I just got back from my trip to Pasadena, California for the Rose Bowl and I wanted to fill my readers in on how it was. I am a member of the Penn State Marching Blue Band (herein referred to as the “Blue Band”) and the University paid for the entire Blue Band to fly out for the Rose Bowl. Below, you’ll get a day-by-day account of my experience. Spanning from December 28, 2008 to January 3, 2009, my trip to the Tournament of Roses was spectacular in every respect.
Sunday December 28, 2008
Members of the Blue Band had to return to State College, PA the day before we actually departed for California to get some rehearsal time in. Since we hadn’t met as a group in 3.5 weeks or so, it was pretty important we got a good rehearsal in. We had rehearsal at Holuba Hall (the football practice facility) at 4:00 PM and again at 7:30. We were given the finalized itinerary for the trip and went over some guidelines for the trip during these practices. In between rehearsals, Clem’s Barbecue catered a fantastic, if gassy dinner consisting of pulled pork, grilled chicken, mac n’ cheese and baked beans. Many of you may not know that Clem’s Barbecue has a strong following in and around Penn State for it’s delicious food. All I’ll say is that I went to bed that night a happy camper with a full belly.
Monday December 29, 2008
The Blue Band is so large, we take up nearly two Boeing 737’s. Because of that, we had two flights destined for California with the Band evenly split between them. I was assigned to the second flight, along with 75% of the trumpet section’s 68 members. Busses left from the East Halls Parking Structure for my flight at around 6:15, with the earlier group leaving the parking deck at around 5:45. We didn’t know it, but both planes had a stopover in Kansas City, Missouri for refueling. As it turns out, State College Airport’s runway is too short for a Boeing 737 to take off with a full tank of gas (the weight is an issue). During our flight, the flight attendants informed us that Miami Air the airline who’s name will go unmentioned messed up on the hot breakfast we were supposed to receive. As this exact thing happened last year when we flew out to the Alamo Bowl, we were pretty disappointed. I know airplane food isn’t known for being all that delicious, but it was a hot breakfast for our bodies that are used to Pennsylvania temperatures.
After we landed in Missouri, we discovered that we weren’t far behind the flight that left before us. After filling up and getting correctly loaded with food, we took off from Kansas City, never to return again during the Bowl Trip. We arrived in Los Angeles via Los Angeles International Airport around 12:15 PST and bussed to the Sheraton Universal Hotel in Universal City, CA. Apparently, the hotel we stayed at just underwent a mult-million dollar renovation and was very high end. Our room (which I shared with 3 other Blue Band members) had two twin beds. Although the room wasn’t huge, it was big enough to sleep all of us comfortably.
We were fed a lunch of sandwiches, chips and apples at the hotel after we got settled into our rooms. At about 3:15, we loaded up the busses to travel to Glendale Community College for our first Californian Blue Band rehearsal. The school had a pretty nice turf field with a surrounding track. It was more than adequate to meet our rehearsal needs. The best part was that it had decadent views of the surrounding Californian hills and mountains. The sun even set behind the mountains during our rehearsal and provided an excellent background for practice. After the sun set it got pretty cool, down to the balmy 55 degree mark (a temperature that is welcomed and wished for during the blustery and cold State College, PA winter).
After practice was over, we went back to the hotel and were responsible for feeding ourselves. We had the option of going up to the Universal Studio’s City Walk where there are tons of restaurants and stores, but my friends and I were too exhausted to walk up there. We ordered a gigantic pizza and almost fell asleep before it arrived. By the time I eventually got to bed, I had been up for more than 20 hours. Those 20 hours included a cross-country flight and a grueling rehearsal.
Tuesday December 30, 2008
We were up early again for another rehearsal with breakfast in the hotel at 6:00 AM. Eggs, bacon and muffins were heartily consumed in the effort to quiet our complaining calf and arm muscles that hadn’t been worked out since the Michigan State game. We got to the practice field at Glendale CC around 8:00 AM after a 45 minute bus ride. We reviewed our Pregame Show, our Halftime Show and procedures for the Parade of Roses (Rose Bowl Parade) over and over. Since it was our last rehearsal before the game, we made every second of practice count.
