The French Quarter’s Thursday night special was a mix of Christmas cheer and Pride of Acadiana.
This seems to have become a holiday tradition as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Ragin’ Cajuns prepare to play their fourth New Orleans Bowl on Saturday.
And the UL-Lafayette Pride of Acadiana Marching Band kicked off the festivities Thursday night with a second line parade through the French Quarter.
“It’s something we always do,” says Eric Melley, assistant director of bands and director of the marching band.
“So many of our fans are in the French Quarter before the game,” Melley continues. “So, we march a parade through there to raise the team spirit. It’s our parade — we’re the only ones in it, and fans are welcome to second line behind us as we march by.”
That’s when the Christmas spirit gives way to a little bit of Mardi Gras.
The Ragin’ Cajuns will take on the University of Nevada Wolfpack at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. UL-Lafayette has beaten San Diego State University, the University of East Carolina and Tulane University respectively in its three New Orleans Bowl appearances.
“And we’re planning to support the team for another win,” Melley says.
The Pride of Acadiana won’t have much time in New Orleans, returning to Lafayette immediately after the game. Its schedule, however, will be packed.
The band is set to perform at a team luncheon on Friday, and some of its members may be in the concert lineup in the Smoothie King Center on Friday night. That happened last year when New Orleans Bowl officials staged a free concert featuring the Charlie Daniels Band. Some 20 UL-Lafayette band members were asked to perform with Daniels.
This year, Cheap Trick and Kool & the Gang are on the bill.
“And it’s very possible that our band members will be performing with them,” Melley says. “Those who don’t perform will be able to watch the concert.”
He pauses, then laughs.
“I wish I still played my trumpet,” he says. “I’d love to sit in with them. That would be quite an experience.”
But he’s happy that his band members will have the experience. He’s also glad the band has the opportunity to top off another football season with a bowl game. The Ragin’ Cajuns posted an 8-4 record in 2014.
Saturday begins with a pep rally in Champions Square before the game.
“We have an early kickoff,” Melley says. “They had to schedule the game in the morning, because they have a New Orleans Pelicans game that night, and they have to prep the field for the Saints game the next day.”
No worries. The band can handle it.
“We’ll be ready,” Melley says. “And we’ll be ready for a victory.”
The band will perform an abbreviated version of its pregame show, which will include forming a massive fleur de lis in center field. The formation not only is popular among Ragin’ Cajun fans but among New Orleans fans in general, since the fleur di lis is the New Orleans Saints’ emblem.
“We’ll be playing ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ ‘Jambalaya’ and the school songs during pregame,” Melley says. “And we’ll end it with the alma mater.”
Then comes halftime, where the band has been allotted between 10 and 12 minutes.
“That’s an amazingly great amount of time, and we’re happy about that,” Melley says. “And during the game, we’ll be playing the fight songs and cheers to help the team.”
The bowl game not only wraps up a good season for the team but tops the 2014 highlights for the band, which included hosting Southern University’s Human Jukebox Marching Band in the season opener, traveling to the University of Mississippi for the team’s Sept. 13 game against the Rebels and hosting the Louisiana Showcase of Marching Bands on Nov. 8.
The showcase is a state competition, featuring 30 Louisiana high school marching bands.
“It’s a great opportunity for high school bands, and it’s a great recruiting tool for us,” Melley says.
Melley will be focusing on the university’s basketball pep bands and concert season after the bowl game, but the Ragin’ Cajuns are first priority.
“We’re there for them,” he says. “We want to keep up the spirit and come home with a victory.”