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Off Beat Empire: Going on Parade

Who wouldn’t want to go for an urban hike while wearing a costume and blowing into an instrument?

Marching Bands
Be vigilant for the horse droppings

In light of a reader comment regarding Rutgers being invited to the 2023 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, I figured that I would talk briefly about B1G Marching Bands taking to the street.

If you’ve been a part of a Marching Band in Junior High or High School, you’re well aware that a few key dates are a required local civic duty. Memorial Day, July 4th, Homecoming, and usually some form of Thanksgiving / Christmas parade are a staple of local Marching Bands (and a big reason why most members and their families don’t take vacations when everybody else goes on break - kind of annoying, actually).

Not only do you march for your own home town, but high schools will actively look to expand the map, maybe targeting a different regional parade or two held on a different day than your home town (lovely Dearborn in one instance for me, and Windsor Canada another year). Some will even organize trips to enter into certain parades; in my case, July 4th in DC one year and the all-important Traverse City Cherry Festival (no... it was not important, but I have a funny story of my then small / thin brother sinking into an air mattress and the entire staff freaking out because he was missing for morning roll call before they found him asleep in his bed).

Participation in parades pretty much disappears by the time you get into college. There is an expectation that you march in the Homecoming parade, but that’s usually (or at least in my experience at Northwestern), not much more of a route than what I would normally take going from my dorm to my northernmost course on campus. I mean, Evanston doesn’t really roll out the red carpet for Northwestern events, so I’m shocked that they even let us close down Sheridan road for a parade. Maybe its different in other towns that aren’t so aloof from their key source of employment and income.

Aside from that, the only college parade expectation that I’ve ever had is that you march in formation from the practice area to the stadium, and then you might have a parade or two as part of Bowl festivities (the second parade in our instance was at Disney World in return for a half day in the park). Of course, some parades carry more cache than others...

People atttend the 2022 Rose Bowl Parade Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Should B1G bands do more parading? First off, let me qualify by saying that a few probably do and I’m just not aware of it (in which case let me know in the comments). Second, we’re probably only talking about one additional opportunity, which would be a Thanksgiving / Christmas event. Finally, I guess it depends on how much you want to reach out to the community. Chicago’s Annual Festival of Lights seems like it would be a natural fit for an appearance by Northwestern, especially given that it is after Thanksgiving and before the Holidays. However, despite making the city a part of our marketing campaign and maintaining a downtown graduate school campus, the ‘Cats probably do less to engage the public in Chicago than Evanston. Public universities, especially those located near major population centers, should probably make a goodwill effort through an appearance or two over a few years.

All that said, as a collegiate Marching Band member, parades kind of suck. Thanksgiving / Christmas parades are cold in the Midwest - my instrument actually froze in Windsor. You have the traditional horse pie avoidance issues, no matter how much effort that clean-up crew attempts to provide. Unless the parade is on campus and especially if it is out of your “home” metro area, you might not feel the same civic connection that you used to in High School.

Bowl parades are usually obligatory, incredibly uncomfortable if you don a full uniform in a warm-weather location, and can tire you out before the big game. Specifically, that Rose Bowl parade was a beast... six miles in Pasadena in full uniform (which you have to get up early for on New Year’s Day) to be followed by one of the biggest, most emotionally-draining games that non-CFP B1G teams will ever achieve (I slept so hard on that flight home). Most Bands won’t do anything special to please the crowd, either... basically, you’re going to hear a lot of cadence (drum line only while the rest of the band just marches) and an occasional fight song or two. I mean... would it kill a few bands to learn and play “Sleigh Ride” (the best Christmas parade song, ever) once or twice? The point is, this is usually a half-assed affair intended to satisfy minimal requirements with the host city and maybe make your alumni proud for 30 seconds before the Star Wars 501st Legion comes through with Lord Vader (I laughed so damn hard when I first saw that, not realizing that it had indeed become a thing).

Anyway, the student in me would have been pissed to freeze in downtown Chicago, understood that the Bowl parades were trade-offs for other fun experiences, and otherwise was pretty much over the novelty of parades a few years into high school. I prefer what my community band did this 4th of July, sitting on a trailer and getting pulled through town. However, if you want to engage communities, free parades on city streets versus playing for a select few with a ticket are one of the best ways to do it, and maybe something that more B1G bands should engage in.


