By Siara Schwartzlow


BRODHEAD – Early Friday morning, a group of 72 students and 18 adults returned from a fieldtrip to Tennessee. Students took tours, held performances, and even sang karaoke.

The group’s time of departure was set for 8 p.m. Sunday night, March 20, but the time was bumped up.

“Our students were so prepared, so ready to go, that we were able to leave a half hour early,” said Jason Riesterer, band director and trip coordinator.

After a full night’s bus ride, travelers began their experience in West Memphis. There, students had the opportunity to learn about history at the Civil Rights Museum. The location of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s murder and the bus that Rosa Park’s sat in were two of the major sites to take in.

Later that day, students returned their focus to music. They visited Beale Street, which holds a strong connection with music history, particularly with regard to Memphis Blues.

Monday’s trip to Gibson Guitar Factory also stands out.

“We got to see the whole process of how much time and preparation is put in to hand-making these guitars,” Riesterer said.

On Tuesday, students visited Graceland and saw Elvis Presley’s planes, vehicles, and burial site.

“One moment that really stuck out for me was a 45-minute performance we did at Graceland,” Riesterer said. “There was a group from Philadelphia that included individuals with special needs. It was so fun to watch our kids interact with them and have fun.”

The last stop before moving on to Nashville was a 32-story Bass Pro Shop in the shape of a pyramid. Students rode an elevator to the top and got a 360-degree view of the city.

“When the travel agency first mentioned it, I wasn’t sure,” Riesterer said, “but when we left, we knew we could have spent another hour there.”

A three-and-a-half hour bus ride brought the students to Nashville Tuesday night.

What was once the Grand Ole Opry was the students’ next stop on Wednesday. Now called the Ryman Auditorium, this attraction is home to country music history that inspired the students to take up a new skill after lunch. All of Brodhead’s travelers took part in line-dance lessons.

“It was kind of cool to see ninety people out on the floor line dancing,” Riesterer said.

Aside from the dancing, one of the most memorable events of the day was a stop at a recording studio once used by music legends like Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley.

In the recording studio sat a Grand piano that was Elvis’s favorite to use for his own recordings. Brodhead’s students were granted a special opportunity.

“A couple of our students were given permission to play it,” Riesterer said.

The trip continued to flow between history and music with a stop at Belle Meade Plantation Thursday morning. The plantation, made up of 30 to 40 acres of history, offered the students the opportunity to “soak in what an old southern plantation looked like,” Riesterer said.

After a stop at another plantation, the group toured the current Grand Ole Opry. There, tour guides allowed the entire group onto the stage for a group photo.

To wrap up the experience, the group headed to the Hard Rock Café Thursday night. On the upper level of the restaurant, blocked off just for Brodhead’s group, the students enjoyed a live band. The band was set to play for an hour, but Riesterer explained, “They played for an hour and a half. They gave us an extra half-hour just for the fun of it.” With their extra time, the students performed karaoke alongside the band.

A long bus ride brought the students home early Friday morning. At the trip’s conclusion, Riesterer couldn’t be happier.

“I can’t say enough positive things about the students,” he said. “Everywhere we went, tour guides pulled us aside and complimented our students.”

“One thing that really stood out,” he said, “was a tour guide who broke down crying when it was time for us to go. It was neat to see our kids make such a connection in just few short days.”

Now that the trip is over and everyone is home, it’s time to look toward the band’s next trip.

“It’s my hope that we can do a big trip like this every four years,” Riesterer said.

Whether the next trip is a return to Nashville or a visit to a different area of the country, Riesterer hopes that it will create memories as strong as those that this year’s travelers now have.

He explained, “This was something that they can take with them for the rest of their lives.”Tennessee extends a warm welcome to Brodhead%27s band members.

Courtesy photo

Brodhead’s ninety travelers gather on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry.