While on their way to a concert and music clinic in Birmingham on Oct. 14, the Gadsden State Community College Show Band experienced something most people would consider their worst nightmare.
“We were heading down to hear Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra perform at the Alys Stephens Center,” said band director Dr. Matt Leder. “We had headed down (Interstate 59) and I guess there was some sort of accident or delay and we ended up stuck on the highway.”
En route in the southbound lanes of I-59, the group came to a halt in what seemed to be a never-ending traffic jam, which Leder said actually went on for about an hour and a half to two hours.
“Because emergency personnel had to come down the highway, the cars were split so there was enough space for them to pass through,” Leder said in describing the scene. “So, everybody’s kinda pulled off to the side of the road and people are walking up and down the street because we had been out there for so long.”
With this traffic jam, however, the band had been presented with an opportunity to do some good. Leder said the group began to see people walking down the highway holding what appeared to be groceries and orange juice.
“What happened is that a truck driver came up to the bus and said that the refrigeration in their truck was going out and they had to get rid of the juice they had stored,” he said. “The driver asked if they could give the juice to the students and I agreed, but he came back with big, huge jugs of juice containers that you would buy in a grocery store.”
Leder said those orange juice containers came in what he believed were packs of six to eight. It ended up with more than 20 students carrying them down the highway, looking for people to give the juices to.
“Some of our students handed out these juices to these cars, and some people took them and others didn’t,” he said. “We had one student that was so adamant about giving these juices to people that he didn’t stop until he had given all of his cartons away.”
Leder added, “We ended up having so much juice that some of it didn’t get given away, so we ended up storing them in the bottom of our bus. I actually didn’t want it to go to waste either, but I ended up with three or four juices myself.”
Leder said other students who weren’t passing out juices were helping direct cars who had gotten tired of waiting and tried to pass, but could not and were stuck. He said they were able to direct them safely back into the main traffic.
“I think our students are great people. It’s what it comes down to is being a good citizen,” Leder explained as to why the students felt the need to do this.
When they returned, Leder said one of the students asked to be sent the pictures. “I said, ‘Sure why not, just be careful where you send those things,’” he recalled.
Unbeknownst to Leder, the student sent the pictures to ABC 33/40 Chief Meteorologist James Spann, who later posted them to his Facebook page. Leder said the post gained some traction online, gaining more than 600 shares and amassing almost 300 comments.
“To be honest, I feel like my students thought they were famous. THE James Spann had put them on his social media page and they thought they had made it,” Leder said about the post going viral. “For me, this being my eighth year in Alabama, I know the importance of James Spann and who he is, but I didn’t have as much of a reaction as my students did. I was just hoping this was being seen as a positive thing and not a negative thing.”
The group learned about the photos being shared on social media while at a dinner break because they missed the clinic because of the traffic jam. However, they able to make the concert.
“By the time we got back on the bus after dinner, one of the students was contacted by the news station in Birmingham and asked if they could do an interview,” Leder said. “So, he was interviewed as we were walking into the concert.”
He said students were able to meet with Marsalis after the concert and learn from him. “One of our students had a one-on one with him backstage, and the vocalist for the group came back to the bus as we were leaving and had a mini jam session with our vocalists,” the director said.
Leder said he and the band hope by hearing about their experience, people will learn to take unfortunate situations and make them positive.
“I hope that people learn to try to make the best out of a poor situation,” he explained, “Sometimes, life tends to throw curveballs at you, but you gotta look at life with a sense of humor and don’t let it drag you down. Keep moving forward.”
Leder said he's glad for what happened to the group that day on I-59. “It was a wonderful time. It’s nice to see what originally would’ve been a drag of a trip and a series of unfortunate events turn into a trip they will probably remember for the rest of their lives,” he said.
The GSCC Show Band can next be seen locally at its upcoming Jazz Festival on Nov. 4 and 5. The festival will feature regional jazz bands, alongside the Army Jazz Ambassadors and the Oracle Blue Band. Admission to this event and all other performances by the Show Band is free.
This article originally appeared on The Gadsden Times: A traffic jam turned into one unforgettable trip for GSCC Show Band