Alone, Southeast Bulloch High School’s marching band currently fields 98 students, Statesboro High School’s 85, and Portal Middle High School’s, just 15. Together, as the Bulloch Blues Marching Band, they add up to almost 200 students.
Existing in concept as that new, countywide band, they secured an invitation to the nationally televised Florida Citrus Parade without having marched together even in rehearsal. Performing in the Dec. 30 parade in Orlando would not have been possible for even the larger of the bands, alone, said Statesboro High School band director Lee Collins.
“We had to have a minimum of 125 marchers, and right now we don’t have that on the field; SEB doesn’t have that on the field,” Collins said. But by all of us combining our forces together and our talent together, we were well able to exceed that.”
Soon after Collins arrived at Statesboro High three years ago, he suggested to Southeast Bulloch High School band director Matt Olsen that their bands might travel together. Then they realized that, applying separately, their bands would not qualify for many regional and national parades.
“They usually want the giant bands with big productions and all that,” Olsen said.
After taking over last school year as Portal Middle High’s band director, John Gleissner became part of the discussion. Gleissner started with just six students marching in his high school band last year, so this year’s 15 represent a growing program.
Applying as a unit early in 2015, the bands were offered a spot in the Florida Citrus Parade, which vies with parades such as the Rose Bowl Parade for national attention. It occurs between the two collegiate football bowl games held at Orlando’s stadium, the Russell Athletic Bowl and the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.
The combined Bulloch County school bands actually confirmed their participation to Citrus Parade officials in May, Collins said. More planning, and fundraising efforts, have followed.
So has scheduling for other events. The Bulloch Blues Marching Band will debut in the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair Parade in Statesboro, at 5 p.m. on Oct. 19. The combined band is also scheduled to perform in the Savannah Veterans Day Parade, televised live by WTOC on Nov. 11, and again in Statesboro’s Martin Luther King Jr. Parade in January.
Additionally, Statesboro High School will host a Bulloch Bands Friends and Family Fundraising Concert, Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. The Portal, Southeast Bulloch and Statesboro marching bands will each perform their halftime shows. Then the three will assemble to perform as the Bulloch Blues Marching Band.
The Bulloch Blues has a logo, and costumes designed to represent a unified front. They utilize the members’ regular band shoes, plus black pants and a blue and black-striped, button-up shirt with the Bulloch Blues logo.
“We’re trying to look bluesy,” Collins said.
Olsen is working on the musical selection.
“We would like to do ‘Statesboro Blues,’ and then we’ll do our version of ‘Georgia (on My Mind),’ and we’re looking at a couple of pop tunes just to stay current,” he said.
For the Veterans Day Parade, the band will include a patriotic medley.
Now that everything is planned, the big band has its first combined rehearsal set for Oct. 12.
Not all will go
Although all 198 or so musicians, dancers and flag corps members are considered part of the countywide ensemble, only about 130 students are going to Orlando for the Citrus Parade, Collins said.
“Unfortunately, it’s $570 per kid, and not everybody is going to be able to do that,” he said.
The Bulloch Blues Band has undertaken several fundraising efforts. It has a GoFundMe webpage, under BullochBlues, the same identifier the band uses on Facebook page and Twitter. The GoFundMe page states that "in the vicinity of $40,000” needed to be raised for the season.
At this point, after a student count has been submitted for hotel reservations, donations are more likely to offset costs for band members already going, but could help send a few more, Collins said.
“We are trying to offset the students cost by half, so we can get as many students to perform in Orlando as we can,” he said
The donations will also help cover other expenses, such as parade banners and the Savannah trip, he said.
Band members have been taking matters into their own hands. A multi-location car wash in August, when students scrubbed vehicles at the Subway in Brooklet and both AgSouth Farm Credit and I Save More Furniture in Statesboro, raised about $1,200, Collins said.
Now, students are selling Goo-Goo Express Wash cards with the band receiving a share of the proceeds. Meanwhile, some band parents are calling on potential business sponsors. A Bulloch Blues Marching Band press release suggests sponsorship levels from a $50 “Band Geek” and $100 “Band Parent” to a $25,000 “Grand Champion Sponsor.”
The three-day Orlando trip includes extended fun time at the Universal Studios theme parks. The band is also slated to march with units of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade – which spend the post-season at the Orlando parks – on Dec. 29 before performing in the Citrus Bowl Parade at 10 a.m. Dec. 30.
A boost for Portal
The whole season opens new horizons to band members, said Portal’s director, Gleissner. With 33 young musicians coming up through his middle school band program, he sees his varsity marching band set to grow from the current 15, and believes that travel opportunities will make it more attractive to students. But participation in many regional and national parades would be impossible for the Portal band alone.
“I would have to have over one-third of the high school in the band in order to be able to march in these parades, and so we are very grateful to be able to participate in the Bulloch Blues,” Gleissner said.
Madison Miles, 16, a trumpet player, and now, in 11th grade, one of the Portal band’s two captains, has been in her school’s band since sixth grade. The band always participates in the Portal Turpentine Festival Parade, but this season brings her first opportunity to play in a parade outside Portal.
“For us to be able to go and play with SHS and SEB and be a part of a whole big group and to have that experience is a whole new thing we’ve never been able to do before, so it’s really great for us,” she said.