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Friday, September 3, 2021

Industry Baby

 


From the first time I heard it, Industry Baby hit like a stadium anthem. 

The horns. They lyrics. The braggadocio. 

And this one is for the champions
I ain't lost since I began, yeah
Funny how you said it was the end, yeah
Then I went and did it again, yeah

It seems poised to become as ubiquitous as All I Do Is Win. And yet, I also wondered if it would blare from stadium speakers, or if Lil Nas X was too "controversial."

I say "controversial" with all of the eyeroll it deserves. Most of the "controversy" is that Lil Nas X is gay. He came out following the global success of Old Town Road, and has been living unapologetically ever since. His two most recent videos have made a splash - in Montero (Call Me By Your Name) he grinds on Satan before snatching his crown; the Industry Baby video sees him going to prison for Montero and features a naked dance scene in the prison shower. Pitting that against the often hypermasculine backdrop of men's sports, and it wouldn't surprise me if teams steered clear. In a vacuum, it's easy to see an underdog jumping around singing, "You was never really rootin for me anyway" after a big upset.

We do know it's at least made its way into one stadium. At last Sunday's National Battle of the Bands in Houston, Southern University's Human Jukebox cranked it. It's easy to see why - in addition to the above reasons it fits in a stadium, its synthesized horns translate well to their analog counterparts. Put simply, it slaps.

And for anyone who would want to see it excluded because they feel some kinda way about Lil Nas X? You was never really rootin for him anyway.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Challenge



 This season gets underway with College GameDay from the MEAC/SWAC Challenge in Atlanta. The annual early season tilt matches the nation's two Division I conferences composed entirely of HBCUs. After being a mainstay on the Sunday of Week 1, the game this year finds its home on the Week 0 slate, kicking off the college football season as a de facto - albeit ESPNized - HBCU classic

Over the years, the Challenge has called a few different locations home, but since 2018, it has been located in Atlanta at Center Parc Stadium - the current home of Georgia State football and previously known as both Centennial Olympic Stadium and Turner Field. Atlanta. Atlanta is a logical home for the event - as one of the signs today stated, ATL is the "HBCU Capital of the World." It's home to the venerable AUC, former home of Freaknik, and hosts the Celebration Bowl and the Honda Battle of the Bands. It's also a college football hotbed, the de facto capital of the SEC - and as such a major player in the sport - and is home to the College Football Hall of Fame. This particular major event in Atlanta makes sense, but if it ever goes on the move again, Charlotte would be a great choice.

While the game features two specific programs, it is more broadly a celebration of Black college football, and puts them on an ESPN platform that's disproportionately geared towards Power 5 program. ESPN Events is based in Charlotte, and the Queen City is within reach of a critical mass of HBCUs. The SWAC faithful may point out that it sits squarely on MEAC turf, but the same could have been said for previous game sites Birmingham and Baton Rouge of the SWAC. Charlotte fancies itself the up-and-comer with regards to major events in a southern metropolitan area. ITs airport is easily accessible as a major hub. The Belk Kickoff/Duke's Mayo Classic has etched itself a spot on college football's early season neutral site slate, and Charlotte hosts the ACC football championship game. Charlotte was also the longtime host of the CIAA basketball tournament, also a premier HBCU culture event. 

The latter presents an interesting case. Critics of Charlotte's hosting of CIAA would note that it didn't seem the city appreciated the millions of dollars of economic impact the tournament brought to the city. Charlotte let the tournament escape to Baltimore after 15 years; Charlotte also lost the Queen City Battle of the Bands to Houston in an event now dubbed the National Battle of the Bands, an HBCU band showcase that takes place in late August. Charlotte could stand to rekindle some good will and show that they belong in the big time as an event host.

With realignment leaving the MEAC on unstable ground, there's no telling how long the Challenge will continue, but if they look to move again, the Queen City just may be the right destination.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Season of Appreciation

 


Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone 

-Joni Mitchell

Tailgate crews are setting menus. Road warriors are making travel plans. Band camp is underway. In a few short weeks, college football will return, in all of its glory.

All of its glory. That last part is important. Sure a season took place last year, if in name only. But it was missing its spirit, its soul, its ethos. Crowds, if present at all, were a fraction of their usual size. Bands were minimized, and halftime shows were nonexistent. Tailgate lots were barren. 

