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Monday, January 21, 2019

Coda

Me with 5th Quarter co-founder Christy Walker
Queen City Battle of the Bands, 2017
On January 19, 1999, The5thQuarter.com began, giving a voice, forum, and community to HBCU marching bands, their members, and supporters. On January 19, 2019 - 20 years later - The 5th shuttered its doors, leaving but a headstone where the liveliest virtual bandroom on the internet once stood. The 5th Quarter began, and endured, as an online bulletin board/forum where the primary topic of conversation, unifying purpose, and raison d'etre was HBCU bands.

I have no business writing its eulogy. But then, it's never stopped me before. As a space for HBCU bandheads, I was a lurker, at best an occasional commenter. I don't recall when I first found the 5th, but I know for sure I was there when Drumline came out. If memory serves, I was familiar already, and knew it was a safe haven from other corners of the internet where corps style kids questioned the film's bona fides. It wasn't until later that I learned of the immense impact that the site, and its members, had on the film's creation and success.

I called the 5th a virtual bandroom, and perhaps a big part of its gift was being virtually every bandroom. Ask anyone who's ever marched, and they will tell you the bandroom is home, a place born of a common purpose and a common love. In what may seem a paradox on its face, the 5th became that place for members from otherwise rival bandrooms, bound by the HBCU experience, shouting "we all we got," even while not messing with one another otherwise.

Twenty years. There are students in HBCU bands now for whom today is the first day that they and the 5th Quarter have not coexisted.

Those of us who profess to cover marching and athletic music online must recognize the 5th as our pioneer, griot, and elder statesman. The home they created made that which many of us continue possible. The landscape is now rich for HBCU bands specifically, and all marching bands more generally, but the 5th set the wheels in motion.

For that matter, the 5th Quarter is also a pioneer in Black spaces on the internet. The landscape has changed immensely in the past 20 years, and the 5th was on the leading edge. BBS and AOL chat rooms were the currency then, the predecessor to what we now consider social media. Some with some internet longevity may recall BlackPlanet as the premier Black social network of its day; the 5th Quarter predates even its launch by nearly nine months. The 5th was predominantly, authentically, and unapologetically Black on the internet since the dawn of the Cash Money Records takeover.

From a personal standpoint: I am proud to consider co-founder Christy Walker a friend of mine. Joe Beard of the Marching Podcast made the introduction over on Twitter, and if I'm perfectly honest, I had to try not to get too geeked, already being familiar with her work. Christy and I met in person for the first time at Queen City Battle of the Bands 2017, and I saw in real life the community that she has played a key role in creating. And while I was late to the live game, this community had been cultivated over those two decades through live events, NLBH, SYOSO, Honda Sky (Phi) Box, and the heathen section wherever such a gathering occurs, as well as media offerings that lived beyond the site itself, including the 5th Quarter podcast and Christy's own presence on whichever social media she inhabits.

While the 5th itself has reached its coda, it has left behind in others the will and conviction to carry on. On their live denouement, Christy and her co-founder Mike Lee lamented that future generations of marchers would not know the 5th first hand. While that may be technically true, the 5th Quarter's fingerprints are on every bit of HBCU media present and yet to come. Simply put, they were the blueprint, the drill book we all followed and will continue to follow from here on out, and to that we owe the utmost gratitude. From the bottom of all of out hearts, thank you. ||

Monday, January 14, 2019

You Don't Know the Half of It

Can you be one of the world's most popular sports leagues and socially untouchable?

Ask the NFL.

Despite being one of the most lucrative sports leagues in the world, the National Football League has had a helluva time rounding out the Super Bowl halftime performance. Despite being among the most watched events annually, many artists - particularly black artists - aren't going anywhere near the Super Bowl, due largely to the NFL's stance (stances?) on police brutality protests during the National Anthem, and continued blackballing of Colin Kaepernick. To date, Maroon 5 has signed on as the headliner, with support including Travis Scott and most recently Big Boi of Outkast, the latter an addition of authentic ATL. And while Big Boi takes his Ls at both his decision to perform and his stance as at least the NFL's 8th choice, I wonder: Are there others who will curve the League?

While marching bands are no longer the main event at Super Bowl halftime shows, there has more often than not been representation from a local college of high school band or bands at most of the most recent games. In Atlanta, if you're looking locally, that almost certainly means HBCUs and predominantly black high schools. Much as DC area high schools and Howard chose not to perform at Trump's inauguration, there's a very real possibility that Atlanta - and other bands for whom the A is a well worn path - will sit this one out as well. Then again, much as Talladega saw the Inaugural stage as too large to pass up, someone may slide in if the Shield comes calling.

There be Dragons

You may have expected me to have big opinions on the Imagine Dragons halftime show during the CFB Playoff National Championship. Certainly I'd have something to say about the sort of Super Bowl style, recording artist performance that the game has put in place for the second year now, after having included Kendrick Lamar last year.

