Nearly 1,200 musicians will take the field Saturday at halftime of the Ohio-Kentucky football game at Commonwealth Stadium, reviving a long-dormant tradition: Band Day.
Nine high school bands from across Kentucky will join the 300-strong UK marching band, said UK's director of athletic bands, Scott-Lee Atchinson.
"We are pedal to the metal right now to get ready for Saturday," Atchinson said. "Twelve hundred people on a football field will look pretty crazy. It's going to be big and it's going to be loud, and the audience should have a good time because of that".
Many colleges around the country offer high school musicians a chance to play the halftime show, said Nathan Schwake, UK's assistant athletics director of marketing and licensing. Years ago, UK regularly invited high school bands to the big stage of the stadium, but the tradition faded away. There has been talk of reviving it for several years, he said. This year, as UK began revamping the game-day experience, things fell into place. UK officials said they hope it will become an annual event.
Aside from being a fun experience for the kids and fans, Atchinson said, Band Day serves two more practical purposes. One, it is a recruiting tool for the marching band. He said most members of UK's marching band are non-scholarship volunteers, and incoming students are needed to keep the music playing.
"We want to entice them to continue their instrument in college," Atchinson said.
Plus, Schwake said, band parents love to watch their kids perform, so Band Day puts "butts in the seats" for a non-conference game at which attendance might otherwise be less than robust. All of the 2,000 specially priced tickets offered to participating schools have been sold, Atchinson said.
High school bands come in two basic forms: those who participate regularly in competitions, and noncompetitive bands that focus mainly on their game-related performances. Atchinson sent out a broad invitation to take part in Band Day. Most competitive bands can't fit it into their schedule because they are generally booked on weekends. But nine high schools sent their RSVPs.
The bands are: Bath County; Betsy Layne (Floyd County); Franklin County; Lexington Catholic (Fayette County); North Laurel; Madison Southern; Meade County; Scott County; and Western Hills (Franklin County).
Scott County band director Tom Brawner said he's excited to see the tradition revised. Brawner, who has been a band director for 47 years, remembers taking the Franklin County band to play at UK in the early '90s. He's happy that his current band, the Scott County Cardinals, is part of the new tradition.
His 256 student musicians — which make up the largest band in the state — are excited, he said. "It's a win-win for everybody," Brawner said. "It's awesome for the kids. It will be a special day."
Brawner and his band have been practicing the music UK sent, and they will be at the stadium hours early to work on logistics.
Generally, UK's marching band prides itself on precision execution, Atchinson said. Saturday's halftime performance might be less than tidy, but it will be impressive.
"Just getting 900 people through a tunnel; that's the thing I'm kind of freaked out about," Atchinson said. "How am I going to get 900 people through a tunnel?"