It’s that wonderful time of year again. Grills are being lit in parking lots. School colors are blooming on campus. Dreams are being shattered by “inferior” opponents (cough Duke cough). And… the sweet sound of 100-300 blaring instruments and banging drums are once again serenading B1G fans across the country.
By way of introduction for those who might be new, here, this is OTE’s place to celebrate B1G Bands. I, your humble (and non-paid) correspondent will usually cover a brief topic for the week, and then highlight videos for various Marching Band halftime shows that have been posted on YouTube.
Some things about me relevant to the column…
- I am not an expert. I played Alto Sax for four years in Northwestern University’s Marching Band in the ‘90’s – great years that included the Rose Bowl. However, I do not have a music degree or any other special knowledge beyond my own experience. Everything you read here will be the rambling thoughts of an amateur far removed from the days of direct involvement.
- I am not a journalist, either. Don’t always expect proper English, or journalistic ethics to be followed.
- I don’t take myself seriously. Disagree with me… great… it means you read something and left a comment. Bonus points if you make me laugh with an insult (but, you know, don’t post really hateful stuff to me or anyone else – adhere to the standards of the site). I want to hear what all of you think… I already know what I think.
- I am technologically challenged. Seriously, I don’t even have a personal cell phone. I’m not on Facebook. I’m not on Twitter. I’m sure as hell not on Tik Tok, Snapchat, AOL, myspace, or whatever else is the hot communication app right now. If news is breaking with regard to any of the Bands, there is a 95%+ chance that I will miss it. This is not the place to come if you want the latest scuttlebutt on which Director is leaving and who is coming in or anything like that. However, if you know something about a program that you want to discuss, please share in the comments.
- I’m very dependent on posted YouTube videos for the Halftime shows. Some schools are great at regularly posting (Ohio State, Michigan, MSU, etc.). Some are not (Nebraska, Iowa, etc.). If I’m not commenting on your school, it’s probably because I just can’t find a video.
- I would be ecstatic to have anybody else contribute from their own experience, or review shows for a week, or anything else that you might want to add. I had a great contribution from StewartRL a few years back. Anybody else who wants to get involved, please let me know.
- I mostly just want to feature our great bands. I might have some mild criticism from time-to-time, but it is never my intent to put any single program down. Frankly, I’m proud of all of them – they all work hard and represent our conference and traditions well.
- That said, I do pick my favorites. More on that below.
- Aside from the topic of the week, this column focuses on halftime shows. Why not pre-game? Well, because it doesn’t change from week-to-week like most halftime shows do. It would be pretty boring to show the same entrance each week, even though pre-game shows are great for getting the crowd fired up.
- Yes, this column is incredibly niche. I am overjoyed when I get 15+ comments in a week. Not your thing? I get it. However, don’t feel like you need to be a former band member to participate. All you have to do is have something to say about Marching Bands, or even just music in general.
- I’m a wild man with no boundaries ready to stir up controversy at the drop of a hat. Read at your own peril. When I first started, one of my articles got the most pushback that this site has ever seen by saying that Twirlers don’t belong in Marching Bands. Seriously. Comments in the hundreds... poll responses in the thousands... angry tweets every fraction of a second (I have to take my editors’ words on that one, given I’m not even on Twitter). Out of all the controversial topics that have been discussed, here, my article is apparently the one that almost got pulled by corporate. It was hilarious. I will continue referring to it for years, because it was so damn funny. For the record, I still don’t like Twirlers in our Bands, but I would happily let any Twirler advocate take over this column for a week in rebuttal (nobody has, yet)!
This Time, It’s for Real (but not really)
Now, to explain the title. I’ve decided this year to semi-formalize a scoring system, because there is nothing that OTE (or the internet for that matter) embraces more than a chance to argue about numbers, lists, and rankings. Previously, I awarded the coveted Off Beat Empire “Win”, “Place”, or “Show” designation (plus “Honorable Mentions”) that was followed by dozens… literally dozens (OK, maybe more like 5-6 people). This year, I’m going to track performances over the year, and keep a running tally as to who is winning the Constructor Championship (total points – yes, I’ve been watching F-1) and Performance Average.
The totally scientific, objective, indisputable primary scoring system will be as follows:
- Win: +7
- Place: +4
- Show: +2
- Honorable Mention (only if I feel there should be one): +1
- Ties are allowed with full points.
- Readers’ pick (poll each week): +3
- Full video posted on YouTube (by school or fan): +2
- Partial video posted: +1
Why award bands just because they publish online? Because letting the world see their performances is a good thing. Even if the Bands themselves don’t publish their performances, having passionate fans who do is good and gets rewarded.
Modifiers and Deductions
Now, for the special Off Beat Empire modifiers / pet peeves. If there is one thing that I have come to not enjoy over the years of doing this, it would be reviewing the same exact show over… and over… and over again because all Marching Bands have the same basic formula each-and-every year.
