TARPON SPRINGS — To say the Tarpon Springs Leadership Conservatory for the Arts’ 2018 Outdoor Music Festival was a massive, collaborative undertaking would not be an understatement.
The all-day marching band competition, held Oct. 20 on Spongers Field at Tarpon Springs High School, required more than 300 volunteers to staff and featured 18 high school bands from across the South, most sporting colorful costumes, elaborate set pieces and dozens of talented, sweaty, students.
According to spokesperson Cathy Lawson, the 23-year-old OMF provides opportunities both on the field and behind the scenes for every Tarpon Springs Outdoor Performance Ensemble member.
“The students run the show,” Lawson said from a trackside tent soon after the seven-hour show, which started at 3:00 pm, began. “Every student has a job, and every parent has to work a four-hour shift. It has to run like clockwork. It’s a leadership opportunity for kids and they love it.”
Lawson noted the festival has grown considerably over the past two decades, both in size and scope.
“When Mr. Ford stared the Leadership Conservatory there was no marching band at the school,” she said of TSLCA founder Kevin Ford, a 2018 Bands of America Hall of Fame inductee who started the nationally-recognized program at Tarpon Springs High School in 1994.
“Now there’s more than 200 members, and this event has grown over the years as our local and national reputation grew,” Lawson said. “The routines are much more inventive and elaborate, as well. There’s a lot of fun and creativity that goes into this, along with a lot of hard work.”
That work was evident everywhere you looked on the sweltering Saturday afternoon, as hundreds of students and teachers, parents and patrons buzzed around the stadium and along the still-under-construction corridors behind the school as bands marched on and off the field.
Lisa Bloom, whose daughter, Zoe, plays in the East Lake High School Silver Sound marching band, said she was impressed with the spectacle.
“I think it’s awesome,” Bloom said as she watched her daughter perform. “I mean, all the high schools host these type of events — East Lake is hosting one next week — but this is definitely one of the big ones, for sure, thanks to Tarpon’s reputation. We look forward to it every year.”