North Allegheny hosts 34th Allegheny Valley Marching Band Festival |
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North Allegheny’s flag team performs during the 34th Allegheny Valley Marching Band Festival Sept. 22, 2018.

Nearly 2,500 fans flocked into North Allegheny’s Newman Stadium, starting an hour and a half before start time. While some lingered in the parking lot to tailgate, others rushed toward the field to buy their tickets and secure a seat as close to the 50-yard line as they could get.

These die-hard fans were not coming to watch a highly contested football game against an arch rival. They were swarming to see the halftime show.

North Allegheny hosted the 34th annual Allegheny Valley Marching Band Festival on Saturday, Sept. 22, in which 1,231 student musicians from seven local high school bands — North Hills, Pine-Richland, Shaler Area, Hampton, Riverview, Northgate, and North Allegheny — performed their 2018 halftime shows.

“This festival is one of my favorites. It not only showcases all the talented students and directors from the Allegheny Valley, but brings together thousands of people to celebrate and support our fellow musicians and band members in the surrounding schools,” said George Tepshich, Director of the Shaler Area High School Marching Band.

Todd Stefan, NA’s band director and host of this year’s festival, agreed.

“I love seeing all the bands perform. We have such a wide variety of bands in the Allegheny Valley. It’s great for all the students to see and appreciate the different styles and kinds of marching band music,” he said. “Seeing the smiles on our kids’ faces is always the highlight of the evening for me.”

The bands, ranging in size from 31 members to 256, boasted their own unique style of rousing music, intricate drill, and colorful pageantry.

The Hampton High School Marching Band rolled a grand piano onto the field, along with a dance floor and an illuminated street lamp for its show, “City of Stars,” which featured music and dance routines from the 2016 musical film, “La La Land.”

The North Hills Marching Band wowed spectators with its precise, high-stepping military-style marching, while Pine-Richland brought its “World-Famous Dancing All-Girl Tuba Line” which has been thrilling crowds for the past 32 years.

The audience erupted in cheers when the Riverview “Raider” Marching Band played its rendition of Benny Goodman’s jazz hit, “Sing, Sing, Sing,” and drum majors Preston Proctor, Jr. and Parker Morgan danced the jitterbug with members of the dance team.

“It’s a great night. I love seeing all the northern bands come together for an evening that gives student musicians a chance to shine under the lights. It’s wonderful,” said Shayne Stromberg, 44, of McCandless.

Stromberg was a drum major for NA’s marching band in 1991 and now cherishes the opportunity to watch her own 16-year-old daughter, Lily, perform in NA’s drum line.

Stromberg’s mother, Mickey Bateson, 68, has attended more than 30 high school and collegiate band festivals, first watching her children perform when they were members of NA’s band, and now, watching her granddaughter.

“The band festivals never get old,” Bateson said. “They change with time. These days they use a lot of props and dances. But what impressed me the most about this year’s festival was that each of the bands cheered for each other as they were playing.”

One of the evening’s biggest applauses came when NA percussionist Aydan Klobuchar asked NA dance team member Autumn Belebush-Clouse to the homecoming dance over the loud speaker.

She tearfully accepted, to the delight of the roaring crowd.

While the purpose of the festival is for area schools to share their halftime shows with one another and learn from each other, it also serves as a fundraiser.

Nearly 150 NA band-parent volunteers sold tickets, baked goods, hot foods, candy grams, audio grams, and 50/50 raffle tickets to raise money to benefit NA’s band program and the Allegheny Valley Band Organization, which sponsors the annual marching band festival and cross-district honors bands for middle-school and high-school musicians.

“I wish we could do two or three or 100 band festivals every year,” Lily Stromberg said. “I like the fact that it’s all about the bands. I love when we look up in the stands and see people cheering instead of leaving for the concession stand, like they do at the football games.”

Laurie Rees is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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