The 5th Quarter: Southern vs. Grambling State
Bayou Classic weekend 2016 brought out the best in both bands
It was the most wonderful time of the year again.
Deep in the heart of New Orleans, native Louisianians, alumni, current students and fans of Southern University and Grambling State University gathered for the 43rd annual Bayou Classic — a battle that has, for decades, determined which school would reign supreme for the year.
Each year, New Orleans becomes swallowed up in a sea of black, blue and gold. A quick glance at the car flags, bumper stickers, school paraphernalia — and traffic — in areas surrounding the Mercedes-Benz Superdome speak to how important the Bayou Classic still remains 43 years later.
“Bayou Classic pits North Louisiana against South Louisiana, and Louisiana is a boot — and we’re at the top,” said Larry Pannell, Grambling’s band director, of the event in October. “It’s bragging rights for the year. When [Grambling students] come in on Aug. 1, the freshmen hear about Southern University.”
The calm before the storm: The Battle
Every Thanksgiving weekend, fans from both sides come together to kick off the Bayou Classic with the Battle of the Bands, a showdown between the World Famed Grambling State University Tiger Marching Band and the Southern University Marching Band, better known as the Human Jukebox.
Shortly before 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 25, fans erupted in the stands after hearing the rumbling from the Tiger Marching Band in the tunnel located near the north end zone in the Superdome. Grambling fans greeted the band with a standing ovation. The team, clad in black-and-gold practice sweatsuits, took their places on the left side of the stage with members of the Orchesis Dance Company leading the way. Before the band could finish filing into their seats, the Human Jukebox and Southern’s Dancing Dolls had arrived much to the delight of their fans. Judging by the thunderous applause and even louder cheers the band received before even playing one note, it was clear Southern was well represented among the tens of thousands of fans in the dome.
It was Grambling’s year to start the show. The tactic used this year seemed to be to start slowly before easing the crowd into tunes of a higher pace as the band began with The Weeknd’s Earned It before transitioning into the singer’s latest hit, Starboy. After hyping up the crowd with Fat Joe’s All The Way Up, it was time for Southern to make an impression after a strong opener from Grambling.
Instead of matching Grambling’s hype, Southern slowed the momentum with a seductive performance of Rihanna’s Sex With Me, followed by Drake’s Childs Play. It was a bold, risqué move on Southern’s part, but one that the crowd seemed to enjoy. At this point, it was anyone’s game, er, battle.
With the spotlight shining brightly back on Grambling’s side of the stage, the band picked it up where they left off with a solid rendition of Bruno Mars’ popular hit 24K Magic, followed by Travis Scott’s Pick Up The Phone.
The anticipation from fans as they awaited Southern’s response was met with a selection that seemingly took everyone by surprise. After a brief introduction mentioning the trying times people of color are facing in America, the announcer introduced a singer who would perform gospel artist Donald Lawrence’s hit When The Saints Go To Worship as Southern played in the background. The peculiar timing of this particular song made for quite an awkward moment, especially when the singer could barely be heard as the band drowned her out during several parts of the performance. It wasn’t long before Southern hopped back into the secular music with Rae Sremmurd’s Black Beatles.
It was Grambling’s turn to respond.
The band entered familiar territory that would resonate with Louisiana natives with their performance of My Sidepiece by The Louisiana Blues Brothas. The song, a staple in many barrooms and hole-in-the-wall joints across Louisiana, was met by a mixture of laughter, dancing and a bit of confusion to those in the crowd who were unfamiliar with the music. Grambling followed the blues hit with Erykah Badu’s Love Of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop).
Southern’s band clearly holds the key to a playlist that would be perfect for a romantic evening. The band started with R. Kelly’s Bump N’ Grind, followed by rowdier selections including a bold performance of Chance The Rapper’s No Problem, Baton Rouge native Kevin Gates’ 2 Phones and Mel Waiters’ Got My Whiskey — another Louisiana barroom classic.
As Southern seemed to dedicate most of their songs to all the lovers, Grambling sat on the opposite end of the spectrum with tunes to heal the broken heart. The band presented the crowd with a Kelly Price throwback, Friend of Mine, specifically blowing out the iconic phone call between Mr. Biggs and R. Kelly — possibly the best part of that song to begin with. The band concluded with their version of Chance The Rapper’s No Problem in what may have been their strongest set of the night.
