Mardi Gras season for me has always been different. I have marched in my hometown’s Mardi Gras parades since I was in seventh grade. Marching bands in the local school district would get paid to march in the parades.
I always loved parade days. No matter how tired I was the day before, I always pushed myself to go. I think I loved the adrenaline it gave me. The entire process was fun to me.
Before we even got dressed, my bandmates and I would blast music at school. This party would continue on the band bus ride towards our parade location. The air on parade days would feel almost electric.
As we would wait for the floats to get going, we would dance to the float’s music and catch the beads being thrown at us. I always liked the anxious and exciting feeling before we rolled out.
The parade route itself was what sometimes made me nervous. Anything could happen during the parade route, from a drunk person throwing a beer at floats causing them to crash into light poles to even meeting a famous person.
I became an expert at marching parades. After so many parades of chapped lips and broken reeds, I learned my lesson. I knew to always wear a breathable long sleeve underneath, bring chapstick and an extra reed and mouthpiece.
The route was also familiar. The beginning was parents with their kids, quiet and calm. The longer and further we went, the drunker and crazier it was. By the time we would reach the end, there would be swarms of police and railings around.
Marching about 18 miles every weekend is not for the faint of heart. No, I’m serious; we literally had to be in good health to even attempt to march. I vividly remember people falling face first on the concrete floor because they locked their knees. That is a big no-no in marching band as it restricts blood flow.
My legs would become numb at the two-hour mark, and my feet would stop hurting five hours in. It was torture; I would wobble onto the bus, back to school, fall asleep in my bed and wake up to my feet cramping.
But I liked winning, and so did my bandmates. That is the sole reason we would wake up the next day and march another six hour parade. And I loved every single second of it. It weirdly felt less painful knowing my friends and I were in pain together.
I knew how to manage my time and save my energy for the competitions and the fun section of the crowd. Parades weren’t just for fun; they were a competition between the bands, and to see who would be crowned that parade’s champion.
We were told to save our energy for the judges, and that we did. The other schools around mine were very “elegant” and played at perfect volume and pitch. Mine did the opposite.
We wore neon glow sticks, Mardi Gras beads on our shoulders and decorated our instruments with lights. People knew who we were, and when we were coming. It also helped that we loved to play pop songs very loudly.
My marching band was a corps style band, not a show band. So that’s why the other corps style bands did not join us in being loud and extra. No offense to them, but that’s exactly why they never won.
We broke the rules and decided to give people a show. Before I joined my high school band, the parade competitions judged on how students roll stepped and the overall tone sounded. Boring!
But then a new competition was put into place that judged bands on their showmanship and creativity. We thrived in this. We threw candy, we danced, we threw beads, we showed them that bands don’t have to stand in neat lines and play boring music.
We won every year, and I miss it very dearly. I will most likely never march another parade, and I have to come to terms with that. My Mardi Gras memories from now on will be different, but I will always remember the best parts of marching band forever.