Lafayette may be new to Eric Melley, but Louisiana sure isn’t.
Melley spent six years at LSU, and has now returned to the state to lead the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Pride of Acadiana Marching Band.
In May, the Boston native finished his doctorate degree at Arizona State University in Phoenix and not long afterwards was tapped for the Lafayette position.
“Aug. 1 was my first day, so I hit the ground running,” says Melley. “I had a lot to learn, and the band members had to teach me about some of the traditions.”
Traditions that include songs and spelling out “UL” at pregame.
“We’ll definitely keep all of that,” Melley says.
And, of course, the band will perform at the Cajun Walk when ULL’s Ragin’ Cajun team heads to the stadium, and the Ragin’ March.
The march takes place before the game, with the band starting behind the student section on Cajun Field, then marching around three sides of the stadium, finally stopping at the main entrance for a pep rally.
The cheerleaders join in at this point, where the Pride of Acadiana enters the stadium to “Do What Ya Wanna.”
From there, it’s on to the field, where what’s said to be the world’s largest Louisiana flag is displayed while the band plays “Jambalaya” followed by “You Are My Sunshine.”
Then comes the “UL” formation.
All of this will happen at the Ragin’ Cajuns’ first home game against Nicholls State University on Sept. 14.
“I’d like to pep up the pregame entrance with more energy,” Melley says. “Coach (Mark) Hudspeth has really brought the football team up in the last two years, and it’s all about high energy, getting the crowd up for the game. So, we need to keep the tempo up. And we’re working on some things for when the team is on the field, playing cheers during the offensive downs. Maybe we’ll add a cheer or two for the defense, too, and songs during time-outs to get the crowd more involved.”
Melley did, indeed, hit the ground running.
Preseason band camp began only two weeks after he arrived on campus.
The band fields 274 members, which includes the drumline, color guard and drum majors Ethan Melancon, Leah LeBlanc, Matthew Walling and Taylor Dizor.
“The band is coming off an appearance at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade last year, so membership is up this year,” Melley says. “We want to grow, so we’re not at a point where we have to cut anybody.”
The band also works with the university’s Ragin’ Jazz dance team, which, unlike LSU’s Golden Girls and Southern University’s Dancing Dolls, isn’t part of the band.
In the midst of getting the band ready, Melley is settling into his new home with wife, Dina, and their 8-month-old son, Liam.
In addition to leading the marching band, he’ll conduct the ULL Concert Band and Ensembles in the spring. He’ll also teach conducting classes.
But the Pride of Acadiana is now his top priority.
“UL-Lafayette has an active program with great students and a wonderful community,” he says. “I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”