MediaStrike Banner

Friday, December 31, 2021

#bowlbands - CFP Semifinal: Capital One Orange Bowl

 The Michigan Wolverines and Georgia Bulldogs will meet in the second semifinal in the Capital One Orange Bowl. Michigan made the playoff after beating archrival Ohio State in the final game of the regular season and Iowa in the Big Ten championship game. After spending the entire season at #1, Georgia dropped the SEC championship game to Alabama, but only fell to #3. The Orange Bowl matches a pair of Sudler Trophy winners: Michigan was the first to receive the honor, while Georgia was the first in the SEC. However, as is Orange Bowl tradition, both bands will miss halftime, as their recording artist halftime show will get fancy like Applebee's on a date night with Walker Hayes.

The two programs both have ties to bandsmen I admire. My high school's blue and gold may as well have been maize and blue under the direction of Paul Parets, who spent 36 years as director of the Alexis I. duPont High School Tiger Marching Band. Among the band's accolades with Mr. Parets at the helm were five trips to the Rose Parade, multiple trips to the Lord Mayor's New Year's Day parade in London, St. Patrick's Day parade in Ireland, and of particular note here, performances in the Orange Bowl Parade in Miami.

This past January, I lost a friend and colleague who passed unexpectedly in Dr. Dennis AsKew, who served as director of the School of Music at UNCG. I met Dennis when he was serving as the pep band director, and we connected over our love of athletic bands, including drum corps. He marched sousaphone for Georgia and loved his Dawgs. Dennis also attended Michigan.

Should Alabama win the other semifinal, the winner of this game will be headed for another dual Sudler matchup.



#bowlbands - CFP Semifinal: Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

The first semifinal matchup this New Year's Eve has been billed by most as David vs. Goliath. Cincinnati, the first Group of Five team to be included in the College Football Playoff, and they've got a tall task ahead of them in reigning champion and perennial power Alabama.

At the half and in the stands, the Bearcat Band will be facing the Million Dollar Band, and to say they've been there before would be an understatement. Bama's band may as well get the playoff logo (Clemson's band informed me that they're stickers) permanently affixed to their uniforms. Still, Cincinnati's band knows they're damn good, and will take the field as fearlessly as their team. However, the Bearcat Band will be taking the field without Director Christopher Nichter and Associate Director Nicholas Angelis, both of whom have been placed on leave for unknown reasons.

This year's Cotton Bowl is also a family affair: The Moorhouse family has a pair of brothers marching in both bands. Senior Christopher plays alto sax in the Million Dollar Band, while his younger brother Noah stayed local and marches the same instrument for the Bearcat Band.



For All the Mayo


On a gray, foggy, intermittently rainy day in Charlotte, I reunited with live football.

I was at the same bowl - then the Belk Bowl - in late 2019. Then 2020 was, of course, 2020, and despite a few games of interest nearby this past season, I kept my distance. But that streak broke today a short drive down I-85. While I had always intended to attend, I waited until the last minute to buy my ticket. Having planned on going to the Military Bowl parade while in Maryland earlier in the week, I had already been affected by one bowl cancellation, and hoped that the game in Charlotte wouldn't meet a similar fate.

The Duke's Mayo Bowl pitted North Carolina against South Carolina, at the crossroads of the Carolinas, and the bowl couldn't have asked for a better comeback after the 2020 season. With Columbia and Chapel Hill within easy driving distance - to say nothing of the untold thousands of Gamecocks and Tar Heels living in the Charlotte Metro already - the game was well attended and lively. The bowl's social media presence and the promise of a mayo bath (and a donation to charity) for the winning coach, added intrigue for the home viewers, even the irritable bowl syndrome folks who think there are too many meaningless bowls.

I saw the Mighty Sound of the Southeast most recently at the 2018 Belk Bowl; I haven't seen the Marching Tar Heels live since 2007 when USF played in Chapel Hill, though I've seen their pep bands plenty here in Greensboro. I was seated in the upper deck, TV side, on about the side 1 40 yard line, meaning South Carolina has about a 20 yard advantage on my ears, but even without that, it was clear they had superior sonic output. I also happened to be on the South Carolina side, so I only got UNC's band from the backfield.

