The MMMB is GTT.
After two years of entertaining crowds at just about every parade and festival in Lexington, the March Madness Marching Band is going to Texas.
The wacky ensemble has been invited to perform March 11-13 at Honk! TX, an annual festival in Austin that brings together 20 community bands from across the country.
“The people who organize Honk! had seen video of us, and they just emailed out of the blue and invited us to come,” said Lori Houlihan, the band’s founder and drum major.
There is a benefit show Feb. 19 at Buster’s Billiards & Backroom to raise money for the trip. But there is no shortage of enthusiasm from the band’s approximately 70 members, who range in age from 14 to 75.
Lexington is famous for its top-notch high school marching bands, whose young members dazzle audiences with their musicianship and precision routines. “This is a whole different thing,” said Houlihan, who has a son in the Lafayette High School Band.
Instead of kids trying to act like adults, the March Madness Marching Band is about adults acting like kids – and enjoying every minute of it.
“It has given me a whole new lease on life,” said Sue McKaig. She proudly notes that, at age 65, she is the oldest of the “hoop girls” who march alongside the band doing choreographed routines with decorated Hula Hoops.
While a few band members are professional musicians, many had not picked up a horn since high school as they pursued careers as librarians, engineers, hairdressers and accountants.
Houlihan organized the band in 2008 for Lexington’s Christmas parade and the launch of Local First Lexington, an organization that encourages people to patronize locally owned businesses. When the band won the parade’s top prize, Houlihan and her recruits realized they had created something that resonated with both the community and band members.
“As soon as I walked in, I knew these were my people,” said Sarah Wylie VanMeter, who teaches visual arts technology at the University of Kentucky.
VanMeter, 31, grew up in Cynthiana, where she was in the Harrison County High School Band. When she moved back to Kentucky from San Francisco a few years ago, the March Madness Marching Band reminded her how much she missed playing the Sousaphone.
The next Christmas, her husband, Griffin, surprised her with one – a brass relic covered with dents that he found for sale on eBay.
“I’m just a band geek, and proud of it,” VanMeter said. “So here I am.”
The band’s most memorable performance so far may have been last April at the Creative Cities Summit. As attendees from across the country chatted at the opening reception in the Lexington Center’s ballroom lobby, the band suddenly burst through the doors playing full-tilt. Anyone who thought they had come to a sleepy horse town got a loud wake-up call.
Along with all of the positive attention the band has received, it also has heard from the National Collegiate Athletics Association, which claims ownership of the words “March Madness.” The NCAA isn’t happy, but it has not taken legal action to force a name change.
The musical soul of this colorfully costumed band is Tripp Bratton, a percussionist who teaches music at Berea College. He arranges the band’s music, taking care to make parts fit the varying musical skills of the members.
“I try to play up our strengths and hide our weaknesses,” Bratton said after one of the group’s Sunday afternoon rehearsals at the Mecca Dance Studio on Chair Avenue, off South Broadway. “I aim for accessible craziness, creative madcap.”
In addition to parade tunes, the band performs choreographed theatrical numbers. For Austin, the band is working on a piece inspired by an episode of the TV comedy The Simpsons that riffed on the movie Planet of the Apes and David Bowie music. Or something like that. It is energetic and entertaining, with a heavy drum line.
Like the other bands performing at the Honk! TX festival, the March Madness Marching Band isn’t about musicianship and precision. It is about fun, community and the pleasure of performing. Oh, and not taking yourself too seriously.
If you go
What: March Madness Marching Band benefit show
When: Feb. 19, 8 p.m.
Where: Buster’s Billiards & Backroom, 899 Manchester St.
Appearances by: March Madness Marching Band, Rebel Without A Cause, FUMA, Prefab Rehab, Gail Wynters, Rakadu Gypsy Dance, Sabi Diri, Hallwa, Chip Chop, Amalgamation Fire Nation, Holler Poets.
Cost: $15, ages 18 and older.
More information and tickets: M-M-M-B.com
Click on each thumbnail to view complete photo:
Here is a video about March Madness Marching Band made by the group’s “cruise director,” Jennifer Miller: