A marching band festival is an event showcasing multiple marching bands at the high school or college level. It is very similar to a marching band competition in that judges evaluate participating bands on how well they perform and provide feedback. Unlike a marching band competition, however, the emphasis is on highlighting different marching styles and music, not necessarily winning, so participating bands often watch each other and provide positive encouragement.
During a marching band festival, members of a marching band come onto the performance area and are announced by a facilitator. The marching band plays at least one piece, usually covering material from the half-time shows developed during the football season. They move about the performance field, creating visual designs and effects as they play.
Multiple judges determine the quality of each band's performance during a marching band festival. They look at the band's overall musicality, visual impact and technical complexity. Often, the judges also evaluate the work of the drum major for each band, looking at conducting ability and the control of the ensemble.
When judges assess the bands participating in a festival, they usually group them into different divisions. The divisions reflect the size of the school and participating band. In general, larger bands are of better quality because, unlike the bands in very small schools, directors often require auditions, as the number of people who want to participate allows greater selectivity in terms of musicianship. Larger schools also tend to have better funding, which allows them to try things in the marching show that would be too expensive for a small school. Classification into divisions takes these discrepancies into account and allows for fairer judging.
A marching band festival usually is open to the public, as the entire point of a marching band festival is to show other people what these bands do and the techniques they are capable of performing. The events usually are free, but some festivals do charge a general admission fee that allows the hosts of the festival to cover their operation costs.
A small marching band festival may last just a few hours. In a very large festival, the number of bands may necessitate spreading the festival out over several days. This means that, in some cases, it is not practical for audience members to view the entire festival. People often go during the day and time when the particular bands they want to see are performing.