CHURCH HILL — Volunteer High School’s marching band squeezed a lifetime of experiences into four days during Christmas break, with the main event being a halftime performance on the field during the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
The band chartered two buses and pulled out of Church Hill on the evening of Monday, Dec. 26, driving all night and arriving in Orlando the next morning.
Hopefully they all slept on the bus because they didn’t even check into their hotel rooms until 9 that night.
Upon their arrival, the 93 band members stepped off the bus and onto the field at Camping World Stadium, where they began rehearsal.
Band director Chris Andies said that except when they went to sleep at night, the trip was almost nonstop from there.
“We left here at around 7 p.m. and drove straight from Volunteer High School to Orlando, got off the bus and went into a rehearsal with the mass band,” Andies said. “We had about 1,600 musicians and approximately 400 color guard and dancers on the field.”
After the rehearsal, they went to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure theme park, and then they closed out the day by attending a Blue Man Group concert.
Day two was game day, which began with another mass band rehearsal in the morning.
They were able to watch the first quarter of the game between West Virginia and Miami and after their performance caught the second half of the game, which was won by the Hurricanes.
Andies described the halftime performance as a “surreal experience” for the band members.
“I think they said there were 48,000 people in attendance, which is not a big game considering how many people can fit in Neyland Stadium, but for some of these kids they’ve never played in front of an audience this big,” Andies said. “For me it was a very good experience because they had cameras on the field and I got to see several Volunteer band members on the big jumbotron. Seeing my kids up on the big screen was definitely a cool experience.”
For the halftime show the mass band played “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk The Moon and “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake.
The next day, the band spent the entire day at Universal Studios theme park, and that evening they marched in the park’s Macy’s Holiday Parade.
There were only five bands in the event, and Volunteer was slated to be the fourth one in line. But because they were the first band to be in position and ready to go, they were bumped up to lead the mile-long parade.
“I was kind of bragging to the kids about that, because that showed them when you’re efficient and you show up when you’re supposed to, good things will happen,” Andies said. “So we got to lead the parade out, which really made it an extra special experience. The spectators got to experience us first, and as I followed the band I heard so many people complimenting our band.”
He added, "On one of the main strips it turned into a ticker-tape parade, and all this ticker tape started falling from the sky. That was such a surreal moment because it was completely unexpected."
On Dec. 30, they spent half the day shopping at Disney Springs. They all then boarded the bus and rode to Cocoa Beach, where band members concluded the trip with a beach party.
“There was a resort lined up for us to come in, and they had all kinds of different beach activities along with basketball, tennis courts — and we had a beach cookout that the hotel had prepared for us.”
It was a fun, action-packed four days,and when the band loaded up that evening to begin the ride home, it was apparent that everyone was tuckered out.
“I put ‘Star Wars’ in the DVD player, and it got quiet and stayed quiet all the way back to Tennessee,” Andies said.
The trip created memories that will last a lifetime, but Andies hopes it will be best remembered by his band members for two very memorable performances.
“I would definitely rank these as two of the best performances we’ve done. The excitement level for the Macy’s parade was right up there with the Chicago Thanksgiving parade we did two years ago. A lot of these kids haven’t been able to experience college football before, let alone a bowl game, so I would rank this as one of our top trips.”