LARAMIE, Wyo. — It’s a busy Friday night in Laramie, and the city is primed for a University of Wyoming Cowboys home game the following day. Bars and restaurants are packed with students, locals and alumni who returned to see their alma mater take on Hawaii.
Inside the Library Sports Grille & Brewery, patrons — many of whom have already donned their brown and gold — eat, drink, talk and laugh against the dull roar of so many others doing the same.
With little warning, 30 students rush into the restaurant, climbing onto chairs and filling the limited space between tables. The students, every one armed with an instrument, surround the patrons before turning to face Carlos Pacheco, a third-year UW student and first-year drum major.
The Western Thunder Marching Band bursts into a rendition of “Cowboy Joe,” and patrons begin to clap along. By the end of the jingle, the patrons are chanting C-O-W-B-O-Y-S, banging on tables or clapping.
“Bar Band is a great time to kind of hype up the crowd before game day,” Pacheco said. “Typically, everybody likes to go out on the Friday night before a football game, so we’re just trying to create a hype.”
On the nights before home games, members of UW’s marching band can be found snaking their way through downtown, treating bar and restaurant patrons to “Cowboy Joe,” ”The Hey Song,” ”The Fight Song,” or, of course, “The Beer Song” — the Western Thunder staple, which reminds game-goers that in heaven, there is no beer, and that’s why we drink it here.
The night before UW faced off against Hawaii was also Pacheco’s first go at leading Bar Band, though he participated as a band member the past two years.
“I was a little nervous at first, not going to lie,” he said. “But I think once I got more used to it and just kind of had fun with it, I think it just came naturally. It’s like a normal Bar Band Friday, everyone’s having a great time, and it’s all good.”
The night begins at 8:30 p.m. when the band — a few paid members and several more for whom Bar Band is optional — gathers on campus. From there, the band carpools to various non-downtown bars, such as Mingles Lounge, O’Dwyers Public House, the Ranger Lounge and Bar and Mulligan’s Pub and Package Store, playing for the bar-goers at each.
Some 45 minutes later, the band lands downtown at the Alibi Pub Wood Fire Pizzaria & Bakery and continues on foot.
Bar Band — which started as a one-time event — proved popular in its early days roughly a decade ago and grew to become something of a game weekend expectation, UW Director of Bands Bob Belser said.
“As I visit with some of the restaurant owners, they say crowds really look forward to this and plan to be there eating or having a drink when the band comes through,” he said.
While establishment owners and patrons clap or chant along, they are not the only ones enjoying themselves. Head Drum Major Amber Sturdevant said the band members really look forward to performing for the rambunctious and upbeat crowds.
“It’s just a good way for the band to really bond as a family,” she said. “It’s especially good for the freshmen because it gives them something to do on a Friday night.”
The band heads to the Library after Alibi, then onto Altitude Chophouse & Brewery, Coal Creek TAP, Lovejoy’s Bar & Grill, Front Street Tavern & Bar, Born in a Barn and Buckhorn Bar and Parlor.
As the band navigates sometimes small and often crowded establishments, directing the band presents challenges drum majors are unlikely to face inside War Memorial Stadium.
“Space is definitely an issue, especially with the bigger instruments like the bass drums and trombones,” Sturdevant said. “There’s just so many people that it’s hard for them to maneuver.”
To ensure the band has a balanced ensemble, a core group of paid band members — itself a balanced ensemble — enters the restaurant first. Drum Major Estela Torres said this system helps the band avoid having 20 piccolos or some other lopsided group of instruments.
“We let them in first so we make sure we have good instrumentation and the sound is balanced,” Torres said. “And then anyone else who will fit in there.”
Pacheco said he makes sure to keep his percussionists in eyesight.
“The first key to having control of a small band is to make sure that you have your percussion in front of you,” he said. “Our director tells us all the time that your bass drum is basically the life of the band. You want to make sure you’re with them and they’re with you, so nobody gets too quick or too fast.”
From the Buckhorn, Western Thunder rushes to the Cowboy Saloon & Dance Hall, where in addition to their other songs, they perform “The Kids Aren’t Alright” by the Offspring. The band also performed this extra song at the Alibi.
“Those two have a lot more space for us and space to dance,” Sturdevant said.
The band finishes its downtown journey, hitting Crowbar and Grille, Roxie’s on Grand and ending the night at Third Street Bar & Grill.
Having torn across Laramie, riling up fans for the next day’s game, the band members head home to rest before tomorrow’s practice and performance.
But today, in anticipation of Saturday’s game against Texas State University, the band plans to tear through the town once again.
“I think it’s important for the community that we come out because it gets everyone so excited for the game,” Sturdevant said.
Information from: Laramie Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com