Traverse City News and Events

Tradition Returns: Cherryland Band Classic Back During Cherry Festival

By Craig Manning | June 13, 2018

After being absent from the National Cherry Festival schedule last year, the Cherryland Band Classic is making a return in 2018.
 
According to Kat Paye, the Cherry Festival’s executive director, the competitive marching band event was pulled last year due to lack of participants. After extending invitations to a series of high school bands throughout the Midwest – including numerous schools that had previously attended – the festival only had three bands on the docket for 2017. Festival officials determined that three bands wasn’t enough to justify holding the competition, so the event was cancelled.
 
This year, though, Paye says the festival had significantly more interest. As a result, the Cherryland Band Classic will be back at Thirlby Field on Friday, July 6.
 
“We’re having a six-band competition this year, plus an intermission,” Paye says. “That to me is a good field show. That’s worth renting Thirlby and getting the judges and doing the prizes and having that happen, because it is a very cool experience.”
 
The profile of the Cherryland Band Classic has waned from the days when 7-10 bands would take the field. Some schools rotate the competitions they attend each year, while other marching bands aren’t competition-ready in July. High school bands from Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) don’t participate because their marching band season ends in November, with the conclusion of the football season. The 2018 marching bands for Central High School and West Senior High won’t even convene for band camp until mid-August.
 
The biggest factor, though, is cost. All six bands performing this year come from either Wisconsin or Minnesota, and they’ll be in town for several days. Bands arrive Thursday – in time to play the Junior Royale Parade – and depart after playing in Saturday’s Cherry Royale Parade, a substantial commitment of time and money. Paye says that it “takes some good financial strength and some good fundraising” for bands to attend.
 
Cost is an issue for the Cherry Festival, too – partially because the festival tries to offset expenses for the visiting bands. In addition to booking Thirlby Field, hiring judges for the competition, and putting together prizes for the winning bands, the festival also strikes a deal with TCAPS to use local elementary schools as temporary housing. The bands also receive stipends for playing in the Cherry Festival parades. The small amount of money earned in ticket sales goes toward covering these costs.
 
“This is not a moneymaking event for the Cherry Festival in any way, shape, or form,” Paye says. “The bands basically worry about food and transportation, and we take care of everything else.”
 
Paye estimates that the Cherryland Band Classic loses the festival $8,000-$10,000 each year – and has for much of its history. Still, she stresses that money was not the reason that the event took a year off in 2017, nor is it a factor that will jeopardize the future of the tradition.
 
“It’s not something I want to take away unless we don’t have bands to compete,” she says. “I want these kids to have an audience and to be able to perform in front of people who truly want to be there and care to see it. So, when we were able to get six bands this year, we said, ‘Okay, let’s do it. It’s on. We’re bringing back the Cherryland Band Classic.’”
 
She adds: “Events like this are why we have other events that are ticketed. That way, we can help offset costs like this.”
 
Tickets for the Cherryland Band Classic are $5 each. Gates at Thirlby Field will open at 5:30pm on July 6, with opening ceremonies to follow at 6:30pm. The first band is set to take the field at 7pm.

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