Lighted old-fashioned oriental lanterns strung high in gingerbread house porches weren't the only memorable part of Illumination Night on the Camp Ground on Wednesday night.
There was the music. For hours, live, flavorful music cooked inside the Tabernacle reached out amid the oaks.
Spirits were light as visitors toured Trinity Park. Young and old marveled at the colorful lanterns. Many stepped in rhythm to the marching tunes. They strolled every path and every adjoining narrow road in the community of 312 little houses, which makes up a small village inside the town.
The youngest spun light sticks and held hands. The oldest traveled amid the glow of memories. An exuberant Vineyard Haven Band played music, adhering to the beat kept by retiring conductor William Eriksen.
It was a night to remember, while it was also a night to know a few changes.
The 140th Grand Illumination was a celebration of the goodness of a community inside of a town, its long-held community ritual of gathering amid lighted lamps. The Camp Ground observance began years ago, in the advent before electricity, in an age of lighted candles and lamps and more widespread community singing.
Lighting was subdued this year because of concern about fires. A strong prevailing southwest wind blowing 20 miles per hour forced some homeowners to avoid lighting their oldest lamps with candles because of concerns that they would be damaged. Most of the night's lanterns were lit by electricity and plenty of lanterns were lit that way.
Nancy Blank, a resident of Clinton avenue, said the wind was her biggest worry. "We are hoping the wind will die down. I am holding my breath," she said.
Eventually, as the wind shifted to west southwest, a few gusts kept many of the unlit lanterns in motion.
Bob Falkenburg and his wife Jodie had plenty of reason to cherish the evening. The two were charged with the honor of lighting the first lantern that symbolically lights all the lanterns on the ground. The precise moment of lighting a candle takes place before the hundreds within the Tabernacle.
"My earliest memory of Illumination night was 45 years ago. I was 35 years old," he said. His family roots on the Camp Ground go further back.
"Illumination Night is a celebration of summer. It is also the winding down of summer. It is a time of gathering," he told the Gazette.
The musical program for the night began at 7:30 with Mr. Eriksen's conducting the Vineyard Haven Band. This, his fourth year leading the band, also is his final year as conductor.
The band played a medley of sea songs, a few of them sea chanties, and the audience started clapping along. They did the familiar John Philip Sousa music and a medley of patriotic tunes.
There was piano music by Stefan Young and Amaryllis Glass. The fingers of their four hands sped across the white and black keys, playing the Star Spangled Banner and uptempo tunes.
Wearing a bright red tie and pants, medley marshal Robert Cleasby led the 1,800 aspiring singers through a long list of community campground tunes from God Bless America to Yankee Doodle and Home on the Range.
Mr. Cleasby teased his audience's veracity for keeping both tempo and tune. He took one half of Tabernacle audience into the tune In the Good Old Summer Time; and got the other half to simultaneously sing East Side, West Side.
Piano accompaniment all along was provided by Mr. Young, a longtime Camp Ground musician.
The journey of song reached into Mr. Cleasby's past along with so many others. "I remember singing I'm In the Swiss Army when I was a teenager. You know, I've never seen a musical score for that song," he told the Gazette. So, singing the tune had always been from memory.
The music Wednesday night took a creative turn, with the introduction of opera. There was no more than three minutes of it.
Kevin Ryan, an Island banker and vocalist, stepped on stage and sang aria Nessun Dorma, written by Puccini. He was accompanied by the band. Being the only one wearing a formal charcoal gray suit in town, Mr. Ryan's singing quieted the gathering, which stretched far out into Trinity Park. When he reached the last part of the music, singing Vincero three times, the audience cheered, with many of them standing up and applauding.
Mr. Ryan later said he was invited to do the piece by the conductor a month before, and it was only a matter of getting it right. "That is a world-class piece," he said.
The first highlight during Wednesday's Illumination Night came when Russell E. Dagnall, president of the Camp Meeting Association stepped on stage and introduced the year's lamplighters: Bob and Jodie Falkenburg.
Mr. Falkenburg spoke of an enriched experience of being a part of the Camp Meeting Association, of the community that resides within the oak tree grove.
Mr. Falkenburg is a dedicated Camp Ground resident, having run the museum gift shop for 15 summers. Mr. Falkenburg said later that one of the biggest items that was sold were glow sticks.
To the amusement of the audience, Mr. Falkenburg said that his father purchased the family Camp Ground house in 1962 for $2,500. "That was a good price," he said and the well wishers agreed.
Mr. Falkenburg was also credited for creating a Fourth of July parade within the Camp Ground which seems to grow from year to year.
A second highlight to the evening was a tribute to conductors of the Vineyard Haven Band. Conductor-emeritus Gary Zwicky and his wife Elaine were honored for their years of service. Mr. Cleasby said that the musicologist had served as director of the band for 10 years, and had made arrangements and composed music for the band.
Mr. Zwicky received a standing ovation.
A third highlight came when the current conductor, Mr. Eriksen, was honored for his four years of leadership and for a 10-year presence in the band as a trombone player.
It was to the conductor's credit that the Illumination Night evening was expanded with enough music to fill a long evening, almost nonstop. Mr. Eriksen led the band well beyond the ceremonial lighting of the first candle. His band played on for more than an hour.
Mr. Eriksen also did trombone solo of the familiar tune Over the Rainbow.
Crowd estimates ran as high as 7,000, though many agreed it wasn't an overcrowded gathering like a few years ago. There was plenty of room for those who chose to sit on the grass.
Cinci Turner of Edgartown shared the evening with event with her 22-year-old son Nick. The two hadn't been to Illumination Night in at least 18 years, so for them it was a sweet return. Their visit was inspired by her father Tom Harris of Warner, N.H.; he had never been before. They sat wordlessly on the lawn and listened to the music.
For Mr. Cleasby, Illumination Night is an expanded event. Times change, and in this case for the better. He noted that in past years visitors would come to the night of lights and when they had seen enough gotten back in their cars and driven off.
But on this night, after they had seen enough, hundreds stepped back inside the Tabernacle and resumed listening to the music of the Vineyard Haven Band. "This is a growing phenomena," Mr. Cleasby said.
And when the band had finished at 10:10 p.m., the musical performance shifted to the Trinity United Methodist Church, where church bells played until 11 p.m.