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With Marching Bands Sidelined, College Campuses Lack The Pomp Of Fall

University of Wyoming Western Thunder Marching Band / Facebook

This time of year usually means the start of college football. Not this year. Without game days and big crowds of tailgaters, college towns across the Mountain West and beyond look different - and sound a lot different, too.

"We spend probably at least eight or so hours a day on game days playing for fans," says Kaycee Stevenson, a member of the University of Wyoming marching band known as the Western Thunder. "So without the bands on game days, it would be awfully quiet."

Like today. Stevenson and I are sitting outside War Memorial Stadium, and the only sound filling the air is the wind blowing against the flagpole and the motors of a few university lawnmowers.

Since Stevenson is a senior this year, so it was especially difficult when the Mountain West conference cancelled its fall sports season.

"I broke down, like, it was absolutely devastating," she says.

Plus, Stevenson has an important job in the band.

"This past season was my first season as head drum major and it was a dream come true," she says.

It's up to Stevenson to lead the entire band, directing them what to play and when to play it. There are a lot of moving parts - literally - plus a lot of work that needs to get done before anyone steps on the field.

"You have your wind line, which includes all of the wind instruments," she says. "They have to learn music, memorize music, learn their drill, memorize where they're going and putting all of that together. And then you have the drumline, who they spent hours upon hours perfecting every little stroke and everything."

The drumline has to memorize its music and moves as well. And let's not forget the auxiliary line - visual performers such as dancers and baton twirlers.

"So it's a lot of working parts to put on just that eight-minute halftime show," she says.


The Big Sky conference called off its fall sports season, too. Cannon Shane is a student at the University of Montana and a member of the Grizzly Marching Band.

"I kind of had a feeling that it was going to happen, or they would push it to the spring - just was uncertain as to how the season would look since our main performance venue was the football games," Shane says.

Shane says so much of marching band is about really energizing the crowd and the team. On game days, everything revolves around that.

"Usually if the kickoff is at 1 p.m., the band meets at 9 a.m. We have a rehearsal. We work on last minute edits of our show. We do something called GrizWalk here."

That's where the band lines up along the sidewalk outside the athletics building. They form a kind of musical tunnel for the players to walk through on their way to the stadium to warm up. Cannon says it usually draws a pretty good crowd of fans who dance around and cheer for the players and the band.

But Shane's favorite song to play is actually one you might recognize from the radio.

"'Shut Up And Dance.' That's a really unique arrangement. It's fun to play, especially the piccolo part," they say.

That's popular with a lot of college bands. https://youtu.be/WXWV_inqoDg" target="_blank">Here's one rendition.

Shane says the Grizzly Marching Band is trying to come up with other ways to play for fans. Somewhere that's still outdoors, but in smaller groups.

Credit Kaycee Stevenson
"Throwback to right after we beat Mizzou last season because today should have been our home opener." - Kaycee Stevenson

Western Thunder in Wyoming is trying to do that, too. But in the meantime, Kaycee Stevenson says she's been reflecting back on some of her favorite marching band memories, including conducting the University of Wyoming classic 'Cowboy Joe' after the Cowboys beat Mizzou last season.

"There's a picture of me, actually. I'm conducting and I'm just grinning from ear to ear and like, just, one of the best feelings ever."

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Maggie Mullen, at mmullen5@uwyo.edu.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.
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