for the public
– beautifully executed. According to Engstrom,
“They are professional enough to be able
to do that. Most community bands need a lot more
preparation before performing. But we have so
many band directors and professional musicians
who have played a lot of the music before, that
it’s not brand new to them. It’s just
a matter of refreshing their memories and practicing
And tradition – after 120 years, so many
families have this tradition in their past and
present. Their kids see it and then want their
kids to experience it as well. Dale’s mother
– Barbara Engstrom remembers walking through
the audience and handing out programs. Her parents
paid her a nickel to buy ice cream as payment
for her work. Barbara’s father was Julian
Jacobson who was a trumpet player in the band.
Engstrom himself is a third generation Kingsburg
City Band member. “I remember Mom and Dad
were in the band, and I would crawl around on
the floor tugging on my mother’s hem while
she played. Then as I played and conducted, my
children did the same to me.” Engstrom’s
daughter Katie has been a vocalist during the
concerts. His father Wally was the conductor for
15 years prior to Dale’s reign and Dale’s
son Corey is currently in the band. It’s
notable that all of the Engstrom men have been
According to Engstrom, “Several families
have that thread going through it, passed on from
one generation to the next. There are families
today that have three generations playing in the
band. Some members have played for over 50 years.”
But you don’t have to be a fourth generation
Band Member to enjoy the traditions epitomized
by the Band. There was a gentleman who was visiting
Kingsburg from Sweden. He heard the band playing
from across the street and walked over to introduce
himself to Engstrom at the intermission. His name
was Olaf Lindgren and he is a composer in Sweden.
Engstrom invited Lindgren to conduct in the second
half of the evening and learned that Lindgren
is well known in Sweden, owning his own music
publishing company. Engstrom will be purchasing
a piece from Lindgren for this year’s concert
Dr. Gary Gilroy, Director of Bands at California
State University Fresno, has written a piece specifically
for the Kingsburg City Band entitled “To
the Kingsburg Legends.” Gilroy wrote the
piece because he heard about the great musicians
that have played in Kingsburg throughout the years
and wanted to commemorate the Band.
A gentleman from Redwood City, Paul Thekan, has
been listening to the concerts for years on radio
station KRDU 1130AM. He wants to visit Kingsburg
one day because he says he has an image of the
city and wants to see if his image is accurate.
KRDU broadcasts the concerts the evening of the
performance beginning at 10 P.M.
Each year the concert series concludes with the
1812 Overture complete with canons booming and
bells from the Lutheran Church across the street
chiming. It’s something most look forward
to. It’s definitely an amazing, uplifting
and inspirational way to celebrate another successful
season of tradition in Kingsburg.
Kingsburg City Band Facts
• Founded in 1887 with 14 musicians who
played in front
of the train depot.
• It is one of the oldest community bands
in the U.S.
• Musicians come from as far as Los Baños
in order to be a member of the band.
• Musicians represent many nationalities
and work in many
different industries including bankers, physicians
• Dale Engstrom has been the conductor for
30 years earning him the honor of holding the
for the longest amount of time.
Thursday concerts kick off with a Farmer’s
Market starting at 5:30 P.M. The concert is from
8 to 9:30 P.M. Memorial Park concerts are free
to the public.
June 21 – Thursday in Memorial Park
June 28 – Thursday in Memorial Park
July 3 – Tuesday at the Kingsburg High School
4th of July celebration
July 5 – Thursday in Memorial Park
July 12 - Thursday in Memorial Park
July 19 - Thursday in Memorial Park
July 26 - Thursday in Memorial Park