Posted: September 12, 2016 Eau Claire Home to World-Class Marching Band
by Jack Martinek
Collegiate marching bands are not an unusual staple of the college town experience, but the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Blugold Marching Band is not your usual marching band. With 350 strong, it is the largest marching band in the upper Midwest, and one of the most sought after and celebrated regionally, nationally, and internationally.
First organized and directed by Robert Gantner (namesake of the UW-Eau Claire’s Gantner Concert Hall), the proclaimed “College Band” grew as the college began granting music degrees. It went through ups and downs - once being eliminated entirely in the 1990’s - but began a resurgence and reimagining in 2000, with the arrival of Director Dr. Randal C. Dickerson.
Dickerson brought experience and vision to the job, and found enthusiastic advocates among the existing band members who were ready for a fresh perspective. The transformation to today’s Blugold Marching Band (or BMB, as they style themselves) began, and the numbers and accolades tell the story. In 2000, there were only 60 members in the band, but in 2003, a more energetic style of marching was introduced that combined the old-school precision and artistry of drum and bugle corps with high-energy music selections and showmanship. In the decade-plus since, the band has increased in size to its current 350 members, including more than 200 non-music majors.
All this talent and artistry makes for a busy performance schedule, and the BMB wouldn’t have it any other way. “We perform more guest exhibitions than other bands, even those from the Big Ten and other major conferences. In 2016 the BMB is the guest exhibition band for Youth in Music in the US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, and also the guest college exhibition band for Bands of America in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis,” says Dickerson. The band also tours internationally every two years, with recent performances in Singapore, Rome, Athens, Barcelona, and Venice. They have also made their mark performing on several cruise ships in the Mediterranean and the South Pacific.
But performing here in Eau Claire is especially significant for the Blugold Marching Band, and they consider their annual trip to the International Fall Festival (September 17, 2016) as an important opportunity to present themselves and give back to the Eau Claire community. “The International Fall Festival is important to the BMB because it is one of the few times that we can perform in front of the Eau Claire community at large ... many of whom don’t know the band already,” says Dickerson.
And they are coming in strong. The entire BMB will be on tap for the International Fall Festival, with the exception of the field show dancers. Their performance is at 2:00 pm, followed by their participation in the Royal Credit Union Parade of Nations at 3:00 pm. This year’s BMB theme is “Turn Up the Crazy,” and will feature selections from Panic at the Disco, Queen, Fall Out Boy, as well as a number of band favorites from past years.