In the Battle of the Bands, Bayou Classic ended with close calls on the field and in the stands
NEW ORLEANS — Fans decked out in the traditional black, blue and gold swarmed the Mercedes-Benz Superdome downtown on the first day of Bayou Classic weekend.
There were no football players around — the game wouldn’t begin until the next day — as the large, enthusiastic crowd was for the Bayou Classic’s unofficial main event: the Battle of the Bands.
Inside the dome, the Human Jukebox of Southern University and A&M College was the first to greet the crowd and was met with equal excitement from fans who came to support its members. It was Southern’s year to kick things off, and the band began with a number right after revealing its official Human Jukebox license plates that fans can purchase soon. This makes the Human Jukebox the only band to have an official license plate in the state of Louisiana. After a short opener, the Human Jukebox transitioned smoothly into this year’s band favorite, GoldLink’s “Crew.”
After patiently waiting for Southern to finish, the spotlight shifted to The World Famed Grambling State Tiger Marching Band, which opened with Tamela Mann’s hit gospel song “Take Me to the King,” in tribute to the lives of Dolores Marsalis (wife of Ellis Marsalis and “matriarch of New Orleans’ first family of jazz”) and New Orleans jazz legend Fats Domino. The band then jumped right into its second song of the night, Post Malone’s “Rockstar,” one of its stronger songs of the evening.
Tossing it back to Southern, the Human Jukebox slowed the pace a bit with an impressive performance of one of R&B crooner Tank’s most recent hits, “When We,” followed by DJ Khaled’s summer banger “Wild Thoughts.” Grambling responded with an equally striking rendition of SZA’s “Love Galore” and continued with The Isley Brothers’ “Contagious,” a throwback that encouraged crowd participation with a singalong of the song’s infamous third verse.
More than 16 songs were played on each side as the night rolled on. Both bands played pingpong back and forth between old-school hits and today’s Top 40, with Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone,” “We Are One” by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” and “Outstanding” by The Gap Band being some of the notable favorites. Southern’s performance of “Southern Girl,” a collaboration between the band, singer-songwriter PJ Morton and rapper Mia X, whom Southern brought out as a special guest to rap her verse, proved to be a treat that both sides appreciated. Although there were misfires on both sides — the pacing of transitions, muddled notes, a guessing game of which song was being played, an emcee singing over the band’s tracks — it was a lot closer to call a clear winner than in previous years.
Flipping last year on its head, it was Southern’s turn to line up and head out as Grambling finished playing. Southern, which is the No. 4-ranked band in the latest ESPN/The Undefeated Band Rankings, could be heard performing to a crowd outside of the dome, while Grambling played a final time for those who lined up to catch one last glimpse of the band members before they boarded the bus.
A much-hyped halftime
After recharging for the actual football, 66,550 fans filed into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to watch longtime rivals Southern University and Grambling State go head-to-head in the 44th annual Bayou Classic game.
As is usually the case, more fans were seated by the start of the Battle of the Bands than they had been through the first half of the game. For 20 minutes, spectators were offered sizzling performances and the last opportunity to choose the winner of this year’s battle. Just like the night before, the Human Jukebox took the field first. The band went a more traditional route on game day, with complex formations and oldies but goodies that the crowd could rock to. The first selection of the day: Earth, Wind & Fire’s “In the Stone.” The band formed to impress and completely wowed the crowd by forming a message on the field telling fans to “turn up” before going into its final number. That last song gave the Human Jukebox a chance to showcase each section’s talents individually before coming back together for a powerful ending.
Before Southern could clear the field, the World Famed Tiger Marching Band had already begun. Much like Southern, the band went with crowd favorites like Cheryl Lynn’s 1978 hit “Got to Be Real” before focusing more on the music of the Bayou. A sequence of formations was executed, but Grambling’s main priority seemed to ensure that, if nothing else, the crowd would be entertained. Grambling brought it home with Louisiana favorites, Boosie Badazz’s “Do the Ratchet” and Juvenile’s “Back That Thang Up,” which got the crowd going, before ending the performance to a standing ovation during the school’s hype song.
The game may have been a lot closer this year than it was last year, but the Battle of the Bands, as always, is best debated by fans. Which band took the crown this year? Let us know.