Million Dollar Band members reflect on rivalry

The Alabama football players are not the only stars who grace the field of Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturdays in the fall. Meet the heroes of halftime: the Million Dollar Band.

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Million Dollar Band members reflect on rivalry

CW / Joe Will Field

CW / Joe Will Field

CW / Joe Will Field

CW / Joe Will Field

Savannah Bullard | @savannahkt_, Editor-in-Chief

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Imagine: It’s the afternoon of Nov. 26 in Auburn, Alabama. Quarterback Mac Jones launches a football down the field of Jordan-Hare Stadium to an awaiting DeVonta Smith, earning Alabama a coveted first down on its way to an Iron Bowl victory. But, something is missing – through the whoosh of thousands of shakers and jubilant cheers from Crimson Tide fans in enemy territory, the play is closed with silence. 

That missing factor, often overlooked but ever so important, is the Million Dollar Band. 

“400 BEST FRIENDS”

The Million Dollar Band (MDB) is the largest student organization at the University with over 400 musicians, color guard members and Crimsonettes. A cornerstone of the Alabama football experience, the band carries the tune for almost every game-day tradition, from playing the pregame Elephant Stomp to singing the University’s alma mater at the end of every blowout win.

These students, who devote six practice days a week and countless hours of rehearsing to the craft, mostly came from rigorous musical backgrounds and joined the band with a determination to meet the lofty standards it requires. 

“I came and toured during my senior year, and compared to the other schools I went to, they were very well put together with the goals they wanted,” said Marissa Hyman, a member of the color guard and a freshman majoring in nursing. “They push their members, whereas some of the other [bands] seemed more high-school. I wanted to continue being pushed, and this guard felt like a team.”

Despite the stringency, the MDB has often been referred to by its members as having “400 best friends.” From attending the very first rehearsal of one’s college career to crying with the fellow seniors at the Iron Bowl, the bonds that are formed on Butler Field and in Bryant-Denny Stadium are iron-clad for many of the performers. 

I definitely don’t know some of the people in this band, but when I see them and they have our logo on, I’m like, ‘OK, this is my person,’” said piccolo player Mariah Martin, a freshman majoring in music education. “It’s about the sense of community and the friendships you make.”

GAME DAY FAME

While director Kenneth Ozzello holds his musicians to Nick Saban-level expectations, MDB members certainly work to rise to that expectation. Even though their privileges are mere dreams to the common Crimson Tide fan, these performers recognize their role in the spectacle that is a Saturday in the fall. 

“The rehearsals are exhausting, and most days it’s just another day of band practice, but then I’ll look up and see that script A and I’m like, ‘Hold up, I’m like, in the Million Dollar Band. People would kill to be in the position I’m in right now,’” said Will Farris, a freshman clarinetist majoring in marine biology.

Not to mention, there is something extra special about going through game day in a crimson-and-white uniform. 

“Nothing brings me more joy than walking across the Quad on game day and having kids and even adults stop me for a picture,” said Chad Murdock, a junior mellophonist who’s majoring in marketing. “I have even had people stop and ask for autographs, and I believe that if I can bring just one person joy on game day, then I have done my job.”

Even though interacting with tailgaters and game-goers is a part of the gig, the ultimate job comes with performing on the field during halftime and after every play during the game. It’s a hefty task, but these natural-born artists almost make it look effortless. 

“I’ve been a competitive baton twirler since I was 7 years old, and it’s always been my dream to twirl for a major university,” said Amelia Joy, a junior Crimsonette double-majoring in political science and communication studies. “When I toured Alabama my junior year of high school, I fell in love with the school first. And with the Crimsonettes being such an iconic majorette line, it was hard not to be mesmerized.”

What makes Alabama’s band so special is that their hard work, as senior piccolo player Rebecca Roberts said, definitely pays off in the end. The music education major shared stories similar to Murdock’s about the celebrity-like treatment MDB members often get on game days. While the campus fame might overinflate some people’s egos, Roberts said she’s humbled every time she walks onto the Quad in her uniform. 

“I feel like there are not that many schools that appreciate their bands the way Alabama and Alabama Athletics and the fans appreciate us,” she said. “There’s never been a time where I’ve stepped out onto the Bryant-Denny field and haven’t felt so grateful for what I’ve been able to do here.”

IRON BOWL TIME

This Saturday the entire 400-person band will travel about 150 miles to the ultimate enemy territory: Auburn, Alabama. The Iron Bowl is Alabama and Auburn’s last regular-season game every year, and as Tanner Bramlett put it, it’s the “showdown of the century.” 

I feel like we could be No. 1 in the country and Auburn could be dead last and it would still be a full house,” said Bramlett, a junior trumpeter majoring in psychology and political science. “I feel like everybody is in their truest game-day spirit, regardless of kickoff time or whatever. It’s just a fun rivalry.”

Some band members mentioned that it is not hard to hate the Tigers, as the in-state sibling rivalry is ingrained in children’s minds as early as elementary school. But no matter how many games the Crimson Tide wins in a season, MDB members attest that the last victory against the Tigers always tastes the sweetest. 

“During the Iron Bowl two years ago, I was twirling right in front of Auburn’s band during our show, and all I can remember is having so much pride and just screaming ‘Roll Tide’ at the top of my lungs and just shoving it in their face, like, ‘You wish you were us,’” said Crimsonette Lily Prater, a junior majoring in creative media. “The best part of an Iron Bowl is getting to sing ‘Rammer Jammer’ as the Auburn fans are clearing out. I’m not sure I want to say anything to jinx it, but I’m looking forward to being able to do that again.”


PLAN TO GO:

WHAT: Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Auburn Tigers

WHEN: Nov. 26 at 2:30 p.m.

WHERE: Auburn, Alabama

WATCH: CBS