The University of Idaho is getting some unexpected national attention this week. It's not for an academic honor or for a big athletics win, it's for a YouTube video of the U of I marching band. The video is featured in a Rolling Stone list of the top 10 college marching band cover songs.
For marching band director Spencer Martin, being mentioned in Rolling Stone was a big surprise.
"I got an email from the dean's office, from the secretary, saying, 'I'm sure you have already seen this,' and I clicked on it and it was an article about our marching band being in Rolling Stone," Martin says. "It was a fun shock."
Rolling Stone ranks the Idaho marching band's cover of "Thriftshop" by popular hip-hop artist Macklemore as one of the best on the web, putting it next to much larger schools like Ohio University and Michigan State. The short video was filmed over the winter during a basketball game in Moscow – but band director Martin says the idea to give the pop song a pep-band twist came earlier last fall.
"This would have been back in October," he says. "[My brother-in-law] sent me a link to 'Thriftshop' and it hadn't broken yet, and just listening to it – it was awesome. So I sent it to one of our arrangers, and he hadn't heard it either and said, 'let's do it.' So we made our own version of it and debuted it in December."
Right around that time, "Thriftshop" started being played on top-40 stations, and its popularity was skyrocketing. Martin says music arranger Jeff Chambers – a recent U of I grad himself – has gained some notoriety from his arrangement of the pop song. He's now arranging music for marching bands at Iowa State and Vanderbilt University, as well as a number of high schools around the country.
And who exactly is the young man killin' it on the drums in the video? Martin says that's Jeremy Quinn – who was actually a senior in high school at the time.
"Jeremy just happened to be up in Moscow, checking out the music school and the university," says Martin. "And there just happened to be a basketball game that night, and I think it was actually some of the other percussion students who said, 'Why don't you come along and see what it's like to play in a university band?' And so he was just sitting in on a song, and it was just kind of the perfect storm."
In the world of college marching bands, pop songs haven't always been part of the repertoire. But according to Rolling Stone, the University of Idaho's rendition of "Thriftshop" is part of a trend to bring more mainstream pop songs to the game. Martin says they are trying to stay ahead of those trends.
"If we're just going to try to do something everyone else is doing, what's the point? We want to do something that is unique and different," says Martin.