Golden Bears roared through Beale Street in Memphis recently as the Upper Arlington High School marching band enjoyed a trip to that city to perform in the Liberty Bowl parade Dec. 30 and the Liberty Bowl halftime show Dec. 31.
Band Director Mike Manser said the parade was judged by the music directors of the Liberty Bowl halftime show, who recognized Upper Arlington's band for best music, best marching, best general effect and best percussion in class AAA.
"The band also won first place in the parade competition," Manser said. "Our band has a noncompetitive philosophy which allows us to perform in a style that suits our audience and provides learning opportunities without having to address the requirements of adjudication.
"I was aware there was a competition, but we didn't do anything different -- we were just doing a parade," he said.
He said band member Will Gray received the Maestro Award, which is given to only one student among all the participating bands, for how he presented himself during the mass band rehearsal.
"Will asked me, 'What did I do?' All I could answer was that he was simply himself," Manser said. "He had great leg lift and sharp turns. He was focused and looking great. He simply worked hard and did what he was supposed to do and they saw that."
Manser said he appreciates the awards because they gave recognition to his students' hard work.
"The real rewards were how the crowd appreciated the band as we marched the route," he said. "They were very supportive and they cheered the band as loud as they do at UA's Fourth of July parade.
"The students did great and they deserve to be recognized because of their commitment to working very hard since August on music and marching," he said.
He said the students were also complimented on their behavior.
"I was complimented at literally every stop about how polite the students were," he said.
Senior Stacey Gibson, a band officer this year, said being on Beale Street was magical.
"Blues music blasted from many different clubs, like the B.B. King Blues Club," she said. "It was wonderful to experience the music culture, from blues to rock and roll.
"It was also a relaxed and casual trip in many ways, with a lot of band bonding time," she said. "I think our band is special because of its marching, military style, but I was happy that we focused on the music and culture of Memphis.
"We ended up winning some awards, but we were there to have fun and to get to know each other better -- it was great to win some awards at the same time."
Manser said the band toured Graceland, which includes Elvis Presley's house and a museum that depicts the impact Elvis had on the music industry.
Students also visited the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
The actual museum is closed for remodeling, Manser said, but because of that, the students were allowed to go up on the balcony where King was standing when he was shot.
"The balcony is usually closed to all except special dignitaries like presidents and world leaders," Manser said. "It was an emotional and powerful experience. We talked to people who were there and whose lives were impacted directly by the events of that day.
"The concepts of racism, separate but equal, and the incredible path blazed by those who fought for civil rights became a bit more real."
The students also performed with bands from other high schools across the country and with guest stars Diamond Rio.
Upper Arlington's marching bands have an extensive history of bowl performances. They performed in the 2002 Orange Bowl in Miami; the 2004 BCS Championship Game at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans; the 2006 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville; the 2008 Sugar Bowl; the 2010 Outback Bowl in Tampa and the 2012 Sugar Bowl.
Manser said several families of band members traveling with the students held a huge tailgate party before the bowl game.
"In a sea of Rice and Mississippi State tailgates and fans, we had a large representation of black and gold," he said.