ST. PETERSBURG — Those who attend Sunday's Martin Luther King Battle of the Bands and Drum Line program at Tropicana Field can expect the traditional rousing event, but with a more concise format this year.
The hourslong program, which attracts families and other spectators from long distances to see and hear bands strut and play their best, will kick off at 6:15 p.m. and end by 10 p.m., said emcee Sevell Brown.
Last year's program lasted past midnight.
"We have scaled down the number of participants so we don't have anything too long. I know we had an immense number of groups last year,'' said Brown, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's Florida chapter.
Brown also said a former band director who could be depended on to keep the program organized fell ill last year and couldn't be present.
"It's like taking the football coach off the field. The whole thing with the band competition, it is very key to have someone knowing who needs to be doing what and when,'' said Brown, who promised "a smoother show'' Sunday.
The event, formally titled the 24th Annual National Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major for Justice Battle of the Bands and Drum Line Extravaganza, will feature bands from three universities: Alabama State, Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State. Joining them will be high school and middle school bands, including Lakewood High School. Some bands, including Bethune-Cookman's, will march in the following day's parade, Brown said.
Area leaders say Sunday's program, which is a community effort involving churches, other organizations and numerous individuals, is a positive one, especially for young people. Luke Williams, assistant chief of police for St. Petersburg, takes his three children.
"They've always liked it. It's one thing we always do together. The kids see people who are not much older than them that they can relate to,'' Williams said.
Some spectators would rather focus on the proficiency of the college bands, but not Williams.
"I get more enjoyment seeing the younger kids. They are the future of bands,'' he said.
The Rev. Louis Murphy, a former drum major for Florida A&M University's acclaimed Marching 100, admits to being partial to marching bands and events like Sunday's.
"I probably would never have gone to college if I hadn't gotten into band in the seventh grade,'' he said.
"It's always exciting to watch the kids play, to see the different choreographed dances, to see precision marching and to see who's got a handle on the latest songs. It's just fascinating to watch the kids, and then it's something positive that they're doing.''
Reach Waveney Ann Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.