But I don't. Why? Because I don't acknowledge its existence.

Sure, I knew Imagine Dragons and Lil Wayne were playing halftime (from an off-site location nearly 50 miles from the game venue) that was televised within the main TV broadcast for the game. I just never considered, for the slightest second, that I'd do anything different than what I did: watch the Million Dollar Band and the Band that Shakes the Southland on whichever ESPN3 channels were carrying it. This year, I opted for the "All 22" feed, which featured a high angle cam.

I've got nothing against Imagine Dragons. I rather enjoy their predecessor, Kendrick Lamar. But I'd never choose a recording artist over marching bands for a college halftime both as a matter of preference and loyalty.

It's not unreasonable to believe that these off-site performances may be the proverbial camel's nose under the tent that leads us to Super Bowl style halftimes in the CFB Playoff's future. While this particular championship game format is new, it's proven to be big business for the sport and its broadcast partner, ESPN. While loyalty to the product - college football and all that it entails - itself should preserve the relationship with marching bands, the desire to chase the next thrill puts mimicking its professional counterpart in play. Especially as the NFL becomes an increasingly polarizing product, the market for major artists who might levy moral objections to the pro game increases for the collegiate game. So while I hope we never find ourselves there, the possibility looms.

That said, I did listen to an interview with Imagine Dragons this week, from ESPN Music, that was included in the Campus Conversation podcast feed, and I will acknowledge that they had one piece going for them that their college counterparts did not: A sense of scale.

Imagine Dragons acknowledged that they knew playing halftime at a football game - THIS football game - changed the expectation. They wouldn't be starting cold, but rather riding a wave of momentum created by the first half of football. They took the time they were given seriously, and likely responded in kind. For their college marching band counterparts, while I'm sure the energy was there - especially fueled by allegiance to one of the two teams that created that momentum - this was, in a lot of ways, just another day at the office. Simply put, the bands need to level up.

Both bands - and indeed, the bands in nearly all postseason/championship situations - played shows they had already played before their home crowds during the season. It's almost entirely the nature of the beast. The college football regular season goes final at around the same time as most schools' fall semesters, meaning that the time any band would be installing and cleaning a new show is the break between semesters. The bands scatter to the winds after classes begin, typically coming back together just to travel to the postseason games, and put in minimal rehearsal onsite before taking the field come gametime. A new show is impractical, especially given that timeframe. On the other hand: The bands have likely the largest and undoubtedly the most high profile stage before them when playing at the national championship. While they give it their all every week, a championship situation ought to have a certain je ne sais quoi.

I can't say I know what that is. Lasers? A light show? Costume changes? Probably not. But if you've got a reasonable shot at the postseason, start planning now, and kick it up a notch.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Bowl Bands: 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship

Perhaps the best way to think of Alabama-Clemson is as a touring show. So far, they've done Glendale, Tampa, New Orleans, and now Santa Clara. Who knows, they may just end up in a city near you!

After having talked a bit longer about what this game means in the fabric of the sport, I also took a look at the games from 2018, 2017, and 2016. Last year, I called the semifinal meeting the rubber match, but in the framework of national championships, this year's matchup in Silicon Valley is for all the (micro)chips.

Clemson:

Alabama:

||: Alabama-Clemson :||

I hope the band staff don't pop those off after every season.
Monday night, Alabama and Clemson will play for a championship.

Again.

For the third time in the past four years, Alabama and Clemson will compete for major college football's crown, the streak of title game matchups only interrupted last year when they met in a semifinal instead. In the week since the game has been inked (or for many, the month since the playoff selections were made) many the question has been asked: Is the continued dominance of Alabama and Clemson bad for the sport of college football?

If you believe college football exists solely to setup the climax that is the championship game, then perhaps things are getting a little stale. But if you consider college football in its totality the greatest sport on the planet for the entire season, then an admittedly repetitive championship game is but one - what's that term the playoff committee likes to use? Data point.

For what it's worth, I hail from a school who has never had so much of a sniff at the national championship picture, save for one week in 2007, so its value as currency may be a bit lost on me. But other than Bama or Clemson potentially icing your team out of competition, what is there to be upset about? If you believe the championship exists to match the two best teams, mission accomplished. We're likely to be rewarded with a well played, competitive game on Monday. The system worked as it should have, and that fact doesn't diminish the enjoyability of the season on the way there.

If the championship game hurts anything, it's itself.

Ticket prices, on the original and secondary markets, are reportedly way down, but there are any number of potential contributing factors, some related to Bama and Clemson's dominance. First: If you're either fanbase, following your team has gotten expensive. You've had at least one playoff commitment each year - two if you're Alabama - in the past four. In each case, you've been there before, and there's no reason to doubt you've got a decent shot at returning. Santa Clara is the least accessible for two schools in the Southeast of any of the playoff sites before or to come, so if there were a year to skip, this is it. The location doesn't do the casual fan many favors either: It kicks at 5pm local time, a challenge for anyone, much less in Bay area traffic. Levi's Stadium is a smooth 45 minutes from San Francisco and Oakland each without compounding traffic.

