On November 25th, we played the halftime show at the Giants Packers game at Met Life Stadium in NJ. It was a great experience. Not everyone is a football fan, and certainly not everyone is a Giants or Packers fan; but without question, every member of the band feels something special when performing for 82,566 people at the same time.
We began our task weeks ago, when we pre-recorded the music that would be performed at the game. Wait, why pre-record music if you’re going to show up and play it anyway? The main reason is the weather. You have no idea what the weather in the Northeast is going to be like in late November. it could be 60 degrees, or it could be in the 20s, or raining, or snowing. Wind and brass instruments react badly to bad weather. If it’s raining, water gets in the toneholes of all of the woodwind instruments, making them unusable. If it is cold, all of the instruments go flat, but not at the same rate, making playing in tune nearly impossible. If it is really cold, as in well below freezing, the valves on brass instruments literally freeze in place, making it impossible for the musicians to change notes. No matter what the weather, the job must get done. For a performance as critical as this, pre-recording the music was the safest call.
We had a sound check on the field at about 4:00 in the afternoon, nearly 4.5 hours before kickoff. I was hoping to see some early warm ups going on, but there was nobody around, save the audio and visual team from the stadium. It is always awe-inspiring to walk right to the center of such a large stadium, and this day was no different. Sound check complete, we retired for our meal and long wait before halftime.
We were fed well, in a very cold tent outside the stadium. After a meal of pasta and meatballs, very North Jersey, we were ushered inside to the performer’s holding room, where we waited out the next few hours watching other football games on the TV, or just catching up on some reading or other work.
Halftime came rather quickly once the game started. Most of us are used to the pace of Army football games, not the fast action of an NFL game. We waited patiently in the tunnel for the second quarter to end, listening to the cheers and jeers of the crowd above us.
Once halftime started, we stepped onto the field as the players were departing. Immediately, we were cheered by the hundreds of fans who were close enough to notice an entire military unit walking down the sideline. We received salutes and thanks from many civilians watching the game.
For the show, we performed the Armed Forces Medley, a compilation of the service songs from each branch. The crowd was asked to stand and be recognized if they had served in the Coast Guard, Air Force, Navy, Marines, or Army. This is a wonderful thing to do for veterans, but not all that effective in a stadium at halftime when most people are headed for the bathroom or to find a hotdog. After the medley, we played God Bless America, which was much more moving. We were able to see and hear thousands of fans singing along with us as we played, hats and hands over their hearts. Even the team personnel left on the sidelines stopped what they were doing and sang along. Throughout the show, we all took great delight in not only performing for the fans, but seeing both ourselves, and the fans reactions to the show on the immense jumbo-trons that ring the stadium.
After the halftime show, most band members changed and went back home. I stayed behind with a handful of other band members to watch the rest of the game. We were not given tickets for the game, which originally seemed to be a bad thing for us. It turned out to be a great thing. We were allowed to watch the game from the sidelines, not an experience that can be duplicated anywhere. We stood in the corner of the end zone, mere feet from the sideline and hoped the action would make its way to our end of the field.
Even though the Packers couldn’t seem to put anything together that night, they did finally make it down to our end of the field, and we were close enough to hear the player’s voices clearly, and hear the hits as they happened.
Overall, the game was a great experience, one we hope to repeat soon.
Words and images by Sgt. 1st Class Sam Kaestner