It was on October 22nd, 2015, the Cal vs. UCLA game, when I experienced one of the most stressful days in my time as a Cal Band member.
The day started average enough; it was a typical hot Southern California day, one that a SoCal native such as myself would recognize. It was a heat compounded by anticipation, the thick uniforms, the dry air, and the fact that I had been accustomed to the far more temperate climate of the Bay Area. But other than that, it was business as usual; Cal fans were hopeful to make the most of UCLA’s current losing streak, beat their “little bears” of the South. Personally, it was not so much the game I was looking forward to as it was the halftime show. Dubbed “The Downfall of Troy,” the joint show involved both the UCLA and Cal bands, united by their mutual disdain of USC, to dress up as Greeks and Trojans to depict the legendary Trojan War. It is a show done every four years by UCLA and the visiting marching band, and this time we received the distinct honor of ragging on the USC Trojans. While most of my fellow bandsmen would be portraying the Greeks, a fair number of us, myself included, were given the difficult duty of representing the Trojans that both teams despised so much. I was enthusiastic to perform this show and “act,” far more so than with any other show I had done.
That afternoon, the Cal and UCLA bands met up and practiced the show, and while we all held different levels of seriousness for this show, the ultimate result was a performance that I knew would be extremely popular and entertaining to the fans. With so many of us on the field, I could tell that the real thing would become extremely chaotic – and that was particularly interesting. Cal Band shows are generally pretty straightforward and scripted in specific ways, at least in my experience, but this show seemed highly improvised, especially when it came to form and movement. It held a certain charm, distinct from other performances. . The thought of how the fans would react to such a humorous and exciting show filled me with a great anticipation, further solidified by the similar excitement on the faces of my fellow bandsmen. With this anticipation in my mind and my spirits high, the band headed to the Rose Bowl, where our destiny awaited us.
And, as we all saw that night, our hopes and anticipations…were utterly crushed.
It would be accurate to state that our football team performed far worse than many had expected. espite this, we played on, and we continued to support our team, even as they trailed more and more, and continued to make more and more mistakes. We were in “enemy territory”, and were heckled and booed off the field after we had finished our pregame show. I had expected as much, and as such I was not shaken by it, even if I was far more used to being cheered off by our supportive fans. No need to feel bad about trying to cheer our own team on; it is the very reason Cal Band exists. We could only move forward and play our hearts out, for it was not the points that mattered, but our determination to continue to fight; such is the duty and struggle of a spirit team.
By the time we went onto the field for the halftime show, the score was a depressing 26-10, and some of us seemed already conceded to defeat. But, even if the game’s prospects were running at an all-time low, I put that aside for a moment to let loose and really have fun. That is why I became a Cal Band member, after all; I enjoy performing music, and I strive to make people smile. Even as I donned my despicable Trojan costume, I proudly marched into battle; the show had begun, and it ran without a hitch. Fueled by adrenaline and pride, I charged at the Greeks, my wooden sword in hand, my friends beside me; what an experience! The show was so free in regards to movement, action, and form, I did not feel that sense of nervousness that often accompanies other halftime shows I have done. And most importantly, bonded by common contempt for USC, the crowd loved us! It is these kinds of moments that, to me, make being a Cal bandsman so gratifying. With everyone, Cal and UCLA fans alike, cheering us on, I felt so very joyful and proud to be in the marching band. I felt so happy that I could put on a great show for everyone.
But I found, in the end, it was still impossible to satisfy everyone. My happiness was, unfortunately, fleeting.
Perhaps it was a lack of context, perhaps a miscommunication of our intents, or maybe even a violation of tradition, but our supporters back on the home front…hated it. California Golden Blogs, the leading fan page for the Golden Bears said on twitter “Cal band is dressed in red. This is embarrassing.”It was a sentiment shared not only by the fans but by some Cal Band alumni, who also criticized our use of red on the Trojan costumes. I could understand if we wore these costumes in any other context, but given that our costumes were worn for the sake of parody, I was confused and hurt. I tried to shrug it off, but I found that shaking off the spiteful words was much harder than I imagined. How could the Cal Band, which has collectively strived to support our football team through thick and thin, be seen as a disgrace to the university? Why would our fans turn their backs on us, when we never turned our backs on them? By the end of the third quarter, all hopes of a comeback seemed all but lost, and after hearing of the hateful comments, everyone was just flat-out tired. Tired of playing, tired of holding on to hope, tired of standing up in the stands, and most of all, tired of losing. Some of us simply ignored the game from then on, not even responding to any changes in the score; another group of us, angered by California Golden Blogs’ response to the show, retaliated at the backlash. And sadly, I think that most of us just did not care anymore. It would be a lie if I said I was not feeling these sentiments as well
By the time the game was over I could think of nothing but the idea that the band had not lived up to the standards of our fans. When approached by fellow bandsmen about the fan response, I pretended to laugh it off and act like I didn’t care. In the end I tried to convince myself that people would forget it ever happened. I held onto hope that the fans simply missed the context of the show, but self-doubt convinced me that the fans would have known that the show was parody, and that despite that, the fans still strongly disagreed with our costume choices. With all these thoughts spinning in my head, I could not sleep on the bus that night. The whole experience, intended to be fun and enjoyable, was soured. And at first I felt I had no one to blame but myself.
But I realized something in the days following the game. Those feelings I felt during the halftime show – that anticipation, the thrill, the utter joy I felt as the fans cheered us off the field…it was all real. The smiles on the faces of my friends as we charged the wall, the laughing we did as we walked off the field. Regardless of what any singular person or group had said, I could truly say that not only did I have fun, but the Cal Band had collectively done what we had set out to do – bring a driving force of support to our fans and the Golden Bears. I realize that it is always going to be impossible to appease every single fan out there, but it is okay, because we put our full effort into our performances. hough I cannot speak for all 200+ of us in Cal Band, I think we are all proud of what we managed to accomplish, even if we did not win the football game or win favor with all of our fans that night. Because for us in Cal Band, it is not about scores or tweets. It is about far more than that.
It is about being a proud member of the Golden Bear family.
- Dean Caudill