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Off Beat Empire: The Final Serenade 2018

1 Jan 1996:  View of the Rose Bowl between the Northwestern Wildcats and the Southern California Trojans in Pasadena, California.  Southern California won the game 41-32. Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn  /Allsport
1 Jan 1996: View of the Rose Bowl between the Northwestern Wildcats and the Southern California Trojans in Pasadena, California. Southern California won the game 41-32. Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn /Allsport

One more game, ‘Cats... one more game...

With Indy still a few days away and dreams of sugarplums and roses still dancing in the air, it’s time to bring this year’s edition of Off Beat Empire to an end. I just want to take a quick moment to thank many who contributed over the course of the year, starting with LincolnParkWildcat who helped me get this started and is always a good source of support, particularly liquid support after work at City Social. I also want to thank StewartRL for contributing his experience as a member of the Gopher band - it’s always been my aspiration to learn and share more about other B1G bands and I hope that I can bring a bit more of other perspectives next year than I was able to accomplish this year. Special thanks goes out to the Baton Twirlers of the world, who taught me a lesson in just how Twitter works. An even more special thanks to whoever was manning the OTE account in responding to the Twirler horde. Seriously, though, while the whole experience was hilarious, I hope that the young ladies are smart enough to shrug off the ramblings of an old fool and take pride in their hard work and skill. Most of all, thanks to the members of the 14 Big Ten Conference Marching Bands, who do more to share joy, tradition, spirit, and musicality to hundreds of thousands of fans than they might ever realize. College football is not college football without a marching band, and we continue to be very fortunate in having so many of the best bands within our conference.

Without further ado and in the spirit of BTN’s “The Final Drive”, a couple of words on each Marching Band’s performances over the course of the year:

  • Illinois: The Marching Illini just continue to be one of the cleanest, crispest groups in the conference. I’m sorry that they haven’t been rewarded with a better football product to keep spirits up, but the band is always a joy to watch and executes very well on the field. Also... best video production in the conference... hands down.
  • Indiana: I keep thinking of Indiana’s early boy band show, in which they found a real sweet spot with crowd and stayed entertaining throughout the season. The Marching Hundred knows how to play to their audience. The Redsteppers are a treasure of the conference and really add something special.
  • Iowa: I wish I was able to find more consistent video on the Hawkeyes, but from what little I did have this year, there was some nice sound and a great cooperation with Northern Iowa to bring the wave to halftime.
  • Maryland: I’m so happy that we were able to get video on the Mighty Sound of Maryland this year, and the band consistently looked and sounded great. I really liked the Halloween show, especially the performance of “Night on Bald Mountain”. This group consistently delivers quality shows.
  • Michigan: There were some really solid shows for the Wolverines this year, starting with their Latin Music performance, including their excellent collaboration with Penn State on their Game of Thrones show, and finishing with a fantastic tribute to the Queen of Soul. Still, I warned you... don’t flash the “Those Who Stay...” too early...
  • Michigan State: The Spartan Band is just awesome. The sound of the Circus show was about as good as anything we heard all year and the break-off star show had some outstanding arrangements and musicianship as well. This is one of the bands that I most want to see live and I’ve got to find a good excuse to do so next year. When they’re on, the Spartans are one of, if not the best band in the country.
  • Minnesota: I was just going back to review and realized that Minnesota appears to have brought a unique show every week (with the exception of a repeat show at Nebraska). That takes consistent effort and dedication. I apologize to the Gophers for not believing that they would reclaim the Axe, but now that they have, I hope that they find a way to incorporate it into every halftime show next year.
  • Nebraska: Sigh. I’m really bummed that I wasn’t successful in finding video on your performances this year. I’m hoping that we will see more of you in the future. From a few snippets last year, it looks like this group can deliver some really sharp performances. If you’re a fan in Lincoln, please help us find a way to share this group with the rest of the conference.
  • Northwestern: I’m always proud of my alma mater. Northwestern does more with less members than just about the entire conference. I’m glad that you don’t compromise on drill and the sound is always excellent. I’ll see you at the Big Ten Title game.
  • Ohio State: Nobody is consistently as good as the Buckeyes. To maintain that high level of performance and showmanship over the year is impressive. I loved the Queen show earlier this year (especially the first big hit to “Fat Bottom Girls”, which is just an awesome way to start a show) and the Happily Ever After and Blues Brothers shows were fantastic as well. While there are a few bands that can match you on their best days, your worst days are still at a level that most bands can only aspire to. I look forward to seeing you live this weekend as well.
  • Penn State: I am still in awe of Penn State’s performance of the “Funk” show earlier this year. The musicianship just blew me away and made me realize how much I had underestimated what the Blue Band can do and sound like. Again, just a marvelous team-up with Michigan to perform the Game of Thrones show... I know that wasn’t easy and your two groups really pulled it off.
  • Purdue: Purdue had everything from Daft Punk to Aretha. The trumpet licks at the intro to “Open Up Wide” were memorable - that entire show was something special. Purdue is always exciting, and I’m glad that your Band was rewarded with some great crowds and memorable games to carry the season. I also need to make an excuse before too long to revisit West Lafayette and see the AAMB live in action.
  • Rutgers: Like Northwestern, you get an award for doing more with less. I’m impressed by your consistent drill and great sound. The Wicked and ‘80’s show really stuck out as something solid. I really, really wish that there was a better recording of the Michael Jackson show... the snippet that I did hear of “Billy Jean” sounded outstanding.
  • Wisconsin: It’s the end of an era. Congratulations to Mike Leckrone on 50 years at the Badger helm and may he enjoy his retirement.


