How I travel with my family of 298 people as a Fresno State Marching Band percussionist

The Fresno State Marching Band performs during halftime of the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl at SoFi Stadium. (Diego Vargas/The Collegian)

Marcos Acosta is the Collegian’s photographer and a percussionist for the Fresno State Marching Band. He will be traveling with the band to perform in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day. (Manuel Hernandez/The Collegian)

For an average family of four, taking a road trip can range from $800 to $1,200 from the hotel prices, food and gas. Now imagine going with a family of 298 people; that price jumps astronomically; and if you’re asking “Who has a family that large?,” well for me its the “Best Band in the West” also known as the Fresno State Marching Band.

“The things that we have done in the past have been almost non comparative to any other
college marching band on the West Coast,” said Steven Mckeithen, director of bands at Fresno State. “It goes on by what the university is doing for us this upcoming New Year’s by
going to the Tournament of Roses Parade, and for the band being able to go across the world to be a part of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin, Ireland.”

Packing and traveling for trips like these is an abnormal experience, and dilemmas go beyond what clothes will fit in a suitcase or who will get the window seat in the car.

Obviously a car is out of the equation, unless there’s a 300-seater minivan. The band uses charter buses, holding up to 60 people each.Then we got to load the hundreds of uniforms packed inside our suitcases or duffle bags, totaling around 596 items. Lets not forget about the most essential, our instrument, thus adding to the combination with a total of 835 instrument cases.

Every marching band has a drumline or a percussion section. This adds to the luggage count. Of the 298 band members, 39 of them either play the snare drum, quad drum, bass drum or the marching cymbals. For the most part, these instruments would not fit on a charter bus along with the rest of the luggage. Rental trucks are required.

Plus, there are still 20 members of the band who play instruments so big they need an entire truck to move them. They’re like the baby brother who brings too many toys on the trip.

Those 20 members are part of the front ensemble, which consists of five marimbas, four vibraphones, one xylophone, two synthesizers and one drum set. All this adds up to three trucks going on the trip just for all things percussion and nothing else.

You know what also goes behind the scenes we got to go through before the trip, the paperwork because just like everything else in the world nothing is free. Luckily, we have help.

“I am just a very good travel agent, who works well with big groups.” said Rachel Stratton, Fresno State Marching Band’s accountant.

What Stratton does is make sure all the contact information is up to date with each of the locations the band is going to, including a pit stop that is pre-planned for all 298 members to stretch their legs and grab a bite to eat – we even vote for where to eat.

When moving all the equipment that cannot fit on the charter buses, the Fresno State
music department does not have the funds to hire drivers to drive the trucks for the band, so
Mckeithen turns to the equipment crew that is run within the BMB to drive the trucks.

The equipment crew (eq crew) is a paid position that helps move everything in the BMB.

“I’ve been doing crew for just about three years and this is the second time I had the chance to go on a long trip like this, and it is something that is not easy by any means,” said Ian Closser, head of the eq crew.

Closser is the over prepared aunt/uncle who packs everything the family might need.

Closser brings all the extra parts needed for almost any instrument just in case something minor were to break so it could be fixed. He also brings any spare uniform parts just in case anything needs to be changed on the uniform last minute.

He is one of the many crucial components that gets this nearly 300-member family to its destination and survives the strenuous trek while also making it an enjoyable ride along the way.

For those who like to watch college football and ever wonder what it takes to move the marching band with the correlating school, now you know. It is just one big family that has overpacked and has too much stuff.

Fresno State marching band poses at the SoFi Stadium. (Diego Vargas/The Collegian)
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