Perched at a desk amid a sea of commemorative plaques and band regalia, band director Mike Leckrone couldn’t help but laugh to himself when asked about his all-time favorite entrance to the annual Varsity Band Concert.
“That’s like asking ‘who’s your favorite kid?’” Leckrone, the mastermind of the end-of-the-semester performance, said.
From April 20 to 22, the University of Wisconsin Marching Band will take center stage at the Kohl Center for the concert. This year’s performance will mark their 20th time playing at the Kohl Center, a monumental anniversary for an organization steeped in history.
Whether you’re a season ticket holder or a casual attendant of Badger games, you’ve likely felt the electrifying presence of the UW Marching Band on multiple occasions.
This is due to their central role at Badger sporting events, and the band maintains sweeping recognition across campus and nationwide. The celebrity-status of Leckrone also hasn’t hurt.
Leckrone has been at the helm of the band since 1969 and has had a decorated career to say the least. Aside from the bevy of awards and honorary titles he’s been endowed with, Leckrone is best known by many students as the exuberant commander of The Grateful Red at hockey and basketball games.
But truly only those who’ve ever been to the Varsity Band Concert in the past are privy to the full extent of Leckrone’s capacity for flair. Sequin suits and flying tricycles are just some of the many peculiarities he’s graced ever-growing crowds with year after year.
Leckrone recounted his stunts, which have ranged from him “popping out of a Zamboni machine” to “coming out of the middle of the score board.”
“I’ve done some ridiculous things,” Leckrone said.
The band’s zeal is appropriately encapsulated by Leckrone’s own nod to the Ed Sullivan Show, which he has cited as having been influential on the style of his shows due to its sense of variety.
“You might hear ‘On Wisconsin!’ [one moment] and the next tune you might hear could be ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ so the unexpected is really what we want,” Leckrone said. “If you like classical music, there’ll be a snippet of that, and if you like rock and roll, there’ll be some of that too.”
Most importantly, the Varsity Band Concert serves as a culmination of the immutable passion its members pour into every one of their appearances. It has fulfilled its celebratory purpose ever since it came into existence 42 years ago but has certainly been subject to evolution.
“In the beginning, it was very relaxed and very informal,” Leckrone said. “What’s happened now is the concert has become very structured because of the nature of the production. You can’t go into a concert like this and ad lib things when you have dozens of people involved in the staging and props.”
Still, besides acknowledging he does in fact have a new costume in the works, the prime architect would give no indication of what specifically the band has in store this time around.
To say the concert’s expansion over the decades is analogous to the entire band program’s ascent isn’t far-fetched. The inaugural concert held in Mills Hall in 1975 was well-chronicled as having drawn a crowd of 450.
In its next year, the unforeseen crowd of 450 swelled to the point where the venue was no longer able to accommodate the horde of eager listeners. Under Leckrone’s leadership, increased participation in the band has become an established norm. Traditions such as the band’s “Fifth Quarter” post-game performance have transcended time parallel to the Varsity Concert itself.
Unwilling to dispel the cloud of mystery hanging over the concert, Leckrone only concedes one thing to first time goers: “Expect to be surprised.”
Tickets can be purchased online on the band’s website.