Here’s 8 of the Carolinas’ biggest and best marching and pep bands

Heidi Finley

Photo courtesy of WCU.

It’s football season, and no college game day is complete without the time-honored traditions of showy pregame and halftime performances.

High school seniors who aren’t ready to give up the camaraderie they built with bandmates through hours of practicing their tubas, trombones or French horns may want to consider joining in on the college game day pomp and continuing with band.

Rodney Workman, president elect of the North Carolina bandmasters Association, said the vast majority of college marching band members are not music majors.

“They just do it because it’s fun, and they want to keep playing beyond” high school, he said.

Workman said, “In many cases the marching band is what attracts [students] to certain schools,” so “definitely look at marching band when thinking about college and … know what to do to be involved.”

Auditions or video auditions in spring are required at many colleges – especially for percussionists, color guard members and drum majors – in addition to fall band camps.

Uniform and food fees often come along with participation but vary from school to school, as does the possibility for elective or fine arts credit hours. Some scholarship opportunities are available, and travel costs to away games and other functions are often covered by the school’s band program.

Workman, who is also the band director at Central Davidson Middle School in Lexington, is a Western Carolina fan. “Western Carolina certainly has one of the best marching bands in the country … It’s enormous, and the quality is very, very good.”

He said the WCU program involves a “system of student leadership that is great preparation for nonmusic majors for life and leadership skills I’m not sure they would get in many other places.”

For students who want to be band directors, “I think they get a lot of practical experience in the marching band at WCU that will apply directly to how they will teach their own bands,” Workman said.

He added that students who want to major in music should also look at a school’s concert band and orchestra program, as well as the instructors of their specific instrument.

To get your search started, here are 8 of the biggest and best marching and pep bands in the Carolinas:


The Pride of the Mountains Marching Band is nationally known as top notch. It was chosen as the lead band in the 2014 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and was selected as best band by viewers of the 2011 Tournament of Roses Parade. The band won the 2009 Sudler Trophy, which has been called the Heisman Trophy of the collegiate marching band world. The popular marching band website recently ranked WCU as No. 2 on its list of bands to watch this season, touting its use of technology, ”big sound and fierce formations.” At 485 members in 2017, it’s the largest collegiate marching band in the Carolinas.

The WCU Pride of the Mountains Marching Band. Photo courtesy of Western Carolina.

UNC Chapel Hill 

The 2017 Marching Tar Heels, the Pride of the ACC, features 295 members – making it one of the university’s largest student organizations. Its accolades include performing at numerous bowl games, the 2001 Presidential Inaugural Parade and the 1993 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The Marching Tar Heels, Pride of the ACC. Photo courtesy of UNC Chapel Hill.

N.C. A&T

North Carolina A&T University’s Blue and Gold Marching Machine recently caught some attention from superstar Bruno Mars, who tweeted out that they “really killed” it when performing his songs “Just The Way You Are” and “That’s What I Like.” At about 200 members, the Aggies made it to the Final 8 in the 2017 Honda Battle of the Bands contest, known as the Super Bowl of HBCU marching bands.


Winston Salem State University’s 145-member Red Sea of Sound Marching Band has made six appearances in the Honda Battle of the Bands, also making it to the Final 8 in 2017. The Rams have received numerous awards and have performed at the Circle City Classic in Indianapolis, the Cleveland Classic and the New York City Urban League Classic.

The WSSU Red Sea of Sound. Photo courtesy of Winston Salem State.


Although the University of North Carolina at Greensboro has no football team, its Band of Sparta is exceptionally large for a pep band at about 100 members and plays music from all genres, including pop, rock and funk/R&B. It performed at this year’s National Folk Festival in addition to its slate of men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball games.

The UNCG Band of Sparta. Photo courtesy of UNC Greensboro

The Citadel

The Regimental Band and Pipes marched in the 2017 Presidential Inaugural Parade, marking its seventh selection to participate in the historic event since 1953. The Citadel’s Regimental Band features about 80 cadet musicians, while the Pipe Band is composed of a drum major and 35 to 40 pipers and drummers. The Regimental Band and Pipes has also represented the United States three times at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Scotland.


Appalachian State University’s Marching Mountaineers is 285 members strong. It is recognized as North Carolina’s Band of Distinction and holds an annual high school marching band festival featuring about 30 programs in North and South Carolina, as well as Virginia. In addition to performing at three National Championship games, the band also played overseas at the 2006 London New Year’s Day Parade.


The University of South Carolina Marching Band is also called the “Mighty Sound of the Southeast,” but it’s more commonly known as the Carolina Band. Recent appearances of this 365-member band include several bowl games and a 2015 invitation to perform as the halftime entertainment for a Carolina Panthers game in Charlotte. Each member receives a $400 scholarship for participation, and in 2017-18, all full-time, out-of-state students received a tuition reduction.


Heidi Finley is the editor of Carolina College Bound. Send questions or suggestions to