As summer gives way to fall, there is palpable excitement from college football's faithful. The sport's homecoming, both literally and figuratively, is at hand. The sport that we love, in the way that we love it, is back for the first time in 20 months. As we prepare for the return of the cadence of gameday, many are commemorating it in their own way. Podcasts are preparing hypothetical road trips. Sportswriters are penning love letters - to the sport, sure, but just as much to the pageantry that sets it apart from any other experience in sports or beyond. And we, the fans? We simply can't wait to pull up to that first tailgate after a full season without.

Because with all due respect to Joni Mitchell, paradise and parking lots aren't mutually exclusive.

Monday, July 12, 2021

One Night Only

As soon as it had begun, Carolina Crown's 2021 season was over.

The DCI season this year will end as they typically have - in Indianapolis. But in the echo of a season lost to a global pandemic, as many of us continue to find our way amid its hopeful downswing, some corps are forgoing the DCI Celebration in August to forge their own path in this unorthodox season.

Taking a page from sports leagues in the pandemic's early days, Carolina Crown's approach was a bubble - returning to the shared living arrangements at Gardner-Webb University that usually host their training camp. After keeping the corps together via Zoom and other virtual means, they moved in to spend five weeks together in preparation for CrownLIVE - the culminating event and only public performance by the corps this year.

I've only made the trip to Boiling Springs once before. In a typical year, a two and a half hour trip from home for what is ultimately one corps' performance is a tall ask when I'll likely catch a few full slates in the Carolinas and Virginia. This year, I didn't spend too much time hemming and hawing before ultimately deciding I was going for it. 

Seven hundred days. That's the time, I learned Saturday night, in between Finals Night 2019 and that performance. What I did not expect, but absolutely welcomed, was that the show would be a celebration of the return quite in the manner that it was. DCI Executive Director Dan Atcheson and DCI Hall of Fame announcer Steve Rondinaro were on hand with the functional broadcast booth on the side 1 25 yard line. The show was more of, well, a show - not the 12 minute cohesive marching production drum corps fans are used to, but a production of another type, with each piece performed individually, interspersed with commentary and interviews as the corps reset. While different, this format was welcome, as the media team spoke to the challenges the past year has presented and how the corps came out on the other side.

This year's (night's?) program was Project21: In My Mind, a line borrowed from the corps song and James Taylor classic Carolina In My Mind. In addition to the eponymous piece, this year featured “Long Time Traveler” by The Wailin’ Jennys, “Seize the Day” by Peter Graham, “Gravity” by Sarah Bareilles, and “Toccata Andromeda” by Paul Halley. Without the constraints of judging or rules, the corps marched 185 performers. In addition to more bodies filling the field than ever before, they also incorporated a series of boxes that contained the names of each former marching member. Clad in uniform pants recycled from the 2019 show and an underlayer top, the performance felt like we were invited into their final runthrough - and in a way, we were.

Boiling Springs is located at the crossroads of the Carolinas - halfway between Charlotte and Greenville, SC along I-85, as the Piedmont Plateau gives rise to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. While thousands were in attendance, this live show was a treat for a crowd largely from the two states that Carolina Crown carries in their name. Their season is over now; the marching members are almost assuredly back home, and as a corps that has come to recruit nationally in its 33 years on the field, some certainly had quite the trek. But with memories of a one-night season unlike any other, they will undoubtedly return to Carolina in their minds.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Eyes Have It

 

The Eyes of Texas, penned in 1903 and associated with the University of Texas at Austin for the entire time, will remain the alma mater. This affirmation comes following the work of the Eyes of Texas History Committee, which itself came into being as the song was called into question amid other racial injustice on campus in the summer of 2020. Students - notable among them student-athletes and Longhorn Band members - included the Eyes of Texas amid other demands aimed at making the University of Texas a more inclusive campus, such as the renaming of buildings and removal of statues. The Eyes of Texas' inclusion cited racist undertones, and as a subheading to its removal, the demands urged lifting the requirements for student-athletes to sing it.


