Ron Nelson's "Rocky Point Holiday"

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Saturday, February 9, 2019

Rhode Island natives of a certain age wax nostalgia about Rocky Point, a popular family vacation spot on the Narragansett Bay side of Warwick, which operated from the late 1840s until its close in 1995. There was an amusement park with rides like “The Russian Toboggan,” “The Wildcat” and “Cyclone,” for the kids, while mom and pop might opt for a table at the Rocky Point Chowder House.

In 1966, the American composer Ron Nelson spent a summer holiday there. “It's such a small state, there aren’t that many places to go,” he later recalled. Still, his “Rocky Point Holiday” provided the inspiration—and the title—for a work commissioned by Dr. Frank Bencriscutto for his University of Minnesota Concert Band.

“Rocky Point Holiday” was first performed under Bencriscutto’s direction on today’s date in 1967, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, during the annual convention of the College Band Director’s National Association. But the piece really took off—a little like “The Russian Toboggan” perhaps?—when Bencriscutto’s band toured the Soviet Union in 1969.

Frank wanted an ‘American’ piece to open the program,” Nelson recalled, and “Rocky Point Holiday” fit the bill perfectly. Closer to home, Nelson’s jaunty score became a classic in the wind band repertory, and was chosen by the Garfield Cadets for their Drum Corps International championship program in 1983.