On December 27, 1950, happy faces of Park City High School (PCHS) band members emerged from bus windows, hands following to wave farewell. The band was off to perform at a prestigious event: the East-West Shrine Bowl (EWSB), a nationally broadcast college football postseason all-star game.
The road to the EWSB actually started with another all-star game put on by the Shriners. Each year, the Utah Shriners held the Utah Shrine All-Star Game for high school football standouts from around the state. For the August 19, 1950 game, the PCHS band was chosen for a pregame pageant performance to be the halftime entertainment. They would be the first ever high school-level group to perform at the game.
In recapping the performance, the Park Record wrote “Cheered to an echo by more than 12,000 fans, the boys and girls, dressed in their red uniforms, performed brilliantly, both in their music and in their marching maneuvers.” The performances by the PCHS band apparently caught the attention of the national (or at least the California) Shriners. In late November, 1950, the EWSB committee, based in San Francisco, invited the PCHS band to perform at halftime of their collegiate all-star game.
But it came as no surprise; the “famed” PCHS band was referred to as “one of the top attractions in the state for many years” in the Salt Lake Tribune and had recently been “acknowledged [as] one of the greatest prep musical organizations in the nation” according to the Park Record, with much credit to the tutelage of band director Byron D. Jones.
The EWSB game, unlike the Utah one, would be broadcast nationally, including the “prominent” 8-minute halftime performance. There would also be around 60,000 fans in the stands compared to the 12,000 for the Utah game. PCHS was the first band from outside of California to be invited to perform.
The Utah Board of Education met to sanction the trip on November 26 and band members and their parents unanimously voted to accept the invite. The only problem: PCHS had no budget to make the trip.
Several community organizations came to the rescue to raise funds in addition to the band putting on a fundraiser show. The Park City chapter of the United Steel Workers of America set up a citizens’ fund that raised $2,500 of the $4,000 estimated cost. According to the Park Record, “representatives of every fraternal, religious, and civic organization in the city… formed a finance committee” to raise funds for the band’s trip.
Utah governor Joseph Bracken Lee himself made a sizeable personal donation to the band. After all, the band’s exposure at the game would “be wonderful for the kids, as well as for the town and state.” They were over halfway to full funding on December 7 and reached their goal by December 26.
The band and chaperones set off from the high school in four buses at 12:30 p.m. on December 27. According to the Park Record, “with the weatherman cooperating by presenting a beautiful day for the occasion…” the group set off. But, they continued, “as bright as Old Sol shone, he could not equal the glow on the faces of the boys and girls as they found their assigned places on the buses and settled down for the long ride.”
The 100-member band arrived without incident and spent two days touring San Francisco. Then came the big day: December 30. The band was invited to march and play in the pregame pageant. As the band walked in, the stadium announcer called, “here come that high-stepping band from Utah, Park City High School, the feature band of the pageant.” According to one band member, “the magnitude of it all can only be realized by one’s attendance.”
And with the nerves brushed away by the first performance of the day,
Attendees of the game later wrote to the Park Record with their impressed thoughts. The Salt Lake Tribune reporter in attendance sang the PCHS band’s praises. One former Utah baseball player even phoned the owner of the Salt Lake Bees to tell him the game was alright, but that the PCHS band “stole the show.” With their successful show behind them, the PCHS band returned to Park City on New Year’s Day.
Happy New Year from the Park City Museum!