Phil Keough, host of "The Amazing Race," leads the UCLA Bruin Marching Band down a field. The band will open the popular show's 24th season on Feb. 23.
Before contestants in the season premiere of “The Amazing Race” begin their chaotic, hyper-speed journey around the world in pursuit of $1 million in prize money, they will get a rousing send-off by some folks who are well-known to UCLA sports fans, students and alumni.
The UCLA Bruin Marching Band was selected to open the nine-time, Emmy-award-winning series when it airs Feb. 23 at 8 p.m. (7 p.m Central) on CBS. In addition to performing the show’s theme song, the band members will play an integral role in the contestants’ first challenge.
Incorporating a marching band into the critically acclaimed show is something that series executive producer and co-creator Bertram van Munster has wanted to do for many years.
“I’ve been fascinated with drum bands and marching bands, the choreography and the expertise with which they play their instruments ever since moving to the U.S. from Holland. So then at one point, I said ‘Let’s just call these guys and see if they’re willing to work with us.'”
The UCLA’s Bruin Marching Band’s track record made selecting the Bruin musicians an easy one, he said. “It was a straight shot because you guys are indeed really well-known,” he said.
Van Munster was also impressed by the skill and experience demonstrated by band director Gordon Henderson.
“It was phenomenal,” said van Munster. “To handle such a large group on such a large field and to have these musicians be so attentive and focused, it was just fantastic. It was fascinating to see. We were blown away by it.”
Because the band is located in Los Angeles and has a strong reputation for excellence and professionalism, UCLA student musicians are frequently asked to participate in these types of major productions, said Henderson.
“Our students have opportunities not a lot of others have,” said Henderson, adding that these kinds of experiences also elevate on- and off-campus interest in the band and aid in the recruitment of new members.
It’s a cycle of opportunity, he said. “The more well-known you are in the industry, the more of these kinds of things you get to do, and we’ve been on a roll the last several years."
Over the years, members of the UCLA Bruin Marching Band have appeared in a number of films, including “500 Days of Summer,” “First Daughter,” “That Thing You Do” and “Legends of the Fall.” They have also provided music for soundtracks to “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Struck by Lightning,” “In the Line of Fire” and “Little Nikita,” among others. The band has also been cast in commercials for the NCAA, McDonalds, FedEx, Macy’s, Wendy’s, Pepsi and Honda. They have also appeared in a music video for Destiny’s Child.
In 2013, the band opened for the legendary Rolling Stones in front of 19,000 screaming fans at the L.A. Staples Center.
“From commercials to paid gigs to opening with the Rolling Stones last May, I continue to be blown away by the amazing opportunities I've had as a band member,” said Freesia Quezada, a fourth-year neuroscience student and alto saxophone player.
This all-star season of “The Amazing Race” also has another UCLA connection. Doctoral student Brendon Villegas is marking his return to the show. Villegas, a biomedical physics student, and his now-wife Rachel Reilly placed third in the 20th season of “The Amazing Race,” which ran in 2012. The couple will get a second chance to win this season.