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Northwestern band in Mardi Gras parades

Local group making another trip to New Orleans to perform.

The Northwestern marching band knows how to get into the Mardi Gras spirit. For years, members have had a standing invitation to play in New Orleans — whenever they want.

“The first year, in 1999, we had to apply,” said Jimmy Yeazell, band director. “Now, they’ve told us anytime we want to go, just let them know and come on down.”

So every four years, the band selects a series of songs and makes the trek down to New Orleans to play.

One of the most memorable trips was in 2006 — after Hurricane Katrina tore up the city. Yeazell said that Mardi Gras “was a completely different experience” seeing the destruction and having to avoid closed roadways.

“During the parades there were total empty spots where (there were no people), where as now there’s hundreds of thousands of people. You can’t even see the end of the street,” he said.

This year, Northwestern’s 88 band members will march in two parades: The Krewe of Hermes at 6 p.m. today and the coveted Krewe of Endymion parade at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The Krewe of Endymion is the largest New Orleans Mardi Gras parade and is well-known for its spectacular floats and celebrity grand marshals. This year’s grand marshal is pop singer Kelly Clarkson. The popular event causes many people to begin saving their viewing spots several days before the parade starts.

The crowds are what senior Grace Wylie is looking forward to the most.

“Whenever you’re down there and they’re screaming how awesome you are, it just really gets you pumped up,” she said. “It’s just awesome to get to be doing something you love so much and making other people happy at the same time.”

Fundraisers and personal contributions help fund the trip. It costs about $450 per student— a rate the band receives after years of performances. Participants packed up at 4 a.m. Thursday and headed south to New Orleans. With two separate parades ahead, lasting three-and-a-half hours each, Yeazell said it’s a lot of work for the kids, but also worth it.

“It’s exciting and nice to be known that you’re a good enough group that you can do it,” he said. “It’s a real pat on the back for the kids.”

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