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HBCU battle of bands will rock Georgia Dome one last time Saturday

Eight bands will showcase their best routines and Grammy award-winning artist Ne-Yo will perform

When thinking about the historically black college and university (HBCU) experience, several things come to mind. The campuses that are filled with rich cultural history. The bands. The wealth of knowledge obtained from the quality education HBCUs offer. The bands. The opportunity to cheer for some of the most competitive teams around. And … the bands.

Let’s face it, the HBCU experience wouldn’t be complete without seeing some of the best bands in the world compete at halftime during college football season.

It’s one of the reasons that the Honda Battle of the Bands has been around for 15 years and counting.

On Saturday, the eight bands chosen after a special selection process are expected to showcase their best sounds, dance moves and routines in front of an expectant crowd of nearly 60,000. What makes the 15th anniversary even more special for participating bands is that they will be the last to perform in the Georgia Dome. The Dome, which has been Atlanta’s premier venue for sporting events and concerts, will be demolished shortly after the opening of the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium this summer.

“I think we’re really thrilled that it’s 15 years and we’re really proud of the project and the program,” said Alexandra Warnier, manager, corporate social responsibility at Honda. “We’ve been involved with the community and HBCUs for over 25 years and I think we’re just really proud to be around and supporting the community for as long as we have been.”

General View of the 2016 Battle of the bands at Georgia Dome on January 30, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.

General view of the 2016 Battle of the bands at Georgia Dome on Jan. 30, 2016, in Atlanta.

Prince Williams/Getty Images

Every year, bands from all HBCUs are invited to participate in the Honda Battle of the Bands. Fans are encouraged to vote for their favorites, and with input from band directors, HBCU presidents and Honda personnel, the final bands are chosen for the event. The participating bands often differ from year to year, but there are others that remain a staple. This year, Bethune-Cookman University will return for its 12th year, while Benedict College, a smaller HBCU in Columbia, South Carolina, will make its Battle of the Bands debut.

“I always like to see the bands here for the first time, because there’s an energy in that that you really can’t replicate at any other time,” said Erik Wedin, manager, corporate community relations for Honda. “They finally made it to the Honda stage and that’s pretty fun.”

Besides the band showcases, the event will include a performance by Grammy Award-winning artist Ne-Yo, and a short ceremony to honor this year’s nominee for the Power of Dreams Award, an accolade granted to those who are making a difference and positively contributing to HBCU communities.

One of the highlights and crowd favorites of the event occurs when the bands come together to perform a mass medley written by Florida A&M University’s professor of music Lindsey Sarjeant. Sarjeant has also been a Battle of the Bands guest conductor for the past four years.

General view of the 2016 Battle of the bands at Georgia Dome on January 30, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.

General view of the 2016 Battle of the bands at Georgia Dome on Jan. 30, 2016, in Atlanta.

Prince Williams/Getty Images

“Writing for a mass band [performance] is different from writing for individual bands,” Sarjeant said. “With an individual band, I write for their strengths and weaknesses. Writing for mass bands, you’re talking about 1,200 musicians and all 1,200 have to play together. It has to be written a certain way. It’s a technique most arrangers don’t have.

“When you hear a band playing [your music] for the first time, it’s exhilarating. It’s always exciting to me. I’m a band person who’s been doing this for the last 40 years and I just love it. I’m always excited to hear my arrangements. I’m just a fan of music and all these bands.”

Tickets are still available for the event, but for those who are unable to attend, it will be streamed live.

The bands:

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.