In our ongoing study of the world of college football pomp and circumstance, we present our rundown of our favorite bands. Sometimes denigrated, often ignored, and occasionally hit with thrown objects from the opposing and home stands, the members of college football's marching bands endure many a travail while earning the 6-7 completely free football tickets they enjoy each year.
Marching bands: they matter whether you pay attention or not.
1. Wearing wool/poly blends in hostile climes. In warm weather, band members lose gallons of body fluids wearing heavy, double-knit jackets while marching, hopping, and standing around in the sun. In cold weather, the poly kicks in, and never seems to hold heat in for longer than the first quarter. In many senses, the originator of the military style uniform for college marching band members took every possible wrong turn in the design of the outfit, choosing a fabric that's simultaneoulsly heavy in hot weather and light in cold weather, stitching that ensures a near complete lack of mobility, and hats that require straps, bungees, and occasionally staples through the flesh to keep on a member's head. It belongs in the hall of historically tragic design with Firestone radial tires, Happy Time Harry, and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
2. Abuse. We've seen spitting, the throwing of objects, and on one occasion, a fight between a gay flag squad guy and two rural bon vivants who envied his sequined outfit. The flag guy won, which proves you shouldn't ever mess with a man who tosses a fake rifle in the air all day.
3. The inability to leave, even when hopes of victory have been all but incinerated. Most people may hightail it to the exits when the other team goes up by fifty. You may not. At its worst, this can induce secondary signs of trauma, perfectly illustrated by the 1996 Fiesta Bowl, where the Florida band was reduced to throwing a rubber chicken in the air in the fourth quarter to amuse themselves. However stupid that may sound, it was far better than what was happening on the field.
Given that, bands give much to the gameday atmosphere. They provde a rallying cry for fans to unite around, providing collective cues to an otherwise disorganized mob. They pump a constant supply of festivity into the environment with songs and, if they're particularly festive, spastic dancing, as well. More importantly, they give a counterpoint to the cheerleaders, whose charm wears thin after the first ten minutes of any game (especially if they have an amplifier and a mike.) If fans have nothing else to thank the band for, it's drowning them out for just a few blessed seconds of every game.
Bands deserving special note include:
Ohio State. Bears special mention for the central role the band plays in the rite and ritual of Buckeye football, the "dotting of the I" in pregame. Not only is the band the focal point, but the honor of running onto the field and becoming the final piece in the script of "OHIO STATE" writ large on the field is given to the offensive lineman of the band: a tuba player. This ode to the unheralded blue-collar foundation of the organization is good enough by itself to put them on the list.
You know you want a beret.
Yet there's more. They sing. They wear berets without cowering or smoking Gauloises. They're actually pretty accomplished, a feat if you've ever tried to find 250 sober musicians on a college campus. They're everthing a college band should be, and for that we tip our berets to you.
A "park and blow" behemoth of a band so huge they're forced to march conveyor-belt formations spelling out a single formation for much of their halftime show. But when you've got 500 people in your band, who needs it? The band that truly goes up to eleven, the brass-heavy horde that follows the Seminole football team around can, at their highest volumes, cause real and lasting hearing damage. (We swear we've actually seen them blow hats, toupees, and in one case, the remnants of Carl Franks' coaching career off the field with the sound. It's at least 90 decibels, and don't think we're exagerrating.)
Their impressive musical repertoire not only includes the responsibility of cueing the frightening "Seminole War Chant," but also their most dramatic piece, the "4th Quarter Fanfare," a piece of hellacious pomp straight from Mahler's wet dreams. It's geeked-up football doom music, a snippet of music just long enough to evoke visions of a gladiator standing over his doomed foe waiting for the thumbs-down signal. Listen to it here and remember that the final FFF will crack the beer you hold in your hand.
USC. The allure of Tusk has faded, but the shine on that plastic body armor hasn't. Any band that wears the shoeshine brush gladiator helmets and has personnel required to wear body armor wins with us. They also crank out one of college's most awesomely fascist themes, "Fight On," which reminds us that though fascism was evil, it was very stylish, too.
A little fascism can be cool.
Texas They wear bolo ties and cowboy hats. In!
LSU. Not an overwhelming marching presence, but the Tiger Band's superb musicianship allows them to make twice the noise of most bands with half the members. One of the few bands that plays everything--everything--with a half-beat swing to it. At their best they're like letting off a can of Mardi Gras in the stadium. Also manage to wear purple and yellow and not look a.) like a walking lesion, and b.) silly beyond description.
Stranko's addtion: UCF: The football team maybe a work in progress as is there new stadium, but I was surprised at the quality of their marching band when I saw them in person. Not in the traditional college band kind of way where they blow the doors off of cars in the parking lot by playing one or two really catchy and/or annoying ditties over and over again. I'm talking about quality in a hard core band nerd kind of way. So if you ever got excited about going to a BOA competition, they might just be the band for you. Strong on balance, blend and intonation with enough movement to keep it interesting.