The resulting report spans 60 pages, though the executive summary within and the website, which includes video, make it at good deal more digestible. Existing at the intersection of history, school spirit, campus culture, and social justice, I found the full report a page turner, but understand that others' mileage may vary. I would caution against any headline- or tweet-level hot takes, as the full picture is a good deal more complex. Those seeking to simplify on either side could land at either of the following conclusions: "UT ignores student requests to discontinue the Eyes of Texas;" "Campus committee deems Eyes of Texas not racist." Either would be a disservice to the work of the committee, whose findings were far more nuanced. If there were a one-liner that could sum up the report, it's this: "The history of the Eyes of Texas parallels the history of America." Whether ones considers that absolving or damning is wherein the real story lies.

I entered into the report skeptically. Preambles about discovering the true history of the song's beginnings seemed as though they'd be heavily focused on the song's intent while ignoring its impact, but I found the report gave due credence to both. It spoke of times the song was present throughout the school and state's history and how its use aligned with progress or lack thereof. 

The report addresses the key pieces of evidence of the song's racist origins. Among them: The song debuted at a minstrel show being held as a fundraiser for the track team; and that the phrase "the eyes of Texas are upon you" was derived from a common saying of Robert E. Lee. That the piece debuted at a minstrel show cannot be denied, though my thought has always been: Ask not why your school song debuted at a minstrel show, but rather why your school was putting on a minstrel show in the first place. As for the potential tie-ins to the confederacy's most well known general - and notably, Lee was the president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) when Texas president William Prather attended - it seems the phrase is no more attributable to him than it is to numerous historical figures before and since.

While the committee would have likely have had to overcome a significant burden of proof for the alma mater to have actually changed, they work they did was enlightening nonetheless. Also notable is that the commended the initiative of the students who spoke up to make the committee a necessity in the first place. While there was certainly some Texas-sized self back-patting, they really did put in the world of the hard conversations that ensued during the committee's convening. 

The song is not going anywhere, and in this way it differs from recent changes at other universities: Among them, the removal of the Gator Bait chant at the University of Florida; the discontinuing of Tara's Theme from Gone with the Wind at Georgia, and the cessation of the state song at the University of Maryland College Park. The committee did come up with 40 recommendations directly related to the song itself, and a handful more that exceeded their scope, but that they thought were important for the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus. Among these: Creating an alumni fund for student-athletes to continue to have a voice in effecting social change; honor and contextualize Black history at the University of Texas; and giving full historical context of the Eyes of Texas in the form of exhibits, websites, and a "high quality" documentary. 

But perhaps the most curious outcome of the committee's work - not a direct recommendation, but a reaction - came from the school of music. The most visible of the school's ensembles is the Longhorn Band, a Sudler Trophy-winning marching band that performs in front of 100,000 fans at each Texas home game. The "New Approach," as the Butler School of Music calls it, introduces a "to be named" university band "...for individuals who want to perform in a marching band, with a focus on leading/directing bands and community engagement." The new unit will begin in Fall 2022, and its introduction goes to great lengths to highlight that this band would not be required to play the university alma mater or fight song. In a vacuum, I can see the pedagogical merit to such a band. The Longhorn Band, by its very nature, may not be the best incubator for music educators who may ultimately find their home in a competitive high school program or drum corps. A marching unit that edges closer to that tradition has a logical place within the ensembles of the School of Music. Still, unveiled in this context, it seems suspiciously like a "separate but 'equal'" ensemble for students who choose not to play the alma mater. Before the new band comes into being, the release also makes it a point to include that the scholarship will still be honored for students who choose to opt out of Longhorn Band participation in Fall 2021. While it will be fascinating to see the new marching unit come into being, rising from this controversy is quite the inauspicious start. 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

The HBCU Experience: The HBCU Band Alumni Edition (Zero Quarter)


Image via amazon.com
I've been excited for The HBCU Experience: The HBCU Band Alumni Edition since I learned of its existence, a closely guarded secret until the publisher The HBCU Experience Movement, LLC saw fit to release it. This is my first post about the book; rest assured, it won't be my last.

At this point, I don't yet own it - That moment will come early this week, Amazon willing. But before I turn a single page, I'm already geeked for all that it represents. The book is the first ever HBCU band anthology, telling first-hand accounts of former bandmembers and lifelong devotees to their experience within HBCU marching bands and how such experience helped make them the people they are today. The book is the latest in the HBCU Experience Movement series, founded by Dr. Ashley Little an alumna of North Carolina A&T. The series seeks to tell the stories of our HBCUs and the amazing alumni they produce; naturally, the experience of the bands could not be denied.

