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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Three Weeks in Tournament Town

Over the span of three glorious weeks in Greensboro: ACC Women's Basketball Tournament, ACC Men's Basketball Tournament, NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament first and second rounds. 

I gotta be honest. Most of the reason I haven't posted about this yet is because I checked the tape, and I've had pretty much the same things to say: Just how awesome it is to be here and have the chance to take it all in. I switched up my routine a bit, spreading attendance at the ACC tournaments over a few days instead of cramming the bulk of my watching into a one day quadruple-header. The change came largely because my kids have their own activity schedules now, but honestly, I liked how it worked. Over what amounted to six days at the Coliseum in a sixteen day span, I got to experience three tournaments from a variety of vantage points, the fanbases of nearly two dozen schools, and, of course, the pep bands of a good chunk of them.

In fact, I can show you better than I can tell you.  The best on Twitter is at #bracketbands, and there's plenty to be had on YouTube as well.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

#bowlbands College Football Playoff Championship - TCU vs. Georgia

 As with every College Football Playoff championship since the first, the trophy will find a home in the southern part of the US - either returning to Athens with the Georgia Bulldogs, or heading to the Metroplex with the TCU Horned Frogs. TCU punched the Big 12's first championship appearance with its Fiesta Bowl victory, and with the Horned Frog Marching Band advancing, the number of dual Sudler matchups this bowl season stands pat at five.



Thursday, December 29, 2022

#bowlbands - CFP Semifinal: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

 Sometimes, bluebloods wear red.

Georgia and Ohio State are two of the playoff era's more successful programs, each boasting multiple title game appearances and a championship since the playoff began. Both teams will bring their Sudler Trophy winning band with them as well. #1 Georgia makes its third trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium this season, where they started against Oregon in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and beat LSU in the SEC Championship, while #4 Ohio State makes its first trip south of the Potomac for a chance to return to the 'ship.

Ohio State:


#bowlbands CFP Semifinal: Vrbo Fiesta Bowl

 What a difference a decade makes.

In 2012, TCU was playing its first season in the Big 12. The move represented a return to the Big Time for the Horned Frogs; after having been a heavyweight as part of the Southwest Conference, the league's dissolution at the onset of the Big 12 left TCU and others on the outside looking in at what would become the BCS auto-qualifying conferences and later the Power Five until their return.

The next year, TCU alumnus Dr. John D. Pasquale would take up the baton at Michigan as the director of the Michigan Marching Band, and at present is the longest tenured in the role since Dr. William D. Revelli retired in 1971. Pasquale's time in the post has included all of Jim Harbaugh's time in Ann Arbor, including last year's playoff appearance.



Friday, December 16, 2022

Bowl Season Quick Hit Almost-Preview

(It's only an Almost-Preview because the Bahamas Bowl is already underway, but neither team even sent a band, so they don't count.)

Happy Bowl Season to all those who celebrate! It's the most wonderful time of the year, and the games are underway. The Final Four will be the #bowlbands preview treatment like usual, but I wanted to note a few things that caught my eye this postseason:

-This year's Dual Sudler count - games that match a pair of Sudler Trophy-winning band programs - is at five; six if Michigan wins its semifinal game and goes on to face either Georgia or Ohio State in the championship. Even at 5, if's the most since 2015-16.

-Cincinnati and Louisville, who shared several conferences before Louisville's move to the ACC, will renew the Keg of Nails rivalry in the Fenway Bowl.

-Although Deion Sanders has already taken the head coach job at Colorado, he will coach Jackson State one last time in the Celebration Bowl in pursuit of the Black college football championship. They'll face NC Central, who currently has the dubious distinction of being the only MEAC school to have lost a Celebration Bowl. Sanders and Jackson State seek to right last year's loss to South Carolina State.

-There are two bowls that are typically in reach for my usual holiday season schedule: The Military Bowl in Annapolis, and the Duke's Mayo Bowl in Charlotte. Travel this year puts me in the opposite location for each. I briefly considered heading to the Myrtle Beach Bowl instead, as it's the closest to me at time of game, but I won't.

-Military Bowl is Duke vs. C.Florida. Can they both lose?

-Duke's Mayo Bowl gets a Big Ten team every other year, which excited me from a Big Ten bands perspective. This year's team is Maryland, which gives the matchup with NC State an old ACC feel.

-Word is if the Terps win the game, they're mixing in Old Bay for the mayo dump. I support it.

-Syracuse takes to the Big Apple in the Pinstripe Bowl, which just feels right.

-Orange Bowl. So much orange. And Tiger Rag/Rocky Top 473 times apiece.

-After the passing of Coach Mike Leach, it's melancholy that Mississippi State will play in a stadium with a pirate ship in it.

-Playoff victories by both Michigan and Ohio State will give us a second playing of one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports, this time with a championship on the line. What's more, it'll be just over nine months after we saw UNC and Duke meet in the men's basketball Final Four. Those riches from less than a year's time in the sports world would be unmatched.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Study War No More


Following this past Saturday night's game, a 46-39 Central Florida victory in Tampa, the Knights widen their lead in the series to 8-6 and the War on I-4 goes on ice for the foreseeable future. 

