Our First Band of America Experience

(You can see more of my tweets on my Twitter stream).

This weekend taught me two things:

1. Our community needs to get more excited about our high school marching band (why? Because I said so, that’s why. *grin*)

2. I’m WAY too emotionally invested in our high school marching band.

The name of the game this past weekend? Beat the clock. We managed to stay juuuuust ahead of schedule – and when I say juuuuust ahead, I mean juuuuust.

Let’s back up a bit:

Jazz had a marching band competition this past weekend in St. Louis – the Band of America competition, to be precise. And let me just say, if you think marching band is nothing more than simple marching and playing music …

You would be wrong. OH WOULD YOU BE WRONG.

But it’s okay, it’s a common misconception. Unless you have a kid in marching band and/or you’ve attended some of these competitions, you wouldn’t know any better.

Heck, I didn’t know any better UNTIL we attended the Valhalla competition a few weeks ago.

These competing bands not only get out there and march, they tell a story. They take three musical pieces and weave a visual representation that not only entertains, it’s artistic in nature.

I thought our show was good … oh my Lord, we’ve got a pretty plain show compared to many bands.

There are PROPS, and FANCY COSTUMES, and in some cases, even the band members get in on the drama. It’s absolutely fascinating to watch and so worth the money if you ever decide to go to an event.

Saturday morning, I woke Jazz up at 5:45 a.m. He needed to be at the school by 7:00 to help load up the buses. Getting Jazz up is not a problem – he’s a morning person and he just perks right up if you give him about five minutes to wake up.

He got up, ate breakfast and together, we went through the checklist of things he needed to take:

His uniform (of course)
Black socks
Gauntlets (the fancy things he wears on his sleeves)
Duffel bag with a change of clothes, toiletries and snacks.
Cell phone


When we arrived at the school, there were four huge coach buses waiting. It was pretty impressive and you could FEEL the kids’ excitement. I dropped him off (with some trepidation – this would be his first overnight school trip and I was a little nervous), and raced back home to get ourselves ready.

Why? Because we were also going to Band of America. Are you kidding me? I’m INTO this stuff. I thoroughly enjoy watching these talented kids not only play some spectacular music, but watch the fabulous shows they put on WITH the music.

Me, Kevin and Dude got on the road about 9:30. We figured we were about two hours behind Jazz.

The weather was a bit overcast, but otherwise, a good day to travel. Our trip to St. Louis was uneventful (which is how I like our road trips to be, thank you very much.)

We reached St. Louis about 1:00 p.m. Our kids were scheduled to play at 2:30. We thought WE were cutting it close. As we were passing by several buses, my cell phone suddenly went off. Since I was driving, Kevin answered (because I practice what I preach – NO CELL PHONES WHILE DRIVING).

It was Jazz. And coincidentally, the buses we passed? WERE THEIRS!! And I thought WE were running late! Our guys had to unpack, set up in the practice area, practice and then perform all under an hour and a half?!

I freaked out a little for them.

We finally found a place to park and located the place to pick up our tickets. (I had purchased me and Kevin’s tickets ahead of time, but we still needed to buy Dude’s. We had to buy his at the ticket office so we could get the student discount – which was substantially cheaper than full price).

After we got out tickets, we went into the Edwards Jones’ Dome. (This is where the St. Louis Rams play, if you don’t know). We were dutifully impressed. The place was HUGE.

We found some seats (which wasn’t easy, the place was PACKED), and settled in. Since we had arrived so late, we hadn’t had time to grab something to eat and Kevin and Dude were ravenous, but it was so close to the time our kids were scheduled to play, that they stuck around long enough to watch them.

These are our kids coming onto the field.

Here they are setting up to begin.

Here are some performance shots.




I’ll be honest, it was the worst performance I’ve seen from them yet. They were out of alignment, they were not marching in sync and the moves were awkward and stilted. The Color Guard girls also messed up.

I knew in my heart, they probably wouldn’t make finals.

After their performance was over, Kevin and Dude went to grab something for lunch at the concession stands. Since our kids played so late in the day, there were only about five more bands scheduled before prelims were over.

The guys came back with a bratwurst, a slice of pizza, a pretzel for me, and two drinks. Guess how much all of that cost.

Twenty-five dollars!!!! And it was easily the WORST the pretzel I’ve had in my entire life. It tasted like stale plastic — which is an educated guess because of course, I’m not prone to routinely chewing on stale plastic.

The guys said their food was equally horrible and the drinks were terribly watered down. Lesson learned – we will not be eating at the dome anymore. Geez louise.

