Saturday Night: Battle Of The Bands At Minute Maid Park

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MLB Urban Invitational Battle of the Bands Minute Maid Park February 18, 2012

When I read the words "Battle of the Bands," I am immediately transported to the summer of 1997, when I trained to become a drum major at Texas Southern University. My band director at Jesse Jones Senior High, Mr. Ronald Cole, persuaded me to try out. This resulted in an experience that changed my life.

This past weekend, Minute Maid Park hosted the Fifth Annual MLB Urban Invitational. The round-robin collegiate baseball tournament was designed to give historically black colleges and universities and their baseball programs national exposure. This year's tournament featured five such schools: Alabama State, Grambling State, Southern, Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern, as well as NCAA Division I school the University of Southern California-Irvine.

Former American Idol finalist Paris Bennett - a late replacement for the originally scheduled Ruben Studdard - was on hand to sing the national anthem before the early afternoon game between UCI and Southern. TSU alum and Tony Award winner Jennifer Holliday sang "America the Beautiful" prior to the evening game between Prairie View and TSU. But the real show was just about to start.

When anyone goes to a PV or TSU football game, the actual onfield play is secondary to the halftime show. During college fairs, such as the one held on the Minute Maid concourse on Saturday, many students are much more interested in the band program than the sports program.

That's not to say that the sports at the schools are subpar, but it does attest to the excellence showcased by their marching bands. I marched alongside them in parades and homecomings. The excitement and dedication of each band member is infectious.

Prairie View was first up to bat. The size of the band performing here was about a quarter of the normal number of participants. The song selection ranged from obvious (the MLB theme song) to the interesting ("Circus" by Britney Spears). The drum line was crisp and the drum majors flew high.

Texas Southern followed, and from the first note of the opening cadence, we could all tell that the Ocean of Soul was there to impress. The trumpets screamed, the tubas grooved, and everyone high-stepped with a swagger common in the Third Ward.

A tribute to Whitney Houston (R.I.P.) began their set on a solemn note, but the mood was quickly uplifted with a medley of club-dance anthems, including "'Till the World Ends," again by Britney Spears. Who knew HBCU show bands were so fond of Brit?

Maybe it was due to the lack of room in the ballpark's outfield, and they were most likely advised to be gentle to the stadium's grass, but the performances seemed to run at half speed and volume.

It wasn't much of a "battle," but even so, it was still quite a show.

I came out of that drum-major training camp all those summer ago with an award as the best drum major candidate at the camp, as well as fifteen pounds lighter. I led my band through countless games, half-time shows, and parades, including a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans that ended at the Louisiana Superdome.

Watching is fun, but participating is much more fulfilling. And I got down with the best of them.

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