Band of Gold Story - 1974

posted Jul 11, 2012, 9:57 AM by Largo Gold   [ updated Aug 11, 2018, 4:38 PM by LBOG AA ]

The Band of Gold opened 1974 by playing halftime at the American Bowl football game at Tampa Stadium, followed by the American Invitational horse jumping show.

Those chosen for the World Band were notified of their selection in January of 1974.  Planning and fundraising for the trip shifted into high gear.  The band performed many times that winter and spring to foster community support and raise money for the trip.

Scouting is not just something confined to sports; it was also a practice employed by Bob Cotter. The “World Show,” which had been practiced since band camp the prior summer, was altered in the spring. The song “Cabaret” was added to the show. “Cabaret” featured a series of uncharacteristic dance steps by the musicians that was disliked by the hard core drum corps purists in the band, but designed to appeal to a specific World Music Contest judge, the Band Director of Purdue University. Ultimately, the show was changed to please this judge.  

Spring brought the second annual Magnificent Sound of Gold. This version of the “Mag Sound,” as it was called was even more intricate than the first, since it now included added performances by the new Fife and Drum Corps, and a jazz band, known as the “Golden Tones.” The capacity crowd was delighted, and support for the Band of Gold in Largo soared into the summer. The Largo instrumental music program continued to perform numerous times during the Festival, as it had in prior years.

By May, Cotter and the Band Boosters were dealing with the rapidly escalating costs of the European trip.  The overall cost had almost doubled since the preliminary planning in 1972: from $125,000 to $233,000.  For comparison, $233,000 in 1974 is equal to about $1,243,000 in 2018.  With $50,000 in non-refundable deposits at stake, Cotter sought funding wherever he could.  A bill was introduced in the state legislature to support the trip, but it was not passed. The band did its first walkathon May 25th, raising $5,500.  Cotter was “roasted” at the Fort Harrison Hotel on June 17, raising another $7,500.  Another appearance with the St. Petersburg Society for the Preservation of Barber Shop Singing at the Bayfront Center occurred on June 24, 1974.  This was another of the fund-raising efforts capitalizing on the band’s appeal and the upcoming Europe trip. Ultimately, the band had to borrow about $50,000 to make the trip. The band had to use new sousaphones and other equipment as collateral in order to secure the loan.

When school ended, the band made final preparations for the trip to Europe by holding a week-long band camp. Due to heavy rain, the band drilled relentlessly on the concert pieces.  By the end of the week, the rain lifted and the band was able to work on the World Field Show. 

Finally, the day of departure arrived – July 3, 1974, and it was not without incident.  There were two planes, one for parents and supporters and the other for the band members. The plane carrying the “tagalongs” took off without incident, however the heavily loaded Pan Am charter carrying the band members taxied off the end of the runway at Tampa International Airport.  The plane was stuck and damaged. Band members were deplaned and later feasted on hamburgers provided by the airline while they awaited a new plane which was coming from Puerto Rico. In the meantime, the “tagalongs” arrived on time and enjoyed a scheduled Rhine River cruise. The band members finally arrived in Germany on July 5, a day late.

July 7, 1974 was competition day.  The band went through its traditional warm up of inspection, and singing the Lord’s Prayer and the Alma

Mater.  When it came time to enter the stadium, Cotter, in a cunning move, had the Band enter single file.  This had a two-fold purpose: It bought time for the line crew, made up of chaperones, to get the field properly lined to resemble an American football rather than a European soccer field. It also provided a “shock and awe” effect since the Band was significantly larger than European and other International Bands; as the entrance went on and on, the murmuring in the stands was audible.

From David Brittain’s first bark of commands to the last strains of Auld Lang Syne, the feeling in the stadium was electric.  Fifteen thousand people watched the band’s performance, rewarding them with the longest ovation of the contest.

That evening was the concert competition.  The band performed its required number, “The Netherlands Suite” and then awaited the judge’s selection, which unexpectedly was the “Manx Overture.”  Cotter had been certain that a Shostakovich composition would be selected.  He later remarked, “When I heard them announce the Manx, I damned near died.”  But the rained-out band camp turned out to be fortuitous.  Instead of drilling on the field, the “Manx Overture” had been polished to near perfection.

When the scores were announced, the band had accomplished something never before achieved in the history of the World Music Festival: gold medals with distinction in both the field and concert categories in the Open Division.  The Band of Gold scored 270.5 out of 300 in the field competition, and 325.5 out of 350 in the concert division. In the accompanying picture, Bob Cotter displays the gold medals for the first time. 

That Sunday evening, Cotter gathered the Band, and invited them to sip champagne in celebration of what had been a long and amazing journey. But the journey was about to continue as the Band toured Europe, performing under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, with additional concerts in Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and Germany. The Floridians even enjoyed a snowball fight in the Alps.

The Band of Gold returned home July 25, 1974 to a tumultuous welcome.  Thousands of people welcomed the band back to Largo High, where the Blue Band performed. The World Band of Gold gave a final farewell performance on July 27, 1974 at Packer Stadium.

There is a bittersweet epilogue to the first World Contest story.  Somehow, Cotter had missed the fact that the Contest also had a parade element, so the band did not compete in that event. Additionally, the Band of Gold performed during the first weekend of the six week contest, a traditional disadvantage. The National Band of New Zealand, on the other hand, was last to compete. News that Largo had finished second to the Kiwis was not received until after the Band of Gold returned home.

Cotter, never satisfied with finishing second, set his eyes on 1978.

In the meantime, another school year was approaching, and it was going to be challenging; there were debts to be paid from the European trip, and for the first time, controversy. Band Camp was once again at the Edgewater Beach Motel.  The drill from the World Show was kept, and different music added.  To the now-seniors, the show began to feel tiresome.  They had marched the same steps intensely for a year; now they were marching them again, only with different music.

As School geared up, the St. Petersburg Times did a feature article on the band’s finances and Cotter’s control of the program.  Some former supporters were dissatisfied with Cotter’s financial decisions. This negative publicity, after the huge push for the Europe trip, may have been the reason for a big drop off in fund raising. Plans to travel to Abbeville to defend the band’s title had to be scrapped.

Still, the Band was in high demand, and it performed many times to thank the community for support. One new event was the Florida Tournament of Bands, which was associated with the Festival of States. The competition would score bands in parade and field competitions.  Two divisions were created: A Gold division, for bands with over 70 members; and a silver division, for bands with under 70 members.  Cotter, sensing an opportunity, entered the Band of Gold in the Gold division and the Blue Band in the Silver Division.  For the first time, the Blue Band would compete in a competition.

The first Florida Tournament of Bands resulted in the Band of Gold winning the Gold Division in parade and field, and being declared the Grand Champion.   The Blue Band finished second overall in the parade competition and third overall in field competition, winning the silver division.  This was probably the first time in the history of the United States that one band director put two different bands on the field in competition, and they both won their categories.

In December, the band added another new annual event to its schedule – The Big Sun College Basketball Tournament, played at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg.  The Band performed in the stands, while the Guard and Golden Girls performed at halftime and between games.