Veronica Fowler didn't know any of the young musicians performing Sunday night in the 28th annual Martin Luther King National Drum Major for Justice Battle of the Bands and Drum Line Extravaganza at Tropicana Field.
She came for the love of music, and the spectacle didn't disappoint, she said.
Fowler, of St. Petersburg, danced in her seat and sang nearly every word of the R&B favorites pumped throughout the stadium before the show.
"I've been coming here for years and I really enjoy seeing so many young people in love with music," Fowler said. "The crowds have been getting a bit smaller, it may not be as popular anymore, but I know at least I'll be back next year."
There was an hour wait before the young musicians from Georgia, Alabama and Florida hit the field, but the excitement rarely waned during the tribute to black heritage.
"I want you all to remember to be proud of who you are," said Earl Williams, director of the Marching Wolverines Community Band of Winter Haven.
"We have the best president in the whole world … and how fitting is it that the presidential inauguration is on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day?"
The Marching Wolverines opened the competition with a surprisingly austere version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but then broke into the funky, drum laden numbers the crowd had come to see.
When the teens turned around to shake their behinds in unison, the audience burst into surprised shrieks, laughs and cheers that didn't let up until the final note of the competition was played hours later.
Elementary and middle school students from the South Augusta (Georgia) Marching Unit traveled to the Trop for the 13th time and, clad in sequined black and yellow uniforms, performed complicated dances that rivaled those of the community and college bands.
Local favorites Tampa Bay Technical High School and Lakewood High School scored the loudest cheers from the crowd.
Tech's version of Alicia Key's "This Girl Is on Fire" turned the kids in the audience into a choir and their brief rendition of R. Kelly's "Bump and Grind" had the adults laughing and signing along. The accompanying line of splits from the color guard elicited cheers of, "You better work," "Get it," and "Oh, girl."
Artesha Adras relived her own days competing in the flag corp with Lakewood High School in 2005. Adras explained the significance of the competition to her two children, who danced around to the school's rendition of "Boogie Wonderland" with beards of purple cotton candy.
"They did it up, but our class was better," Adras, a medical assistant, said. "They've changed the uniforms; they're so much cuter."
Amid the sequins and flash of the competition, which doesn't award places, the Central Savannah River Area All-Star Marching Band, from Augusta, Ga., reminded the audience of the meaning behind the holiday with a moving rendition of William McDowell's "I Give Myself Away."
The band members set aside their instruments and sang the lyrics to the song in three-part harmony, catching the audience off guard and eliciting a standing ovation.
The event was one of several events commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Pinellas County:
7 a.m. to 4 p.m.: The NAACP Clearwater/Upper Pinellas County Branch will hold a breakfast at the North Greenwood Recreation Complex, 900 North Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., Clearwater. The cost is $4 for adults and $2 for children. At 9:30 a.m., participants will march south from the complex along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue to Coachman Park downtown. The march will end in a celebration and rally. http://www.clearwater-fl.com/info/special_events/upcoming_events.asp" name="web">http://www.clearwater-fl.com/info/special_events/upcoming_events.asp
7:30 a.m.: MLK Leadership Awards Breakfast - The National Council of Negro Women St. Petersburg Metropolitan Section hosts Dr. Gwendolyn Simmons, Assistant Professor at the University of Florida at The Coliseum, 535 Fourth Ave. North, St. Petersburg. Tickets are $25. http://www.mlkbreakfast-stpete.com/" name="web">http://www.mlkbreakfast-stpete.com/
11 a.m.: National MLK Drum Major for Justice Parade - The St. Petersburg parade travels north from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. and Third Avenue South, to Central Avenue, east to Bayshore Drive, and north to Fifth Ave. N. The parade ends at Vinoy Park. mlknationalparade.org. Many of the bands that performed Sunday will also march in the parade.
2 p.m.: Panel discussion - Freedom Riders David and Winonah Myers, Eckerd College music professor Joan Epstein and vice president of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies Roy Peter Clark will lead a panel discussion on King at the Lewis House on the Eckerd College Campus, 4200 54th Ave. S., St. Petersburg. There is no cost.
All day: MLK Day of Service - St. Petersburg College and the Florida legislature are funding a host of service projects throughout Pinellas County to encourage citizens of all ages to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. through acts of community service. A list of area service projects can be found at http://spcollege.edu/mlkservice" name="web">spcollege.edu/mlkservice.
11 a.m. to 6 p.m.: MLK Blood Drive – Blood donors can visit any Chick-fil-A location in Pinellas County, Channel 10 Studios or any Florida Blood Services donor center to receive a MLK T-shirt and a coupon for a free chicken sandwich and breakfast Chick-n-Minis from Chick-fil-A with their donation. For locations visit http://www.fbsblood.org/html/promos/MlkDrive.aspx" name="web">http://www.fbsblood.org/html/promos/MlkDrive.aspx
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.: Salvation Army Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Sale – All 9 Salvation Army Family Store locations in Clearwater will offer half off the entire store, excluding sale items and new mattresses. http://suncoastarea.satruck.org/specials/mlk-sale" name="web">http://suncoastarea.satruck.org/specials/mlk-sale