When the final buzzer signals the end of a Gator football game in the Swamp, the fallout begins.
Fans pour out of the stadium in every direction, and along with them, the Fightin’ Gator Marching Band makes its exit. Members follow the beat of the drums as they trek their way back to the music building in a single-file line.
But just before they reach the equipment building, they stop at Turlington Hall.
That’s when the party starts.
Hats and jackets come off, backward baseball caps replace the plumes, T-shirts with suspenders is the new look, and all bets are off.
It’s the aftershow that no one advertises but hundreds show up to watch.
Back in 1989, the tradition started with just the drum line, according to former band member and current marching band director Dr. Chip Birkner, who is also a UF associate music professor. Birkner played drums in the band in 1996 and 1997 but researched the history of what is now known as the “Turlington Performance.”
“If you weren’t in the drum line, you would go home,” Birkner said about the early days. “But if you were in the drum line, you would parade back.”
Birkner said the drum line “would form a circle and just play through their cadences one more time,” at the music building and in the beginning, just a few people would gather to watch.
It was former drummer Matt Sexton who, in 1990, suggested moving the aftershow to Turlington Hall, where more fans could gather to see them play.
By the mid-1990s the Turlington Performance grew with additional sounds of parade sequences.
“We would take the cadences and break them up,” Birkner said. “We would play one and then stop and maybe make an announcement or welcome the crowd.”
The past few years, Birkner said drum instructor Paul Keck has done “what a lot of us have wanted to happen, which is make it more entertaining, drawing in choreography, some comedy and a whole lot of showmanship.”
Some of the cadences the marching band plays are all-time greats such as “Eight Ball-Scotties.”
The drum line is bigger this year, which means the shows are too, Birkner said. There are 11 snares, six quads or tenors, 11 sets of symbols and eight base drums.
The current aftershow experience has also grown to include the entire band and the cheer team as well. The full band and drum line performs one or two tunes, Birkner said, and that is new to the Turlington Performance since 2006.
“As soon as the band is dismissed, the drum line starts in with its pre-show, and that’s a general groove they set up so the drummers can take off their heavy jackets and switch into baseball caps,” Birkner said.
Sexton went on to become a Gator Band director for eight years after he graduated. He is now an accountant in Gainesville.
Back in 1987, he said he remembers marching back to the music building and forming a circle outside.
“There’s a grass patch on the northwest corner of the music building, and we would make a circle and just play for each other,” he said.
It was the acoustics and extra space at Turlington Hall that Sexton said drew them to moving the drum line there.
“Drummers enjoy playing and it’s hard to put your sticks down,” he said. “So we would celebrate a victory or make the best of the loss and more and more people kept following the drum line.”
Current drum line performer Alexander Davis has played center snare for the band for four years.
“What I like best about the post-game Turlington performances is the connection that we’re able to make with Gator fans,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to go back and do an encore performance. No matter the outcome of what happens on or off the field on game days, we can come together and entertain an audience as a group.”
Davis said that on game day the drum line performs for more than 10 hours by the time the Turlington Performance comes around.
“The energy and hype that the fans bring revives us with a burst of energy and purpose,” he said. “There is a special transfer of energy between the sound of a booming drum line and the cheers of excited fans.”
He added that playing after a Gator win gives everyone a boost, and playing after a tough loss boosts morale: “No matter how let down the fans feel after a loss, we create an environment that removes fans from those negative feelings and reminds them how great it is to be a Florida Gator.”