The rivalry was destined to be. South Florida and Central Florida are two schools of similar size, stature, and age, situated less than 100 miles apart in central (yes, not south) Florida. USF started football in 1997, and the two would first meet in 2005, with USF as a member of the Big East, then a BCS auto-qualifying conference; and Central Florida as a member of Conference USA, which USF had just left. The initial run was four years, with the two being on uneven footing with regards to conference affiliation, access, and resources. USF took those four, and rode off on its high horse. 

In 2013, the two would meet again, this time as conference foes, as the Knights joined the Bulls in the conference now known as the American Athletic Conference. Now on equal footing, the two schools would trade a pair of blows apiece before the Knights ripped off six straight, many during USF's leanest years as a program. The 2017 contest was between a pair of ranked teams, with C.Florida punching its ticket to the conference championship game after their victory. And while a competitively outmatched South Florida squad has caused the Knights some consternation in recent years, the Bulls haven't notched a victory in the series since 2016.

Central Florida will take a step up into the Big 12 in the 2023 season, and, barring further realignment or schedule changes, the series will go in the cooler until at least 2028, the first year both schools have a vacancy in the non-conference. Even then, the Knights would be well within their rights to see no value in playing the Bulls, both due to previous slights and because it would be high risk, low reward for the Power 5 Knights. In the hiatus, both lose an archrival. The Knights may find a rival in fellow callups Cincinnati or Houston, while USF will soon share both a state and conference with Florida Atlantic, and be conferencemates again with UAB and Charlotte from a previous iteration of Conference USA. Still, both schools would be well served to find one another once again on the gridiron in the future.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Stepping Off


For more than six years, ESPN has been showing halftime of SEC games - online, at least.

During the 2016 season, ESPN quietly began airing the halftime shows of SEC games across their networks on ESPN+, accessible online, through the app, or on most streaming providers. This experiment had begun the year prior with the MEAC, though it seems they've since abandoned the practice for that conference. To be clear, they do the absolute least, leaving a high angle camera hot during halftime to capture the action, with no attention to how the band is oriented. I don't know what ratings look like for those feeds, but I watch when I catch them, even though it means shifting from the main game feed, and I'm glad that it's an option. Still, to "yes, and" their coverage, I think there's one space where they could gain even more traction: Pregame.

One of the challenges to televising halftime is that it doesn't occur at a set time. ESPN makes the feed available at a reasonable guess of when halftime may commence, but the pace of the first half dictates when exactly the band will step off. Conversely, pregame steps off a standard and predictable number of minutes before game time, every time. Instead of the floating feed at 1-something for a noon kick, ESPN could reliably tell you that the show would begin at, say, 11:37am. Unlike a halftime show that would need to be scouted to provide anything more in-depth than the high cam seed, pregames remain unchanged for years, meaning the show could be scouted, studied, and ultimately directed for a camera crew to best capture its essence. And unlike halftime shows, where copyright issues occasionally present a challenge to broadcast, much of bands' pregame routines are property of the university; in the public domain, or have had the rights secured for quite some time.

But there's one more reason to broadcast pregame: Fans would eat it up.

Look, I go looking for the halftime feeds on Saturdays, but then, my band nerdiness is well documented. Pregame, in contrast, is part of the lore for the program itself. Fans make it into stadiums well before kickoff for the traditional elements that precede their team taking the field. They're also a slice of experiencing that college town and gameday environment for fans who make the trip. For that reason, average college football fans may very well see the value of catching pregame on ESPN+ before flipping over to the game feed. As ESPN and the other networks that televise college football try to capture the true essence of the sport, they'd do well to open up a feed for pregame.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Slings and Arrows

 Let's set the scene: It's a Saturday morning, a month into college football season. You get up, as you so often do, and switch on ESPN, expecting the familiarity of the College GameDay set. Instead, you're met with the following message:

"This content is not available for your package or region."

After ensuring you're appropriately logged into all of the requisite services, you hop on Twitter to confirm a suspicion: A couple of multinational corporations have failed to make an agreement with one another and left you unable to watch football for the day.

If you're a subscriber to Dish Network or Sling, this very well may have been your reality. Their deal, which presumably ended on September 30, expired, and due to their impasse, plenty of college football fans - myself included - experienced exactly this. In my experience with previous contract disputes, the television provider runs a campaign of sorts both to warn the viewing public and sway the court of public opinion to their side as negotiations wear on. With Dish/Sling having done neither, we experienced a rude awakening on Saturday morning.

Now, I'm not placing any blame here. Both sides have the narrative they're pushing forth, and while Dish/Sling will likely feel the brunt of the impasse, it's reasonable to me that ESPN's ask far outpaces previous deals, especially since the network has billion dollar deals on the horizon that it needs to make good on. Still, the coincidence on October 1 falling on a college football Saturday couldn't have done them any favors. If the Twittersphere is any indication, they lost a number of subscribers yesterday to fans who bailed for services that still carried the ESPN family of networks. Indeed, even in the absence of blame, they may very well lose me to results: If the service can no longer provide the channels I signed up for, I'm ultimately going to cancel.

