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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

To Be Young, Gifted, and Black

With all pardons asked for referencing a particular pachyderm in the same sentence as a former Auburn quarterback, race has been the elephant in the room for all of Cam Newton's almost-certain MVP season. It has been the undercurrent, consciously or unconsciously of a lot of the criticism he has received this season, and because his season is longer than all but one other quarterback's, so it continues.

Newton is, of course, far from the only black quarterback in the league, nor is he the only black quarterback to reach this level of success. In an interview on Mike and Mike, Ryan Clark expressed that it's not an issue of race, but of culture. After all Russell Wilson, who earned a Super Bowl ring two years ago and came close this past year, is Cam's contemporary, also a black quarterback, and hasn't gotten the same degree of scrutiny that Newton has. It's worth noting, however, that Wilson's teammate Richard Sherman has. Sherman shares with Newton a certain panache - swag, if you will - that is offputting. It's cultural, certainly, but the fact that it is expressed by a black man is no small part of the equation. It's true: Cam dabs, smiles, and dances; he also gives game balls to children and is a presence in his community. Still, the former is cause enough that there's something "not quite right".

SB Nation's Spencer Hall - one of the finest writers of our time, in my opinion - remarked on a different cultural phenomenon: That of the southern gentleman. He notes that his Super Bowl opponent, Peyton Manning is less his foil and more his kinsman. The parallels of being SEC quarterbacks and number one overall picks are noted, but less often stated is that Cam is southern. This is likely because one definition of being southern - not the only, mind you, but one that tends to stick - may omit the word "white" from its spoken qualifiers but never from the imagination. Newton is southern in a way that's not necessarily thought of as such because the prevailing qualifier - black - never goes unstated.

Put another way: Cam Newton is a black college marching band.

Show style marching, as done at this country's Historically Black Colleges and Universities, is almost exclusively a southern art form. Owing directly to the legacy of their founding, the overwhelming majority of HBCUs are located in the south. Whether you're at Clark Atlanta or Tennessee State, FAMU or the eponymous Southern University itself, the style was innovated and continues to be carried out in the south. And yet, while Jackson State and Jacksonville State are but 4 1/2 hours of I-20 away, the Sonic Boom of the South an the Marching Southerners - note how both carry the region even in their nicknames - are worlds apart with respect to marching.

The styles are different, but different doesn't always come without value judgments. Familiarity may lead to stylistic preferences, but it may also lead some to believe that one is "right" and another "wrong". It's part and parcel with the hoopla when Drumline came out: The style depicted was unlike anything the average corps style marcher had ever seen, and so it had to be wrong. But even when Bethune Cookman's tonal basses are doing Blue Devils-quality runs, or A&T closes with a Cadets-style company front, there is still an unease for some. Score sheets, like standardized tests, are normed on a predominately white experience; so too is Cam's conduct and adherence to the "unwritten rules" of playing the role of quarterback, which is normed similarly. But like the HBCU band, Cam is first and foremost having fun with what he's doing, and largely putting on a show for those who game to see him. It's not just for judges or just for points, though there's no shortage of those. He's here to move the crowd. So when you dab on 'em, Cam, make sure you're hitting 90 degrees.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Honda 2016

We ready.
To state that the Honda Battle of the Bands is my Super Bowl would betray the reverence I hold for the Super Bowl itself. Still, when I learned of the Campus Insiders broadcast of the invitational showcase, I cleared my calendar, eager to watch the Honda live for the first time since eight years ago when I last attended in person.

If I've been obnoxiously effusive in my praise of Campus Insiders for bringing Honda to us, know that every bit of it is sincere. While I've typically been able to catch every individual show after the fact on YouTube and other such channels, there's something about watching it live, especially in the age of social media. In doing so, I took the opportunity to live-tweet the event as it was going on. As you can see, I also took the opportunity to grab some pizza, wings, and beer as I prepared to post up on the couch and enjoy the showdown from A-Town.

If you've followed for long enough, you're familiar with my "twitrospective" format. Here's what I had to say during the show itself.

