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Off Beat Empire: The Final Serenade 2023

Going out with our second OTE season-long champ

It’s cleaner than other searches for “Rusty Trombone”
Photo by NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome back dear readers (all five of you). I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving. Apologies for the delayed final conclusion of the season, but i) I’m lazy... I hope that you have figured that out by now and ii) I didn’t want to leave a single week at the end of the season to decide the championship, so I just waited until everyone finished the season to make this little, insignificant all-important competition a bit more fair by having more than 4-5 bands in play for the final week’s points.

Anyway, this is usually when I give my review of what I was able to see for each band over the season in tribute to the BTN’s Final Drive wrap-up show, but before I get there... let’s finish the halftime shows and crown a champion.


Win: Michigan State Spartan Marching Band (+9), Nov. 24th, “Elton John”

When I review these, I try to mentally challenge my own biases. I hear the Spartan Band, but I keep trying to tell myself that the drill is a bit weak (it is), or they’re not doing as much as they could, or some other such nonsense. And then, I just listen, and what I hear is the absolute perfect marching band sound. Not good. Not outstanding. Not even fantastic. Perfect. Literally perfect.

I don’t know what a band could do to sound any better than this. Every horn lick is there. Every counter-melody comes through. Every drum beat is right where it’s supposed to be. The whole ensemble just sounds full, and energetic, and I love it. I could give you 5-6 reasons why some Bands lower on this list are perhaps more deserving of the top spot due to overall entertainment factor or some such other worthy praise of the other shows, but I can’t convince myself that any of them sound nearly this good.

Anyway, the show features tunes from Sir Elton John, starting out with “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and ending with “Tiny Dancer” with “Rocket Man” and another tune I’m not familiar with in-between (I think it’s “I’m Still Standing”). I love that high trumpet hit at around 3:43 in “Rocket Man” - the whole finale to that song is just fantastic.

Place: All-American Marching Band (+6), Nov. 11th “Military Appreciation”

If there was one possible show to match Michigan State over the past few weeks, this would be it. Purdue also has a fantastic sound, and that is on full display from the get-go with an opener (not a closer, as is typical) of “Stars and Stripes”. That’s making a real statement when you make Sousa’s best your appetizer. Other tunes include a variation on “Johnny Comes Marching Home”, “Swing, Swing, Swing”, and “Salute to the Troops”. Purdue took some real liberties with their arrangement of “Swing, Swing, Swing”, which has hints of the original, but is completely turned on its head with all sorts of variations (usually in the form of impossible trumpet licks). I have to say that I ended up really liking it, even though I kept waiting for the main theme to kick in (it never really does).

Visually, this was also incredibly appealing and that is one thing that I kept going back to in trying to determine if it was worthy of the top spot or not. Aside from drill, I thought the rifles from the color guard toward the start were fabulous and the guard overall really set themselves apart, here. However, even with great sound themselves, it just wasn’t enough to overtake the Spartans, in my judgment.

This wasn’t actually the first rendition that I heard while preparing my reviews, but as the first entrant in the field, I have to give mad props to the schools this year for finally including Space Force in their Salute to the Troops. No penalty for Purdue this year.

Show (Three-Way Tie): The Ohio State Buckeye Marching Band (+4), Nov. 11th “50 Stars: A Tribute to our Veterans”

This was Ohio State’s Veterans Day show featuring patriotic tunes and Ohio State’s Salute to the Troops (again, including the Coast Guard and Space Force... Yay!). They did throw in music from Band of Brothers as well, which I really liked (I have that Soundtrack). Ohio State had some very good sound, but not enough to match Purdue or MSU this week. They did make up for some that sound differential with their drill, though, which was very good. There’s a pretty nice boom moment in their, too, when the cannon fires (wait a minute... I thought that was Rutgers’ thing!).

All-American Marching Band (+4), Nov. 25th “A Race to the Finish Line!”

