FULL Prelims Recap: 2019 BOA Grand National Championships

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If you’re not a basketball fan, bear with me for a couple hundred words. If you are, this will all make a lot of sense. I promise, this article is about band.

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Personally, I love college basketball — almost as much as I love marching music, which is a lot. So, as you’d expect, March Madness is like a holiday for me. The fact that it’s not recognized as a federal holiday is something I still struggle with, just a little bit. 

But anyway, what’s wild about March Madness is that we spend months looking forward to it, and once the tournament brackets are set on Selection Sunday, the next three days feel like years’ worth of anticipation until games are played in earnest starting that ensuing Thursday. 

And then, 48 hours go by in what feels like seconds, and you’ve gone from 64 teams from 32 in the snap of a finger. 48 more light-speed hours later, and you’re down to 16. 

It’s literally the blink of an eye — at least, it feels like it — and a third of the teams you’ve been talking about leading up to the tournament are done. 

2019 is my first year experiencing the Bands of America Grand Nationals — see, I told you I’d get to band eventually — and sitting in an empty Lucas Oil Stadium this Friday night, I can’t help but find myself feeling like it’s the end of the first Sunday of March Madness.

Literally, 36 hours ago, we had 91 bands ready to compete. A couple of shots were played, a couple of drill sets were hit, a few props were moved, I blinked once or twice — maybe three times — and suddenly there were only 38 left. That’s where we stand now.

And that’s wild, right?

What’s even crazier is that we’re 24 hours away from having the best 12 bands in the country on one field receiving accolades for their accomplishments.

Okay, that’s wild. Personally, I don’t know if I could confidently tell you who it’ll be after Prelims. Obviously, there are favorites, but this year’s lineup is just so deep.

But I’m not even thinking about tomorrow night right now. We’ve still got a full morning and afternoon of Semifinals ahead, and having witnessed a good sample of the Prelims competition, there’s a lot to look forward to in the next round of competitive action. 

Three overarching thoughts...

1. Texas is lighting this place on fire — I didn’t get to see all six Texas bands in Prelims, but the ones that I did see were incredible. We obviously don’t know where they fell in terms of placement, but all six advanced to tomorrow’s Semifinals, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they all find spots in the Top 12 for Saturday night’s Finals.

Going with a little bit of personal bias, I loved Claudia Taylor Johnson’s show, “Circle of Life” — so many fun musical moments, I was eating it up.

Vandegrift was another one, they went on pretty early Friday morning and still found a way to light up the crowd with “Aria, Queen of the Night.” This is a band that has never been to Grand Nationals but entered the weekend with the highest score to date of any competing BOA band (except Ronald Reagan, who did not attend this year), having earned a tally of 96.400 at the San Antonio Super Regional.

2. Local bands still have the magic — I know there’s been a lot of Texas talk with this being a year in which a good sampling of Lone Star State bands are competing at Grand Nats, but there’s still a reason a lot of people refer to Indiana as the “marching music capital of the world.” 

Seven Indiana bands took spots in Semifinals out of the 13 in total that competed in Prelims.

Obviously, you’ve got your Carmels, Avons and Homesteads, and they were all stunning in Prelims Thursday night. But even Fishers, Lawrence Township, Brownsburg and many more Indiana bands were also worth the price of admission on Thursday, and will be just the same on Saturday.

It’s tough to say how many of these bands will make their way to Saturday night. Last year, there were just three, so we’ll see if that number changes significantly 24 hours from now. 

 3. Look out for the outsiders — Obviously you’ve got your hotbeds of marching music, your Indianas and Texases (is that really the plural of Texas? Is there actually a plural of Texas?), but there’s a handful of bands from outside those borders that have plenty of noise left to be made this weekend.

I was really impressed by Union, from Oklahoma. That’s not all that surprising, they’ve been near the top at Grand Nationals before. But in a year when Broken Arrow isn’t in town, it’ll be interesting to see how high Union flies as Oklahoma’s lone representative. 

Keep an eye on Ayala, too. It’s been a few years since they’ve been here in Indianapolis, but the Ayala program is never one you should be sleeping on. Last time they were at Grand Nats (2013), they took 12th, and after seeing them this weekend, there’s plenty of reason to believe they’ll be contending for finalist positioning tomorrow. 


I’m missing so many bands, and that’s no discredit to any of them, it’s such a deep field at this year’s event. And again, just the fact that the field has already been narrowed to 38 is wild to me. 

So, strap in, because tomorrow — the final day of an incredible BOA season — should be one for the books. 

And it’ll be over before you know it.

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