BUCKHANNON – The 2023 World Association of Marching Show Bands Championship brought musicians from around the world to enjoy the hospitality of Buckhannon, West Virginia.
Buckhannon City Recorder and WAMSB Buckhannon Host Committee President Randy Sanders said the last band who participated in the competition began their journey back home Wednesday. This past week, Sanders and West Virginia Wesleyan College Dean of Students Alisa Lively, a member of the Host Committee, reflected on some of the highlights and challenges of hosting an event of that size and caliber.
“I thought we hit every mark as far as the presentation, the execution of the plan with our groups, and our partners were strong with West Virginia Wesleyan College, the City of Buckhannon and Upshur County,” Sanders said. “Our law enforcement community and first responders all did a fabulous job.”
He also wanted to thank WAMSB Host Committee member Jim Valenson, who served as a liaison between event organizers and first responders.
Although the week of July 17-24 consisted of opening and closing ceremonies, a concert band adjudication, a field parade competition, a drumline competition, field competitions, a Music on Main celebration, a Grand Feature Parade of Nations and more, Sanders had a hard time picking a favorite event.
“Having Lee Greenwood come in and appear at the opening ceremonies was just breathtaking, and the closing ceremonies had the United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, and they both gave me the same feeling because it really showed our visitors from other countries what some of the defining parts of America are all about, and that is patriotism and unity,” Sanders said. “The Marine Corps group was here with our music, and they spread joy, but they represent a group of individuals dedicated to allowing us to do what we do, and we may take it for granted, but without folks like the United States Marine Corps, we may not be able to have celebrations like this freely and invite people from other countries to come in, so we need to take that seriously.”
Lively said the camaraderie between the band members and the Upshur County community was the highlight of the whole event.
“Personally, my favorite part was how the city’s residents opened their arms to the bands; we had a band go to someone’s house for a barbecue, someone took a band to a farm so they could see what the farm was like, and the bands just reacted in the sweetest way,” Lively said. “From the judges to the bands that stayed at Wesleyan, they only complimented the fact and appreciated they were on a college campus.”
“They were in the residence halls together, they ate together, they bonded, they traded shirts, they just had the best time hanging out under the trees, and most of the time, they couldn’t speak the same language, but the music was their language, and that was awesome,” she added.
Lively said it has been some time since Wesleyan had so many guests on campus in the summer months.
“It was definitely eye-opening for many of the people who are new to campus, employees who have not been around since back in the day when it was booming — and then couple that with events happening on our campus, it was pretty busy, and I can’t praise the food service enough,” Lively said. “I noticed the food service director posted a post on Facebook they served over 18,000 meals, and Aladdin Food Management is a contracted service – it’s not Wesleyan – so shout out to him and his employees because it became another melting pot in the dining hall, where people were eating together from different lands and all while trying different foods.”
The campus saw more band members taking up residence after initial plans to house people at Buckhannon-Upshur High School fell through following the state’s takeover of the Upshur County Board of Education.
“We partnered with the Homeland Security Office, and [director] Steve Wykoff was instrumental in getting us cots donated from the Red Cross, and Randy was instrumental in getting a crew to help put them up,” Lively said. “They were placed in the green room and the auxiliary gym, and then in our Wellness Center, there’s a multipurpose room, so we were trying to spread them out and make sure they had equal locker room space.”
Sanders said the WAMSB Planning Committee orchestrated several plans to utilize B-UHS and Upshur County’s school buses, but they all fell through.
“We had a great relationship with the Upshur County Board of Education going into this — the housing aspect, the cafeteria, we had cooks coming in — and the big thing was the transportation, not being able to use the school buses,” Sanders said. “We raised the money, worked out the finances with the Upshur County Board of Education to pay for all of that, but unfortunately, because of what’s going on with the Upshur County Board of Education, everything got kicked to the state level, and the state level took a hard line and said, ‘absolutely not.’”
Sanders also wished the West Virginia Department of Tourism had done more to promote the event.
“We’re getting responses from people saying they wish they had known it was going to be this big, and I know I preached the story for two-and-a-half years, and I’m sure folks probably got a little tired of hearing me tell the story, but we always had the confidence that this would be big,” Sanders said. “Many people in our community embraced that and helped us, and I can’t thank our sponsors enough.”
“I just wish the West Virginia Department of Tourism would have believed us, but they didn’t believe it would be this big,” he added. “Hopefully, they’ll take other people seriously whenever they are approached about a once-in-a-lifetime event when the eyes of the world would be on West Virginia; next time, I hope they would do that.”
Sanders said the event did bring out the best in WVWC, filling in the gaps, and the campus looked great for all the events.
“The grounds have never looked better at Wesleyan,” he said. “They made sure that every part of that place was manicured; we had Dr. James Moore’s complete support, CFO Dennis McMasters was there, and of course, Alisa being Dean of Students and Director of Campus Activities, her and her crew just did a fantastic job with the housing and coordinating everything.”
The surrounding community also rallied when the Wood & Brass Band from Poland arrived in Buckhannon, but their instruments and uniforms did not. Another My Buckhannon article goes into detail about how Buckhannon-Upshur High School, Grafton High School Band and the Philip Barbour Band pulled together to provide the participants with instruments, and their band ambassador Kevin Nicholson made sure they matched during their performance with themed shirts from Walmart.
“The band ambassadors were just a tremendous group of individuals, and we can’t praise them enough; they helped get the word out, and then again, our community, the surrounding communities, other counties and other municipalities came together, as well Robert Palmer, the band director of WVWC found the instruments,” Sanders said. “They took them to Walmart; they got the band T-shirts, so yes, our community and surrounding communities just jumped into action and did a fantastic job helping them out.”
Lively reiterated how great it was to have the bands in town and how appreciative they were to stay on WVWC’s campus.
“The last band had breakfast yesterday morning as they were leaving, but every one of them stopped and hugged the lunch lady, and it just made her tear up, so that’s what it was all about to me,” Lively said. “We had the Twisted Winds here for a while, and they won the hearts of Buckhannon. One band went to Skateland the other night, there was another band that performed during a humid afternoon, and a local couple bought everyone in the band some Zul’s. The relationships that were built here with people from other countries — that was my favorite part of the whole thing.”
Sander said the event will leave a lasting impact on the people of Buckhannon and pave the way for future events as well.
“Chief Matt Gregory, Chief JB Kimble, and Director of Homeland Security Steve Wykoff, all the first responders from around the state and around the region, developed an overall security plan/health and resource plan with our partners everywhere,” Sanders said. “Going forward, there’s a blueprint for the things like the Strawberry Festival, so if it continues to grow, we have the infrastructure, and we have the security, first responders and medical plan to implement, so the Buckhannon-Upshur area will be able to handle almost any kind of event that may come here in the future.”