August 12, 2017 – Finals Day
It is finals day! I am downtown at the Claddagh Irish Pub, plugged in and ready to write. I am at the perfect table to work and I have a very nice waitress. I just ordered a Daredevil Brewing Co., Lift Off IPA from Speedway, Indiana. When in Rome… I have one can left of Heady Topper, a popular double IPA from Alchemist Brewing, Stowe, VT that I have been saving for after the show tonight. I travel with beer because some of my best friends are great brewers. Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Sip of Sunshine from Waitsfield Vermont, my hometown is another high standard. Beer lovers from all over are flocking to Central Vermont to enjoy the rare goods. Beer runners from downstate have caused the local store to limit the purchase to two 4-packs so that the locals have a chance. It is interesting to see the flood of beer shoppers at 8:00 AM on Tuesday at the IGA when the weekly shipment arrives. On busy summer weekends and holidays, it sells out by 10:00 AM. What does beer have to do with drum corps? I like my drum corps as I like my beers: strong, heady and directly in my face (in moderation).
Today, I am enjoying Indy downtown. I parked the Volvo and am a city pedestrian again. I could choose to take one of the many bikes that are available at stations throughout the city. Circle City is very bike friendly and pedestrians have ample room to perambulate around the city on well-maintained sidewalks and crosswalks. What does this have to do with drum corps? In my real world, I am an advocate, planner and manager of bicycle and pedestrian projects that improve access for people over cars and trucks. It is basically a matter of social equity, as not everyone can meet the bar of being a car owner and have no other choice but to walk. The tangent here might be that the kids are getting it, as the ‘millennials’ are choosing communities that are walking and bicycle friendly and eschewing the automobile. I believe that many of today’s drum corps members will make good choices in their future transportation needs. Isn’t it silly that without a thought, we jump into the car and rocket at breakneck speed across the landscape just to go get an ice cream or something equally insignificant. However, the drum corps members give me hope for the future in that they will be more responsible travelers. Hypocritically, after tomorrow, I will be rocketing across the landscape to return to my humble home along the Mill Brook 1,000 miles from here.
It is blistering outside in the mid-summer heat. I am back at Lucas Oil Stadium sitting inside where the air temperature is much better, waiting for the prop truck. After lunch I went to the Drumline Battle competition at the Pan American Plaza and watched the 7th Regiment perform with a high-spirited attack. Surrounding the Plaza were pop-up booths from various suppliers. For some reason, I was draw to the Santa Clara Vanguard uniform on a mannequin in front of the Stanbury Uniform booth. I am fascinated by the high-tech uniforms of the 21th century. They are lightweight, formfitting, breathable and quick drying. The uniform is beautifully adorned with sublimated graphics, sequins, and other accouterments. As a part-time ski instructor and outdoor recreation educator, I have learned that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices. Temperature control and moisture management are key to survival in the outdoors and important for the comfort of the athlete and performer. As you know, drum corps is a highly athletic endeavor and the technically advanced uniforms are a big help. I struck up a conversation with Brent, the sales representative from Stanbury. He explained the sublimation process that transfers the graphics directly into the synthetic fabric. These beautiful uniforms are hand-sewn and built to withstand the rigors of the summer long use. Next to the Vanguard uniform was another mannequin clad in the 2017 Madison Scouts uniform, a vivid example of change.
Kismet! Sitting next to Brent was Steve, the publisher of Drum Corps World. We had been emailing and hoped to meet during the championships. We had a good chat about running this series sometime during the off-season in the online magazine. Meeting Steve, by chance, was another of the many coincidences that have defined this journey.
I then headed to Military Park, a few blocks away to scope out the venue where the drum and horn lines warm up later today. BAC is scheduled to be in the park at 6:00 PM. I hope to make it there after we unload the props. I shared a shady bench with an alumnus of the Blue Stars. Brian was a member of the inaugural DCI Blue Stars. The Blue Stars Drum and Bugle Corps has a long history and was one of the original combine of six corps that broke away from the VFW and America Legion system back in the early 70’s to form Drum Corps International (DCI). We discussed many topics including the scoring system, funding, and what the future holds for drum corps. We agreed that that the activity is changing at a rapid pace as the creativity continues to push out of the old school style. With increased focus on electronics and specialized props, money makes all the difference. Can some of the less funded corps continue to compete in the upper ranks? Brian explained that the influence of legalized casino gambling establishments by native-American nations has caused Bingo parlors, a traditional funding source for many drum corps, to dry up. However, the top Californian drum corps still have very successfully funding from Bingo.
