2014 CNY Parade
Photo by Ian Billings

The Cal Poly Mustang Band

The Mustang Band is a large group of brass, woodwind, percussion, and color guard performers that provide entertainment at Cal Poly athletic events. Although easily recognizable in Spanos Stadium at all home football games as the 200-member strong Pride of the Pacific Mustang Marching Band, this organization of Cal Poly students also features four arena bands. These pep bands (at approximately 65 members per ensemble) perform at all home volleyball matches as well as all men's and women's home basketball games.

The Mustang Band also performs at special functions throughout the year, including Week of Welcome activities in September, the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade in February, and Cal Poly's Open House weekend in April.


Cal Poly Mustang Band in 1916The origins of the Cal Poly bands, as we know it, can be traced to 1916. Formed officially under the direction of D. W. Schlosser, the group functioned mainly as a military unit, drilling for parades and marching alongside other battalions. The band worked under Schlosser until 1921, when H. N. Whitlock changed from military style to that of drum and bugle corps. The band vacillated between the two styles until 1924, when Merrit B. Smith assumed the control of the organization. The band began playing at the basketball games in 1926, and even formed a separate ensemble – a “saxophone novelty band” the following year.

Cal Poly Mustang Band in 1932It was from this point into the 1930s that the band began practicing regularly, performing at assemblies, parades, and football games. In 1936, Mr. Smith stepped down from his position as director, beginning the legacy of H. P. Davidson – for whom the music building is named. During this time period, there were two distinct bands: the Marching Band and the Orchestra/Dance band. It was also in 1936 that Davidson instilled a tradition of the “run-on,” which remains to this day.

Cal Poly Mustang Band in 1952Davidson took the reins of the music department in 1956, making way for the appointment of Clarence Coughran as band director. Mr. Coughran established the first concert band tours in 1958. Also at this time, women were allowed back into the musical ensembles: a ban that had been in place since the 1920s. George Beattie later succeeded Coughran, serving as director from 1960 until 1963. Coughran remained active in the music department for years to come. After Beattie came Marty Baum, who was then succeeded in 1966 by William V. Johnson (known by most students as “J”), a graduate of both the University of Michigan and Indiana University.

Cal Poly Mustang Band in 1976Under Johnson's direction, the band experienced a period of growth, numbering 50 members in 1966 to over 180 members by the late 1980s. Members of the Rally Club became so impressed with the Marching Band in the late 1960's, that they began calling it “The Pride of the Pacific.” Over the years, the title became a part of the tradition of the band. In 1970, Johnny Madden, coach of the Oakland Raiders, invited the band to perform a nationally televised halftime show for the Raiders vs. Steelers game. This was a huge success, which resulted in invitations to perform at numerous major league football games for such teams as the Oakland Raiders, Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Raiders and San Diego Chargers.

Dr. Alyson McLamore became the Director of the Marching Band in 1991. Coincidentally, the Symphonic band was invited to perform for the American Bandmaster’s Association at Arizona State University that same year. During this trip, friendships were formed amongst band members that led to the founding of the Iota Pi chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi, National Honorary Band Fraternity, at Cal Poly. Iota Pi continues to be a very important part of the band program at Cal Poly.

In 1994, the Marching Band was sanctioned by the university for student social misconduct and was suspended from marching at football games. As a result, a “Stadium” Band was established to perform in the stands while the band worked to rebuild and institute a positive social atmosphere within the ensemble. In 1996, the Marching Band was fully reinstated with David Rackley (who had been hired the year prior) as the director. Although the years following the 1994 sanctions were a difficult time in the history of the Mustang Band, it is generally considered to have been the right decision. Even today, students are taught the lesson of what was learned during that time to ensure that it never happens again.

Cal Poly Mustang Band at Bandfest (2013)

In 2005 William Johnson resumed the role of Director of the Mustang Band while Len Kawamoto continued as Assistant Director. In 2006, Christopher Woodruff, a graduate of Louisiana State University and Northwestern University, was appointed Associate Director of Bands and the Director of the Mustang Band, which gave the band 3 directors. In 2010, Dr. Andrew McMahan, a graduate of Western Carolina University, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Minnesota, was appointed Director of Bands after the retirement of William Johnson.

