Racer Band prepares to host annual competition

Jenny Rohl/The News Racer Band performs its routine between performances of regional bands during last year’s Festival of Champions.
Jenny Rohl/The News Racer Band performs its routine between performances of regional bands during last year’s Festival of Champions.

Jenny Rohl/The News
Racer Band performs its routine between performances of regional bands during last year’s Festival of Champions.

For 39 years, Racer Band has played host to high school marching bands from the western Kentucky and northern Tennessee regions who are vying to win overall champion.

Racer Band and the music department at Murray State will host Festival of Champions Saturday with performances beginning at 11 a.m.

The event is a significant fundraiser for the two groups. More importantly, it gives Racer Band and high school marching bands an opportunity to perform in front of an engaged audience. 

John Fannin, Murray State assistant director of bands, said that although Racer Band members are grateful for the reactions from the crowd at football games, this annual marching band tournament is a better audience. The average attendance at Festival of Champions is around 4,000 people and Fannin said that the majority of the audience understands music well.

“The audience has a total appreciation and understanding,” Fannin said. “They appreciate the technical aspects of the performance and it is very gratifying to play for those audiences.”

The high school bands also enjoy performing in front of these crowds. This year 15 schools will perform. Schools will be divided into classes 1A through 5A based on school population size. There will be a first, second and third place for each class. Other awards include best soloist, percussion awards, color guard awards and the overall champion.

Each band has the opportunity to perform their routine twice.

The preliminary rounds will begin Saturday morning and if the school’s score is high enough, it will advance to the final round which will take place Saturday night.

Racer Band will perform at each of these appearances.

Brandon Story, junior from Murray, is the Racer Band president and has played both a host for the event as well as a high school participant. Story competed in Festival of Champions every year in high school and has helped host it for three years.

Story said that participating in high school was fun, but the competition was intense.

Eighty percent of the current Racer Band also participated in Festival of Champions in high school, Fannin said.

Story said that hosting the event gives him three things to be proud of.

“(I’m proud to) see all of our hard work from a leadership standpoint come together, have two great performances with the Racer Band and take pride in being a great host.”

Each section of the Racer Band is in charge of some form of the competition day experience. For some, the primary goal of the section is to sell T-shirts, concessions or tickets; for others it may involve making sure that bands understand what time they are supposed to perform and where to be.

Each leader oversees the logistics of the event, which makes the day easier, Fannin said.

Laura Nash, senior from Paris, Tenn., is a drum major and is the first person the bands will interact with when they arrive. Nash’s job is to help bands check in and explain where to warm up, as well as performance times and what to do if their school advances to the finals. 

Advancing to the finals is under the discretion of judges who are from around the country and have strong music backgrounds. There is also a guest commentator this year.

The Racer Band has hired a famous marching band analyst, Steve Rondinaro, to report on the competition. Rondinaro has been a reporter for the national telecast for professional marching bands since 1976. Fannin and the Racer Band is excited that it will have a credible source to analyze the competition’s technical aspects.

Fannin is in his 20th year helping with the Festival of Champions. He said that many aspects of the event have changed and gotten better.

“The student leadership is probably as strong as it has ever been,” Fannin said. “It is a tradition that has been passed on.”

Festival of Champions will be telecast on KET but viewers are encouraged to spend the day at Roy Stewart Stadium. Tickets may be purchased at the stadium for $10 per session or $15 for a combination ticket. For more information, students can visit www.murraystatebands.com.

Story by Tiffany WhitfillStaff writer