INDIANAPOLIS — It's been a long two years since Vandegrift High School of Austin, Texas was crowned the last Bands of America Grand National champion.
This week, after a one-year layoff forced by the pandemic, the sounds of marching band's massive season finale are back where they belong at the unofficial marching arts capitol of the world.
"This is the culminating experience for marching band. It's the Super Bowl of marching band," said Dr. Jeremy Earnhart, president and CEO of Music for All. The organization that promotes music programs in schools is headquartered in Indianapolis, and Earnhart says it's exciting to bring 99 of those schools to the city to compete for one of the marching arts' biggest prizes. "It's just great to see kids and communities back together again and performing music and visual excellence."
Each group has a total of 15 minutes to show off what they've spent 400 hours or more practicing since the summer. That's the allotted time each band has to get on the field - including the colorful and sometimes massive props they use - perform their show, and then get themselves and those props off the field.
The bands come from across the country and include 13 from Indiana. But that means dozens of bands, their parents and other supporters will be staying in Indy's hotels, eating in the restaurants and giving a boost to the economy that the area sorely missed a year ago.
"Those groups will choose either independent with themselves or through a tour company to visit all the sights and sounds that are available. I've even heard of groups going as far out as the Hoosier Gym to tour," Earnhart said.
One reason marching band has found a home in Indy is the city's stadium, specifically its roof. Bands of America first held Grand Nationals here in 1984 at the former Hoosier Dome. While Lucas Oil Stadium is a football haven, it was also designed with the marching arts in mind.
"You've got that black curtain along the back, so you're essentially creating a stage that's 100 yards wide," Earnhart said. "You also have warm up rooms that are directly adjacent to the field. We're really thankful to the city and Visit Indy for allowing us to be part of the (stadium) design."
Preliminary competition is today and Friday, and the top 30 scoring bands will move on to the semifinals on Saturday. Then, the top 12 bands from semifinals will qualify for Saturday night's finals and the right to call themselves Grand National champion. That honor is usually reserved for larger schools - for example, Avon High School and Carmel High School are past BOA Grand National champs.
But Earnhart says there is plenty of room in the competition for smaller bands.
"Is it a contest, yes. But it's really more of a music education event where we're able to have a culminating performance experience and be able to show off what we know how to do with like-minded peers from across the country," Earnhart said. "We are simply supporting each other to become the best versions of ourselves as music and marching members."
If you go, remember that Lucas Oil Stadium is a cashless facility right now as part of pandemic protocols. Tickets for the Bands of America Grand National Championships are available here.
Bands of America Grand Nationals — When bands from Indiana play:
- IPS Music Showcase: 11:15 a.m. Thursday
- Sound and Spirit of Columbus: 1 p.m. Thursday
- Homestead (Ft. Wayne): 4:15 p.m. Thursday
- Monrovia: 5:15 p.m. Thursday
- Castle (Newburgh): 5:45 p.m. Thursday
- Center Grove: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
- Marching Pride of Lawrence Township: 7:45 p.m. Thursday
- Avon: 8 p.m. Thursday
- Carmel: 8:30 p.m. Thursday
- Fishers: 9 p.m. Thursday
- Greenfield-Central: 12:15 p.m. Friday
- Munster: 3 p.m. Friday
- Brownsburg: 3:45 p.m. Friday
- Lake Central: 5 p.m. Friday