Western Carolina University’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band is headed to New York City on Saturday, Nov. 23 to be one of the 11 marching bands performing in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Four former Franklin High School students will be among the 540-member band taking part in the performance.
Austin Jones, who graduated from FHS in 2017, said he couldn’t be more excited about the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“When I first heard we would perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade I was so excited,” said Jones. “The Pride of the Mountains performed at Macy’s in 2014 and I was jealous because I thought it was so cool. I never thought I’d be able to be in the parade but I’m honored that I’ll be able to perform in front of millions of people.”
Jones first joined the school band in fifth grade, making this his 11th year playing the trumpet. Jones refined his trumpet-playing technique while attending Southwestern Community College before transferring to Western Carolina.
“What I’m looking forward to the most is marching down New York hearing all the people cheer for us and having them experience what a 540-member band sounds like,” said Jones. “We will be the largest band to ever perform in the Macy’s parade.”
Jones is right, according to Macy’s website, with 540 members, WCU, which is one of two college bands performing this year, is the largest band in the parade’s 95-year history. Jones will be joined by the former FHS students, Shelby Frazier, Allen Martin and Emily Corrado who also perform with the band.
Jones said he couldn’t have been prepared for such a monumental performance which will include Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” without the help of his FHS Band director, Buddy Huckabee.
“What helped me get prepared for WCU would be the help of Buddy Huckabee,” said Jones. “He is a great teacher and mentor. He prepared me by giving the band an advance show drill and music. During concert band he would give us college level music. That really helped me transfer into a college marching band.”
This isn’t the first time the WCU Marching Band has marched in the Macy’s Parade. The band made its debut in 2014. Led by David Starnes, WCU director of athletic bands, the group was notified in April 2018 of their invitation to the 2019 parade. At that time, Wesley Whatley, creative producer for the Macy’s parade, came to campus to deliver the good news.
“On behalf of the band selection committee, Macy’s is incredibly proud to welcome back Western Carolina University to the streets of New York City,” Whatley said. “David Starnes runs a program known for its artistic storytelling, big sound and highly engaging field shows. The Macy’s parade audience has a lot to look forward to when the Pride of the Mountains marching band returns to our parade in 2019.”
Bands who have previously appeared in the parade must wait at least five years before reapplying. But the WCU band is special, Whatley said. “In most cases, it takes much longer for a group to receive another invitation, if at all,” he said. “WCU is a rare case — delivering such a special combination of artistry and big university sound that the committee couldn’t resist welcoming them back as soon as possible after the band’s five-year hiatus.”
Besides participating in the parade, the group will take in two Broadway musicals, see the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, visit the 9/11 and One World Trade sites, and enjoy a harbor cruise. The students will spend Thanksgiving with more than 950 family, friends and bandmates at the Marriott in Newark, N.J.