A bunch of WACKOs — in a non-traditional marching band

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry WACKO (Warren Area Cacophonic Kazoo Organization) marchers contribute their unique sounds to the Christmas Walk and Parade while providing instruments to new recruits.

Warren’s annual Christmas Parade features all of the normal parade units — floats, marching bands, dancers, emergency vehicles, men riding tiny tricycles, and oversized balloons.

For the past four years, the parade has included a less-traditional unit… WACKO — the Warren Area Cacophonic Kazoo Organization.

The marching kazoo band was founded by the group’s Grand High Exalted Mystical Ruler, Gary Lester — something of a kazoo enthusiast, but don’t call him an expert.

“The history of this goes back to the mid-1960s,” Lester said.

He and some college buddies would play kazoos regularly, including at the bar where one played piano and would encourage patrons to sing, or kazoo, along.

“We still get together a couple times a year and we still play kazoos,” Lester said.

The local group has about 20 core members, and the membership is fluid.

There isn’t much of a try-out. “If I give them a kazoo, they’re members,” Lester said.

Musical talent is not required. In fact, “we eschew expertise,” Lester said. Professional kazooists and kazoo virtuosi need not apply.

He buys domestic kazoos from Kazoobie Kazoos of Beaufort, S.C., and estimates that he has given away upwards of 4,000 over the years.

There are no rehearsals and no other pending performances.

Because the group does not meet, Lester relies on social media for reminders.

“I advertise on Facebook regularly for about a month before the parade,” Lester said.

If playing a kazoo in a parade seems too silly, it might just be.

But, “this has a serious side,” Lester said. “I use this when I give talks on mental health for organizations around town.”

“The concept is, if there’s a scale from silly to serious, we want people to get in touch with their silly side… sometimes,” he said. “We want that range of expression. The people that are most mentally healthy have that range and can call up that silly side or that serious side.”