For their fanfare, educational tie-ins, and opportunities to form connections, bowl game parades appeal to high school and college bands alike.
The 2018 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta included a series of firsts for multiple bands. The University of Michigan competed in the bowl for the first time despite participating in bowl games for 43 of the past 50 seasons. And Lake Minneola High School in Minneola, Florida, made its first-ever out-of-state trip to participate in the Peach Bowl Parade.
“The kids [were] excited,” says Andy Deen, director of bands at Lake Minneola. “Most of us are Florida-born and raised!”
While the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day has the most publicized parade, many other bowls include noteworthy parades that incorporate high school and college bands.
From Balloons to Fruit
Each of the bowl game parades has its own personality—with large balloons, bead necklaces, citrus fruits, and notable grand marshals.
On the morning of New Year’s Eve, America’s Largest Balloon Parade steps off. The Port of San Diego Holiday Bowl Parade, which began in 1991, earned this moniker due to its large number of inflatables.
“The parade is downtown in San Diego; there’s a lot of open space, we’re not confined by buildings, so we’re able to have giant balloons,” says Katharine LiMandri, director of events and social media for the Holiday Bowl.
Notable balloons include Garfield, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Mr. Potato Head dressed as a fireman.
Also on New Year’s Eve, the Outback Bowl Parade and pep rally takes place in Ybor City, a historical area of Tampa, Florida. Float participants often throw bead necklaces to the paradegoers.
“It’s got old buildings, the streets are cobblestone in a lot of places, [and] you have balconies off of many of the buildings,” says Mike Schulze, director of communications and sponsorships for the Outback Bowl. “It looks a lot like the French Quarter in New Orleans.”
The Outback Bowl holds its parade in the evening to celebrate the end of the year and the eve of the bowl game itself. “It … gives you that entry into the New Year’s Eve evening celebration,” Schulze says.
The Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans also holds a Mardi Gras-style parade on New Year’s Eve.
Earlier in December, other bowl parades take place in different parts of the country. This year the Desert Financial Fiesta Bowl Parade in Phoenix, the Florida Citrus Bowl Parade in Orlando, Florida, and the Peach Bowl Parade all occurred on Dec. 29.
The Sun Bowl Parade, which started in 1935 in El Paso, Texas, as a New Year’s Day parade, has been held on Thanksgiving Day since 1978 despite the game being played on Dec. 31.
The Orlando Citrus Bowl Parade, which dates back to 1980, includes theme park characters from Disney World and Universal Studios. In addition, its floats are adorned with citrus fruits such as tangerines, grapefruits, and oranges.
Several of the bowl parades feature prominent grand marshalls. In 2018 Arizona Cardinals President Michael Bidwill appeared in the Fiesta Bowl Parade while former Major League Baseball player Johnny Damon and singer/actor Norm Lewis participated in the Citrus Bowl Parade.
For many high school bands, the bowl parades are a lucrative educational opportunity. In the Peach Bowl, bands compete in the parade and can also participate in music festivals and other performances.
“We do a parade competition; we do the pregame show and the National Anthem together as a mass band; we also do a concert band, a jazz band, and a field show competition,” says Joe Mason, event director with Box 5 Events, which coordinates the Peach Bowl’s high school performances.
Lake Minneola, which was invited to the Peach Bowl after becoming a state finalist in the Florida Marching Band Championships in 2017, participated in the parade, concert band competition, and field show competition. “They get feedback from clinicians,” Deen says. “It’s a really educational experience.”
During the parade, the Lake Minneola band performed an arrangement of Christmas tunes woven in with patriotic songs like “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Also in the Peach Bowl Parade, the South Gwinnett High School Marching Band from Snellville, Georgia, played holiday tunes interspersed with Motown hits that it had performed during its regular-season field show. “We did a lot of Stevie Wonder this year,” says director Marquell Oates.
Similarly, the Holiday Bowl offers both a field show and parade contest for high school groups. The ensemble with the highest combined score receives the opportunity to perform its field show at the Holiday Bowl pregame before the college bands. “It’s quite an exciting trip,” says Doug Green, vice president of bowl games and special events at WorldStrides travel company.
Musicians also have the golden opportunity to network during these parades. Oates appreciated that his students could see college-level musicians performing live alongside them. It’s always exciting “to expose the kids to the potential of continuing their music education on a collegiate level,” Oates says. “To see those collegiate bands [the University of Michigan and the University of Florida] in the parade, that will open some eyes and make some [students] connect.”
College bands can turn these encounters into occasions for recruitment. “Any opportunity that we have to talk to the high school kids and the directors, we look for,” says Dana Biggs, director of athletic bands at the University of Kentucky, which participated in the Citrus Bowl. “Having an opportunity to share in an event such as this with our high school band colleagues is very exciting to us.”
The University of Michigan invited participating high school bands in the Peach Bowl Parade to attend the Michigan band rehearsals in Atlanta on Dec. 27 and 28, hoping to inspire prospective students. “We perform for as many high school students as possible as we are extremely interested in as many of them as possible coming to Ann Arbor for school,” says John Pasquale, director of the Michigan Marching Band.
For the colleges competing in the bowl games themselves, the parades are often a great way to celebrate a wonderful season of football and school spirit.
Northwestern University and the University of Utah marched in the Holiday Bowl Parade this season. “This [was] the first formal parade we [did] this year,” says Dan Farris, Northwestern’s director of athletic bands. “This was a really well-organized and well-attended parade.”
While the Wildcats from Northwestern were pumping up the crowds of the Holiday Bowl with “Go U Northwestern,” the similarly named Wildcats from Kentucky were entertaining the Citrus Bowl Parade’s audience with “On! On! U of K.”
For Kentucky’s band, the Citrus Bowl marked the school’s first parade in several years. “It’s televised in 80 percent of the markets across the country; it’s a very high-profile parade that’s great exposure for us,” Biggs says.
On the same day and just one state north, Michigan’s band entertained crowds in Atlanta with its fight song, “The Victors.” The band was “excited to support the team in a very energetic season” and to be a part of Atlanta’s “vibrant community that supports [the] arts,” Pasquale says.