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Grape Bowl Classic celebrates 40 years of marching band music

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Posted: Thursday, November 2, 2017 8:28 pm

Marching bands from throughout the region will make Lodi history on Saturday.

The Tokay and Lodi high school bands will host the 40th annual Grape Bowl Classic, drawing marching and jazz bands from middle and high schools throughout Northern California for a day of music and fun.

The daylong event begins at Lawrence Elementary School with the jazz competition, followed by a parade on North School Street.

But the main event is the field show on Saturday afternoon. Marching bands will take the field at the historic Grape Bowl.

Robert Gross, the former band leader at Lodi High School, started the band review 40 years ago in 1977.

“I’m real happy to see it’s still going,” he said.

At the time, he and a couple of other band leaders in the region wanted to start some local band reviews. There were others back then, including one in Long Beach, but they wanted events that Northern California bands could get to more easily.

So Gross started the Grape Bowl Classic in Lodi, and other reviews kicked off in Pleasanton and Cupertino.

There have been some changes over the years — the parade used to march down Elm Street, not along North Stockton Street, for one — but a lot has stayed the same.

Like what the review means for Lodi students.

“It’s just really exciting to watch and to listen and to see the students trying their best,” Gross said.

The students play a wide variety of music, from street marches and John Philip Sousa’s repertoire to jazz and classical pieces.

From the beginning, the review has been a point of pride shared by students at the two hosts, Lodi and Tokay high schools.

“(The students) loved it. They were very proud of it,” said Bob Hathaway, former president of the Tokay Band Boosters and a member of the review’s steering committee in the early years. “We put on a very good show.”

Both high schools turned out for the review, he said.

Hathaway was in charge of the food booths, which used to be located at either end of the parade. Now, they’ve been replaced by several food trucks at the Grape Bowl.

The eastern end of the stadium will play host to food vendors Smoothie Patrol, Fagundes Meats & Catering, La Picosita, Sweet and Sour USA, Costa’s Finest Kettle Corn and Kado’s Asian Grill. Souvenirs will also be available.

But in the early days, the booster clubs and volunteers fed spectators and students alike, Hathaway said.

“We had a great crew. ... We fed all of the kids that came to the event,” he said with pride.

Those first few years of the review were busy ones.

“I just know we were always in a rush,” said Nancy Potts, a middle school English teacher who recruited her students to serve as runners for the judges. She was also a member of the steering committee and the Lodi High Band Boosters.

“It was a fun committee, it really was,” she said.

The group of band enthusiasts began working in January of each year to prepare for the Grape Bowl Classic in November. Potts was the committee’s secretary, and her husband Lou made the programs and kept the field shows running on time.

“It’s a great experience. It’s a great committee to work on as a parent. You really get to work with some great people,” she said.

The review has grown over the years, from 30 bands in the first year to more than 40 today. The jazz competition is a newer addition to the Classic, too. And the name changed from the Lodi/Tokay High Band Review to the Grape Bowl Classic.

Though she hasn’t worked on the committee for a while now, Potts still goes to see the review when the weather is good.

“It rained one time and everyone was wet. I hope it doesn’t happen again this year!” she said.

Gross remembered the same year. The field show was canceled because there was so much standing water at the Grape Bowl they worried someone might be electrocuted by a stray wire, he said.

“We had rain like you wouldn’t believe,” he said.

But the possible rain this year hasn’t shut down Gross’ plans to attend this year’s review.

“My wife and I are the grand marshals for the parade,” he said.

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