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The Varsity Band Concert is nearing half a century — it debuted in March 1975, when Mike Leckrone, then a young band director, decided to give his musicians a reward for a year of hard work. Leckrone had come to the University of Wisconsin in 1969, when the UW Marching Band had just over 100 members and played to largely empty stadiums — the football team was in the middle of a 10-year stretch without a winning season. Leckrone was a magnet for musicians. By 1975, the band’s roster had nearly doubled. As the school year neared its end, Leckrone decided to send the students off with one more memory. “I wanted to give the kids one last chance to play together,” he says. “People told me nobody would come.” But the people came and came. The concerts — first held in Mills Hall in the Humanities Building, then the Field House, and later at the Kohl Center — became a multinight affair, with a playlist of popular music as well as school songs and extravagant showmanship: Leckrone soared to the stage on wires. By the end of his career in 2019, the Varsity Band Concert had become one of the band’s signature events, requiring nearly a year’s planning. The Corey Pompey era got off to a rough start, as COVID-19 shut down the 2020 and 2021 concerts. But the event returned in 2022, with all its traditional volume and energy (but without a flying director).

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