For the three or four of you eagerly awaiting OTE’s home for all things Marching Band, I apologize for the delay this year. Like Northwestern’s Band, I’m usually a late arriver to the season. However, this year I started having a log-in / authenticator issue on my SB Nation account back in June because I’m still using my eight year old iPod touch for all apps (not exaggerating - I still don’t have a personal cell phone) and Apple seems to think that is a bit too long to keep using their fancy new operating system. I tried to fix things, but then something happened with my favorite purple football team, and I suddenly lost the will to
live read or comment on sports message boards.
Anyway, LincolnPark Wildcat (who most certainly does NOT suck at technology) was kind enough to get me back up and running at a time where I maybe don’t feel completely hopeless about my favorite team’s prospects. Once again, I’m ready to enjoy the entertaining banter of the rest of you who will also inevitably be let down by your favorite team.
For those new here, a quick recap:
- This is a column dedicated to the fine work and pageantry of the B1G’s resident Marching Bands. My goal is to showcase performances, maybe provide a little flavor of what it is like to be a part of a college band (dated as my personal experience might be), discuss a bit of history, throw out an occasional alternative idea or two, and hopefully get more of you to talk about your own experiences or ideas.
- I am not here to put any school down. Every B1G Band works hard, and I truly appreciate everyone who works toward entertaining tens of thousands of fans every week. However, I do have favorites and an occasional mild criticism that will come out in my writing. Please just understand that I think every Band is great, even if I am pointing out that your Boner section seems to have accidentally wandered off into the hot dog stand.
- Yes, this column is incredibly niche and not for everyone. That said, everyone is welcome and I hope that you feel free to join in the conversation, even if you have never picked up an instrument in your life.
- I am not an expert, and certainly not a journalist. I do something else for a living. However, I did march in high school and for four years in the ‘90’s as an Alto Saxophone in Northwestern University’s Marching Band. I even had the pleasure of marching in the Rose Bowl (good times). Still, I don’t profess to be a master at this craft, and ultimately, I’m just giving my own slightly, but not completely informed opinion.
- I do not take myself seriously in any way. You can insult any view I ever give, and if you throw in a bit of humor and wit, I’ll laugh just like everyone else. I’m just happy when people comment, so feel free to say anything you want (but, you know, within the site guidelines and reasonably good taste).
- The format is typically an introductory topic, maybe a review of one school’s pre-game show (thanks to a comment from a reader last year, although I’m going to spread these out a bit more this year given that we only have so many schools), and then a review of halftime shows for each of the schools.
- I’m heavily reliant on YouTube for videos. It works with this site better than anything else, and as I noted above, I suck at other forms of social media and technology. I don’t have a Facebook account. I don’t do Twitter, or X, or whatever Elon Musk wants to call it today. I don’t have a mySpace page. I never downloaded the Aol CD. Some bands have a great YouTube game. Some bands don’t. Unfortunately, there are some groups that I will maybe only get one show for the whole season. I will try to show what I can, even if it is just a posted fan video. If you don’t see your favorite Band on a regular basis, this is why.
- I’m not always up on the latest news. Like I said, I do something different than journalism for a living and I do almost nothing to actually track news in the Marching Band world beyond what I choose to Google that week. I only have so much time to do this. When I say half-assed research, I truly mean half-assed research.
- This column is the sworn enemy of Twirlers. They haunt me in my dreams. Maybe I can find a way to insult the Swifties this year to keep things fresh...
Last year, I tried something a bit different, which was to turn the season into a competition between the schools. It seemed to work pretty well, so I figured that we would try it again. Here is how the scoring works:
- 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. Chicago rules (vote early and vote often).
- Full video posted on YouTube (by school or fan): +2
- Partial video posted: +1
New Rule: First column (i.e. what you’re reading right now), Win, Place, Show, Honorable Mention, and Reader’s Poll points are doubled. I’m getting a late start and we’re four weeks in when a lot of bands have had a lot of home games. If you’re rising to the top this week, your show is probably really good. I’m also going to grant a bonus three points to the runner-up in the first poll.
