The California Repercussions perform at the California State Fair at Cal Expo.

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Adam Strauss and other California Repercussions trombone players ride their instruments like horses at the California State Fair on Saturday, July 16, 2022.

Don Kowall has been playing baritone saxophone with the California Repercussions since the 80s. Now his recently graduated niece, Margot Dieu, plays her piccolo alongside him.

“It’s been a part of my whole life and I wasn’t ready to give up after college,” God, 26, said. “Why give up something you love?”

The California Repercussions, also known as the “Reapers”, are a street band made up mostly of former “band kids” from various California college marching bands, including UC Davis, UC Berkeley, and Stanford University. The band serves as a Neverland for college musicians who want to continue playing after graduation.

The group performed at the California State Fair on Saturday, marking their 21st appearance at the fair and their second performance since the pandemic. After the band’s first set, the audience screamed for an encore. They complied and ended their set with the swing song “Sing, Sing, Sing” by Louis Prima.

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Doug McHaney conducts the California Repercussions at the California State Fair on Saturday, July 16, 2022.

Although some members are professional musicians by trade, most look to the band as an opportunity to play occasionally and relive their college band experiences.

“We have a very strong bond of kinship and friendship with each other,” said Kowall, 59.

Players sport red and black, often wearing Hawaiian shirts and white caps, with repertoire ranging from Glen Miller to Metallica. Many of their songs are accompanied by horn movements, such as swinging clarinets from side to side or riding trombones like horses.

While the band primarily plays shows in Northern California, they have also traveled the world, from Australia to the former Soviet Union, and plan to perform in Greece next year.

They usually perform once or twice a month and rehearse monthly, relying mostly on the self-discipline of its members to refine the music. Bandleader Doug McHaney has led the band since its inception and comes from Redding for monthly rehearsals and gigs.

“It was a really fun gig for us. We’re really happy to be back here,” McHaney said of Cal Expo’s performance.

How the California Repercussions Formed

In 1982, the Cal Aggie Band-uh!, the former UC Davis marching band, was invited to perform two concerts in one day. It was proposed that the band break up.

“If we do, there will be repercussions,” one member warned.

The name stuck and the new band was formed. They ended up playing their first gig at a charity football game in Reno.

Much of the music they play comes from the college band’s collection. The Reapers also continue to arrange and add around 10-15 new songs each year. They carry a library of around 250 songs in total.

One of Kowall’s favorite tracks is an arrangement of “The Story In Your Eyes” by the Moody Blues.

The band has grown from a roster of 24 members in the 80s to around 100 members today and has a band of around 50-75 per gig. Despite its large size, several of the songs feature a section of the band or a soloist.

A new generation of ‘band kids’

Members are generally aged between 21 and 70, with some of the younger musicians playing alongside their parents.

The biggest change Kowall has noticed is the involvement of the new generation. He said many of them played better than their parents.

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Don Kowall and Margot Dieu reunite after their performance with the California Repercussions at the California State Fair on Saturday, July 16, 2022. Julietta Bisharyan

Adam Strauss, 24, started playing trombone with the Reapers when he was a senior in high school. His father was a member of the band and alumnus of UC Davis.

“I’ve spent all these years growing up with music and with people, so starting to play with them was just the next natural step,” he said.

Rachel Crane, 25, who has been playing alongside her father since she was a child, said the next generation is called “The Reproductions”.

The band went on hiatus during the pandemic but started up again this year. Their first and last gig in two years was at the 4th of July Parade in Piedmont.

“It’s the desire to keep playing and spending time with each other that makes the band so strong,” Strauss added.

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