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Monday, November 27, 2017

Bad Blood/Band Blood

Some of you cringed just looking at this.
This past extended weekend was rivalry week in college football. Before the turkey and stuffing we're done digesting, fans could sit down to an extra helping of matchups with names like Clean Ol' Fashioned Hate and the Civil War. Fanbases refused to speak rivals' names, don certain colors, even use entire letters from the alphabet. Amid all of the hate week hoopla, where do the bands stand?

On the one hand, the band acts an an official agent of the university, making it hard to break rank. There are those who hold the band to a higher standard, cringing that an arts organization would engage in something as boorish as a sports rivalry, even doubting that the members care what happens on the field. And not to be overstated, there is the very real mutual respect that exists between band folks, regardless of school, color, or band.

But consider the other side of the equation: A few dozen to a few hundred students gather every week in unwavering support of the team. If they're not vulnerable to get swept up in the spirit they help create, there's no spirit to be had.

The latest controversy - if you can call if that - arose as the University of Kentucky Wildcat Marching Band reprised a show featuring Bruno Mars' 24K Magic at their rivalry game vs. Louisville. The Cardinals - men's basketball specifically - were at the center of a controversy involving bribery and Adidas that lost their athletic director, head men's basketball coach, and others their jobs. Upon seeing the dollar sign drillset - logical, in context - the lazy, typical band-ignorers at the Worldwide Leader decided they had to be throwing shade at Louisville, leaving the folks at UK's band fielding all sorts of unnecessary questions.

The band folks at Kentucky assert that they had no intention of throwing shade to their cross-state foes. But if they had? It wouldn't be the first time.

Archrivals Michigan and Ohio State trade jabs every chance they get - even when their rival's not on the other sideline. Cal and UCLA - rivals in their own right - actually joined forces to throw shade at mutual rival USC. The smack talk preceding CrankFest 2017 took on WWE proportions, and among them, the opposing sidelines in the BoomBox Classic - Southern's Human Jukebox and Jackson State's Sonic Boom of the South - got in some low blows. While scatter bands like Stanford and Rice make a living of it, engaging in their schools' most salient rivalries is a mark of bands at all levels.

There is, of course, the other side of the coin. This same weekend, Texas hosted Texas Tech - arguably their big in-state rival since Texas A&M's departure for the SEC - and did a mass band performance of the 1812 Overture. In one of the most poignant tributes ever, Alabama and Auburn - perhaps the sport's biggest rivalry - joined forces to honor the memory of 9/11 at the Iron Bowl. But in most rivalry situations, my stance remains the same: Save the buddy-buddy antics for an exhibition. This is war.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Looking 100

FAMU's Marching 100 unveiled new uniforms this past weekend at the Florida Classic, to mixed reviews from HBCU bandheads. The new uniforms were a gift in action from FAMU and Marching 100 alumni Bernard and Shirley Kinsey. Stylistically, they're not a drastic departure from the previous look, and in general I'd say they're not better or worse, just different. They trade a base orange for a base green, but with neither holding the "dark" vs. "light" designation in their color scheme, that switch isn't exactly whiplash. Some have noted that the look is a little more corps style than show style, and I can certainly see where folks are coming from with that.

The front of the uniform incorporates a stylized F in the piping and striping, a technique manufacturer Fruhauf Uniforms has used before, including incorporating the pickaxe into Charlotte's band uniforms. The new uniforms lack spats, but so did the old ones. A small detail is some Rattler scaling on the sleeve, and gone are the capes that the old look used. Their covers add a plume, but seem mostly unchanged.

But perhaps the most notable change was the new drum major uniforms. While there's no word if this is their only look - past drum majors have had orange, green, and white options - the debut had the drum majors in black uniforms.

In sports, black for black's sake - incorporating black where it's not otherwise a school or team color - is typically used to make a team look faster, stronger, or tougher. Interestingly enough, the black with orange and green accents is reminiscent of the uniforms that Miami debuted during the Virginia Tech game this year. But black often has a different purpose in the marching world. Black is used, in set pieces and uniforms, to obscure, de-emphasize or draw attention away from. Speaking in gross generalities, traditional and show style bands tend towards drum major uniforms in white or school colors, the brightness underscoring their role as showmen, while corps style drum majors tend towards black uniforms, their role being less to be on display and more to serve as a metronome. Given that dynamic, FAMU has to have tended towards black uniforms either for the the sports justification, or to emphasize the black in Historically Black College/University.