Modifiers and Deductions
This is my fifth non-Covid year doing this, and I watch every video that you see on this site. When I see the same show for the tenth time in a season, or the thirtieth time in five years, I lose just a little bit more of my sanity. While most schools are very creative and I learn something new every single year that I didn’t know before, there are unfortunately standard formulas that lead to a lot of repetition that I wish Bands would avoid. Deductions will be assigned for each of the following:
- Salute to the Troops: OK, I’m softening on this one. I play for a community band in the summer where Salute to the Troops is a staple, and I can’t help but tear up a little thinking about our concert this year at the VA Hospital fish fry, or the 90 year-old Army veteran who stands and salutes in the park when the Caissons Keep Rolling Along (it will always be Caissons). This show has always been popular in the conference for Sept. 11th or Veteran’s Day weekends. I’m no longer going to deduct any points (I think I actually chickened out on deductions last year, as I felt dirty doing so, despite making it a rule). However, -1 point if you overlook the Coast Guard and / or Space Force.
- The past year’s musical movie or Broadway show: -1. I guess that just leaves the Little Mermaid. I can’t really think of anything else that came out this past year that is going to annoy me.
- 50 Year Anniversary Movie, Musical, or Album: -1. Oh man, this is Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. That would actually be a cool show. Still, rules are rules. Top movie was The Exorcist. I’ve actually never watched it for more than five minutes, so somebody will have to let me know if it has a decent soundtrack. Nothing seems too relevant from Broadway (Cyrano?), but the Rocky Horror Picture Show debuted in London. I’ll save point deductions for that show until the 50th anniversary of the movie in 2025.
- 25th Anniversary: -1. Titanic crossed both 1997 and 1998, so it’s still a deduction this year (would seem to be poor taste given this Summer’s events). Cher, I Believe (I would give bonus points for band auto-tune, though). I don’t think anything from the list of shows that debuted on Broadway in 1998 proved to be memorable.
- Thriller Dance for Halloween: -1
- Rush: -5. I hate them so, so much.
- Greater than 50% of the show being Park N’ Bark where the announcer says “Featuring our Twirler”: -2 (or -1 for a coordinated twirler squad, or dance squad, or color guard). The deduction is not for the Twirler(s)... it’s for the band copping out and not doing drill. I do reserve the right to not deduct if I think the squad has “earned” the feature, which actually happened for most of the shows last year. There is also an automatic RedStepper exception. Those ladies clearly work on their dance routines and deserve a bit of extra attention.
On the positive side, a few things that I do want to see that will get some extra points include the following:
- Heavy(ish) Metal Show (Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue, AC/DC, Poison, Cinderella, etc.): +2. The soundtrack of my youth. Heavy metal music always gets played in stadiums. It’s time to bring it to the halftime shows as well.
- Aerosmith: +3. The 13th greatest selling band of all time, and I’ve never heard their tunes ever performed at halftime. Most of the others above them, I have, except maybe the Eagles (#4 - somebody has to do Hotel California, although I hear that whoever controls that catalogue is super strict and expensive about copyright usage), AC/DC (#9 - I think we got a song or two last year), Pink Floyd (#10), and the Boss, Bruce Springsteen (#12 - Rutgers, say it ain’t so!). In fact, I’m changing this to Aerosmith, Eagles, Floyd, or the Boss - all deserve to be featured more.
- Malaguena or El Toro Caliente: +3. Always a great show with no room to hide, musically.
- Copland’s Appalachian Spring: +2. Just one of my favorites.
- Teamwork: +4 (Each). Two bands working together at the same time. Only counts if not majority Park N’ Bark, though.
- Anything I Deem Uniquely Creative: +2. The MSU Africa show from a few years back is something that would have gotten this. Iowa came damn close with their show dedicated to the Campus Bus service last year, but the music was a bit too obvious.
- As not all Bands have the same number of home games, winner will be crowned for both overall points and average per performance (minimum four appearances this year).
- I can only go by what I see posted that week (and by the time of writing). If I see it late, it will be featured the following week. Everyone gets points for shows being posted, but judgment for top categories is confined to the week that I actually see the show (even if it’s my fault that I didn’t see a posted version).
- Repeat shows don’t count.
- Band Days don’t count.
- The Illinois Three-In-One doesn’t count (the Illini always start with a regular halftime performance at the beginning of their show, anyway - usually a very good one).
