With a blare of brass and a flash of pink and gold, a surprise backup band marched onto the field Sunday to join Super Bowl halftime headliners Coldplay: the Cal Band.
All 220 members of the band, officially known as the University of California Marching Band, marched onto the field to bring some American football cred to the Grammy Award-winning British rock band on a hit song — “Paradise” from their 2011 album Mylo Xyoto.
The performance has been kept a secret since Super Bowl representatives approached the Cal Band in December about appearing during the halftime show at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, according to band director Bob Calonico.
Over the next six to eight weeks, the band fine-tuned everything from its marching formations to its uniforms to prepare for the big day. When it came time for the first halftime show rehearsal, they were there along with Beyoncé, Bruno Mars and conductor Gustavo Dudamel.
Calonico called it “an incredible honor” to be part of an event that has become a worldwide cultural phenomenon. “It’s a tribute to the students who dedicate countless hours of their time to rehearsals and performances, and it’s a testament to the model of student leadership that has defined the band for more than 60 years,” he said.
The Cal Band got its start in 1891 with just 18 members and has grown to 220 musicians who play 15 different brass, woodwind and percussion instruments and use 28 different steps in their formations. A five-student executive committee manages the band, doing everything from leading practices to recruiting new members to handling travel logistics.
In addition to playing for more than 160 athletic, campus and community events a year, the band has performed as the opening act for rock groups including Weezer and Foster the People, and has played at many sports events, from Golden State Warriors and Oakland Raiders games to the three world championship parades for the San Francisco Giants.
This year, the band has a special trip planned. In May, students will pack up their gear and head to Asia for a tour of China and Japan. “It’s been on my bucket list a long time,” says Calonico.
In 2003, the band had to cancel a trip to Asia in the midst of the SARS epidemic. The group will leave right after finals and perform its first show — a mix of Cal songs and pop tunes — at the Great Wall of China. It will be livestreamed. They’ll go on to perform in Beijing and in Berkeley’s sister city, Sakai, then Osaka and finish up with a performance at the University of Tokyo.
To learn more about the University of California Marching Band, request a special performance or make a donation, visit the band’s website.