Interview With Andy LaBatt

Version 3.0
Andy LaBatt, Student Director, 1993-1994
Tim Castro, Cal Band, 1986-1990
Date of Interview:
January 8, 1994
Tim Castro
[NOTE: This interview was conducted for purposes of inclusion in the North Tunnel Echo. It will also be added to the other oral histories conducted by the Cal Band History Project.]
[Revisions for fact, clarity and grammar made by Andy LaBatt and Tim Castro]

T: Today is Saturday, January 8, 1994. This is an interview with Andy LaBatt, Student Director of the Cal Band from 1993-1994. We are in the Cal Band Student Office where Andy is busy preparing for today’s basketball game against the University of Washington.

Andy, first of all, congratulations on a very successful 1993 Football season. The Bears really turned it into an exciting year. This year’s Big Game was also memorable for several reasons. Tell us a little about that.

A: Well, I guess what set this Big Game apart from the others would be the joint Star Spangled Banner we did with Stanford. Basically all season we’ve been trying to make a better relationship with the Stanford Band. It started in the summer with softball games. During DAOP [Directors Assistant Orientation Program] we went down to the Farm and played through a good portion of both of our packets, and that was a lot of fun. But the Banner itself, even though it was a cheesy arrangement, worked out very well. We were expecting a kind of negative reaction, but it didn’t happen, which was really nice. Too bad at halftime several Cal students had to tackle the Tree anyway. Other than that, we won. It was great.

T: It was very interesting to have a joint performance between the Cal and Stanford Band. Officially I don’t think that has happened since the early ’60s. Do you foresee any joint performances happening in the future?

A: I don’t see anything “official” happening, but as we’ve been doing for the past couple of years, I expect us to be playing together after the Basketball games at Postgame. It’s been a lot of fun and I think this year at Harmon we might move it outside because the Staff gets a little cranky when we keep them up.

T: Andy, this is the first time Cal has won the Big Game since 1986! That must have been a real treat for you and the rest of the Band to finally see the Axe return to Berkeley. What did the Band do to celebrate the long- overdue victory?

A: Are you kidding? After Big Game Week, we were much too tired to do anything elaborate. Of course, there was a T.H. party, but it was nowhere near a fun as the actual Postgame. The Axe Rally on the Monday after the Game was something I never really heard of before. It was great seeing the entire campus celebrate. We went around campus, following the Axe around playing whatever we wanted, interrupted large lectures, and then we all got pictures taken with Axe. It was the happiest mob Berkeley has seen in years.

T: Directly following Big Game, the Football team ended their season with a game against the Rainbow Warriors of the University of Hawaii and some members of the Straw Hat Band actually made the trip. Why don’t you tell us a little about that?

A: Well, we took 18 people on what has to be one of the longest road trips where we weren’t driving continuously. Everyone paid their own way; it cost about $400 a person. Has to be the most expensive one in a long time. But we were able to recover a lot of it by passing the hat at the performances we had there. It was basically five days of fun on the beach. We rented scooters; drove around the Island ... It’s a real nice island. It was interesting going up against the Hawaii Band. They didn’t do their own Halftime show, they contracted out to a High School. Just different culture, I guess. But playing against them in the stands, they had just as bad seats as we did. We were both in the endzone, except we were on the field and they were up in the stands, but still endzone seats. The crowd wasn’t big; they could have moved over. I know the commentators said we were as loud as they were. I don’t think we got quite that loud but we put out a good amount of sound for 18 people.

T: Andy, what kind of other performances and rallies did the Straw Hat Band do while you were in Hawaii?

A: We started out playing on Wednesday. Only half of us were there, about nine, and we weren’t quite as loud then. And most of the alumni hadn’t arrived yet. At that performance we passed the hat and got a couple hundred bucks; wasn’t much. We tried to make a few extra bucks by playing on a street corner later that evening, but we had to stop when the cops came. We played for Bear Backers on Friday and after that there was a Rally and there was a Tailgate Saturday. And basically we had a lot of help from the Yell Leaders. It’s really embarrassing asking for money, but they don’t seem to mind. (laughs) So, they would pass the hat for us, tell everyone how we paid our own way, and we ended up raising around $2,000 at the various performances.

T: So you’re telling me that the Band didn’t get any funding at all for this trip from the University or Athletic Department?

A: Yeah, that’s correct. Back in September, they dangled a carrot in front of our faces by telling us they might be able to send some bandsmen on the team plane with the other spirit groups. It took them weeks to realize they didn’t have the money. Basically, they postponed our planning for the trip, so everything had to be done at the last minute. We took two flights over and three flights back because everything was booked up. I should say, however, that the Alumni Association was very helpful in securing very inexpensive lodging for the trip.

T: Okay, let’s move on to the 1993 Builders Square Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas. This performance is especially notable since it’s the first time the Cal Band has marched against a Big Ten Band since the early ’60s. In fact, the last time was in Iowa’s home stadium in 1961. Andy, what was it like finally having the opportunity to go up against a Big Ten Band?

