LSU senior economics major Nicholas Robichaux remembers getting chills the first time he saw the Golden Band from Tigerland perform. The Thibodaux native was 8 years old and he’d come to Baton Rouge with his family to see LSU play Ole Miss.
“Watching the pre-game was something I will never forget,” Robichaux says. “I knew one day I wanted to be in the marching band.”
Robichaux became a member of the LSU Tiger Marching Band’s trombone section three years ago. This fall, he will serve as the band’s drum major, the student band member who leads the 325-member troupe and ensures its painstakingly crafted game-day agenda is carried out.
Home games are especially demanding, because the fan experience so heavily depends on the band’s execution of musical markers meant to set the mood before, during and after the game. From the march down Victory Hill, to the pregame and halftime shows, to closing songs for die-hards who remain after the game is over, Tiger Band’s contributions to the game-day experience are indispensable. Fans might level insults at players and coaches, but they feel terminal affection for the band.
For band members, game-day starts about six hours before kick-off with a two-hour practice in their indoor facility. After grabbing a bite and changing into their uniforms, they march in formation to the LSU Greek Theatre for section warm-ups.
“Each section of instruments has its own little concert,” Robichaux says. “A lot of friends and family come see us there.”
About 90 minutes before kick-off, LSU’s most emblematic football tradition unfolds. From the Greek Theatre, the band marches down Dalrymple Drive to Field House Drive, pausing at the roundabout before beginning its moving descent down Victory Hill. The drumline keeps time, and when the band’s members are stretched down the hill in perfect formation, four notes boom, filling the air and energizing the crowd of fans with the prelude to a powerful song referred to simply as “Pregame,” a medley fused from two songs, “Tiger Rag” and “Touchdown for LSU.”
“There are thousands of people on both sides of the hill, and they’re there to see us,” Robichaux says. “It’s really indescribable.”
But whatever thrill a band member might feel, they must suppress it. Marching bands are steeped in military traditions, Robichaux says, and musicians aren’t allowed to smile. Instead, they have to present a uniform, focused front.
As the pregame tune recognizably picks up tempo, fans scream and cheer. The band runs down the hill and heads for the Pete Maravich Assembly Center to put on a small concert for members of Tiger Athletic Foundation.
A short while later, they head to Tiger Stadium, marching through their own dedicated entrance. Once in their seats, the band plays “Zarathustra” by Strauss, the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, before heading onto the field for a pregame performance that excites the crowd.
“The pregame has been the same since the 1950s,” Robichaux says. “People get so excited.”
The band members take their seats again, and the game begins. Perhaps more than any other spectators in the stadium, band members are dialed into each play on the field, staying ready to perform corresponding tunes for first, second, and third downs, touchdowns and extra points and times when the opposing team crosses the 50 yard line.
The halftime show is, of course, a fan favorite, showing the band’s dexterity and talent. But what band members find especially meaningful, Robichaux says, is performing when the game ends. The band plays the alma mater for anyone left in attendance, followed by the moving spiritual, “Let Us Break Bread Together.” Afterwards, they put down their instruments, link arm in arm, and sing the alma mater.
But it’s still not over for Tiger Band. They must return to the band hall and review tape to learn from the day’s on-the-field performances.
Then, finally, they are able to hang up their uniforms and call it a day.
Number of members in the famed Southern University Marching Band, nicknamed the Human Jukebox. Led by Director of Bands Kedric D. Taylor, Southern’s marching band is known for its heavy brass sound and tightly coordinated dance steps.
Every year, the Human Jukebox goes head to head with the Grambling State University Tiger Marching Band in the nationally televised Battle of the Bands halftime show during the Bayou Classic, held at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Southern-Grambling football game is Nov. 27.
This article was originally published in August 2021 in the ‘Tiger Pride’ edition of 225 magazine.