PARIS — It is Thursday night before the Kentucky state marching band championship, drizzly and cold.
Out on the frosty football field, the Bourbon County High School marching band is rehearsing a routine about the effects of the Internet on modern life. It is particularly complicated — as if nearly 100 people did a form of interpretive dance and played difficult music all while precision-marching a few feet from each other. Almost miraculously, they all move to the same majestic swell of music.
That is the joy of high school marching band.
For the Marching Colonels's 74 musicians and 19 color guard members, it's time to march and deliver. Bourbon County is the defending state champion in Class AAA.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
Last weekend, Bourbon won the east divisional quarterfinal competition — but its archrival, 20-time state champion Adair County, won the west division.
The two powerhouses will meet head to head for the first time this season at Saturday's KMEA State Marching Band Championship in Louisville — sort of the band version of basketball's Sweet Sixteen, but compressed mostly into a single day.
Some 80 bands from across the state — including four from Lexington and many more from Central Kentucky — will compete at the 28th annual event.
Since 2006, Bourbon and Adair have alternated placing first and second in the state contest.
Bourbon County band director Eric Hale, who happens to be an alumnus of the Adair County band, presides over "Hale Week," the squad's name for the days before state.
The 2013 program, which includes a prop of a giant laptop computer, evolved from students' obsession with electronics, games and the Internet, Hale said.
"There are so many things that pull you in," he said of social media, games, apps, etc.
The show depicts an "unfriend" moment and a video game-like portion that is based on the battle game Halo.
The routine has been built to always give the spectators and judges somewhere to look, something on which to focus, Hale said. Dead time during a show is the bane of competitive marching band.
"It's got to be seamless from beginning to end," Hale said. "It has to tell a story."
At the finale of the show, band members lie down on the field, forming the shape of the laptop's cord and plug. At Thursday night's practice, as the temperatures plummeted and the ground was damp from rain and a flurry of snow, some were reluctant to flatten themselves on the field. Eventually, after some animated instruction from Hale, they did.
High school band is often likened to a family, but for Hale, the Bourbon County band is literally a family effort.
Helping out with the color guard this season are Hale's wife, Nadine Hale, assistant principal at Bourbon County Middle School; his sister Debbie Hale, a gifted/talented teacher with the Bourbon school district; and his two daughters.
(Before Eric took over in 2005, Nadine was the director of Bourbon County High's band. In a 2005 interview, Nadine recalled that when she and Eric met as music teachers in Morgan County, they were "both total band geeks.")
"It's probably one of my favorite shows that he's done," sister Debbie Hale said of this year's program. "I woke up thinking about it this morning."
Jesse Wood, a freshman baritone player, called band "a lot of brain work and physical work."
"There are moments when you're marching and you're exhausted and you can't catch your breath, and you amaze yourself," he said.
Sydney Sayre, a freshman saxophonist, said that while winning — something with which the Bourbon County band is very familiar — is rewarding, it's not essential.
"I don't think it's about winning," she said. "It's about giving 100 percent of what everybody can do."
On Saturday, the Bourbon County band will compete for its fourth championship. In addition to last year, the band took the state title in 2008 and 2009. (Those years, it also was named Class A national champion in the Bands of America competition, a contest the band plans to enter again in mid-November.)
Eric Fite, a Bourbon County drum line alumnus, still works with the band. "I loved going to the competitions," he said.
Emily Perdue, a freshman flutist, was insistent on her credo, which she repeated several times: "I eat, sleep and drink the band."
On Saturday, she will be in the company of thousands of others who feel the same way.
IF YOU GO
KMEA State Marching Band Championship
When: Oct. 26
Where: Various sites in and around Louisville
Tickets: $10 for semifinals, $12-$20 for finals; both available at the gate.
Learn more: (859) 626-5635. KMEA.org.
Class A semifinals at Butler Traditional High School, Louisville: Raceland Worthington, 10 a.m. Cumberland County, 10:15. Nicholas County, 10:30. Ballard Memorial, 10:45. Pineville, 11. Campbellsville, 11:15. Harlan, 11:30. McLean County, 11:45. Paris, 12:15 p.m.. Mayfield, 12:30. Beechwood, 12:45. Murray, 1. Hazard, 1:15. Crittenden County, 1:30. Williamstown, 1:45. Russellville, 2. Awards and announcement of finalists, 2:15.
Class AA semifinals at Christian Academy of Louisville: Russell, 11 a.m. Webster County, 11:15. Morgan County, 11:30. Caldwell County, 11:45. Green County, noon. Todd County Central, 12:15 p.m. Henry County, 12:30. Hancock County, 12:45. Danville, 1:15. Glasgow, 1:30. Estill County, 1:45. Butler County, 2. Christian Academy of Louisville, 2:15. Owensboro Catholic, 2:30. Washington County, 2:45. Trigg County, 3. Awards and announcement of finalists, 3:15.
Class AAA semifinals at Eastern High School, Louisville: Holmes, 11 a.m. Paducah Tilghman, 11:15. Mason County, 11:30. Hart County, 11:45. Lewis County, noon. Wayne County, 12:15 p.m. Powell County, 12:30. Allen County-Scottsville, 12:45. Bourbon County, 1:15. Taylor County, 1:30. Boyle County, 1:45. Russell County, 2. Garrard County, 2:15. Adair County, 2:30. Corbin, 2:45. Larue County, 3. Awards and announcement of finalists, 3:15.
Class AAAA semifinals at South Oldham High School, Crestwood: East Jessamine, 11 a.m. Greenwood, 11:15. Shelby County, 11:30 a.m. Hopkinsville, 11:45. Marion County, noon. South Warren, 12:15 p.m. Madison Southern, 12:30. North Oldham, 12:45. Grant County, 1:15. Madisonville-North Hopkins, 1:30. Mercer County, 1:45. Calloway County, 2. Rowan County, 2:15. John Hardin, 2:30. Anderson County, 2:45. South Oldham, 3. Awards and announcement of finalists, 3:15.
Class AAAAA semifinals at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, Louisville: Henry Clay, 11 a.m. Meade County, 11:15. Campbell County, 11:30. Grayson County, 11:45. North Laurel, noon. Apollo, 12:15 p.m. Larry A. Ryle, 12:30. Woodford County, 12:45. Lafayette, 1:15. Muhlenberg County, 1:30. Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1:45. North Hardin, 2. Tates Creek, 2:15. Central Hardin, 2:30. Madison Central, 2:45. Eastern, 3. Awards and announcement of finalists, 3:15.
Finals: Top four bands in each of five classes compete. Class A begins at 6 p.m., AA at 7, AAA at 8, AAAA at 9, AAAAA at 10. Awards afterward. Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.