Last Year’s Results
The Buckeyes were truly the Best Damn Band in the (B1G) Land, at least according to our criteria. However, there were a lot of solid showings with plenty of competition toward the top. Just like football, it’s always hard to overlook the Buckeyes as being a favorite for the season, but I would expect at least 4-5 other bands to challenge for the title this year, and at least two “surprises” from what I would consider the next tier to step up and have an outstanding season.
May the best Band (who knows not to play Rush and destroy their chances) win.
This poll is closed
Welcome back! I’m one of the 3-4 people who missed you.
I really like the halftime season contest.
I really hate the halftime season contest.
I would make tweaks (which I will explain in the comments).
Just get a damn cell phone, already. There is no excuse in the modern day and age to not have one!
I swear, I always write the first part of the article before I ever get to viewing videos. I had no idea this many shows would tie in to my scoring / comments. Also, damn... a lot of good shows. Incredibly tough to pick the top performances, and even harder to cut down all the shows that I considered for honorable mention.
Win: The Ohio State Buckeye Marching Band (+19), Sept. 16th “El Matador!”
Oh, Buckeyes. This just isn’t fair. You shouldn’t be allowed to start the season with “Malaguena”. Leave some hope for the rest of the schools!
Actually, I didn’t think “Malaguena” was their strongest piece in this show, but the follow-up tunes (“The Tiger of San Pedro”, “Spain”, and “Spanish Fantasy Part 4”) were absolutely superb. The featured ensemble at the middle of the field were incredible throughout and there was a nice balance with the full band.
I’m always impressed by Ohio State’s drill, but sometimes I have felt like the sound falls a bit flat. That’s not even close to being true for this show, which was the complete package of sound and drill. What a way to start the season. The Buckeyes YouTube channel also has a video of the performance at Notre Dame.
Place: Michigan State Spartan Marching Band (+10), Sept. 23rd “New Orleans”
My goodness. Just take those tunes featuring Dr. Doreen Kitchens, and inject them straight into my veins. I’ve seen some really, really good guest artists featured in various shows over the past five years, but this has got to be the best yet. In fact, this version of the “House of the Rising Sun” may be the best song I’ve reviewed. I never knew I could enjoy a clarinet solo as much as this.
Beyond Dr. Kitchens, the Spartan Band is awesome all on its own. That sound is so full... so clean... so well-balanced, and they do a great job of accompanying Dr. Kitchens without over-powering her performance. I love this. I was very tempted to place this in the winning slot, despite also loving OSU’s performance, but ultimately I think OSU’s drill was better and their own feature ensemble was pretty incredible, too. Still, I could see more than a few of you voting for this performance in the Reader’s Poll.
Show (Tie): Illinois Marching Illini (+1), Sept. 2nd “The Music of Rush”
Illini... why do you do this to yourselves? You take all that talent... that outstanding, beautiful sound... that fine, clean drill... and you throw it all away by playing Rush. Sometimes, you can lose just by playing the wrong game.
Still, I’ve got to recognize that this is a beautiful clear sound and the drill really was quite good. The Illini seem to do a great job filling up the field with their drill without losing the sound to phasing or losing the flow in their sets.
I’m impressed with the execution. I’m horrified by the choice.
Show (Tie): All-American Marching Band (+8), Sept. 16th “Stranger Things”
I don’t think any other B1G Band can consistently match Purdue’s big trumpet hits. Others have good licks every now and then, and few can manage to match the Boilermakers for a few big moments. However, I don’t think any other trumpet section comes close to being as clean and “in-your-face” as the Purdue trumpets, and I’m reminded of it every year that I am re-introduced to their great sound. None of the other instruments for Purdue are shabby, either.
We get a full mix of tunes from Stranger Things (I still haven’t watched it... it’s been on my Netflix list for years), but my absolute favorite (despite playing “Master of Puppets”) has to be this arrangement of Scorpion’s “Rock You Like a Hurricane”. I never imagined that tune showing up in a halftime show and I’m not a big fan of the song in real life, but this arrangement just seemed to hit a nerve with me and I love it. OK, Twirlers... flaming batons at night are cool... I’ll admit it.
