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Off Beat Empire: Turning Your Back on Loyal Fans

Demand sound equality!

Akron v Wisconsin
This is not the best view of your favorite band
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

As we sit on the “eve” of the live action snuff performance called Northwestern vs. Ohio State (which I am for some reason taking Friday off to travel back to Chicago to view), I was thinking about a marketing initiative that Northwestern undertook several years back where they decided to move the student section and encouraged many season ticket holders to shift seats to the East (far) side.

Given Chicago tourist appeal, big populations of B1G expatriates, and available cheap tickets for opposing fan bases, the television optics had become particularly bad when all the “at large” seats in television view were in the opposing team’s colors. Nobody wants to see 10,000 drooling Cornhuskers wearing red outside of Lincoln. Some of us don’t want to see them, ever (I keed… but not really).

Now, when Northwestern made the pitch, they pulled out all the stops to make it seem like the new section was gonna be awesome… better views, you’re right by the energy of the student section, the team was going to switch sidelines every so often, and you were going to have unique and better food choices. In reality… the East gets Sun in their eyes more often, the aerodynamics are such that every cold and wet wind seems to blow there in full force, I think most of the independent food choices are gone, you still get a lot of opposing fans on that side, the team never did commit to switching their sideline, and you can’t see the video board. Basically, it ended up being like rooms sold in the John Hancock building with real estate agents trying to convince you that the diagonal external girder interfering with your view was a “premium”.

The other thing that you have on the far sideline, which is true of just about every B1G stadium, is that you are usually on the wrong side of Marching Band halftime performances. Just about every musical instrument ever developed was intended to be directional, with an audience on one side and the performers on the other. As such, Marching Bands by habit pick a “home” side to play to, and some of the fans get a great halftime show, whereas the rest are reminded that they are lower in the pecking order. That’s one thing for a Ryan Field with limited seating on the far side. It’s another matter when you start talking about the larger stadiums, like Michigan Stadium, Camp Randall, the Horseshoe, Spartan Stadium, etc. There are a lot of home fans sitting on the opposite side who I’m sure would like to hear the band as well.

Is it possible to do something different? Yes. Most bands will face in at least three, if not four directions for pregame, so sound is spread out across the stadium. These are usually in short spurts, though, or when the band is marching from one side of the field to the other. You can do it for halftime as well, and many high school and competition bands will have a conductor on the far side for those who have to turn around, occasionally. Wisconsin’s style, which is more of a pregame type straight line transition to shapes, usually includes a portion of the band facing the opposite side. The Illini 3-in-1 faces different directions, and occasionally I’ve seen Indiana, Penn State, and even Ohio State turn around for a tune during halftime (usually Park N’ Park).

However, there is only a limited amount of sound available to your band, and any decision to face another direction inevitably involves trade-offs.

If you do split your band on the field in different directions, then each side gets only half of what they have come to expect as a Big Ten sound / volume. Drill would be much harder to design, as you would have to make sure that there is a mix of instruments rather than having all the trumpets face one side and the tubas the other. There is also an issue with phasing (sound delay getting to different parts of the field) and just generally listening to other sections to make sure things stay in sync. You can do this, but your band better be large enough to be able to bring it on both sides of the field, drill design (often a weak afterthought for many college bands) needs to be top notch, and you’ve really got to work at keeping the music together.

If you decide that you’re going to just play a tune or two to the other side of the field, one side is going to win and the other is going to lose. It may be a more fair distribution of the performance, but I will admit, I get annoyed when I’m trying to review some of these shows and all I get is muffled sound because the band is pointing in the wrong direction. As a non-sucker, home side ticket holder, snobbish elitist at Ryan Field, I think I would also be annoyed in person if some of the show started taking place in the opposite direction.

What about the people in the end zones? You’re just screwed. Those are the cheap seats for a reason.

Anyway, I’m curious if any of you on the far side feel disrespected by your Marching Bands, and whether or not you think they should do more to play to the entire stadium rather than a privileged few.

Side note: As a regular attendee of Bowl Games and / or the B1G Championship game a few years back, I have this bit of advice. If 90% of your fans are on the far side of the field, you turn your band around and you play to them. The minute that you will get on television between ESPN’s promo of the Wireless Phone Company Bowl and showing the highlights of the other games is not worth pissing off your most loyal supporters. Got that Northwestern? You haven’t seemed to for the last two decades.


Should bands play more to the opposite side of the field?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Of course
    (44 votes)
  • 21%
    Only for a tune or two
    (31 votes)
  • 14%
    Two-sided shows are too difficult to pull off. Stick to what works
    (21 votes)
  • 8%
    No. I’m on the home side and want it all to myself
    (13 votes)
  • 2%
    No. I’ve been drinking for a while at that point, and want some peace and quiet to recover before the teams come back
    (4 votes)
  • 14%
    I don’t care, I’m going to the bathroom or getting concessions
    (21 votes)
  • 8%
    I just really like looking at capes
    (12 votes)
146 votes total Vote Now

Pre-Game of the Week

For this week, we have video from the Minnesota Marching Band on Oct. 1st.

