How many times can you say that three-letter word. Finals weekend started with our first-ever Drum Line Battle at the Beach! You could feel the excitement building at the Postcard Inn on St. Petersburg Beach as the sun started to set. The chefs were already preparing the beach barbeque when rows and rows of buses pulled up and hundreds of high school musicians headed for the sand and surf of St. Petersburg Beach. Light rain failed to dampen the spirits of the participants as the competition began to loud cheers from not only the students, but from a crowd of onlookers from nearby hotels who were shouting and cheering along with the parents and supporters of each of the drum lines.
The scoring of the event, which is weighted heavily by the entertainment factor in accordance with rules established by our pagaentry partners at DCI, was almost a photo-finish, with an incredible, precise percussion presentation by the percussion section from St. Petersburg High School finishing a close second to the larger section of the Barron Collier High School's Show-Style Band from Naples. But perhaps the highlight of the evening came after the sun set, as the FMBC Executive Director, our own Cathy Kersten, brought out her fire batons and did a personal exhibition for the crowd! This was a truly fun evening, and a great way to start FMBC weekend.
Early on Saturday Morning, as the sun peeked over the horzon, all over Tampa Bay FMBC staff members and voluntters set up signs, tables, concessions and computers - football fields were striped, and parking lots unlocked and prepared for FMBC Semi-Finals. And we are proud to say that this year we had our largest Semi-Finals Tournament ever, with more bands and more parents and supporters than ever at our four sites. As has long been our custom, the top five in each size class were selected by an independent panel of skilled and trained adjudicators, based on a combination of performance-related factors, starting with the quality of their musical presentation, but also including the precision and excitement of their visual presentation and the overall General Effect of their show.
The day started with light misty rain, and the first bands in the 1-A, 2-A and 3-A classes. Those early morning bands did a wonderful job coping with the rain and the unseasonably chilly weather (of course, in Florida, anything below 78 degrees can be considered chilly). In the first 10 minutes of show time, it was clear that 2014 was going to be a year to remember for just pure musical and visual excellence.
The rain faded away a few minutes after the Semi-Finals started, but a gusty wind was the challenge for all of the bands who were performing outdoors at Semi-Finals, as some of those flags were tossed high into the sky never to be seen again...(just kidding). The fact is that those guard members did an outstanding job of handling flags, rifles, and even hunting bows and beach balls in the unpredictable gusty wind.
As has been the case in recent years, once again some of the returning judges who had flown to Florida from the snow-covered east coast and the bone-chilling midwest weather commented on the extraordinary growth in quality in Florida marching bands - especially the smaller bands - since the advent of FMBC. We could not agree more, and we are proud to have been and continue to be a small part of the music education system in our wonderful state.
As the Finalist bands were announced, there was loud cheering at every site - I bet the fans entering the Tropicana Dome could hear the cheering from clear across Tampa Bay! And if they could not, there is no doubt that they could feel the enthusiasm and the excitement of FMBC Weekend in Florida.
The Finals started right on time at 4 PM and continued until almost 10:30 PM, with bands performing for what was by far the largest crowd of spectators at Finals in our history. The stands were packed - we even had to open additional seating in the stands behind the goal line this year.
Again, as is our tradition, all of the bands that performed at Finals were judged by an entirely different judging panel, and the order of finish in each size class shifted slightly from the order of finish at Semi-Finals, as the bands that had performed outdoors earlier in the day had to make adjustments to the indoor arena with varying degrees of success, and the bands that performed indoors earlier had to control the adrenaline and the excitement that comes with being an FMBC Finalist.
We were also very fortunate to have as our guest Professor Barry Bernhardt and the Florida International Band. Florida International presented an entertaining and polished show that brought our audience to their feet over and over again with deafening cheers and roars that made the stadium shake!
When the competitive portion was over, and the bands assembled on the field in full retreat, it was a heart warming and emotional moment as FMBC gave special tribute to their long time friend and one of the founding Board Members of FMBC, Stoneman Douglas Director John Rusnak, who passed away during their band camp this year. Mr. Rusnak became the first inductee into the FMBC Hall of Fame, and a new series of College Scholarships was announced in honor of Mr. Rusnak. These new FMBC Hall of Fame Scholarships join FMBC's Jon Kersten Memorial Scholarships and FMBC's Music 'n Motion Scholarships.
Thanks to the staff, the volunteers, and the hundreds - perhaps thousands of parents and supporters who helped make this event a reality by months of preparation, and by coming out today to show their support for their friends, their kids, and for the Marching Arts.
It was an outstanding day of musical and performance excellence. We hope that even more of you can join us next year, when FMBC presents the 2015 FMBC Drum Line Battle on the Beach and the 2015 FMBC Semi-Finals and Finals.