Some Million Dollar Band alumni say reunions are overpriced, inaccessible

Monica Nakashima, Staff Reporter

The Alumni Band weekend is an annual reunion where Million Dollar Band alumni reconvene on campus and perform during a home football game. The event usually lasts two days, and it costs $40 for alumni to attend. 

If an alumnus is a part of the Friends of the Million Dollar Band, they can participate in a meeting the day before the game. Alumni do not need to be a member of this organization to participate in the game day. 

The game day itself starts with a registration event held in the Moody Music Building lobby. Alumni receive a performance T-shirt to wear on the field and a boxed lunch or snack. Then, they are led to the field to rehearse before the halftime show, where they perform alongside current members of the Million Dollar Band. 

Janet Taylor, a trombonist who graduated in 1988, has attended between 15 and 20 alumni game weekends. The most frustrating part of the weekend, Taylor said, is that the $40 fee does not include a ticket to the football game. 

Vickie Lee graduated from the University in the fall of 1981 and was a clarinet player from ‘77 to ‘81. She continued to work in the band’s office after graduation. Lee, along with some other alumni members, remember the centennial celebration of the Million Dollar Band in 2012 as one of the best events organized for the weekend game day. 

“We had a nice dinner. They had a big tent set up outside the band building. They had cakes that were decorated with [Million Dollar Band] logos,” Lee said. “It was like we belonged.”

Taylor said social media played a part in the centennial celebration’s success, and the event was “well advertised.”  

However, some alumni are not notified about the majority of Million Dollar Band alumni events. The Friends of the Million Dollar Band requires alumni to pay a $100 annual fee to receive information about reunions and alumni weekends. 

Reunion events are promoted through the Friends of the Million Dollar Band, and Lee said those not in the group often miss out on the events. 

Taylor contacted Corey Spurlin, marching band director at Auburn University, to learn about their alumni weekend game. There is no fee for alumni to attend, and alumni sit together in the visiting band area. Million Dollar Band alumni purchase football tickets individually, so alumni do not sit together during the game.

“The Auburn alumni get to sit together and play cheers throughout the game and actually go out on the field and march with the [current] band,” Taylor said. “They have hundreds of folks show up for their alumni weekend whereas we have very few compared to them.”

Auburn reserves the seats typically used for the visiting band in Jordan-Hare Stadium for their alumni, who are also exempt from paying fees for their alumni association.

“Why is it that we have to pay and get so much less than Auburn does, and they don’t pay at all and get so much more?” Taylor said. 

Kenneth Ozzello is the director of University Bands at The University of Alabama. He is approaching his 18th year as director and has been working with the band program for 32 years. 

Ozzello said other universities’ alumni weekends cannot be compared because of the unique ticket demands for UA football games. While other schools might schedule their alumni weekends for games with lower ticket demand, Ozzello said the University does not have this option. 

“Even though we chose a game that’s a non-SEC game for the alumni band, those tickets are still in demand,” Ozzello said. 

In Ozzello’s 30-year career at the University, the Department of Athletics has never provided free tickets for the alumni band. 

Tickets in the visiting band section cannot be reserved for alumni. Ozzello said the visiting team has a claim to those seats for all games. If the visiting team does not bring a band, that section is reserved for the visiting team’s fans instead. 

When asked about the Friends of the Million Dollar Band, Ozzello said the band wanted to include all supporters of MDB, hence the “friends” part of the name.

The organization, previously known as the Million Dollar Band Association, ceased and re-formed for financial and oversight reasons at the University’s demand. 

Alumni are required to pay into the organization for “scholarships, equipment and trips” for the band.

“If people joined without any financial commitment, it really wouldn’t help the cause,” Ozzello said. 

Despite issues with alumni weekend, many Million Dollar Band members reflected on their band careers fondly.

“Marching in the Million Dollar Band has been the top highlight of my life,” Taylor said. “I will never forget it. I am proud of it and I’m proud to tell people I marched in the MDB.” 

Lee said Million Dollar Band members “put their heart and soul in it,” so the lack of accommodations during alumni weekend hurt. 

“We try to be as open and friendly as we can to anybody, but I’m sure there are always a few that don’t feel as welcome as they should,” Ozzello said. “Our staff works really hard to make everybody feel welcome to the event.” 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no event scheduled for last year. This year’s Alumni Band game is scheduled for Sept. 25.

Taylor said she has tried multiple times to contact the current Million Dollar Band Administration and the Department of Athletics to voice alumni’s concerns. She has not received a response. 

“Regardless of who it is, you just need to treat people with respect,” Taylor said. “And I think it’s very disrespectful for the people in those positions to not, at the very least, reply to an email.”

Ozzello said those interested can contact University Bands via its website. 

David Potter, the coordinator of band operations at the University, is listed as the main email contact on the band’s homepage. He could not be reached for comment on this story.