“Eating Grass, Taking Names.”
“There’s No Place Like Home.”
“The Pulse of LSU.”
These are just a few of the mottos the Golden Band from Tigerland has selected in past years.
When the band takes the field before a football game and all 102,000 fans in Tiger Stadium wait for the famous first four notes of the pregame fanfare, the band indeed becomes “the pulse of LSU.”
The Golden Band from Tigerland is a classic symbol of tradition at LSU. For football fans, it is just as much a part of game day as tailgating, jambalaya and imminent cardiac arrest (compliments of coach Les Miles).
While most of their friends are playing beer pong and getting sunburned on game day, band members have a packed schedule to keep.
The first item on the list: band practice.
Their “call time” is several hours before kickoff. For Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. home opener against Sam Houston State, the band members have to be at LSU’s indoor football practice facility at 12:30 p.m.
Band parents – many donning “LSU Tiger Band Mom” shirts and buttons – crowd the sides of the field and overflow from a balcony onto the stairs overlooking the turf. After rehearsing the halftime program, a tribute to “West Side Story,” the band practices its pregame program.
Band members gather in tight lines on one end zone and hunch down, as any LSU fan has seen them do numerous times. But this time, you can hear them doing something different: hissing.
Over the next minute or so, the members make a series of hissing and grunting noises to each other. This is how they communicate to each other when to stand up and when to step in a deafening stadium, according to LSU graduate student Aaron Caffarel, a former Tiger Band mellophone player.
Director of Bands Roy King stops the band a few times during rehearsal to give critiques. According to Caffarel, it is common for band members to be cut from the pregame show during this rehearsal, even though it’s just hours before kickoff.
Finally, after a few full rehearsals of pregame, King approves.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” he yells from the balcony through a megaphone.
Next up on the agenda: the band’s march down Victory Hill.
“Coming from a small band program in high school where no one appreciates you, it was a culture shock,” senior trombone player Marc Rabalais said.
“People love the band so much (at LSU) that they go hours early to watch us run down a hill.”
In LSU’s hallowed Tiger Stadium, the band sits in the student section.
Beaming band parents press against the band, trying to snap pictures of their children. Some are still taking pictures in the fourth quarter.
The band starts to go to the field for the pregame show around 5:45 p.m. After a few hype videos on the big video scoreboards, the crowd is primed for the jewel of the pregame crown: the first four notes of “Hold That Tiger.”
As the drums beat their famous rhythm, the crowd starts to clap along, quickly getting off beat.
Senior color guard member Raemi Savoy said this doesn’t bother the band members. They can feel the drums, which helps them stay in rhythm.
Senior trombone player Alex Aaron said muscle memory also helps them stay on task. That’s crucial, because this is an emotional moment for the band.
“I cried my first pregame, and also when we were walking down the hill,” Savoy said. “It’s just so freaking cool – 92,000 people are watching you.”
“In pregame it hit me that this was it, this is our performance,” drum major Mary Bahlinger said. “The home games are the days we prepare and practice and sweat – or sparkle – for every day.”
There are many standout songs in Tiger Band’s repertoire, including the pregame show, a cover of Kanye West’s “All Of the Lights,” and the LSU Alma Mater.
However, the most haunting performance is arguably “Let Us Break Bread Together.”
After LSU soundly defeats Sam Houston State 56-0, the band solemnly plays this beautiful hymn, a historic part of any LSU football game.
Rabalais said the band plays “Let Us Break Bread Together” as a sign of camaraderie with the opposing team.
“Win or lose, we want to tell the opponent, ‘good game,'” Rabalais said. “We want to show good sportsmanship.”