Monday, December 10, 2018

HSU Marching Lumberjacks 50th Reunion!

I don't know exactly how to describe the Humboldt State University Marching Lumberjacks.  They are a band unlike most others - for one, they are a scatter band and do not march in formation.  They put on a show at every home football game that is topical, funny, irreverent, and most often pushes the limit just a bit.  They sometimes start playing and then stop to sing.  They are all inclusive - to be in the band, you just have to say you want to be in the band.  You don't even have to play an instrument - they will find something for you to do.  They are a tight group and if you're in the band, you have friends for life.

I met Jeff because of the Marching Lumberjacks.  Backstory is that a friend of mine attended UC Davis and she was in their band; she kept telling me that I needed to come visit her when the MLJs were in town, and I finally wore my parents down enough to let me go.  I was 19 years old and in my second year of school at our local community college, so going to a university event was a big deal in my little world.  The bands played at a basketball game; I was sitting with my friend and the Davis band when the Marching Lumberjacks came into the arena...they were playing a song, wearing hard hats, and dragging a stuffed sheep by a rope, kicking it as they walked.  I was intrigued.  I watched them play during the game, and then afterward both bands went to someone's house for a party.  That's where I met Jeff, and the rest is history.  We were engaged about five months later, married a year after that, with a large contingent of MLJs attending our wedding.

The band welcomed me right away, and I was given my first nickname by one of Jeff's roommates, J.R., who couldn't remember my name at first and called me Sheba.  I became a part of the band and got to spend time with them every time I visited Jeff (we lived over 300 miles away from each other).  I marched in with them to a San Francisco State basketball game carrying cymbals so I didn't have to pay for a $2 ticket.  I went to Picnic Day at Davis, slept on the floor of the gym, and witnessed an epic battle of the bands.  I have so many memories of the Marching Lumberjacks, and I wasn't even a student at Humboldt State!

Because we live in Texas, we haven't been able to get to a MLJ reunion since the 20th.  It's very expensive to fly from our little airport to the even littler airport in Arcata, but for the 50th reunion, we made it happen.  All weekend long, Jeff and I kept saying to each other how happy we were to be there - sometimes you just have to ignore the cost and go for it, and this was one of those times.

I can't give enough kudos to the reunion planning committee - they worked on this for well over a year coordinating a lot of events, and everything ended up being perfect.  Jeff and I arrived in Arcata on Wednesday evening and took a shuttle from the airport to our hotel.  Because we didn't rent a car, we stayed in the center of town, on the plaza, in the Hotel Arcata:
We spent the first night on the side that is next to a bar which was noisy long into the night so we moved to the corner room on the second floor for the rest of our stay.  It was bigger and we had a better view, so I'm glad we did that.
Why yes, the sign was right outside our window.  And yes, I was leaning out the window to take this picture - gotta love an old hotel with sashed windows that raise all the way up!

We spent Thursday visiting old haunts before heading over to the school for band practice.  It was funny, Jeff and a few other alums had to stay outside of the band room when they played a couple of songs, but the loudness didn't bother me.  WHAAAT?  Then the band went outside to the practice area, where we got to watch Zane, who is the current Axe (drum major in other bands):
That's him in the middle, holding an axe, jumping.  He had so much energy and it was very entertaining to watch him.  He's the son of an MLJ from Jeff's era, which is extra cool - a legacy!

After practice was finished, we adjourned to a local brewpub, where the band had a gig.  Man, did they sound good!  There was so much joy in the room as everyone got to catch up with each other, and smiles everywhere you looked:
Jeff, Doug, Hugh, Diane.

I wrote about our activities the following day in this post, but in the evening, we went to the first official reunion activity, which was conveniently located just a few hundred feet from our hotel:
It was held in the Arcata Theater, just behind Jeff.

