Ray Rector — yes, that Ray Rector — big-deal and long-time Lexington Realtor and University of Kentucky Class of '56, is having the time of his life as the anonymous guy, sixth row up from the Rupp Arena floor, standing tall in his alumni pep band T-shirt and jeans, blaring the notes of the UK Fight Song one more time.
It's a tune the 76-year-old Rector has played on his trumpet, which he majored in, thank you, for longer than this building or his much-beloved team's now much-vaunted coach has been standing.
"I'm old enough to be some of these guys' great-grandfather," he says, smiling.
Then he picks up his trumpet and musically asks Brandon Knight to "Charge."
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Seventeen years ago, a few UK band alums noticed that too many students in the regular UK pep band were going home for the holidays, so they asked if, hey, could they do the honors? You know, just for fun?
The UK band office said sure. And here we are, 17 years later, with more volunteers than can fill the seats for the likely three women's and four men's games that are played during the university's holiday break. Tuesday night, they will again take to the stands to support the Cats as they take on Coppin State.
Much-accomplished band educator Brian Gorell still directs, as he has for all the 17 years. During the game, he holds up file-folder-size signs that indicate what's next. Most everybody plays by memory because, says Dave Bay, trumpet player, "Really, these songs don't change."
So the Hey song and Low Rider and the Go Slide song just continue to make the rotation along with the fight song and the sped-up version of My Old Kentucky Home.
It's not a lot of work, except that which is left for Joel and Tracy Lovan, who have to figure out the logistics of who to get to the games — so the number of volunteers doesn't overwhelm the seating. Practice, such as it is, is before the games and the only audition is the one you had a long time ago in college.
Joel Lovan says you get to pick out the part you want to play because there's no "first chair" business here. People just kind of "know" where they fit. And they pretty much take up where they left off when they graduated, musically and otherwise.
Like successful entrepreneur Bay and his pal, David Kratt, a consulting engineer from Versailles. They are the ones who were admonished for their overzealousness at one of the women's games earlier in the month, they report.
"We think the current group of students don't seem to be as creative as we were," says Kratt.
"We're here to teach and pass on," says Bay, who is known for holding up crazy signs to distract opposing players while shooting free throws or to engage fans with signs that read "Nice boots."
Sitting near the band in Section 12 is 92-year-old Alta Wells, a season ticket-holder since 1956. She never misses a holiday game. "(The alumni band) is the most fun we have all year," she says.
Rector, who last week represented the oldest player in the 65 or so band members who showed for the Winthrop game, is extremely distinguished. He is also clearly unappalled by the cheeky behavior of his colleagues who were mildly scolded by security personnel the night before at Memorial Coliseum.
In fact, Rector explains how his peers are exactly what make this annual month-long foray back into college life worth coming back to year after year.
"Musicians are a lot more fun than people," says Rector.
These musicians are mostly not primarily musicians anymore, though their number does include Joel Lovan, who has played bass trombone in the Lexington Philharmonic since 1978 and Shaun Owens, director of the Bryan Station High School Band, and Willow Cooper, band director at Beaumont Middle.
Instead, close to Rector are, in a row, three blondes, Class of '82, '85 and '84, respectively. First is Marilyn Stevens, whose son, Stewart, is 19 and currently in the pep band at UK. Her husband, Steve, plays drums in the alum band, and he's the president of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. They met in the original pep band years ago. Next to Marilyn is Fayette County Circuit Judge Kim Bunnell, who swears she cannot control the unruly elements in the band even if she brandishes her credentials and yells for a bailiff.
Next to Bunnell is Alice Emberton, a veterinarian (and trumpeter) from Nashville, who can tell you in August what days she will not be seeing patients in December because she simply closes her office on home game days. Then, she drives the three hours here, wears her Go Big Blue jewelry, blows her horn, turns around a drives home, all in a single day.
The youngest member of the band is 25. Jeremy Jones says he put down his regular pep band horn when the Cats lost to West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament and then picked it up again last Wednesday when the Cats played Winthrop. He calls his first day with the alums "looser" than with his days with the pep band.
As for the reasons why these "more experienced" musicians take their vacation days to do this, the members of the alumni band say they get to see the game for free, of course. They get to keep their instruments in tune.
And, said Steve Stevens, "you get on that bus at the Fine Arts Building and you hear the same old jokes and sing the same old songs and it's the same old trip and you still laugh because it's still fun."