It should go without saying, but I deem the live broadcast a huge success, and hope to see it continue. Campus Insiders actually earned themselves a new fan for their sports coverage as well; Honda was an entry point to what all the site has to offer. While I hope to soon return to the Dome (or soon, the new digs) the live broadcast was an excellent alternative.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

One Carolina

I make no secrets of my allegiance. I live in North Carolina, but I'm not a Panthers fan. I tend to root for them as long as they aren't playing the Eagles, and I've resigned myself to the fact that I may very well be raising a pair of Panthers fans, but that's about it. Still, I've got to give them props on the way they've galvanized two states in support of their run to the NFC Championship and hopefully the Super Bowl.

A look at the #OneCarolina hashtag on Instagram will show teams of all sorts - major league, minor league, and colleges of all sizes - supporting the Panthers. Even teams like Duke, NC State, and Clemson, all of whom are typically against teams that call themselves "Carolina" are in on the deal. Panthers, know that you've got two states behind you.

Keep Pounding.

Honda from Home

For the first time in its nearly a decade an a half of existence, The Honda Battle of the Bands will be able to be viewed live outside of the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome. The 2016 edition of the Invitational Showcase will be streamed live on Campus Insiders.

Campus Insiders first hit my radar as an AppleTV user; their network is available through that platform. Still, they may have caught the consciousness of many as a broadcaster of live events this past bowl season, when they brought us the Arizona Bowl. Now, they're continuing that foray by becoming the broadcast partner of the Honda Battle of the Bands.

I've been waiting for a network of any sort to pick up a regular band broadcast, and it probably shouldn't surprise that it was one who traffics in the digital domain. In the same manner Netflix and Hulu original material isn't bound by the constraints of typical show lengths, Campus Insiders can pick up the Honda where other networks may not. I've also pined for the Honda to become a viable bye-week - halftime, if you will - alternative to the Pro Bowl between the conference championships and the Super Bowl. I don't know about you, but I'll be taking full advantage of that setup.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Buzz Awakens

Professional basketball is coming to Greensboro.

We learned back in October that Greensboro will be home to an NBA D-League affiliate of the Charlotte Hornets. In the waning days of 2015, we learned that team would be known as the Greensboro Swarm.

I can dig it.

First and foremost, it's wise to tie their brand so closely to that of the parent franchise. The Hornets brand has been a force to be reckoned with since the days of the Starter jacket, and the recent return after a decade with the Charlotte Bobcats has reenergized the pro ball interests of a basketball-mad state.

The addition of the Swarm has a lot going for it. Greensboro is easily accessible from each of NC's major population centers. The Greensboro Coliseum's facilities are top notch, and I'm interested to see how they transform the Pavilion - a standalone facility on the Coliseum grounds - into the fieldhouse that will host the Swarm. Greensboro has already shown its passion for minor league sports, with the Greensboro Grasshoppers - the Miami Marlins' single A affiliate - already being a huge draw. Assuming the price point is favorable, I can see the Swarm really taking off here.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Postscript Ohio

If the subject wasn't enough, the title certainly caught me.

"Sex, Scandal and the Marching Band: Inside the New Rules at Ohio State" - a recent Rolling Stone piece focusing on the Ohio State Marching Band - was a must-read that caught my eye late Friday afternoon and had to wait until after work to be consumed. That work - on a college campus, working specifically with fraternities and sororities - made the Rolling Stone source all the more interesting. The same publication, after all, put out a later-withdrawn damning piece regarding the fraternity culture's role in the campus rape epidemic at the University of Virginia that was generalized by many to fraternity/sorority life as a whole. That they'd be moving from my vocation to my avocation was of interest, especially given the recent controversy at Ohio State and their band finding itself in situations - namely hazing - that we usually associate with fraternity/sorority life.

The article specifically addresses the "new normal" where Ohio State's band finds itself: Under interim direction for the second year, and with oversight from the university in hopes to change the culture. The degree to which the culture needs changing is a point of contention among current and former band members.

It speaks to the unique space The Best Damn Band In the Land occupies: Massively successful in their own right, tied to an upper echelon football team, and yet still on uneasy ground. It foreshadows a dystopian future - if TBDBITL can't ward off Seven Nation Army over the loudspeakers, what hope does anyone else have? - where even the most highly visible marching band has to cede time during a college football game to Dr. Pepper passing contests and other trappings of the increased pro sports atmosphere infringing on the uniquely college setting that includes, and should feature, the marching band. Still, Ohio State is flush with riches - though not without strings - and recently performed in London for the NFL. It even addresses the cocurricular nature of a college band: A credit bearing class, a student organization, and so much more.