We got our registration packets, with a cool stainless steel pint glass with the MLJ logo on it, our wrist band for meals, and we bought some 50th reunion t-shirts, hats, and a sweatshirt for Jeff.  This was a cocktail/appetizer event, with a slideshow running in the background showing pictures that the committee had collected - I'd sent in a few, so even before I was blogging, I was still taking pictures to be posted later - just a few decades later, as it turns out.  More people to hug, more people to catch up with - it was loud and crowded and fun!

The next day was the big event - breakfast, band practice, lunch, the last ever football game played at Humboldt State, the band's last ever halftime performance, and then the evening dinner and more catching up.  Jeff and I got dressed and headed out walking to the university around 6:30 am - we'd made it a half mile when a truck pulled up and offered us a ride.  We didn't know the driver but he was an MLJ, so of course we hopped right in.  We had breakfast with more old friends, and it was there that we discovered who drew the current (well, it's been current for over 35 years) band logo - it was Bob, and he was sitting with us!  Funny how no one really knew this, even though he was of Jeff's era.

After breakfast everyone headed out to the football stadium, for an official group picture and then for field rehearsal.  Jeff played drums in the band but there weren't enough to go around with all of the returning drummers, so when Gordon, who was his Axe, asked him to help man the cannon, he was happy to oblige.  Doug was going to play the trombone in the band, but they had a ton of trombones and decided he couldn't pass up the opportunity to shoot off a cannon.
Doug and Gordon.
They had a little trouble getting the bottle of acetylene to open up so Jeff, Doug and Joe Band (yes that really is his name)(he was the guy who picked us up in the truck that morning) ran out to a welding supply store to get another bottle.  ANYTHING FOR THE BAND.
Once they returned, they got the bottle set up but needed to check the seal for leakage.  Soapy water is a common way to do that; a bottle of Fireball that had started getting passed around on Thursday evening was finished off so Jeff could mix it up.  ANYTHING FOR THE BAND. 
Jeff, Doug, his pink hat and wearing a fanny pack.  Fun fact - Gordon used to scare me back in the day.  Now I wonder why?
Jeff, Doug, and Joe - I joked that I was taking their memorial picture.  They were in charge of shooting off the cannon while the band played the 1812 Overture during the halftime show.  What could possibly go wrong?

After the band finished rehearsal, we headed inside for lunch.  I laughed that there were kegs of beer to go along with the food - hey why not?  Then it was time for the football game.  This was the last game because the administration, in a cost-cutting measure, eliminated the football program.  The band will continue on because they play at other games, in parades, and wherever they're invited to play.  But it's a shame to lose the football program.  Anyway.  The stadium is called the Redwood Bowl and it was a gorgeous day - Arcata is foggy and rainy a good deal of the time, so to get this kind of weather was really special:
The best weather for the best day with the Marching Lumberjacks!

I was sitting in the stands with the band, taking pictures and videos - here's one of the band taking the field to play the national anthem at the start of the game.  This gives you an idea of the MLJ personality:

Zane leading the band - they played throughout the game.  It was so much fun to be with them and hear them play.

Halftime came, the band went on the field and played and boy did they sound good!  Having that many people playing was amazing.  The third song was the 1812 Overture.  The cannon was supposed to go begin early on, with each DA DADA DADA DADA DUM DUM DUMMM(cannon), but Jeff and Doug weren't expecting it to happen so quickly so they missed the first couple of opportunities; then they got into the rhythm and the cannon was booming throughout the song.  I kept cracking up each time it boomed, I don't know why except that it was funny to know who was making it happen.  Also they didn't blow themselves up, so that was good.
Post-cannon, all in one piece.
Shenanigans ensued during the game; first a human pyramid and later a line of MLJ can-can dancers.  Everyone was having a blast!

The game went into overtime but ultimately Humboldt lost.  Afterward, the team came over to the stands and the band played the school fight song, and I have to admit, it made me choke up.  End of an era and all that.  Here's an article about the band's 50th reunion, and here's an article written about the end of football, with a quote from Jeff and a video - fun fact, the white-bearded man playing the flute was the DJ for our wedding.

