The Pride of the Mountains’ new director persuades 
his predecessor to stay involved with the program


For recently retired Bob Buckner ’67, the marching band he directed for 20 years is a lot like the Mafia; no matter how hard Buckner tries to leave the organization, it keeps pulling him back in. That’s because David Starnes, appointed director of the Pride of the Mountains effective July 1, convinced his legendary predecessor to continue contributing to the band. Buckner, a drill designer for clients around the world, agreed to write the drills for this year’s field show, titled “Club Swagger.”

In addition to Starnes, Buckner is working alongside assistant directors Matt Henley ’93 MA ’95 and Jon Henson ’05 MA ’07. “The design staff is a ‘dream team’ in every sense,” said Starnes. “It was my intent from the day I was named director to include Bob on the design team. He willingly accepted, and I consider it a great honor to work with someone whom I have accumulated such respect for during my career. Collectively, it is a great opportunity that we have the chance to work with each other and creatively design for arguably the best marching band in the nation.”

David Starnes leads the Pride of the Mountains through
an early season practice around the new fountain in the
central plaza.

Starnes previously directed bands at Kennesaw Mountain High School in Kennesaw, Ga., following a career path that shares interesting parallels with Buckner’s. Starnes joined Kennesaw Mountain when the school opened in 2000, growing the band program from 85 students to a membership of 250. Similarly, Buckner developed WCU’s marching band from 90 members in 1991 to more than 400 in 2011. Like Western Carolina’s band, which received the 2009 John Philip Sousa Foundation’s Sudler Trophy, the nation’s highest award for collegiate marching bands, the Kennesaw Mountain program won recognition from the Sousa Foundation, earning the Sudler Shield of Excellence for outstanding achievement in high school marching band in 2003. And like the Pride, which appeared in 2011’s Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day, the Kennesaw band also performed on a national stage on a national holiday, participating in the 2005 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

This year’s show features music from well-known “club artists,” including Lady Gaga, Madonna, Adam Lambert, Michael Jackson, Usher and Bruno Mars. “The show will put the audience in a modern-day dance club environment through music, rhythm and the thump of bass speakers. The color guard costuming will be indicative of pop culture with a flashy, rock star look,” Starnes said. “It will be a show that will have the audience singing as they leave each game.”

The band also will give exhibition performances, including at WCU’s Tournament of Champions on Saturday, Oct. 15, and the Bands of America Atlanta Regional Championship at the Georgia Dome on Saturday, Oct. 29. “Through these exhibitions, more than 10,000 people will experience what we do at WCU on the marching band field,” Starnes said. “Our goal is to inspire, influence and recruit at the highest levels to continue the tradition of excellence that is established in the band program.”