This chapter of TBDBITL can't be told without their recently fired director, Dr. Jon Waters, who features prominently in the piece. Waters ushered in the new era of innovation in drill, but shadows of the previous era proved his undoing. In an atmosphere of increased concern for campus safety, guarding against sexual misconduct and interpersonal violence, and hazing prevention, Ohio State's transgressions could not be allowed to continue. Even their association with athletics, the two ton tail that often wags the collegiate dog, managed to save the band, but not without the loss of the man in charge, a fate that befell none less than Jim Tressel and Woody Hayes from the same football field.

While the Ohio State band is the story's protagonist, the piece does not shield them. It even directly references hazing (though it also fails to in some areas where it is appropriate) and the conduct that led us here. The story is told through the members, from the drum major and former director on down, and highlights the tension that remains in the aftermath. It is well worth the read.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Clutch Performance

Quite the clutch performance was put on in Pasadena on New Year's Day. But it wasn't just from Heisman candidate Christian McCaffrey, who lit up the scoreboard en route to a 45-16 Stanford drubbing of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Stanford's band had folks clutching their pearls both in Pasadena and worldwide.

If you're familiar with the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band, you know this is nothing new. Indeed, it's their raison d'etre; Stanford is the highest profile scramble band in the nation, hailing from a tradition that populates most of the Ivy Leagues, Rice University, and until last decade, Virginia. Schtick, humor, and irreverence are a big part of their performance - far moreso, in fact, than actual marching. I've corrected myself from calling them "nontraditional" because, indeed, this IS their tradition. The recent success of Stanford football, paired with their Pac-12 affiliation, has put them in the Rose Bowl three of the past four years. The Rose Bowl is band-friendly and forces the Worldwide Leader to be by contract, so a phenomenon that may have once been contained to Palo Alto and the Pac-12 schools they visit has had its time in the national spotlight recently. Many aren't happy.

The show in question mocked opponent Iowa's home state by parodying, a (real!) online dating site seeking to match rural folks looking for love. The site uses the tagline "City folks just don't get it," and probably got more traffic after Stanford's performance than any ad they may have purchased. We saw Stanford dance a "cow" onto the field and form a farmer (that looked quite a bit like the leprechaun in Mobile) before the ESPN cameras seemingly spotted something interesting in the San Gabriel Mountains that they preferred to focus on before a commercial break. Boos reportedly rained down from Iowa faithful in attendance, and the righteous indignation poured in from the internet as well.

To be clear, as a marching band fan, Stanford isn't my cup of tea, but I'm amused by those who take them far more seriously than they take themselves. The Stanford band elicits precisely the reactions they desire, so in terms of execution of their objectives, they do it as well as any band around. It is a matter of scheme, like a spread offense, and not unlike the spread, it provides a wide open playbook, and can prove an equalizer by minimizing talent disparities, not to take anything away from either scheme. Still, its popularity is much more akin to the triple option, and it would seem the Iowa faithful didn't prepare for it accordingly.

If there's any room for outrage, it's in the lifting of the suspension from May that, as written, should have kept them from the Rose Bowl, as well as the Pac-12 championship game, to which the also made the short trip. The facts of that suspension have been trotted out in the past day incorrectly as though it were a reaction to yesterday's performance and not a preexisting condition. But the show itself? Stanford's gonna Stanford.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

B4: College Football Playoff National Championship - Alabama vs. Clemson

The stage is set! I'm sure many in Dixie vowed the south would rise again after last year's all Yankee championship game, and a pair from south of the Mason-Dixon meet as the 1 and 2 seeds advance. While Nike outfits both football teams, Clemson and Alabama's drumlines are outfitted by Yamaha and Pearl, respectively.



Full 2015-16 Big Band Bowl Battle

Staccato Notes, Playoff Eve Edition

A few short notes before we head into the New Year's Eve playoff and shortly thereafter, 2016.

So there you have it - several quick hits as the year reaches its coda. Happy new year!

Monday, December 28, 2015

B4: FCS National Championship

Don't worry, FCS, I didn't forget about you. The championship game is now set: North Dakota State's Gold Star Marching Band hopes to watch the football team win "one for the thumb" in their fifth consecutive championship game appearance, while the Jacksonville State Gamecocks are fielding a football team the esteemed Marching Southerners can be proud of.

North Dakota State

Jacksonville State

Full 2015-16 Big Band Bowl Battle

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