Prelims finished at 4:30 and as I predicted, our kids didn’t make finals. But since I knew the kids were scheduled to come back to watch the finals, I had gone ahead and purchased finals tickets. Though we were looking forward to watching the final bands perform, our hearts weren’t really into it.

Finals were scheduled to begin at 7:00, so we had plenty of time to grab some dinner (we ended up getting off on the wrong highway and found ourselves at a Steak N’ Shake and since we didn’t really have time to drive around inner St. Louis and get even more lost, we ate there), go back to our hotel, check in and move our stuff into our room.

We ended up staying at the Drury Inn next door to the Dome. Quite frankly, when Kevin suggested that particular hotel, I fought him on the idea. RIGHT next door to the dome? First of all, we’d be lucky to get a room (to my utter surprise, we did), but I predicted that there would be a bunch of kids from the bands staying there and it would be terribly noisy and not conducive to a good night’s sleep … but once again, I was wrong. Our hotel couldn’t have been more perfect. It was SO NICE not to have to get back into the car at midnight and drive to our hotel, we simply walked next door – it was awesome.

The room was also very nice and if you’ve ever stayed at Drury Inns, you know they have an AWESOME breakfast buffet. We will definitely be staying there for future competitions.

We arrived back at the dome in time to watch the final bands. These bands simply took my breath away. A few bands that stuck out:

  • One band paid tribute to Elvis
  • Another band didn’t have flashy props or Color Guard, but their formations were tricky and there were points where the band was RUNNING to get into perfect alignment, it was quite impressive.
  • Another band told the story of the Berlin Wall coming down. The band began their show by marching onto the field like the Hitler German army used to march. It was quite shocking, but made total sense given the rest of the show.
  • One band actually had band members lowering their instruments and singing. That was cool.
  • One band paid tribute to Japanese culture. Their Color Guard girls were dressed up in the traditional kimonos and used fans as their props – another spectacular show.
  • But the pièce de résistance of the evening was hands down, the Broken Arrow band in Oklahoma (in fact, a lot of the bands that made finals were from Oklahoma). First of all, the band is HUGE. I overheard one woman say they had 267 kids and that was only HALF of them. Overall, they have over 400 band members and have actually had to break their band up into two teams (I also researched the band when I got home, their kids actually audition to be in band. Any of the kids that are interested in playing in our band are allowed to do so. AND people in Broken Arrow make a bigger deal out of band than the rest of their sports – which personally I think is warranted. But I’m biased. 🙂 )

    Secondly, the Color Guard girls donned long, black tails, yes tails (the piece was something to do with Raptors – though the tails looked like snake tails to me), and “lured” the band members into their trance. They seduced them to give up their instruments, in essence. I was a bit disturbed by the overall sexual connotations and the whole temptress theme, but I must admit, seeing all of those tails wiggling out on the field, it looked like a snake pit out there. And the band didn’t march off the field at the end of their performance, the sirens lured and teased them off the field by taking their instruments away from them. It was quite spectacular and not at all something you would expect to see at a marching competition. The music was also very seductive and eerie. Broken Arrow ended up winning the entire competition and I must say, rightly so. They were really something to watch.

In comparison, our kids’ show is pretty traditional and blah. But I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable with them doing the kind of show the Broken Arrow band performed. Though the show was impressive, unique and interesting, it was dark and I didn’t like the underlying message behind the performance. I’m not sure that show was inspired by all things good, if you catch my drift.

I couldn’t believe the fan support for Broken Arrow. Nearly half the stadium was there to cheer them on! And judging by their props and costumes, they have a lot of monetary support from the community. I wish our community would put more energy into the band (our website doesn’t even mention them!!) as opposed to sports. No offense to the sports enthusiasts out there.

I do hope that our band director takes something away from this — I hope our show next year is a bit more … well, showy. We’re going to have to be in order to be serious contenders, I think.

Again, I’ll be honest. I was jealous of these other bands. They were really quite impressive and that makes me all the more determined to see our kids at least make the finals in the next three years that Jazz is in band. I really want them to bring home some trophies and the fact that I’m THAT into this sort of thing confuses me. I’m not usually quite this passionate about something, but I don’t know, these kids work so hard, I just really want them to leave a lasting impression. I’ll tell you what Jazz thought about the performance later.

Sixty-two bands performed and only 14 make it to finals. That means our kids only have a 22% chance of making finals. Those aren’t great odds, but not impossible. We’ll see if we can’t do a little better next year.

