“Don’t mess up!”
Uh…okay. I only memorized this music today, I’m wearing sunglasses in a dark room (translated: I can’t see anything), and I’m about to walk onto a stage with only three other people to play in front of about 6,000 fans. Don’t mess up? At this point I’m just willing myself not to start hyperventilating.
But that’s life in the Trojan Marching Band. People expect great things of us, and we deliver. This time we were the accompaniment to Foster the People (I hadn’t heard of them before this gig, but I knew their song Pumped Up Kicks). They played at the Gibson Ampitheatre this weekend, and one of their songs – Houdini – typically includes a marching band for the last portion. So 22 of us lucky band kids got to check out our uniforms, dust off our helmets, and head down to Universal Studios to play.
We were given the music about a week in advance to look over and have mostly memorized, so as I ate my lunch on Saturday I sang through it in my head over and over again until I pretty much had it. We rehearsed it a couple of times as a group, and then we were on our way. Once we got to Universal, we were given neon wrist bands that were supposed to be our “all access” passes. Sadly, “all access” did not mean that we could see all the tours for free. However, I did see a few cool sets, like a plane crash and a giant green screen, that intrigued me. I’ll have to come back sometime and pay for the tour.
Once we started rehearsing, a short-ish guy with rolled up jeans and converse high tops (red flag: hipster) came and started talking to us about the music. To my embarrassment, I didn’t realize he was a member of the band until everyone else started freaking out. Sadly, I didn’t get his name, but he was pretty friendly! He told us that they wanted four of us to be on stage, and the rest to come marching through the audience and play right in front of the second tier of seats. To my surprise, he said he wanted an alto saxophone on stage. Usually, people just want trumpets or trombones, so this was a pleasant surprise – and it was also scary! Me, on stage? I’d played in concerts before, but never to the point where I could really be heard above anyone else. But this time, it would be me, two trumpets, and a trombone, and we would each have our own microphone, so any mistakes I made would be heard by all 6,000 fans. Uh oh.
A guy named Dougie took us back stage, and gave us this lovely and informative tour: “Don’t trip over this, don’t trip over that, that’ll be in your way, watch out, then stand over there on stage. Do a dance during the drum break. Got it? Alright, see you later!” Well. That’s that, then.
After “rehearsing” we all had a few hours of free time before we had to be ready in our uniforms. Some band members hung out in the special backstage area and got free tacos for dinner (yes, the all access passes worked here!); I went with a couple of friends to City Walk, which is a tourist attraction that connects to the studios and is home to a variety of restaurants, interesting stores like a whole shop dedicated to novelty socks, a few performing artists, and some huge screens that show the performers. We ate our dinner on a balcony with a view of the giant screen, which was showing a dance performance that took place below. If we had stayed just a little bit longer – I found out later – those screens would have changed to show none other than Johnny Depp (being mobbed by fans, of course), who was at City Walk that night to get some Subway. Just another day in Hollywood, right?
We decided to head back and use our all access passes to watch the first half of the concert, which featured Kimbra (you might recognize her from Gotye’s current hit Somebody That I Used to Know) and Mayer Hawthorne. Kimbra was kind of like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry put together, but a little less pop-y: eccentric, great singer, a little strange. I wasn’t particularly enthralled by her, but she was definitely good. After her was when the real treat started, in my opinion. I’d never heard of Mayer Hawthorne before, but let me tell you, if you like Motown you need to listen to this guy! I’ve loved Motown all my life, and it was fantastic to be able to see a live performance! Mayer Hawthorne had it all: the suit, the cute, choreographed dances with the rest of the band, and also a really great personality. He even taught us a little dance and then took a picture on his cell phone to tweet. Needless to say, I followed him as soon as I got home.
After Mayer Hawthorne finished, we headed up to our dressing room to prepare. I was freaking out. I knew the music, but I didn’t know it really well. As in, yeah, vague directions as to what to do onstage with the added pressure of 6,000 fans and a microphone might possibly mess with me. I reviewed the music over and over, and met with the other three players to come up with a dance to do during the drum break. Luckily we each had a few moves and we put them all together; my contribution was the cat daddy. And with that, Dougie met us again to take us backstage.
There we were, in the dark with our sunglasses on, music blaring, dance moves not so cemented in our minds, still not completely sure where to go onstage. But what’s the fun in performing if you aren’t totally terrified beforehand? All I could do was take deep breaths until some guy motioned for us to go onstage and stand in front of the microphones. And before I knew it, I was playing my part–and not messing up! The dance break was a crowd pleaser too. I’m not saying the cat daddy made the fans go wild…but I’m not saying it didn’t. Also at this point, the rest of the band marched into the audience, who was loving it. It’s great how little we have to do to please a crowd.
After our performance, my legs felt like jello, but other than that I felt totally legit. How many people can say they’ve played onstage at a rock concert? The only bummer was that the concert went for two nights, and the night they filmed, I didn’t get to be onstage. But it was still an amazing experience–one of many in the Trojan Marching Band. It can get scary at times, but that’s only because the things we do are so incredible. I feel so lucky to be a part of this band, and this is only the beginning of my adventures with Hollywood!
Until next time!