On Tuesday afternoon, the 400-member Gator Marching Band found themselves away from the roars of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to perform at Oak Hammock at the UF.
The band first played in front of the retirement community during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the 2020 football season was canceled. After the cancellation was lifted, the very first practice for the band was at Oak Hammock.
“We were only allowed to have about 80 students in the band together at a time, and they had to be separated,” said Gator Marching Band Director Jay Watkins in an interview. “We never had the chance to play in front of a live crowd, so after speaking to the great people here at Oak Hammock, we figured out a day to bring the band together in a large field and play for our first live audience, the residents.”
Staff and residents of the retirement community were more than happy to have live music during quarantine.
“Our crowd loved the performance the first time, so having them back two years later is such a joy,” said Oak Hammock Director of Community Services Katherine Osman in an interview. “Many of our people here are Gators, so it is special. We will take them (the band) anytime they want.”
Watkins explained that the marching band has had plenty of practice this year and wanted to return and share a more polished version with those who appreciated their show over two years ago.
The band played on the back lawn, located by the bocce ball court area on Oak Hammock’s campus.
The band’s performance featured signature sets played during Gator football games, a couple of Elvis Presley’s greatest hits, Christmas songs, all the military branch’s songs, including the newest branch of service, the Space Force, and finished with several Tom Petty songs.
The most popular Petty song for the Gators is, of course, “I Won’t Back Down,” which is played at every home football game between the third and fourth quarter.
“I think the students got more out of it than the residents because they get to see the reactions and how the residents relate to the music,” said Watkins. “There is something about music, especially live music when you see all the reactions. It makes performing easier and more fun for the students. It is great to see composures changes when the audience recognizes a song.”
Tuesday’s performance came at a perfect time because UF’s band is gearing up to perform at the Las Vegas Bowl next week when the Florida Gators take on the Oregon State Beavers.
Not all band members will be able to attend due to graduation commencement and final exam, among other reasons. But for those who will be performing, they will fly out next Thursday morning and will return to Gainesville Saturday night after the game.