Mike Stewart Begins 2nd Year At Helm Of Pride Of The Southland Band

  • Sunday, August 20, 2023
  • James Boofer

Since 1869 the Pride of the Southland Band has been a fixture on the UT campus and at Neyland Stadium. It's a symbol of excellence and a source of pride for Vol fans, alumni, the UT administration and for current band members.

This year’s squad boasts a roster of 415 students and is the largest in the history of the band. Tennessee native Dr. W. J. Julian, director from 1961-1993, is often referred to as the architect of the band Vol fans know and love today. Many of the traditions current Vol fans adore were started by Dr. Julian and second year director Mike Stewart is determined to continue the standard of excellence that was set so long ago.

I had the unique pleasure of spending time with Mike on Thursday as he and the band members prepared for the 2023 football season. For three hours in 90-degree heat, the band meticulously practiced each step, each formation and each note in preparation for game day. One thing is evident when you spend any time with Mike and with Pride members, excellence is not only the goal, but it is the expectation.

It’s easy to see why the University appointed Mike as the 11th director of this prestigious institution. A native of Sidney, Ohio, you might be surprised to know that Mike was previously assistant director of bands at Ohio State University where he was a member for 10 years. Mike is aware of the emphasis by fans on tradition in college football and the bands are an important part of game day traditions on college campuses all across this great land. Mike has been privileged to be a part of two of the greatest band traditions in the land, the opening of the T by the Pride of the Southland and the dotting of the I by the Ohio State University Marching Band.

His journey from trombone player in middle school to director of bands at the University of Tennessee has been an enjoyable one for Mike who says that if he’s lucky, he still gets to play once a month at church. Another fun fact you might not know about Mike, he hated the song Rocky Top when he first heard it as a member of the Ohio State band while attending the 1996 Citrus Bowl. He told his then girlfriend, now wife Kelli, that if he never hears Rocky Top again, he would be the happiest person alive.

His views have dramatically changed since his move to Big Orange Country, and he now loves Rocky Top and admits he still gets chills every time he hears it. He says typically the Pride will play Rocky Top around 40 times per game, but for big games against teams like Alabama and Florida they have actually eclipsed that mark by a significant number.

Road trips are an important part of the band schedule during the Fall and if you make it to Tuscaloosa this October make sure to stay in your seat during halftime as the Pride will perform their famous circle drill. Asked about his favorite road trip experience with the Pride, he said, “I love seeing all the different stadiums. They all have their unique traditions. The most interesting road trip I’ve ever had would be Bristol. That was such a unique environment. We were down on field level, and we still could barely see the field."

Mike the Director also fancies himself as a knowledgeable football official as well. He says that he will help the officials from time to time although he has never received a paycheck for his efforts. He admits that more than once he has been asked by officials to back up and keep it down. I can say with conclusiveness that this is true as I’ve stood by him on the sidelines watching him cheer just as passionately as the students although he does his best to do it in a dignified manner.

When asked why he came to Tennessee, his answer was simple. “The first time I got to see Tennessee in person, I was blown away from day one. I knew that if I ever landed a job like this, I’d be crazy to ever leave it. When asked what makes the Pride of the Southland so special, without hesitation, he answered, "The students, they make the Pride special. They just work their tails off all during the week and all day on Saturdays. They learn a new show each week and they put the same effort in. Then, it’s the tradition. We are the third oldest band in the country. Those who have come before us helped to build this tradition of excellence. When I see that T open, I get excited for the students. I’m really proud of them.”

Of the upcoming season, he said, “We’re gonna have some fun shows. Every single home game, we are gonna have a new show for them starting off with a Blues Brothers show in Nashville with a twist to it. I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun. I’m not going to give away all the surprises, but it will have a fun twist in there that I think the fans will really enjoy. We have several different shows this year that I know the fans are going to enjoy. Always focusing on crowd engagement, we have our core songs, and we are continuing to add new songs to play in the stands during each game.”

Current Pride members I spoke to, Alumni, and friends of the Pride were all thrilled that Mike was chosen to take the reins of this proud institution. Knowing the importance of leadership, Dr. Stewart is surrounded by talented people to assist him, people who are passionate about this university, the band and its long-standing traditions. People like Dr. Fuller Lyon, Pate Dennis, Betty Myers, Chandler DeArmond, Jennifer Godfrey Mikels, majorette instructor Lindsey Maples and so many others.

I talked with several of the Pride members on Thursday as well and they are all aware of the expectations of the fans and of Dr. Stewart. Although tired after three hours of practice in the hot August sun, you could see the excitement in their eyes. I watched as they marched to the stadium on Friday and I watched as they, with pride, marched in perfect formation playing the songs we all know and love.

Dr. Stewart loves this state and its people, he loves this university, and he loves this band. It’s personal for him and that makes him the perfect man for the job. He holds one of the most important posts at this great University and he is fully aware of the standard that was set long before him and will be around long after he is gone.

I can only think of one word to adequately describe the Pride of the Southland Marching Band, that word is perfection and as long as Mike Stewart is director, the standard of perfection will always be met.

Student Scene
Emelynn Auge Earns Spring President's List Honors At VTSU
  • 7/11/2024

Vermont State University announces Emelynn Auge of Chattanooga for being named to the President's List for the Spring 2024 semester. President's List designation is reserved for the students ... more

THEC Launches FAFSA FRENZY Across Tennessee During July
  • 7/9/2024

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission is partnering with dozens of education and community partners across the state to launch a special FAFSA Frenzy campaign during July to strongly encourage ... more

UTC’s Cathy Scott Selected As Gerontological Society Of America Fellow
UTC’s Cathy Scott Selected As Gerontological Society Of America Fellow
  • 7/9/2024

Dr. Cathy Scott, an associate professor in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Department of Social Work and the Bachelor of Social Work program director, has been selected as a Gerontological ... more