Another fun and good-sounding show from Purdue this “week” featuring various songs with some sort of tie to automobiles. Tunes included “Life is a Highway”, “Vehicle” (I never knew that was the name of the song... it makes more sense that it seems to be in so many auto insurance commercials, now), “A Place You’ve Never Been Before”, and “Highway to Hell”. I have to admit, after making a big deal about sending your seniors out into their great adventure, I don’t think “Highway to Hell” was such a great choice...

Rutgers Marching Scarlet Knights (+3), Nov. 4th “British Invasion”

Rutgers gives us a show featuring music from Queen, the Beatles, and the Spice Girls, and it just sounds fantastic. Whoever arranged these pieces did a great job, and there are just tons of great little side parts, counter-melodies, and other little features woven all throughout that I love listening to - not to mention top-notch percussion both in the drumline and on the pit. It’s all incredibly clean as well. Decent drill and nice color guard work help to set this apart a bit this week.

To end the show, MSK (I’m just learning now after all these years that this is a thing for them, similar to NUMB if you’re from Northwestern - I’m pretty slow on the uptake, sometimes) also brings out a high school band and the 63rd Army Band to play “Salute to the Troops”. Alas, Rutgers hasn’t quite gotten the same memo as the others, yet, so we don’t get a Space Force theme and there is a one point deduction.

As long as we’re still with Rutgers, I know they are very proud of marching in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, so here are two videos from that experience (first with network coverage / viewing stand and the second just a video from the parade route).

Nice job, Knights.

Honorable Mentions Malagueñas

Illinois Marching Illini (+6), Nov. 25th, “Senior Show”

I’m just amazed that Illinois could combine both my most hated show theme (music of Rush) with one of my favorites with “El Toro Caliente”. The Rush show is a repeat from earlier in the season, where I both recognized a really good sound and drill, combined with an awful, awful music choice. However, for the purpose of points this time around, this doesn’t really count (and they don’t get the Rush penalty for a second time).

However, the Illini give their seniors a chance to pick their favorite show to perform after that. Because these seniors have taste, they have chosen what I believe was last year’s performance of “El Toro Caliente”, and perform it quite well. It really is a great performance, with plenty of drill to go along with the outstanding sound.

It’s just a shame that they had to ruin it with Rush at the beginning... +3 bonus for “El Toro Caliente”.

For the record, I think overall performance may have justified a higher placing, but I have to discount the Rush portion of the performance, given that it is a repeat from earlier in the season.

Minnesota Marching Band (+6), Nov. 25th “Colors”

Minnesota starts out nice-and-easy with a variety of tunes with some sort of hook to colors, such as the opener, “99 Luftbaloons” (this seems like it should be a staple at Nebraska... is it?). Other tunes include “Mr. Blue Sky” (that’s a fun tune - that could be a really good stand piece) and “Back in Black”.

It all sounds nice and good... a fun show that I am enjoying, but waiting for the Rouser to take us out. But no... like Illinois, the seniors get to pick their favorite show, and of course they pick “Malagueña”. I think most of this was played to the opposite side of the stadium, but it still sounded fantastic. Maybe a bit simple on the drill, but darn it all, I can’t help but award extra slots when top notch Latin music is involved. +3 bonus awarded for Malagueña.

Others Receiving Votes

Illinois Marching Illini (+2), Nov. 11th “Dad’s Day”

This is actually more Veteran’s Day before they make the Dads do the chicken dance. The Illini give us a variation on “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in addition to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. As usual, nice sound and good performance.

Indiana Marching Hundred (+2), Nov. 18th “The Power of Love”

This makes me a bit sad with Coach Love Each Other now out, but Indiana gives us a bit of “The Power of Love” and “Time of My Life” while honoring their seniors.

Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band (N/A), Sept. 30th “Metallica x Hawkeye”

I included a go pro view from a drummer for this earlier this year, but this is the first time that we got a full video for this show, and very professionally edited version as well! Out of all the Metallica shows this year, I feel like this was the best one. The metal head in me loves this. Of course, it’s cheesy as all get out, but hell... if you’re going to do something like this... do it all the way! Anyway, no points given the previously posted show. but I’m sure a few of you will want to see it, anyway.