Then the former Axes each led the band in a song - it was interesting to see the different techniques and energy that they used - all unique, and each of them led while holding an axe, which is no small feat in my book.  That went on for quite a while, and then we went back to the hotel to change into our Hawaiian shirts for the evening party.  If you're at an event with the band, there will be Hawaiian shirts - in fact, most of the MLJ's who attended our wedding wore them!
Jeff, Joyce, Gary. 
Lori and La.  Lori is married to Gary (pictured above).
Mic, Rebel, Diane, Kathy.  Mic and Kathy are married.  Fun fact, Mic was a groomsman at our wedding, and just a few weeks after our wedding, we attended theirs. 
Rebel and me.  We hung out together a lot back in the day and it was so good to see her again.
Jeff and Bob.  Fun fact, Bob is the guy who drew the Marching Lumberjacks logo.

Group pictures were taken, and if you think it wasn't easy to herd these guys into group shots, you'd be correct:
These are all of the General Managers - Jeff is in the back.  

This being a family-friendly blog, I can't show you some of the other group pictures, but there are quite a few people who all have the MLJ logo tattooed on their behinds, and they all dropped trou for that picture, LOL.

It wouldn't be a reunion without remembering the Marching Lumberjacks who have died, and it was beautifully done with a sculpture that the daughter of two MLJs (married, because that's what happened a lot in the band) made.  She brought it out and read a poem and we all raised a glass to those who were there in our hearts, and then we clamored closer to see the memorial:
A log with a real axe embedded in it, a hard hat and boots that are part of the Marching Lumberjacks uniform, the rubber ducky because they always play that song at least once (and sing along) - and engraved plaques with the names of the gone-but-never-forgotten bandas.

Once a Marching Lumberjack, always a Marching Lumberjack.


  1. It had to be so much fun to go back and revisit all your memories! Thanks for sharing.

    1. It sure was - and with this blog being my mental scrapbook, I had to put it all there for future Shelley to look back on. :)

  2. What a fantastic event. I think was even better than any class reunion for sure. Thanks for sharing it with us, but most of all, thank you for that last picture collage!

    1. I agree - because with the band, everyone wanted to be there, everyone liked everyone. We both know that's not entirely true when it comes to a class reunion. When I was looking for a "then" picture for that collage, I just couldn't resist putting the Jeff that I met out way back in 1983 out there, LOL.

  3. Okay, I was just going to ask if that was Jeff with the beard and hot pants!! What an amazing and fun reunion. Its a shame they stopped the football program. It seems like the Lumberjacks won't have quite as many opportunities to play.

    1. HOT PANTS!!! HAHAHAHAHAHA! We all wore them back then.

    2. Right?! My younger friends can't believe how short Jeff's shorts were, but they were just the standard Op shorts - and you were COOL, man. ;)

  4. Oh my gosh, this is so amazing. I LOVED hearing how you met! And how you were included even though you lived so far away. What a great group! LOL @ the butt tattoos.

    I was wondering why it was their last performance - sad that they are ending the football program!!!

    1. I don't think the butt tattoos were a thing when Jeff was there, because had they been? I suspect he would have gotten one!

  5. So much fun...I would have loved being in a band like that!!!! Good times..good memories for you guys for sure!!!

  6. Since I'm not a Blogger user, I'll just say this is all from Matt, the White Bearded Flute Player.

    This was a great blog! Well-written, and captured the fun of the weekend! We had a great time, and I know you and Jeff did as well. It was great to see you, and hope to see you both again soon. Peace my friends.

    1. Matt! Thanks for commenting! I should do a then and now collage of you - funny how I always thought of you looking like 1984-Matt, even decades later. People don't change much in my brain, I guess. :)

  7. Wow, how fun is this! I love that you can be a part of the band even if you dont play an Too bad the football team is being cut.

    Man those people.are.really dedicated to get tattoos where they did!


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