Clifton Hosts the 74th Annual North Jersey Band Festival

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The 2021 North Jersey Band Festival brought the sights and sounds of 17 northern New Jersey high school marching bands to Clifton Stadium on Oct. 24th.

Some 1,200 musicians, majorettes and color guards were given a unique opportunity to showcase their talent in a non-competitive atmosphere. The audience was comprised mostly of the bands in attendance and band parents.

“We are showing each other our specialties instead of trying to win something,” said Clifton High School senior Christian Rodriguez, a member of the Mustang Band color guard and violinist in the school orchestra.

It's the Mustang Band's marching style that sets them apart from the competition. "We're a lot more traditional," Rodriquez said. "We 're a high-stepping band."

Celebrating its 74th anniversary this year, the North Jersey Band Festival is the oldest continuing festival of its type in the country. Clifton hosted the Festival for many years, which prompted generations of band members to unofficially designate it as the “Clifton Band Festival.” Montclair State currently hosts the annual event.

In 2020, COVID forced the event to be cancelled. So, when Montclair State withdrew five weeks ago due to COVID-related concerns, Festival organizers moved quickly to avoid back-to-back cancellations. That’s when they turned to Clifton for assistance.

Mustang Band Director Bryan Stepneski and his team went right to work after getting the requisite approval from CHS Athletic Director Tom Mullahey, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Danny Robertozzi, and the Clifton Board of Education.

“It was an intense five days of planning,” Stepneski said. But it was music to the ears of the Mustang Band. “Kids were thrilled to host it on our own turf.”

“We’re grateful to the Clifton Board of Education,” said Brian Timmons, Band Director, Bergenfield HS, and President of the North Jersey Band Festival Association.

During individual presentations, several bands took the audience on a musical journey from New York’s Broadway to London’s Abbey Road. Marching on their home field, the Mustang Band delighted the crowd with their Salute to Broadway. Paramus HS and Bergenfield HS offered their renditions of “Eleanor Rigby” and “Imagine,” respectively.

Timmons said that the seating arrangements and Masked Band Finale made the Clifton show somewhat special. “Every band is sitting together in the home stands,” Timmons said. “And we’re going to have an on-field full band retreat.”

At other venues, such as Montclair State, bands are seated in both the home and visitor’s stands. To his second point, most shows end with an awards ceremony.

Marching to the beat of a drum cadence, bands filed back on to the field for the awards presentation and Massed Band Finale. In time 17 band units stood at attention while facing the home stands. They formed a line that stretched from end zone to end zone.

Drum Majorette Angelina Pacosa accepted a plaque commemorating the Mustang Band’s participation in the show. It would be Clifton’s 73rd festival appearance.

Amy Wilcox had the honor of conducting the show’s Massed Band Finale. On her count of three, the assembled group played “America the Beautiful” in unison, from start to finish.

Afterward, the Mustang Band exited the stadium and strode across the parking lot to a staging area alongside Christopher Columbus Middle School. A command was given and the students broke ranks, bringing to an end what was a long and rewarding day for them, as well as for us.

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