When the University of Alabama's Million Dollar Band passes the TV cameras during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Thursday, Chattanooga-area viewers may recognize familiar faces.
Seven students from Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama will be performing in the 400-member ensemble.
This is the first appearance in the Macy's parade for the Million Dollar Band, whose musicians will be among 10 marching bands and 8,000 total participants.
The parade's signature attraction — 15 giant, helium-filled character balloons — will soar between skyscrapers, and celebrities ranging from Carrie Underwood to Kelly Rowland to Kristin Chenoweth will perform. Also featured along the 2.5-mile route will be 28 floats, 36 novelty and heritage inflatables, nine performance groups and more than 800 clowns.
Although the pandemic meant a smaller parade and no live audience in 2020, executive producer Will Coss has promised this year's 95th edition will mark "the return of this cherished tradition." The spectacle typically draws 3.5 million spectators to the streets of Manhattan, along with 50 million television viewers.
"The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of America's iconic holiday traditions," said Ken Ozzello, professor of music and director of bands at UA. "Having the opportunity to participate will be thrilling for the members of the Million Dollar Band and provide them with lifelong memories."
The band and support staff left Monday in three staggered flights from Tuscaloosa and will return Friday on a similar schedule. Uniforms and instruments were sent by semi-truck. Tuesday was to include a guest performance by the Million Dollar Band's Crimsonettes and Colorguard with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, followed by a group photo of the band in Times Square.
On Thanksgiving Day, the musicians are scheduled for a 3 a.m. departure from the hotel so that they can fit in an early morning rehearsal before the parade lineup in a staging area in Central Park West.
After the parade, they'll have Thanksgiving dinner at Liberty House, a restaurant known for its views of the Manhattan skyline, including the Statue of Liberty.
— The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will air live from 9 a.m. to noon EST Thursday on NBC. The projected time for the Million Dollar Band to appear on camera is 11:57 a.m. The network will repeat the parade broadcast from 2 to 5 p.m., and it will be streamable on Peacock.
Whether the impressive menu and inspiring scenery can make up for missing Thanksgiving at home remains to be seen.
"Unfortunately, Thanksgiving plans were not canceled because of my absence, which means I will have to miss out on some mean turkey and desserts," said Zachary Langner of Albertville, Alabama, a percussionist in the band's front ensemble.
Luke Cross of Dalton, Georgia, formerly of Ringgold, Georgia, said he's "a little sad" to be missing the family Thanksgiving dinner, "but I'll be home for Christmas, so I'm not too upset."
Asher Redd, a junior mellophone player from Tullahoma, Tennessee, said his great-grandmother's mac and cheese has been put on hold until he can get home.
"That is definitely something I will not miss out on," he said. "My family is figuring out plans to get together when I get back."
Did you know?
Randall Coleman, the new band director at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, was previously associate director of the University of Alabama’s Million Dollar Band.
More than 100 bands applied to perform in this year's parade, according to Macy's officials, who said they consider each band's stage presence and musical and marching abilities for selection.
"When most Americans think of the University of Alabama, they may think about football. However, it is the exciting showmanship, entertaining performances and incredible music at halftime that captures our attention," said Wesley Whatley, the parade's creative producer.
Also performing this year are six high school bands, the Hampton University Marching Force, the NYPD Marching Band (made up of active police officers) and the Macy's Great American Marching Band, which draws its 300 musicians from across the nation.
NBC will air the parade from 9 a.m. to noon in every time zone, repeating the broadcast from 2-5 p.m. EST and also streaming it on Peacock.
The Crimson Tide musicians will perform "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" during their time on camera, which is projected to be at 11:57 a.m. The timing would indicate they'll usher in Santa Claus at the end of the parade. In their crimson and white uniforms, they'll be dressed appropriately.
Contact Lisa Denton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6281.
Meet the musicians
Chattanooga-area members of the Million Dollar Band:
— From: Tullahoma, Tennessee; graduate of Tullahoma High School.
— Year/major: Junior majoring in news media with a minor in criminal justice.
— Plays: Mellophone in the marching season, French horn in the offseason, “anything I can get my hands on, even if I don’t know how to play it” in his free time.
— Expectations: This is Redd’s first trip to New York, so he expects it to be “a bit of a culture shock.” Because he aspires to own a coffee shop someday, he’s most looking forward to visiting Caffe Reggio, circa 1927, New York City’s first coffee shop. “They have the first espresso machine imported into the USA on display,” he said.
— From: Langston, Alabama; graduate of Guntersville High School.
— Year/major: Freshman majoring in music education.
— Plays: Alto saxophone in the band; can also play piano “and a little bit of flute.”
— Expectations: He’s been to New York once before, but he hopes to take a bigger bite of the Big Apple this time around.
“My first trip was also a band trip during my junior year of high school,” he said. “We marched in the 100th Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Parade in Philadelphia. It was a great trip that I’ll never forget, but we had limited free time in New York so I’m really excited to have more freedom on this trip.”
This time, Smith hopes to explore the city at large, especially Times Square. “I’m also really excited to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ on Broadway.”
— From: Langston, Alabama; graduate of Guntersville High School.
— Year/major: Freshman cybersecurity major.
— Plays: Tuba and sousaphone in band; he took piano lessons in middle school and took up trombone in his senior year of high school.
— Expectations: He agreed with his twin brother, Jackson Smith, that the Philadelphia trip, with its detour into New York, was the most memorable school trip he’s been on. “I look forward to being able to stay in New York for a longer period of time now that I’m in college.” He said he’s eager to see “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
— From: Dalton, Georgia; graduate of Ringgold High School.
— Plays: Mellophone in the band; horn outside of band. Worth noting: Cross played in the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera Youth Orchestras for seven years.
— Year/major: Freshman music performance major.
— Expectations: Cross previously visited New York when Ringgold High School’s Marching Tiger Band played the New York Invitational Music Festival at Carnegie Hall. “I’m excited to see the Million Dollar Color Guard perform in Radio City Music Hall with the Rockettes,” he said.
— From: Albertville, Alabama; attended Guntersville High School for three years before transferring to Albertville High School his senior year.
— Year/major: Freshman majoring in instrumental music education.
— Plays: Percussion in the front ensemble; also plays guitar and piano and sings.
— Expectations: This is a second trip to New York for Langner. “My high school band went my junior year, but we were only there for like two days,” he said. “I did get to see ‘Wicked’ on Broadway while I was there though, and that was amazing, of course.”
This trip, Langner said he has “plans to see ‘Phantom of the Opera’ on Broadway, eat fancy dinner with some of my friends and go out to dinner with my section (wearing matching Christmas socks).”
— From: Ooltewah; graduate of Signal Mountain High School.
— Year/major: Sophomore majoring in aerospace engineering and physics.
— Plays: Trombone.
— Expectations: Kodsi said he comes from “a big Broadway-loving family” and has been to New York three times previously.
“For my first trip, my family took me to New York as a surprise trip to see ‘Wicked’ on Broadway, which was a show that I was practically obsessed with as a kid. My second trip involved traveling with the Chattanooga Boys Choir to sing in Carnegie Hall. During my last trip to the city, my family traveled to see both ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’ on Broadway.”
Note: Mellophone player Harley Koopman of Scottsboro, Alabama, did not respond to email requests for comment.