Here's where I make generalizations from a personal sample size of one, and attempt to apply them to the populace as a whole: For Sling specifically to become incongruent with watching college football could very well be their death knell. Sling seems/ed to be custom made for the college football viewer: While they sport is viewed by fans of all ages, there's a critical mass of us who are cord-cutters. Knowing that live sports are one of the primary drivers of real-time subscriptions, those of us who have eschewed cable need a fix. Enter Sling, which offers a reasonable cost of entry; easy on-again, off-again service (I snooze mine in the off-season); portability; and until recently, the channels we wanted. But, of course, if they are unable to provide the last of these, the other advantages become obsolete. Sling specifically seeks to lose a big chunk of its market share if this isn't resolved quickly. Still, to hear them tell it, the ESPN gouge is what's causing the stalemate, and even if they should reach an agreement, the cost passed onto consumers could make them less advantageous than key competitors like Hulu and YouTubeTV, each of which has surely seen a bump since yesterday morning.

If college football if your primary driver, you've already lost about 20% of what the subscription offers you in the month of October, and, more damning, the NFL crowd will find themselves without Monday Night Football on ESPN tomorrow. Here's hoping for a swift resolution.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Birdland South

Philadelphia Eagles approaching the Washington Commanders end zone
All the way live from the 215...

...or at least, it may as well have been.

After more than 11 years of being at least across the country from home, my younger brother, who's in the Army, is back out on the east coast, living in NoVA.  One of his first orders of business was to get ticket for Eagles at Commanders.

My weekend up in the DMV included some time with extended family as we celebrated my aunt's 75th birthday. But Sunday was gameday and we headed over to Landover for the game.

I had a reasonable suspicion the Phaithful would make a good showing - we travel well, FedEx Field is a mere 2 1/2 hours down the road from Philly - event closer for those transported further south in the Mid-Atlantic - and I heard from Philly sources of planned bus trips down. Still, I would not have anticipated what I'll conservatively call at 60-40 split in favor of the visiting Birds. 

A crowd dominated by Philadelphia Eagles fans approaches FedEx Field

We arrived in the lot to a sea of green, walked up to the stadium with the same, and ultimately took our seats on the visitor's side among friendly environs. And while one might expect that from the visitor's side, the Eagles majority rounded both end zones, seemingly leaving the home sideline as the only section with a majority in burgundy and gold. 

The Birds dominated the scoreboard like they did they stands, ultimately notching a 24-8 victory, with Washington's only points coming on a safety and a (questionable?) touchdown with a missed two point conversion. Former Eagle Carson Wentz succumbed to nine sacks and completed 25 of 43 pass attempts. 
This was the first division game and only second "home" game with the team sporting the Commanders moniker. Fan gear was a mixed bag; many had Commanders gear,  but there was still plenty of their two previous names as well. I was curious about what lyrics the fans would use for the fight song - the rebrand has shoehorned "Hail to the Commanders" into the classic tune - but we didn't get to hear it enough for me to know. 

And, of course, I was looking forward to seeing the oldest marching band in professional sports, the Commanders Marching Band, carrying on a legacy that began in 1937. The band took a hiatus for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, amid both the pandemic and the team's rebrand, and the unit that took the field yesterday marched around 30 winds, and street uniforms of black shirts, burgundy polos, and black ballcaps sporting the Commanders logo. They were mic'ed in both field and stands, and took their stands perch above the side 1 scoreboard, getting a few features during timeouts. 

FedEx field gets a bad rap as a dump of a stadium, but my experience was enjoyable, if not basic. Concessions were ridiculous, as is to be expected, but I didn't encounter any falling apart guardrails, at least. Beyond good natured jeering, I didn't witness any bad blood from either side among division rivals - the early season nature of the game and Commanders' fans pre-resignation to a loss likely played into this. The game was a good time, and with my brother living in the area now, there's a good chance we make the trip again.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Our Kind of Folk

 Last night, I headed out to the North Carolina Folk Festival to catch Cold Steel, the Drumline of North Carolina A&T’s Blue and Gold Marching Machine.

That’s not where the story begins.

The National Folk Festival has been going on since 1934. Produced by the National Council for the Traditional Arts, its model has brought the touring festival to more than 30 cities for a three year residence. The festival called Greensboro home from 2015 to 2017.

After its stint here, the city and state saw fit to keep the part going, launching the North Carolina Folk Festival in Greensboro the following year, as a few other host cities have done. Except for pandemic challenges, the NC edition has been going strong ever since. 

But is a collegiate drumline “folk music”?


Folk music conjures up a very specific image for a lot of people. In the US, it may include acoustic guitars, perhaps banjos. Internationally, it may feature traditional instruments of the home country or region. But on its face, folk music is exactly that: the music of the folks. 

To that end: the collegiate marching band is very much folk music, and the HBCU marching band even moreso - a quintessentially American art form with its roots here in the south. Both iterations of the folk festival, both in Greensboro and nationwide - have cast a wide net for folk music such that it has included KRS ONE and George Clinton. As Cold Steel takes the festival stage once more, it continues an inclusive tradition that reinforces that folk is for everyone.
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