WASHINGTON — It had been decades since Larry Wile picked up his beloved sousaphone, the little-known "cousin" of the more widely-known tuba. Then came the 2013 Pride Parade in D.C., when he spotted one being played by a marching band down the road.
"I ran over," he said. "And said 'go low brass.'"
From there, the conversation began. The band, which he soon found out was called "DC's Different Drummers," was actually a band for those who identify as LGBTQ, and their allies. It was a match made in heaven for Wile, who is gay himself. Six years later, Wile is now the organization's president.
"It is really my only outlet for LGBT expression," he said.
The group is made up of three ensembles, including a Symphonic band, a jazz band, and a marching band. It was created in 1980 by seven musicians, who got together in an apartment in D.C. It's now grown to include hundreds of members.
On Saturday, the marching band will be performing at the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade for the first time.
Charles Roth, the director for the marching band, said the band is like a family for many who join.
"This group a offers a lot more freedom to actually be yourself," Roth said. "To express yourself, and to actually put it out there in a musical and artistic means."
Tamara Radcliff has watched this organization grow in size and scope. She has been playing clarinet for the band for 23 years, when many of the band members were still toddlers.
"I'm just happy to see that society is more accepting of LGBT individuals," Radcliff said. "And this band has been like a family to me."
Jeremy Vera agreed. He first learned about the group in 2008, when his partner encouraged him to go to a pride parade.
"I saw this band march in the Pride parade," he said. "And I said, 'I want to be a part of that.'"
Vera has now been serving as the assistant director for the band for five years.
"It offered me a place to be me," he said. "I still wasn't out to my family, and it encouraged me to be more out and to be more comfortable with who I am."
Travis Gettinger was leading the group of drummers, at their last rehearsal before the parade. He said the hours of practice become worth it, when the crowds start cheering.
"The best part is when you step out for a parade," he said. "And the people are just like screaming around you - like 'yeaaahhh.' It's the best feeling in the world."
Shawna Abston, wearing a pride sweatshirt, is one of the LGBTQ allies in the band. Her father came out of the closet, when she was just two-years-old.
"It means so much to me," she said. "It's togetherness. It's a shared passion for music. It's a shared passion for a group of people who mean a lot to each other."