Skip to main content
Society, Arts and Culture

Mustang Band Takes San Francisco at the Chinese New Year Parade

Cal Poly's Mustang Band performing in downtown San Francisco for the Chinese New Year Parade
Written By Larry Peña | Photos by John Osumi

On February 8, the Cal Poly Mustang Band performed in front of more than 3 million spectators in person and worldwide at the Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco. This was the sixth time overall and the first time since 2017 that Cal Poly has been invited to perform in the parade, the largest of its kind outside mainland China. 

“Even though this performance is so much more tiring than a typical game day performance, it is so worth it,” said Lauren Becker, a civil and environmental engineering grad student and San Francisco native who leads the band’s trumpet section. “The crowd along the parade route gives off so much energy and excitement for us and what we are doing.”

The Mustang Band performing and dancing in front of the Ferry Building in San Francisco
The Mustang Band faced off against UC Davis on the Embarcadero before the parade.

The day of the parade is packed for members of the Mustang Band. After packing up and leaving campus by 7 a.m., the students arrive in San Francisco just in time to grab a quick lunch before assembling at a rally point near the parade route at 1:30 p.m. for warmup. 

From 3 to 4 p.m. the Mustang Band engages in a “Band-Off,” a competitive joint concert with the band from UC Davis, just outside the Ferry Building, drawing crowds of visitors and music fans from up and down the Embarcadero. At 4:30 the band makes their way to the parade route, and it’s go time at 5 p.m. 

The parade route runs from the Financial District and through the Dragon Gate at Grant Avenue into Chinatown. For two hours, the band is on the march, performing for thousands of fans along the streets, in front of sections of bleachers, and past a zone of TV cameras broadcasting the performance around the world. 

Mustang Band members dancing at night through the streets of downtown San Francisco
The band members "Georging" — a distinctive part of the Mustang Band's performance — through the streets of Chinatown.

For first-year architecture major and alto saxophonist Emma Jorgenson, the parade was an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream in a very over-the-top way. “I grew up in the East Bay watching the parade on TV with my mom, but I never had a chance to go see it in person,” said Jorgenson, who plays alto sax in the band. “So the first time I ever went in person, I was playing in the parade. It was pretty intense.” 

For Nick Waldron, associate director of bands, the performance is an opportunity for students to grow, as performers and as professionals. 

“There's a lot of individual responsibility that has to happen to make this trip work,” Waldron said. "It gives them a chance to have their craft celebrated outside of the university, to hear that applause and have our alumni there, and to see that what they're doing is special and they are valued.”