As part of the team’s slogan “Two States. One Team,” the NFL’s Carolina Panthers decided to have a drum line from a North Carolina university and one from South Carolina perform at halftime with the team’s own drum line, Purrcussion, at its home opener Sunday, Sept. 20, against Houston.
Matt Henley, Western Carolina University’s assistant director of athletic bands who oversees the drum line, said he was ecstatic when he got word that the Panthers chose his group.
“I just think it’s really cool that the image of the band, the character of the band, the professionalism of the band and some of the big stuff that they’ve been able to do has really opened up some other doors for us,” Henley said. “I think that’s really cool that out of the blue, they wanted a North Carolina representative and they chose us. Out of all the state schools, they chose us and I’m flattered.”
In recent years, the Pride of the Mountains marching band has participated in the Tournament of Roses Parade and has been the lead band at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But attending an NFL game and performing before more than 70,000 fans was a surreal and nerve-racking experience, the band’s drum line members said.
“It was euphoric, absolutely amazing,” said Christian Whitesizer, a freshman mechanical engineering major from Colfax. “I’ve never done anything like it before.”
Because it was such a unique opportunity, Henley wanted his entire drum line to enjoy the experience. The Pride of the Mountains band consists of two drum lines – a Gold drum line, which Henley equates to a varsity drum line, that actually performs with the entire band, and a Purple drum line, a junior varsity of sorts, that typically is on the field at football games with the cheerleaders and dance team.
In all, 50 drum line members made the trip to Charlotte.
“I was extremely nervous,” said sophomore Steven Gary, an undeclared major from Concord who is on the Purple drum line. “I haven’t marched in a long time, much less played in front of a crowd of that capacity. It was really scary actually, but it went well. I was happy about it.”
Each drum line – WCU, South Carolina State University and the Panthers’ Purrcussion unit – played a minute-and-a-half solo, before coming together for a collaboration to end the performance. While they were able to learn the music for the collaboration ahead of time, it wasn’t until they arrived in Charlotte Sunday morning that the three groups were able to put the actual performance together. They managed do so in less than 40 minutes, but were still unsure how it was going to turn out.
The end result drew rave reviews from those in the stands. As the members walked around the stadium, they were repeatedly greeted with, “Great job.”
“It went a lot better than anybody expected it to go because we hadn’t practiced together before,” said Jordan Jenks, a junior criminal justice and international studies major from Fayetteville. “Everyone came prepared and it just went really well.”
The WCU drum line struck up an instant kinship with its counterparts from South Carolina State University. Each group cheered on the other and they made sure to get a group photo before departing Bank of America Stadium.
“It’s not every day in our world that we get to experience and get to be up close and personal with an HBCU (historically black college and university) group,” Henley said. “Their style is very different from what we do, yet we find it very interesting and very exciting. And to get to know them, the South Carolina State guys are awesome. We’re just thrilled for the entire experience.”
Henley also got a chance to get reacquainted with two former WCU drum line members who now perform for the Panthers, Katie Parham and Donnie Sigmon.
Next up for the Pride of the Mountains is a November trip to Indianapolis, where it will perform at the Bands of America Grand National Championship.
“I’ve been teaching a long time at Western, and it’s interesting to watch the transformation of (the band),” Henley said. “It’s like one big performance has led to another big performance, another invitation and another invitation. Now we seem to get a lot of invitations. The question now is just really when’s the right time to do the right thing. We’re going to continue onward and upward.”
For more pictures of the drum line’s performance in Charlotte, visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/33403317@N00/albums/72157656590529473.