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What Is a Marching Band Festival?

By Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Updated May 23, 2024
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A marching band festival is an event showcasing multiple marching bands at the high school or college level. It is very similar to a marching band competition in that judges evaluate participating bands on how well they perform and provide feedback. Unlike a marching band competition, however, the emphasis is on highlighting different marching styles and music, not necessarily winning, so participating bands often watch each other and provide positive encouragement.

During a marching band festival, members of a marching band come onto the performance area and are announced by a facilitator. The marching band plays at least one piece, usually covering material from the half-time shows developed during the football season. They move about the performance field, creating visual designs and effects as they play.

Multiple judges determine the quality of each band's performance during a marching band festival. They look at the band's overall musicality, visual impact and technical complexity. Often, the judges also evaluate the work of the drum major for each band, looking at conducting ability and the control of the ensemble.

When judges assess the bands participating in a festival, they usually group them into different divisions. The divisions reflect the size of the school and participating band. In general, larger bands are of better quality because, unlike the bands in very small schools, directors often require auditions, as the number of people who want to participate allows greater selectivity in terms of musicianship. Larger schools also tend to have better funding, which allows them to try things in the marching show that would be too expensive for a small school. Classification into divisions takes these discrepancies into account and allows for fairer judging.

A marching band festival usually is open to the public, as the entire point of a marching band festival is to show other people what these bands do and the techniques they are capable of performing. The events usually are free, but some festivals do charge a general admission fee that allows the hosts of the festival to cover their operation costs.

A small marching band festival may last just a few hours. In a very large festival, the number of bands may necessitate spreading the festival out over several days. This means that, in some cases, it is not practical for audience members to view the entire festival. People often go during the day and time when the particular bands they want to see are performing.

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Discussion Comments

By Sinbad — On Sep 16, 2011

@animegal - There is a documentary out called The 50 Yard Line that I have heard great things about. I have not seen it personally, but have heard of it through word or mouth and through research. It is the most celebrated band film in film festival history. It also won 9 film festivals awards!

When I get a chance I am going to see this documentary, especially since it has so many good reviews!

From learning more about marching band festivals, I am going to check to see if there are any in my town. I like the fact that different bands cheer each other on and want each other to do their best, so it is less of a competition and more of an open display of what they have learned.

By animegal — On Sep 15, 2011

There have been some pretty entertaining movies with marching bands in them put out over the last few years, and of course, marching band festivals and competitions usually take center stage in at least some of the flicks.

Drumline is one of my favorite movies that features a marching band because the music in the film has a very modern sound. The skill the performers show is inspiring and it really makes you want to move to the beat of the music they play.

Does anyone else have any favorite films or TV shows they have seen that have featured marching bands?

I don't get to see real marching band festivals very often, so watching them virtually is a good way to go for me.

By drtroubles — On Sep 14, 2011

There is an annual marching band festival in my hometown that I have seen a few times over the years and it is always fun to watch. It lasts a few days, so I only catch a few hours out of the whole event, but it is still enjoyable.

I love seeing the high school kids from across the state get together and perform at what they do best.

I love how some marching bands have taken to performing their own versions of popular music. I think this makes it more fun for the whole audience. Much of the traditional marching band music in my opinion is a bit to repetitive for my liking.

By sunshined — On Sep 14, 2011

I have always enjoyed attending marching band festivals. It seems like I never get tired of watching all the different performances.

I am amazed at the variety of music and all the creativity that goes in to each performance. Since I am one of those people who have a hard time chewing gum and walking at the same time, I am enthralled with what these kids can do.

I don't know how they can play their instruments and remember all the steps they have to do at the same time.

My nephew and niece are very involved with band and I always look forward to watching them perform at their competitions.

One weekend we attended a festival that took place over the entire weekend. All of the bands did a great job, but some of them were just amazing to watch.

By LisaLou — On Sep 13, 2011

Both of my kids were involved with marching band and concert band when they were in school. Between the two of them I have attended several marching band competitions. These were always fun to attend and the competition could get pretty intense.

Our community has an annual fall marching band festival every year. This has become a tradition with many bands coming from all over.

This marching band festival is a high school street marching competition and is well attended. Since it takes place in the fall, the weather is cooler and the festival is always well attended.

By EdRick — On Sep 13, 2011

I was in a marching band in high school, so they're dear to my heart. There's an annual high school marching band festival in my hometown every year that I never miss.

It's a nice free event that's fun for kids. It's outside, there are flags and twirlers and colorful outfits, and it's loud - what's not to like? I've taken my son every year. (His baby sister was a little frightened of it this year, but I'm sure she'll come on board in a year or two.)

My son is getting even more interested now that he is learning to play the trombone. At this year's festival, he kept talking about how he would do in a few years when he gets to high school and can march in the band!

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