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430-member Northwoods Marching Band heralds Fourth of July in parades across the region

Marching bands in northern Wisconsin are generally small.

The Three Lakes Marching Band has just six members.

Northland Pine’s band has about 20.

Lakeland Union’s has 75.

But when these bands combine with five other bands in the region, their numbers swell to 430.

Together, the Lakeland Union, Merrill, D.C. Everest, Wausau East, Northland Pines, Three Lakes, Antigo and Mosinee bands have merged to create one giant Northwoods Marching Band.

“The fact that we get to be part of it is just incredible,” says Anika Lindell, a senior drum major from D.C. Everest.

She will lead the Northwoods Marching Band as it takes on six parades across the region this Fourth of July.

But that’s not where the band’s aspirations end.

This January, the Northwoods Marching Band will be the first band from northern Wisconsin to march in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif.

“Can you even imagine how loud this is going to be? It is going to be incredible,” says Amy Wainscott, the president and chairman of the board of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses.

Wainscott is also an Eagle River native.

“When I was elected to the board and knew that I would be president, I wanted to have a band from northern Wisconsin,” she explains.

Wainscott says southern Wisconsin bands have been represented in the Rose parade a number of times, but never bands from the northern part of the state.

She wanted to change that, so she went to her alma mater — Northland Pines High School.

“I approached my high school principal and said, ‘you know, I would love to have a band from northern Wisconsin to represent Wisconsin in the Rose Parade.’ And they looked at me like I was a little crazy,” Wainscott recounts.

That’s because Northland Pines didn’t have a large enough marching band for the scale of the Rose parade.

However, Wainscott and the band’s director did not give up hope.

Instead, they assembled a mega band by asking every Northwoods band to join forces.

Lakeland Union was one of those bands.

“Each individually, we’re nowhere as strong, but we combine together and we’re 400-plus. Almost 430 kids are marching in this parade,” says Lakeland Band Director Bill Richter. “They get this opportunity to perform in the second largest band ever in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses history, and we’re just super excited for the opportunity of that.”

Talks of forming the Northwoods Marching Band have been ongoing for years. After a 2020 setback, those talks are finally becoming a reality.

The mega-band has met for rehearsals multiple times where students practice marching techniques and how to blend sound, so they’re ready to perform in front of 700,000 live spectators along the Rose Parade route and millions more on tv.

“Kids can’t comprehend that,” Richter says. “You go to Lambeau Field and there’s 85,000 [spectators]. You times that by 10 and that’s what you’re marching in front of. That’s just a surreal experience, and to give them something like that to do, they’ll remember that for the rest of their lives.”

While it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the band’s members, Richter hopes their performances have a broader impact.

“Now, there will be kids in northern Wisconsin who will say, ‘I saw that band. I want to join band,’ and it’s going to change their lives forever,” Richter says.

It’s a reminder that music matters everywhere — in places big and small.

The Northwoods Marching Band will be performing in the following parades this Fourth of July:

9 a.m. Three Lakes
10:30 a.m. Eagle River
1 p.m. Tomahawk
2:30 p.m. Lake Tomahawk
4 p.m. Minocqua
7 p.m. Antigo

Erin Gottsacker joined WXPR in December 2020. As a morning edition host and reporter, Erin reports on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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