The 73rd annual Gazette-Mail Kanawha County Majorette and Band Festival steps off Tuesday night under the lights at Laidley Field in Charleston.
Each of the county’s eight high school marching bands will compete at University of Charleston Stadium at Laidley Field for the title of Festival Grand Champion, and a new Miss Kanawha Majorette will be crowned at the end of the night.
“I think there’s already excitement due to the tradition of the event,” said Mark Davis, Kanawha County Schools’ Fine Arts Curriculum specialist.
The “Show of Shows,” as it was once called, started in the 1940s and is the state’s longest-running music festival. From traditional to the abstract, the bands have developed shows sure to entertain the crowds each Friday night and at the various festivals at which they compete.
Davis, who oversees the music and band programs for the county’s schools, said he hasn’t seen any of the field shows but did catch a bit of the music rehearsal at Capital and Nitro high schools.
“I’m pretty much ready to see what everyone has been working on,” he said. “I know they’ve been working since July on these.”
Davis said he likes to get the same experience as the crowd, not seeing the show beforehand, and seeing each band’s take on a theme or idea. The themes this year range from well-known tunes, like music from “The Greatest Showman,” to the more conceptual theme of “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.”
“I think we always have a mix,” Davis said of the field show themes. “We have some pop music and we have the artsy abstract shows. There was a Billy Joel show and some Chuck Mangione.”
While the band sizes aren’t what they once were, many of the high school bands are holding steady and a few are gaining members.
“The pendulum has swung to the west side of the county right now,” Davis said.
Nitro has the largest band this year with 76 members. St. Albans follows with 74. George Washington and Capital, both traditionally the largest, have 67 and 65, respectively.
Davis said the numbers are improving throughout the county because younger students are taking an interest in music.
“We still have a strong elementary music program,” Davis said. “I’m a proponent of that and I think that’s where you plant the seed. They have more options as they get older and quality middle school programs.”
The festival gives the students a chance to see what they could do in the future with alternating exhibition shows from West Virginia University’s Mountaineer Marching Band “The Pride of West Virginia” and Marshall University’s Marching Thunder. This year, WVU’s band is making the trip from Morgantown.
“Having the WVU band down here is huge,” Davis said. “A lot of people don’t have the chance to see them unless they get to go to games.”
The 350-plus member band has a new director in Stephen Lytle, and Davis said he’s excited to see what direction the band takes.
“I’m just thrilled the university bands have continued to be a part of it and that they come down and take part in the exhibition,” Davis said, adding that he “knows for a fact” that there are students in the WVU band because they saw them perform at the Majorette and Band Festival.
Good weather is expected for the event, with mostly sunny skies and a high of 79 degrees. The festival is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. with the majorettes lining up on the field. The WVU band is slated to perform around 8:30 p.m. with the awards ceremony to immediately follow.
Adam Harris, Mountain Stage executive producer, will return to emcee the event.
Festival attendees can use the hashtags #kcsarts and #kcbandfest on social media platforms to share thoughts and photos from the show, as well as to get updates on the event.
Davis said the festival is a fundraiser for the high school band programs. After expenses, the eight bands split the gate and program proceeds. Tickets for the event are $7 in advance and can be purchased at the Laidley Field box office or any Kanawha County high school. They are $8 at the gate on the day of the event. Programs are $1.
“It’s a win-win in that area,” Davis said. “They’re coming out and supporting the bands and being entertained at the same time.”