In 2017, Christopher Woodruff was appointed Interim Director of Bands following Dr. Andrew McMahan's departure from Cal Poly. Following a yearlong nationwide search conducted by the Music Department and the College of Liberal Arts, Christopher Woodruff was appointed Director of Bands. While Christopher Woodruff also continued as Interim Director of Mustang Band, another search began to fill the vacancy.

In the spring of 2019, Dr. Nicholas P. Waldron, a graduate of University of Kansas and Indiana University, was appointed Director of Mustang Band and Associate Director of Bands. The 2019-2020 Season was cut short right before the Big West Basketball Tournament with much of the world shutting down large gatherings and instituting "Shelter in Place" policies in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The Mustang Band continues to flourish. The current enrollment is now over 200 students, a remarkable increase from 80 members as recent as 2004. The band also regularly performs for the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade and makes occasional trips to perform at Disneyland. Also, since 2006 the band now separates into multiple pep bands in order to perform at all home volleyball and basketball games (both mens and womens.)


  • 1915-1916: Cal Poly band program established.
  • 1916: First band director was D.W. Scholosser.
  • 1921: First women join the band.
  • 1936: Harold P. “Davy” Davidson used white ducks and FFA jackets as uniforms
  • 1936: Broke tradition of Sousa marches for football; half time shows began to emphasize popular music
  • 1958: Began concert Band tours
  • 1960: First women join band since 1921 and first women's band uniforms purchased
  • 1961: First Dixieland Band, First Band Day, Lettergirls formed
  • 1966: William V. “J” Johnson is appointed as Cal Poly director of bands
  • 1966: First indoor concert of the Marching Band (Band-O-Rama)
  • 1967: New uniforms purchased
  • 1978: Marching Band played their first professional basketball game for the L.A. Lakers at the The Forum.
  • 1978: New uniforms purchased
  • 1983: Performed in the Fetes de Geneve Music Festival in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • 1990: New uniforms purchased
  • 1991: Dr. Alyson McLamore is appointed as director of the Marching Band
  • 1994: Marching Band suspended; Stadium Band (stands only pep band) established. Charles Young is appointed as director of the Stadium Band
  • 1995: David Rackley is appointed as director of the Stadium Band
  • 1996: Full Marching Band reinstated and is now known as the Mustang Band (David Rackley, director)
  • 1998: Len Kawamoto is appointed as the assistant director of the Mustang Band
  • 2006: Christopher Woodruff is appointed as director of the Mustang Band and associate director of bands
  • 2006: New uniforms purchased
  • 2010: Dr. Andrew McMahan is appointed as Cal Poly director of bands
  • 2013: Mustang Band exceeds 200 student members
  • 2014: Mustang Band first performs in the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade
  • 2015-2016: Cal Poly band program celebrates 100th anniversary
  • 2017: Christopher Woodruff is appointed as Cal Poly interim director of bands
  • 2018: Christopher Woodruff is appointed as Cal Poly director of bands
  • 2019: Dr. Nicholas P. Waldron is appointed as director of the Mustang Band and associate director of bands
  • 2020: 2019-2020 season is cut short as the world begins dealing with the COVID-19 Pandemic. 2020-2021 season is mostly rehearsals only (in small outdoor groups) with some students participating virtually.
  • 2021: New uniforms purchased; debuted during Fall 2021. 2021-2022 season is mostly back to normal with COVID-19 policies in place.

Mustang Band Directors

  1. D.W. Schlosser (1916-1919)
  2. H.M. Whitlock (1919-1925)
  3. Merritt “Pop” Smith (1926-1936)
  4. Harold P. “Davy” Davidson (1936-1956)
  5. Clarence Coughran (1956-1959)
  6. George Beatie (1959-1963)
  7. J. Marty Baum (1963-1966)
  8. William V. “J” Johnson (1966-1990 and 2005-2006)
  9. Alyson McLamore (1991-1993)
  10. Charles Young (1994-1995)
  11. David Rackley (1995-2005)
  12. Christopher J. Woodruff (August 2006 – 2019)
  13. Nicholas P. Waldron (August 2019 - present)

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Would you like to know more?

All prospective and current Cal Poly students interested in joining the Mustang Band should fill out our Online Interest Form.

We enjoy meeting new students and encourage you to send an email if you have any questions or plan to visit campus. Contact information for directors and all band faculty and staff can be found on our contacts page.