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Sunday, August 25, 2019

CMB150

This is the first of a series throughout the 2019 football season to commemorate the College Football 150th Anniversary through the lens of the college marching band.

Perhaps I shouldn't start with a disclaimer, but I will. This isn't a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the marching band. Depending on how you do your math, that anniversary is either already beyond us, or yet to come.

Generally, "outdoor music" dates back to antiquity, with the American marching band being established at roughly the same time the United States was, with the Marine Band being denoted by the Continental Congress in 1775. In college, Notre Dame lays claim to the first college band, c. 1845. But even then, the activity's full potential was not yet realized.

In The Beginning
College football began in 1869 with a game between Rutgers and Princeton, though there's reasonable objection to the sport played on that November day being football as we know it. As the game continued to evolve over its first few decades, it also saw the addition of a symbiotic relationship in the collegiate marching band. The fight song was born in 1885, with Boston College's For Boston, and two years later, the Notre Dame band would first appear at a college football game, first marking the glorious pairing that endures to this day.

Two innovations came about in the first decade of the 20th century that would change the face of football. One was the forward pass. The other was the marching band halftime show. If one were to pinpoint the true start of the college football marching band, it might be with the first letter formed on the field - Purdue's Block P - or the first halftime show by Illinois, both in 1907. Indeed, by the year 1900, the presence of bands had become more common at football games, and as the sport grew, so did that partnership.

Evolution
Much of the early history of college football can be attributed to that which we now know as the Big Ten. After leaving its northeastern roots, college football's next outpost was the midwest, and as the gridiron game took hold there, so too did the traditions that would shape marching bands as we know them. Through the first few decades of the 20th century, football grew closer to the game as we know it today: 100 yard fields, end zones, 15 minute quarters and four downs. In 1920, a group of teams from Ohio would meet and form the first professional league, the American Professional Football Conference, now the NFL. The college game was more popular than ever - champions were crowned in all regions of the country, attendances topped 100,000 fans in new stadiums - modern day colosseums for the day's gladiators. These new stadiums increased the possibilities for marching bands: Taller grandstands allowed for more intricate field formations and the vantage points from which to view them. Illinois put the first word - ILLINI - on the field in 1923. The Marching Illini in particular would continue to innovate, from words to pictures and animation, colorful uniforms, and auxiliary groups. As coach salaries, stadiums, and salaries grew, universities had to wrestle with football's compatibility with the institution's mission.

Football, Band, America
Soon football, and the marching bands that accompanied it, would be inextricable from American identities. In the south, southern football prowess was linked with southern pride, and the Southeastern Conference was founded in 1932. In Louisiana, Governor Huey "Kingfish" Long linked pride in Louisiana with pride in LSU, and pride in LSU with the effectiveness of its marching band, which he quadrupled in size and even co-wrote songs for. Interest in the spectacle of marching bands extended beyond the stadium into articles in the likes of Popular Mechanics. Both football and marching would wrestle with questions of purpose that got at each activity's very soul. Football's often adversarial nature with academics would lead the University of Chicago and Sewanee: The University of the South to leave the Big Ten and SEC, respectively, to focus on academics. Marching bands, meanwhile, would have to reconcile showmanship with musicianship, as some directors and music departments decried the stunts that they felt defined the modern marching band. The College Band Directors National Association first met in 1941 as directors considered these challenges and their place within the college band landscape.

World War II had its effect on both football and marching bands. While some bands ceased their activities altogether, other allowed women into their ranks for the first time. Marching bands were already linked to war, as marching music began with military musicians; football, meanwhile was used as a proxy for war, with pre-flight military training schools excelling at the sport during the War. Navy athletic director Jonas H. Ingram would state, "The closest thing to war in times of peace is football."

In the decade and a half following World War II, showmanship continued to develop. Majorettes became common, as did dance routines; the longer strides that kept with the military tradition gave way to high stepping with shorter strides. The early 1950s brought the first mention of Eight to Five, the 22.5" marching step that covers five yards in eight steps that is now standard for most marching bands. The '50s would also see the use of field-specific instruments like mellophones as opposed to french horns, the removal of double reed instruments, arrangements tailored specifically to marching bands, and variety in uniforms. Bands began to observe an "early week" - yes, band camp - and specifically rehearse marching band fundamentals. Bill Moffit's Patterns in Motion in 1960 would set the scene for traditional style marching.