While the well attended game was undoubtedly good for the bowl's coffers, it made it a bit tougher to navigate as a band fan. My experience with both bands was from my cheap seat perch, while in year's past I've been able to move down closer to both bands. Still, it was great to be out there live once more. For more, check out #bowlbands on Instagram and Twitter. Here's to 2022!

Friday, December 10, 2021

#bowlbands Rapid* Reactions

 (And by rapid, I mean that I'm going through them fairly quickly, not that they're coming immediately after announcements, because, well, yeah.)

First, I hope, as I always to, that the full bands get to attend each bowl game. My previous refrain was if an athletic department couldn't afford to send its full operation - band cheer, dance, etc. - to the postseason, they weren't equipped to compete at that level; however, I understand that programs were hit hard this past year with the pandemic, so I'm not nearly as critical now. 

One of the first things I typically go looking for any bowl season is dual Sudler matchups, and it's a slim slate - just three to start, with a fourth in the championship game if Alabama wins its semifinal game against Cincinnati. Beyond the other semifinal game, Michigan vs. Georgia in the Orange Bowl (where they won't do halftime), LSU meets Kansas State in the TaxAct Texas Bowl and Penn State and Arkansas will meet in the Outback Bowl.

The field at Raymond James Stadium will also see an in-state pairing as Florida plays UCF in the Gasparilla Bowl, just over a week prior. It will be Florida's second trip there this year, as the Gators played USF early in the season; UCF makes their way there every other year in the annual War on I-4. Two schools that call themselves Carolina also have a short trip ahead of them, as North Carolina and South Carolina will meet in Charlotte in the Duke's Mayo Bowl. I intend to be at the game, which will be the third name under which I will attend the bowl in Charlotte. I'll also make my way out to at least the parade, if not the game, for the Military Bowl while in Maryland for the holidays, meaning I'll catch North, South, and East Carolina.

The New Year's Six matchups are a mixed bag of familiar and unfamiliar. Both the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl will feature traditional tie-ins: Big Ten/Pac-12 and Big 12/SEC, respectively. #5 Notre Dame returns to the Fiesta Bowl for the third time since 2000, while Oklahoma State, who sat literal inches from making the playoff conversation much more interesting, returns for the first time since finishing #3 in the then-BCS standings following the 2011 season. But most seemingly out of place is the Peach Bowl. This year's game, which will feature a Pat Narduzzi-helmed, ACC Champion Pitt against Narduzzi's previous employer Michigan State, will host no southern schools for only the second time in the bowl's history, the other being Army vs. Illinois in 1985.

But fear not, Atlanta - the South is still coming through. The Sonic Boom of the South, that is, who will meet the Marching 101 in the Celebration Bowl, back after a pandemic hiatus. Both Jackson State and South Carolina State are making their first appearances as the SWAC and MEAC representatives, respectively. Jackson State in particular has been getting outsized attention for an FCS program generally and an HBCU specifically from sports media due to having Coach Prime - NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders - at the helm as head coach.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Swine Flew


I've only been to Cincinnati once.

Back in 2017, my wife ran the Flying Pig half marathon in Cincy, and we made a nice little family trip up for the weekend.

Today, pigs flew once again, as the Cincinnati Bearcats became the first Group of Five team to make the College Football Playoff.

Yes, they're already betrothed to the Big 12. And it took every single star aligning - including losses from all the right teams and a victory over the committee's #5 Notre Dame - for them to make their way in. But they're in. They're in for every Boise State, every TCU, every Utah, every UCF whose undefeated efforts were deemed not enough by the Powers That Be to this point. 

As a USF alumnus, Cincinnati has been a conference foe for longer than I've been a Bull, through the Metro, Conference USA, the Big East and the American. Under most circumstances, I'd consider them a rival. But this comeup is bigger than any individual rivalry. It's the shattering of the glass ceiling that has prevented any team from outside college football's college structure from so much as sniffing a championship.

