Meet the local students who performed at Super Bowl halftime
Students in the University of Minnesota marching band regularly perform for more than 50,000 people during games at TCF Bank Stadium. Earlier this month, they landed one of the biggest gigs on television: the halftime show of the Super Bowl.
Performing with singer Justin Timberlake, no less.
The Golden Gophers' marching band includes 325 members, who hail from around the country, including the Northwest suburbs.
Among its drum line are Matthew Fergus of Mount Prospect who was part of the percussion section at Prospect High School, as well as Joe Ure of Arlington Heights, who played trombone at Rolling Meadows High School.
A pair of Conant High School grads are also in the band, including Michael Einig of Schaumburg who plays the snare drum -- and stood right behind the singer during the show -- and piccolo player Sydney Davis of Elk Grove Village.
Band members say they started campaigning on social media for the gig back in November, when they heard that Timberlake was doing the halftime show.
"We made videos, we posted on Facebook and our band director sent out a bunch of emails," says Fergus of their campaign, #UMNmarchwithJt. "We did everything we could think of to have Justin see the UMMB (University of Minnesota Marching Band)."
It worked. Band Director Betsy McCann said in an interview on Minnesota Public Radio that she received the call in late November and announced it to the band at their end-of-the-year banquet.
"We were ecstatic," Fergus adds. "But as soon as she shared this, she told us all it was a secret. We couldn't tell anyone."
Band members figure they rehearsed for more than 50 hours for their 13-minute appearance, for as many as eight hours a day.
"It was so fantastic and so much fun," Davis says, "that it didn't really feel that long."
Midway through halftime, the band performed with Timberlake during his song, "Suit & Tie," for which band members ditched their traditional marching uniforms for suits and ties. They also helped with props and danced their way through the finale, "Can't Stop the Feeling."
Some of the rehearsals took place at the Minnesota Fairgrounds, including one when Timberlake's crew of choreographers, cinematographers and producers showed up -- with the star himself.
"We were all trying to guess whether he was liking it," Fergus says. "Near the end, Justin and his crew came walking down the stairs and as he passed us, he said: 'You guys are crushing it!'
"That made my week," Fergus added.
When the big day came and band members ran out onto the field, Fergus vividly remembers what the producer told them all through their ear pieces: "This will be the quickest and most intense 13 minutes of your life."
Fergus says, "She was right."
Davis says that at Conant, she performed with the marching band in a parade at Disney World and then in a parade at the Indianapolis 500 during her junior year.
"But this was unlike any other," she says. "As a college marching band, we're used to performing before full stadiums, but we've never performed before a huge television audience, where people could see us not as a sideline to the football team, but as we are, on our own merit."
The band is still basking in its surprise, national debut. Since the performance, it has been featured on every major television station in the Twin Cities, as well as in Mpls./St. Paul Magazine, Star Tribune, the Minnesota Daily, and Star Tribune.
Fergus and the other students are hoping their heightened visibility will help the band's crowdfunding campaign which seeks to raise enough money for the band to travel to select away games. According to McCann, they haven't played at an away game for more than 20 years.
"Last year, we played at U.S. Bank Stadium for a Vikings' game," Fergus says. "I thought that would be the biggest gig I ever played in. I never could have expected something this big."