The nearly 400 members of the Western Carolina University Pride of the Mountains Marching Band who performed in the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day were stunned by how many people lined the route, and motivated by the parade-goers’ excitement. “You could hear them yelling for us,” said Rachel Rimmer, a senior band staff coordinator majoring in music from Siler City. “When we were allowed to take a break, our drumline was high-fiving kids, and we were talking to people in the crowd.”
The WCU marching band not only entertained hundreds of thousands at the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., and as many as a billion via an internationally televised broadcast, but also won “favorite band” in a post-parade poll. When KTLA-TV closed the voting on a poll to select the best band in the 2011 Rose Parade, the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band had 72,287 votes – 40 percent of all votes cast in the poll and more than any of the parade’s other musical groups.
Betty Allen, president of the WCU Alumni Association, was not surprised. Allen said she was in awe watching the Pride in Pasadena. “I am very proud and partial about our band,” she said. “They are fantastic, but, in that parade, they exceeded my expectations, and my expectations are high.”
Bob Buckner, director of the WCU marching band, said he was extremely proud of the band, which worked hard to prepare and to help raise money for the $640,000 trip. Fundraisers ranged from selling T-shirts to spelling the names of major supporters on the field on a cold, wintry morning. Preparation included long rehearsals – one in which they marched the parade’s distance on Highway 107 – and wake-up calls as early as 4 a.m. while in California. They crowd’s reaction to the band made it all worthwhile, said Buckner.
“When I would wave, as many as 70 people might wave back,” said Buckner. “And even though we were 2,500 miles from Cullowhee, when we played the fight song people chanted ‘Go Western.’ I got pretty emotional. I was just so proud about being from Western Carolina and doing this.”
Assistant band directors Matt Henley and Jon Henson agreed. Henley said the reception to the band was outstanding and that members finished in strong spirits, and Henson said the students did a terrific job and “made all past, present and future Catamounts very proud.”
The group performed three songs during the parade, including the WCU fight song, the Ozzy Osbourne hit “I Don’t Wanna Stop” and “You,” by California ska-band Suburban Legends. The performance of “You” was in honor of the late Ryan Dallas Cook, who helped write the song and was a member of Suburban Legends. After Cook’s death in a 2005 traffic accident, the ska band held a fundraiser in Cook’s honor that benefited his high school band at Huntington Beach High School since Cook credited much of his passion for music to his experience in the marching band. WCU’s performance of the song was intended as a celebration of a shared love for marching band from coast to coast, and as a way to embrace the parade’s 2011 theme, Building Dreams, Friendships & Memories,” said Henley.
The WCU band reached out to build a friendship with Suburban Legends and with Cook’s family, who attended the Tournament of Roses Bandfest on Dec. 30 to see WCU perform its field show “Rock U.” After the performance, the Cooks and HBHS band director Gregg Gilboe came to meet the group. The WCU band presented the Cooks with a WCU clock. In addition, several band members attended a Suburban Legends concert while in California, and Suburban Legends congratulated the WCU band on its performance in the parade.
The blog roseparade.wcu.edu captured some of the band’s experiences leading up to and directly following the parade. Features included posts with pictures from the volunteers driving the trucks with the band’s equipment across the country to save the band $40,000 in checked baggage fees – a feat that required facing snowy conditions even on Christmas Day; a collection of comments from band members and fans about the parade; features about band members; comments from the band’s banquet, and features about band sponsors and supporters such as music arranger Bill Locklear.
In addition, the site hosted videos and nearly a dozen slideshows, featuring photos ranging from the band taken from a media stand on the parade route to the warm reception the members received upon their arrival back at the hotel.
Richard Huffman, a senior trombone player from Hickory, said marching in the parade was an amazing way to finish his marching career. “It’s been really emotional… seeing everyone clapping when we got back,” said Huffman. “We’re always going to be able to say ‘I was in the Rose Parade. I remember that corner. I remember seeing those people.’ I will always have that.”
Visit KTLA-TV’s website to watch video of the WCU band or to see the results of the poll. Also, more video features and photos will be shared in an upcoming feature in the next issue of The Magazine of Western Carolina University.