Black for FAMU presents an additional issue, however: The Rattlers derive their colors from Florida citrus and agriculture. To introduce black into the palette is functionally adding rot to the scheme. It's the same reason I don't love BFBS for the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, adding a storm cloud to their Carolina blue skies.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Initial Reaction

It's hate week, y'all.

Yes, I've been dismissive of the rivalry with C. Florida in the past, but I've since come around. This year's contest has everything at stake. It's a touchdown or a pick six - win the division, possibly the conference, and go on to play in a New Year's Six bowl, or watch your archrival do the same - in USF's case, while also watching them complete a perfect season.

The good folks over at The Daily Stampede broke down why I tend to refer to them as C. Florida. You should read it, but the Cliff's Notes version is that they are quite adamant about being referred to as UCF - probably so as not to be seen as a directional school or a derivative of Florida - and it really gets under their skin. For the record, our style guide wants us to simply be USF as well, but we don't get our feelings hurt quite as much. I'd also argue that we don't have a leg to stand on, considering we spell South Florida in our fight song.

Looks like we're in for a helluva game in Orlando this Friday. See you there, C Dot.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Helplessness

Though we may deign to admit it, we, as sports fans, are helpless. No curses or talismans we wield really have an effect on the outcome of the game. Sure, en masse we may have a little power, but the individual can do nothing.

Somehow, it can sometimes feel even less.

Today, as USF took on Houston in mid-day slot, I was en route to Pennsylvania where my wife has a race tomorrow. As I have before, I "watched" the game via score updates, furiously toggling back and forth between ESPN and Google (the latter was more updated, despite the former broadcasting the game). My emotions were on the whim of rudimentary graphics and text. I was verklempt after our high powered offense failed to score in the first quarter, uneasy as we led but remained within one score, and grew a little more at ease as time wore on. But the most maddening swing came late in the 4th:

At this point USF led 24-21. Houston would go on to score a touchdown and ultimately win 28-24, handing USF its first loss in over a year and ruining a perfect season.

I've said before and repeated tonight, there are few sports feelings as helpless as watching your team lose via score update. As jawdropping as it must have been for those watching live, there was no gradient, however slight, for me between the two downs above. The change was immediate from uneasy confidence to impending doom. And unlike in a space where commiserators were in abundance, I suffered this particular sling in near silence while checking into a hotel.

*          *          *

Present agony aside, all is not lost for the Bulls. While the undefeated season has been dashed, we're still in the driver's seat for most of that which has been within reach. Despite a few prospecting articles, we all knew the Playoff was never an option. Winning out the regular season - including a Black Friday victory over C. Florida - still puts us into the conference championship game, and a victory there still makes the Group of Five's bid to the New Year's Six bowls an option: While USF's ranking and stock will drop after this weekend, most of the closest candidates are conferencemates, meaning that a conference victory may still place us at the top of the heap. Much as it may feel like it, all hope is not lost, but if we can't get it together, the game in Orlando - and with it, all hopes listed above - will be.

Go Bulls.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Band is Undefeated

When Joe over at The Marching Podcast posted that The Undefeated was going to be doing HBCU band rankings, my kneejerk reaction was skepticism. I certainly don't doubt Joe's judgment, and this was even necessarily about The Undefeated. These sorts of lists tend to be suspect because with relatively few folks writing intensely about bands, it could very well be sports folks giving an uninformed or incomplete take on the subject. And specifically to The Undefeated, they are an entity of ESPN, and I've been notably critical of the Worldwide Leader's band coverage before.

But then I read their methodology.

The Undefeated's HBCU cred is intact, but their process for this particular competition - to be awarded as "Band of the Year" during the Celebration Bowl - is thorough. Check it out. Both their panel and their methodology leave no stone unturned. They've shown. unequivocally, that the want to get this thing right, with a panel and process that rivals the College Football Playoff selection committee.

Then - as if they knew I was out here questioning their bona fides - they doubled down on their band cred by dropping the oral history of Drumline - a fantastic piece that I dropped just about everything to read over a lunch break and came away with tears in my eyes from.

OK, The Undefeated. You have my attention.

Monday, October 9, 2017

High Notes - 2017 Week 6

So I hear it was a ho-hum schedule in college football this weekend... did I miss anything?

