Posted: 8:00 a.m. Friday, Oct. 11, 2013
By Will Shelton
By now we've all had a couple of days to digest the conversation (or lack thereof) between the Pride of the Southland Marching Band and the University of Tennessee. The band fired first with an online petition submitted by drum major Jessica Henderson outlining complaints against the university including the reduction in band travel and budget as well as the increase in canned music over the PA during dead periods in Neyland Stadium. The petition has around 12,000 signatures as of Thursday night. It is backed by an open letter from Pride of the Southland officials. This storyby David Cobb at The Daily Beacon includes quotes from Jessica Henderson and Dr. Sousa, the band's director. In response the university released a statement on Wednesday disputing many of the band's claims and lamenting the timing of the band's statements, coming in the week following an all-time atmosphere in Neyland against Georgia.
I'm not here to say who's telling what percentage of the truth here, I have no idea. But I am interested in the question beneath all of this: how can the Vols improve gameday atmosphere?
We've celebrated the band before on this blog, including multiple times during our 100 Days of Vols feature this summer which ended with Running Through The T at #1. I love tradition and I love the band, but what can we do better?
If you haven't been this year, the Vols have used Sterl(ing Henton, former Vol QB of late 80s lore) the Pearl as a DJ from around 90 minutes before kickoff up through the "It's Football Time....in Tennessee!" pregame announcements. I have no doubt some of the band's time has been cut there. There do seem to be more video packages during commercial breaks, though I can't quantify it. And last week against Georgia with CBS's longer commercial break, there was more music over the PA.
In a "get off my lawn" moment, I personally am not a fan of canned music in the stadium, especially when it's AC/DC, that "Woo Hoo" song by Blur and anything else that came out more than ten years ago. Don't get me wrong, I love 80s and 90s music because that's what I grew up with. But I also love Dave Matthews (feel free to resist that urge to stop reading) and don't need to hear Crash Into Me on 3rd and long. If we're trying to get hype or especially trying to appeal to recruits on the sideline, we can do better than this. The canned music I heard Saturday just makes us sound like everybody else.
Maybe that's the point. Maybe we're trying to be like everybody else. The Pride complained about travel but that seems to be a league-wide problem; Georgia didn't bring the Redcoats, only the pep band. My understanding is South Carolina is doing the same thing next week. So far the only visiting band to perform at Neyland this year belonged to Austin Peay.
And again, I'm all for whatever helps in recruiting, I'm just not sure Back in Black is it.
Meanwhile the band's greatest traditions shouldn't be messed with and may not be at risk at all. I think things can be done better here too; I don't understand why every band in the SEC is required to play "Hey Baby" and think the band can do a better job connecting with its audience at times. One of my favorite lines from the message board this week was, "I was really ready to run through a wall after hearing Send In The Clowns at halftime."
Either way, The Pride of the Southland is an integral part of what happens on fall Saturdays, which wouldn't at all be the same without them. They'll bring the circle drill to the table next Saturday, which continues to impress. I hope this dispute, which certainly seems more bitter than both necessary and useful, gets resolved and we can go back to supporting the band that supports our university. Moving forward, if you're going to play more canned music, make it unique or relevant to a college football game, not just the same old stuff from the Jock Jams collection. And perhaps in turn the band - full of kids who work really hard, no doubt - can come a little closer to its audience.
What would you like to see changed in terms of the band, the music, and gameday atmosphere?