A: Well, I was kind of disappointed. Their show on the field, although I guess it was well executed to their standards, was not exciting at all. I expected them to do high step; they didn’t, really. And their song selection in the stands and at the rallies was very limited. We heard them play the same songs over and over, whereas, until the game, we did not repeat any rock songs throughout the entire trip. It’s kind of hard to do that, especially up until the game when we’re running out of songs and people’s lips are shot. We were able to do it though. They played “Dr. Who,” one of my least favorite songs.

T: Well, enough about the Iowa Band. The Cal Band had some real good performances that week. Tell us about those.

A: We started out the trip with a night at Fiesta Texas. This is a fairly new theme park down in San Antonio. They have the highest wooden roller coaster, I don’t know, in the world; it doesn’t matter. It was closed. We got to ride on some of the kiddie rides and basically walked around, in the wind. It was really cold. (laughs) So, we had our kick-off performance there. This was our only full uniform performance until the day of the game. The people at Fiesta Texas told us to march into where we were going to be performing, and then once we got there they told us, “Well, you’ll be here for about an hour and a half before you go on, but in an hour, you’ll get to see a great laser show.” The show had a Christmas theme; apparently, Christmas wasn’t over in Texas. We were basically all huddled around each other, trying to find warmth. And apparently the Iowa Band was doing the same thing; I didn’t see them. Eventually the team came, and shivered with us. Then the Rally started and we got our first taste of the Iowa Band. And basically ... well, I’d hate to say we blew them away. With song selection we definitely did. Their horns, their trumpets, were a bit louder, but that doesn’t do any good when the music itself is not worth playing.

The next day, we had the kick-off luncheon for the Bowl. We decided after Fiesta Texas that we didn’t want to wear our uniforms again until the day of the game. They basically can’t stand the wear and tear. New uniforms next year; I’m really hoping for that! And, basically the Band couldn’t afford the time to get in and out of uniform considering how limited our rehearsal time was before the game. The Iowa Band showed up in full uniform. They looked better then, but we still sounded better. We got a little flack for not wearing our uniforms for that. We were basically all just wearing blue and gold; whatever we wanted; whatever we wore to the rehearsal. So, at the Rally the next day we decided to come uniform. Not in uniform, but we all had T-shirts made for the Bowl. On the front, it had the Cal Band Weasel Logo, but he was wearing a Cowboy Hat. It said, “Alamo Bowl. Go Bears! Beat the Hawkeyes!”

T: Tell us about the halftime show.

A: The songs we played were Heartbreaker by Pat Benatar, the one we played in Spring Show a couple years ago, and Misunderstood, which we’ve been playing for years and years. We went on last for halftime, which was good. The halftime started with a High School Band playing some Texas tunes and patriotic tunes. Originally we were supposed to be playing this with them, and with the Iowa Band. Somehow we got out of it ... thank God. And after they went on the Iowa Band went on and I forget what they played. I guess it just wasn’t that memorable. And then we went on and I heard that Iowa fans who were quietly clapping for their Band were up and dancing during our dance step in Misunderstood. Basically, we rocked the house.

T: I’d just like to add here that I saw this show and the Cal Band’s performance was truly inspired. The energy and excitement generated by that show was simply incredible and exemplifies just how good the Cal Band can be. Congratulations has to go to Sam Arucan (Clarinet/Bass Drum ’84) for his field charting. Cal was definitely the better Big Ten Band that day.

Okay, lets move on to Basketball season. Prospects look pretty good for hoops this year and it must be pretty exciting for you and the Straw Hat Band to think that Cal might be going places.

A: Actually, the Band isn’t going to as many places as we want to. We had planned to go to every Saturday Pac-Ten game on the road, except for Washington State (No one wants to go back there.), but we’ve recently been informed that the other schools don’t want to lose their home-court advantage. They’re scared of us.

After the season is over, we’re really hoping to go to the NCAAs. One of the best trips I’ve had so far with Band was going to Chicago last year. In many ways it was better than the Bowl game: no rehearsals; we had a day totally free in Chicago. I know that the locations this year aren’t as good as that, but whatever, it’s a free trip. I’m hoping that this year, our Athletic Department will send a band to the early rounds of the women’s tournament, assuming our team makes it. Our Women’s team has been having trouble on the road so far, and I think it’s because the band is their only group of vocal fans. If the team is going to make it anywhere, it’s going to need the support of the band.

T: Today’s game is against Pac-10 powerhouse, University of Washington. Andy just handed me a letter from Charlie Baer, a Cal Alum who has just offered the Band $100 to play the Cal song Fight ’Em, which really hasn’t been played in a long time. Are you going to play it today?

