UW Husky Band Performs on the Water

The University of Washington Husky Band takes on a unique annual gig that has them leading a yacht parade on four different boats.

Photo by G. Nakayama

Every band has to overcome phasing issues, but what if your band was separated across four yachts? Each year, the University of Washington Husky Band leads the Seattle Yacht Club’s Opening Day Parade while sailing through Portage Bay and Montlake Cut.

Band director Brad McDavid stands at the front of the lead yacht, conducting to his student conductors on the other three yachts, each leading a pep band of about 25 to 30 students.

“We make a valiant effort to play the same tunes on each yacht simultaneously,” McDavid says. “It’s nothing that I know of that’s been attempted at other universities, but it’s something that is unique to Seattle because of our love of boating out here.”

I’m On a Boat

The Husky Band has participated in the parade since 1989 when the Seattle Yacht Club approached former director Bill Bissell about the unique idea. The parade itself just celebrated its 90th year.

“[The band] gets a chance to get on some of these yachts that may be more expensive and elaborate than many people’s homes,” McDavid says. “The yacht captains will typically have catered food for the students on their boats, all decked out in purple and gold.”

McDavid keeps the band together by using hand signals and loading the middle yacht with a few more low brass and percussion players.

“The yachts are typically 15 to 20 feet apart,” McDavid says. “We really encourage them not to listen but to simply watch. More often than not, it stays pretty tight.”

In addition, the band has sometimes had to battle rain and wind.

“The biggest challenge is not only keeping it together and keeping the students from listening to each other, but also the elements,” McDavid says. “That time of year it can be not the nicest of days, so even if it’s raining, the gig happens.”

The parade itself is just one part of a long day for the band. The festivities start in the morning when the band plays at the finish line for the Windemere Cup, a crew race hosted by the UW crew teams. Immediately afterward the band loads the yachts for the parade and takes about 45 minutes to sail to the start location. The band leads the parade for about one hour. As a whole, includes more than 300 yachts and can take up to four hours. Post-parade, the band is taken to another yacht club on the eastern shore and fed dinner. Then they perform a rally performance for their hosts.

“The band likes it because it’s one of the few opportunities for us to get together and see each other in the spring,” McDavid says. “The songs that we play are not new to the fans; it’s just the fact that we’re playing in such a unique way. And fortunately we’ve never lost any band member over the side.”

Collegiate Ambassadors

In another unique performance, the Husky Band  had the opportunity to be one of the first non-military bands to perform at the international military tattoos in Albertville, France, and Modena, Italy, this past summer.

“The bands were housed together, so our kids got a chance to hear, meet and socialize with professional musicians from around the world,” McDavid says. “It was a chance for us to show Europe a little taste of what we do in Washington and what American college marching bands are all about.”

The band spent two weeks in Europe and four days in each city as the international trip taken every three years with band members and alumni. Their participation required several field shows, parades and standstill performance, including a mass band performance to conclude the gala.

“There’s a going to be a lot more demand for civilian and collegiate bands in the future,” McDavid says. “The organizers were a little skeptical and by the end were raving about what we were able to bring.”