Spring09

Next time you’re at a Humboldt State basketball game, try chanting this to a snappy
													Anchors Aweigh beat:

Drive On Humboldt On Down The Floor Drive on Humboldt Show 'em the door Forwards snuff 'em Centers stuff 'em We are on the march We must have a victory For the Green & Gold So fight, fight fight! Win for Humboldt State

Though the Humboldt State fight song can't be credited—the lyricist's name was clipped off in the photocopier years ago—it's the rallying cry heard at every game of the season from Humboldt State's official, yet completely silly, marching band.

A blurb on their Web site sums up the band:
"We don't do that marching in step stuff—at least not intentionally, we don't do Latin fanfares, lame marching band competitions, and we don't waste our time making sure everyone's feet are exactly 6 inches off the ground or any other junk like that.

We've got jugglers, dancers, kazoo players, KEG players as well as some very talented musicians.

In short—this AIN'T your typical college band and this sure as heck isn't your high school band either. If you want to march, join the Army! This is college—it's supposed to be fun!"

As HSU's oldest student-run organization they've been having more fun for longer than almost anybody on campus. With little more than determination and a band room featuring some instruments that predate Founders Hall, this group of musicians travels up and down the coast, wherever the HSU Athletics' schedule takes them. The band might be little more than a quartet or a swarming mass of brass and percussion, but wherever they are, their costumes are unmistakable. Of course they sport HSU green and gold. They also wear flaming red suspenders and yellow hardhats, most often decorated with stickers of every stripe, reflecting their no-holds-barred enthusiasm.

The band's zeal comes from a four-decades-old corps of alumni. These faithful musicians still come out to the games with a surprising regularity. "Our network of alumni is so big that if we're playing a game in the Los Angeles area, we'll get several old band members who will show up and play with us," explains Chris Larsen, the band's director of public relations, who can also be heard playing baritone sax at most games.

The Marching Lumberjacks claim to be world famous, and they get the attention to back it up: Their photo appeared in National Geographic Magazine in 1993, and band members appear in the 2001 film The Majestic starring Jim Carrey, which was filmed in Humboldt County. They've also achieved local recognition: Last year the Arcata, Calif., City Council declared Nov. 8 to be Marching Lumberjacks Day in honor of the band's 40th anniversary.

THEIR STORIED EXISTENCE DATES back to 1968 after a lengthy discussion about what a marching band should be and just who owns that band. Since 1940, various marching bands have existed at HSU: from the early days of the Humboldt State College Band with Professor Charles Fulkerson as musical director and Professor Leland Barlow directing the half-time show routines, or "stunts" as was the term of the day. The 1950s saw the adoption of "Block H" uniforms under President Cornelius Siemens and a more formal approach to the school marching band. By the mid ‘60s, however, band enrollment was dwindling and it was decided that the music faculty would no longer provide entertainment at athletic events. What was effectively the cancellation of the school's marching band was understandably met with much opposition.

After a few stop-gap approaches to reconciling the need for a spirit band and the music faculty's wish to cater to a new generation of students who weren't interested in marching, the ideas which would produce the Marching Lumberjacks were starting to take hold. While the details are murky, essentially Humboldt State's band director quizzed his U.C. Davis counterpart on what it took to create a student-body supported marching band. The ensuing data dump was the key to a successful push to hand ownership over to the students and, in doing so, the Marching Lumberjacks were born.

Still Marching After All These Years

The Marching Lumberjacks turned 40 this year and held a reunion on Nov. 8, a rain-soaked night of football in Redwood Bowl. While no official head count was taken, some estimates indicated as many as 150 people showed up, well-worn instruments in tow, to take part in the half-time performance. "It was just wave after wave of yellow and green descending from the bleachers," recalls Andrea Grzybowski, general manager for the band. "I wish it hadn't been raining so more people would've been there to witness that, but I guess that's why we're the ‘official band of bad weather.'"

The reunion performance included a trip down memory lane led by time-pixies (the children of band alumni) and a striking rendition of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." During the famous "rock out" that is the song's outro, the rain, which looked as though it might clear moments before the band took the field, came down the hardest it would all night. On the artificial turf, right on the 50-yard line, stood the ever-faithful Marching Lumberjacks, some playing a song they'd learned just hours before, belting out a chord progression that was probably never imagined for sousaphone and tambourine. But what the band lacked in preparation they made up for in spirit‚ and the mood was infectious. The crowd, though squished tightly together under the field's great awning, exploded in applause as the Marching Lumberjacks left the field, triumphant and waterlogged.

A Dwindling Breed

HERE ON THE WEST Coast, the Marching Lumberjacks can claim the title as the only regional scatter band—a tradition that grew mostly out of East Coast Ivy League schools and eschews conventional marching behavior, instead opting for a random scattering of musicians as they run from one formation to another.

While Humboldt State gets to enjoy a taste of Ivy League tradition, a friendly rivalry has been developing for years among California's collegiate bands and the competition between the Marching Lumberjacks and the UC Davis Aggies is definitely the most heated. Every year, marching bands from throughout the state gather for Picnic Day at UC Davis with the hotly contested Battle of the Bands highlighting the day.

In 2005, the event, which included HSU, Davis, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine and UC San Diego, lasted for more than 12 hours as the Aggies went head-to-head in a competition that required each band to play as many songs as possible without repeating one. The Aggies claim more than 120 songs in their repertoire, while the Marching Lumberjacks boast at least 170. Without ever deciding a victor the competition was called around 3 a.m. much to the delight of the chapped lips, aching backs and tired lungs in both bands. This display of musical prowess by both teams led to a rewriting of the rules, and now Picnic Day ends with an exhibition instead of the competition.

Looking Forward

THE ALLURE OF THE Marching Lumberjacks is undeniable. After 40 years they've been able to keep crowds entertained and a diverse group of alumni coming back for more. Few other student groups can boast this sort of loyalty. So what's the secret behind the Marching Lumberjacks' success? Grzybowski sums it up like this: "We have fun, we get to play great music to great fans and watch basketball games while we're doing it. Who wouldn't want to be in this band?" End Story