Sugar, Fiesta, Orange. Every January, these three words conjure up images of the best of college football. But what would college football be without marching band? You’ve watched the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) unfold. Now read about these top marching band matchups.
On Jan. 1, 2008, the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warrior Marching Band performed for the first time at a BCS bowl game. It was also the first event to draw many of the current band students to the mainland United States. Ever. “Some of them are literally awestruck because they have never left the Hawaiian Islands,” said Brandt A. Payne, associate director of bands and marching band director, a few weeks before the game. “Just the travel alone is huge for them.”
In honor of this momentous occasion, the band revamped its traditional pregame show, displaying its Polynesian culture to the national audience. A team of dancers performed a Tahitian dance routine to the band’s rendition of the school fight song, and the band members simulated a tribal pig hunt during a drum break. At halftime, the band performed their “Rainbow Closer,” which includes playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “The Rainbow Connection” while spelling out “HAWAII” across the field.
The Rainbow Warrior Marching Band also played at several pep rallies and other events before the game.These include the Allstate Sugar Bowl Fan Fest, a two-day event that featured Eddie Money live in concert; the Allstate Sugar Bowl Classic Fan Jam, a huge pregame tailgate party outside of the Louisiana Superdome; and the Allstate Sugar Bowl VIP Pregame Party.
In the days leading up to the festivities, Payne and his students were itching to get to New Orleans to show the nation what their marching band was all about.
As head drum major Kristin Tanaka put it, “I can’t think of a better way to end the year.”
University of Georgia Redcoat Band
Although the University of Georgia played in the 2006 Sugar Bowl, the BCS committee moved the game to Atlanta due to the disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans. It was “not an exotic bowl trip when you’re coming from Athens, Ga.,” said Joe Higgins, one of the drum majors. The current marching band members, then, looked forward to their first group trip to New Orleans.
On Dec. 2, 2007, the students in the University of Georgia Redcoat Band gathered together to watch the bowl selection program on television. According to Higgins, many of his band mates were hoping to go to the Rose Bowl, so that the band could see California as well as march in the famous Rose Parade, but no one felt disappointed with the outcome. “Spending New Year’s Eve with all of my friends on Bourbon Street in New Orleans will definitely be a highlight of this year’s football season,” Higgins said.
Along with the Rainbow Warrior Marching Band, the Redcoats performed at the Allstate Sugar Bowl Fan Fest on Dec. 30 and 31 as well as the day of the game at the Allstate Sugar Bowl Fan Jam. The band pumped up football players and fans during the game with a shortened version of its traditional pregame show, which included the song “The Battle Hymn of the Bulldog Nation,” and a halftime show featuring the music of Journey. “The band takes great pride in always supporting the team throughout the game,” says Tom Keck, interim director of the Redcoat Band and assistant director of bands.
The “Pride of Oklahoma” Marching Band
Weeks before the game, students in The “Pride of Oklahoma” Marching Band (“The Pride” for short) were already looking forward to their second year of traveling to Phoenix for the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl—for one reason, because they were familiar with the area.
“As soon as they get there, they will know exactly what they want to do with their free time, so they will get more out of sightseeing,” explained Brian Britt, associate director of bands and director of the marching band. The band members didn’t have lots of free time, however—they were busy performing at various events in the days before the Jan. 2 game. On Dec. 29, they performed in the Fort McDowell Fiesta Bowl Parade, the only major adjudicated bowl parade, and on New Year’s Eve, they marched through downtown Tempe to Tempe Beach Park during the Insight Fiesta Bowl Block Party. After they played, they mingled with the more than 100,000 people in attendance.
“It is really amusing to get to see the opponent’s fans and ours showing so much school spirit!” said Jessica Hanes, senior piccolo player.
On the day of the game, “The Pride” played at three spirit rallies, including “Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Brings You College Football’s Biggest Party,” before performing their traditional pregame and halftime shows. In the pregame show, which has remained virtually unchanged for 37 years, “we recognize the other Big XII teams with 12-foot poles and a kick sequence,” explained Kami Gallagher, color guard member. “The drum major … then proceeds to do what we call ‘the strut,’ where he leans backwards and struts down the field in front of the entire band.”
Finally, the band forms an interlocking “OU” as they play their school fight song and march off the field.