  • Wait a minute... your students actually show up before most of the general crowd?! How is this possible!
  • Beautiful conference flags. Glad to see that everyone has done that thus far.
  • Wow... you really just go for it in the run-on. No single line for you. I have to say that it’s nice that you’re in your positions within 10 second, though. That is impressive for a band that size coming out of the tunnel.
  • Those spats look so nice coming down the field.
  • Nice transition to the Diamond.
  • I have to say, I keep noticing the quality of the Minnesota flag corp in their shows. For some reason, the activity around the diamond just stuck out to me as being good. It seems to ease off after that, though.
  • Battle Hymn of the Republic. I know that the swinging gates are MNWildcat’s favorite (Morgan Freeman Narrator Voice: No, no they are not). I like the arrangement in the opening, but it does take a long time to develop without much energy.
  • Yay! 270 degree turns!
  • I like the energy in the drum interlude before the “M”. Nice use of capes.
  • Very imperial-sounding instrumental transition to the “M”.
  • I have a soft spot for the Minnesota Rouser. It was an Alto Sax tradition when we played Minnesota that we performed it as an 18-part round, which works better than you might think. “Gophers!... Gophers!... Yaaaaaayyyyy Gophers!” is also one of my favorite in fight-song cheers in the conference.
  • Goldy is adorable.
  • Rotating “M” was quite well done. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that for anybody else.
  • Gophers love ‘Merica.
  • Tunnel works.
  • Nice easy run-off to your seats.
  • Interesting that there was no opponent fight song, though. I guess I understand “Minnesota Nice” a bit better.
  • No drum major back bend, either.

Anyway, another fine conference pre-game show to get the fans fired up. Nice job, Gophers.


We got a few glimpses of traveling bands this week (although they were repeats, but really good sounding repeats). I also have to say... this is a time of year when there’s less home games in a row (so more time to work on shows) and the Freshman are really coming into their own, so we start to see some pretty high quality shows. I’m impressed with all the performances that I was able to get video on for this week.

Win: Michigan Marching Band (+9), Oct. 29th “Día de los Muertos”

The Wolverines give us a different Halloween take by featuring a Mexican Day of the Dead celebration. Songs feature “Recuérdame” from Coco, “El Son de la Negra”, and La Llorona. Latin music always seems to translate very well to marching bands, and these arrangements really have a lot going that is musically interesting.

The sound is just incredibly clean... I’m not sure I could pick out a single mis-placed note or lick that wasn’t crystal clear in the whole performance. So many different voices were featured that there was just an excellent give-and-take throughout the show, especially in the middle tune. The dance feature was solid, and the flags were wonderfully colorful and festive. Performing under the lights also seemed to add a nice touch.

Overall, a very well-executed and entertaining show.

Place: Penn State Blue Band (+6), Oct. 29th “Halloween Show”

Penn State gives us a truly horrifying opening scene, with the Twirler and mangy rug that they call a mascot joining together to enjoy an evening of scary pictures! Kind of a cute way to weave in the story, but we have an opening of “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” (always a classic Halloween tune).

Other tunes include things like the theme to “Saw” (which I have never seen, and I kept trying to determine if PSU was playing some version of “Live and Let Die”) and what I assume is the theme from Squid Game (although now that I looked up the Squid theme, I’m not so sure).

The music is great, but I’ve never watched Stranger Things, Saw, or Squid Game, so I’m a bit lost here on anything but the most obvious references. Anyway, the Taccotta opening was fantastic sounding - just a nice punch from the get go - and everything else that followed sounded great. I really liked the energy of the last tune as well, but I’m not sure what that came from (starts around 7:24) if somebody could fill me in. Drill was complete... a couple of halting moments, but the Blue Band seemed to fit in a full number of sets.

All that said, you should have just let them take the Blue Sapphire Twirler away forever, rabid Beaver mascot.

Show: Minnesota Marching Band (+4), Oct. 29th “Trailblazers”

So, now it’s Minnesota’s turn to do a nod to Title IX. As an aside, I realize that every audience only sees these shows once and that in a stretch of 6-7 performances, this is kind of a nice theme to have. That said, if you’re me and you look at eight of these in one season, you start to want to punch a nail through your eyeball... There is a reason why I introduced negative points for certain shows, but I really missed which one was going to drive me nuts this season.

With that rant aside, this is very well performed by the Gophers. They play a number of hits from women, ranging from Beyonce to Whitney to Aretha to Lizzo (I love how I can just give first names and everyone knows who I’m talking about). The music sounds very good, we once again get some rifles from the color guard (which I wish more B1G bands would do), and we get a wonderful band dance as well that isn’t “Thriller” (I don’t know Beyonce... somebody has to tell me if this is a thing that goes with her “Single Ladies” or just a random dance from Minnesota). I really thought the drill was complete as well (really liked the OSU-style stick figure dance), and like I said above, I feel like this is an example of a band coming into its own after a hectic early schedule and starting to raise its game in the last few weeks.

