“Holiday Road” is a song that just keeps on giving.
Guitarist/singer Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac fame composed and performed the upbeat and memorable tune in 1983 for “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and it then rolled on through the film’s three sequels.
The Mercer Island High School (MIHS) marching band’s arrangement of the timeless number can often be heard wafting through the air during rehearsals and performances, and soon the 225-member Islander assemblage of instrumentalists will unleash that song once again during its television red-line performance at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
NBC will beam the band onto TV screens for one minute and 15 seconds. By that point, the Islanders will have already marched and performed “Johnny Q” by the Crazy 8s and “Dance Again” by Jennifer Lopez to the immense crowd along the two-and-a-half-mile parade route through Manhattan with a bevy of other participants, including 11 more bands, copious floats, massive character balloons and more.
It’s all scheduled to be an ultra-busy morning for the locals on Nov. 23 — and they’re ready for it.
“We’re in polish mode. The students have really maxed out their preparation. They sound great, they look great, they put themselves in a position to represent Mercer Island and band in the Pacific Northwest incredibly well. We’re ready to go have a great time,” said Parker Bixby, who is one of three band directors along with Jacob Krieger and Kyle Thompson.
This will be the band’s inaugural performance at the parade, and it was given the nod because of the Islanders’ joyful and energetic performances, according to the parade’s creative producer Wesley Whatley.
On April 1, 2022, Whatley announced to the crowd within the MIHS Performing Arts Center that the Islander marching band was selected to perform at the famous parade. Additionally, Macy’s Bellevue store manager Ryan Ramoso presented a $10,000 check to help kick start the school’s fundraising to attend the event.
Senior drum major Sol Park noted about the trip at an Oct. 12 rehearsal: “We’re incredibly privileged and lucky to be in this spot right now and all of us are pumped up. We always prepare to be the best that we can each and every year.”
Earlier that evening, the Islanders marched through a full dress rehearsal along 92nd Avenue Southeast near the high school, filming the practice and forwarding it to the Macy’s reps so they can plan their camera angles for the parade performance.
Residents strolled up the street to check things out and parents of band members were all smiles during the hour-long rehearsal. It was both a serious and jovial atmosphere as sousaphones, drums, trumpets, clarinets and more strolled along the “Holiday Road” within the sturdy hands of the musicians as they marched away. Bixby praised the students when they nailed it, and said if they made a mistake to recover quickly. In the comical realm, the three drum majors unraveled their “Happy Holidays” banner upside down and received a chuckle from Bixby and full laughter from the crowd; later on, the trio revealed the message right side up.
Musicians toting their instruments — big and small — will board three planes destined for New York in the early morning of Nov. 19 and will return home on Nov. 24. In between, the 250-person Island crew, including chaperones and staffers, will visit Ellis Island, the 9/11 Memorial and attend a Broadway show in addition to the band rehearsing at an indoor facility in Connecticut and performing at a band shell in Central Park on Nov. 22.
It will be a major operation from start to finish, said Bixby, who noted that they shipped a rehearsal sound system, dozens of cases of water, uniform pieces and more to New York City ahead of time.
On the funding front, students held individual fundraisers, the band revved up a MIndy 500 Big Wheels fundraiser in the school halls and Mercer Island Schools Band Boosters provided support with over $30,000 in scholarships.
Bixby can’t wait to set foot in Manhattan and strike up the band.
“We’ve done all sorts of things, and it is definitely true that the Macy’s parade is one of the biggest, most fantastic events for bands, anywhere in the world. It’s exciting to share it with the kids, to have this community, in particular, celebrate and be celebrated for all the special things it does for the arts,” he said.
Added Julius Perez, a junior clarinet player: “Being a part of the MIHS band is like being on the biggest team you’ve ever been on. It is a place where we all come together to work hard, do our best and have fun with people we care about.”
Senior drum major Moa Valentin said the band members began their mental preparation for the Macy’s parade at the end of last year. Now, with a multitude of rehearsal hours under their belts, they’re comfortable yet intense when performance time nears. Call it nervous excitement, she said.
“There’s a lot of grit, and people are just passionate about being good and supporting everyone else,” said Valentin. “People are just really excited and that makes them work harder and that makes us better.”
Elena Lill, another senior drum major, said one of the band’s special qualities is that the members are all motivated to reap success together.
“What people want to do is look good and sound good and be part of this whole band, which means that they see other people working hard around them and they’re going to work just as hard,” said Lill, adding that it’s cool to see all different types of people band together as one and lock in on presenting stellar performances.
Park said that it takes solid leadership from the directors and section leaders to guide all the musicians together, like puzzle pieces, in the right spots to make the show run as smoothly as possible. Their notion of a self-cleaning oven means that they’ll fix their own mistakes to keep things on track.
Outside of the musical realm during the New York trip, Park is anticipating making memories with his fellow band members around the city and staying in the same hotels. It’s sure to be a blast, he added.
With a laugh, Lill said that she would like to witness the balloon-inflation process, if possible, leading up to parade day.
Wherever the MIHS band roams during the trip, the sounds of “Holiday Road” are bound to be blasting away in Lill’s head. She can’t escape it, and said that she enjoys the band’s arrangement of the classic tune.
“The song is stuck in my head every single day, I swear. Wake up in the morning, ‘Holiday Road,’ go to sleep at night, ‘Holiday Road,’” Lill said as the drum majors laughed in unison as the band charged through a song in the background.