Back to the right of the stage, Southern answered with another throwback tune, Tank’s Maybe I Deserve, followed by a nod to New Orleans with Juvenile’s Nolia Clap and Nate Dogg’s Nobody Does It Better.
It came to the last songs of the night, and Grambling ultimately saved the best of their selections for last.
Grambling opened up with a chilling performance of Prince’s Purple Rain. The band ended with the university’s hype song, which was met with crowd participation. After the band’s final song, members filed out and disappeared into the tunnel — leaving before Southern could even finish their set.
Maybe in their minds, the battle had already been won.
Still, Southern stuck around to give fans what they wanted. The last set seemed to be dedicated to Southern’s fans, alumni and current students as the band played their own hype songs, ending the set in true New Orleans fashion with their rendition of Rebirth Brass Bands’ Do Whatcha Wanna.
After exiting the Superdome, Southern could be heard playing all the way to their buses, serenading the crowd with Lenny Williams’ ’Cause I Love You as fans walked to their cars. It was the perfect ending to a night that seemed to favor the Human Jukebox, but the battle was far from over.
Halftime is the Best Time
Less than 24 hours after the Battle of the Bands, fans filed into the Superdome once again, this time to witness which team would earn bragging rights as the Southwestern Athletic Conference West Division champions.
The 67,845 fans accounted for the largest crowd in the Bayou Classic’s history. Even with the close 17-13 score, with Grambling leading Southern before halftime, seats weren’t entirely filled until the latter part of the second quarter.
With a little under four minutes to go until halftime, the bands began making their way to the sidelines for the highly anticipated showdown. Band members from each team had ditched their practice sweats and were rocking their crisp uniforms.
With seconds to go, the announcement is made. Fans who had previously abandoned their seats in search of food, adult beverages and restroom breaks were now back, giving undivided attention to the bands.
Just like the night before, the Marching Tigers would be the first to go. The band’s two drum majors high-stepped to the center of the field, putting on a show with a synchronized routine, complete with the crowd-favorite backbend.
Grambling seemed to be renewed and more energized on the field than they did the previous night, and it showed through their variety of formations and song selections, opening the halftime show with TLC’s What About Your Friends. During Grambling’s next number, Orchesis Dance Company members joined the band to dance to Calvin Harris’ This Is What You Came For. Each song seemed to have a cleaner, purer quality than the night before.
The Marching Tigers followed with what appeared to be an ode to Louisiana, kicking off the second half of their show with My Sidepiece before bringing out Northern Louisiana artist MC Fiji to perform his hit Made Me Do It. Band members displayed their fun side, participating in the Fiji Shuffle dance all while holding their instruments and quickly getting back into formation for the next song. In a pleasant twist, Grambling presented the crowd with their second guest, New Orleans native Choppa, who performed his 2002 hit Choppa Style as the band played in the background. At the conclusion of the performance, the band posed, freezing in #MannequinChallenge form and playing Rae Sremmurd’s Black Beatles — the duo’s latest hit that became associated with the popular challenge — while exiting the field.
Before Grambling could clear the sidelines, the announcers were welcoming Southern’s band to the field. Again, the crowd erupted loudly with Southern’s fan base coming out in droves to support its university.
Southern, also seeming propelled by the warm welcome, perfected what appeared to be more complex formations while performing. After completing their first tune, the Dancing Dolls took their places front and center, dancing to Criticize by Alexander O’Neal.
The band members completed their song and began to scramble into another formation, exciting the crowd. The band paused for a second before placing their instruments on the ground beside them and showing the crowd how to JuJu On That Beat. The band concluded as it did the night before, second-lining off the field while playing Rebirth Brass Bands’ Do Whatcha Wanna — confidently sliding back into the stands after another successful Bayou Classic weekend.
Each band delivered strong selections, yet stumbled in areas of execution. While Southern seemed to hype the crowd with their halftime performance, Grambling appeared to stick to its Louisiana roots, catering to the home crowd.
So, who won this year? We’ll let you decide.