So, point deductions are as follows (and keep in mind that I haven’t looked at the videos yet for the first few weeks):
- Between Heroes Day (Sept. 11th) and Veterans Day (November 11th), we always get a patriotic show. I love this country as much as anybody and I love the troops, but after years and years of “Salute to the Troops”, I just can’t take it anymore. -1 penalty for “Salute” and another -1 penalty if it doesn’t cover all the services (this includes Coast Guard and Space Force – I don’t care if they don’t have an official theme, yet).
- Musical or Movie category: If there was a notable musical biopic or hit new broadway show released that year, every band wants to play it. Hmmm… I wonder if anything this year qualifies…
- The King will be -1 (shame, really, because we haven’t historically had enough Elvis shows, but the rules are the rules).
- 50th Anniversary: Every year, we get “50 years ago, the world was introduced to…”. OK, biggest album in 1972 was… Neil Young. Biggest Movie was… oh… the Godfather. I cannot in good conscience deduct for a Godfather halftime show (full gangster show would be awesome), so just -1 for Neil Young. Anything else debut 50 years ago? Oh crap… Grease on Broadway. That will be a -2, because you’re the one I don’t want… ooh...ooh...ooh…… honey (RIP Olivia Newton-John).
- 25th Anniversary: Spice Girls (-1) and Titanic (I still have never seen it…-1).
- Thriller Dance for Halloween: -1 (yeah, I know it’s actually kinda fun, but you can’t do it every year…)
Other Off Beat Empire totally arbitrary awards and penalties:
- Any > 50% Park N’ Bark where the announcer says “Featuring our Twirler”: -2 (-1 if a Twirler “squad” and somewhat organized / in sync)
- Same thing featuring our Auxiliary or Color Guard: -1
- Note: It’s not the squads that I’m objecting to (well, mostly not the squads), but the laziness inherent in Park N’ Bark and using the Twirlers or the Flag Corps as a lame excuse. I reserve the right to not deduct if the squads do something really, really impressive that deserved to be featured.
- RedSteppers… you’re cool. It feels like a lot more work goes into their dance routines and they really are being featured. No deduction.
- An actual Heavy Metal show (Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC, Whitesnake, Cinderella, Motley Crue… heck… I’ll even take Poison). I don’t know why we never see these shows: +2
- Aerosmith. One of the best selling groups of all time, a lot of hit tunes that could be fun arrangements, and I’ve never heard anybody do them. Can you imagine the climax of “Dream On” as stand music with the team coming back in the 4th Quarter? It would be fantastic! +2
- Malaguena: +3
- Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” or a true (i.e. not jazzed up or sped up… we did that once at Northwestern, it was awful, and we put it on the CD so I still hear it every now-and-then) “Fanfare for the Common Man”: +3
- Special bonus for originality (will be rare – example would include MSU’s Africa show a few years back): +2
- Teamwork, meaning two B1G Bands play a combined full show with real drill: +4 each
- Rush: Neil Peart is not a genius. -5
- I can only go by what was posted within the week. A school or fan posts four shows at once? They get full posting credit, but are only eligible for points that week. I can’t be going back and re-scoring if a video comes in a month later.
- Repeat shows don’t count.
- Band Days don’t count.
- The Illinois Three-in-One doesn’t count (I mean, it does, but not for the purposes above).
- Minimum entries to qualify for Weekly Average category is two.
Off Beat Empire’s Pre-Season top 5:
- Ohio State (The Best Damn Band in the Land): I really wanted to put Michigan State, here, but the Buckeyes are just so consistently good that it’s tough to put anybody else in the top spot. Just like football, this is OSU’s default pre-season position until somebody takes it from them.
- Michigan State (Spartan Marching Band): Usually the Spartans have my favorite show of the year. However, they’re just not as consistent as the Buckeyes over the course of the season. I’m hoping for an upset.
- Michigan (Michigan Marching Band): Consistent high quality, but the Wolverines rarely blow me away like MSU can.
- Illinois (Marching Illini): I’ve liked watching the Marching Illini for the past few years. Their shows are typically solid, they’ve got a very good YouTube game, and I don’t think they are as predictable as some other schools (i.e. I don’t see a lot of deductions).
- Purdue (All-American Marching Band): The All-American Marching Band would probably rank higher (and will likely finish higher in the Weekly Average results), but YouTube coverage is sporadic. They do have some dedicated fans who like to post, though.
This poll is closed
I would add this Bonus / Penalty (see Comments)
You are stupid, your system is stupid, and these are the 20 reasons why...
