a group of men in uniform playing musical instruments
Saxophonists in the Key West High School band perform at a recent football game. HEATHER DOW/Contributed

What do you do when you need more than a quarter of a million dollars for the opportunity of a lifetime?

You hustle. Nonstop.

That’s what Key West High School Band members and their families have been doing for months, to put together about $340,000 so 75 students can travel to London, England, to perform in the city’s 2024 New Year’s Day parade.

The Marching Conchs earlier this year were invited to join more than 70 acts, made up of some 8,000 performers from 23 countries, for London’s New Year’s Day parade and festival. 

Since then, band members, who pump up the crowds at Fighting Conchs football games, and also earn fine arts credits for band participation, have been all over the island raising money, holding car washes and yard sales and selling popcorn and snow cones at events like the Key Lime Pie Festival. 

Every dollar gets them closer to what they’ve been told by other bands who’ve made such a trip is more than worth the daily grind of fundraising

“There will be more than 700,000 people in attendance along with millions of television viewers,” band director Gary Hernandez told Keys Weekly. 

But they’re still about $70,000 away from making their London dream come true, Hernandez said, and the deadline to pay event organizers in full is fast approaching. 

“The last deposit to the company is due at the end of October and we still have quite a ways to go to make it there,” Hernandez said. 

This type of travel isn’t covered in the Monroe County School District’s budget. 

“This is completely self-funded,” Hernandez said. “The district provides the credit card system and accounting software for all donations made.”

Donations continue to come in, $1,000 here and a couple thousand more here. Students accept each one with gratitude. 

They glimpsed their future recently. 

On Sept. 25, the London Founders and Patrons of the New Year’s Day Parade and Festival sent representatives to Key West High School to present the formal invitation to perform on New Year’s Day. 

Steve Summers, chair of the London’s Mayor’s Association, congratulated the band in person.

“You guys are amazing and I can’t wait to see you in London,” Summers said, to cheers from the band students who suited up in their uniforms to attend the invitation ceremony, which included them performing. 

The London reps also brought gifts. Band student Eddie Strunk accepted an official “lucky umbrella” from the parade organizers, a London tradition meant to ward off any chance of rain the day of the parade. 

Key West High School band members have been hustling all year to raise money to travel to London, England, to perform on New Year’s Day, holding fundraising drives like this one recently at Fausto’s grocery. KEY WEST HIGH SCHOOL BAND/Contributed

The band will have car washes from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sat. Oct. 7 at both the Key West Kia dealership and the Chevron station at Truman Avenue and White Street. Also on Saturday, they’ll hold a yard sale from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Strunk Ace Hardware, 1101 Eaton St. 

The London parade invitation is an honor for any American high school band. But for the Marching Conchs, it’s a rare opportunity. They’ve had their hopes dashed before. 

The band had planned a tour of Italy in March 2020, but that was canceled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hernandez said.

“Before that, the band took a trip to Rome 16 years ago and to London 18 years ago,” Hernandez said. “We do not believe the KWHS band has ever performed for such an event this grand in scale.”

Gwen Filosa
Gwen Filosa is The Keys Weekly’s Digital Editor, and has covered Key West news, culture and assorted oddities since she moved to the island in 2011. She was previously a reporter for the Miami Herald and WLRN public radio. Before moving to the Keys, Gwen was in New Orleans for a decade, covering criminal courts for The Times-Picayune. In 2006, the paper’s staff won the Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news and the Public Service Medal for their coverage of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. She remains a devout Saints fan. She has a side hustle as a standup comedian, and has been a regular at Comedy Key West since 2017. She is also an acclaimed dogsitter, professional Bingo caller and a dedicated Wilco fan.