B1G Marching Bands in Parades?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Only makes sense for Homecoming
    (9 votes)
  • 16%
    They should at least join a Holiday parade in the town where their campus is
    (24 votes)
  • 28%
    Maybe for large events in the regional metro area
    (41 votes)
  • 22%
    Only for nationally-televised parades, like Macy’s
    (32 votes)
  • 1%
    The season is over and my team only won one game. Let me mourn in peace and solitude
    (2 votes)
  • 6%
    Parades are stupid and should be cancelled for everyone, immediately
    (10 votes)
  • 18%
    The thought of the twirler accidentally stepping in horse droppings sounds entertaining
    (26 votes)
144 votes total Vote Now

Pre-Game of the Week

This week, we’ll take a closer look at the Penn State Blue Band pre-game versus Ohio State on Oct. 29th.

  • I kind of like how the drum-line stretches out across the field on their entrance.
  • And I thought that the Minnesota student attendance for pre-game was impressive. Bravo Penn State fans! I realize this is for Ohio State, but can somebody tell me if it’s like this for every game? Actual specific crowd cheers just for the run-on entry is impressive.
  • That is quite a slow and deliberate run-on, but quantity is a quality all of its own. It’s interesting to watch things build. However, at ~50 seconds, that’s the equivalent of 5 Minnesotas taking the field.
  • Quite a fanfare. Hitting the whole stadium, I see.
  • I apparently missed the Minnesota back bend last week. I can’t quite see what the Blue Band drum major is doing, but it looks like the splits? That maneuver would literally kill me at this age.
  • He seems to repeat it after the Band comes down the field, but still can’t quite make it out clearly.
  • No conference flags. Interesting.
  • Sound is great, especially on that second fanfare after the block moves to the center field.
  • ‘Merica appropriately honored.
  • Linear transition to PSU was smooth.
  • The “Lions” counter-march is kind of cool.
  • Reverse Lions works, but despite talking about spreading sound last week, I’m pretty sure that the far sideline could have figured out the first “Lions” spelling.
  • Hmmm... “We Will Rock You” / “Rock and Roll Pt. 2” / ?“Day-O”? (no clue what that call-and-response was) tunnel. That’s different.
  • Lots and lots of crowd participation. Your stadium really knows this pre-game show, apparently.
  • Unfortunately, video cuts off before the run-off, so I’m not quite sure what that looks like.
  • I can’t tell... did they play something for OSU in the middle or not? I heard “Ohio” mentioned, but if that was an OSU song, it sure didn’t sound like the “Buckeye Battle Cry” or “Across the Field”. Maybe they didn’t play it because OSU was there, themselves.

Anyway... dang... that crowd was there and fired up. Again, somebody is going to have to tell me if this is every week, or only when OSU comes to town.

Halftime Shows

As a reminder, scoring rules are here. I was afraid that I was going to have to start dishing out some “Salute to the Troops” penalties while insisting I’m as patriotic and troop-loving as everybody else, but this week’s bands spared me that need while still highlighting two branches of the armed services.

Win: All-American Marching Band (+9), Nov. 5th “American Celebration”

I was convinced this was going to be a “Salute” deduction. However, Purdue avoided that pitfall and while the show starts out as traditional Americana, it gradually morphs into what turns out to be a really good Big Band Swing show. The first arrangement is a “Johnny Comes Marching Home” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” mash-up with some interesting interludes and fanfares (including an interesting discordant fanfare to open). The band then goes into a mostly Park N’ Bark “Swinging Doodle Dandy”, which I actually found to be quite an entertaining arrangement with a lot of good licks mixed in. George M. Cohen would have been proud. Finally, having introduced the swing, we finish with “In the Mood” and “Sing, Sing, Sing”.

The sound is fantastic. Everything is clear, concise, and you get a lot of energy in all the punches where it’s supposed to be. Purdue’s trumpets have to be the best in the conference (with maybe some stiff competition from MSU). I really liked the rifles from the color guard, and the dance team earned their feature. Drill was enough for the show, but there were a lot of pauses and I don’t quite understand how so many shows this year (for all schools) seem to have so many scatter drills between certain sets. Can’t you just work out a transition? It’s almost like two different people wrote different sections of drill, and they just didn’t think how to put it together.

Anyway, I digress, but sound put this show over-the-top whereas I think the next group had better drill and almost won for it...

Place: Illinois Marching Illini (+6), Nov. 5th “Tribute to Space”

The Illini gave us an entertaining space show, which features classics like “Auch Sprach Zarathustra”, the new “Star Trek” theme (what is it called... Kelvin timeline? Man... I’m such a nerd if I got that right...), “Jupiter”, and snippets of (I believe) “Space Oddity”. They did get a bit of a tie-in to Veterans Day with an introductory video from a Space Force member, but this really didn’t seem to have much in common with the military branch beyond that.

Side note: I think it’s interesting that a Nietzsche quote is now basically more famous as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I also kind of want to know when people stopped saying “Auch” and started saying “Also”. It was always “Auch” when I was younger, so I’m keeping it!

