Racer Band warms up for annual competition

Craig Taylor, senior from Russellville, Ky., practices his mellophone during a Racer Band rehearsal earlier this week. The Racer Band has a record-breaking 310 members this season including 185 returning members. || Kylie Townsend/The News

Craig Taylor, senior from Russellville, Ky., practices his mellophone during a Racer Band rehearsal earlier this week. The Racer Band has a record-breaking 310 members this season including 185 returning members. || Kylie Townsend/The News

The region’s oldest high school band competition, Festival of Champions, is coming to Roy Stewart Stadium Saturday. Starting at 9 a.m., the 36th annual festival will begin with class performances.

Festival of Champions is a competition hosted by the Murray State Racer Band every year and sanctioned by the Kentucky Music Educators Association.

Preparing for the festival is a huge project that begins months in advance.

“It’s a big checklist of things we have to get ready, from reserving the stadium to making sure they turn the sprinklers off,” John Fannin, assistant Director of Bands said.

One unique characteristic about the festival is every member of the Murray State Racer Band works for the festival.

“Everybody in the band helps with some job,” Fannin said. “Whether it be assisting with parking, taking tickets, selling concessions, every member works about an hour to two hour shift.”

This year, 24 bands from Arkansas, Illinois, Tennessee and Kentucky will be participating in the competition. Some 1,500 students will be unloaded from 67 buses, not to mention the 20 to 30 U-Haul trucks, and 24 semis loaded with band equipment.

“My day starts at five in the morning, blocking off parking. If you look out there at Roy Stewart Stadium right now, there are signs that say not to park in the north parking lot,” Fannin said. “I bring a tow truck that morning at 6 o’clock and that’s where we park all of our equipment trucks.”

In addition to the many buses and equipment trucks, the parking lot will be filled with food service trucks and audience members’ vehicles. Nearly 4,000 people are expected to attend the Festival of Champions, not including those competing.

Festival of Champions also includes two performances from the Racer Band. Its first performance is after the preliminary competition and the second just before finals awards.

“Our prelims show this year is a combination of well-known disco tunes from Saturday Night Fever as well as Bee Gee classics like ‘Stayin’ Alive,’” Ryan Knight, president of Racer Band, said. “For our big finals show, we are performing an arrangement of ‘Firedance,’ a challenging Latin piece with a jazz flare coined by the one and only Allen Vizzutti.”

Each show is unique and incorporates 3–4 individual numbers.

“I’m really excited about performing the disco show in prelims because it’s really catchy and the crowd will definitely get into it,” Emma Hanranhan, freshman from Lexington, Ky., said.

Also, this year Kentucky Education Television will be featuring a program with a 90 second coverage of each band. The program will be accessible later in the fall.

“I’m really excited about performing for a TV audience on Saturday,” Katherine Hollar, freshman from Mt. Vernon, Ind., said. “I’m a little nervous, but hey, it will be fun!”

Awards will be given after the Racer Band performance at 4 p.m. for the preliminary contest. The sections of awards will be: best in class, overall percussion and overall color guard.

The final awards will be announced after Racer Band’s second, 9:30 p.m. performance. These awards will include best visual performance, best music performance, best general effect, best woodwinds and best brass.

The band scoring highest overall will receive a trophy and the title of Festival of Champions winner.

Tickets are available for the preliminary session at $10 for adults and $5 for children under 12.

Also, tickets for both sessions are available at $15 for adults and $7 for children during finals.

Murray State students qualify for a reduced price of either $5 or $6.­­

Story by Hunter Harrell, Contributing writer.

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