When it was time to announce the winners of the competition, they had all of the bands come out onto the field. It was quite something to see them all lined up, in various modes of dress and colors.

Here they are coming out onto the field.

Here are all the drum majors lined up and waiting to hear results.

And here they are on the jumbo-trons. (Did I mention there were two jumbo-trons? They were fun to watch, too. They would zoom in on the kids and then pan out so you could see the formations – very cool).

As I mentioned, Broken Arrow won. They won quite a few awards, actually. Unfortunately, our kids left before the awards were presented so they didn’t see all of the bands out on the field. That was disappointing. When we showed these pictures to Jazz, he acted like he would have liked to have seen that.

We headed to back to Springfield at about 9:30 again the next morning. We were a bit stressed because I knew the kids were scheduled to take off for home at about 9:00 a.m. and we wanted to beat Jazz home, otherwise, we’d have to call a family member to come pick him up and keep him until we got home.

Coincidentally, the hotel they ended up staying at was right off I-44 (which is our route home), and as we passed the hotel, we noticed that the buses were still in the parking lot. Whew! We were ahead of them.

However, I noticed that my low tire light had come on, so we stopped to check them (all of them needed air – I love that low-tire indicator!) and get gas. We got back on the road and it wasn’t thirty minutes later that we noticed we were BEHIND Jazz’s buses.

What?! How did that happen?

At any rate, we soon passed them (we called Jazz to see if he could see us passing them – he didn’t see us) and once again, whew! We were ahead of the game.

I soon lost track of them and I assumed they were going to pull over and have some lunch on the way back. So, we got into Springfield at about 12:15 and went straight to Wendy’s to grab some lunch. We had just gotten our food and were pulling out of Wendy’s when my cell phone went off and again (because I’m setting an example to Dude here!), I asked Kevin to answer it.

It was Jazz – he was back in town!! So that meant we were literally fifteen minutes ahead of him – we couldn’t have cut it any closer if we tried!

So, I turned back around and we went through the drive-thru again to get Jazz something to eat since they did not stop for lunch.

We arrived at the school in time to see all of the kids getting off the buses and grabbing their gear.

I helped Jazz gather his stuff and made sure he took his instrument back into the school and secure it before we took off for home.

I still can’t believe we only beat him home by 15 minutes. (I was a little freaked out about that).

To my surprise, Jazz wasn’t that tired. He said he and the guys (he roomed with three of his buds), actually went to bed at 1:00 a.m. and were back up at 6:30, so they got about five hours of sleep. Jazz also said that he and his buddies pooled some of their money and left a tip and a note in their room thanking the management for allowing them to stay in their hotel.

I thought that was incredibly sweet and mature of them.

Jazz said he had a blast and though he was disappointed they didn’t make finals, he wasn’t surprised. He knew they had performed badly. In fact, he said that one of the tuba players actually fell, which none of us saw happen. He bent the tuba, too. *cringe* Actually, Kevin and I saw quite a few band members (from other bands, not from Jazz’s band), trip and fall down. I saw one person fall so heavy that she actually slid across the field. Poor thing.

When I asked Jazz why he thought they did so poorly he said that everyone was sort of freaked out by the venue. He said that the jumbo-trons were incredibly distracting and the field judges were so close to them they got nervous (the judges actually walked/ran into the middle of their formations. They had some sort of microphone strapped to their chests and were talking into them. I can see why this would be distracting!)

I also think that the fact that they got there so late and had to rush to get ready and rush through their practice threw their stride off, too. And Jazz also told me that a lot of the band this year are freshmen, which explains a lot, actually.

Anyway, it was a learning experience and the kids had a ball – that is all that really matters in the end.

The kids go back to the dome in St. Louis this Saturday for the Greater St. Louis festival. They are competing against a lot of the same bands (though not Broken Arrow, thank goodness), so it’ll be interesting to see how they do given they now know what to expect. I’m not sure if we’ll go or not – I’d like to, but another trip to St. Louis? Ugh, I don’t know.

In the meantime, I need to drop his uniform off at the cleaners today (it’s pretty dusty), and try and find some fabric glue so I can hem his pants a little better. I had been using safety pins, but it just looks tacky – I need a more professional-looking alternative. But it can’t be permanent because the uniforms are passed on from year to year so …

Thanks for sticking it out with me. I know this post is super long but I wanted to make sure I documented the experience – it’ll be fun to go back and read WHEN our kids win future competitions. (I’m very optimistic!)