U Iowa marching band prepares for Rose Bowl

IOWA CITY – Just two days after the University of Iowa football team received word it was heading to the Rose Bowl, Hawkeye Marching Band director Kevin Kastens boarded a flight to Southern California.

Kastens was part of a university delegation that made a three-day site visit to Pasadena, where he drove the Tournament of Roses Parade route and toured the stadium ahead of the Hawkeyes’ first trip to the prestigious New Year’s Day bowl in 25 years.

For Kastens and his 250-member marching band, it was the start of a hectic, but thrilling, few weeks of preparation for one of college athletics’ biggest stages – playing for hundreds of thousands of spectators lining the streets of the 127th Rose Parade, and the millions more who will tune in to watch the big game itself on Jan. 1.

“I’m really excited for the band; it’s a great opportunity,” Kastens said. “This is the crown jewel for a band, whether it’s a high school band marching in the Tournament of Roses Parade or the collegiate band performing in the parade or at the halftime of the Rose Bowl. As they say, it’s the granddaddy of them all.”

The Iowa City Press-Citizen reports that on Monday, band manager Jack Frank, a senior trombonist from Marion, loaded equipment onto a semitrailer that will eventually be hauled to Pasadena ahead of the band’s Dec. 29 charter flight.

“Being able to go to the Rose Bowl to finish off my career here is a pretty cool thing, because this is the bowl for band,” Frank said. “It’s going to be a jam-packed four days of rehearsals, and we’re working very hard to make sure we’re fully ready for the parade and other events, because it’s a lot of playing over those four days.”

The Hawkeye Marching Band will be unit No. 41 in the Rose Parade’s caravan of nearly 100 groups on New Year’s Day. They’ll march directly behind the Big Ten float, upon which school’s Spirit Squad will ride. An estimated 700,000 spectators will line the 5.5-mile route.

Inside the stadium that afternoon, the band will perform its traditional traveling pregame show, as well as play the national anthem, which will be led by UI’s director of bands, Mark Heidel. At halftime, the musicians will perform a seven-minute highlight show of selections from this past season, including a medley from the rock band Queen and a rendition of “Johnny B. Goode” – the same routine they performed at the Big Ten championship game two weeks ago.

Kastens said it will be a “working trip,” meaning there won’t be much time to take in the sights in Southern California. The band will have a three-hour rehearsal each of the three days leading up to game day and will make appearances at several events:

– A Hawkeye Huddle hosted by the UI Alumni Association from 3 to 5 p.m. Pacific time Dec. 30 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

– A players-parents reception Dec. 31 outside the Rose Bowl Stadium.

– A kickoff tailgate Dec. 31 outside the Rose Bowl Stadium.

Whittney Seckar-Anderson, who has been UI’s baton-twirling Golden Girl alongside the band the past four seasons, says performing in the parade and at the game will be a “dream come true.”

“After my freshman year we were 4-8 and didn’t get to go to a bowl game, so we’ve come such a long way,” Seckar-Anderson said. “This is every twirler’s dream in college – it doesn’t get much better than this.”

Seckar-Anderson said she’s extended her practices this month to improve her endurance ahead of the long parade and game – a day that will at once surely be exhilarating and exhausting for her and the band.

After four seasons of performances, Seckar-Anderson says she doesn’t get too nervous heading out onto the field with her baton these days. But she’s expecting a few more butterflies than usual when she looks out into the 92,500-seat Rose Bowl.

“The Rose Bowl holds a lot more people than Kinnick, and it’s nationally televised, so I’ll be a little more nervous,” she said. “But once I get going, the nerves will go away, and I’ll just be excited and happy.”

Isaac Anderson, the band’s drum major, said the musicians have been working on their parade marching technique and endurance, since the last parade they marched in was homecoming weekend in October.

“The big thing for the band is getting into shape, because this is going to be a lot more physically taxing,” said Anderson, a junior.

As a fifth-year senior, Frank, the band manager, has been to three previous bowl games with the Hawkeyes: the Insight Bowl in 2011 in Tempe, Arizona; the Outback Bowl in 2013 Tampa, Florida, and the TaxSlayer Bowl last season in Jacksonville, Florida.

“It’s always a good experience because Iowa travels so well,” Frank said. “Other teams will go and their bands may just play for a general crowd, but everyone comes out from Iowa and supports us.”