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Off Beat Empire: Should Bands have to Play Thanksgiving Weekend?

91st Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

As everyone is making their plans for Getaway Day, I just wanted to raise the questions about whether or not Marching Band members should be playing in their respective games for Thanksgiving weekend. Prior to the advent of the 12-game schedule, this wasn’t a concern for many. Throughout my entire career at Northwestern, I never had to give up a trip home for Thanksgiving, and it was always a welcome break and chance to re-engage with family and friends. However, that isn’t the case for the current crop of Marching Band members. Half of the B1G Marching Bands will be in action... actually, probably more than half as I believe that Michigan and OSU travel to each others’ “Game” and I could see perhaps rivals like Purdue and Indiana travelling for that game.

Many college students aren’t that far from home and getting a ride to-and-from school on Thanksgiving Day isn’t much of a stretch. However, that isn’t the case for everybody... particularly at a school like Northwestern. I figure that at least 20% of every Marching Band lives outside of comfortable driving distance, and in the case of Northwestern, that was probably more like 70%+. I considered myself fortunate in that I was from the Detroit area and it was only a ~5 hour drive if my parents would pick me up, or (more often) at least an AmTrak train could get me to Ann Arbor (AmTrak is another story... if you get just slightly off schedule, you can end up waiting an extra 4-5 hours for freight trains). I always felt sorry for the kids who had to fly and the travails that they would go through to see just how many people could pack into the same cab to O’Hare just to save on fare (seven with luggage was the best I’ve ever seen). At least it was worth it for a four-day break, but there’s no way you can ask a student to go through that hassle for what will maybe be a day or two time with family, and I sincerely doubt that there is even the opportunity to do so for current Marching Band members, who are probably practicing on at least Tuesday and then doing some run-through on Friday (if not actually on Thanksgiving for Iowa and Nebraska).

Is this fair? It is true that Marching Band members chose to be a part of their respective season, so they know going in what their requirements are. You figure that as long as you don’t travel for the last game, it will only happen twice in a four-year span. I don’t know the exact details, but I’m sure that the Bands arrange for some special Thanksgiving dinner among themselves and I can even imagine that for some it becomes a bonding moment. Besides, it’s not like the Football team is allowed to go home, either (and they never get Thanksgiving off), nor the spirit squad... there are a lot of students in the same boat.

Still, when you take a look at the number of empty seats in most seasons in Champaign for the final day, or Piscataway, or College Park, or even Northwestern during good years... I think we should ask if it is really worth it to have the Band there. Several schools (Northwestern being one of them) are willing to open the season without necessarily putting the Band on the field because classes haven’t started yet. It’s not great not having the band in the stands, but it’s not the end of the world, either. Do the Illini really need to perform the “Three-in-One” one final time in the midst of a hopeless 3-9 season? I know that this might mean losing a “last game at home” for the seniors, but you can always celebrate a week or two earlier (and maybe save a few extra weeks on a bad season).

Anyway, I don’t know if it is a combination of being sick and miserable right now (really bad sore throat) and this being the first year in many that I won’t be able to travel to family for Thanksgiving (my Mom has been at my place for the last week-and-a-half, and she did prepare a full meal on last Thursday of which there are still many leftovers - I really love her) or lamenting over the horrible season that Northwestern has put in (still... HAT! HAT! HAT!), but I’m kind of feeling right now that it’s not fair for the schools and the conference to put this burden on hundreds of students just for a Football game. Anyway, I would be interested to hear from those who have had their holiday interrupted and let me know if you really felt you were giving something up, or you just had enough fun with your fellow band members to make it worth it.


Should Bands Play on Thanksgiving Weekend

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    Absolutely, you signed up for this
    (35 votes)
  • 13%
    Yes, because I’m a member of a band and it was a great excuse to party for three days
    (8 votes)
  • 16%
    Depends. How big is the game? There’s a certain record where you should just be allowed to go home.
    (10 votes)
  • 1%
    No. It’s not worth it.
    (1 vote)
  • 10%
    Only the twirlers should get the day off.
    (6 votes)
60 votes total Vote Now


At the beginning of the year, I was getting so much video posted that I was kind of excited as to what we would see for the season. However, as the year has progressed, it seems like folks have slowed down their posting of videos... there will probably be a rush after the season concludes. Anyway, we have video this week from Iowa, OSU, Northwestern, and Rutgers, as well as a sped up version of Nebraska and an old show from Indiana.

Win: OSU’s Tribute to Loony Tunes (Nov. 23rd)

Although masquerading as a Warner Brothers cartoon tribute, the truth is that this is a fantastic show featuring the music of Gioachino Rossini, including excerpts from the “William Tell Overture”, “Barber of Seville”, and what I think is portions of “Marriage of Figaro” (I’m not entirely sure - somebody tell me if the bullfighting sequence is something else). Anyway, the music is difficult and performed well, throughout, although there are a few places where it doesn’t quite have as much of a punch as I would hope for. The drill, though, is outstanding with mostly geometric maneuvering, but still a few crowd favorite stick-figure animations. Lots going on throughout the piece. I suspect this will be what OSU performs for the B1G championship game and / or Bowl.

Place: Northwestern Apollo 50th Anniversary Show (Nov. 16th)

I haven’t had the opportunity to post too much Northwestern video this year, so even though this is a repeat from earlier in the year, I wanted to at least share a flavor of the ‘Cats can do. Music is pretty much the same 50th Anniversary music that everybody else has played... a combination of recent Star Trek Themes, music from what I believe is the Neil Armstrong bio movie, and “Space Oddity” from David Bowie and “Rocket Man” from Elton John. I’m still very proud of my ‘Cats - I think that they tend to do more with less and I believe this show demonstrates that they can sound good and yet maintain a fairly complex and entertaining drill.

Show: Rutgers (Various) (Nov. 23rd)

Rutgers is the other Marching Band that I consistently feel like does more with less, and even though this is just a fan video, I think they sounded pretty good in their rendition of Fall Out Boys “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light ‘Em Up)”, Muse’s “Uprising”, and then Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” in honor of Eric LeGrand. Of course, they started out by honoring the Seniors for their final game... congratulations and thanks to all for performing.

Honorable Mention: Iowa Honoring Veterans (Oct. 19th)

I realize that this show is quite old, but there hasn’t been too much video from Iowa this year, it was just recently posted, and I wanted to feature them as much as I can. Honestly, most of the show is pretty standard patriotica (if that’s not a word, yet, I’m inventing it), but there was something about their final rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” that I thought was very good and worthy of feature. I still believe that it is ironic that tune about Napoleon being pushed back in Russia has somehow become an American patriotic staple.


Nebraska (Nov. 16th)

I’m not entirely sure, but given his proclivity to post computer models of Nebraska halftime shows, I suspect that this individual who posted this writes drill for the Cornhuskers. Unfortunately, while we get to see the shapes, we have to settle for heavy metal “Country Road” for the music.

Indiana (Nov. 2nd)

OK, I hope that this works and that you are able to see the embed above. If not, you can go to this link to see various Indiana performances over the year (go to 5:32 to skip Northwestern’s show):

I feel bad that I didn’t find video on Indiana until recently given how great a year they are having. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything after this show so this is the most recent video of their performance. Featuring music from Lady Gage, Ariana Grande, and Beyonce this is a show about difficult relationships. As usual, Indiana sounds great, although their drill is on the simple side, but with plenty of dancing (both band and Red Steppers).


I’m not sure band members with less than five wins should have to play on Thanksgiving weekend. I’m curious how others have felt having to do so. I also hope everybody has a safe trip home, and that you enjoy the holiday with friends and family.