PHILADELPHIA — Two charter buses left the Mt. Vernon High School parking lot around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, carrying 70 marching band members on their way to perform in the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia.

The buses were also packed with family members who came along for the ride.

The band has been invited to perform in Philadelphia’s big holiday parade, which is billed as the oldest Thanksgiving parade in the country, broadcast live on national TV.

Senior clarinet player Nicole Burris was just as excited about the parade as she was about the group’s trip to New York City, which will include a stop by Times Square and a Broadway show.

Visiting the Big Apple is among the highlights of the trip, which also includes having Thanksgiving dinner on a dinner cruise.

“It’s going to be so much fun,” said Nicole, whose parents, Brent and Kim Burris, are coming along on the adventure.

Band director Jackie Nason said band families have had plenty of time to prepare for the trip. The band applied to participate in this year’s parade in 2021 and received word that it was accepted near the end of the last school year, giving students time to hold a few fundraisers.

Assistant band director Michael Ahearn, who is enjoying his first year at Mt. Vernon, said the trip will no doubt be a memorable experience for all.

He fondly recalls the year he accompanied the Bloomington North High School marching band to Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as a percussion director in 2018, and the time he marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as a student in 2006.

“I think this is a great experience for students,” said Ahearn, whose high school trip included sightseeing in New York City. “Doing the Macy’s Parade in high school was one of the best experiences for me. My first visit to New York City was eye-opening,” he said.

Performing live on national TV was also a thrill, said Ahearn, who clearly remembers the temperatures hovering around a chilly 24 degrees four years ago in Philadelphia.

Performing in freezing temperatures is definitely challenging, he said.

“Valves can freeze and water gets on keys and freezes, so it definitely has its challenges, but it’s not impossible,” said Ahearn, who said it’s all worth it to be part of something big.

The Philadelphia parade features massive floats and towering balloons, in addition to marching bands, choirs and dance groups.

Mt. Vernon’s Band of Marauders will perform “Santa Baby” and “Let It Snow” while marching through the downtown streets.

Trumpet player Ethan Woo, 18, can’t wait to share the experience with his family and friends. His parents, Keither and Naomi, and little brother, Evan, are joining him on the trip.

“I’m not nervous but excited,” said the high school senior, who has been in band since the sixth grade.

He’s looking forward to sightseeing in both Philadelphia and New York City, and hopes to catch a glimpse of the Rocky statue and famous steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Nicole, 17, said she’s looking forward to seeing “Wicked” on Broadway and visiting where money is made at the U.S. mint in Philadelphia, home to the largest mint in the world.

After Thursday’s parade performance, the band and its guests will travel to New York City for a Thanksgiving dinner cruise followed by two days of sightseeing.

“We will spend time checking out some of the best that New York has to offer,” said Nason, who will accompany students as they visit Grand Central Station, Times Square, Rockefeller Center and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum before heading back home on Sunday.

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