Michigan Marching Band (+2), Nov. 25th “Next Episode In...”

Michigan features music from TV shows such as Happy Days, the Jeffersons, Game of Thrones, Succession, Mandalorian, and Ted Lasso. This is a perfectly fine show, executed quite well by Michigan (as usual). However, given that this is a game against their most hated rival, it just felt like the type of show that most bands would put somewhere in the middle of their season. I kind of expected a bit more. Still, it’s a good show.

The Mighty Sound of Maryland (+2), Nov. 18th (I don’t know why the video says the 4th) “Anime”

Maryland actually opens with a Park N’ Bark version of “Salute to the Troops”, which was the first version I actually heard while preparing this article (obviously, not the last), and the first time I realized that bands were starting to include the Space Force. They then give us a performance of various Anime toons, the first of which I’m not sure of, but including themes from One Piece, Evangelion, and Cowboy Bebop (“Tank!”). I praised Minnesota earlier in the year for taking on “Tank!”, and I have to do the same here for Maryland - it’s one heck of a piece to try and bring to the football field, and they do it well (I really want to play this with a band, someday - I don’t think my little UP community band is ever going to be able to handle it).

Nebraska Cornhusker Marching Band (+2), Nov. 11th “A Salute to Our Veterans”

I really, really like Copland music, so I’m a bit upset that “Fanfare for the Common Man” was played in the opposite direction from the microphone for this one. What I did hear sounded very good. Beyond that, the Cornhuskers played “National Emblem and “God Bless America”, including the ?43rd? Army Marching Band for National Emblem.

(+2), Nov. 24th “Dark Heros”

Another one that I wish the Band was facing the microphone direction on. For those who are younger than me, you have no idea how big the Kevin Costner “Robin Hood” soundtrack was for folks in Band during the early ‘90’s. The horn parts in that music are absolutely incredible. Everyone who loved music wanted to play it at some point. Regrettably, I have heard everything from orchestras to the Marine Corps marching band to DCI bands who have attempted to play the tune, and have never heard anyone even come close to the same level of musicianship in the soundtrack.

I do have to say that, considering they are facing in the wrong direction, Nebraska seemed like they performed a decent rendition. Other tunes include “Batman” and the theme from the “Mandalorian”.

Northwestern University Marching Band (N/A), Nov. 18th “El Toro Caliente”

This is Northwestern’s third straight performance of “El Toro Caliente”, which I partially like because now some of you might understand why I gave them second place in the last article, but I also wish wasn’t the third home performance for the season. That said, the last show is usually a combination of the best portion of halftime for that year plus ‘the Ole Plus Four’ (“March of the Steelmen”). I’m either somewhere right in front of this guy (but blocked by somebody standing) or right behind him. I can’t believe I can’t see myself.

Anyway, great performance ‘Cats, and when it comes to the “March of the Steelman”, I’m not crying... you’re crying!

I’m glad that Dr. Malorie Thompson got some much-deserved recognition for her career (she started when I was a senior), but I’m a bit upset that the seniors didn’t get to lead the fight song on the way out, as is tradition.

The Ohio State Buckeye Marching Band (+2), Nov. 18th “The King!”

I actually really wanted to place this show much higher, because it’s Elvis (an artist criminally underplayed in this conference), it’s Ohio State drill, and it’s Ohio State sound. However, while there were a lot of good elements to this performance, I just kind of ended up feeling like the sound was flat. They also had a rare extended Park N’ Bark in the middle of the show. I wish they had maybe taken a bit more chances on which tunes to play as well (I would love to see a band have the courage to play “In the Ghetto” - that could be an awesome arrangement). The hip swivel was pretty darn good, drill-wise, though.