Best part of Off Beat Empire this year?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    It was the Twirlers
    (18 votes)
  • 67%
    I really enjoyed the analysis of... nah... who are you kidding... it was the Twirlers
    (37 votes)
55 votes total Vote Now


Only two videos to share today, MSU and OSU.

Michigan State

For their finale against Rutgers, Michigan State performed a variety of selections somehow related to the Marvel Universe. The band opened with “Marvel Fanfare” and then transitioned into the theme from “Captain America”. As is usually the case for the Spartan Band, the sound for both is incredibly full and rich and there is always nice contrast between the build and the big hits. However, the Spartans seemed to be playing things a bit safe on drill, with only a bit of block drill to start and then principally a shield shape for Captain America. The Band then performed a couple of hits from the Guardians of the Galaxy mix tape, Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” and Marvin Gaye’s and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. I’m a bit bummed that these were performed away from the microphone as I would have loved to hear the big hits on “Hooked on a Feeling”, but even on the opposite side of the stadium, it still sounded great. Finally, the Spartans finished with the theme from “The Avengers”, including some nice high trumpet work toward the beginning of the tune. Overall it was an entertaining show, but a bit simple on the drill and a bit shorter than most Spartan performances in order to recognize the seniors (shown in the video below).

Ohio State

Ohio State decided to celebrate the Holidays early and open their favorite, if familiar gift... a victory over Michigan. The Buckeye Band gave us a variety of Christmas Carols, including (in order), “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, “Mr. Grinch”, the main theme from “Elf”, something that for the life of me I can’t figure out, “Polar Express”, and “Carol of the Bells”. Each tune was covered by the usual fantastic animation drill, including Snowflakes, the Grinch pinching a present, Elf snowball tosses, a fantastic steam locomotive, and ringing bells. I will say this... at least the Buckeyes waited until after Thanksgiving to start playing carols! The sound is good as always, but none of these arrangements were particularly complex (most just had enough time to introduce the key theme), so there wasn’t much room for OSU to really show us their chops. Still, the crowd was thoroughly entertained throughout the show and this is another fine performance in a long list of great performances over the course of this year. Now, do you think that Haskins could continue this theme and “gift” a few turnovers to my ‘Cats? I’ll be a good boy... I’ll even be nice to Baton Twirlers...


It’s been a fun year and thanks for those of you who continue to read and comment in these. I’m probably going to make a few changes next year, but I’ll save those until a little closer to the season (and any and all ideas are appreciated, as would any participation on the part of those of you who would like to share your own stories).

I know I’ve talked a lot about Mike Leckrone’s retirement this year, but it is a rare occasion when a 50-year directors steps down and he deserves all the pomp he can get. Therefore, I’m adding this new video from this past Saturday with Mr. Leckrone dismissing the band for the last time (at Camp Randall, anyway - there are still other events before the Badger Band is done for the year). Again, congratulations to Mr. Leckrone and we all hope you enjoy your well-earned retirement.