Meanwhile, bands' popular appeal would go beyond just the college game. Marching bands never caught on in a big way in the NFL, with the Redskins and Colts fielding notable exceptions. Still, when the professional game added the championship game that would become the Super Bowl following the 1966 season, they turned to college marching bands for halftime entertainment for eight of the first nine years.

Styles
Marching styles differentiate by region, conference, and institution type. Throughout the Big Ten, a traditional style was born and has largely endured. Elements which include high step marching and drum major strutting make their way into many programs, especially during pregame performances. 

The show style present at HBCUs maintains traditional style elements while adding more flair. Segregation sent many black music educators north, often to the midwest, for advanced degrees that they were barred from pursuing at predominantly white schools in the south. One such educator was William P. Foster, who served as director of Florida A&M University's Marching 100 for over a half century. Many of the innovations have become commonplace not just at HBCUs, but at all manners of institutions.

While the Ivy League was part of the founding of college football, their marching bands have taken a decidedly different tilt. Every Ivy League school but Cornell, and a host of other academically elite schools employ scramble bands. Their style incorporates nontraditional instrumentation; satirical, often irreverent shows; and drill that often set and resets not by marching into place but by scattering to their next place. The Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band is the most prominent of these, as the only such band in a Power 5 league.

The ongoing military influence on marching music evolved not only at the collegiate level, but also in the drum and bugle corps that would eventually form Drum Corps International. With these corps, the military stride morphed into the glide step that is a staple of corps style marching today. While it was described in 1957 as a special effect, it dominates the landscape today in both high school and college bands. 

The Modern Era
Marching band continues to influence many elements of pop culture outside of football to this day. Marching bands are featured in commercials, their style is incorporated into pop music, they add to live concerts and performances, and they are turned to by major corporations seeking to jazz up events.

In 2002, Drumline was released, the first and to date only major motion picture based entirely around marching band. The film's effect influenced pop culture and bands alike. Both Blast and Drumline Live have brought marching music into the theater, and the Honda Battle of the Bands has provided an annual pilgrimage to Atlanta for bandheads for the past decade and a half. The Big Ten Network centers bands in one of their commercials, and Beyonce based an entire Coachella performance and accompanying concert film around the black college band experience. 

The internet has played a large role in band culture, while media, social and otherwise, have as well. The 5th Quarter spent two decades as the internet's virtual HBCU band room before closing this past January. Halftime Magazine has been serving the marching arts in print form since 2007, and College Marching has had a huge presence, especially on social media, since its 2014 founding. Marching band content that was once handed off and mailed via video tape can now be found on YouTube, and podcasts such as the Marching Podcast and Marching Roundtable cover the activity as well. Marching bands themselves embrace all manners of media to get their message out and connect with their fans, members, and one another.

And much as the bands have evolved both in relation to and apart from college football these past 150 years, they will continue to push boundaries, thrill audiences, and enhance experiences for untold decades to come.

Several resources were consulted in this piece's creation. Citations can be found here

Band on the Road 2019


Each year since 2011, Band on the Road has attempted to catalog each travel game throughout the season for bands in power conferences. The resource is fully editable by design. While a good deal of work goes into its initial creation, the very point is that those in the know can edit it accordingly, making it as robust a database as possible. Band on the Road features the Power Five leagues by scope, not slight, and includes HBCU classics and, new for 2019, Battles of the Bands. Feel free to use it to see where your favorite band may be headed, or to add to the body of work with information not yet gathered. Enjoy!

Shop 80mins!

Some of you have seen me tease this shirt. Now you can have it!

The 80 Minutes of Regulation Shop is now LIVE via CafePress. If you've been wondering what to get the discerning band nerd in your life, look no further. The shop currently features a handful of band- and site-centric pieces, with more to come in the future.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Reasonable Doubt

Last week, it was announced that the Jay-Z, through Roc Nation, would enter into a partnership with the NFL through which he would become the entertainment strategist for the league, as well as partner on social justice initiatives. There's been significant reaction since the announcement, most of it unfavorable for Hov.

I've decided I'm going to go a route that's rare on these here internet streets: I'm going to reserve my right not to have an instant reaction. Yes, in a world that all but demands an immediate opinion and accompanying thinkpiece, I'm in no hurry.