I also want to point out that the Gophers do a substantial amount of playing to the far side! I swear, I did not know that before I started, but you can see what it’s like when the bands share sound with the far side.

Honorable Mention: Nebraska Cornhusker Marching Band (+3), Oct. 29th “West Side Story”

I don’t know who this person is who keeps posting Nebraska videos this year, but I thank her, and am yet continually a bit frustrated that her seats are in a back corner where we don’t get a proper view or full sound of the show. I feel like the Nebraska Marching Band has a high level of quality and musicianship attached to it, but I haven’t been able to give them full credit for that in some of their rankings this year just because the video hasn’t been there.

Anyway, even with the band facing the opposite direction, this seemed like a good rendition of “West Side Story” and performed at a level that seems to be above the average show this year. Again, I’m happy that I’m finally starting to get some video on this clearly solid ensemble, but I really hope that the Cornhuskers can start regularly posting to an official YouTube channel sometime in the coming years, as I think we would all enjoy their shows and I think they would rank higher for the season.

Others Receiving Votes

Michigan State Spartan Marching Band (N/A), Oct. 29th “Progressive Rock”

This is a repeat of the show that I included a couple of weeks ago, so no points, but I said it sounded great then, and I think it sounds even better with a bit more time and performed under the lights on the road. Only, you know... don’t play Rush.

Ohio State Buckeyes (N/A), Oct. 29th “Buckeye Jazz Cafe”

Also a repeat from earlier in the season for a road show, this really should be called the Buckeye B1G Band show. Tunes feature “Swing, Swing, Swing” and “On Fire”. Now, when this was played earlier in the year, I mildly criticized the sound, which just seemed garbled and didn’t quite hit the big punches.

This performance is completely different... the sound here is clear and fantastic with a bunch of good little licks coming through. I don’t know if it was more time to work on it or possibly just better microphone placement, but while this is shorter than the version earlier this year, it is worth listening to again. That opening drill is also really impressive.

Penn State Blue Band (+2), Oct. 22nd “Generations of Greatness”

This is a 98.7% Park N’ Bark featuring the alumni band, so only minimal points in play, but I have to say that it sounds absolutely fantastic, or maybe I should say “Fantasmic” (the first tune - I’m performing all week and please tip your waiter or waitress). The other non-school tune is “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”.

Reader’s Choice


Which was your favorite?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Michigan "Día de los Muertos
    (10 votes)
  • 9%
    Penn State "Halloween Show"
    (9 votes)
  • 30%
    Minnesota "Trailblazers"
    (29 votes)
  • 22%
    Nebraska "West Side Story"
    (21 votes)
  • 1%
    Penn State "Generations of Greatness" (I’m blind and just listen)
    (1 vote)
  • 25%
    In the spirit of this week’s topic, I’m turning my back on this poll
    (24 votes)
94 votes total Vote Now

Scoring Update

There was plenty of love for all the shows last week, including 27% for Maryland Terrapin’s John Williams show (which surprised me a little, but shouldn’t have).

However, the combined voting block of Iowa and Ohio State plus a really great and entertaining Elton John show have the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes earning first place in the Readers’ Poll at 40%. Three additional points for each band. Let that be a lesson to all... join forces and play well and you can get a load of points.

Revised standings are as follows:

Constructor’s Cup Standings*

School Total
School Total
Ohio State 47
Michigan 42
Illinois 37
Purdue 34
Penn State 31
Minnesota 29
Michigan State 27
Maryland 21
Nebraska 19
Indiana 15
Iowa 15
Wisconsin 12
Rutgers 6
Northwestern 2
* Does not include this week’s Readers’ Poll

Performance Average Standings*

School Average
School Average
Iowa 7.50
Ohio State 6.71
Penn State 6.20
Illinois 6.17
Michigan 6.00
Purdue 5.67
Minnesota 4.83
Michigan State 4.50
Maryland 4.20
Indiana 3.00
Nebraska 2.38
Northwestern 2.00
Rutgers 2.00
Wisconsin 2.00
* Does not include this week’s Readers’ Poll

When I was putting the rules together this year, if you would have told me that Iowa would be leading the average performance standings going into November, I would have laughed out loud. Yet, here they are, and the fact that they don’t post often might actually leave them in a position to win the category. I might have to change some rules next year (I have a two show minimum for average, but think I might need to make that three or four), but hey... good for the Hawkeyes to team up with OSU and really get their points. I’m not as surprised by OSU and Michigan leading the total points standings right now, but huge props to Minnesota for being in fourth place at this point in the season. I would not have expected that, either (although they have a great YouTube game).

There is still time for everyone (except my beloved ‘Cats... the YouTube game just was not there this season, much like our offense and defense for big stretches). The fact that the number of entries has consolidated given conference play could also leave more room for others to claim one of the top weekly points slots. I just hope that bands avoid the “Salute to the Services” point traps in the next two weeks (everyone did seem to manage to avoid a “Thriller” dance deduction this year).