Purdue gets a bonus two points for Heavy Metal tunes. The Park N’ Bark feature was earned.
Michigan Marching Band (+4), Sept. 2nd “Let’s Groove”
Michigan features various tunes from the ‘70’s, from the BeeGees to Earth, Wind & Fire. As is usual for Michigan, both the sound and drill are incredibly clean. There doesn’t seem to be a misplaced step or note anywhere in the performance. The show is entertaining, and the arrangements actually have a lot of nuance to them in the form of counter-melodies, some really good licks from different instrument groups (a little after 4:35, for example), and some great switching back-and-forth, especially between the horns and trumpets.
Technically, this is a masterpiece and stands above a lot of the shows featured today, but just didn’t have that little extra something that I thought was worthy of one of the top spots. Still, a great performance, especially for the first show of the year.
Penn State Blue Band (+4), Sept. 9th “Stadium of Jazz”
Pieces include “Beyond the Sea” and “Unforgettable”, among others. When done right, Big Band (or should we call it B1G Band?) Jazz is the perfect mix of technical skill, variation, and big hits for a college band halftime show. Here, Penn State has really done it right - the sound is fantastic and there is a lot musically that just grabs and holds your interest throughout the show. I love little moments, like at ~1:48, where you just get this great trumpet run, and then the arrangement just flips right back to full, punctuated hits mixed with quick little mid / lower voice interludes. There are a lot of great percussion moments as well.
I would have placed this show higher, but the drill was a bit simple. I am also feeling a bit generous and am deeming the Blue Sapphire feature as earned, but this is the closest that I came to a “feature” deduction this week. I do want to give a shout-out to Penn State’s sound engineers. I think shows in the past got a bit muddled because the Microphone was toward the top of the stadium, but the (at least what I think are) field level microphones here are perfect and really let the quality of the sound come through in the video.
Others Receiving Votes
Illinois Marching Illini (+2), Sept. 16th “Taylor Swift”
Now is my chance to troll the Swifties! Being despised by Twirlers is enough... I don’t want to bring that kind of evil to OTE’s managers. Solid show by the Illini and one of the names that I wanted to give honorable mention, but that list was going to be 10 shows long.
Still, a very good sound, if you’re into that horrible, horrible kind of music (haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate).
(N/A), Sept. 23rd, “Band Day”
No points for Band Day, but posted in case you like that kind of thing. Decent intro piece / drill before the high schoolers joined.
Indiana Marching Hundred (+2), Sept. 2nd “Maestro”
Music of Leonard Bernstein. I liked the show and was considering for honorable mention, but again, there were just too many to choose from. My favorite from Indiana thus far. They also repeated in the game against Louisville.
(+2), Sept. 8th, “Hip Hop”
Apparently, the 50th anniversary that I didn’t think of was hip hop. Lots of shows this week.
(N/A) Sept. 23rd, “Band Day”
Indiana’s mass gathering of young musicians.
Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band (+3), Sept. 2nd “ABBA”
Holy crap! You did it! You magnificent bastards did it! Finally, a Big Ten band has the testicular fortitude to say, “It’s hot. Damn it, we’re not wearing wool!” Shorts! And T-Shirts!! And baseball hats!!! It’s beautiful. On behalf of anyone who has ever lost five pounds of perspiration on the first game of the season, I say Bravo, Hawkeyes! However, did you really need to keep the black gloves? That’s kind of like going skinny-dipping, but wearing your socks.
The show’s not bad, either. Classic ABBA hits. Iowa gets a single bonus point for finally telling tradition to stuff it when you can otherwise fry an egg on the field.
(+2), Sept. 16th “[Insert Theme Here]”
First of all, further kudos to Iowa for already posting two shows on YouTube this year. I’ve always struggled to get Iowa footage, and I’m really happy to be able to share these with our readers this year. I hope it keeps up.
Alas, the Hawkeyes return to uniforms. The announcer tries to weave things into a narrative, but this is pretty much a random collection of songs ranging from “Wagon Wheel” to “The Heart Wants What it Wants”. Very fun basketball sequence a bit after the 4:30 mark (I love how the ball spins). Good sound. Good drill. This is another one I would have probably labeled as honorable mention most weeks.