Twirlers are awesome
Neil Peart IS a genius
Over the first few weeks, we have video from everyone except Iowa and Maryland
Win: Michigan State Marching Band (+9), Sept. 3rd “Stevie Wonder”
I mean, just listen to that opening of “Isn’t She Lovely” in the first 30 seconds. Full sound... bright trumpets... counter-melody from the horns coming through bright as day... rich low voices... clear, yet complex percussion support... color guard looks solid... This is everything that a world-class marching band should sound like, and more. The Spartans did not take it easy on the arrangement, either. That arrangement of “Sir Duke” sounds incredibly hard, and there are some fantastic trumpet and horn licks, especially around the three minute mark (maybe got a tiny bit off, but it ultimately held together). Drill was maybe a step below Ohio State’s this week, but it was plenty enough for the show and with that sound, you don’t need as much drill. I’ve got to find an excuse to get to East Lansing and hear one of these performances, live (I haven’t since 1993).
Place: Purdue University All-American Band (+6), Sept. 1st “80’s Music Party”
First off, Purdue now has a dedicated YouTube channel! Hooray! Thank you Purdue Bands & Orchestras. We get everything from Blondie to Madonna in this entertaining arrangement of ‘80’s pop hits. Purdue is so great when it comes to their big hit moments, and they show great dynamic range in lowering the volume (but still clearly delivering) the interludes between. The sound just blows me away. That said, as great as this performance is, it doesn’t quite have the same level of musical complexity that the Spartans brought to the field. The drill is also bit simpler with more than a fair amount of Park N’ Bark (no deduction for the dance squad... they earned their feature, as did the... sigh... Twirler squad). Still, a clear step above a lot of this weeks other shows and worthy of the silver.
Show: Purdue University All-American Marching Band (+4), Sept. 10th “Country and Western
Purdue’s got both kinds of music, Country, and Western! Purdue pours itself a cup of ambition with a fun show featuring everything from “East Bound and Down” to a variety of Dolly Parton hits (“9 to 5”, “Jolene”, and the duet with Kenny Rogers “Islands in the Stream”, to name a few). Just like above, that sound is just right there, in your face when it needs to be, but controlled and clear when the Band dials it back. A very entertaining show, but some points seemed to get a little sloppier than the ‘80’s show above and the drill seemed like it had more Park N’ Bark (it probably had just as many sets, but for some reason it just felt like less). Again, auxiliary squads earned their feature, so no deduction.
Indiana Hoosiers Marching Hundred (+3), Sept. 2nd “Let’s Go”
Well, we did end up with a 50 year anniversary show, but this is for Title IX. I wrote an article on it last year, but it’s still amazing to me that the B1G made it all the way to the 1970’s before some Marching Bands added women.
At first, I was just going to put this in other participants, but dang... that’s a really good, clear sound coming from the Marching Hundred. The show came close to penalties with “Featuring our Twirler” (I mean... seriously... even Indiana has a Twirler, now), but the band moved, so it’s all good (and the young lady has obvious talent... I must be softening in my old age).
Michigan University Marching Band (+3), Sept. 3rd and 10th “Crush”
First off, I made too many honorable mentions this week. I think it’s because my Northwestern experience and fandom (band arrives very late) conditions me to not expect much early in the season, and then I’m surprised when groups actually look pretty polished, because they don’t wait until October to start. This was actually one of the last videos I reviewed this week, and I spent a fair amount of time agonizing over whether it should be another honorable mention, or just appearance. The Wolverines gave us a variety of tunes built around a summer crush, and really more about the breakup (seriously Wolverines... did somebody hurt you this summer? You haven’t even lost to Duke, or Iowa State, or Georgia Southern...). Ultimately, the sound is really clear and the drill is decent, and I just can’t see marking the Wolverines lower than anybody else on the honorable mention list. That said, there just wasn’t much punch to the performance, either, and the Wolverines repeated the show. Ultimately, it’s clean enough to warrant the honorable mention, but not more.
Michigan State Spartan Marching Band (+3), Sept. 10th “SMB Pop”
The Spartans give us various Pop hits from the past 10 years, ranging from Taylor Swift to the Weekend. It’s Michigan State, so it sounds extremely good, but not quite good enough to my ear to earn one of the top spots. This didn’t seem to have the same punch as their show above. Still, the drill was decent and this is a quality show. I couldn’t quite see the dance squad on the opposite side, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and not impose any “featuring our...” deductions during Park N’ Bark.
Penn State Blue Band (+5), Sept. 10th “Blockbusters Show”
You did it! You beautiful blue bastards did it! Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine” to open a collection of big hits and I finally have a legit metal hit brought to halftime (+2 points). Not shabby picking Santana’s “Corazon Espinado” and the theme from “Top Gun”, either.
Really good sound from Penn State, here. The arrangements in particular seemed to be well done, especially with some tricky sound to translate. Drill wasn’t exactly the hardest I’ve seen, but still decent, especially for a first home game.
