With only 21 students, the Astoria High School Marching Band and Colorguard barely spans 5-yardlines on the football field, single file, two steps apart.

But when they heard the cheers from the crowd of more than a thousand other band students, parents and staff Saturday at Hillsboro Stadium, they felt like they could blow the stands down.

The band took home the third-place trophy for Class A preliminaries in their first competition of the season at the Century Marching Band Showcase, part of the Northwest Marching Band Circuit.

Under the leadership of band director Scott Cuthbert, Astoria broke onto the marching competition scene last year with an unconventional show that featured classic rock songs, a full rock band with guitars and a drum set on the field, and uniforms consisting of jeans, Converse tennis shoes and black Dickies jackets.

This year's show features music by the Grammy-award winning modern rock group Foo Fighters. Though the uniforms are more traditional, the show design is still unique among NWMBC members. Drummers spin, low brass players groove and the six-member horn section "flies" like airplanes at one point in the program.

Half the AHS band students are freshmen and had never performed a show before Saturday. As they waited their turn behind the gates, Westview High School's 160 members filled the field, marching the show they had been rehearsing since August and performing at home football games and other competitions. Westview's much larger, louder and more experienced band finished their show and Astoria filed onto the artificial turf, each student carrying an extra piece of percussion equipment or pushing one of the props that framed their show within giant-sized speakers and stage light trees.

After a brief warmup in the backfield, the band members crossed the empty yardlines toward their opening positions while drum major Renee Riser-Bloomfield prepared to count off the first downbeat - but the nervous silence in the stadium was broken when the entire student section of the crowd roared in unison, "GO ASTORIA!"

The smiles on the AHS band members' faces couldn't be hidden as they took their places, and the thrill of such an enthusiastic reception ignited a performance high in energy and heart.

In competition, bands are scored on their efforts in Music, Visual and General Effect, with several subcategories, or captions, for individual and ensemble music and visual performance, percussion and auxiliary (colorguard). Though the band's overall score put them in third place, their numbers in two captions - individual music and colorguard - were higher than those of the overall second-place band.

After their performance, the students had a chance to change out of their uniforms and relax at a barbecue provided by the parent members of Astoria Band Boosters. Several parents and music teachers from other participating schools made it a point to come over to Astoria's section of the parking lot to offer their congratulations.

"Your whole school should be proud of your marching band," wrote Westview band parent Woody Woodward in an e-mail later in the week. "To see them take the field with less than 20 students was an absolute inspiration to every other school that took the field."

The Astoria High School Marching Band and Colorguard's next competition is the NWMBC Championships Saturday, Nov. 3, at Reser Stadium in Corvallis. The public is welcome to come enjoy a day of music and pageantry and cheer on the AHS band in their last field show performance of the year. For information on the championships, e-mail Astoria Band Boosters at (strecker@charter.net) or call 325-9109.

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