On scoring, Brian mentioned the change that took place a few decades ago in scoring. The old way was starting with 100% and then ticking off points for errors, drops, etc. This subtractive method was replaced by a method that starts at zero and builds up, which is much more subjective but pushes the creative process forward. I am still fairly befuddled by the adjudication aspect of the competitions. I know that General Effect in important. I am more than generally affected by all of the programs.
No sign of the prop truck yet so here I am again catching up on the blog sitting on the floor inside the grand marketplace next to a power source to charge the machine. I was hoping to head back to Military Park to catch the BAC warm up. It
does not look like I will make it because we will be unloading during the scheduled time. While waiting for the trucks outside earlier, I spoke with a prop crewmember and alumnus of the Bluecoats and a member of Rhythm and Blues, their alumni corps. He gives a presentation at history night to the new corps members each year. He jokingly says that most of the rules that are in place to keep the kids in line were created because of him. Maybe back in the day there was time for shenanigans. I have not seen where the kids have much time to get into trouble with today’s rigorous schedule. As you know, I love all the corps. I told my short story version about my rediscovery of drum corps in 2012 and how the Bluecoats with Unmasked, captured me with the realization that this was not the drum corps of the years back in the 70s when my brother and I were into it. I have really enjoyed the camaraderie of the many crew and volunteers of other corps that I have met during the prop hauls and my new inside connection to this activity.
Tonight will be quite a special experience for me as I have been invited to join the Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps on the field. Time to unload.
I am sitting here in the lounge area of Lucas Oil Stadium again. Carolina Crown is on the tube overhead. I had to get off my feet again and into writing this blog. The prop truck finally arrived and we made good work of getting the props off the truck and down the ramp. This time I helped move the gallows and two platforms to the other side of the stadium through the long tunnel so BAC could take the field from all three entrances to speed things up.
Tonight, I joined the Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps on the field for the final championship competition. Standing on the field sidelines in the center with the rest of the staff was an honor and a privilege. From the field I could see the color guard perform up close, especially the moves on the main prop at front left. It was impressive seeing the sabers and rifles tossed and caught in precision, often all in unison with a single snap at the catch, often executed in precise choreographed sequence in sync with the sounds and movements of the corps. The FloMarching cameramen were catching all of the great moments with their roaming cameras and the one elevated on a swinging arm. The audience reacted enthusiastically at all of the high points.
I did not realize that I had so many goose bumps. I had goose bumps in places that I did not even know that I had places. I cannot explain the psychological and physical reaction that happens when the sparks begin to ignite all over my body. Waves of energy flood through my eyes. This location provided for an all-body experience as I felt the pressure waves behind me from the reactions of the full house of drum corps fans, amplifying the sparks at the back of my neck.
Once again the ballad was a real high point of the show with Aubre-Lee, the vocalist, and the rest of the kids delivering it to the appreciative crowd with BAC conviction. Wicked Games brought those in the house to their feet as the corps reached the final chord and visual conflagration of the closer. Steve was very proud of the copious amount of smoke that emanated from the props in the rear as well as in the front. The final performance of BAC did not disappoint.
Immediately after the program, we all dashed onto the field to remove the regalia along with the corps. Since the corps members removed the props from the field, I helped load the timpani drums onto the trailer then retreated from the field with the corps. Suddenly a I became overwhelmed with a bitter sweet feeling. Is this really over? I wondered how everyone else was feeling. Tears.
I am at a loss for any more superlatives to describe my experience here. I begin to contemplate again about the coincidences that led me here, meeting Lynn and her Hoosier hospitality, and all of the new friends that I have made, and love that I have received by being a part of this thing. So, where do I go from here? Home, I guess, to sit along the Mill Brook and contemplate more. Do I take a beeline home tonight or stay one more evening? I am looking forward to seeing all of the corps take the field for the scores and awards and then I will figure it out where I go from here. The Blue Devils are performing. On the TV they are performing Flight of the Bumble Bee now. I think of my brother again.
I knew this would be a late night. Its after midnight and I am at a reception for BAC at Gate 10 a restaurant across the road from the corps parking lot outside Lucas Oil Stadium. All of the corps took a final retreat and the scores and awards have been announced. After watching from an empty seat in the peanut gallery it was time for food and a beer. I finally ran into Garry. He has my room and I have his ride. Gino, the head brass guru told him, “Last year I came in sixth with another corps and I wanted to kill myself. This year I came in sixth with BAC and I’ve had the best time of my life.” The Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps have made the most progress upward of any championship corps in DCI history. Moving up from barely eking into 12th place last year, to finishing in 6th place in the 2017 DCI finals, underscores that this corps is on the upswing and it will be a fun ride over the next few years. Now, celebration is in order. I’m having my last Heady Topper double IPA that I brought with me from the Alchemist Brewery in Stowe Vermont.