Best friends Michael Corda and Kevin Golden said they were treated like celebrities during a 16-day concert tour of China with the University of Georgia Redcoat Band.
"I felt just like I guess a famous actor would in Hollywood because I gave out my autograph about 30 times within the two weeks I was there," said Golden, 20, a rising UGA junior.
Corda and Golden, both 2001 Evans High School graduates, were two of 12 Columbia County high school graduates who made the trip May 15-27 at the invitation of the U.S.-China Cultural and Educational Foundation. The foundation has previously invited smaller musical ensembles, but the 297-member "China Band" of the Redcoats was the first full American collegiate marching band to make a tour of China.
Other former Columbia County students on the tour were Sarah Immonen, Ryan Clark, Robert Truan, Jeff Czech, Will Verdecchia, Jessie Heath, Sarah Stout, Erin England, Heather Siddle and Beth Newman.
The tour included concerts and marching performances in Chengdu, Kunming, Xiamen, Changsha, Nanjing, Xizhou and Shanghai.
"It was an amazing trip and I had the time of my life," said Golden, who plays mellophone. "It really was a lot of fun."
Corda, a rising junior, agreed that the trip was a once-in-a-lifetime event. The 19-year-old trumpet player said it was nice to perform for very appreciative and excited crowds.
"When we play at Sanford (Stadium), there's 90-something-thousand people, but most of them are there for the football game," Corda said. "It is a totally different idea when you go to a full stadium and they are there for you. That was wild."
The group also got to see some of China's sights, including the Pearl of the East Tower at Shanghai, among the world's tallest free-standing structures; the Panda Research Center at Chengdu; and a very special trip to the top of the Great Wall outside of Shanghai.
The band got crowds involved in "calling the dogs" in the signature UGA cheer: "Go Dawgs! Sic 'em! Woof, woof, woof."
"We got to call the dogs from up there (on the Great Wall)," Golden said. "It was a lot of fun. ... We're not going to travel all that way and not call the dogs."
"That was pretty cool," Corda said. "I think that was the highlight of the trip."
Before the trip, band members attended classes on Chinese culture, language and etiquette. Golden said he still experienced a little culture shock, but very much enjoyed trying traditional Chinese cuisine.
It was the people and their excitement, however, that most affected him. He said the crowd would meet the band at the buses after performances for autographs and photos. Golden said he signed lots of autographs and greeted the fans with the little Chinese he knew.
It didn't matter where the band went, he said, they stirred up excitement in the Chinese people.
The band performed the tour's finale performance in an 80,000-seat stadium in central Shanghai. Corda said that after the finale, the band marched a lap around the track and the crowd gathered in front of them.
"They were just cheering us on," Corda said. "Band kids were throwing music and even their shoes up in the stands. They are taking pictures and we're taking pictures and ... Wow! It was crazy."
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