Penn State Blue Band (+2), Oct. 28th “Patriotic Tunes”

I’m not sure why they played this show for this week instead of the 11th for Veterans Day (it looks like they were saving their Broadway show for Michigan), but this is a nice collection of patriotic tunes. Joined by the ?28th? Infantry Division Band, we get a rousing version of “Stars and Stripes Forever”. Sounds and looks really good. Nice company front in the end (although I wish they didn’t do the pause for effect).

(+2), Nov. 11th “Broadway”

When did shows highlighting Brittany Spears and Neil Diamond become Broadway staples? Well that’s what we get with this performance, a collection of “Broadway” tunes that really represent Brittany and Neil hits. Penn State has brought a collection of performers / singers to a makeshift center stage to perform along with the Band. The Band sounds great. When I can hear the singers, they sound good as well, but they seem to get drowned out in the sound engineering. Somebody will have to tell me if the voices came through a little better in person, or if this is just the quality of the recording.

Wisconsin Marching Band (+2), Nov. 11th “????”

I apologize, but I am having a terrible time trying to pick out what the announcer is saying, and I really don’t know much of the music. I did pick out something to do with “Apollo” and “Fly With Me”, and there is a very big bird at one point. Eventually, I did catch “The Best is Yet to Come” and “New York, New York”, so maybe a crooner tribute or something?

Whatever it is, it’s got a nice, full big band jazz sound to it and it sounds good. I do have to say that I’m really happy seeing some of the drill that the Badgers are performing now, which is getting away from the old block focus and throwing in some nice shapes with curves.

I did laugh a bit, though, because this was the game against Northwestern and one of the videos on this channel was labeled “Touchdowns are Rare”.

(+2), Nov. 18th “Taylor Swift”

This one is much easier for me to pick out as a collection of Taylor Swift Tunes. Again, the sound was good, especially during he first song.

You know, I’ve only been doing this for something like six years... can somebody confirm for me if that final “On Wisconsin” is a traditional last piece / drill for the year? Seems like it, but I haven’t noticed before. It is a nice send-off.

Did Not Play, Coach’s Decision

It looks like I got video on most teams other than Iowa and Rutgers last show. At least we got the Hawkeye metal show, finally. Sorry Rutgers, but I didn’t see anything online.

Scoring Finale

OK, the moment of truth. First off, Michigan State won the last article’s reader’s poll, and it wasn’t even close... 69% for their Veterans Day show with the only other entrant in double digits being me for “being a Homer picking the ‘Cats without full video” (so, I like to just think of that as the rest of you agreeing with me that NUMB deserved second place). Plus three points for the Spartans.

And... drumroll... the winner of this year’s Off Beat Empire Rusty Trombone Award for best overall season is...

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 19 Women’s - Evansville at Michigan State
Yeah, Sparty... it’s all you at the top.
Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Final tally of the scoring is as follows:

Final Off Beat Empire 2023 Results

School Column 1 Column 2 Column 3 Column 4 Column 5 Column 6 Total # Shows Average
School Column 1 Column 2 Column 3 Column 4 Column 5 Column 6 Total # Shows Average
Michigan State 20 0 0 14 11 9 54 6 9.00
Ohio State 21 0 12 4 0 6 43 6 7.17
Purdue 15 4 0 4 0 10 33 7 4.71
Maryland 4 14 0 2 4 2 26 6 4.33
Illinois 3 0 12 2 0 8 25 6 4.17
Minnesota 2 6 5 0 3 6 22 6 3.67
Michigan 10 0 0 6 3 2 21 7 3.00
Penn State 8 0 0 3 0 4 15 6 2.50
Indiana 4 0 0 4 2 2 12 5 2.40
Nebraska 4 2 0 0 2 4 12 6 2.00
Wisconsin 4 0 2 0 2 4 12 6 2.00
Northwestern 0 0 0 0 9 0 9 1 9.00
Iowa 5 0 4 0 0 0 9 3 3.00
Rutgers 2 0 0 2 0 3 7 3 2.33

Sparty really started the season strong with Dr. Delores Kitchens, and just didn’t let up throughout. They won the Readers’ Poll every time they were in contention (except this last week, where it didn’t matter as much). Again, it’s easy for me to see why they are at the top - their sound is almost unmatched within the conference, and that’s saying a lot because we have some fantastic sounding bands.