Mighty Sound of Maryland (+4), Sept. 2nd “Metallica Mega Hits”
Squee! All the Heavy Metal points to the Terrapins. Not just one tune, but a whole Metallica show! “Enter Sandman” and “Master of Puppets” (which has to be my personal most listened to cassette tape - I love that whole album). Well done.
There were other Maryland videos out there, but they were from odd angles. Given that this was recently posted on the official YouTube page, I’m going to give it some time to see if I can get a better video of the other shows before I post in this column.
Michigan Marching Band (+2), Sept. 9th “Heartthrobs”
I do have to take an issue with the Wolverines on this one... nobody calls the Beatles a boy band. That’s sacrilege. However, the rest of the tunes range from K-Pop to Boyz II Men and fit the theme well. Michigan is just so clean... it’s hard to keep really good performances like this off the honorable mention list, but there were just too many good shows that built up early this season to include them all.
(+2), Sept. 16th “Who’s Bad”
Another really, really good show focused on Villains. Again, that sound is so clean.
(+2), Sept. 23rd “Made in Michigan”
Joined by alumni, the Band celebrates the state with various tunes ranging from Motown hits to Greta Van Fleet (no clue who that is, and I’m Pure Michigan... OK, pure part-time Michigan / Yooper).
Michigan State Spartan Marching Band (+2), Sept. 9th, “Alumni Band”
Most of this show is Park N’ Bark with the alumni, but there is a great opening of U2’s “Mysterious Ways” that I just thought was an awesome sounding arrangement. U2 is another one of those groups that we don’t get enough of in halftime shows considering their impressive catalogue of hits. “Proud Mary” (in honor of the late Tina Turner vs. the original CCR version) is another great tune that a few bands have featured early in the season.
(+2), Sept. 16th “Emo Rock”
The Spartans just sound sooooo good. Again, most weeks, I have this as an honorable mention or above, but there are just so many good shows to choose from this week, it’s an embarrassment of riches. That said, is Fallout Boy really an Emo band? It’s kind of hard for me to take any song featured in Pitch Perfect 2 (yes, I’ll admit to seeing Pitch Perfect 2 - Anna Kendrick... ‘nuff said) as something that could be considered Emo.
Minnesota Marching Band (+2), Aug. 31st “Commemorating the March on Washington”
Various civil rights era motown hits. I really liked the strong opening, and an all-around fine show from the Gophers.
(N/A), Sept. 9th “2000’s Resurgence”
Band Day featuring tunes from the 2000’s.
Nebraska Cornhusker Marching Band (+2), Sept. 16th “Summer Blockbusters”
Solid show featuring tunes from movies, including (but not limited to) the Raiders of the Lost Ark Theme and Barbie (“Dance the Night”). I haven’t seen Barbie. It doesn’t have Anna Kendrick in it (not that Margot Robbie is any slouch).
(+2), Sept. 23rd “Blues Brothers”
Blues Brothers show joined afterwards by the alums. Do you call them NUMBalums as well? If you want to claim NU, you need to do that. UNLalums just isn’t the same. As we discussed last year, Nebraska does practice stadium equity and plays in the opposite direction for at least one show, so sorry about the camera angle, but it’s good to have any video at all (this one poster is the only consistent access I seem to have to Cornhusker YouTube videos, and I thank her for it).
Northwestern University Marching Band (N/A), Sept. 9th “Band Day”
I almost didn’t include this, but at this point, this is YouTube proof of life that NUMB still exists. I was here, and also saw the show against the Gophers, which was a decent rendition of Earth, Wind and Fire. I think we’re at four Sousaphones and three snare drums for the year. Too small. Probably half of what we had in the ‘90’s, and that was before the ‘Cats went to the Rose Bowl. I wish the school would do something about that, but then again, just about every Freshman who came to the game last weekend also left by halftime (and missed a great finish), so it’s an uphill battle.
I did get an e-mail that Dr. Mallory Thompson is retiring (Director of Bands - not to be confused with the NUMB Director, who is Daniel Farris - not sure if he is a Dr. [MNW note: he is not, a fact we made lots of fun of in college—never to his face, of course]). Her first year as Director of Bands was my senior year. I’m getting old.