West Virginia University Mountaineer Marching Band
Although Jan. 2, 2008, marked West Virginia University’s sixth bowl game appearance in a row, the Mountaineer Marching Band, also known as “The Pride of West Virginia,” hasn’t been to the Fiesta Bowl since 1989 (the year that many of the current band members were born). Needless to say, going to the bowl was a big deal for the band.
“Many students in the band, including myself, have never been as far west as Phoenix,” said senior trumpet player Mark Dean in December, “so this will be a new and exciting experience for lots of people.” Most of the band members especially looked forward to playing at the Insight Fiesta Bowl Block Party—the New Year’s Eve celebration in Tempe Beach Park—because they were able to watch performances by the Barenaked Ladies and about 40 other bands and entertainers as well as a midnight fireworks display, according to Jay Drury, assistant director of bands and marching band director.
On Jan. 1, The Pride of West Virginia performed at a “Mountaineer Connection” event held for WVU fans. Then, on game day, the band showed off most of their detailed pregame show, which they didn’t think they would be able to do. “We get a lot of time at pregame and halftime to perform, and in the past we did not,” drum major Lauren Eakins said in December.
According to Drury, the band’s traditional pregame show has been in place for 30 or more years and includes a medley of Aaron Copeland music, John Denver’s “Country Road”—“our state’s unofficial anthem,” explained Drury— and several signature formations.
The University of Kansas Marching Jayhawks
Although the University of Kansas marching band is one of the oldest in collegiate history, the Marching Jayhawks performed at a BCS bowl game for the first time on Jan. 3, 2008. In fact, “the University of Kansas has not been to the Orange Bowl now in decades,” explained Scott Weiss, director of bands, a few weeks before the game, “so people are very excited.”
The day before the KU vs. VT showdown, the Marching Jayhawks played at several pep rallies. These events included the Budweiser Orange Bowl Tailgate Party and the WAMU Orange Bowl Fan Fest in an afternoon celebration of football, music, food and family fun in downtown Miami.
On game day, the band performed a five-minute pregame show that included the University of Kansas alma mater, “Crimson and the Blue,” as well as the university’s “Rock Chalk Chant.” Think of a Gregorian chant, and you’ll understand what this distinctive cheer sounds like—in vocal harmony, the members of the band slowly chanted, “Rock … Chalk … Jayhawk … KU.”
During halftime, the Marching Jayhawks and the Marching Virginians took turns playing 30-second clips of their schools’ fight songs in the stands while the Orange Bowl’s celebrity entertainment, ZZ Top, prepared to perform on the field. “I was a little sad at fi rst when we found out that we wouldn’t be marching a normal halftime show,” said Sarah Zimmerman, one of the drum majors, two weeks before the game. “However, I think this will be a neat opportunity— I’ve never had the chance to see a professional halftime show.”
The Virginia Tech Marching Virginians
“The Spirit of Tech”—a nickname for Virginia Tech’s marching band— describes the band well, according to William Petersen, assistant director of The Marching Virginians. “It’s a great name because these kids really do represent the spirit of the university,” says Petersen. “They are involved not only at sporting events but also at many activities over the course of the year,” including a food drive called Hokies for the Hungry. The Marching Virginians were therefore the perfect representatives of the spirit of Virginia Tech football at the Orange Bowl game on Jan. 3.
The day before the game, the band played alongside the Marching Jayhawks at Orange Bowl-sponsored rallies such as the Budweiser Orange Bowl Tailgate Party as well as at three university receptions.
Kristin Sagona, one of two feature twirlers, said that these kinds of performances are some of her favorite parts of bowl trips. “Tech always has so many traveling fans,” she said, “so it’s fun to see the excitement in all the Tech fans when they hear the band play their favorite songs, like ‘Tech Triumph’ and the ‘Hokie Pokie.’”
On Jan. 3, after performing a traditional pregame show, The Marching Virginians took turns with the Marching Jayhawks to play snippets of fi ght songs during halftime. “The Spirit of Tech” performed the “VPI Victory March” (“VPI” stands for “Virginia Polytechnic Institute,” the school’s former name), “Tech Triumph” and “Carry Me Back,” the Virginia state song emeritus. And, although the “Hokie Pokie” isn’t exactly a fight song, the band performed that tune, too—with full choreography. “It’s really become one of the signature tunes that everyone knows around here,” Petersen said.