Of course, the second-best damn band in the land acquitted themselves well and are the established runner-up. I’m not surprised to see Purdue in the third slot, either - they are definitely a consistent top tier band. I will note that Illinois could have been fourth and close to Purdue if they had not made the mistake of playing Rush. A big congratulations to Maryland as well... you had some very good shows this year and took some different chances / different directions, where it is nice to see some innovation. You were also smart enough to not play Rush.

Of course, everyone on this list deserves to be congratulated for a fine season. We are lucky to have such great Bands and there is something about each of you that I really enjoyed having the opportunity to share and show case this year. And with that...

The Final Serenade, 2023

A final parting thought on each school for this year:

  • Illinois: You have such a clean sound and look. I’m always looking forward to seeing what you put on the field, especially with those orange capes and under the lights. I will need to find an excuse to get to Champaign in the near future to see you live.
  • Indiana: I always feel like the Hoosiers find quirky, fun shows that are original and entertaining. The RedSteppers are always awesome.
  • Iowa: I’m so happy we got some early shows this year, but sad that the video tailed off after September. I will always remember you as the first B1G band who had the testicular fortitude to wear shorts and T-Shirts on a hot day!
  • Maryland: I’ll just echo what I said above... you had a great season, took some chances with some shows, and I’m really impressed by what you have brought to the field this year.
  • Michigan: Always, always impeccably clean in their sound and drill.
  • Michigan State: You’re the champs! Your sound is awesome.
  • Minnesota: I thought the sound really improved this year versus last year. You are up there in the scoring (I think that was the case last year, as well), and have really distinguished yourselves in the conference.
  • Nebraska: You have a great look and sound. I just wish that you did a better job than your super-fan in posting shows on an official YouTube channel, so we can enjoy them more.
  • Northwestern: Hey, I cheer for you every home game and many times you make me proud. We just need to get more folks to join...
  • Ohio State: You’re still great and your drill is light years ahead of everyone else, but you’ve got to up your sound if you’re going to beat Sparty next year.
  • Penn State: Lots of great sounding performances this year. I really liked the “Stadium of Jazz” show you started the year with.
  • Purdue: Best trumpets in the conference. Always a good show. I wouldn’t be surprised if you won the season next year.
  • Rutgers: I really like your sound and look, especially with the pit percussion. I do wish we got more video, though. You have an official YouTube channel... use it!
  • Wisconsin: I love all of these new curves. I think the sound was pretty good this year as well.

And for you, the readers throughout the season - thanks for your readership and interaction. You really make my day sometimes in the comments and I always learn something new. I’m sorry that I pulled back a bit on frequency of columns and got a late start (I’m going to do every two weeks next season), but I’m glad that you keep coming back. I hope you all have a good year until next season.

Special thanks to MNW and LPW as well.



This poll is closed

  • 34%
    Sparty was awesome this year. They totally deserve the win.
    (57 votes)
  • 19%
    This contest is rigged and an abomination of all that is good and right about Marching Band. My school got robbed!
    (32 votes)
  • 1%
    Overall, the right outcome, but you should make a few tweaks that I will explain in the comments.
    (3 votes)
  • 15%
    Your hatred of Rush is beyond irrational. The Illini were robbed!
    (26 votes)
  • 4%
    I can’t believe the Twirlers haven’t found and destroyed you, yet!
    (7 votes)
  • 12%
    I hope you enjoy writing another six "Welcome to the Conference" articles after this coming year’s realignment activity.
    (20 votes)
  • 11%
    It’s going to be so much fun next year with the Trojans, Bruins, Ducks, and Huskies all in the mix.
    (18 votes)
163 votes total Vote Now