Across the country and back again, the University of Georgia Redcoat Band appeared in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day as well as the National Championship on Jan. 8—two of the highest-profile games during this college bowl season.
Dr. Mike Robinson, director of athletic bands, led the University of Georgia Redcoat Band to the Tournament of Roses on Jan. 1, 2018, in Pasadena, California, for the school’s first time since 1943. That historic appearance was followed up quickly by performances at the College Football Playoff National Championship in Atlanta on Jan. 8 near its hometown of Athens, Georgia. The cross-country travel and more than a week of widely-viewed shows required intense preparation, including squeezing rehearsals into limited timeframes.
Halftime: What is your musical and educational background?
Robinson: I got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees [and doctorate] in conducting from the University of Miami. I marched [with] the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps growing up and did a lot of drum corps teaching, taught high school in Florida for 11 years, and I’ve been teaching college for about 20 years.
Halftime: What does it mean to participate in the Rose Bowl as part of the National Championship playoffs?
Robinson: It’s pretty amazing. The National Championship has only been around for four years, and we’ve never done it before. I’ve been here 10 years and never seen this level of excitement. Usually, for a bowl game, I’ll have people come to me with conflicts, but not one person had a peep about this one. Everyone [was] locked and loaded.
Halftime: How was going to the Rose Bowl different than going to a different playoff game?
Robinson: Being in a state where I’ve never been … mountains around the stadium, the temperature, there’s just a lot of things different for the band.
The parade and game are viewed by more than 100 million people … more people worldwide … than all the games in the history of the school.
I’m really proud. They’re great kids, and it’s a great school. When you have a purpose, it makes it a blast.
Halftime: How did the band prepare for the performances in California and then back in Georgia for the National Championship?
Robinson: We had the SEC [Southeastern Conference] championship on Dec. 2, and once the game was over, we [didn’t] see the kids again until the [Rose] Bowl. We [saw] them in Athens the day before we [left]. We [had] a three-hour rehearsal to learn a new pregame, which we [had] to cut and splice. We [had] to practice the parade turn, the famous turn that you see on TV, which is about a 110-degree turn.
[For the National Championships], we had rehearsal [Jan. 4], and it was 25 degrees. We rehearsed again Friday night, and we [had] one rehearsal in Atlanta on Sunday night at a local high school. Monday morning, we [were] at the game.
Halftime: What performances did the band participate in during the Tournament of Roses?
Robinson: We [had] a couple pep rallies, the Disneyland performance, and then, of course, the Rose Parade. We [had] a couple rehearsals at Arcadia High School that [were] publicized. There [was] plenty to do.
Halftime: What National Championship events did the band perform at?
Robinson: Not as many as the Rose Bowl. They [had] us performing at a pep rally in Centennial Olympic Park. We [had] a big stands fest in the [Georgia World Congress Center], and we [had] a tailgate. And then there’s the pregame and halftime.
Halftime: How did the National Championship game being closer to home affect the dynamic of the performance?
Robinson: We were just in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium [for the SEC Championships], and we [had] some good mojo from that.
There [was] a home feel for Alabama too; they’re not much farther in the other direction!
Halftime: What halftime show did you perform at both venues?
Robinson: For halftime, we [did] our Allman Brothers Tribute. The opener is “Ramblin’ Man,” the concert number is called “Whipping Post,” and the closer is “Black-Hearted Woman.”
Halftime: What is the origin of the name “Redcoat Band?”
Robinson: Way back in the day … there were radio announcers involved [in the games] that were describing the bands. Georgia Tech was being described as the “yellow-jacketed band” and the Redcoats were the “red-coated band.” It kind of stuck, and it’s been the name of the band since the ’50s.
Halftime: What challenges have you faced with the Redcoat Band and how have you overcome them?
Robinson: We’ve had lots of challenges. We didn’t have adequate instruments, and we had to do a campaign to get quality instruments into the hands of the students. We were marching on a muddy field and had to campaign for a new facility. We had to face the challenge of how to get new uniforms. We had to do another campaign last year to pay for the teaching tower. Every year, you face different challenges and have to figure out how to overcome them.
Halftime: What has been your proudest moment in the Redcoat Band?
Robinson: I can say for sure this band has just been getting better and better. The kids are great, and I’m just proud of the students and how much they love being part of the Redcoat family. We have a really good retention rate: We’ve never had less than 90 percent return. It just means they really enjoy it, and it’s a great family atmosphere.
Halftime: What is your advice for other directors?
Robinson: You’ve got to plan well. You’ve got to be prepared. Planning and communication, that’s the key.
Halftime: What is your advice for marching musicians?
Robinson: I say you have a good time when you are great. By working hard, working together, and focusing on your goals … when you do something really spectacular like a big parade or game, that makes the family so much more worth it and so much more fun. There are times when it’s super hard work, but it’s all worth it. The rewards will come in the performances and the friendships.