This year, the two-hour musical-dance-comedy-history extravaganza commonly called “the Cal Band Spring Show” was on Saturday, April 29 in the Band Rehearsal Hall. As the Masters of Ceremonies, Jason Holiday and Jameson Davis delivered wonderful (and wonderfully self-deprecating) performances. Unfortunately, Jason was a bit under-the-weather, so he hydrated immoderately throughout the evening. Meanwhile, Jameson spent most of his time onstage roasting himself.
The evening began with the Cal Band Big Band, led by Dr. Calonico, which played “Tenor Madness” by Sonny Rollins and “Doin’ the Bathtub Boogie” by Gordon Goodwin. A die-hard trumpet partisan might take umbrage at the fact there were twice as many trombones (6) as trumpets (3), but others might quietly give thanks and praise the good judgment of the director.
The second act managed to satisfy both the pro-trumpet and anti-trumpet factions; it involved the most of the trumpet section—singing a cappella! The song they sang? “Separate Ways,” of course!
Next up, Gina Levine performing stand-up comedy. Her targets included people who don’t hold the door when you’re right behind them—she hopes they find themselves one quarter short while doing laundry—and last year’s Drum Major, Alexander Ewing, whose distinctive voice she likened to a bad Obama impression. Her material was very well-received; her longtime fans only worry this success will encourage her to save her best stuff for live venues and lead to fewer amusing Facebook posts.
Shea Nolan then took the stage to perform some “piano jams.” The premise was fairly straightforward—an audience member would shout out a key, and Shea would improvise in the key. Aside from one joker who repeatedly shouted “E sharp,” the audience was cooperative and engaged, and Shea got a chance to demonstrate his inventiveness, adroitness, and “mad piano skills, bruh.”
The fifth act was… really something else. Eric Yu came up wearing a rubber cow head mask and played clarinet while speakers blasted heavy metal. It was the pre-concert fever dream of a Wisconsinite community orchestra director. It was a Spongebob Squarepants-BoJack Horseman crossover episode. It was Kafkaesque; it was Stanfurdesque; nonetheless, it was glorious.
The Bear Bones Quartet came next with a medley of songs from Moana. The much of the audience sang along during the choruses, and one or two super-fans sang along during the verses. As usual, the difficult task of arranging for trombones a not-so-brassy, vocals-heavy score was handled masterfully.
Then came Rees Parker with an act that was part history lesson, part musical performance. He traced the development of the harmonica from Germany to the American South and constructed an original blues song layer by layer—adding first blues harmonica, then guitar accompaniment, vocals, and a bit of whistling! He may not have dropped the bass like some contemporary songwriters, but he did put down an awesome beat on his shiny metal guitar.
The eighth act was the fan-favorite Cal Band Dance Team, putting the “twerk” in Gesamtkunstwerk. They danced to “Countdown” by Beyoncé, “Lose Control” by Missy Elliott, and “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé. The dedication of the dancers to memorizing and perfecting the choreography was incredible—months ago, during the 2017 PAC-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament, while waiting backstage at the arena before a game, Rikio Inouye was seen rehearsing the steps over and over and over before the bathroom mirror. That level of preparation paid off; the performance was fun and impressive.
After the Cal Band Dance Team, the audience expected a solo bagpipes performance by Alex Walker. They waited and waited, but Alex Walker was nowhere to be seen. Then, suddenly, a full pipe band appeared, marched to the front, and played the best new special versions of Cal Songs since the first verse of “Fight for California” was translated into Dothraki!
What comes next? Well, you see, it is a Hamilton parody. A ton of jokes. Awesome. Wow. It does not feel too played-out somehow. Targeting Jameson—it was slightly mean, but mostly fun. Shea played the piano part, Brandon Chinn took care of drumming, and the rest—they sang with heart!
The grand finale of the Cal Band Spring Show was the fourth installment in the modern Cal Band, the Musical series. This year, renowned librettist, director, and impresario Alexander Hilts (in the interest of full disclosure, the writer should point out he is numerically identical with the aforementioned theatrical mastermind) focused on the experience of the graduating seniors. In the musical, a group of them look back on their time in band. They remember the good (the trip to Asia), the bad (sweaty, sticky hat rehearsals), and the ugly (fireside chat). They fear the future, but an alumna returns to spread the good news—there is a world beyond BRH and the lounge! Together, the seniors march off into the sunset.
All in all, the Cal Band Spring Show was a generally delightful, occasionally bizarre, always interesting time. Oh, and there were snacks. Shout-out to Ad Comm for the popcorn and Red Vines!
-Alex Hilts, Trombone