John Schindler, the band director for Lakewood Ranch High School, can’t wait to see his students' facial expressions as they enter the Caesars Superdome Dec. 31 in Louisiana.
The Marching Mustangs, who are used to performing in front of hundreds of people at Lakewood Ranch High football games, will perform at halftime in front of more than 73,000 college football fans during the Allstate Sugar Bowl Dec. 31 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
“Not everyone gets the opportunity to perform at a national bowl game on New Year's Eve,” Schindler said. “There’s something about being on the field when you’re in a stadium of that size. You look up and there’s just a wall of people. I think the kids will be shocked. I know this will be a memorable experience.”
The Lakewood Ranch High School Marching Mustangs will be in New Orleans Dec. 28 to Jan. 1 to perform in the Sugar Bowl parade on Dec. 30 and during the halftime show Dec. 31 while also visiting historical areas of the city such as Jackson Square and Bourbon Street in the French Quarter.
“They’ll be able to experience the city of New Orleans, the culture and the music,” Schindler said.
The trip includes a dinner cruise on the Mississippi River. Schindler was able to preview the river cruise during a directors trip to New Orleans over the summer, where the directors of the various bands participating in the Sugar Bowl came together.
“It’s a neat experience because they had a little house jazz trio there,” Schindler said. “You get to see the entire landscape of New Orleans when you’re on that cruise. You get to see everything.”
Schindler said he and the band boosters had been looking into a possible trip this year after coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic when the band couldn't travel. The last time the band was able to travel out of state was in 2019 when it participated in the Military Bowl in Washington, D.C.
Schindler wanted to stay in the Southeast so the bus trip wouldn’t be too long, he wanted a trip with a musical link.
It came down to the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Sugar Bowl.
Schindler, the band boosters and the administration ultimately decided on the Sugar Bowl because of New Orleans' musical significance.
Marina Grant, the director of sales for bowl games for WorldStrides, said only up to 12 marching bands are selected to perform at each bowl game. She said the Lakewood Ranch High marching band stood above most of those seeking an invitation.
Grant said when selecting bands, WorldStrides, which is an educational student travel organization, looks at the bands’ quality of sound, past performances, and sheer numbers of members.
“We look to have a mix of bands perform, but especially at the Sugar Bowl we are trying to bring in bands that have quality musicians and a clean show."
She said since the Sugar Bowl is the most prestigious event in their lineup, WorldStrides seeks "the best of the best.”
After listening to the Lakewood Ranch marching band, she described the band in one word.
“Their sound quality is great, but the movement in the marching is fantastic," she said. "We’re excited to showcase them. The director himself has a very impressive resume in both his teaching background and as a performer. It was having the best of both worlds with a quality program and a great director.”
On this trip, Lakewood Ranch High will not only use regular marching band members, but also talented musicians from its other band programs. Approximately 65 students will make the trip.
The trip is voluntary for each student and will cost about $1,800 per student. Schindler said students are responsible for fundraising efforts to lower their individual cost of the trip, but the band boosters will use some general band program fundraising funds to lower the overall cost for every student.
He said students who don’t have marching band experience will learn how to march and dress in marching band uniforms like the marching band students.
The hope is that the non-marching band musicians might have their interest piqued by experiencing the parade and the halftime show and therefore might join the marching band.
Besides performing in front of huge crowds, seniors Nate Van Peenen and Bryce Brielmann and junior Brian McCoy said they’re looking forward to seeing the live performances in and around the streets of New Orleans.
“Everybody who has been to New Orleans told me how good the musicians are,” Brielmann said. “I’m a trombone player, so I’ve heard there’s a lot of really good trombone musicians from there. I’m excited to hear them.”
Grant said performing in the parade, halftime show and other Sugar Bowl activities are a once in a lifetime experience because the Sugar Bowl is one of the highest rated and attended bowl games.
During the parade, she said anywhere between 30,000 and 50,000 people will line the streets.
In the past, the Lakewood Ranch Marching Mustangs have marched in parades such as the Tribute to Heroes Parade in Lakewood Ranch, the DeSoto Grand Parade on Anna Maria Island or even in very small parade such as the one hosted by Esplanade in Lakewood Ranch. Schindler said those parades have helped the band prepare for the Sugar Bowl parade. The focus for the Sugar Bowl, however, won't increase until after the Marching Mustangs have competed in the Florida Marching Band Championships Nov. 19.
During the Sugar Bowl parade, Grant said bands will be able to perform whatever music they choose. The parade will be televised regionally, and each group will be given time to perform in front of the cameras.
“What’s unique about this one is a lot of parades are a forward moving parade, and they don’t want bands to stop,” Grant said. “But they actually will allow the band to stop and perform for a few minutes, so they’ll face the crowd and do whatever they want to perform and have it in the TV zone.”
At the halftime show, Grant said a dozen bands from across the country, including Lakewood Ranch High School, will come together to perform a “Top Gun” themed show.
The bands will be divided by instrument rather than organization to give students an opportunity to mingle with students from across the country. Rehearsals are structured to have breakout sessions with different college adjudicators leading students through practice and helping to hone their skills.
The “Top Gun” show will be the finale of halftime after the bands from the two colleges competing at the Sugar Bowl perform.
Brielmann said he’s a little nervous to perform in front of such a large crowd, but he’s "pumped to have the opportunity."
Schindler emphasized the educational aspects of such a trip and noted that many of his bend members won't be playing their instruments after their high school careers end. However, he also hopes that the experience inspires some of them to want to join marching bands in the colleges they choose.
“I always tell the kids you don’t have to be a music major to be in the marching band (in college),” Schindler said. “Sometimes they have the mindset that if I don’t major in music, I don’t have the opportunity to continue to play my instrument. I have to tell them, a large percentage of college marching band members major in something else. They don’t have to set down their instrument once they graduate from (Lakewood Ranch High.”
VanPeenen and Brielmann said the trip will be one of their final big band opportunities before they graduate.
VanPeenan said he is looking forward to spending time with his band mates, who have become like family to him.
“It’s kind of like a good send off from our senior year,” he said. “It’s bittersweet.”