Imagine it’s a Saturday in October, and you’re in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Alabama Crimson Tide has just taken the field, the crowd is overflowing with excitement, and the stands have become a sea of red and white shakers moving in unison. Now, imagine all of this without the Million Dollar Band playing the background.
Who would get us off of our feet and dancing to “Basket Case”? Where would we be without someone to lead us with the familiar notes of “Yea Alabama”? And chanting the Rammer Jammer at the end of a victory wouldn’t be nearly the same without the band. Without the Million Dollar Band, that sea of shakers would have no rhythm, no common beat, no unifying tune.
When the band was formed in 1913, it was student-led and only had 14 members. Now, the Million Dollar Band boasts over 400 members and plays a major role in the experience one gets when attending an Alabama football game. The amount of work put in to it is no small feat. And while the Million Dollar Band depends on teamwork and cohesiveness to function, each member has their own personal experience and story that they take away from their time spent with the band.
For Alumna Ashanka Kumari, her first year as an undergraduate student and member of the band was the most challenging, as she learned how to settle in to the routine of balancing school and her commitment to playing the trombone for the band. Although as time went on, balancing these two became “second-nature” by the end of her four years as an undergraduate student.
“We rehearsed Monday through Friday from 4 to 5:30 p.m., but we began earlier than that to warm up in sections, so really it looked more like 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.,” Kumari said. “Further, we would have early morning—sometimes afternoon—rehearsals on game days and Saturdays, and additional rehearsals for bowl games and the Iron Bowl.”
For December 2014 graduate Jessica Atkinson, who played clarinet for the Million Dollar Band, being a member helped her succeed with her classes and other extra curricular activities.
“Because of the time commitment, being a Million Dollar Band member made me buckle down…I guess I knew that I had to get things done,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson also said that after hours of practicing five days a week every Fall during her four years with the band, she developed a habit of unconsciously walking in step with people, despite just being out and about on campus or in a crowd.
Rain or shine, these many hours of practice were spent outside on Butler Field. The practice field is named after Colonel Carleton K. Butler, the director from 1935-1968 who is recognized for making the band the nationally recognized icon it is today. Kumari says that the members of the band liked to refer to it as “Butler Swamp.” Due to the uneven level of Butler Field, the back half would fill with puddles and mud every time it rained, which in Tuscaloosa is quite often.
“Perhaps the funniest and possibly also worst moments I recall are from days when we would have rehearsal after a lot of rain,” Kumari said. “Our practice field would become quite muddy after a rain shower and watching one another try not to slip and fall during rehearsal was rather amusing at times.”
Thanks to all of these hours of hard work, the Million Dollar Band consistently provides the atmosphere that one comes to know and love when attending a football game in Bryant-Denny Stadium. A home game day for a member of the band begins well before kickoff, with a practice held early in the day. Then after a meal break, the band meets out on the Quad for the ever popular Elephant Stomp, followed by a march into the stadium.
As for away games, there normally wouldn’t be practice the day of the game, as most of their time would be spent traveling. Kumari, who traveled to many different away games including three national titles, said that getting this opportunity to travel with the team was an experience unlike any other.
Konnor George, a junior who currently plays alto saxophone, says that traveling with the band is his favorite thing to do, especially considering it takes them places that most people wouldn’t have normally gone to on their own. George recalls being on the field after the National Championship game in Miami, and describes the experience of reveling in the victory confetti as “once in a lifetime”. Although, after the way the past two seasons ended, George said that he “never wants to go to another Sugar Bowl again.”
While Kumari said she isn’t a huge football fan, the exciting atmosphere during a football game is hard to ignore. She also said that out of all of the pieces that the band performs, her favorite actually isn’t one played with instruments: it’s the Alma Mater, which is sung not only at the end of every game, but also every practice. George agrees with this statement, saying that hearing over 400 people singing it “gives you chills”.
“I felt like this piece was one of the strongest uniting forces in the band,” Kumari said.
According to Kumari, the best part about being in the Million Dollar Band was the bond she formed with her fellow bandmates. Whether it was during long practice hours, in the stadium during a blazing hot Alabama Saturday, or on a crowded bus headed to an away game, Kumari formed lifelong friendships.
“While the rest of my day may have been complicated by diverse classes, it was always a comforting experience getting to see familiar faces and get to know many of the 400 plus members of the band,” Kumari said. “My section was like a second family.”
Atkinson said she formed some of her best friendships with her bandmates as well. She also said getting to share their experience together at football games made every Saturday just as fun and exciting as the last.
The time and commitment put forth by every member of the Million Dollar Band is what makes it so magical and powerful as a leading force for thousands of fans at football games. Legendary Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant could often be heard praising the band after games, saying that their support helped the team win. This is still the same today because without the band, Bryant-Denny Stadium would be devoid of the energy that is needed to win. After hours of practice and playing the same pieces over and over again, the Million Dollar Band does an amazing job of energizing a crowd. And as George says, and most likely every member of the band agrees with, “I’ll know how to play ‘Yea Alabama’ for the rest of my life.”

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