In 1926, the first music contest was held at the Indiana State Fair.  There was no marching involved.  Although Whiteland High School was selected as the initial champion, they were subsequently disqualified when it was discovered they used other Johnson County students.  Ligonier High School was then handed the title.  The idea of an high school band contest faded, but in 1939 high school bands were brought back for a parade.  This continued through 1941, when World War II forced cancellation of the fair. 

In 1946, the Indiana State Fair resumed and  Band Day began in 1947 with less than 25 bands competing in one of three classes.  The Class A champion Grant County Combined Band consisted of students from seven different schools - Van Buren, Jefferson Township, Gas City, Jonesboro, Swayzee, Sweetser, and Fairmount.  In 1948, the contest switched to the open class format, which still exists today.  In 1952, to celebrate the State Fair's centennial, the contest moved to North Meridian Street in downtown Indianapolis.  The contest was held again near the World War Memorial building in 1953 before permanently returning to the dirt track in front of the grandstand at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.  

Alumni of bands that competed through the 1970s will remember entering the backside of the ovalgrandstand_pic.gif (29008 bytes) track and parading around the track to the starting line in front of the grandstand.  This required standing for long periods of time in the sun and high temperatures.  By the 1980s, modifications were made so no more than five bands were standing on the track at a given time.

The number of competing bands rapidly increased from 39 bands in 1951 to 83 bands in 1955.  The largest number of competing bands was 94 in 1962.  Of course, back then, the shows were much shorter; generally, 3 minutes long.  In the beginning, it was literally a parade competition with the bands playing and marching past the grandstand without stopping.  Some bands just marched past the grandstand to a drum beat.  Backwards movement was not allowed in the early days.  Odon-Madison Township was the first band to do anything other than straight marching by doing a right flanking movement and then a left flanking movement to straighten up.  More movement was added in the 1950s, such as Noblesville marching backwards in their championship show of 1952.  Eventually, the show format progressed to playing off the starting line and downfield, performing in concert formation, and then playing as the band marched across the finish line.  Most of the visual action came from the majorettes (using batons, pom poms,  and flags).  In the 1970s, rifle twirling became popular.  Dance and saber work became more commonplace in the 1990s.

In 1967,  the bands scoring 17 through 25 received special awards at the end of preliminary competition, while the top 16 scoring bands (affectionately known as the "Sweet Sixteen") returned in the evening to compete for the championship trophy -- a format that still exists today.  Interestingly, finals competition was to have 15 bands, but Madison Heights was inadvertently left off the finalists list.  The error was corrected before finals, and the "Sweet Sixteen" was born.  Because of the intense competition and quality of performances, bands often received the same score.  Through the early 1960s, is was common for bands to tie, often resulting in bands receiving the same placement.  Finally, a tie-breaker was implemented.  If two or more bands earned the same score in finals, the tie was broken by the preliminary score achieved by each band.

In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, the number of bands participating in the annual Band Day contest gradually decreased.  This was attributed to school closures and consolidations, and the All-State Field Marching Band Contest that started in the fall of 1973 .

By 1983, Band Day was averaging 30 bands.  Each band had a maximum of 6 minutes to perform (with no minimum time limit).  All playing members had to start behind the starting line at the time the official flag was dropped to clear the preceding band.  At that time, drum majors, majorettes, and guard members could proceed 10 yards beyond the starting line.  Band members had to clear the performance area (100 yards long by 80 feet wide) within the 6 minute time limit.  The national judges, who sat in the grandstand, awarded up to 40 points in music, 30 points in marching and maneuvering, and 30 points in general effect.

To encourage the participation of small bands from small high schools, special awards were given, beginning in the early 1980s, to the top scoring small bands.  In 1986, the small band criteria was formalized as bands with 60 or fewer playing members and a school enrollment of 750 or less in grades 9 - 12 (adjusted to 650 or less in 1989).  Breaking a lock that larger bands had on the top prize, Monroe Central won the contest with 60 or fewer playing members in 1989, 1990, and 1991.  Centerville dominated that category winning the top prize 9 of the 10 years while also placing in the overall Top 5 several times.  Southmont (a frequent finalist) won the Small Band award in 2010, marking their return to the top of that category for the first time since 1986.

While 39 bands participated in 1986, the number dropped to 24 in 1988.  Realizing that Band Day was held toward the end of the State Fair in late August and conflicted with the first day of school, officials moved Band Day to early August in 1989 and it became part of Opening Day at the fair.  Also in 1989, the judging system was changed via use of the Central States Judging Association and the ISSMA scoring sheets.  This put the contest more in line with the fall field contests.  Caption awards in music (35 points), marching (35 points), and general effect (30 points) were presented for the first time.  While the bands still began their show at the starting line, each band was given 2 minutes to get into position and set-up equipment and props within the performance area.  A minimum performance time limit of 4 minutes was established.  Bands still had to finish playing and cross the finish line within the maximum six minute performance time.  The 2010 event saw a new change to the scoring system with 30 points awarded for Music, 30 points for Visual, 20 points for Music General Effect, and 20 points for Visual General Effect.

The most recent major change to the contest format came in 1995.  Although the minimum and maximum performance times stayed the same, movement of the band members onto and off the track no longer counted as part of the performance time.  Bands were given two minutes to set-up and move into the performance area and an extra minute at the end of the performance to exit the performance area.  Therefore, the entire six minutes could be used for the performance.

Even with all the changes over the years, some things are still the same.  Small bands get to compete against larger bands, shows range from pop music and show tunes to classical/symphonic music and everything in between, performances can be funny or serious, and the contest is still held on the dirt track in front of the grandstand.  Bands also still have the chance to vie for trophies and prize money ranging, in 2010, from $3,900 for the champion band to $575 for bands placing 26 and below.  In addition, bands still receive a travel allowance ranging from $80 to $140 per bus, depending upon the distance traveled.  

By 2007, the contest had seen a resurgence in participation with 48 bands participating (the largest number since 1974).  As the contest enters its 64th year in 2010, band members still thrill the audience with their music and precision.  Some bands complete their competition season at the end of Band Day, while other bands use it as a kick-off to their fall competitions.  Either way, bands members and fans leave with a lot of memories.





Seeking Historical Information


Band Day placings of 17 - 25 in 1970

Band Day placings for 1947 through 1953, 1965, 1970, 1973

Band Day prelims and finals recap sheets in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s

Delaware County contest results - 1991, 1994
Anderson contest results - 1985, 1996 (1981 & earlier - if contest was held)
Jay County contest results - 1981 - 1984, 1995 (1980 & earlier - if contest was held)
Winchester contest results (1985 - 1994 - if contest was held)
Johnson County contest results (1992 & earlier - if contest was held)
Shelby County contest results (1995 - 1998, 1985 - 1992, and 1980 & earlier - if contest was held these years)