It's entirely possible that Cincinnati gets the brakes beat off them by Bama in the semifinal. They wouldn't be the first - each year of the playoff has featured at least one semifinal blowout so far. Some would undoubtedly use it as evidence that Cincy didn't belong, but the fact is, they earned their way in and now have a chance at the unthinkable. This year's playoff field is notable in that beyond Bama, no other participant has won a championship in the 21st century. So while I'm excited to see Michigan and Georgia in the mix as well, I'm rooting for Cincinnati. Because in a phrase I haven't uttered a ton since the days of the Big East, we all we got.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Expansion Szn

In late September, Drum Corps International's member corps came together for their fall business meeting. While most rule changes pass in January, there were a few items that came to a vote during this meeting. Among the most newsworthy was a unanimous vote that expanded the number of performers to 165, up from the previous limit of 154, and 135 just a decade and a half ago. 

(The college football fans among you may think this isn't the expansion talk you were expecting. I'm getting there, I promise.)

While the vote was unanimous, it wasn't without criticism. The corps touted increased opportunities for participation, but critics note that it may widen the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. Members who may have previously been waitlisted or cut entirely from top-flight corps would be contributing members of other corps; might they now forego opportunities at perceived "lower" corps if they squeeze in with increased limits?

In related news, college football's back at it with realignment, and the latest moves stand to erode the FBS' middle class. This round kicked off when Texas and Oklahoma, undeniably  two of the sport's elites, announced their intentions to defect to the SEC from the Big 12. In the uncertainty that followed: The Big 12 accused ESPN of colluding with the American Athletic Conference to raid their conference (in advance of their own raid); the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 (but not the Big 12) announced an "alliance" aimed at stabilizing the sport amid what was unspoken but assumed to be SEC overreach; the Big 12, now at eight teams, sat uneasily, fearing scavenging from other conferences before launching their own offensive and poaching Houston, Cincinnati, and Central Florida from the American, along with independent BYU. The American has since responded and, after kicking the tires on a few Mountain West schools, added UAB, Florida Atlantic, Charlotte, North Texas, Rice, and UTSA, all from Conference USA.

The American, née Big East, is no stranger to the post realignment regather and rebuild. The football side of the house needed a revamp after losing Virginia Tech, Miami, and Boston College to the ACC; after losing Pitt, Syracuse, and Louisville to the same, West Virginia to the Big 12, and Rutgers to the Big Ten; amid the split that created the American and left the basketball schools with the Big East name; and now once more. 

Each realignment has left the conference in worse shape; moving to the bottom of the AQ pecking order in the BCS, to being left outside the Power 5 as the American. And while even from the outside looking in, the American was the consensus next conference up (to say nothing of their self dubbed "Power 6" moniker), even that claim comes into question. While the new schools add additional teams in some key media markets, they weren't even the "next up" programs from throughout the Group of 5. Expansion landing the conference at 14 teams is also notable; many assume it's in anticipation of a future raid, possibly once again from the Big 12. meanwhile, after skimming off the top programs from the Group of 5, the Big 12 staves off extinction while widening the gulf between them and and the G5 conferences. 

This round of realignment is almost certainly not done; there are currently reports of Conference USA's Old Dominion joining the Sun Belt, the conference that has been C-USA's target in previous rounds.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Triple Option

For more than three decades, ESPN's College GameDay has been the premier appetizer to the action of a fall Saturday. Many who intended to whet their appetite for the day's college football action tune in religiously for the signs, Old Crimson flying, a Tom Rinaldi tearjerker (until recently), and the Lee Corso headgear pick. A number of programs have come on the scene, many of which incorporate signature elements into their own format. 

This season, a few new Saturday offerings have come on the scene that have me jumping formats. While GameDay gets underway at 9am, an hour later Culture State Saturday begins. The Culture State Podcast is a weekly podcast that discusses sports and culture in the state of North Carolina, and hosts Dennis Cox and Chris Lea keep the party going on Saturday mornings on 99.9 The Fan out of Raleigh. The show covers both North Carolina football and the national scene, and while I'm not in the listening area, it's a listen worth catching via the online live broadcast.

And hour later at 11, the Solid Verbal podcast has begun Solid Saturday. Solid Verbal has been my go-to college football podcast for more than a decade, and recently, they've begun expanding their options, with Solid Saturday's live broadcast via YouTube being among the additions. With Both Culture State Saturday and Solid Saturday joining the lineup, there's plenty for me to turn on, across multiple formats, on a Saturday morning.

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


 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
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 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,  StylePLUS, Halftime Magazine, Guard Closet, and FansRaise, have put together the Intercollegiate Marching Band, presented by GPGMusic and 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 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.

discussion by