This year’s Gazette-Mail Kanawha County Majorette & Band Festival in Charleston Tuesday night will look different, although marching band members, their families, friends and supporters will at least get a festival.
Like most public gatherings and festivals, concerns about the spread of COVID-19 caused the cancellation of the band festival in 2020. It was believed to be the first time the festival had been canceled in its 70-plus-year history.
The festival is back, but Mark Davis, the fine arts curriculum specialist for the Kanawha County Board of Education, said it won’t be picking up where it left off in 2019.
“When people come to the festival and they think the bands look smaller, they’re right,” he said. “The bands will be smaller.”
County music programs lost more than a year of instruction. The students, who begin the band program in sixth grade, didn’t, while older students dropped out in the interim. Many of them didn’t come back.
“This isn’t just a Kanawha County problem. It’s not just a West Virginia problem. It was everywhere,” he said. “It was a global problem.”
Cut off from organized group instruction and regular performances, many music education programs withered.
A few local schools managed to get in a few performances, but they didn’t get many, and, sometimes, they had to get creative with how they played.
“You might’ve been able to play a football game,” Davis said. “You might have got a spring concert, but that’s so much less than what a normal year would be.”
High school seniors, who had been in a program for five or more years, really missed out, Davis said.
Time was lost and they’re still trying to adapt, but at least they’re moving forward.
Meleah Fisher, band director at Herbert Hoover High School, said her marching band program wasn’t hit as hard as some others.
“We don’t have one of the bigger bands in the area,” she said.
Fisher said that, during distance learning and then hybrid learning, she lost a few students but still had about 30 in her band, including the auxiliary, although about half of her group is relatively new to marching.
She said much of her band has performed at just one competition, which was only two weeks ago.
“There were a lot of nerves, but they did really well,” Fisher said. “It was a good experience.”
Davis called this year’s festival a rebuilding year but also described it as hopeful and celebratory.
“There’s a lot of excitement in bringing this back,” he said. “People were very disappointed when we called it off last year. People I didn’t even know were fans of this thing came out of the woodwork.”
Davis added, “So, this was very sad that we had to cancel, but it was also very encouraging. A lot of people really care about this event.”
Because the festival is outside at University of Charleston Stadium at Laidley Field, Davis said, there are no specific preconditions set for people in the stands.
“We hope people will do the right thing,” he said. “We hope they’ll wear masks in the stands and socially distance with each other, just stay in their own groups.”
There is plenty of room for everybody.
For those unable to attend, the event will be livestreamed Tuesday on the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s website, under the High School Gameday tab.