I will say this: Jay looks real wack right now, as most pieces have pointed out. After backing Colin Kaepernick's protests of police brutality, and even quipping in a lyric, "I said no to the Super Bowl, you need me, I don't need you," he seems to have done a complete 180 in siding with the league, especially against the backdrop of Kaepernick's continued unemployment. Still, the possibility exists that Jay-Z is playing chess, not checkers, so we may have to wait to see how this all plays out.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Fresh to Death

From the moment I made the decision to go, I had a feeling Fresh Fest would be my Essence, my All Star Weekend, my Honda (ok, Honda is always going to be my Honda)

However lofty my expectations were, it exceeded them.

I spent last weekend in Pittsburgh for Fresh Fest, the nation's first and only black craft beer festival. I got into town Thursday night, after driving up from Greensboro. I stayed in an Airbnb on the North Shore, situated such that I parked my car once and didn't move it again until it was time to go. I got in right around 8 and, since this was a beer-fronted trip, headed to the closest brewery, which was Allegheny City, mere blocks from where I stayed. Dinner came via the taco truck onsite, and I enjoyed a couple of their brews before heading back to my apartment for the weekend.

I spent Friday checking out the fair city of Pittsburgh. I started touring PNC Park, home of the Pirates (in a Pittsburgh Crawfords shirt as I had mentioned before) and then headed across the Roberto Clemente Bridge for a Pittsburgh culinary institution: Primanti Bros. That evening, I headed back out to catch a Steelers preseason game, where I of course had to catch the Pittsburgh Steeline.

Strictly Fresh Fest focused behavior began on Friday night with a meetup at Voodoo Brewery over in Homestead. There, I caught up with quite a few folks from a Facebook group I'm in for Black craft beer lovers and set the tone for the day to come.

Saturday was the day. My early entry pass got me in at 3 - two hours before the 5pm regular entry - and I began to realize the full potential of the event's vision and reality. The event was diverse by design, and as such was the most black folks I've ever seen at a beer event at one time, while still having an incredibly diverse crowd. There were a few breweries I made it a point to catch, but other than that I was trying to try as much as I could - and was relatively successful. The vibe was amazing. The courtyard - amazing on an 80 degree Pittsburgh afternoon - featured live bands, with a DJ inside. The breweries were in both locations, with food options in both places as well. I got to catch up with some of my folk from the night before, and check out what all was going on from each of the breweries and vendors. The event was extremely well run and all love. I got to shout passing thank yous at the two primary organizers, Mike Potter of Black Brew Culture and Day Bracey of the Drinking Partners Podcast, and dap up Mike. Musically the headliner for the night was Nappy Roots, and they sent us all off right.

Lord and schedule willing, this will become an annual trip. Fresh Fest's existence is to serve as a foil to the overwhelmingly white, male, and bearded world of craft beer, and it served as evidence that the rest of us are out there. I have a not-at-all unfounded fear of chasing that high at every brewery and beer event I attend in the meantime, but Fresh Fest showed us all what can be possible. As to its organization: With all due respect to Pittsburgh, a city I expected to like and had that expectation confirmed, Fresh Fest was born out of the organizers' locale, not necessarily the city's features. If you're looking to gather a critical mass of blackfolk, they easily could have gone with DC and Atlanta. Fresh Fest didn't seek a city that was already lit; they took their city and made it lit. What's more, from what I could see, the craft beer industry in Pittsburgh fully embraced the festival, partnering with collaborations and supporting the event. This year was only its second year, and I can't wait to see what's to come. One thing's for sure - it will be fresh.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Early Look

It's football season, y'all.

With all due respect to baseball, the start of the NFL preseason, coupled with the end of drum corps season, puts an even more singular focus on the football to come. Preseason football has a strange way of being just what the doctor ordered. It's meaningless, sure, but after the six month drought since the end of the Super Bowl, there's something about the familiar cadence of an NFL broadcast that brings it all rushing back.

I had the opportunity to catch the Steelers' preseason game while I was up in Pittsburgh this past weekend. Steelers' QBs battled for the right to backup Big Ben, while across the field, Jameis Winston put in some reps for the visiting Buccaneers. And, of course, because of who I am as a person, I kept an eye on the Pittsburgh Steeline, who were plenty entertaining before and during the game.

