And the Band Plays On

The Sandlot Sound Machine Pep Band…

There’s something about a pep band that puts the pep in Elizabeth Johnson’s step.

It started when she played the flute in the pep band at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “I loved it,” says the University Preparatory School music teacher. That affection simmered along on a back burner as she dug into her teaching career, including founding U-Prep’s strings and drum programs.

That love affair was rekindled a couple years ago when Johnson found herself at the famous Eureka-to-Ferndale kinetic sculpture race and a pep band was playing as the pedal-powered contraptions were nearing the finish line.

A conversation with the musicians revealed that the band was a regular part of the entertainment at Humboldt Crabs baseball games in Eureka. Intrigued, Johnson – who is well-versed as a string musician – seriously considered joining as an upright bass player. As it did to so many others, the pandemic put the kibosh on those plans.

Sandlot Sound Machine Pep Band. Photo by Jon Lewis.

Flash forward a couple years and Johnson found herself in the Shasta College Symphonic Band, spending her Thursday evenings learning the intricacies of a new instrument, the trombone. “I honked along with about 50 percent of the notes, greatly enjoying myself,” she says, “and then, as is my tendency, it literally popped into my head that I should start the pep band experience that I wanted to have in Humboldt and do it right here in Redding since, you know what? Redding has a baseball team!”

The Redding Colt 45s, in fact, and Rick Bosetti, general manager of the summer collegiate team, loved the idea of a live band adding to the energy at historic Tiger Field. “We’re Americana,” Bosetti says. “That’s what we’re all about.”

Next step was gathering some musicians. Johnson asked Shasta College instructor Jeff Specht, conductor of the symphonic band, if she could hold a recruitment drive after rehearsal. Specht was happy to oblige, calling the pep band idea a nice, casual way for musicians to gather during the summer months.

Among the 90 orchestra members, 20 signed up for the pep band. The first rehearsal was held at Johnson’s home. Johnson, who conducts, discovered she didn’t have a baton at home so she used a wooden spoon as a substitute and decided to stick with the utensil.

She named her ensemble the Sandlot Sound Machine. It includes clarinets, flutes, piccolos, saxophones, drums, a tuba, French horn, trumpet and a trombone. The band will perform Fridays and Saturdays prior to games and during occasional breaks in the action. Fans can expect to enjoy theme songs from “The Magnificent 7,” “The Pink Panther” and “Hawaii Five-O.” Contemporary tunes include “Shake it Off,” “Uptown Funk” and Pharrell Williams’s “Happy.”

“When the pep band idea came up, I knew immediately I wanted to do it,” says Kim Frank, who signed up for the Sound Machine with his wife, Darcy. Kim says it’s the first pep band he’s played in since high school. He plays the baritone sax and his wife plays the tenor sax.

Sandlot Sound Machine Pep Band. Photo by Jon Lewis.

Kim, an Army and law enforcement veteran, says it’s a fun mix of players that includes professional musicians, teachers, scientists and others. “It’s a tightknit group.”

Margie Harrison-Smith, a piccolo player, says the pep band is a chance to hang with fellow symphonic band members after the Shasta College concert season ends in May. “So many of us have been playing together for years and the end of performance season is kind of a letdown. This gives us a lowkey chance to get together. And it’s baseball!”

Harrison-Smith says playing in the pep band brings back marching-band memories from her time at UC Davis. “There’s a certain energy … the music is a bit of a switch but it’s going back to our roots. Plus, how can you pass it up with your conductor conducting with a wooden spoon? We’re not a normal band if our conductor has a wooden spoon.”•

The Sandlot Sound Machine will perform Fridays and Saturdays throughout the Colt 45s season that ends July 30. Musicians interested in joining the band should contact Elizabeth Johnson at [email protected]

About Jon Lewis

Jon Lewis is a Redding-based writer with 37 years of experience. A longtime San Francisco Giants fan, his interests include golf, fishing and sharing stories about people, places and things. He can be reached at [email protected]

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