Of course, I've caught up on the news roundup, and know I missed a helluva weekend. This week's high notes once again opens up the playbook to extend beyond just football and marching band.

This weekend, my family, a friend of my daughter's, and I went up to the Yogi Bear's Jellystone Camp Resort in Natural Bridge, VA. The trip was made possible by having won a contest on RV Family Travel Atlas, and we used it for a bit of fall* camping.

Why the asterisk? Because it was in the 80s while we were there. Frankly, while they had shut down for the season, they would have been well within their rights to get the water park going instead of the Halloween-themed goods. But we did get to enjoy trick-or-treating, a haunted trail, and fall crafts, and still hop in the river for good measure. And while up in the area, we checked out Natural Bridge State Park as well - newly minted as such from some previously private sites we had visited before, as well as the caverns, which we had not.

Columbus Day

Columbus (v.) To discover a place, item, or phenomenon that is already occupied.

As philosopher Sean "Jay-Z" Carter put it, this ain't politically correct; this might offend my political connects.

A few years ago, I made a post about non-HBCUs playing Neck, a subject I've also been tweeting about near as far back as my social media footprint goes. I stand by everything I wrote in the 2013 piece - I may have hedged a bit less in 2017, granted - and decided a new post made more sense than simply revising the earlier piece.

My most recent impetus was College Marching sharing a postgame celebration with Washington's Husky Marching Band and running back Lavon Coleman - my beef is with neither of them, it should be noted. A scant few of the commenters on either the Facebook or Twitter post verbally took exception with the presence of a song long associated with HBCU bands. But since it's Columbus Day, I'm compelled to point out: Neck has been thoroughly Columbused by bands at Predominantly White Institutions. And despite this going on for probably a solid decade, I still internally - and occasionally externally - give a mild to moderate sideeye every time I hear it.

There are a few notes in this that I find particularly egregious. First, On multiple occasions, I've seen the song associated with LSU. True enough, all evidence points to the Golden Band from Tigerland being Patient Zero - the first PWI to bring the song into the "mainstream," likely by having heard it across town at Southern. But there's no shortage of the likes of:










It's the same script as the latest Kardashijenner discovering "boxer braids" (read: cornrows) or GQ declaring Timbs "This [2016] Fall's Must-Have Boot."

Secondly, I've seen PWI bands use Neck as a tableau upon which to paint whatever they deem stereotypically "urban." South Carolina's Mighty Sound of the Southeast does the Bernie (side note: Did anyone ever actually do the Bernie?). The aforementioned Husky Band clip featured hip swivels and body rolls that would make Elvis proud. And LSU, of course, has a consistently tenuous hold on their ability even to play the song at all due to the vulgar lyrics that accompany it. Further, it wasn't so long ago that the folks lauding the "fun" that this band is having were the ones decrying HBCU marching as undisciplined, lacking in talent, or even primitive - all not-so-subtle dog whistles with racist undertones. Even in the Facebook post, some are spitting "show style" with the same vitriol one with which one may say "ghetto." And yet, in the Drumline era, and certainly with the ubiquity of social media, the once mocked becomes desirable.

These facts are not occurring in a vacuum. This leisurely stroll in the HBCU park is happening at universities that struggle to enroll, retain, and graduate Black students in particular, and in a national climate that is often hostile to those same students. While HBCUs struggle for mainstream (loaded term noted) recognition of all of the things they do well, PWIs are going viral playing a piece that's been in the HBCU repertoire for decades.

I'll note I'm an alumnus of two PWIs and work at a third - at least two of which play Neck - but you'll excuse my lack of humility when I assert that I have a decent handle on culture in America and athletic bands' presence within them. I'm not here to say that PWIs can't play Neck, or even that they shouldn't - it's far from my call to make. But I'll ask that you consider the context and don't be surprised if HBCU bandheads take exception.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Band (Nerd) On The Road

First: as I occupy space on the internet in the week of such unspeakable tragedy, I feel compelled to mention the massacre in Las Vegas and wish peace to those personally affected, and all of us, that we may move beyond thoughts and prayers and towards solution. In the world of sports and marching/athletic music, I know many of us find comfort and enjoyment in crowds of thousands to over a hundred thousand, and this sort of attack must weigh heavy on decisions to be in those spaces.

