by Andrew Goldstein and Nicola Shannon
A long centipede of legs in tights, multicolored suits, glimmering pom poms and gleaming brass forms behind the Mitchel Athletic Complex football field. One boy, strapped with a drum half the size of his own body, reaches up and nervously adjusts the feather plume at the top of his hat. He takes a deep breath and steps into the 54th annual Newsday Marching Band Festival.
The festival, which took place between October 18 and 20 in East Garden City, featured bands from 43 schools across Nassau and Suffolk. The ten-dollar per person admission was used to fundraise for participating school’s bands and donated to Newsday Charities, a fund of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation that provides grants to nonprofits to help support at-risk children and families.
“We call it the superbowl of marching band festivals,” Kim Como, communications manager at Newsday said. “It’s a beautiful field and it’s under the lights and the crowd is here to support the marching band.”
This event has a history of bringing together a wide community of supporters around the marching band students.
“The festival has always been a great experience.” Eileen Felix, a member of the Brentwood Board of Education whose son graduated from the high school marching band last year, said. “It marks the last week prior to the state championships at Syracuse. It’s something everyone looks forward to, parents, band members and staff members.”
The area near the entrance to the stadium featured an ice cream truck, a Moe’s Southwest Grill stand, and a Newsday tent where audience members could have their pictures taken as souvenirs. There was also information available for the student band members interested in marching after high school. A Marine Corps Music Program stand was present outside the stadium to introduce their program to students and families as well as to recruit future members.
“This event specifically is a good opportunity to really immerse them in the opportunities available,” Jeremy Mallory, a recruiter for the Marine Corps Music Program, said. “Even if they don’t chose us, I have the knowledge on how to pass auditions, what a music background is, how to make it in a music career. So for us, it’s really more of a mentorship opportunity.”
In 1963, Newsday started this festival as a Sunday afternoon event featuring 13 bands. The festival remained that way throughout most of the 1960’s and began to expand in the 1970’s. When it became clear that bands needed to perform at their own schools on weekends, the festival was reconfigured to take place after school, over the course of a few nights so that students and teachers could get home at a reasonable hour. Now, the festival is a source of excitement for marching bands across the entire island.
“One of the great things about it is that it’s not a competition, it’s a festival,” Steve Morris, Project manager for Newsday, said. “So there’s no winners, no losers, just fun for everybody. This game is their game, it’s all about them. So that’s what makes these nights really special for the players, and for the people like us who get to put it on for them and give them something they don’t get during the normal school year.”
More than just a place for the students to socialize, the event is seen by band leaders as a friendly gathering for professionals as well.
“I’m friendly with all the other high school band directors, so many of them are good friends of mine,” Greg Warnokowski, who has been the Island Tree High School Band director for the past 12 years, said. “Through the years we get to know each other through various events like this.”
With shoes tipped with pink pom poms, New Hyde Park’s kick-line, the Romanettes, march off the field proudly after ending their band’s performance with a slide, arms linked, into a full split.