The timing of this year's annual battle of the bands wasn't lost on spectators at Tropicana Field on Sunday night.
Just two days before the inauguration of the nation's first black president, marching bands from historically black colleges converged to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the 24th annual MLK Jr. Drum Major for Justice Battle of the Bands and Drumline Extravaganza.
"The script couldn't have been written better," said emcee Sevell Brown.
This year's theme, "King to Obama, the Dreamer and the Dream," illustrates the connection between two very important black men in American history, said Brown, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's Florida chapter.
Decked out in black and gold, the 180-member strong Mighty Hornets from Alabama State University got the show rolling with a musical skit that paid homage to Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama.
It also poked a little fun at the outgoing president.
The band purposely spelled Bush wrong, with an upside down U and H.
"That's because Bush messed up everything," said the band leader, eliciting laughter and cheers from the crowd.
About 10,000 people showed up to see 11 bands compete, including the Bethune-Cookman University Marching Wildcats and the South Carolina State University Marching 101 Band. The event serves as an unofficial kickoff for today's parade, traditionally one of the largest in the nation to honor the slain civil rights leader.
The battle of the bands is "the type of event that brings everyone together," said Boca Ciega High School sophomore Ackera Barnes, 16.
Kind of like King's message, Barnes said.
The significance of this year's MLK Jr. festivities is even more profound as Obama heads to the White House, said fellow Boca Ciega sophomore Doneisha Bowens.
"This is history," said Bowens, 15. "I would never have thought I'd live to see this day come."
Sporting an Obama cap, St. Petersburg resident Franklin Bryant reflected on the connection between King and Obama while the Yellow Jackets marching band from Howard Blake High School in Tampa took to the field.
"The dream of Martin Luther King has come full circle," he said.
Rita Farlow can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4162.