*          *           *

This past weekend, I made the trip out to USF at ECU. One of my excitements about being conferencemates with ECU again had actually not yet been realized, as the only other game in Greenville, two years ago, I was unable to make. Fortune wasn't the kindest to me in scheduling this year either, but after heading west to get east, I made my way along the two lane roads some may associate with landgrant flagships in the middle of nowhere, down to the 252, and into the stadium just before halftime.

Priority one was, of course, to get myself into position to see the band. As I got into the stands, the Marching Pirates were surprisingly playing to the side two end zone - the seats they had vacated, and presumably, the student section. They performed the rest of their show to the backfield (as the logo faces) sideline giving me a rearview of the show from my vantage point.

I then made my way around to my section - or more accurately, the section I ended up squatting in to catch a friend and be among some of the other NC alumni. While USF led by just a touchdown at the half, the momentum grew in the third quarter. ECU would score their final touchdown about halfway through the third, while USF would continue to impose its will, ultimately dropping a 60-burger (61, actually) on the overmatched Pirates.

Having arrived so late, I have an incomplete picture of the ECU gameday atmosphere I've heard so much about. While announced attendance was 35K in a stadium that holds 50, that wasn't my experience upon arrival, and apparently it didn't seem that way earlier in the game either, based on a first quarter text that read, "This place is empty." I missed any pregame tailgating, though at least some were back at their rigs after the game (no telling if they waited the game out or got an early start on the postgame).

After the game, I followed the sound of drums, as I am wont to do, and caught a pleasant surprise in the form of the ECU Drumline's postgame performance. I was the only green clad fan there, but no one seemed to mind. It was a pleasure watching them throw down before ultimately making my way back to the car and treating myself to a postgame beer - Jai Alai from Tampa's own Cigar City Brewing, naturally.

From there, it was out to the town. A friend from high school had just moved to Greenville, but we weren't able to catch up; luckily, another friend, a fellow Bull who used to work at ECU, came with several suggestions. Most establishments along the main strip were packed - perhaps a bit more of how Greenville does postgame. I got myself some eastern NC BBQ (when in Rome...) and turned my beer tastes back local as well. Before heading back west, I checked out Uptown Brewery, recommended by a friend-of-a-friend.

ECU, I look forward to seeing you again in two years. I know this season's been rough so far, which may have led to the atmosphere, but I hope we can make it a fun one in 2019.

Friday, September 29, 2017

High Notes - 2017 Week 4

Decorative gourd season has returned.
This past weekend was pretty basic: We spent the first weekend of Fall at a nearby orchard, enjoying cider, picking (banjo and fruit variety) and celebrating the season on a mid-80s North Carolina day. The bluegrass band played Rocky Top while we were there, and I got to chat Bulls with a man who splits his time between NC and Tampa, so there's that

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Taking a Knee

On a weekend when everyone, including the current occupant of the White House, is weighing in on the protests and the protests-of-the-protests taking place surrounding the National Anthem in the NFL, I suppose it's as good a time as any for me to weigh in:

I'm not currently watching the NFL.

Frankly, these days my boycott of the NFL is only slightly more impactful as my protests of Denny's and Hobby Lobby, two establishments I rarely if ever patronized. If I'm going to devote the better part of a weekend day to  football, Saturday wins every time. My NFL viewing had been downsized primarily to Eagles viewing, and living not only out of market but in another NFC market, catching the Birds from my home was a rare occurrence. Still, even that won't happen for the foreseeable future.

My choice is the reaction to a few other related decisions. Most famously, Colin Kaepernick decided to protest police brutality during the National Anthem. The NFL's 32 owners decided, individually but functionally collectively, that for this he was unemployable as a quarterback in the league. I, in turn, decided that that particular set of values didn't align with my own, so at present, I'm not watching. Contrary to popular narratives on both sides, no one's first amendment rights were harmed on the process.

As has been well documented, this is far from the only problematic thing the NFL has on its head. But not choosing to boycott before in no way precludes one's right, for whatever reason, to decide this is the time. I've also got no ill will towards anyone who decides, for whatever reason, that they'll choose to keep watching, even if they align with Kaepernick's viewpoint.

I'm not sure I know what my end game is. The end of the season? Until the league has made whatever I determine to be progress? Until Kap is employed? Until the Eagles make the Super Bowl and I ultimate backslide? Or am I done for good? At this point, I don't yet know.
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