Montana’s friendly Battle of the Bands will go on after all.

The University of Montana’s Grizzly Marching Band learned some weeks ago that because of budget cuts, there wouldn’t be money to send it to Bozeman in November to perform at the ‘Cat-Griz football game. The famous cross-state rivalry with the Montana State University Bobcats has become known as the Brawl of the Wild.

Kevin Griggs, UM’s director of athletic bands, tried to come up with the nearly $18,000 it would cost for travel, meals and — the greatest expense of all — buying tickets to the game for 125 band members.

He couldn’t find the money. Last week he let his UM students know, so they wouldn’t find out at the last minute.

The UM student musicians were surprised, Griggs said, but rather than reacting angrily, they were professional and mature. They got together to figure out how to raise the money.

Bridget Stepan, a UM graduate and former Grizzly Marching Band member, started a GoFundMe fundraising campaign online. Within four days, 222 people had donated more than $13,500, surpassing her $10,000 goal. In addition, several individuals offered funds through the UM Foundation.

With several weeks to go before the Nov. 18 game, Griggs said Monday, “I think it’s safe to say we’ll probably go.”

Griggs said the support the Grizzly band received has been overwhelming. “Seeing how people stepped up to maintain the tradition is pretty amazing,” he said.

Among those lending support to the GoFundMe campaign were a handful of MSU fans. One woman wrote: “We are Bobcats and donating because it is important to have both bands always a part of Cat/Griz!” Another posted: “MSU tuba player is happy to see you reached your goal.”

Just as happy was Nathan Stark, MSU’s director of bands and leader of the 160-member Spirit of the West Marching Band.

“I’m excited,” Stark said. “I love it when two bands can get together. It’s a great camaraderie.”

Students enjoy it because they get to see friends from high school or sometimes siblings who attend the other school, he said.

For the halftime performance, the visiting marching band plays part of its show, and then the home band plays part of its show. For the finale, the two marching bands join together on the field to play a single tune, which this year is Green Day’s “Holiday.”

“That’s my favorite thing,” Stark said. “Suddenly there’s a band of 300 on the field. It’s pretty exciting to hear 45 trumpets and 16 snare drums.”

MSU drum major Kendra Hergett, 20, a junior bio-engineering major from Florence, said she felt “really upset … really sad” when she first heard that the Grizzly band might not make it to the ‘Cat-Griz game. It’s one of the few chances the students get to play with another band.

“Our band is trying to get donations together today, to donate on behalf of the entire band,” Hergett said.

Before the ‘Cat-Griz game starts, the two bands warm up outside the stadium by taking turns playing for each other. Hergett said musicians often compliment each other.

In the clarinet section, she said, “We’d exchange cookies and banana bread.”

So while the game brings out a fierce competition among football fans, occasionally veering into nastiness, that’s not true among the musicians.

“With the bands it's really not a rivalry thing,” Hergett said. “We love each other.”

Griggs said it’s not unusual to make the visiting band buy tickets to the game — it depends on the school and the conference. Some schools allot a certain number of seats for visiting bands, he said. That’s an idea he’d like to work on next.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at 406-582-2633 or


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