March Madness might be the greatest thing we do as a country and if you’ve ever watched an NCAA Tournament game, you’ve seen a small but loyal legion of band members along the baseline of whatever venue the game’s being held.
In LSU’s case, that would be the Bengal Brass. Donning some khaki pants, whatever purple quarter-zip Nike cooked up for that year, and brown shoes, you can find Bengal Brass wherever the men or women’s hoops teams goes come tournament time. Be it Dayton for the First Four, or—as in tonight’s case—Dallas for the Final Four, you’ll hear those famous four notes.
Despite it’s name, Bengal Brass is not a 100% brass ensemble. Like any basketball band you’ve got your drumset, and a couple of woodwinds. Some schools have an electric bass player? LSU is not one of those schools because we have pride.
I’ve written about being in Tigerband a couple of times on this here website, but I’m also a proud four-year Bengal Brass vet. Being in Bengal Brass kicks as...provided you get to go on a trip that is. Otherwise you’ll have spent most of the winter wondering what were all those hot dogs for if I can’t go on the tournament trip???
Maybe it’s different for other sections, but the “audition” “process” for me and my fellow trombones is “hey we need people.” One time a guy in my year botched his audition in front of everyone. He was supposed to play the melody from Bruno Mars’s “Runaway Baby” and instead all that came out of his trombone was basically one pathetic fart sound. They asked him “you wanna do that again?” to which Lane said “no” and they were like “okay cool you’re still in.” That’s right, only the finest of musicians could play for LSU under Roy King’s watch.
This is your compensation for doing a gig: two of the worst hot dogs you’ve ever seen, a bottle of Coke/Sprite/water, and $20 which is a fortune to any broke college kid. And from September through February you ate those shitty hot dogs, prayed to God they’d stock enough bottles of water (they never did) and either saved that $20 or blew it immediately at Plucker’s or Walk On’s after a gig because you’d be damned if you ate those hot dogs.
So why do Bengal Brass? It’s not the money (though it adds up), it’s definitely not the food, and at least in my time it wasn’t free admission for the on court product because I was a student during the Johnny Jones era (more on that in a bit). It’s the traveling. Getting excused from schoolwork for a few days to go hang out in Nashville or Duluth or Little Rock or Spokane or Louisville or Pittsburgh absolutely rules. Best part about the excused absence is they’re written out in advance for that entire weekend, in case the team keeps winning. I remember I didn’t take a test in a sport law class because “I’m in Louisville” when in reality I had already been home for like two days. But I had that excuse form already written out and took advantage of it BAYBEE.
Normally we bus wherever we travel. But if you’re fortunate enough to be on the travel band roster for an NCAA Tournament? Brother you’re flying charter with the team. You ever flown charter? 10/10 would recommend if you haven’t. I remember vividly flying with the men’s team to Pittsburgh for the 2015 NCAA Men’s Tournament and Aaron Epps said of the bathroom “awe I can’t fit in here” because he was too tall for it.
So what’s different about traveling for a Bengal Brass event versus a bowl game? Way, way more free time. Bowl games we’re still having to work on pregame or whatever halftime show we’re doing. Plus with bowl games there’s any number of bullshit pep events you have to get dragged off to. SEC or NCAA Tournament games? You’re just hanging out all day long until it’s time to head to the arena. The more games the team wins, the longer you stay and you know what that means? More per diem. I think this is how my gambling addiction was created?
Hanging out in a major city as an idiot 20something year old college kid with a couple hundred dollars in cash is awesome but also maybe dangerous? Whether it’s going skiing (Spokane) ending up in an underground biker bar (Louisville) or almost getting into a fight with some NC State fans at a Baskin Robbins (Pittsburgh) you make memories that last a lifetime. Also the person writing this story might have cursed up a storm in front of this family at a pizza shop in Louisville because his friends didn’t want to eat there because it didn’t serve draft beer (not that we drink on Bengal Brass trips haha...). And the person writing this might have said something like “are you fucking kidding me? I don’t ask for any fucking thing.” And the person writing this might have ended up being right because that place was awesome. But that’s all speculative...
You know the crying Villanova piccolo player from a few years ago? That could have been me! Except instead of “crying piccolo girl” it would have been “pissed off trombone guy” because I was motherfucking Johnny Jones and the entire men’s team as they pissed away that NC State game. Yes I’m still mad and to this day I don’t know how the CBS cameras didn’t catch me.
You know what’s even worse? I told my friends on the way out of the arena “don’t worry guys, we’ve got BEN SIMMONS coming we’ll be back next year!” I hate it here!
Tournament traveling absolutely kicks ass and I would absolutely do it again if I got the chance. To the current group in Dallas: enjoy this y’all because you never know if you’ll get to go on this deep of a run again. Go blow all that per diem, squeeze out every bit of excused work you can, and make some memories.