A: Of course we’re playing it. (laughs) It hasn’t been in the packet for a while. I remember we played it a couple years ago on Sproul Steps before a football game. And it really hasn’t been seen since and it hadn’t been seen for a while before that. Baer mentions in his letter that he’s offered $100 to the Student Directors for the past three to four years and this is the first time that anybody has accepted the offer. So, I’m kind of wondering why (laughs) but it’s really just a march. It’s not going to that difficult.

T: Andy, thanks a lot for taking the time to do this interview, and the best of luck to you and the Band for the rest of the ’94 season!

A: Thanks, Tim. I’m not sure who’s going to read the rest of this, but whoever is must have a lot of free time. I guess I’m supposed to use this opportunity to say anything I want about my experiences at Cal and in the Cal Band. I don’t think I could separate the two if I tried. I can’t imagine what the past four years would have been like if I hadn’t been in the band. I have met very few people in my classes, none of which I have kept in touch with, but from the seniors my freshman year to the freshmen my senior year, I’ve made around 250 friendships within the band.

I would have to say that the best thing about the Cal Band is its structure of student leadership. Almost everyone is involved in running the band, and it gives the band a sense of pride that leads to a higher level of performance. A major difference I’ve noticed between us and all other bands, except Stanford, is that, since students choose what music we play, we have a better idea of what our audience wants to hear than some director that’s out of touch with what the students want. We are also willing to take more chances musically, in that a piece does not need to be rehearsed to death before we are willing to play it in public; because of this fact, our repertoire is currently around 60 songs, as opposed to some bands with packets of 15 or fewer songs.

The Band is about to embark on one of the most important projects it has faced in the past 25 years: the search for a new director. Unlike the past two changes of directors, there is no current staff of assistant directors. The positive aspect of this situation is that there will be a larger pool of applicants to choose from. The negative is that, because the University administration will be heavily involved, the Band might end up with a Director who is very qualified and experienced in directing college bands but who is not familiar with the Cal Band’s unique form of student government. Although the band reveres its Constitution, there is really nothing stopping a new director from throwing it away and beginning to run the band as His band. The chances of this happening are slim, however; Bob and Rune Stromsness (SM ’94-’95) will be on the hiring committee, as well as the officers of the CBAA, I hope. I’m confident that they will make it clear that being a Cal Band Alum will be a major factor in the decision.

In general, the mood among band members about Bob’s retirement is fear. It will be difficult to keep traditions alive through the transition, but I’m sure new ones will be born.

What was my best experience as Student Director? The best feeling has to be directing in the stands at Memorial and, after a really big play, playing Big C. It’s better than scoring. It’s better than any rock song we play. The trick is to get the band into a really good mood before they play it. If we played it to the extent that UCLA currently plays Sons of Westwood, I’m sure it wouldn’t have the same effect. That’s one reason I’m glad we have 20 Cal Songs in the packet. Some are better than others, but they just fit different situations.

Other than that, trying to keep up tradition by ending events with Lights Out when people outside of the band have different ideas has provided some memorable experiences, notably on the first road trip I directed up in Seattle. When the game was over, we were playing to the Cal rooting section, when the Husky Band left the field. Then, one of the stadium staff was giving me this signal (mimics cutting of throat with hand) Well, we hadn’t played Lights Out yet, so I asked if we could play one more. He said “no.” So, I waved goodbye to him, a signal that looks surprisingly like the hand signal for Lights Out, and we started playing. Needless to say, he was kind of pissed. He came over and said, “Get off the ladder, now.” I kept telling him, “Just a minute.” He didn’t like that answer, so he grabbed my leg and started to shake the ladder, but I held firm. After the song was over, I apologized to him; I thought he might arrest me; I realized that he was just trying to do his job, but he had no idea what he was dealing with--it takes more than one rent-a-cop to stop a Cal tradition.

The worst experience musically was during postgame of the Washington game 1993, in which the team dominated the first half and then lost during the last minute of the game and ran out of time while setting up a field goal. All of the Cal fans in the stadium, including the band, were in shock. Everything we played, which wasn’t much, was totally flat, no energy. We had a person who had paid us $500 to direct the band for one song in postgame, and this was her game. I felt really sorry for her.

I guess I’ll wrap this up by thanking the History Committee for giving me this opportunity for posterity. Like it or not, the Cal Band has basically been my life for the past four years. I’m sure I’ll be involved in the Alumni Band, but it will definitely not be the same. It’s depressing to think that I might be graduating and leaving such a major part of my life behind. It’s hard to imagine just how much Bob is being affected by his retirement. After 23 years here, he doesn’t know what he’ll do with the rest of his life, and he has broken down and wept about this fact. Geez, no matter what I try, I can’t seem to end this thing on a positive note.

OK, for the record, I’m the one playing the countermelody on Drinking Song on the 1990 CD, California, Here’s to Thee. MAC didn’t put things like that in the liner notes.

Thank You, and Go Bears.

[Printed 01/31/94]