The persistent precipitation that pounded Pasadena on Wednesday, Dec. 29, was reminiscent of a midwestern winter — a condition so many of this year’s Bandfest participants sought to leave behind when they boarded their planes to head west this week.
Nonetheless, hundreds of the country’s best musicians weren’t going to let a little soaking keep them from strutting. They headed for Robinson Stadium to kick off the annual celebration of the marching bands and drill teams that will perform in Saturday’s Rose Parade.
Bandfest, hosted by the Tournament of Roeses, is traditionally one of the more popular events in the leadup to Pasadena’s New Year’s Day Parade. But this year’s showcase had to weather concerns over the enduring coronavirus pandemic and a day of relentless showers.
In response, marching bands and support teams from such states as Tennessee, Iowa and Pennsylvania bundled up, dressed down and scaled back performances so they would still be able to strut their stuff at Pasadena City College.
In total, nine bands performed during eight performances Thursday, including:
- Arcadia Apache Marching Band and Color Guard;
- Downingtown Blue and Gold Marching Band (East and West editions) ;
- Mira Mesa High School “Sapphire Sound” Marching Band and Color Guard;
- Pasadena City College Tournament of Roses Honor Band and Herald Trumpets;
- The Salvation Army Tournament of Roses Band;
- Tennessee State University Aristocrat of Bands;
- Waukee Warrior Regiment; and
- Northwest Royal Brigade.
Street clothes, plastic ponchos and colorful umbrellas — in the crowd and on the field — replaced the vibrant gameday uniforms usually donned by the bands who traveled hundreds of miles in recent days to march alongside the flower-filled floats that are still being constructed as the final hours leading up to the Rose Parade draw near.
Despite the rain on Wednesday, about 1,000 people attended Wednesday’s event, according to organizers.
The forecast for Saturday’s parade, meanwhile, is for a cold, but dry and sunny morning. No matter the weather, Tournament of Roses officials said this week that the parade and Rose Bowl football game still have the green light — though they are watching the daily coronavirus statistics amid the current winter surge. Los Angeles County reported 16,510 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, one of the highest daily totals of the pandemic.
Style amid the soaking
Water forced some woodwind players and pageant props to the sidelines, joining folks like Northwest Royal Brigade Band Director Chris Strohmaier, who shivered in a soaked sweater.
No matter where they found themselves, though, almost all of the Bandfest participants smiled broadly during the performances — even those who were dancing while drenched, clad in little more than spandex.
That’s because, Strohmaier said, students from the small town of Waukee, Iowa have been waiting two years for the opportunity to perform in Pasadena.
“Last year was supposed to celebrate our last year as a one high-school district,” he said, but the coronavirus pandemic postponed the 2021 trip. Fortunately, the town of 20,000 people was able to send both of its high school bands to perform in this year’s procession down Colorado Boulevard.
The rain eventually lightened during the evening, as did the crowd, but those who stayed until the end were treated to the Aristocrat of Bands, a nickname that resonates throughout the South.
Tennessee State’s Sophisticated Ladies and famed Fantastic Four were united alongside nearly 300 of the school’s marching band members to give Southern California a taste of the Nashville’s trademark Music City funk — which will also be on display at Crypto.com arena this week when the talented Tennesseans perform on the hardwood during a Lakers NBA game.
Tenessee State University Band performs during the Tournament of Roses Bandfest in Robinson Stadium at Pasadena City College in Pasadena on Wednesday December 29, 2021. (Photo by Keith Durflinger, Contributing Photographer)
Complete with booming drumlines and fierce, freestyle dance moves that had the audience screaming, Band Director Reginald McDonald described the performance as one-of-a-kind.
“One of the things about our band is we always try to carry ourselves in a unique way,” McDonald said, highlighting the instrumentalists and dancers who rocked the house just a few minutes prior. “I was a little apprehensive or anxious, if you will, with regards to the way the kids would perform in the weather. But they did a tremendous job, they soaked it all in, everybody got focused, and it was like the rain was a part of the show.”
McDonald encouraged locals to come see Tennessee State University perform during the Rose Parade because bands at historically Black colleges and universities are truly unique.
More to come
Thursday’s second day of Bandfest has been divided into two parts. The first round will begin at 10 a.m. and feature one of the teams who will represent the Big 10 and Pac 12 in this weekend’s Rose Bowl game. The next round begins promptly at 2 p.m. and will include the other university set to play in the “Granddaddy of ‘Em All.” (Which Rose Bowl-bound band will perform in which session? That still wasn’t announced on Wednesday.)
Experts predict Thursday will be another wet day in Pasadena so attendees are advised to bundle up before heading out.
“You’ve probably all heard the term: It never rains in Southern California,” laughed Robert Shen, president of Bandfest sponsor Reemo. “I think we need to add one word to that, which is: It almost never rains in Southern California.”
Shen, Rose Parade President Bob Miller, master of ceremony Grier Ross and other VIPs took to the field to thank all who attended the “rain-soaked day.”
“We thank the kids. We thank the directors,” Shen said. “And last but not least, all of you folks for braving the rain, sitting in the bleachers, cheering these kids on. This event wouldn’t be special without all of you here today.”