Of course, marching percussion isn't the only sports adjacent back in play. Once the games are back... the games are back. Much as the preseason offers a chance to get a first look at your team in action, getting in early is key. If you're keeping it interesting with the weekly action, find a sportsbook that posts lines early. The earlier the lines are up, the longer you have to analyze the odds and find the best value. When regular season starts, compare a few of the books to see which one publishes the lines the earliest. It gives you the chance not only to do your homework, but to either be ready to strike as lines move, or to have your horse back in the stable while the week is still young. I'm sure you've yelled at your favorite team's sideline about their clock management; those early lines can help you keep your own in check.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Pint of Order

Beer is on brand.

I'm in Pittsburgh this weekend for Fresh Fest Beer Fest, and I'm taking in quite a few things that will likely become #content. I toured PNC Park and attended a Steelers game yesterday, and while it needs no justification, the festival (and my adjacent beers) will make it to a post and respective social media as well.

For many, myself included, beer is a part of the Cadence of Game Day, from the tailgate lot, to the pregame/postgame pub stop, to the bottle or can in front of you while you watch on TV. In the context of 80 Minutes, beer has made a few features over the years, both in the context in and beyond sports and marching/athletic music. Fresh Fest is also a fully cultural experience that I'm looking forward to experiencing - and, in fact, already have in the time that I've been here in Pittsburgh. So when you catch this beer content, just know that like loyalty and royalty, it's in our DNA.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Is This Drum Corps?

I tweeted it, so I figured I'd make it.

- or - how I learned to stop worrying and love drum corps

While I still have some curmudgeonly tendencies, I have in general made my peace with the way drum corps continues to evolve. Electronics, vocals, and amplification were once the new frontier, and as they have become commonplace, major multilevel setpieces on the field have made the activity three dimensional. There has been significant give-and-take not just between DCI, WGI, and high performing competitive high school bands, but also other facets of the performing arts.

Tlue Bluecoats' eponymous 2019 program that features music of the Beatles push past the limit of just about everything old school drum corps holds dear.

And. I. Love. It.

The costuming (can we still call them uniforms?) was exquisite. All of the props and staging were used well. And while there was a heavy electronic and sampled presence, everything done with analog horns and percussion was still top notch as we've come to expect from the corps. I don't know where they'll finish on Saturday night, but this show is the people's champion.

In evolving, this show has done one more thing that I'd love to see more of in drum corps. In doing the music of the Beatles Bloo has programmed a show that is instantly recognizable and supremely accessible to a large swath of fans. The corps returned to their hometown of Canton to perform halftime of the NFL's Hall of Fame Game, and I don't think I'm being hyperbolic when I say I don't think there's ever been a DCI show better suited to put in front of a football crowd. Drum corps shows tend to be built for DCI judges first, and DCI fans (a hopefully close) second. This year's program is honestly the type of show that may make a stadium full of fans there to see the Falcons play the Broncos show up in their respective home stadiums next year for DCI Southeastern or Drums Along the Rockies. I hope the activity will continue to deliver.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Worlds Colliding

If you've been to NightBEAT since it made the move to Winston Salem, you may have noticed a group in the stands or in the lots, usually clad in gold, taking in the show.

They were the Blue and Gold Marching Machine of North Carolina A&T State University, and this year, they'll be part of the show.

A&T sits across the Triad from the show's home at Wake Forest, and boasts the largest, most prominent marching band in the area. They'll be teaming up with the team from Carolina Crown who puts on the event to add value for all attendees, and the Aggies are sure to win some new fans from the drum corps-centric crowd.

Many will note the seeming incongruence of an HBCU band at a DCI show. Frankly, that's the beauty of it. Fans of any facet of the marching arts should be able to enjoy the entertainment that features A&T, 11 World Class corps, and SoundSport program Thunder of Roanoke. And pump the brakes if you're thinking the Aggies are a fish out of water. While unmistakably and undeniably an HBCU band, the Blue and Gold Marching Machine has shown that when they incorporate corps style elements, they're damn good at that too. There's no telling if the Aggies will give you what they do best, or switch their swag up for a feature to show that they can get down whichever way they please.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Searching For an American Hero

While UConn's move to the Big East wasn't driven by football, it won't be without gridiron implications.

