For four decades, Mike Leckrone and the UW Varsity Band have scoured the country from Broadway to Las Vegas, seeking new elements to keep their annual concert innovative, flashy — and never, ever understated.
Look! Up in the air: it’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a drone?
No: not bird nor plane nor even drone.
It’s just your UW band director, Mike Leckrone.
For four decades, Leckrone and his student-musicians have been wowing fans with over-the-top showmanship at the Varsity Band Concert.
It didn’t start that way. Back in March 1975, Leckrone conceived of the event chiefly as a reward for the band itself. “I thought it would bring a sense of closure to the year,” he says. “After nine months of playing — the marching band, the pep band — I wanted to give the kids one last chance to play together. People told me nobody would come.”
The first year, the Varsity Band — encompassing the Marching Band, which plays for football games, and the Pep Band, which plays for basketball and hockey — played Mills Hall in the Humanities Building. About four hundred people showed up. The second year saw overflow crowds, and in the third, the concert moved to the Field House. Since 1998, the event has been held at the Kohl Center.
Each year, the crowds have grown, and each year, Leckrone has added more splashy moves: flying on wires, fireworks, video. He also appears in a new, sequin-encrusted suit each year — all of which end up in his closet at home. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them all,” he says. “Maybe donate them to the [School of Music] archives.” (For more about Leckrone’s suits, see Q&A.)
Creating the concert is a ten-month process, and it involves a group of about ten people meeting regularly to plan the entire show. Leckrone himself scouts concerts in New York and Las Vegas to look for new tricks to incorporate. And though the details of the show are kept under wraps until the curtain opens in April, he’s willing to give at least this much by way of a hint: this year’s concert will be the Varsity Band’s fortieth, and the anniversary won’t go unnoticed. Attendees should be prepared for a high-volume night.