Come September, you’ll see them on the turf at Sam Boyd Stadium, sweating their butts off in UNLV’s signature scarlet and gray, giving their everything for the screaming crowd. No, this isn’t Rebels football—it’s UNLV’s Star of Nevada Marching Band.
This week, the band students take the practice field for the first time, so we tapped professor of music Anthony LaBounty, UNLV’s associate director of bands, to talk about this season’s field shows, new gameday performance elements and how one of the Killers was smashing cymbals before “Mr. Brightside” hit the airwaves.
The marching band often plays popular music. What are you playing this year? Most of the popular favorites are things that we do when we feature the Scarlet Dance Line. This year we’ll do several shows. The first show out of the chute at the Arizona game basically will be a spy theme, so we’re going with 007, Austin Powers, "Mission: Impossible," those types of themes. That’ll service for the first three games, actually.
What else do you have planned for this season? We also do a veterans’ salute, typically in early November around Veteran’s Day, which has become probably the most well-received show of all because everyone’s got a family member that’s been in the military. And we feature the music from all five branches—Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard. It’s basically a throwback to the 1950s and ’60s where you did picture shows on the field. So the band will form a big airplane for the Air Force and a big eagle for the United States Army theme, and maybe the anchor for the United States Navy. We’re going to do a Michael Jackson tribute show. That’s for our very last game, on Nov. 30.
Aside from Sam Boyd Stadium, where else has the band played around town? One of the things that we did back in November was performing with the 2012 "American Idol" winner, Phillip Phillips. He was the keynote performer at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards banquet, which is televised on the Speed network. They asked us to perform [“Home”] with him. There’s a section in the song where the drums are playing, and so of course, it worked out perfectly to have 25 of our drumline guys come in and help bring in some more pageantry to the performance. A year or two ago we were asked to be on "Live with Regis and Kelly"—that was before Regis retired.
I heard Ronnie Vannucci from the Killers was in the marching band. Is that true? He played cymbals, and he was very dedicated. And in fact, he’d always say, “Hey, come see my band, come see my band.” We’d come back after a long day at the stadium after games, and he’d be in the practice room until 2, 3 in the morning. He was very dedicated. He pursued his dream and he’s living it.
You’ve been at UNLV 26 years. Is there a particular memory that stands out? It’s unfortunate, but it has to do with my memory of a show that we did right after 9/11. We had a game that was scheduled against BYU at that time and they postponed the game for obvious reasons, and then the athletic department rescheduled it. Our colleagues up at BYU were bringing their band to the game, and so we asked them if they wanted to have a joint show, paying tribute to the members of our law enforcement and fire and rescue, and also paying tribute to those who lost their lives and of course the family members. We did that together, both bands on the field. We got gigantic American flags and we designed the show … and it was awesome. Unfortunately, it was in tribute to something as awful as that, but people came together and it was pretty special.
Is the band doing anything new and different this season? We’re going to do some other things with the band where we send out a smaller contingent throughout the stadium to play and hopefully get the crowd excited about what’s going on out on the field. Because in the end, our job—and we love it—is to get Rebels fans excited about Rebels football. The show is really about football; it’s not about us.
The season home opener on September 7 is against Arizona, one of your alma maters. Any conflicting feelings there? Listen, I’m a Rebel through and through. Yes, I appreciate my alma mater, and it’s a really good school, and I learned a lot, but you know what? I’ve now lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere. I’m 50 years old; I’ve been here 26 years and I’m rootin’ for the Rebels—and I’ll be doing that until there’s double zeros at that game. And like I said, that’s no disrespect to my alma mater, but I hope they lose to the Rebels, and that’s how it’s going to be.