In some ways, they traveled in style.
They had VCRs and all the movies they wanted. Plenty of food. Snappy outfits in their garment bags and matching new shoes. And they got to sprawl out in six buses, instead of the five they usually fill.
The Cougar marching band arrived in Southern California Saturday to get ready for the Big Daddy of Bowls - drum roll, please - the Rose Bowl. Most of the band looked flat. But who wouldn’t be, after a 24-hour bus ride?
“It’s hard to sleep,” said Ross “The Movie Guy” Montgomery, who carried about 20 movies in his backpack. “There’s either too much heat, or not enough.”
Band members tried to stretch out in aisles or curl up on seats. Many just gave up on sleeping altogether. They watched movies, from “Liar, Liar” to “Better Off Dead.”
Some drum players tapped their drum pads. Some band members made fun of each other, because that’s what they do. One drum major got locked in the bathroom. Another member got motion sickness.
“We just got finished with ‘Shawshank Redemption,”’ said J.R. Salmon, a yawning trumpet player who sported a Burger King kids club crown and a pillow covered in fish. “I’d seen it before. It was kind of boring for a bus ride.”
When the 200 band members and assorted staff piled off their buses here at 2 p.m., some wanted a cold shower. Others wanted a hot shower. They were poster children for Washington State University, a vision in crimson and assorted roses.
Most carried their instruments and uniform bags. One tucked a video camera under her arm.
“This is the most awesome thing that could ever happen to me,” said Jen Havig, who looked like she’d opened the door to Ed McMahon and his millions. “I’m a freshman, so this is unbelievable.”
Many students talked about sleep, but that was just a pipe dream. The Doubletree Hotel immediately took on the flavor of a college dorm, with things sailing through the air, doors flinging open and shut like lazy gunfire, and the sounds of “Growing Pains” reruns filling the halls.
But this trip is not just a bed of roses.
The Rose Bowl is the biggest of them all for marching bands. The Tournament of Roses Parade is 5.5 miles long, almost a Bloomsday. And most of these instruments aren’t light.
Like the football team, the marching band trained hard. A bass drum player carried about 6 gallons of water on his back in Pullman as he walked 45 laps around a running track. A tuba player marched with other band members most every day, up hills, in time to a metronome in her pocket. Sometimes, she carried her 32-pound tuba for the ride.
“So, I’m looking forward to the parade,” said Jen LeRose, with a hint of sarcasm.
This is an Energizer Bunny of a marching band with a five-page itinerary.
The band first practiced at 4 p.m. Saturday. They’ll practice for four hours today, and then they’ll play at Disneyland.
They’ll practice and play at Universal Studios Monday. They’ll play Tuesday at the Kid’s Festival, the Band Fest and the official Cougar Pep Rally. They’ll practice again Wednesday, and small bands will play at the Rose Bowl stadium, Santa Monica and a handful of hotels.
“We’re trying to get these New Year’s parties out of the way early so we can get them tucked in and read them bedtime stories by 10,” said Don Hower, director of the Cougar band.
See, then the schedule gets tough. Band members will roll out of bed at 3:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day. They’ll line up for the Rose Parade at 6 a.m. and start marching two hours later.
After the parade, the band plays during halftime of the Rose Bowl game. They’ll play a space-age mix of themes from the “Star Wars” trilogy and “Independence Day.”
“When you’re going to the biggest thing, you might as well do what you do best,” Hower said. “And aliens are big this year.”
In this band, players are their instruments. A flutist calls herself a flute. A trombone player is a trombone. And a trumpet player is king - just ask Jay Smiley, who could write a dissertation on trumpets.
“The Rose Bowl is not just any bowl,” Smiley announced.
Another player snorted. “Hey, this is my moment to speak my mind,” Smiley retorted.
“You have a mind?” the snorter asked.
“Half a mind,” Smiley admitted.
Anyway, Smiley is 26 and a brassy guy, a leader among trumpets. He said he was slightly stressed. The band’s never played in a stadium as large as the Rose Bowl, which seats more than 100,000.
At least 110 million people will see the Washington State band perform, whether in person or on TV. This is the band’s big chance to shine, a chance to recruit star players in coming years, a chance to compare with Michigan, the Chicago Bulls of bands.
Michigan’s legend is legion, and it grows with every anecdote. The band has 250 members, or maybe 300, but not all of them are coming.
“My God,” said WSU band member Jodi Johnston, who wears a nose ring and lugs a piccolo.
“They have their own building. Not just the music department, but the marching band. We’re good. They’re Michigan. They’re one of the best bands in the nation.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: MARCHING ORDERS Life won’t be a bed of roses for the WSU marching band during its Los Angeles stay. Members face a 10 p.m. curfew on New Year’s Eve, and the following schedule for the morning of Jan. 1, all before performing at the Rose Bowl: 3:30 a.m.: Wake-up call. 4 a.m.: Mandatory breakfast. 5 a.m.: Leave hotel in Santa Monica for cross-town trip to Pasadena. 6 a.m.: Line up for Tournament of Roses Parade. 8 a.m.: Begin parade. Afterward, lunch and bus trip to Rose Bowl.