Band of Gold Story - 1976

posted Jul 11, 2012, 9:52 AM by Largo Gold   [ updated Aug 12, 2018, 9:36 AM by LBOG AA ]

America’s Bicentennial was tailor made for the Band of Gold.  At first, Cotter imagined a tour through the East and Midwest, with stops in many cities. Highlights would be performances at the P.T. Barnum Festival in Traverse City, Michigan and the Aquatennial Festival in Minneapolis. Plans for the tour fell through, however, and Cotter cast around for another mountain for the band. He then became aware of the Virginia Beach National Band Competition.  It seemed perfect for the Band: a concert, field, and parade competition


Cotter, with the help of Herb Melleney, Director of the Festival of States, enlisted General Telephone (GTE) as the band’s sponsor for the Bicentennial.  The band would perform at festivals and parades throughout GTE’s service area in exchange for significant financial support.  The band made a lot of day trips that spring, including: The Fort Pierce Sandy Shoes Festival; the Venice Circus Parade (marching behind the elephants); the Plant City Strawberry Festival Parade; the Tampa Gasparilla Parade; and the Ocala Christmas Parade.  The irony of the Ocala parade was the band was awarded first place as best band – Cotter had not even known there was a competition.

Because the Band was so busy, students usually missed school dances (which were not exactly BOG friendly).  The band officers proposed to Cotter that the band sponsor their own dance.  Cotter agreed, serving as chaperone.  The officers engaged a band and the dance was held in one of the “Pod” buildings.

“The Magnificent Sound of Gold” kicked off the Festival of States as usual.  The band again served as the host band for the Festival of States, with the band being judged, but not competing.  The band outscored all the out of state bands.  In a new tradition, the Band of Gold led the Festival of States parade; and then was bused back to starting point to be last band in the parade.  That made for seven miles of parade in one day and sore feet the next day.

Some of the administrative burden was taken off Cotter when Len Fisk volunteered to be the band’s Business Manager.  He coordinated fundraising efforts, made travel arrangements, and let Cotter and Donahey focus on the music and drill. 

The band held a Walk-a-thon fundraiser in May, to pay for the trip to the Virginia Beach Music Festival.  The band hoped to raise $30,000 walking 20 miles.  It poured rain, but still some 500 people came out in force to raise money.

The Virginia Beach National Championship was to be held in June.  The competition featured parade, field, and concert competitions.  The concert competition had a unique element: the band would be given a piece to “sight read.”  The director was given a limited time (less than five minutes) to talk the band through an unannounced piece of music.  It was test of both the band and the director.  Cotter, always meticulous in his preparation, began to pull long forgotten pieces from the band’s vast music library to rehearse in advance. 

The band departed in June for the competition at Virginia Beach, still jittery from the second-place finish in Abbeville.  Prior to the parade competition (the first event), a young woman in a pickup truck flashed the band, providing a momentary distraction!  The Band went on to win the parade competition.

The Concert Competition was next.  Cotter chose his old favorites, “A Manx Overture” and “Finale to Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.” Both were performed flawlessly.  When the sight-reading piece was passed out, it turned out to be one of the pieces the band had practiced earlier!  Cotter’s thoroughness paid off.  The band swept the field competition and were the named the Virginia Beach National Champions, placing first in all five categories.  The 214 band members then toured Washington, DC and Charleston, South Carolina before returning home as champions again.

The Band finished out its bicentennial duties by playing concerts on July 4th in Belleair and Largo.  The Band had overcome an early stumble, recovered its sound, and was on top again.

The Band was given an early challenge as the 1976-77 school year approached: Perform at the first Tampa Bay Buccaneer game ever – a pre-season game against the Miami Dolphins.  Band Camp was held early that year, back at the Edgewater Beach Motel, to prepare. The game was played on August 21, 1976, and the band was ready.

The band also was invited to play halftime at the University of Florida/University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill football game to be played at Tampa Stadium, September 11, 1976.  Because the University would have a late start, the Florida band was not ready.  One of the tunes the Band of Gold performed was the Theme from “Jaws,” the 1975 blockbuster movie.  One of the Florida cheerleaders came over and asked the band to play the song again.  The cheerleaders began making chopping motions with their hands.  Thus, the Band of Gold gave birth to one of the enduring traditions of Florida Gator football – “The Gator Chomp.”


Cotter wanted to keep the band on its toes, so in November he entered both the Band of Gold and Blue Band in the Southern Open, sponsored by Valdosta High School, in Valdosta, Georgia.  He entered both bands since many of the members would also compete in Kerkrade the next year, and would need the experience. Arriving in Valdosta, the band was greeted by heavy rain, which seemed to follow them to many performances that fall.  After the Band of Gold’s performance in the driving rain, Cotter declared win or lose, he was pleased with the performance (unlike Abbeville in 1973). 


Cotter and the band were shocked when they placed second, behind South Cobb High School, from Austell, Georgia.  It was the one time Cotter was unable to explain why the judges scored the way the way they did.  Ironically, the Blue Band won first place in Class B.  Gene Patton won the Best Drum Major award, but he was downcast at the band’s second place finish.