As for the television audience, again, I expect only casuals will drop off. Clemson-Alabama has been a touring heavyweight fight, and at least as far as title games go, this is the rubber match. I have a feeling most fans of the sport will be tuning in.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Bowl Bands: 2019 Division I Football National Championship

At this point, NDSU ought to just get a time share slot in the Metroplex for early January. The Bison are going for championship number seven in eight years. But it was actually Eastern Washington who kicked off the championship's run in Frisco with a 2010 victory over the Delaware Blue Hens.

Eastern Washington:

North Dakota State:

Belk

It may not have been much of a game, but it was quite the day.

I headed south to Charlotte for the Belk Bowl for much the same reason I went to the Belk College Kickoff back at season's start: It was there. But unlike the Belk Kickoff, I actually attended the Belk Bowl.

The day was gorgeous - mid 60s and sunny. So while the weather in North Carolina can be a mixed bag at this time of year, it showed up for two schools who, fair enough, were probably experiencing something similar at home. A noon kick made it a bit of a sprint to get down, parked, and in in time for pregame, but I caught both bands from a lower vantage point than my seats in the upper deck would allow.


Virginia won the game 28-0, scoring a remarkably consistent one touchdown per quarter. Photographers will tell you that despite our love of sunny days, overcast ones actually produce better photographs. The same can be said for non-competitive games. The not full and emptying stadium provided me mobility to see both bands (and oh yeah, the game) from a variety of angles, including directly next to each. I had seen the Carolina Band before, in their house, but had only seen UVA in pep band format, often at the ACC Tournament (and most recently in Charlotte *cough*) Both were most impressive in the stands, but their halftime shows - Broadway from SC, Latin pop from UVA, were also enjoyable. From my perch atop the north endzone, I could see both shows without having to navigate a "home" vs. "away" orientation.

While I missed any pregame tailgating, I do have a new Charlotte football tradition (two times makes it tradition, right?) The Unknown Brewing Company sits a few blocks from the stadium, and became my postgame spot for the Belk Kickoff and now the Belk Bowl, where I caught the first half of the first playoff game. At some point I'll venture more thoroughly through their offerings, but perhaps due in no small part to their location, their low ABV, easy drinking beers are forward facing and enjoyable. Last time, the aptly name Pregame Pils was on special (though it was the Bright Ass Tanktop I brought home); this time it was the Feather Light.

Attending this year's Belk Bowl was mostly about scratching an itch. I realized late in the season that I hadn't been to a single game this year, and the Belk Bowl presented the last opportunity. It also made me realize that there's very little reason not to attend this bowl game each year. It was at its most accessible this year on a Saturday, but even barring that, it falls in the sweet spot between Christmas and New Year's Day. Expect to see me there again.

For more from the Belk Bowl trip, follow @eightyminutes on Instagram

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Bowl Bands: 2019 Allstate Sugar Bowl

Texas and Georgia produce some of the of the most fertile college football recruiting crops, so it's no surprise both are among the elites, having both fallen short of two playoff participants as the Big 12 and SEC runners up. The marching band talent in both states is strong as well.

Texas:

Georgia:

Bowl Bands: 2019 Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual

As a noted Rose Bowl stan, I did a bit of a deep dive on this game earlier. While both bands certainly wish they were in the playoff, it's a hard sell for a team from the Big Ten or the Pac 12 to consider a march down Colorado Boulevard a consolation prize.

Washington:

Ohio State:

Bowl Bands: 2019 VRBO Citrus Bowl

Working in higher ed, there are sometimes matchups that tug at the soul of someone you know. This is the game for my friend Sean. Make no mistake, he's Blue Band over Bluegrass all day long, but having worked at Kentucky and married a woman from there, he's got Kentucky allegiance over every program outside of Happy Valley.

Kentucky:

Penn State:

Bowl Bands: 2019 Playstation Fiesta Bowl

UCF once again battles for the Best of the Rest against an SEC foe. Ironically, the "didn't want to be there" excuse that Power Five programs with loftier aspirations often us could apply this year to a UCF program with a legitimate gripe to deserving a playoff spot.

LSU:

C.Florida:

Bowl Bands: 2019 Outback Bowl

I'm certain Iowa fans have racked up the frequent flyer miles on trips to Tampa. I know at one point I discovered the Hawkeyes haven't been in the Outback Bowl quite as much as it feels like - they still boast three of the last six - but their stretch during and around the time that I lived in Florida left an impression on me.

Mississippi State:

Iowa:
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