For UConn, their football program becomes homeless, as the American Athletic Conference has already made it clear that UConn is not welcome as a football-only member. UConn may find itself in the same boat as its fellow New England flagship, UMass, who has been a Division I Independent since parting ways with the MAC in 2015. Since the MAC is the only other conference that makes geographic sense, there's a good chance UConn remains independent - if they remain FBS at all. UConn made the move to the FBS ranks 20 years ago - ironically, at the behest of the Big East Football Conference - but has an overall program history dating back to the late 19th century. If UConn returned to the championship subdivision, they wouldn't be the only recent program to do so. Idaho made a similar move after the dissolution of the WAC left them homeless, and at that point some wondered if the changing landscape of major college football, including the widening rift between the haves and have nots, would have others follow in their footsteps.

On the other side of the equation, the American is in a position to pick its next move, perhaps with some goading by ESPN. Unlike other defections from what was then the Big East, losing UConn doesn't leave the conference any weaker, and the die has already been cast with regards to access to the sport's power structure. The American has a few options: Stand pat at 11 football members, add a football only member (potentially complementing with a non-football member), or add a new member in all sports.

Keeping 11 members may be the strongest position, provided two things. The first is that their newly negotiated contract with ESPN remains in place for the schools that remain, ensuring each a larger piece of the pie. The second is that the American gets a waiver to host a championship game with fewer than 12 members, though this may simply be a formality. Should the AAC go divisionless, they can choose, as the Big 12 does, to match the two two strongest programs in the championship game, improving the resume of the victor. While this likely still will not result in a playoff berth, it can strengthen the AAC's case in the event they are in contention with any other Group of Five conferences for the New Year's Six spot.

Should the AAC seek to add a football only member, Army is the most viable option, if they'd consider it. Adding Army makes the Army-Navy game a conference matchup, allows the conference to beat its chest about truly being the American, and still operates within some semblance of geography. Air Force further spreads an already geographically expansive conference, and while they have their own planes, that Tampa to Colorado Springs road tilt has to be a doozie. BYU, while the strongest independent option, offers similar geographic challenges, and of course they made the active decision to go independent less than a decade ago. Adding a football-only member also calls the question if they also adda member in all other sports. While the AAC's position of the sixth best conference in football is pretty well cemented, their place in the pecking order in basketball is less firm. A successful basketball pairing would have to make sense for the American while also improving the fortune of the incoming member, something that poaching from the likes of the A-10 wouldn't do. Short of getting a team from the Missouri Valley - Loyola-Chicago's recent Final Four run made noise, but was an outlier - there's nothing that truly fits the bill. Further, I'm hesitant to once again sow the division between basketball schools and football schools that tore apart the old Big East.

If the conference chooses to expand, it will likely have its pick of the remainder of the Group of Five teams. Much as the Big East used Conference USA as a feeder program through a variety of realignments, The American comes from a position of strength over the rest of the non-power leagues, even without access to football's power structure itself. With all due respect to UConn, it wouldn't be difficult to replace them with a program of equal or greater value on the football side of the equation.

My choice - selfish, but also justifiable - would be Appalachian State. To some the move may seem premature. After all, the Mountaineers have spent just a half decade at the FBS level. Still, they bring the distinction of winning at every level, suffering no setback when changing subdivisions and winning the Sun Belt each of the past three years. They also bring a rabid fanbase in North Carolina, and through it the Charlotte media market, as well as a natural rivalry with ECU.

There are a number of other candidates that, for a Conference USA-era USF alumnus, feel like getting the band back together. UAB, Southern Miss, and Charlotte (this time with football) would all rejoin former conferencemates USF, Cincinnati, Houston, and Memphis, and Tulane, as well as UCF, Tulsa, and SMU from the conference's life immediately following. A couple of other current Conference USA members, notably UTSA, ODU, and the aforementioned Charlotte, have programs that are less than a decade old.

Losing its northernmost outlier tightens the conference up just a bit, keeping each of its teams at or below the 40th parallel. Still, if the American, which is also moving league offices from Providence to Dallas, wishes to maintain a New England outpost, UMass may be worth a phone call. The Minutemen rebuffed an "all in or all out" offer from the MAC to keep its other sports in the Atlantic 10, The American may offer a profile in all sports that meets their needs a bit more. The Minutemen would also bring with them the only Sudler Trophy in FBS outside of the Power Five leagues. Filling out an independent schedule for a number of years may make them long for the stability of conference affiliation, but it will also mean quite a few contracts to get out of in coming years.
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