The Ohio State Buckeye Marching Band (+2), Sept. 9th “Time and Change”
Show that celebrates 50 years of women in the Buckeye Marching Band. I’m still shocked that there was a day when people somehow felt that women weren’t capable of meeting the “demanding rigors” of marching band. The show features female artist tunes, such as “Shake it Off” (it really is Taylor Swift season) and “Roar”. Good performance and the normal full OSU drill, plus alumni.
Penn State Blue Band (+2), Sept. 2nd “On Tour Show”
This sound is really just impressive. The show is basically Taylor Swift and Beyonce tunes. I know I mention it above, but the microphone placement seems to be right on and helps a lot with clarity. However, the microphone alone can’t make all the licks clean, and the lower and mid voices mix so well. I love this sound. Another show that I had to reluctantly pull from the honorable mention list.
(+2), Sept. 23rd “Anniversary of Hip Hop”
Penn State’s take on the (apparent) 50th year of hip hop. Not quite as clean as their other shows featured this week, but still pretty darn solid.
All-American Marching Band (+2), Sept. 2nd “Rock & Roll Divas”
It was so hard to not put every Purdue show this week into honorable mention or better. They have such a great sound, and while the drill has a few pauses, it’s still always a healthy amount of sets (and entertaining). As indicated, show features various tunes from female artists, such as Diana Ross, Beyonce, and Tin Turner (I really like this arrangement of “Proud Mary” - nice steamboat as well). Dance squad feature was earned.
(+2), Sept. 22nd “Yacht Rock”
The show sound and drill are very good, but I’ll admit it... the announcer got on my nerves. It’s like an old Saturday Night Live skit that bombs with the audience in the first 10 seconds, but the same premise is carried for another 10 minutes. Still, fine show by the Band.
Rutgers Scarlet Knight Marching Band (+2), Sept. 5th “Broadway”
Wow, that sound is so solid. We only get a portion of the show that includes music from Phantom of the Opera and Fiddler on the Roof, but what we do get just sounds fantastic. I wish I had the full show... drill might not have been enough to place higher, but the sound might have. As it is, I’m awarding a full two points despite only having three minutes because i) that’s still a fair amount and ii) that sound deserves the extra point.
(N/A), Sept. 9th Repeat
... and... huh... we do have a bit more video, but this is a pure Park N’ Bark version the following week for some reason. Still sounds great. Rutgers isn’t quite as bold as Iowa, though, sticking with pants (other than the color guard). At least they’re not wearing gloves.
Wisconsin Marching Band (+2), Sept. 2nd “Back to the ‘90’s”
Variety of mostly pop tunes from the ‘90’s.
(+2), Sept. 16th “?Latin Rock?”
I just can’t hear the announcer to be able to tell you what this is, but the opening and several following pieces sound like Santana, or Santana-like Latin rock hits (can definitely pick out Livin Lavida Loca later in the show). The Badgers have big, full sound at the beginning that suits the music well.
Which show was your favorite?
This poll is closed
OSU "El Matador"
MSU "New Orleans"
Illinois "The Music of Rush"
Purdue "Stranger Things"
Michigan "Let’s Groove"
Penn State "Stadium of Jazz"
Illinois "Taylor Swift"
Indiana "Hip Hop"
Iowa (Shorts!) "ABBA"
Iowa (Pants!) "[Insert Theme Here]"
Maryland "Metallica Mega Hits"
Michigan "Who’s Bad"
Michigan "Made in Michigan"
MSU "Alumni Band"
MSU "Emo Rock"
Minnesota "Commemorating the March on Washington"
Nebraska "Summer Blockbusters"
Nebraska "Blues Brothers"
OSU "Time and Change"
PSU "On Tour Show"
PSU "Anniversary of Hip Hop"
Purdue "Rock & Roll Divas"
Purdue "Yacht Rock"
Wisconsin "Back in the ‘90’s"
Wisconsin "?Latin Rock?"
Seriously, get a cell phone. The Twirlers are not using it to track you.
Oh my goodness... that was a lot of names. Charts tracking the competition will be added next week.
I think this was a first - every B1G Band had at least one video available for early this season! Fantastic! Congrats to all the Bands on great shows early in the season, and I look forward to what is to come.