Dr. Christy Walker is the lead author for the Band Alumni Edition, and while this book is the first anthology in such a format, Christy began the work of  "protecting our history, preserving the craft" more than two decades ago as one of the co-founders of The5thQuarter.com. From 1999-2019, The 5th Quarter served as the definitive virtual gathering space for HBCU bandmembers, and through it, she cultivated countless relationships within the bandosphere. Many of the 5th's denizens grace the pages of the book as contributing authors. These band alumni have gone on to success in myriad fields, many of which are not directly music related.

In fact, just as much as the band and culture aspects of the book, hearing of the alumni's successes in varied fields intrigues me. My degree and career are in student affairs, and the narrative of a cocurricular experience like marching band paying lifelong dividends is precisely why I do the work I do. While many types of involvement can provide positive outcomes in college and beyond, I've always not-so-humbly believed that a collegiate athletic band provides a unique experience that at once connects a member to their alma mater, instills a work ethic, and encourages a pursuit of excellence, all of which endure for a lifetime.

Personally, I can't wait to crack into it in a day or two, and if you find yourself here, I expect you may share this excitement. The HBCU Experience: Band Alumni Edition, along with the series' other books, can be found on Amazon; Dr. Christy Walker can also be found hosting The HBCU Band Experience wherever you get your podcasts. 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

A Year Without

 

The Greensboro Coliseum Complex is no stranger to hosting multiple events simultaneously. This week, it's COVID testing, COVID vaccines, and the ACC Women's Basketball Tournament.

Next week are the anniversaries of when so much changed. The World Health Organization officially named coronavirus a pandemic. Professional and college leagues ground to a halt; restrictions came into play that limited gatherings; many of us would spend out last week in the office for months - some still haven't returned. It even seems disingenuous to call them anniversaries. Certainly, anniversaries are for more than simply celebrations, but whatever they commemorate, they commemorate something. To acknowledge the anniversaries from mid-March 2020 is to commemorate nothing. It's Basher's  pinch from Ocean's Eleven - a bomb without the boom, just a pulse that shuts everything down.

The 2020 ACC Women's Basketball Tournament was my last live event before the pinch. I spent the Thursday semifinals double-doubleheader at the Greensboro Coliseum for basketball and bracket bands. It was to have ben the first of three tournaments in as many weeks in Greensboro, as we were slated to host the ACC men and 1st and 2nd round NCAA Tournament action. Only the ACC Women's tournament would reach its conclusion, 

The 2021 edition is now underway. Limited fans will be in attendance, made possible by a recent change to the state's pandemic restrictions that a moderate cynic could see as driven just as much by improving infection rates as impending tournament action. Though I won't be in the arena for any of the games, I set foot on Coliseum grounds for the first time in nearly a year for this picture and because heading that way in early March just feels right. But I'm also pretty sure it will be a markedly different tournament, and relevant to my interests, played without pep bands present. The ACC will crown its conference champion this week and that squad and likely a handful of others will head to Texas for the first NCAA basketball tournament in two years. Normal - whatever that even means anymore - may still be a ways off, but brackets are back.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Band Together


College marching bands have been sidelined - literally and figuratively - all season long. As the College Football Playoff championship game looms, we will miss out on a dual Sudler matchup between Alabama's Million Dollar Band and Ohio State's TBDBITL, but there's a halftime to be had that's much farther reaching.

The College Band Directors National Association, in conjunction with partners including CollegeMarching.com,  StylePLUS, Halftime Magazine, Guard Closet, and FansRaise, have put together the Intercollegiate Marching Band, presented by GPGMusic and OurVirtualEnsemble.com. The IMB will feature over 1500 students from nearly 200 college bands to perform a virtual halftime show to debut on YouTube as college football crowns its College Football Playoff champion. The ensemble will perform Beyonce's End of Time in a two minute performance set to drop at halftime. And while performing at the championship game has been traditionally reserved for a precious few bands whose football teams reach the pinnacle of the sport, the Intercollegiate Marching Band will feature performers from across all NCAA divisions, the NJCAA, and the NAIA. 

While the Rose Bowl contractually obligates ESPN/ABC to show a portion of each band's halftime performance, the Worldwide Leader has followed suit for each of the major bowl games from what was then the BCS since they got broadcast rights back from Fox in the 2010 football season. Still, the two minutes they show have often been clumsy: Despite bands typically performing repeat shows that could be scouted and well produced for the television broadcast, they have instead opted for a midshow chunk with seemingly little more rhyme or reason than checking a box.

