What it was like to perform in ‘chaotic’ Super Bowl halftime show with J.T.

March 5, 2018 GMT

Justin Timberlake scarred me for life.

No, his new album, Man of the Woods, wasnt that atrocious (I actually enjoyed it, to a degree), and you definitely did not miss another wardrobe malfunction.

This scarring all went down behind the cameras during preparations for the most watched television event of the year, the Super Bowl halftime show, starring J.T. and me along with about 320 other members of the University of Minnesota marching band and hundreds of extras.

Unfortunately, the halftime honchos decided that the flutists and clarinetists (that would be me) were not necessary for the band. (No custom-fitted tuxedos imported from Arizona for us like the other marching band musicians.) So we became extras and holders of props.

Thats where the scars come in.

The show was constantly changing. Sometimes the parts that we had worked on for hours were cut the very next day. Because the song Mirrors was such a visual number, the choreography with the handheld mirror props was always being tweaked. In the middle of trying out new moves, I smacked myself in the face with one of the giant mirrors. It wouldnt have been a problem if the edges of this plastic cardboard mirror contraption had not been corrugated. So I ended up with two attractive squarish marks on my face that would just not stop bleeding.


But the rehearsal must go on.

Of course, all of this happened in secrecy. The marching band found out in December that we would be in the halftime show, but we couldnt tell anyone. Then there were about 60 hours of rehearsal over three weeks right before the Super Bowl just as classes were starting up again.

Hurry up and wait was the theme of the rehearsals. Before each one, band members would line up alphabetically by last name and one by one wed get checked off by Super Bowl staffers. For the first few rehearsals at Bierman Field Athletic Building and the Coliseum at the State Fairgrounds, we were ushered in relatively quickly.

We werent so lucky at U.S. Bank Stadium. There, security was high, but the temperature was not. Those of us at the far end of the alphabet (that would be me) were waiting outside for what felt like years as we slowly lost feeling in our fingers and toes. The price you pay for fame.

We werent allowed to bring in cellphones, laptops or electronics of any kind. Top secrecy, remember. To make sure, inside the stadium we were greeted by metal detectors, gifted with a wristband and then wanded by a second security contingent.

Rehearsals lasted three to eight hours. For longer sessions, we were fueled by Panera or Papa Johns. At one rehearsal at U.S. Bank Stadium, my new pal J.T. arranged for smores and hot chocolate for the entire cast and crew.


The organizer for the halftime show was a woman we all simply called K.P., short for something I cant remember. She was directing a cast of more than 600 throughout the rehearsals and even giving directions in our ears during the game over FM radios with headphones.

K.P. told the cast not to rely on the Mirrors recording we used in rehearsal because J.T. would likely sing a little differently every time. And although he would be singing live at the Super Bowl, members of the marching band prerecorded their parts at Ted Mann Music Hall with J.T.s band and faux-played during the actual halftime performance.

Because the show was so dynamic and there were many different stages and settings in the stadium, there was a lot of time spent sitting around on the sidelines, just watching tech workers mess with graphics on the big screens.

The three rehearsals leading up to the performance were run-through after run-through, making sure all the cameras, lighting and pyrotechnics (which were cut from the show) were ready for the millions of people who would be watching us in just a few days. J.T. was at all those rehearsals at the stadium, sometimes less than a foot away.

Frankly, the show was chaotic at times, with me jogging off the field trying desperately to find the right prop and squeeze through the masses of people to get to my spot.

The day of the performance didnt feel much different from any regular Gopher game day at TCF Bank Stadium except we sat around at the State Fairgrounds for hours before kickoff. And then for much of the first half of the Super Bowl, the entire halftime cast waited in the tunnels of U.S. Bank Stadium leading down to the field, waiting for a cue.

It wasnt until 24 seconds were left on the clock in the first half that my heart started to race and it really hit me that I was going to perform in the Super Bowl halftime show for millions and millions of people.

We had gone through the show so many times that on game day it felt natural. After those 13 minutes of fame were over, we ran off the field, back up through tunnels, props and instruments in hand and straight out the doors.

I got to keep my mirror as a souvenir so I can glance at my scars anytime I want.

Thanks, J.T., the scars were worth it.

Sophie Wiitala is a member of the University of Minnesota Marching Band who is majoring in journalism and psychology.