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Humboldt State University Marching Lumberjacks

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The Humboldt State University Marching Lumberjacks.

If you should attend an American football or basketball game at Humboldt State University, you may hear the announcer say something more or less like:

Ladies and Gentlemen,
the combined efforts of the CIA, the FBI, the IRS, and the Department of Homeland Security have been unable to prevent the following halftime show. The Associated Students and Humboldt State University present the world-famous Humboldt State University Marching Lumberjacks!

A bit unorthodox perhaps, but an appropriate introduction for a student-run band with an unconventional approach to nearly everything - including uniforms, marching, and performances.

The Not Quite Uniform

Nestled amidst towering redwood trees and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Humboldt State University in Arcata, California is about 300 miles north of San Francisco, California and 400 miles south of Portland, Oregon. The university has a well-deserved reputation for strong programs in many aspects of natural resource management, including forestry. The band plays on this reputation by adopting a look that is vaguely reminiscent of a logger.

Most marching bands wear military-style uniforms. Members of the Marching Lumberjacks combine certain common clothing elements - hiking boots, yellow hard hats, braces1, and yellow t-shirts printed with the slogan Kiss Our Axe - with individual accents such as buttons2 and patches to create individual looks. Most Marching Lumberjacks wear green work trousers, but some wear green skirts or hiking shorts. Some band members reveal a fair amount of lacy lingerie, creating the impression of a group of young foresters gone wrong3. In chilly weather band members wear green hooded jerseys printed with the title of a movie starring Terrance Hill and Gene Hackman, March Or Die.

In wet weather, ordinary marching band members attempt to stay dry by wearing clear vinyl raincoats or rain ponchos over their uniforms. In soggy contrast, the Marching Lumberjacks embrace the inclement weather of the Pacific Northwest's vast temperate rainforest. Billing themselves as 'The Official Band of Bad WeatherTM' and donning heavy wool coats, band members merrily play in the rain.

Marching Lumberjacks seem to love salt water as well. The July 1993 issue of National Geographic magazine has a photo of the Marching Lumberjacks frolicking in the Pacific Ocean surf while playing tunes, to encourage the athletes participating in the annual Clam Beach Run.

An Unusual Marching Style

As geographically isolated as Humboldt State University is, one can almost imagine that the students, when developing their marching style, did so without ever seeing an ordinary marching band.

Most college marching bands follow a high-stepping, baton-twirling drum major and pride themselves on their neat, straight lines. In contrast, the Marching Lumberjacks follow the direction of an Axe Major wielding a large axe, and abandon straight lines for a happy game of Follow the Leader. Sometimes a dozen or more musicians follow their line leader from the parade route, through the crowd, and into nearby shops before rejoining the band. When the band comes to a halt, the Marching Lumberjacks execute a pelvic thrust. The command 'Parade Rest' causes the band members to sit or lie down in the street. These and other antics make the Marching Lumberjacks crowd-pleasers, earning them numerous parade awards.

The band's policy of 'any march-able instrument' has allowed band members to supplement the usual brass, woodwind, and percussion sections with such diverse instruments as violins, didgeridoo, battery-powered electric guitar, washboards, kazoos, finger cymbals, and a beer keg.

Field Shows and Other Performances

During football half-time, ordinary college marching bands perform field shows, playing tunes while marching from one geometric formation to the next in tightly choreographed manoeuvres.

The Marching Lumberjacks create their field shows by selecting tunes from their eclectic repertoire of rock, pop, big band swing, movie themes and western tunes. A field show could consist of Billy Strayhorn's Take the A Train, Ozzy Osbourne's Crazy Train, and Gnarls Barkley's Crazy, with an announcer reading a comedy script between tunes. The comedy scripts are often silly or cheeky, but sometimes address serious or controversial issues such as politics, war and racism.

The band's cavalier attitude toward marching extends to the manner in which they move from one formation to the next. Sometimes they march, but other times they dash about in a chaotic manner or perform some type of interpretive dance.

In true democratic spirit, membership in the Marching Lumberjacks is open to all Humboldt State University students, even those with no musical training. Non-instrumentalists belong to an auxiliary unit called Special Services. Members of this unit are encouraged to find imaginative ways to integrate their abilities with the band. Special Services members contribute to field shows by operating large puppets and other props and performing stunts, acrobatics and dances.

Not all field shows have been well received. After performing the 1812 Overture while in the formation of a cannon, the band was accused of forming a phallic symbol on the football field. Not much chastened, the band sought to discover where the line was drawn. A subsequent field show featuring a battering ram formation repeatedly penetrating the opposing team's goalposts was met with applause.

Despite evidence to the contrary, the Marching Lumberjacks can behave like an ordinary marching band. For example, in the Jim Carrey film The Majestic, the 'Lawson High School Band' is played by the Humboldt State University Marching Lumberjacks.


The Marching Lumberjacks is an entirely student-run band. Toward the end of each fall term, the band members elect from among their fellows those who will serve on the Band Council for the next year in the offices of Axe Major, General Manager, Secretary, Treasurer, Music Manager, Equipment Manager and Public Relations. The Band Council encourages all band members to attend the weekly meetings and participate in decisions over all band-related matters, from instrument purchases to performance schedules.

History and Traditions

The modern Humboldt State University Marching Lumberjacks was founded in 1968 as a student-run, all-male club shortly after the University-run, co-ed Humboldt Band lost its funding and disbanded. In the early days, the Marching Lumberjacks focused on home football games.

As times changed, so did the Marching Lumberjacks. Maria Ann Johnston became the first female Marching Lumberjack in 1972, in spite of sexist behaviours displayed by some of her fellow band members. Nowadays at least half of the band members are female, and the band performs at football, basketball, softball and other athletic events as well as festivals, parades and community events from Bandon, Oregon to Pasadena, California.

A Marching Lumberjack reunion is held every five years, with scores of alumni MLJs joining the current student band to create an elaborate field show for the homecoming football game. Their 40th reunion was being held in 2008.

1The type that holds up trousers, not the type that straightens teeth.2Or badges.3Perhaps in honour of certain Monty Pythonesque lumberjacks too.

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