Midtown Raleigh News

Athens Drive High School marching band to perform in Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade

The Athens Drive High School marching band heads down Hillsborough Street during the Raleigh Christmas Parade in downtown Raleigh on Saturday. The band will perform at the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade this week.
The Athens Drive High School marching band heads down Hillsborough Street during the Raleigh Christmas Parade in downtown Raleigh on Saturday. The band will perform at the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade this week. jhknight@newsobserver.com

The Athens Drive High School marching band dreams big. On Thanksgiving, a dream will come true – the band will march in the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade and appear on “Good Morning America.”

The 136-member band sent recordings to the parade committee and was accepted, said Jerry Markoch, who has served as the Athens Drive band director for 21 years.

The Philadelphia event, now in its 95th year, is the oldest Thanksgiving Day parade in the country. This year, 20 bands from across the country are set to perform.

“They said, ‘Yeah, we want you, we’ll take you in,’ ” Markoch said.

Athens Drive band members have been putting in extra rehearsal hours and got a practice run during the Raleigh Christmas Parade on Saturday.

The band raised about $50,000 for the trip, Markoch said. Members took part in fundraisers, including selling mattresses.

Before the parade festivities begin at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, the Athens Drive band will perform a song for “Good Morning America” on ABC, Markoch said.

For him, the trip is another way for the band to represent Raleigh and North Carolina. Two years ago, members traveled to Washington, D.C., for the National Memorial Day Parade. Last March, the band’s wind ensemble performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

High school bands should be about more than playing music to a crowd of parents, Markoch said. Athens Drive band members perform at senior-living centers during the holidays and take part in community events.

“Really, we want to be known as the band that has a good rapport with the community,” Markoch said.

Students said they were excited for the trip, even though it has meant some extra practice time.

“I just think it’s going to be such a great experience to perform in front of all those people, cheering on,” said Matt Burroughs, 18, a senior who serves as band captain.

Ryan Suggs, a 17-year-old senior and the band’s single drum major, said the group is a “band family.” The Philadelphia experience will be extra special for seniors, he said.

“It’s kind of just a neat way to end our four years here,” Suggs said.

Markoch isn’t done dreaming big. The band fell short of a spot in the 2016 Rose Parade in California, but he’s hoping for 2017.

It would be the ultimate chance for Athens Drive to represent its city and state, and for members to share the joy of their art.

“That’s what music does to everybody – it makes you feel better,” Markoch said.

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