After rehearsal, we were greeted with a box lunch. At first we scoffed at the idea of a box lunch that didn’t come from the BJC catering service. What many people don’t know is that the Blue Band is fed a box lunch before every home game that includes a sandwich (ham, turkey, roast beef or veggie), chips, Gatorade, fruit and most importantly, a cookie. Blue Band members covet our gameday cookies. About 6 inches across and incredibly soft, most save it for during the game. The trick is to place the cookie next to your body so that by the time you are ready to eat it, it is warm, gooey and delicious. The non-traditional box lunch ended up being a bit hit due to the quality of the sandwich. And although the lunch didn’t include a cookie nearly as delicious as the ones we eat on gameday, most of us couldn’t help but to enjoy it. (I’ll stop talking about lunch now…)
During lunch, we were driven to Disneyland in Anaheim, CA for a pep rally and admission into the park. When we got onto the Disneyland property, we passed the busses containing the USC Band. Unsurprisingly, we found their behavior to be pretty unclassy. As they drove past us, we were given about 100 middle fingers and were mooned by about 12 people. From our discussions with other bands from Big 10 schools and across the country, we knew that the USC band was pretty fowl. They have been known to steal other band’s equipment like uniforms, drums, instruments. It wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t kidnap a member of another band.
We changed in a Disneyland official dressing room that was located behind the actual theme park. It was pretty cool because we got to see a “behind the scenes” view of Disneyland. We were told not to even get our cameras out, because the Disney staff would confiscate it. I guess they don’t want any pictures of a person in a half-assembled Mickey Mouse costume. Pictures would scare small children. We assembled in our Parade lines and marched into the park via a side access road. Our pep rally was performed at the entrance of the park in front of Penn State and USC fans alike. The whole pep rally lasted less than 10 minutes and we marched back to the busses to get changed for the remainder of the day in the park.
We were given “total access” passes, giving us free rein to traverse Disneyland and the California Adventure theme park located next to Disneyland. A cast member told me that the passes were valued at around $91. Since we performed, the Blue Band and cheerleaders were all let in for free. My friends and I rode a ton of rides and saw some pretty awesome shows. We reported back to the busses around midnight to return to the hotel to get some sleep.
Wednesday December 31, 2008- New Years’ Eve
Thankfully, we got to sleep in a little bit on the 31st and were treated to a breakfast at the Hard Rock Cafe. It wasn’t too terribly good, but my standards aren’t really too high. We had free time to nap, visit the Citywalk at Universal Studios, eat lunch or hang out until about 2:00.
The Blue Band arrived in full uniform at Beverly Hills High School for a Pep Rally. I’m told that there were upwards of 30,000 people on the grounds for the Pep Rally. The Blue Band played our Pregame show and some other tunes that we generally play in the stands during home games. Appearance by alumni association personnel, Graham Spanier and Coach Joe Paterno made the Pep Rally a huge hit. After the Pep Rally was over (around an hour) we loaded back on the busses to get back to the hotel to change into our windsuits (our alternate uniform) to perform at Universal Studios. We played for a smallish group of Penn State fans in the Universal Studios themepark and then were given wristbands for free entrance to the park and unlimited food.
Upon further investigation, the unlimited food wristband was only good for a small handful of restaurants, all but one of which were closed. As the 300 members of the Blue Band scrambled to find this restaurant, the New Year quickly approached. Universal Studios (along with probably the University/Alumni Association) hosted a New Year’s party with a DJ, dancing, drinks and the like. I found out that people in California celebrate New Year’s at 9:00 PM, when it is midnight in New York. Californians watch the ball drop, then generally drink until it turns midnight in their timezone, and they celebrate again. After the ball dropped and it was New Year’s on the right coast, we finished up our dinner and rode the two rides that were open in the section of the park that we were in. The Mummy ride and the Jurassic Park ride were pretty sweet and my group and I rode them about 15 times.
We left around 10:30 to get back to the hotel in time for Blue Band staff to make their rounds to make sure everyone was accounted for and got a good night’s sleep for the long day ahead.
Thursday January 1, 2009 -GAMEDAY-
My roommates and I were awoken by a simple automated phone call at around 5:00 AM. As we scrambled to get our uniforms on and find everything we would need for the day, we took turns getting each others instruments from the moving van. We departed the hotel for the Parade Site with a boxed breakfast in hand at around 6:30 AM.
My very favorite part of the entire trip was the Parade portion. From the time we arrived near the parade staging area to the time we got on the busses to depart for the Rose Bowl stadium, I was amazed on how efficient and exciting the whole situation was. Our busses pulled up to a line of at least two dozen other charter busses carrying other bands that would march in the parade. One by one, each bus would unload its musical cargo and depart immediately. I don’t think I ever saw a bus idle for more than five minutes.
We walked up an on-ramp from the empty stretch of highway below and were told not to play until we got off the overpass. This was due to the fact that we would have spooked the horses underneath the overpass. There were at least 25 portable toilets available lined up on the side of this overpass and they were full of people the entire time we were on the bridge. We were right behind a decently large high school band and a few bands behind the USC Band which we could hear fairly well. We crept farther and farther up the street connected to the overpass as bands entered the parade route at a 90 angle, merging with floats and other parade attractions. It eventually came time for us to merge onto the parade route, and as we turned onto it, a B-2 Stealth Bomber flew overhead leaving a trail of bone chattering vibration in the air.
