Musical Super Bowl

More than 60,000 people filled Atlanta’s Georgia Dome Saturday for the second annual 2004 Honda Battle of the Bands Invitational Showcase.

Dubbed the “Super Bowl of black college bands,” this epic brought ten of the best bands from historically black colleges and universities together to partake in a musical melee.

Atlanta is now a Mecca for aspiring young band members, who make the annual pilgrimage from high schools and alumni, who return to pay homage to their respective bands.

Tommie Stewart, from Kansas City, Kan., traversed several states to grasp the magnitude of the event. The 17-year-old, Schlagle High School band percussionist said it inspired him.

“It’s so exciting,” Stewart said. “I love to watch FAMU perform.”

With renditions ranging from Earth, Wind and Fire to Alicia Keys, the entertainment value crossed the generation gap.

Norman Cox, 65, a FAMU alumnus of 1960, began with the Marching 100 in 1956. Cox, said he watches performances religiously.

“I go to the Battle of the Bands almost every year,” Cox said. “The excitement level is off the charts.”

While Cox said preparation is the most exciting part, Julian White, director of bands, said the energy unleashed during the performance is unlike anything else.

While exhilaration permeated the sold-out stadium, behind the scenes, there was emotional mass of passion, nervousness and for some, sadness.

Shortly before the show began, eight buses loaded with Rattlers, slithered through the crowded streets of downtown Atlanta.

White reminded band members of the three M’s.

“Remember, it’s all about the music, marching and mental attitude,” he said. “Our goal is to take this show to the highest level possible.”

The bands filed out and entered the stadium in order of performance.

A crescendo of roars followed introductions and the tension was almost tangible. The capacity crowd knew they were in for a show and for approximately 120 minutes, 2100 band members would hold them hostage with fancy footwork and illustrious instrumentation.

The showcase began with ten bands on the field playing the national anthem and “America the Beautiful” and ended with another collective routine. Although it was a battle, judging was placed solely on the lips of the crowd.

And although ten bands were contending, White said he is only competing against one of them.

“The greatest competitors are ourselves,” White said. “We have our own standard to meet.”

The pressure of that standard has kept the Marching 100 training hard since Jan. 8. White has been band director and associate director for a combined 30 years, so he values the meaning behind the music.

“We are continuing the legacy that is so important because it sends a message to the world about HBCU bands,” White said.

More so, he added the energy unleashed during the performance is unlike anything else.

“It is the epitome of what we’ve worked for,” White said. “Everything comes together.”

In the middle of FAMU’s performance, Genleah Crawford, 22, lifted her voice as the band played “Praise is What I Do,” by Shekinah Glory. The 22-year-old from Macon, Ga. has marched with the band for four years, but this experience was beyond articulation.

“I can’t even put it into words,” said Crawford, who said she gets nervous only prior to performing. “I am just trying to touch the hearts of the crowd so they feel what I’m singing.”

However, this rendition did not exclusively affect the audience.

“It really hit me in the middle of the show,” said Virgil Miller, assistant drum major from West Palm Beach.

“I was sad about this being my last time performing, but happy that I was able to experience this,” said the 22-year-old public health graduate student.

Miller marched from 1999 to 2004 and said he will cherish every moment.

“Destiny put me here,” he said. “I’ll always remember it.”

function openSlideShow780(){ + 780,’selectUser’,config=’scrollbars=No,resizable=Yes’);}Whats Happepning