The first weekend of the HBCU football season carries a ton of excitement for football and bandheads alike. There are many primo matchups and lots of intrigue about how programs will look and sound in their first-season appearances.
In HBCU band circles, this year has an extra level of anticipation with the announcement of ESPN’s HBCU Band National Championship on Celebration Bowl weekend. Let’s take a closer look at the current landscape in pursuit of that goal as the first week of performances comes to a close.
The SWAC takes center stage … again
The collective band scene in the Southwestern Athletic Conference has been the symbolic standard for one of the most unique collegiate sports fan experiences on the planet for the better part of five decades now. Week One saw a number of marquee matchups for audiences to sink their teeth into. “The Marching Storm” (Prairie View) and the “Ocean Of Soul” (Texas Southern) had their annual showdown in Houston.
Two of the more storied programs in HBCU Bandom went mono-y-mono in Miami during the Orange Blossom Classic.
The “Incomparable Marching 100” (Florida A&M) and the Sonic Boom Of the South (Jackson State) both marked their official quests for the crown this weekend.
Maybe the most anticipated showdown happened in Montgomery, Alabama, on Saturday, with the VFTS Pre-Season No.1 ranked “Human Jukebox” (Southern University) going up against the seventh-ranked “Mighty Marching Hornets” (Alabama State). Two amazing-sounding ensembles with Two unique field concepts. Both made for an awesome time for the casual fan and band head alike.
The Aristocrats invade South Bend, and The Legion stake their claim
The Tennessee State University Aristocrat Of Bands debuted in one of the most hallowed places in all of college football. Touchdown Jesus may have its own Saturday traditions, but the ‘Crats’ brought their own storied pedigree (and Grammy-award-winning swagger) to South Bend and won over yet another audience.
It’s not the first time an HBCU program has taken over the field with mainstream audiences present, but doing it in the home of Knute Rockne and a program with its own halftime traditions always hits a bit differently.
Norfolk State’s “Marching Spartan Legion” (ranked No.3 in the VFTS Pre-season D1 Poll) followed up a strong showing at the Pepsi National Battle of the Bands with their home opener against rival (and No. 5 in the VFTS D2 Pre-Season Poll) Virginia State’s “Marching Trojan Explosion.” Both bands look to figure prominently in their respective quests to get to championship weekend in Atlanta.
The first week of the 2023-24 HBCU band season has gotten out of the blocks fast. The added stakes of national championship glory understandably make the start of this particular season one of the most anticipated in recent memory. Each performance has added importance. Each opportunity to showcase new levels of creativity, precision, and attention to detail could be just the thing to bring any of the programs in the running closer to the ultimate goal.
One thing’s for sure: Audiences are going to enjoy the ride to Celebration Bowl weekend in Atlanta.