Photo of Alexis Johnson and her mellophone

The ONU Marching Band toured southern California in November, performing at iconic locations including the Santa Monica Pier and Disneyland in Anaheim. Sophomore nursing student Alexis Johnson, from McClure, Ohio, who plays the mellophone, shared her reflections on this once-in-a-lifetime music tour.

I was super excited for this trip and the chance to travel with college friends to see a different part of California. A few years ago, my family took a trip to the West Coast, and we drove down to San Francisco, but didn’t go any farther than that. So visiting Los Angeles and San Diego gave me a chance to explore new cities.

It was a cool experience to represent Ohio Northern University in California and to hear people's reactions. Each of the performances was unique and special in its own way. I was surprised to encounter so many audience members interested in Ohio and in our music. I even talked with one of our Uber drivers about Ohio. So, I learned two interesting things while in California. One, to never underestimate the appeal of my home state ever again. And two, that people in some parts of the world think 75 degrees fahrenheit is cold. Obviously, these people have never visited ONU’s Tundra!

Day 1 - Santa Monica Pier

For our first concert on the Santa Monica Pier, we had fun performing popular hits like “Firework,” “Material Girl” and “Phantom of the Opera.” The venue had a relaxed vibe and we even danced while playing. We were right next to the water, and the beach is my absolute favorite place to be. I purchased a lifeguard sweatshirt and enjoyed the beach scenery, especially the interesting people walking by. The biggest thing I noticed: it was 75 degrees and I was in a tank top and jeans and the locals were bundled up like it was cold. I guess I am used to Ohio weather!

Day 2 - Free Day in L.A.

My friends and I went to the Walk of Fame and I found some of my favorite stars, including Dolly Parton, Julie Andrews, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Betty White, Sandra Bullock and Johnny Cash. After that, we walked to the Chinese Theatre where many famous actors and singers leave their footprints, handprints and signatures. I found out I have the same hand size as Johnny Depp and foot size as Robin Williams. I got the closest I ever will get to holding Chris Hemswoth’s hands! We tried to hike to the Hollywood sign, but gave up because it’s a long way there, so we grabbed an Uber to Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive. We felt like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” as we checked out all the high end stores. 

Day 3 - Disney Day

As soon as we arrived at Disneyland we went backstage to prepare for our show. Before we started, I looked over and saw Peter Pan and Wendy on the parade block. Shortly after, we stepped off and had a fun (but long) parade. Kids were dancing and clapping and it was just a great experience. After that, we had the rest of the day to explore the park. I rode a handful of rides, and Rise of Resistance was my favorite, even though I’m not a Star Wars fan. The park was huge and beautifully decorated for Christmas. We ended the day by going into the gift shops to get souvenirs. As we walked out of the gift shop, we walked into fake snow falling, and my friends and I were like “no, no, no, we came here to escape you!” 

Day 4 - Time to Perform

I fell asleep on the bus from L.A. to San Diego, because we left early in the morning, and we didn’t get back from the park the night before until after midnight. Once in San Diego, we performed at the USS Midway. In high school, I had performed on an aircraft carrier in New York City, but the USS Midway was more meaningful for me, because I knew the history behind it. We played more patriotic songs at this concert, which added to the special meaning. Afterwards, we explored for about an hour then went to Balboa Park for another performance. Here, we performed on a really neat stage and had a captive audience. Some kids came up and held our instruments and took pictures with the guard. We then explored and took pictures before heading back to our hotel for an evening that included dinner and just hanging out with friends. 

Day 5 - Free Day in San Diego

My roommate and I started the day with breakfast in the hotel and M&M waffles. Then, we walked the harbor and got some souvenirs. We had to ask a really sweet lady about the trolley system, because we couldn’t figure out how to get tickets. We rode the trolley to a mall where we checked out stores we don't have in Ohio, including Wetzel Pretzel, which wasn’t quite as good as Auntie Anne’s in my opinion. We rode the trolley back to our hotel and then caught an Uber to Cabrillo National Park where we hiked a trail and explored a lighthouse. We ended the visit by watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean, then finished the evening by getting gelato. I enjoyed caramel and cinnamon. I was so thankful for this trip, but ready to go home. 

Day 6 - Heading Home

We left at 1:30 a.m. in the morning, because we were flying out of L.A., but we were still in San Diego. Thankfully, the bus was on time, although with traffic, we were running behind getting to the airport. We ended up in a rush trying to get our boarding passes and all of us through security. We ended up boarding shortly before they were going to shut the gate. On the plane, we breathed a sigh of relief and got to watch the sunrise. I got home just in time to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with my family.

Reflecting back, every performance and every activity on this trip held a special meaning and gave me memories that I will treasure forever. I am very grateful for the experience, and happy that I could go and share ONU with a different part of the U.S.