COLUMBUS — When Ohio State hosts Purdue on Saturday, a packed stadium and millions around the world will have a pressing question on their minds.
What can the Buckeyes do for an encore?
Not the undefeated football team, either. The marching band.
“It’s certainly been a question that’s been asked by a lot of people,” said first-year director Jon Waters, an Elmore native. “How are you going to top that?”
For Mr. Waters, the past two weeks have been an unending whirlwind.
The OSU marching band’s ode to the evolution of video games — replete with a galloping horse formation in tribute to The Legend of Zelda — had fans roaring at halftime of the Buckeyes’ Oct. 6 prime-time rout of Nebraska. Last Wednesday, the Woodmore graduate achieved a professional dream with his appointment as permanent director. And by the end of the week, the band had officially become a worldwide phenomenon.
An amateur video of the halftime performance went viral. Forget the overnight rap sensation “Gangnam Style.” The band’s show was the second-most viewed clip on YouTube last week, behind only a music video by pop star Justin Bieber, and has now been watched 12.4 million times. For perspective, the national ABC broadcast of the OSU-Nebraska game itself was the highest-rated television program that night with 5.16 million viewers.
At a school where the marching band is so woven into the football fabric, the renowned 225-member all-brass and percussion unit has become the music group everyone is talking about.
Waters said he heard from fans on five continents, coach Urban Meyer, even the school up north.
“Very entertaining!” Michigan marching band director Scott Boerma wrote in an email to Mr. Waters. “Keep up the great work! See you in a few weeks!”
“Although football teams compete, college bands do not,” Mr. Boerma said in a message to The Blade. “The OSU Marching Band is perennially one of the best of the best, and the Michigan Marching Band always looks forward to seeing/hearing their shows.”
The halftime tour de force provided a final confirmation Mr. Waters was the right man to lead The Best Damn Band in the Land.
Mr. Waters, 36, began the season as the interim successor to Jon Woods, who retired this spring after 25 years as director. But as expected, that appellation became permanent days after the show against Nebraska. The lifelong Buckeyes fan who was cut from the band as a freshman only to dot the “i" in “Script Ohio” before the OSU-Michigan game in 1998 will remain just the ninth director in 135 years.
"It has been the fulfillment of a dream that has been, gosh, 18 years in the making,” Mr. Waters said. “Never did I think when I was cut from the OSU band in 1994 that I would be the director in 2012. I’m just so honored to have the opportunity. Our students are absolutely the best, and it’s a joy to come to work here.”
Mr. Waters hopes his ascension and the sweeping popularity of the latest show inspire band members everywhere.
He said his motto is “tradition through innovation.” The band will remain a steward of its time-honored rituals while also scripting shows like the homage to video games — a performance Entertainment Weekly called “transfixing it its awesomeness.”
Mr. Waters, who had served as the band’s assistant director since 2002, said the idea sprouted five years ago and was put into motion before the season. With the help of his assistants and a computer program, the band charted formations and music that paid tribute to everything from Space Invaders to Tetris to Mario to Pac-Man.
No one could have foreseen the monster they created. The show was a hit live, but only started to plot its worldwide course when two overlapping sections of the population — Ohio State fans and the gaming community — began posting a video of the performance online.
“Those two constituencies came together in a unique way and the thing just went out there and people ate it up,” Mr. Waters said. “It’s a neat sociological experiment about how things like that happen.”
Mr. Waters added: “The success we’ve had with the show is for all the bands out there. Maybe that freshman tuba player in a high school band who’s thinking that they want to be in a college band some day, that confirms it and gives them a new desire.”
As for an encore, Mr. Waters said Saturday’s halftime show during the Purdue game will be a spoof themed on the Mayan calendar and its end-of-the-world prophecy.
Mr. Waters is challenging his band to keep upping the ante.
“I think it’s a natural question to ask,” he said. “What are you going to do to be better?”
Contact David Briggs at :firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.