In contrast, the IMB will have a performance painstakingly put together by OurVirtualEnsemble.com. Virtual performances have been a necessary mainstay of pandemic life. Virtual Arts sprung up in the wake of the cancelled DCI season to put together a virtual drum corps performance, and continued in to the typical high school/college marching and indoor seasons. And while ensembles would much rather be together, these ensembles both bridge the gap until students are with their respective programs again, and present opportunities never before seen until necessity created it. 

I don't know if ESPN has yet announce what they will do for halftime, if they do anything at all other than a studio show. In the past, they have flirted with replacing or counter-programming marching bands at halftime with a Super Bowl style recording artist, and admittedly, with no bands in the building this would be the year to do it. But if they were to pick up the IMB performance, they would solidify a fact that marching bands are an inextricable part of college football, in a year where they've gone sorely missed.

I know what I'll be watching at halftime.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Half(time)hearted Preview

 It's no secret I've been less than excited for this college football season. Eventually, all ten conferences at the FBS level began play, and amid positive tests, game cancellations, and general making it up as they go along, we'd made it to the college football playoff. The selection committee has placed its four teams: Alabama, who went undefeated against a ten game SEC schedule; Notre Dame and Clemson, who split a regular season matchup and the ACC championship game with one another; and Ohio State, who played only five regular season games and a Big Ten championship game after the conference's schedule commenced in late October. Absent from the field, as always, is any Group of Five representation; this year's most deserving candidate was Cincinnati, who went undefeated in the American Athletic Conference, but never once threatened for inclusion in the eyes of the committee.

If I may use one of the pandemic's catch phrases, this year's playoff looks a little different than years prior. No bands will be present, and crowds will be sparse. Amid California's restrictions on crowds, the Rose Bowl, which hosts a semifinal this year, will take place in AT&T Stadium in Arlington. But the games will play on, with the semifinals kicking off this afternoon and evening.

The Rose Bowl will feature Alabama and Notre Dame in a game that sounds as historic as the sport itself. Surprisingly, the two teams have only met seven times in college football's history, with the last matchup being a decisive Bama victory in the penultimate BCS Championship. While the coaches remain the same, both teams have evolved since that meeting eight years ago. 

A game against one another is fresh in the muscle memory of both Clemson and Ohio State, who played to a hard fought Clemson victory in last year's semifinal. Clemson's sole loss this year came against Notre Dame, with QB Trevor Lawrence out with a positive COVID test. The two have traded barbs over their respective paths to the playoff: Clemson coach Dabo Swinney voted Ohio State #11 on his coaches poll ballot, citing their lack of games, while Ohio State offensive coordinator got in a dig at Clemson for their early season matchup against FCS in-state opponent Citadel.

Both games will feature a north vs. south dynamic that has been part of the sport since its founding in the echo of the Civil War, though neither will play out between rival conferences the Big Ten and SEC. Should Alabama and Ohio State win their matchups today, we'll see that play out in South Florida in ten days.


Sunday, December 6, 2020

Verzu5th

 

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By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, Link

V is the Roman numeral for 5. That's mostly coincidence, but let's go with it. 

Since we were first sidelined by the global pandemic, a number of options have popped up to keep us virtually entertained. Among the most enduring of these is Verzuz, the brainchild of superproducers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, which pits a pair of artists against one another as their catalogs do battle, song for song, for a number of rounds.

Basically, a 5th quarter.

Like its band counterpart, Verzuz battles crown no champion - that's for the audience to decide. Each Verzuz has its own personality. Some have been strictly business, others all love, and some have been so tense you were sure something was going to pop off. While mutual respect generally abounds, that doesn't necessarily mean there's a shortage of bad blood or unresolved beef at play as well. 

At their best, Verzuz artists have played offense and defense. A battle is not about queuing up your 20 songs and letting the DJ play. You next song should be a response to what was played before, or vice versa. Strike and parry; parry and strike. The paradox is that while the exhibition isn't scored, to the degree it is, it's scored round for round: How did what you dropped match up with what your opponent had to say? Strategy matters. In the end, we're the ones that will score the rounds, but whether Verzuz or the 5th, one fact remains:

The audience wins.
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