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Festivals boost Marshall marching band’s ranks

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Marshall University's marching band will take Laidley Field tonight with the most members in school history, Director Steve Barnett said.

Barnett said the ranks of the Marching Thunder have swelled to 330 students, thanks in large parts to events like tonight's 66th annual Daily Mail Kanawha County Majorette and Band Festival.

"That's the best kind of recruiting we can do," Barnett said.

The festival starts at 6:30 p.m. at University of Charleston Stadium at Laidley Field. Tickets will be available at the gate for $8.

Members of the Marching Thunder are to perform at about 8:30 p.m. In addition to a West Virginia medley, Barnett said the show includes Motown favorites from the likes of Michael Jackson, Donna Summers and Jackie Wilson.

Marshall's band attends several festivals around the state during any given year, giving it lots of exposure to potential members. Most band members come from West Virginia, and Barnett said every year most new members say they have seen the Marshall band at events and festivals.

Marshall and West Virginia University perform at the Kanawha County festival on alternate years. Barnett said Marshall's shows help bring the Herd to Kanawha County, a hotbed for band recruiting.

"We've got several kids from Kanawha County, and we'll recognize them during our show," Barnett said. "There's a lot of really good band programs, and lots of good kids come from the Kanawha area."

Barnett loves the high band participation rate and said he has a great group of students. A massive band does present some issues, however.

For the first time in recent years, the band will not play at a National Football League game, Barnett said. The band has played at Pittsburgh Steelers games the past two years, but scheduling conflicts and lack of available funds put the kibosh on such a trip.

In fact, tonight's festival might be about as far as the band is able to travel for the rest of the season, Barnett said.

"Our budget won't allow us to really travel," Barnett said, adding that a trip earlier this fall to Morgantown for Marshall's game against West Virginia University was the lone away trip planned.

"That pretty much takes the whole travel budget," he said.

Marshall's football team plays opponents at far-flung locations like Southern Mississippi, East Carolina and University of Alabama at Birmingham - not exactly a hop, skip and a jump for your average marching band.   

Last year the Herd advanced to a bowl game in Florida, and Barnett took seven or eight buses of band members.

Such trips are fun but not cost friendly, he said.

"(Travel) and meals for 300 and something folks adds up really quick," he said.

He plans to take the band to a bowl game if Marshall is able to qualify again this year. If not, it makes tonight's festival and similar events even more important.

"It's a well-run contest, very well respected," Barnett said.

Fellow Marshall professors showed their respect for Barnett last year by awarding him with the Marshall & Shirley Reynolds Outstanding Teacher Award. The award, which recognizes "superior teaching at Marshall University," according to a university website, is the biggest honor Barnett said he has received in 34 years of teaching music.

"It was very humbling to say the least," Barnett said.

A long process preceded the award. Apart from the paperwork and help from administrators, Barnett said professors he did not know observed his classes.

Receiving an award from peers is a big accomplishment, Barnett said, but he gives all the credit to his colleagues and his students.

"When you get an award like that ... it's not just you, you share it."

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or Follow him at





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