Ohio State (+3), Sept. 3rd “Buckeye Jazz Cafe”
Just one quick thing, first... when I think of Jazz, I think of what they kept on the Jukebox at the Ricky Bobby bar (in addition to Seal and the Pet Shop Boys for profiling purposes). I wish people would just call tunes like these swing, or Big Band (at least Big Band Jazz). We of course get the typically excellent Ohio State drill, but I have to say, the music just didn’t sound that impressive. It felt like they got off a bit throughout the rendition, and none of the big hits really seemed to come through. Of course, part of that might just be the microphone setup (I wonder sometimes just how many shows I overlook simply because the technology wasn’t right), but I don’t think so. I would be curious what anybody at the game thought about the sound. Still, that’s a lot of drill sets in comparison to the other honorable mentions, so the Buckeyes get some extra credit.
Ohio State (+3), Sept. 10th “Stadium Karaoke”
A bit of the same thing... nice drill and I think the sound was at least cleaner for this performance, but the big hits just really weren’t there. Again, it could just be a microphone issue, but I don’t think so. This just sounds like the Buckeyes are playing it safe.
Illinois (N/A), Sept. 10th “Band Day”
Doesn’t count, but I like the idea of Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” as an Arrangement. That could be another great stand song when on Defense.
Indiana Part 2 (N/A), Sept. 10th “Band Day”
No points for this show, but I did laugh at including “Never Gonna Give You Up”.
University of Minnesota Marching Band (+2), Sept. 1st “Karaoke Contest”
“Don’t Stop Believing” would also be a fantastic 4th quarter comeback stand song. “Living on a Prayer” is too, but not when Northwestern plays it in the first quarter (OK, maybe appropriate against Duke) or when we’re ahead (seriously ‘Cats... get with it). Great fan participation for the Gophers, though! Definitely lots of singing - a lot more so than what I can hear in Ohio State’s rendition.
(N/A) Sept. 10th “Minnesota Marvels” (Band Day)
Nebraska Cornhusker Marching Band (+4), Sept. 3rd “Stranger Things”
Not the best angle for a recording (sounds a lot better in this pre-game concert: https://youtu.be/kc2wUS6tpUc), but this is still video on Nebraska, which is rare and good. I’ve had Stranger Things in my Netflix list for years, and just haven’t been able to bring myself to start watching it. Is it really good, or over-hyped?
Update: It was pointed out in the comments that the Cornhuskers did play Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” toward the end of the show. Because of the camera angle, I’m still having a hard time hearing it, but it is there. +2 metal bonus to Nebraska.
Northwestern University Marching Band and Nebraska Cornhusker Marching Band (+2 Each), August 27th, “Dueling Park N’ Bark”
Not really much more than a glorified mini Band Day with a small Northwestern travel band exchanging Park N’ Bark songs with the Cornhuskers before joining forces, but hey... somebody recorded it and posted the whole show on YouTube, so two points. Also, I’m kind of impressed that the Universities sent an actual portion of the band. A nice trip to Ireland would have been cool as a student. Does not even come close to qualifying for joint show points.
Not taped, but from attendance, Sept. 10th was Band Day for the ‘Cats.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights Marching Band (+2), Sept. 10th “?Heroes Day?”
OK, this is clearly not a great recording. I’m pretty sure that we are looking through the lens of a proud parent / sibling / friend of a flag corp member... from the wrong side of the field to hear anything. The young lady seemed to do just fine. I normally wouldn’t post this, but we now have rules, points are at stake, and I feel the need to show my work. If I get a better recording in subsequent weeks, I’ll post it (but award no extra points).
University of Wisconsin Marching Band (+2), Sept. 3rd “Pitch Perfect”
Well, I didn’t say anything about 10 year anniversaries. Actually, kind of an original idea by the Badgers.
(+2) September 10th “Dance Music Celebration”
My nieces love “Shut Up and Dance”. They would have had fun with this one.
Did Not Play, Coach’s Decision
Chicago rules... vote early and vote often.
Who’s the Best this Week?
This poll is closed
MSU: Stevie Wonder
Purdue: 80’s Music Party
Purdue: Country and Western
Indiana: Let’s Go
MSU: SMB Pop
Penn State: Blockbusters Show
OSU: Buckeye Jazz Cafe
OSU: Stadium Karaoke
Minnesota: Karaoke Contest
Nebraska: Stranger Things
Northwestern and Nebraska: Dueling Park N’ Bark
Rutgers: ?Heroes Day?
Wisconsin: Pitch Perfect
Wisconsin: Dance Music Celebration
I don’t read the articles... do you really expect me to watch the videos?!
Constructor’s Cup Standings*
* Does not yet include Reader’s Poll.
Performance Average Standings*
* Does not yet include Reader’s Poll