"You have a spot"
It was on that note that 112th Golden Buffalo Marching Band closed the oddest Band Camp in living memory Saturday night, welcoming the freshmen and transfers, officially, into the fold of the organization that has meant more to my adult life than any other.
You have a spot, a place, a purpose in these trying times. You are not alone. You are not forgotten.
It may strike some as odd that the band still went ahead with such formalities, given *gestures around* everything. With no football season to look forward to, at least in the calendar year of 2020, and campus life itself hanging on by a tread in the era of 'Rona, why even bother? There were no instruments present, sections separated and distanced in the block, and the watchful alums positioned well-away by where the 50-yard-line should be. Even the structured particulars of Closeout themselves had been disrupted and adjusted, with the newcomer ceremony essentially unrecognizable when compared to that of my own, now some 18 years ago.
But, there it was, ringing in my ears. The reason for that afternoon's ceremony; the whole reason the motions had to be gone through. "You have a spot."
I remember, vividly, my first weeks on campus in August of 2002. I remember, again vividly, my mixed senses of excitement and trepidation as I began a new life 1,000 miles from the one I grew up with, knowing exactly no one in Boulder prior to my arrival. Had I not had the Golden Buffalo Marching Band to turn to, providing me an instant sense of place and community among thousands of disparate co-eds, I don't know that I would've lasted. Knowing myself, a reticent social creature in all but the most specific of circumstances, I most likely would've tucked tail and returned home to Illinois after only a few weeks.
Instead, that Fall I had 200 friends the second I stepped foot on campus. I had leadership ready to show me the ropes, upperclassmen to lead me around the buildings, and fellow tubas to drive me to the damn grocery store. I even had guardian angels by my side to make sure I didn't choke on my own vomit the first time I went a little too hard at a party. I immediately had a social bedrock upon which to build my life, so I could then focus on my studies when the time came. Then, when the honors were eventually conferred, I had friendships that have lasted, and will last, the rest of my life.
And that's why Band Camp had to happen. It's not about the Fight Song or the Alma Mater, though the students sang both on Saturday with appropriate vigor. It's not about the rigidity of tradition; the 'have to' of showing up just because you'd done it the year before and the year before that. No, it's about much more. Even if the 112th goes into history as the only Colorado Marching Band to never give a performance, it still serves its purpose for its members beyond the field: to provide them a spot, a place in the churning societal mass of Colorado's flagship university. To give them an anchor in the roughest of seas, a place of relief and respite in the storm of pandemic and societal upheaval.
For the 92 freshmen inducted on Saturday, what could possibly be more important?
I don't know where the band will go from here in 2020. In talking with the leadership there this weekend, rehearsal time (outdoors) is still set aside, and the kids will still earn their credit (if they want it) for showing up throughout the semester. The instruments, though not required on Saturday, will still get checked out. Maybe even a performance or two will rest on the horizon, given the right circumstances. Come February or March, maybe even some actual games at the Foot of the Flatirons to play at. It's all up in the air.
What I do know is this: I'm damn proud of that bunch out on the field on Saturday. Damn proud that, through all of this chaos and bullshit, they're still looking out for one another, still echoing out the Tradition, Heartbeat, Spirit, and Pride of the University as it trudges forward into the unknown.
And when, at some point, football is finally allowed back in that stadium, the band will be there. Because they still hold their spot.
I was not fully prepared for the state of Folsom as I visited her on Saturday. There were weeds growing out of the concrete. A discarded tackling sled hidden up on the concourse next to a failing concessions cart. Spider webs draped under bleachers. A year-old cigarette butt clinging to its existence under the Flatirons Club overhang. The continued decay of the decades-old asphalt in 'COLORADO' ramp. The old girl looked as tired and careworn as I do these days.
This was a post-apocalyptic vision of Folsom -- unused since last November. No Spring Game, May graduation, Memorial Day finish of the Bolder Boulder, Dead and Company show, 4th of July fireworks, or early Fall scrimmage to lend it life. A forgotten husk of metal, stone, and concrete quietly marking time as the years creep towards it's 100th birthday. A football stadium and civic cornerstone left without a purpose as society struggles to make sense of itself in this pandemic-fueled reality.
It was, undoubtedly, sad. But, it was still Folsom.
Even with a blanket of smoke in the air from the state's four active forest fires, the sunlight could hit the angles just right. I could still hear the echo off the suites when we struck up the Fight Song. Those weeds? Just table dressing.
I sat in the same spot where I watched the Nebraska game, nearly one year ago. I breathed in those memories, along with the ash and soot from the mountains. I could see the flea-flicker, the missed field goal, the dichotomy of black-clad joy and red-clad despair as if it was live.
Folsom may be set aside today, but it won't be forever. In due time we'll all be back. The weeds will be gone, the spider's webs swept aside. Hell, the Athletic Department may even squeeze together enough coins to repave and paint the south ramp (please, I'm begging you, it looks awful). Whether in freezing cold or sunshine, I'm going to be back in that stadium, in due time.
Til then, I wish her well.