One of the highlights of a busy month has been barnstorming through Taranaki with 50 new friends from Honolulu … members of the US Marine Corps Forces Pacific Band. Having played trombone in high school, university, and professional bands myself, I know how much energy and pleasure a troupe of musicians can generate. So it seemed natural to invite the Marines to New Zealand to help support the USA Eagles in our first two games of the Rugby World Cup.
The Band arrived in New Plymouth and hit the ground marching. They met Dr McWaine and me at the cricket field the morning of September 10th, along with our AmeriCarna friends Wayne & Frances McCurdy. The Doc and I got into the back seat of Wayne’s candy-apple red 1976 Cadillac El Dorado convertible. The Band fell in behind. And we paraded through the main streets of the city.
A couple thousand folks lined the route and waved as we passed, and many followed us to the Taranaki International Village next to the Rugby World Cup FanZone. The Show Band ensemble split off from the full Band, took the stage at the Village, and raised the roof with an hour of classic rock favorites. The packed tent and the overflow crowd outside clapped, cheered, and sang along.
The next day, September 11th, was a mix of somber and joyful. The Brass Quintet played at the moving 9-11 memorial service attended by the Eagles and more than 500 others at St Andrew’s Church. That afternoon the Show Band played another rock concert at the International Village, and the Party Band ensemble performed at our tailgate party before the US/Ireland game. The full Band then reassembled to take to the rugby field to entertain the crowd before the start of the match.
For the next couple of days Dr McWaine and I traveled with the Band across Taranaki as it played concerts in Stratford, Hawera, and New Plymouth. The full Concert Band was very well received, with a program of classical music, iconic marches, and big-band era favorites. In the community center in Stratford the music had many of the 800 attendees clapping, cheering, and singing along at times. I chuckled to see the older school girls mob their favorite musicians after the concert, including drummer Matt.
The day of the USA/Russia game, September 15th, brought another packed rock concert at the International Village and an even bigger tailgate party at the TSB Showcase. The Party Band and many of our enthusiastic tailgaters spilled out into the street for an impromptu dance mob with costumed passers-by and other American fans heading to the game. The full Band again provided on-field pre-game entertainment, starting the ball rolling toward the Eagles’ impressive victory.
We then headed toward Wellington. The Brass Quintet played at the Paekakariki Town Hall, and the full Concert Band assembled to perform at Old Saint Paul’s. Permanently and proudly displaying US and 2nd Marine Division flags from World War II, Old St Paul’s had been an important site of worship for the Marines stationed in Wellington during the War. It now houses A Friend in Need, an exhibit commemorating the Marines’ long relationship with New Zealand. The concert was an emotional event, with both American and Kiwi veterans in attendance.
The Marine musicians’ time in New Zealand culminated with the Show Band rocking the Wellington Fanzone for two hours this past Saturday afternoon. The crowd numbered in the several hundreds, packed with rugby fans from South Africa and Fiji who were enthusiastically gearing up for their evening match. The Springbok fans certainly had the numbers, but the Fijians held their own in style and flair. The Band’s final song was a slamming rendition of funk/soul powerhouse Tower of Power’s What is Hip?
I think the Band — in all its iterations, whether Marching, Concert, Show, Party, or Brass Quintet — answered that musical question unambiguously. Under the direction of Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Smith, the Band wows audiences more than 400 times each year, and knows how to entertain. From ceremonies to parades to parties, the Band is as entertaining, exuberant, and hip as it is regal.
A big thanks to the Band members, our friends at Pacific Command who made the trip possible, our hosts in Taranaki, Kapiti, and Wellington, and everyone who came out to enjoy the music. The Marines pumped the level of fun, excitement, and energy way up during the first week of the Rugby World Cup. And they thoroughly enjoyed being here. I was a bit worried that we weren’t going to get all of them back on the airplane.
If you weren’t able to see the Band in person, don’t fret. We hope to bring the guys and gals back again next June for another round of concerts and parades commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Marines’ landing in Wellington to defend the Aotearoa homeland and the South Pacific during World War II. Nothing is committed yet, but we’re working hard to make the arrangements. Keep your fingers crossed.