Back to the show... the Illini are clean as always and the drill for this show is complete, so I almost bumped it up to the win. However, it just didn’t have the same musical punch as the Purdue show, and ultimately I feel like Purdue’s sound was better. The actual drill portion was also fairly short to make room for the Dad’s Day traditional portion, as well as the 3-in-1. So, a very good show and probably the best drill of the week, but not enough to overcome Purdue’s sound.

Show: Indiana Marching Hundred (+4), Nov. 5th “The Sound of Soul”

Disregard the title in YouTube, as the “10” is a typo and this really came from this past Saturday. Indiana gives us a variety of “Soul” melodies including music of Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, and Cee Lo Green. In addition to the normal dance routine of the RedSteppers, the show also features Indiana’s African-American Dance Company. Drill is simple and a bit more Park N’ Bark than I normally want to see, but the sound is pretty good throughout.

Others Receiving Votes

Nebraska Cornhusker Marching Band (+2), Nov. 5th “Wild Blue Yonder”

Nebraska used Veterans Day to feature one component of the armed services and recognize the 75th anniversary of the US Air Force founding. Including the Foo Fighters “Learn to Fly“, “Lord Guard and Guide All Those That Fly” (the Air Force Hymn), and “Wild Blue Yonder”. The camera angle is a bit off, but still decent for the show and the Cornhuskers sound and look quite good. I did go back-and-forth as to whether or not this or the Indiana show was worthy of the bronze, and I could make a case either way, but ultimately I thought Indiana’s sound was a bit better (which I’ve been second-guessing as to whether or not that is true, or if it’s microphone placement issue). Anyway, this is a solid show from Nebraska.

(N/A), Oct. 29th “West Side Story”

I highlighted a difficult camera angle last week as Honorable Mention, but one of our readers, SuperKev88, posted a much better version on YouTube and linked in the comments after the article was published. The sound is great and this is a very high quality show - I’m glad we got a better view of it. It’s worth checking out again if you only saw last week’s version.

Wisconsin Badgers Marching Band (+2), Oct. 22nd “??? Corazon Espinado”

I missed this a few weeks back, but saw it pop up when I found the video below (and I’ve now got a new YouTube source for more Badgers shows). I cannot understand the PA announcer at all and the only tune I really recognize was Santana’s “Corazon Espinado” toward the end, but I will say that I liked the show. In particular, I think the opening (drill-wise) was a bit different from what you see for most Wisconsin shows and I think it worked well.

(+2) Nov. 5th “Bruno Mars”

The Badgers give us multiple tunes from Bruno Mars, although I have to admit that I don’t know much of his work outside of “Uptown Funk” (which is really Mark Ronson’s song) and “24K Magic”. As is typical for the Badgers, you get a very active high step performance and a lot of volume.

Did Not Play, Coach’s Decision

The only other bands that was in action this past Saturday would have been Rutgers and Northwestern. I didn’t see anything online for Rutgers yet. I did see the Northwestern show live, which was very similar and almost identical music choices to the Illini show that was pretty good. It was interesting to watch the flag corps struggle in pregame, though, due to the wind. I thought we were going to lose one or two of them like a blown-away kite...

Readers’ Choice


Which show was your favorite?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    Purdue "American Celebration"
    (46 votes)
  • 58%
    Illinois "Tribute to Space"
    (102 votes)
  • 0%
    Indiana "The Sound of Soul"
    (1 vote)
  • 1%
    Nebraska "Wild Blue Yonder"
    (2 votes)
  • 3%
    Wisconsin Unknown (Oct. 22nd)
    (6 votes)
  • 1%
    Wisconsin "Bruno Mars"
    (2 votes)
  • 9%
    I would prefer that the bands just march around in a circle behind Shriners on horses
    (16 votes)
175 votes total Vote Now

Scoring Update

Minnesota seemed to get an early surge and held on with 31% of the vote for their “Trailblazers” show and an additional three points. Nebraska made a late surge to get to 22% with “West Side Story”, which seemed to be aided by a better version of the show getting posted in the comments. I’m a bit surprised that the Minnesota show was picked, but it did have a catchy dance sequence and I get the feeling that a few more Gophers are reading this article than some other schools (which I’m fine with - in the spirit of the Cook County election today when I’m writing this, vote early and vote often).

Updated results 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

Those extra three points really put Minnesota in a good position for both the Constructors and Average Performance standings. Purdue and Illinois have taken a step up to the top as well, and if they win this week’s Readers Poll, they could be right in the mix to challenge OSU for the top Constructors spot.