Due to the Parade of Roses rules, we had to play constantly for the first one-half mile of the parade. This first half-mile included the 110 degree right hand turn which was conveniently located immediately after the television cameras and announcers. We had exhaustively practiced this turn during our rehearsals and navigated the turn with relative ease. Since I was in the front, right hand corner of the parade formation, I was on national television for a few seconds during the Blue Band TV coverage. I was lucky enough to have been able to watch a recorded version of the parade to see myself when I returned home.
The Parade of Roses parade route is 5.5 miles on relatively flat, straight pavement. The coolest part was that both sides of the street were completely packed with people during the entire length of the parade. I was told there were 2 million people packed along the streets of the parade route. Although I heard my share of taunts and insults from USC fans, many said things like, “happy new year” or “welcome to California” or “holy hell, your band is much better than ours.” I was pretty ecstatic to hear those things, especially from opponents.
During the parade, the Blue Band staff went from row to row giving us a mouthful of water at a time. Red Cross staff were also on hand to assist anyone that was having problems. There were also parade personnel dressed in completely white suits every so often along the parade route to help someone that could not physically make it. I heard a statistic from one official saying that on average, only two bands make it all the way through the parade without having one of their members drop out of the parade. I am pleased to report that other than some sunburn and some sore muscles, the entire Blue Band reached the end of the parade without any difficulty.
After the parade was over, we walked back over to the busses where we enjoyed a delicious In and Out Burger and what seemed like gallons of water. Our trip to the stadium from the bus parking lot was expedited by Pasadena Police Forces which provided a police escort for the entire duration of the trip to the Bowl Site. We played a quick pep rally (similar to what we do in the BJC before every homegame) at an alumni tailgating event. The weirdest part was when I realized the Rose Bowl parking lot was actually a golf course. After talking with some older alumni and getting thanked by many of them, we departed for the stadium which was pretty close to where we performed at the pep rally.
After waiting for a good twenty minutes, the Blue Band finally got seated in the first several rows of a corner of our endzone. We were immediately opposite the USC band and could only partially hear them. Since we were performing first for Pregame, we left the stands and were given the go-ahead to get in position to march onto the field. With thirty minutes left in the pregame warmup clock, the drum major marched triumphantly onto the field accompanied by the drumline. After his signal whistle was heard clearly over the mostly full stadium, the pregame show had begun.
After one of my better Pregame Show performances, the Blue Band returned to to the stands to allow the USC band to take the field. They played their pregame show (which was pretty boring), the national anthem (a terrible arrangement) and exited the field. We also had a B-2 Stealth Bomber flyover after the national anthem was played. It was really something special.
I won’t really go in-depth about the game since it still depresses me a little bit. But if you want to get a blow by blow account of what happened, click here. The link takes you to the result of the live-blogging of the game. The author is affiliated with the Collegian and sat in the Press Box during the game.
Our halftime show went really well and we definitely outplayed and outperformed the USC band. Our show was based on the hits of the British rock band Queen. We played Fatbottom Girls, Bohemian Rhapsody, Bicycle Race, Somebody To Love, We Are The Champion. Our music was more exciting, better sounding and louder than theirs was. I apologize if some of this post includes some USC bashing, but it’s hard to help myself after what happened in our exchanges.
The game ended with a sobering loss of 38-24. Although disappointed, member of the Blue Band were still upbeat from the Parade. We departed the stadium and headed back to the hotel where we would later be treated to a buffet at the Hard Rock Cafe.
Friday January 2, 2009
We were up early again on Friday to depart California. Busses for the two flights left at 7:45 and 8:30 respectively. My bus (and those of us on the second flight) arrived at the airport to find that the first group of busses for the first flight had not even gotten on the tarmac. Apparently there was some kind of mix-up unlocking the gate to the tarmac. To make matters worse, the TSA security team was being audited during our pre-flight screening so they hand-checked every bag and wanded every one of us. We eventually all got on the plane and departed for what would be a four hour flight. We had the jet stream and a full tank of jet fuel to take us right to State College in a shorter time than it had taken us to get to California.
My ride back to Virginia and I decided that it would be a good idea to leave the next morning since we were both so exhausted.
Saturday January 3, 2009
After a record-setting drive back to NoVA in almost 3.5 hours, I returned home to unpack and think about the fantastic trip I had just taken. Many thanks to the Blue Band and Penn State University for making it all happen!
If you have questions or comments, be sure to leave them in the comments section.