The March to Arizona 

Getting the Boise State marching band to the Fiesta Bowl

Boise State's Blue Thunder Marching Band is taking its show from the Smurf Turf to the Sun Belt.

Jessica Murri

Boise State's Blue Thunder Marching Band is taking its show from the Smurf Turf to the Sun Belt.

For the past decade of his life—through both high school and college—Sean Evans has been out on the field with his trumpet, marching in the band. The "super, super" senior at Boise State University can't think of a better way to end his and his trumpet's tenure than at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.

"My first five years, I could have gone to big bowl games," Evans told Boise Weekly. "We could have been going to the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl. I could have had a pretty good run of years going to big bowl games. It would just come down to a loss of the team."

The Blue Thunder Marching Band watched the Dec. 6 Boise State Broncos football game against Fresno State with fervor. By the end of the game, they would know whether they'd soon be on the road to the Fiesta Bowl.

This isn't Evans' first Fiesta Bowl. He went with the Blue Thunder Marching Band to Arizona in 2010 and said it's an experience he'll remember his whole life. He's excited to share it with the other 185 band members gathering for the Wednesday, Dec. 31 game.

The road to the Fiesta Bowl was a challenge for the Broncos, but it's also going to be a challenge for the Blue Thunder. Once the team scored its final touchdown against Fresno State on Dec. 6, the scrambling began for the band.

"It's a short turn-around time," said band director Joe Tornello. "Typically when you're going on a trip like this, we have several months to plan. Now it all has to happen in three weeks."

That means getting hotel rooms booked, meals planned out, four charter buses rented and several plane tickets purchased for students living across the country. All of that has a price tag well into the six figures, according to Tornello. The money's coming from the university's athletic department as part of the payout from the Fiesta Bowl.

Performing in front of a stadium that holds 63,400 people and the millions of people who will be watching from home—that doesn't particularly bother Tornello. It's getting his whole band onto the field to perform that racks his nerves.

"There are students as far away as Alaska, Hawaii and the East Coast," Tornello said. "Once school's done on Dec. 19, the students go home for Christmas and they are literally coast to coast. Literally as far away as you can possibly be from Boise or Phoenix."

If one of the band members doesn't make it, there's no hiding it from the crowd.

"If we don't have people there, obviously there are holes," Tornello said. "It takes us two weeks to learn a show, we don't have that kind of time. We don't have the ability to go back in and redo an entire field show performance [if someone doesn't make it]."

On a overcast, windy Friday in mid-December, the marching band held its one and only rehearsal for the Fiesta Bowl before it travels south. It came in the midst of final exams and semester-end projects, on a day when the clouds looked dark enough to rain and gusts reached 30 miles per hour.

"We've done rain and we've done snow," Tornello told his band through a microphone echoing across the empty stands in Albertsons Stadium. "Wind is nothing."

The band practiced for the Fiesta Bowl's five-and-a-half-minute pregame set and the seven-minute-long halftime routine using songs from the first game of the season—all '80s themed. The setlist includes "I Love Rock and Roll," "All Night Long," "Footloose" and "You Give Love a Bad Name."

Once they get to Arizona, band members will have one rehearsal on the field and one standing music practice. Most of them won't even have a chance to practice on their instruments before then, since they leave them behind when they leave town.

While band members are excited for the trip—which will take nearly 24 hours on charter buses—they have their own logistics to figure out.

Ivana Mullner has played the trombone since she was 8. Now, she's a senior at Boise State, finishing her last semester of marching band after four dedicated years. She lives in Boise, relieving the stress of relying on air travel to make it to the bowl game, but she said the short notice is still a challenge.

"Now everyone has to figure out all those plans they made for Christmas break," she said. "Like, 'I told my boss I would work and now I can't be there,' or, 'My family is in town. What do I do?' A lot changes very quickly and that's exciting, but also, you have to make it work."

Another challenge that has sophomore alto saxophone player Ashley Pyell nervous is the new field.

"It's harder because you don't have the same field markings as you would on the blue, where we always rehearse and we're used to it. Nowhere else has a blue turf, so it looks different," Pyell explained. She said she uses the Albertsons logos on the field for her sets, as well as the Bronco head and the Mountain West Bank logo. "We have lots of little cheater marks here."

Andrew Kinsey, a freshman mellophone player, said he's a little intimidated to play next to the Arizona marching band, which is easily double the size of the Blue Thunder. He also thinks about the number of eyes that'll be on him on Dec. 31.

"The stadium can seat almost twice as many people as our stadium, which is pretty exciting because that's 10 times as many people than ever came to a high-school game," Kinsey said.

It's as awe-inspiring a way for Kinsey to kick off his career in the Blue Thunder Marching Band as it is for Evans and Mullner to end theirs.

"It's something only, what, 16 other schools in the country have had this opportunity [to do]," Evans said. "This puts the icing on the cake."

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